Pass member preview: SeaWorld Orlando’s Kraken Unleashed virtual reality overlay

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SeaWorld Orlando has just revamped its Kraken roller coaster to add a new dimension for riders — the 3D Virtual Reality option. The new Kraken Unleashed opens to the public tomorrow (June 16), but my 12-year-old daughter and husband rode during pass member previews. Here, I share their experience and what you can expect if you choose to ride.

For those not familiar with Virtual Reality coasters, guests ride an actual roller coaster while wearing a headset that gives the passenger a 3D show to watch that is synced to the movements of the attraction. Earpieces contribute to the story with synced noises and music.

SeaWorld’s Vice President of Theme Park Design Experience Brian Morrow described Kraken Unleashed’s story this way: “It’s going to take you into a new story told by SeaWorld of legendary sea creatures and exotic underwater environments like you’ve never seen before. When you put your headset on, you’re going to be in Sea Base. Our coaster station will be transformed into this environment digitally — 3D, 360 stereoscopic-sound-involving conversion experience. Once you leave the sea base, you dive into the ocean and we found there is seismic activity taking place. And we go take a look. We get sucked into a glowing crack and into a world we could not have imagined. … This is an action-packed cinematic coaster experience we are delivering.”

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For my daughter and husband, Kraken Unleashed was their first experience with a Virtual Reality overlay on a roller coaster. They had previously ridden attractions with Virtual Reality, such as Sum of All Thrills at Epcot and Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride at DisneyQuest, but those experiences cannot exactly compare because they lack the G-forces of a coaster ride. However, both by daughter and my husband are quite familiar with Kraken and have ridden it often over the years because we are SeaWorld Orlando annual pass members.

So, what was Kraken Unleashed like?

Approaching the entrance, they first noticed that the Kraken sign has been updated to reflect the new name and the sculpture of the sea beast has been repainted different colors. Plus, the wait time clocks have been replaced with a single, large digital clock, which is much easier to read. Guests still are not permitted to bring bags on this ride, and lockers are available outside the entrance. They cost $1 initially and $2 for every subsequent hour.

Although the queue is the same queue, it has been repainted primarily in blue and yellow patterns and graphics to re-enforce the idea that the ride starts at a Sea Base. There are larger video screens throughout, as well. Visitors will notice that the Kraken Unleashed cars still have the overhead restraints, but now they have a box attached to the seatbelts for the storage of the headsets. Plus, handles have been added at seat level for new places to grip during the ride.

When you board the Kraken Unleashed cars, you will have a choice of whether you want to wear the Virtual Reality headset. If you do, your face must be free of any cuts or scrapes and if you wear glasses, they must be removed. (You can put them in a pocket or store them in bins next to the coaster.)

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Once the headset is on, a team member will make sure it is tightened appropriately. (The headset remains tethered to the ride.) Although she didn’t need it, my daughter noted that there are additional settings to make the headsets fit younger children. Kids have to be at least 54 inches tall to ride. Riders also can adjust their view of the 3D graphics with a knob on top of the headset to prevent blurry vision.

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And then they were off!

“I know the ride well, but after the first two elements, you lose track of where you are, so it instantly changes it from the coaster you knew to a very different experience [with the headset],” Morrow said.

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Both my husband and my daughter agreed with Morrow. However, my daughter enjoyed the experience a lot more than my husband did. He said that even though the movement of the coaster matched the story, he still experienced motion sickness — and he usually is not prone to motion sickness on roller coasters and simulators. My daughter enjoyed the new experience but said that she thinks roller coasters are more thrilling when you can actually anticipate and see where you are going.

On the straightaway into the station, passengers are asked to remove their headsets. Once the train is stopped, team members clean each headset before allowing a guest to exit. Clearly, this process adds to the loading time — and, in turn, the wait time — for Kraken Unleashed. That may be a deal-breaker for some guests. However, Morrow told members of the media at an event recently that SeaWorld Orlando will be introducing a new system to help visitors manage wait times.

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