COMING SOON TO SEAWORLD ORLANDO

SeaWorld's new Antarctica attraction to feature cold and comfort

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Penguin families behave a lot like human families, SeaWorld Orlando says. SeaWorld's Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin's official grand opening will be May 24.

Penguin families behave a lot like human families, SeaWorld Orlando says. Does that mean the momma penguins ram double-wide strollers into the back of the little legs of other momma penguins? Do the young ones disrespect their elders? Do their dads say, "I'm going to turn this iceberg around right now if you don't be quiet right now"?

Sure, It seems unlikely, but we'll know more after SeaWorld's Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin debuts. It's official grand opening will be May 24, theme-park officials announced this week. Here are some of the facts they shared — and a few topics they're not ready to dive into.

Penguin power

The entrance to Antarctica's marquee ride is built into a rock-and-snow format that looks like a mother penguin and her nuzzling son. This part of the attraction can currently be seen peeking over the construction wall at the park.

Penguins also are carved into the walls of an educational area nearby.

"Every penguin species on the planet is presented" in that area, says Brian Morrow, creative director for Antarctica.

Inside the attraction there will be four species — king, gintoo, rockhopper and adelie.

Antarctica's birds will be the same animals that lived in the now-closed Penguin Encounter.

Birdland

The host for the mobile-simulation ride is a penguin named Puck. Once the journey is complete, folks will see real penguins in action — without a wall separating them from the animals.

"No longer is there separation of temperature or air or space between our guests and our animals in this attraction," Morrow says. Translation: It will be cold.

Another way to see the birds will be through an underwater gallery — as deep as 20 feet — that will showcase the penguins' swimming skills.

"On land they're not so agile because they don't need to be," Morrow says. "When they go under water they actually act like superheroes. They can dive fast and deep and quick."

What's there

Antarctica's land — or "realm," as SeaWorld refers to it — will have two entrances, both framed with glacial gateways. The larger one, on the south end of the property, faces Sea Lion & Otter Theater. The secondary one is near the Journey to Atlantis water ride.

Antarctica is under construction on the site of the old Penguin Encounter plaza, which had five or six unorganized and confusing entrances.

SeaWorld developed techniques about three years ago to make the snow-topped buildings shimmer with that "magical and mysterious glow that Antarctic ice is known for," Morrow says.

The land will also sport a gift shop and a dining experience based on scientists who are based there. The eatery will reflect the global nature of that community. Morrow calls it an "international mess hall."

But "it's a different model than how we have the rest of the restaurants in the park," Morrow says, without sharing specifics.

Lingering questions

Other Antarctica elements not fully explained:

•The pre-show. "Our queue experience for the attraction is a brand-new experience that's hard to describe because I haven't seen [one like] it before, which is nice," Morrow says. It "prepares our guests to enter the world of Antarctica."

•Ride duraction. "We're blurring these lines between traditional theme park divisions and experiences," Morrow says. Translation: The queue is part of the experience.

•The temperature. Although it's been touted as the coldest theme-park ride ever, they're not sharing just how cool that is. There will be real snow in the animal habitat.

•SeaWorld says it has other surprises set up for the area.

Last word

Expect to hear this in the future: "We are all Antarcticans."

dbevil@tribune.com or 407-420-5477

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