Get out of the heat at SeaWorld Orlando in Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin

SeaWorld Orlando AntarticaSummer in Florida means temperatures in the 90s and humidly nearly thick enough to swim through. You can get a break from the unrelenting heat when you’re at SeaWorld Orlando by hopping aboard Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin and visiting the namesake birds in their chilly habitat.

Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin opened in May, completely replacing the original 1970s-era habitat. While the live penguins are main reason people flock to this new area, it’s actually got several things to explore. The “ice” walls will almost make you feel chilly, and you’ll enjoy finding the different penguins in the detailed carvings. There’s a counter service restaurant with Italian, Asian, and American food (the vegetarian lasagna is my favorite), a Coke Freestyle station with an exclusive flavor called South Pole Chill (it tastes something like cream soda), and a gift shop packed with everything penguin.

Spend some time exploring, then hop in line for the ride. Be warned, though: wait times are rarely less than an hour, and on busy days they balloon to 90 or even 120 minutes. Once you get into the building, you’ll feel the temperature drop as you’re introduced to the story of a baby penguin named Puck. You work your way through the cavern-like interior and choose whether you want the mild or wild version of the ride. I recommend wild for all but the biggest chickens, as it’s still extremely tame. The only wild elements are some minor spinning and bouncing.SeaWorld Orlando Antartica

The ride is short, but colorful and chilly, ending with a big seal-chase finale before you leave Puck’s virtual world and enter the real-life empire of the penguin. The temperature is literally freezing, but you’ll forget about the cold when you realize just how close you are to the cute little black and white birds. You might even get splashed as they dive and leap in the frigid water in front of you. You can stay in the penguin habitat as long as you wish, limited only by your cold tolerance.

If you can’t take the chill but you’re not done watching the penguins, head out to the next viewing area, which is much more temperate. You won’t actually be inside the habitat, but you’ll be able to see the penguins frolicking under water behind an enormous glass wall.

SeaWorld Orlando AntarcticaI recommend going back to this area after dark if park hours allow it because the nighttime lighting is gorgeous. Also, if you get in line before the park closes, you’re guaranteed to get on the ride. If you don’t want to kill prime park time, make Antarctica your last stop. The only disadvantage is that, depending on the time of year, the habitat might have dim lighting and the birds might not be very active.