SeaWorld unveils new Antarctica attraction

Guests 1st in line experience chilly penguin habitat

Published On: May 24 2013 01:21:42 PM EDT   Updated On: May 24 2013 02:51:22 PM EDT
ORLANDO, Fla. -

SeaWorld's Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin opened officially to guests Friday morning with the only appropriate greeting for Central Florida: 30-degree weather and snow.

[PHOTOS:  SeaWorld Orlando unveils new attraction]

Some of the first people through what SeaWorld refers to as the new "realm" are already raving, calling the experience "unique" and "phenomenal."

Lines for the ride itself wrapped into the Antarctic-themed courtyard, complete with a new restaurant and gift shop. While guests waited in the minimum 20-minute queue, which is bound to be longer during the peak of summer, SeaWorld workers treated them to snacks.

Then riders weaved their way through climate-controlled chambers designed to acclimate their bodies to the 30-degree temperature at the ride's end. But first they rode trackless cars through the twists and turns of the penguin's view of the Antarctic. It's all through the eyes of the animated penguin Puck, whose life guests experience--including the danger and mystery of the journey.

One of the most buzzed-about experiences was the up-close encounter with real-life penguins the attraction offers at the ride's end.

"When they turn you around you're seeing all these real penguins. It's right there in front of you," said Shelby Platt, one of the first riders.

Platt's friend Jaqueline Erazo said she never thought she'd experience anything like it.

"I don't think you could see this anywhere else. It's awesome," she said.

SeaWorld has gathered four species and nearly 250 penguins in what is as close to their real icy habitat as possible.