Sea­World ditches VR head­sets on Kraken

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Society - By Gabrielle Rus­son Or­lando Sen­tinel

Be­fore noon Tues­day, Penn­syl­va­nia tourist John Lusk rode Kraken Un­leashed for the fifth time that day while his wife pa­tiently waited for him down be­low.

The coaster was fast, full of turns and loops that made him feel the G-forces. “It’s a beau­ti­ful ride,” Lusk said.

Kraken Un­leashed has gone back to be­ing a reg­u­lar roller coaster again at Sea­World Or­lando, with a vir­tual re­al­ity ex­per­i­ment ended a lit­tle more than a year af­ter it be­gan.

Sea­World be­gan phas­ing out the ride’s VR head­sets this sum­mer be­cause of poor guest re­views and to keep the wait times shorter dur­ing the busier days, spokes­woman Lori Cherry said.

By mid-Au­gust, the head­sets were com­pletely re­moved, Cherry said.

The news wasn’t un­ex­pected, said sev­eral who fol­low the theme park in­dus­try.

The re­views on roller coast­ers re­fit­ted to of­fer vir­tual re­al­ity have been de­cid­edly mixed, said an­a­lyst Bob Boyd of Pa­cific As­set Man­age­ment

“There’s cer­tainly a nov­elty to it. It’s some­thing new,” Boyd said.

But it hurts roller coaster’s ca­pac­ity, Boyd said, since at­trac­tions work­ers must wipe off the head­sets be­fore the next group of rid­ers climb on. The wait times get longer and longer.

Peo­ple can only look straight ahead in the head­sets so their abil­ity to view the il­lu­sions they cre­ate are limited on a speed­ing coaster. The tech­nol­ogy, as it zooms and twists and turns on the track, re­quires main­te­nance ex­penses, too.

“It wouldn’t sur­prise me that it hasn’t had that kind of pay­off,” Boyd said.

There was a buzz when Sea­World de­buted the VR in June 2017. On its open­ing day, news me­dia sto­ries cen­tered around Sea­World’s new tech­nol­ogy that made rid­ers feel like they were un­der­wa­ter on an ad­ven­ture and dodg­ing sea crea­tures on the steel floor­less coaster built in 2000.

“It’s a cheap way to get a mar­ket­ing blip and in­tro­duce some­thing new,” said Den­nis Speigel, pres­i­dent of the Ohio-based In­ter­na­tional Theme Park Ser­vices, a con­sul­tant for theme parks.

Speigel said the VR in­fra­struc­ture may cost a few hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars, a mi­nus­cule amount com­pared with the mul­ti­mil­lions it costs to build a new roller coaster.

Cherry de­clined to pro­vide the costs of in­stalling the VR.

How­ever, most reg­u­lar theme vis­i­tors pre­fer a roller coaster just the way it

is — sans VR head­sets, said Speigel.

“I don’t think any­one will view this as a fail­ure,”

Boyd added. “You put out an ex­per­i­ment and some­times it doesn’t have the turn you hoped it would.”

JOE BUR­BANK/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

Rid­ers are among the first to try out the new vir­tual re­al­ity head­sets on Kraken Un­leashed at Sea­World in June 2017. By mid-Au­gust 2018, the theme park de­cided to re­move them, cit­ing poor guest re­views and longer wait times.

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