The most unique new attraction at SeaWorld Abu Dhabi is Hypersphere 360, a gravitron-like ride that achieves the all-encompassing immersion of virtual reality... without forcing you to wear those isolating headsets.
Located in the park's Arctic realm, the ride is set in the "S.E.A. Guardians Hyper-technology Arctic Command Center." That's right - SeaWorld Abu Dhabi is all in on the S.E.A. acronym for its "science, exploration, adventure" initiative. It's not an elite secret society, like Disney's S.E.A., but something that any park guest can join, via a series of interactive games set throughout the park.
And the focus of the S.E.A., for now, is this command center, from which we will board a special "hypersphere" in which we will travel the world's oceans, checking up on animals in need. The mission is set up in the preshow, in which the ride's Wall-E-like lead character explains what will happen.
Several of us were invited to preview the attraction during SeaWorld's press event last week, though we were asked not to post about it until the ride's public debut today. This was my first ride on the hypersphere ride system that Intamin has been promoting in its IAAPA Expo show floor booth for years, and it provides a unique new ride experience.
The ring of seats within the spherical theater space evokes the old gravitrons you can find in many carnivals. But this is not a high-speed, centrifugal force thrill ride. The ring of seats spins and tilts just enough to support the illusion that the sphere is gliding through liquid space. It's the jaw-dropping projections that cover the inside of the sphere which drive the excitement here.
Eighty seats ring the sphere, with snug over-the-shoulder restraints making this a bit of a tight fit for larger riders. When everyone is in place, the platform in front of the seats drops, revealing the full sphere and allowing the show to begin.
This is the ultimate in a screen-based attraction, with imagery surrounding you in every direction, It's the complete immersion of VR, but without the headsets and their social isolation and fake depth of field. You are looking out into real space here, sharing the moment with 79 other people that you can see as your sphere appears to glide through the ocean.
But don't spend too much time looking at those other riders. I found that if I kept my focus on the projections and gave into the illusion that I was moving in a transparent ride vehicle, the experience felt smooth and comfortable. But if I focused too long on the ring of seats, then my sense of balance began asking questions and driving me toward the dreaded "vomitron" experience.
Look down below the seats and you will find information about where you are and going next, projected like a car dash's "heads up" display upon the sphere. But above the seats, it's unobstructed (animated) underwater views, displayed in a way that inspired a sense of wonder that a jaded theme park visitor like me had not felt in some time.
It's a perfect fit for SeaWorld, especially at a park that isn't expected to draw the multiple millions of visitors a year that would overwhelm what I expect to be limited capacity on this attraction. With 80 people to load, check and unload around a five-minute showtime, they'll be lucky to get four to six cycles per hour here. Do the math, and we're talking tiny hourly numbers. So you probably should make this your first stop after opening to avoid what likely will be the longest wait in the park.
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