TAMPA — An 11-year-old boy, four Siberian huskies and a lifelike elephant on skates star in Busch Gardens' new show, its most ambitious theater production ever.
"Iceploration" opens today in the Moroccan Palace with ice skaters, acrobats, large puppets and live animals.
The show, which is included in daily park admission, tells the story of technology-obsessed Austin and his grandfather, who encourages him to put down his smartphone and explore the world.
Along the way, they enjoy the sights and sounds of the Serengeti, Great Barrier Reef, arctic circle and rain forest.
The theme park started working on "Iceploration" three years ago as a long-term replacement for "KaTonga," a jungle musical that ended in 2010 after six years.
Officials wanted a multisensory experience that introduced visitors to a new generation of ice shows.
Skaters glide on the ice and fly through the air.
At one point, it even snows.
''This takes us to a whole other level than we've had in the past,'' said Jim Dean, the park's president.
In keeping with Busch Gardens' nature theme, the show has 21 animals, including a flock of yellow and green sun conures that dramatically fly from the stage to the balcony.
The huskies pull a sled in the arctic, and an African ground hornbill struts across the stage in the Serengeti.
A blue and gold macaw steals the finale when he flies to Grandpa's arm.
The 30-minute show moves fast enough to keep young children's attention but gives ample time to the solo and pair skaters who put on difficult performances.
It's a bit jarring to watch an African scene on ice, but all is forgiven when the baby elephant puppet comes out on skates.
Busch Gardens hired Gregg Barnes, a Tony Award-winning costume designer, to outfit the 20-member cast. Sherilyn Draper, who has done work with Disney, wrote the script and served as director. Jon Baker produced an original soundtrack.
Each global region has acrobats and skaters dressed as animals native to the area.
Monkeys jump on trampolines and high ropes in the rain forest. A large moray eel appears to swim in the reef.
Though hesitant at first, the boy discovers that the wonders of nature don't happen indoors in front of a computer. Real life doesn't have a replay button, his grandfather reminds him.
In a postcard to his friend, Austin writes: "You're never going to believe all the crazy stuff I've seen.''