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Virtual reality makeover lets you experience SeaWorld's oldest coaster in new ways

As Kraken speeds through a loop and turns upside down, its riders wearing virtual reality headsets are experiencing an undersea adventure.

SEAWORLD ORLANDO

By MARJIE LAMBERT | Miami Herald | Published: July 6, 2017

The latest Florida theme park attraction to open is a remake of an old one: SeaWorld's Kraken roller coaster with a virtual reality plug-in. It's a major makeover for SeaWorld's oldest coaster, but it doesn't involve any changes to the track.

The coaster, closed since mid-April while the park installed virtual reality equipment, reopened recently as the first virtual reality ride at a major Florida theme park.

Guests can choose whether to use the virtual reality headset. Ride without the headset and you get the same Kraken that's been eliciting screams since 2000. Themed around the sea monster for which it's named, Kraken is 4,177 feet long, stands 153 feet tall, has a top speed of 65 mph and turns you upside down seven times in about 2 minutes.

Put on the virtual reality headset, though, and it becomes Kraken Unleashed, a whole different adventure under the sea.

"When you put the headset on, it's going to be like you're on a submarine base on the edge of the ocean. You hear from the submarine commander ... that there's seismic activity under water," said Brian Morrow, vice president of theme park experience and design at SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment.

"A crack opens in the sea floor," Morrow says. "We're going to go through it. We dive into the prehistoric ocean." The coaster encounters prehistoric creatures including the coaster's namesake.

The goggles completely block out any glimpse of the real world, Morrow says, but headphones -- which have a soundtrack -- will still let you hear the person next to you screaming.

"What I didn't expect is about halfway through, you forget you're on a roller coaster," he said. "You don't know what's coming up next."

Virtual reality is a means of giving new life to an existing ride at relatively little expense. A computer installed under the seat feeds data to the headset, adding sound and new sights. The software can be changed fairly cheaply, providing a whole new adventure.

"Our use of technology is able to take you behind the barriers where you ... normally can't. That's where virtual reality comes in," said Anthony Esparza, chief creative officer, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment.

Although SeaWorld is the first Florida theme park to offer a virtual reality ride, it's already in place on the Freedom Flyer coaster at Fun Spot, an Orlando amusement park, and at a few theme parks outside Florida.

Riders wearing the virtual reality gear on SeaWorld's Kraken roller coaster will climb an underwater volcano.
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