It’s shaping up to be a big year for the family of SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks. Five new rides and attractions are currently being installed across the country:
- Aquatica: A new themed waterpark adjoining SeaWorld San Antonio (opening May 19th)
- Verbolten: A multiple launch coaster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg combining theming and special effects (opening late spring)
- Turtle Trek: Coming to SeaWorld Orlando, Turtle Trek is an interactive experience combining projection technology with live animals to bring guests into the world of sea turtles (opening April 27)
- Freshwater Oasis: At Orlando’s Discovery Cove, guests will be able to wade into a freshwater rainforest and come face to face with the animals that inhabit them naturally (opening summer, 2012)
- Manta: At SeaWorld San Diego, Manta is a roller coaster the mimics the movement of a stingray with two launches and an immersive themed environment (opening May 26)
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment Corporate Director, Creative Development, Brian Morrow, gave InPark editor and publisher Martin Palicki this exclusive interview about some of the projects and what new experiences they are bringing to life.
InPark: Let’s talk about TurtleTrek (SeaWorld Orlando) first. Why did you decide to go with projection for this project?
Brian: We actually started with the story of the legendary journey of the turtle. We knew how impactful seeing sea turtles swim underwater can be to guests, and we wanted to tie the story of their journeys to an experience. Utilizing media content as a story-telling device would allow us to tell the turtle story in a new, immersive experience for our guests.
InPark: What qualities of this 3D attraction and dome system will be different or better than similar systems already out there?
Brian: The audience experience will be the world’s first and one of a kind. The undersea world will surround the guests, wrapping around, overhead and even below the surface they are standing on. We are able to place the guests in the center of the action, face to face and fin to hand with the sea life. The limits of current 3-D attractions no longer apply to TurtleTrek as this non-traditional attraction is not set up as a theater; it’s really a portal into an undersea world/adventure.
InPark: When designing a new attraction like this, how do you find the balance between entertainment and advocacy?
Brian: Our guests have come to expect that they’ll learn while in our parks and better understand the world they live in. Inspiring guests through the power of entertainment is a perfect first step to get them to care about sea life. From this jumping off point we can share information on how they, too, can make a difference. We humans have an inherent desire to do good. Our attractions empower, inspire and give guests the tools to do just that. But we start with providing an entertaining and exciting attraction…that is the first step of the process.
InPark: Is there a “magic mix” for the SeaWorld parks between thrill rides, family rides, and shows? How do you find that?
Brian: We call it product mix, which might not be a very exciting phrase, but it is a key factor of decision. We pay close attention to what our guests tell us and what they expect of us. This drives the product mix within each individual park. It can vary, even between the three SeaWorld’s.
InPark: With big name projects in the works from Disney and Universal, how do you see SeaWorld Orlando fitting into the Orlando park market going forward?
Brian: Connecting our guests with the natural world will always remain our goal. Nature provides an endless list of amazing stories to tell, and we plan on sharing them with our guests in new, amazing and completely original ways. TurtleTrek is a great example of what SeaWorld does best, connecting guests with nature through the power of entertainment.
InPark: How about Freshwater Oasis at Discovery Cove. Where did this idea come from?
Brian: The idea comes straight from nature herself as rain will often fill the forest floor with fresh water. Walking through a jungle and discovering animals is a great experience but wading through those same trails in the jungle is even better! Freshwater Oasis is a tropical forest filled with fresh water and now guests can explore this world by wading and walking through the forest and discovering animals — new animals – marmosets (monkeys) and otters. Who doesn’t want to do that?
InPark: What sort of theming and technology is involved in this project?
Brian: Freshwater Oasis will mimic various waterways found in rich dense forests around the globe. The theming of the experience matches those environments down to the bark on trees, plants selected and layers of sediment that can be found along a forest river. There is a Cenote, water-filled canyon and what we call a living tunnel for guests to explore.
InPark: How do you keep the humans safe from the animals and the animals safe from the humans?
Brian: This is one of our areas of greatest expertise and Freshwater Oasis has two animal habitats that have never been done in the world. The Asian River otters are safely behind acrylic so as guests are wading by the otters are only inches away. The marmosets can be found by guests peeking through the landscape and swimming right up to the lush tropical habitat with no barrier between them and these great little animals.
InPark: Any update on when Freshwater Oasis will open?
InPark: With Manta at San Diego, how did you select your ride manufacturer?
Brian: Manta at SeaWorld San Diego is a launching family thrill attraction with a strong storyline. We actually script our rides first and develop the experience we want. This information is shared with various coaster manufacturers, and we select from there whom our partner for the project will be.
InPark: What differences can riders expect from the Orlando version?
Brian: First and most obvious is the rider position. You won’t be suspended under the manta like Orlando but flying alongside the manta exploring his world. Another major difference is the indoor portion of the attraction in San Diego. Riders will enter the worlds first 270-degree tube theater while riding the coaster. Once onboard, riders will enter the undersea world of the manta, and the coaster will behave like a simulator moving in sync with the media content, then launch alongside the manta and other rays to explore their world on a multi-launch coaster experience.
InPark: Speaking of Orlando comparisons, how will Aquatica Texas differ from the Orlando park?
Brian: The main difference will be the signature attraction which in San Antonio will be a family raft ride called StingRay falls which guests will slip and slide as a family down the falls then splash into a river and float under the ray habitiat. Guests will also have a chance to feed the rays and even wade in with the rays. The Aquatica characters will all be at the new park in Texas plus plenty of space to set up home base on the sand beaches, lots of pools to relax in and plenty of cabanas. There is also family thrill ride at Texas which is a zero gravity wall raft ride.
InPark: Anything new planned for Aquatica Orlando?
Brian: Not as of yet. We introduced Omaka Rocka not too long ago, and that has been very popular with our guests. Remember, Aquatica is only four years old so nothing in the pipeline for now but we’ll let you know if that changes.
InPark: Finally, let’s talk about Verbolten at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. This ride is replacing a much beloved attraction known at The Big Bad Wolf. How are decisions made on which rides to remove?
Brian: Age and appeal play great roles in that decision. The Big Bad Wolf had great appeal but it was a historic Arrow coaster and it was time to reinvent the attraction on that site. Verbolten is a major attraction investment for us and will provide guests the chance to “Brave the Black Forest.”
InPark: Which comes first, the ride concept? Or the ride location?
Brian: Story and experience always comes first. We typically have to know an area of the park that we are considering as this greatly influences the story narrative. Our attractions are all originally created equities so we don’t have limitations on existing creative. This allows us to develop the best experience at the best location at any of our parks. The ride gear always comes after story; the creative team will script a ride experience to support major story beats then our ride team assists in figuring out the appropriate gear to support the experience.
InPark: Why did you decide to follow a similar track path to the ending of the ride over the river?
Brian: Paying homage to the Big Bad Wolf was mandatory in the ride script. That final drop is a signature move for Busch Gardens Virgina and our guests love it. You will always notice our coasters have what we call the “Icon Moment” and at Verbolten crashing through an old wooden bridge and dropping down to the river is our Icon Moment- every guest will take a photo of it. Entertaining our non-riders is equally as important and Icon Moments assist in that effort.
InPark: What sort of theming will be involved in Verbolten?
InPark: Of everything opening in your parks in 2012, what are you personally most excited about?
View the Sea World / Busch Gardens article archive on IPM.