Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin concept art

Hearing the word "SeaWorld" instantly brings to mind images of amazing killer whales performing incredible stunts. This week has seen the announcement of extensive expansion plans for Seaworld Orlando during 2012 and 2013, and I'm sure many people may be surprised to hear that Shamu and friends do not figure anywhere!

In this week's Big Debate, we'd like to know whether you are excited about the park's plans to fight back against competition from the likes of Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I suspect many of you are are already hunting out your thick coats and woolly gloves at the prospect of the planned new dark ride, but for those who haven't heard the latest read on for a recap.

The headline attraction, due to open in 2013, is Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin and it isn't going to be the tallest, fastest or longest theme park ride in the world. Instead, it will be the coldest. Imagine diving down to the bottom of the ocean and seeing the world through the eyes of a penguin - this is the intriguing concept behind SeaWorld Orlando's ground-breaking dark ride.

More imminently, spring 2012 will see the opening of a transformed Manatee Rescue attraction, renamed as TurtleTrek. Two large habitats will provide the centerpiece of the attraction, featuring manatees (of course) as well as freshwater fish and over a dozen sea turtles. The 360-degree dome theatre will also be overhauled and will show an all-singing, all-dancing 3-D version of SeaWorld Pictures' Turtle: the Incredible Journey.

Over the road at premium water park Discovery Cove, guests will be able to experience a new rainforest-themed area from 2012 which is to be named Freshwater Oasis. It will give visitors the opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with numerous otters and marmosets.

SeaWorld Orlando has had a difficult time over the last year. The ongoing controversy and legal disputes caused by the 2010 death of killer whale trainer Dawn Brancheau and a lack of real additions since Manta in 2009 has led to declining attendances. Meanwhile, competition has really hotted up, particularly since the opening of the Wizarding World. Walt Disney World will also see big developments in the Magic Kingdom's expanded Fantasyland over the next couple of years, so will SeaWorld Orlando's plans be too little, too late?

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Will Seaworld's expansion be a glistening success or will it receive a frosty reception? Let us know what you think by voting in the poll below.

Are you excited about SeaWorld Orlando's expansion plans for 2012 and 2013?

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