Just to start with, this isn’t a ‘new’ ride as such. Kraken has been an imposing part of the SeaWorld line-up for 17 years, and its giant steel structure helps to give the park its iconic look of exciting rides mixed with animal experiences.
What is new is the whole story overlay and, more importantly, the virtual reality headsets that now go with every seat on the coaster. The entrance plaza has also been completely rebuilt, and that is the first clue that this is no longer the 17-year-old version of the ride. Instead of a simple, high-energy ride, visitors are now entering the undersea exploration facility of the Mediterranean Sea Base and getting ready for a ride around the sea bed.
But let’s allow SeaWorld’s vice-president of theme park experience design, Brian Morrow, to pick up the story at this week’s big media preview…
“We want our guests to get a personal and immersive experience in our parks these days, and Kraken Unleashed is a big step in that direction,” Brian told us. “It is a new ride experience and it is an immersion coaster experience that uses virtual reality technology to pull that off. It is also a chance for guests to fall back in love with this amazing, record-breaking coaster from 17 years ago that is now a whole new experience.
“Now we can story-tell, so you are actually going to be in a submarine, not a coaster, when you put your goggles on, and then you are going to dive underwater through the sea base. Everything is beautiful in the ocean as you are climbing that lift hill. It’s gorgeous and there are sea animals all over, with turtles, dolphins, sharks and fish, but then we get a message from our sub commander that something has been detected – there is a movement in the ground and a large fissure opens up under water and we all get sucked in.”
That is the cue for the ride to dive into the mysterious trench and encounter a lost prehistoric undersea world that delivers an amazing series of visual adventures with mythical creatures, all of which are sequenced with the actual movements of the coaster to provide a breathless whirl through this vivid, exciting and dangerous realm, culminating with a close encounter with the Kraken itself.
Intriguingly, it definitely feels like a different ride, with less of the hectic, mind-scrambling inversions that you are used to from just the regular ride (you can opt out of the virtual reality headsets, by the way). And that is a deliberate bonus from the ride film, according to Brian.
“Even though you may be inverting and pulling a lot of G-force through the centre line of your body, we might not be inverting you in the ride film,” he explained. “We might be doing something different to make that centre line make sense. We do invert a few times, but the rest of the time you are losing where you are on the ride, and that is intentional.”
What it also means is that if people are worried about riding such an aggressive coaster, they may well find – as we did – that the whole experience feels distinctly toned down as you are busy watching the film flash before your eyes in the headset.
Having ridden it twice, it really does feel like a moving movie adventure that you can relish, and Brian told us that the whole film-making part of the new-look Kraken was very much a genuine movie production that took nine months as it is all custom-made, 3-D content (by a British company), with a film director and music director from Los Angeles.
The one thing we would recommend, if you are prone to motion sickness at all, is to keep your head fixed in one direction as you go around the ride. With the VR effects, there are visuals seemingly all around you, but you will still get the full effect by looking straight ahead as it is a completely 3-D experience.
The other new benefit with Kraken Unleashed is SeaWorld’s latest queue-busting idea called Spot Saver. This is completely free to use, but you must take advantage of it when you first arrive by booking it on the mobile App or at the ride itself. Because the addition of the VR headsets slows down the loading of the ride appreciably, this gives you the chance to ‘reserve’ a spot in line and return to Kraken later in the day with only a minimal wait.
Kraken Unleashed is not the only new element for this summer, though. Not by a long chalk. In fact, this June marks the biggest summer season the park has ever had. From June 17 to August 5, Electric Ocean becomes the special night-time programme from 6-10pm, an ‘Electronic Dance Music Festival’ that concludes with a new special effects show, Ignite.
There will still be the usual Sea Lions Tonite show, poking fun at SeaWorld’s daytime presentations, and Shamu’s Celebration: Light Up The Night at Shamu Stadium, plus another new element, Club Sea Glow, a dance party on the Bayside Stadium stage from 8-10pm. It all adds up to a comprehensive and involving nightly programme, and entertainment creative director Steve Welch is excited by what they have to offer.
“The direction we’re headed, we’re trying to push the edge and go beyond what we’ve done before, not be the same SeaWorld, but be something different, something beyond,” he told us. “That’s reflected in Kraken Unleashed and Electric Ocean, and things like the new POP show at the Nautilus Theater. We wanted Electric Ocean to be edgy, surprising, different.
“Ignite is also the unexpected. A night-time spectacular with fireworks but a lot more. It uses special effects that we’ve never used before, and we get you closer than you’ve ever been to these experiences. That elevates it into a spectacular night-time experience, telling a story that should be inspirational, hopeful and joyous, with a big finale. I can’t tell you what that will be but the title of the show gives it away – and, if you get close, you may need sunscreen!”
And this all comes on top of SeaWorld’s other exciting new show, POP, starring ‘bubble master’ Fan Yang. We previewed this imaginative offering last month and finally caught the full show for the first time this week (it also runs up to four times a day – not Thursdays – until August 5). A full 30 minutes of captivating – and truly mind-boggling – bubble tricks, Fan Yang is a master showman with a light touch, as he produces a series of startling effects with bubbles, smoke and lasers, including a fun audience participation section and a finale involving positively millions of bubbles. Miss it at your peril!
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