Can SeaWorld attract roller coaster fans?
Fans answered that question with a solid "yes" years ago in Orlando, where that park's trio of Kraken, Manta, and Mako have put SeaWorld Orlando on many coaster fans' to-do list. But SeaWorld's original park in San Diego hasn't earned much love from coaster fans. Restriction put in place by the California Coastal Commission have limited the park's ability to build big thrill rides, forcing it to stay close to the park's roots as an marine mammal showplace instead of branching out to offer the wider mix of rides that SeaWorld's parks in Orlando and San Antonio have offered.
SeaWorld San Diego finally got into the game with its own Manta in 2012. This wasn't the B&M flyer beloved to Orlando visitors, but a Mack Rides terrain coaster that offered some nice airtime and a fun ride. But a single coaster isn't enough to get the attention of more than the most credit-desperate coaster fans. To become a thrill ride destination, you've got to offer quantity as well as quality.
Enter Electric Eel. SeaWorld San Diego's second "proper" coaster offers stats that any park could brag about: a triple launch coaster with a top speed of 62 mph and a height of 150 feet. It's the tallest and fastest coaster in San Diego, and the fastest to open in California this year. SeaWorld? Topping coaster stats in anything? It's a new day for California coaster fans.
So how is the ride? Well, even though this Premier Rides Sky Rocket II coaster is new to Southern California roller coaster fans, it might be familiar to fans of SeaWorld's sister park Busch Gardens Williamsburg, which opened the same design as Tempesto in 2015.
The only difference here is the theme. Instead of playing the role of a circus daredevil, here we ride on the back of a wriggling, electrified knifefish. (Yes, electric eels are fish, not serpents.)
We start with a forward launch out of the station, stalling on the track as gravity drops us back into the station, through which the ride accelerates us with a faster, backward launch. That one drives us up higher, but we stall again for gravity to pull us again into the station, where a third launch finally gets us up to that 62 mph top speed, propelling us all the way to the top of the 150-foot structure.
A relatively slow inline twist follows, affording us a brief view of Mission Bay and the park before gravity pulls us down and into the ride's final element, a non-inverting loop. Then we drop back into the station, overshooting it by just a bit, before gravity gently rolls us backward to unload.
It's all go-go-go from the initial launch, with the only apparent "pause" being that upside-down moment in the inline twist. But that only seems like a pause because you've slowed from that 62 mph rocket launch into a relatively gentle 40 mph scoot across the top of the structure.
The downside? It's one 18-passenger train at a time, so Electric Eel isn't going to set any records for capacity, even if the ride time clocks in at less than a minute. But if Electric Eel attracts enough fans to back up the queue into an hour-plus wait, then it will have done its job for the park, which needs a hit after years of declining attendance under competition from nearby Legoland, not to mention its free-spending rivals to the north in Disneyland and Universal, which now offer The Wizarding World of Harry Potter that bludgeoned SeaWorld's attendance in Orlando when it opened in 2010.
Barring a political revolution in California, SeaWorld's never going to get the green light to build a hyper coaster, so its coaster thrills will need to come from elements such as launches and creative track design. By that standard, Electric Eel succeeds impressively, offering an experience unlike any other coaster in the state.
Yup, at SeaWorld San Diego. Maybe it's time to put it on the roller coaster roadtrip map.Tweet
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