Thursday, May 21, 2009

'Manta' Glides into SeaWorld Orlando

“Manta” may be SeaWorld Orlando’s newest attraction, but the flying coaster looks and feels like it was part of the park’s foundation plan, so seamlessly is it integrated into its luscious surroundings.

The ride makes its presence known, that’s for sure, as it swoops right by the midway at the end of the park’s entrance plaza and dips its wing into a lagoon as jets spurt water high into the air.

“We wanted it to clearly be SeaWorld when you walk in that gate. Here’s a thrilling ride, but here’s how we make it SeaWorld,” Brian Morrow, the park’s director of design and engineering, told me this morning during “Manta’s” media preview day. The ride’s been in soft opening for several days now, but tomorrow marks its official grand opening.

“Manta” is actually two attractions in one: There’s the Bolliger & Mabillard flying coaster, obviously, but before guests get on the ride, they file through a queue that’s actually an exquisite aquarium. Guests that don’t want to test their mettle on “Manta” can skip the line and enter on the other side of the tanks for an entirely separate aquarium experience. There are more than 3,000 animals swimming through 250,000 gallons of water in the attraction, including one spot where guests look straight up through a viewing window to see the underside of rays as they glide past.

“We looked at what we’d done in the past, threw that away, and started over,” Morrow said of the aquarium. “We’ve reinvented the aquarium experience at SeaWorld. No longer are there big 20-foot-wide corridors with carpet and walls—it’s not that. It’s unique and special.”

The coaster's pretty special, too. For those that may not be familiar with a “flying” coaster, it means guests ride beneath the track in a headfirst prone position, as if they are actually flying, Superman-style. “Manta” opens with a 140-foot climb before diving 113 feet back toward the ground. It then rises again, offering a nice little pop of weightlessness before plunging into its most extreme element: the pretzel loop.

The pretzel loop is a drop where, at the bottom, the track tucks under itself so riders end up “on their backs” before coming up the other side. Because of the facedown positioning on a flyer, you can see the loop below you as you come up on it; every lap I took on “Manta,” I distinctly heard squeals of anticipation before the loop—once you hit it, well, it's hard to hear what everyone else is doing over your own shouting.

On “Manta,” though, the pretzel is just one of several elements that leave people buzzing afterward (I know from personal experience). After a brief midcourse break run, “Manta” zooms out in front of its main building, to the aforementioned lagoon across from the entrance plaza. Here the train swoops down toward the water and banks to the right, skimming across the water. As it pulls out of that move, the train skirts within three feet of a waterfall cascading off the queue building (when you’re on the ride, it feels like about three inches separate you from the waterfall); Morrow calls this maneuver the “Manta Kiss.” “Manta” then makes one last inline roll before diving back to the ground and then careens into the final brake run.

It’s a rush—and one you can actually kinda control. Riding up front offers a slightly more serene experience; hanging out in the back is full-on speed all the time—cresting the lift hill feels almost like a launch coaster from back there.

SeaWorld officials are understandably thrilled with their new attraction. “It’s a home run for us,” Morrow said.

I’ll have more on “Manta” in the August issue of FUNWORLD as part of our annual New Rides and Attractions special section, which highlights several of the biggest and brightest new additions to the industry from around the world. I’ll leave you with this interesting little tidbit of info, though:

In a way, “Manta” has been around since the beginning of the park—part of it, anyway. Several of the gorgeous trees that now surround the ride have been around since SeaWorld opened. According to Morrow, they were originally in an attraction called “The Rainforest,” that has since closed. The trees were moved to a nearby tree farm, then brought back into the park for “Manta.”

Sorta closes the circle, don’tcha think? Morrow certainly does. He called "Manta" "the next generation of thrills and animal experiences at SeaWorld."

For more on “Manta,” visit

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