I was lucky enough to meet some penguins last week, and I reckon they’re pretty much like friendly small children. I was at SeaWorld Orlando for a tour of their newest attraction, Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, before it opens on May 24th. I went to see the colony of 247 penguins in their temporary home and Jo was brought out to meet me. Jo’s a young rockhopper penguin and loved being stroked:
But when a gentoo penguin came over to join in, they were soon squawking and squabbling:
until Tricia, one of their keepers, intervened:
I loved meeting the penguins, but it did take me back to when my children were much younger: at one point I even put my hand out to separate Jo and the gentoo as they squabbled while Trish and I chatted. Trish told me that the SeaWorld penguins are all descended from eggs collected in the wild in the sixties and seventies, and that they have a successful breeding programme at the park. My next stop was to see their new home and attraction. I had to wear a hard hat as construction work was still underway at the 4-acre site. Because of Florida’s climate the penguins have to live in a controlled, chilly environment as it would be too stressful for them to be outside in the heat. The SeaWorld team has created an enclosed Antarctic habitat for them, complete with 50 ft high ‘icebergs’ and tons of snow, replenished daily. I didn’t see that area, but this is where people will queue for the new ride at the attraction:
The ride sounds like it’s going to be amazing, and will go through various different rooms to follow the journey through Antarctica of Puck, an animated penguin character. The good news for parents is that the ride has no height restrictions, so even very young children will be able to go on it as long as they can sit in a seat on their own. The ride has no tracks, so the vehicles move independently, all over the place, and you can choose a ‘mild’ or ‘wild’ journey. Each vehicle is also a motion simulator and so you’ll feel like you’re sliding on the ice as Puck slides on the ice, or escaping from a predator as Puck does. I talked to the head of the design team, Brian Morrow, and he told me that the ride is the first in any theme park in the world to be both trackless and to have motion simulators that are also mobile. It was frustrating hearing all about the ride and not being able to go on it – I hope that I’ll be able to actually experience it when I go back to Orlando in the summer with my family.
At the end of the ride, you’ll be inside the penguins’ icy habitat and you’ll be able to stay there as long as you like, to watch the penguins. There’s also going to be a warm viewing area next to the penguins’ pool. One side of the pool is a clear viewing panel and it will be fascinating to watch the penguins under water. The penguins are wonderful, but I don’t think I’ll want to stay in the icy habitat for long as it’s going to be freezing. I’m planning to take a warm coat when I go back. I wonder if Jo will remember me?
Family travel lowdown: The 3-Park Ticket offers 14 days unlimited entry to SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens, and Aquatica from £90 per person.