The San Diego park, located on the shore of Mission Bay, operates under some tough building-height restrictions imposed by the California Coastal Commission. That left SeaWorld and coaster designer Mack Rides with only 30 feet of above-grade height to work with on this ride. So they delivered a terrain-hugging coaster that uses two launches and some impressive track design to deliver a swift, twisty ride with surprising airtime. (SeaWorld also dug some trenches for the ride, to allow a 54-foot drop after its initial launch.)
Frequent Theme Park Insider readers and SeaWorld fans no doubt are familiar with SeaWorld Orlando's Manta, a Bolliger & Mabillard Flying coaster that won our Theme Park Insider Award for World's Best New Attraction in 2009. But if you're looking for an east-coast, SeaWorld-family roller coaster to compare with this Manta, I think Busch Gardens Tampa's Cheetah Hunt provides a better match. Cheetah Hunt is an Intamin production, but it also spends much of its time rolling from side to side as it skims the ground, powered by multiple launches that push it through its twists and turns.
I haven't ridden Cheetah Hunt, and was surprised to discover that a terrain coaster could deliver so much airtime. Forget yoga or Pilates. If you want to air out your spine with a refreshing stretch, try Manta. I felt I spent more time pulling out of my seat than sitting in it, as Manta used its minimal vertical changes to maximum effect.
Part of the trick of making airtime on a terrain coaster is to use shifts in banking to achieve the zero and negative G-forces that lift you from your seat. Essentially, instead of leaning deep into turns, the track banking every so slightly leans you away from them, pulling you from your seat instead of pushing you into it.
Ride in the back for the most airtime, and the smoothest ride. And ride in the back, as well, for the best view of Manta's unique feature - a wrap-around high-definition video tunnel that starts the ride. You'll "dive underwater" for a video view into the realm of the Manta ray, before blasting from the tunnel for your ride toward the shore of Mission Bay.
I didn't get a chance to walk the attraction's new queue, which was not completed, but it promised some amazing views of its own, as it will take visitors around and underneath the ride's adjacent ray pool, which houses California bat rays and diamond stingrays. (But no Manta rays - at up to 20 feet wide, they're too big for this pool. And remember, on this ride, you're the Manta.)
Park president John Reilly joined me for my first trip on the coaster, and he explained several of its elements along the way. On the day I visited, workers were still planting much of the ride's landscaping, so in the video you'll see people in construction vests instead of the foliage that eventually will cover much of the ground around the ride.
With Manta coming online at SeaWorld San Diego, now Walt Disney World's Epcot stands alone as the only of the nation's top 20 most-attended theme parks not to offer a roller coaster. (SeaWorld has had a Journey to Atlantis water coaster, but Manta will be the park's first "proper" roller coaster.) Manta helps round out the San Diego park's ride line-up, and gives it a delightful coaster that's both accessible (no inversions!) and thrilling.
Manta opens to the public this Saturday, May 26.
Update: Another review, quoting yours truly.Tweet
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