Theme Park, Amusement Park and Attractions Industry News

Swimming with Fishes

All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey, so what I going to do on a winter’s day? One thing I wasn’t going do is to start singing California Dreaming by The Mamas and the Papas. No, I was going to go to Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, which is best known for it’s skiing and other outdoor activities. I don’t ski, and I’m not going to stand outside in freezing January temperatures. I had a better idea. I was going to Kalahari Resorts Poconos where they have a giant indoor waterpark to splash around in during the day and adult beverages waiting for me in the evening.

I was headed to Kalahari to experience their new underwater virtual reality snorkeling experience, DIVR by Ballast Technologies. Read about it on page ?? Inside the waterpark the temperature was a toasty 84º F (29º C), the perfect alternative for a winter day.

While amusement parks may have a variety of low capacity attractions that can be offered for an up-charge, before now waterparks have not. DIVR changes that. It transforms any pool into a fantastic adventure where guests can go deep sea diving, flying, or on a space walk. It combines the weightlessness of being in water with the immersion of virtual reality, resulting in an unprecedented full-body sensory experience. Ballast’s partner, Sub Sea Systems, is hoping to upgrade some of these systems to the DIVR+ version with thruster and sensory bubble effects.

Arriving at the DIVR site within the Kalahari waterpark, I was fitted with a waterproof virtual reality mask, which consisted of two eyepieces, a large screen smart phone, speakers, and an attached snorkel to breath through while in the water. A very helpful attendant, Nate Olsen, gave me a single-use mouthpiece that I placed on the end of the snorkel, and fitted me with a floatation belt around my waist. Tethered to an anchor at the bottom of the pool, the belt helped me keep comfortably afloat.

Kalahari offered three different video experiences, with more planned in the future. In the first I was swimming with ocean fish. I believe this is computer generated imagery, and as I turned my head left and right the scene changed appropriately. Then I thought I would test it to see if my hands and arms would appear if I waved them in front of my face, This is virtual rather than real reality, so they did not.

At the end of the video I stood up and Olsen transferred a second, and later a third video. These were fascinating, too. In one I was floating in outer space at an abandoned space station, watching the planets float by, and in the second interacted with a whale and an octopus back in the ocean. All the time there were four or five other guests in the pool, all tethered in place, enjoying their own adventures.

So what did I learn from this? For one thing, being weightless while experiencing virtual reality enhances the experience. Second, DIVR is a sure-fire addition to any waterpark, indoors or outdoors. Third, while breathing through a snorkel tube, one should always keep the tube’s upper end above water.

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