The Kraken at SeaWorld Orlando will debut as virtual reality roller coaster next summer

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]eaWorld Orlando will introduce Central Florida’s first virtual-reality roller coaster next summer, retrofitting Kraken with headsets to give riders the sensation of traveling through the sea amid mythical and prehistoric creatures.

According to a article from the Orlando Sentinel, riders on Kraken will have the option to don virtual-reality headsets attached to the roller coaster, covering their eyes and ears. They will hear music composed for the ride as they embark on a deep-sea mission alongside the fictional Kraken and other animals. SeaWorld won’t say yet whether the images will be 3-D.

“We’re developing sort of our own technology on how we’re going to pull this off, It’s nothing that you’ve seen from other parks.”

said Brian Morrow, SeaWorld Entertainment’s vice president of theme park experience design.

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Kraken’s changes will be among $175 million worth of additions that SeaWorld Entertainment is announcing throughout its theme parks. In Orlando, that includes remodeling the Dolphin Nursery and a new Food and Wine-style festival.

“We’re really excited about this rolling out, if you will, all of these new experiences and having the opportunity to do it within one year,”

SeaWorld Orlando Park President Donnie Mills said.

The changes are being announced as SeaWorld has struggled with declining attendance and has less cash on hand. Last week, SeaWorld announced it would stop paying investors quarterly dividends.

Upgrading an existing ride can create a new experience more cheaply than building from scratch.

Theme parks have been slowly introducing more virtual reality. Six Flags has added headsets to some of its roller coasters giving riders the illusion of sitting in a fighter jet fending off aliens or in a helicopter fighting gargoyles. Universal Orlando this year has added a VR attraction for Halloween Horror Nights.

Virtual reality offers the smaller companies such as SeaWorld and Six Flags a way to compete “at a budget that is reasonable for them,” Pacific Asset Management analyst Bob Boyd said.

They are “starting just around the edges to compete with the bigger theme parks as far as themed attractions,” Boyd said.

“It clearly from a capital perspective is more efficient than … building a ride from the ground up,” Mills said. “What I think the point here is, we’re looking at various options to bring differing experiences to SeaWorld. We want to make sure we’re appealing to a very wide audience and a very, very competitive market. I’m not going to hide from the fact that yes, it’s capital efficient, but that wasn’t the driver.”

Kraken is SeaWorld’s oldest roller coaster. It opened in 2000.

Employees at Kraken will sanitize headsets after each ride. Mills acknowledged that will slow down the loading process, although he didn’t have details about how much. Kraken may run more vehicles to compensate for that, he said. And more employees will be stationed at the ride to make the process smoother.

“I think the best rides you go on, you do have to wait a little bit because it creates anticipation,” Mills said. “I think that adds to the experience.”

New features in the queue will keep riders amused as they stand in line.

SeaWorld wouldn’t identify the company developing the new headset technology or give the costs specifically for the virtual-reality experience.

Other changes at SeaWorld Orlando planned over the next few months:

•The park will renovate the Dolphin Nursery. Concrete will be replaced with acrylic windows allowing guests to see the animals underneath the water’s surface. Digital displays will teach visitors about behavior, biology and conservation. SeaWorld will also create new slide-out areas and a lifting floor, providing easier access for employees working with the dolphins.

•SeaWorld Orlando will introduce the Seven Seas Festival, a food extravaganza already at its San Diego and San Antonio parks. That will expand the number of food and music events to a total of 15 weekends in 2017, compared with about eight this year. (SeaWorld’s other events include Bands, Brew & BBQ and Viva La Musica.) The amount of space dedicated to the festivals also will expand. In May, SeaWorld will also add the Flamecraft Bar next to SeaFire Grill. Flamecraft will have 16 season craft brews. It will also feature outdoor seating.

•A new nighttime summer show called Electric Ocean will debut next summer. It will include bioluminescent lighting, music, fountains, live performances and a fireworks finale. Part of the show will be on the water at Bayside Theater. SeaWorld did not have details but “lighting is a key component of bringing Electric Ocean to life,” Mills said.

•A passholder lounge will open at SeaWorld’s Aquatica water park by Easter. SeaWorld opened a passholder lounge at its main park last year. Perks include concierge service, complimentary sunscreen, a private entrance to Banana Beach and private animal encounters.

•A new show will run Memorial Day through Labor Day at the Nautilus Theatre. A’Lure: The Call of the Ocean show closed there about a year and a half ago.

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