Two weeks ago, Sarasota's Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium unveiled four virtual reality pods that allow guests to enjoy unique immersive experiences in the Exploration Gallery section of the aquarium, and the pods have been a hit. In the first week alone, more than 1,000 people tried out the new pods.
The Mote experience offers nine different adventures to choose from, each lasting between four and five minutes. Two of the adventures, “Legend of Lusca” and “Swimming With Humpbacks,” include live video footage from ocean exploration tailored for virtual reality. The other adventures use virtual reality technology to imitate roller coaster-like sensations featuring space, horror and fantasy themes.
Once you pick your adventure, Mote staff will get you set up in one of the four comfy pods and equip you with a headset. The headsets offer a full and realistic 360-degree view of diverse landscapes and worlds. The pods, built by the U.K.-based virtual reality company Immotion, evoke realistic movements. I tried “Swimming With Humpbacks,” during which I felt like I was cruising over the ocean and gliding underwater to be face-to-face with whales in the South Pacific.
“With the growth of new tech, this can appeal to different kinds of guests who are more tech-savvy,” says Stephannie Kettle, Mote’s public relations manager. Mote has groundbreaking plans to relocate and build a new facility within the next couple of years, but until the new aquarium is built, it is taking advantage of new developments in virtual and augmented reality technology to enhance guests’ experience at the current location.
The virtual reality experience is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and costs $6 a person. Mote is located at 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota. Tickets for the aquarium range from $18 to $24, with free admission for children 2 and under.