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Park Hoppin’ with Paul Ruben

Swimming with fishes Two Toes N A

going to go to Pennsylvania’s PoconoMountains, which is best known for its 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 pages 46 & 46. 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 upcharge, 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 spacewalk. 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 DIVRsite within the

ot sure why, but when I heard that I could get up close to a sloth at Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, New York, I just had to visit. Sloths are those adorable and lethargic animals that live in treetops of Central and South America’s tropical forests. They spend much of their lives in this jungle canopy, snoozing and remaining hidden from predators. They live solitary lives and travel from tree to tree using canopy vines. Jordan Patch, Animal Adventure Park’s owner, exhibits about 250 animals representing almost 100 species. Each animal has a name, and Patch knows them all. Housed in heated quarters, Patch has three sloths named Ruby, Chi Chi, and Monroe. I’m pictured here feeding Ruby. Ruby is a two-toed sloth, which makes it easy to tell us apart. I have five toes. When awake, Ruby and her house-mates move in very slooowww motion. I learned they each sleep 18 to 20 hours per day. I’m so jealous.

ll the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey, so what am I going to do on a winter’s day? One thing I wasn’t going do is to start singing California Dreaming by TheMamas and the Papas. No, I was

Guests can enjoy private animal encounters not only with the sloths, but with river otters or with penguins. These private encounters responsibly connect guests with this wildlife, communicating the importance of conservation and providing education through interactive engagement.

While I was drawn to the sloths, the most popular attraction here is April the Giraffe, who rose to fame in February 2017 when Patch decided to live stream April as she gave birth to her son, Tajiri. It became the second most watched live-stream video in YouTube history with over 232 million views and 7.6 billion minutes of live watch time. Since then, visitors have flocked to the park to see them live. April remains a big hit thanks to that fame and her very human-friendly demeanor.

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 breathe 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

“Every single day at the park we welcome a dozen to two dozen people from out of state traveling to Harpursville, New York, to meet a famous giraffe,” Patch says. “Weekly we have international visitors, here to see a giraffe they met on-line and fell in love with.”

Business came naturally to Patch, who in his teens bought and sold reptiles and other exotic pets. Eventually, he would own a pet store before switching to a bar and grill enterprise. When he lost the business in a flood, the opportunity to blend his two passions re-emerged.

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

“Animal Adventure came to be from a vision of a beautiful farm, big empty fields and a camel named Max,” recalls Patch. “What started out with a handful of animals and a dream has turned into this reality that continues to unfold and the opportunities are endless.” In the beginning, there were about 20 acres and a couple of exhibits, including the aforementioned Max. Animal Adventure has grown much, much larger, attracting hundreds of thousands annually.

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.

“People can go to just about any animal facility and encounter animals,” he concludes. “What we’re doing here is different in the sense that we’re allowing them to literally immerse themselves in our environment and fall in love with the animals.”


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