ORLANDO — SeaWorld unveiled plans Tuesday for two new attractions to open this spring — and a vague outline of what's being described as a blockbuster new Antarctic experience to open in 2013.
Park officials would not discuss the price tag but said the expansion is the biggest capital spending spree in park history.
"We're taking stories and experiences only SeaWorld can do and taking them to a new level," said park president Terry Prather.
The news comes at a time when the Orlando theme park continues negotiating with federal safety regulators over ways to let trainers back in the water at the park's headline "Believe" whale attraction after a trainer was killed there in 2010.
It's also more evidence that Blackstone Advisors, the private equity firm that bought the 10 SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks in 2009, stands willing to bankroll top-tier attractions to ensure repeat visits to the parks.
The new attractions are:
• Turtle Trek, opening in the spring, will be a first-of-its kind, three-dimensional, computer-generated animation projected above and around a domed ceiling. Wearing 3-D glasses, the 195-person audience will watch standing with lean railings nearby should they lose their balance. That's because, like the ocean, the screen will have no entry or exit points for the action, which, including the sound, will come from all directions.
The six-minute film tells the story of a sea turtle from its birth buried on a beach through a 22-year trek around the oceans before becoming one of 20,000 sea creatures taken in by SeaWorld's rescue program.
The picture is said to be sharper than high-definition television. The 34 projectors will beam frames packing 13 times the pixels of high definition at 60 frames a second, which is faster than the human eye can register.
The attraction, which replaces the Manatee Recovery exhibit, will include live manatees and sea turtles.
• Freshwater Oasis will open this spring in Discovery Cove, the park's $199-a-day experience that includes meals and in-water encounters with live dolphins and other sea creatures. It will offer guests a walk through ankle- to waist-deep water among playful live marmosets cavorting in nearby foliage in a lush tropical rain forest. When the water deepens to a sinkhole, visitors can swim among cavorting river otters. Like Discovery Cove's teeming coral reef fish population, the animals will be separated from guests by transparent barriers.
SeaWorld expanded Discovery Cove's capacity last summer by about 20 percent to 1,000 guests per day.
• Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, opening in spring 2013. This will be SeaWorld's first attempt at adding a new realm to the park since Universal Orlando redefined the term with its sprawling and convincingly themed Harry Potter attraction two years ago.
Framed in the shadow of mountain peaks shaped like penguins' heads, the area will be modeled after a barren, windswept Antarctic settlement, interweaving one-on-one special effects with a conservationist theme inside the shops and a collection of food vendors.
Center stage will be a sit-down ride billed vaguely as a "thrilling family adventure" suitable for children, teens and families. Park officials described the ride system's technology as cutting edge but declined to reveal the name of the attraction.
Construction begins in late January when SeaWorld's Penguin Encounter, which features 200 of the feathered waddlers, closes to make way for its much larger replacement.
The penguins will get a temporary home.
The new attraction, which will include space for the park's live penguins, will have its own story line depicting life in a dangerous, hostile environment as seen through the eyes of a penguin. That includes 55-foot ice towers, clear enough to see through and cold enough to change color.
"Nobody else has done Antarctica in the theme park world," said Brian Morrow, SeaWorld creative director.
"It will be very cold inside, the coldest theme park attraction ever done."
Mark Albright can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8252.