Ride review - Manta at SeaWorld San Diego [with on-ride video]

May 24, 2012, 11:44 AM · Wednesday morning, SeaWorld San Diego invited Theme Park Insider to take a "sneak peek" ride on its new family launch coaster, Manta.


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.

Replies (12)

May 24, 2012 at 12:15 PM

Another nice ride review from TPI.

I've noticed these "canned" videos from SeaWorld are strategically edited to conceal the most exciting themed elements from their newest rides in 2012. So this video shows little to no detail of Manta's launch tunnel, and the video of Verbolten showed little detail of the dark ride portion of that coaster.

Regardless, this was a very nice review. Thanks so much for posting it.

- Brian

May 24, 2012 at 2:16 PM

I don't know that it's strategy so much as video of video rarely looks good, so why bother? But yes, the little snip of video you see at the beginning of our clip doesn't come close to doing the Manta video tunnel justice.

May 24, 2012 at 3:34 PM

The opening tunnel sequence should show more. It has a soothing sound that portends a great ride; however, I'm sort of disappointed there wasn't anything in the middle section before the second launch and the ending didn't leave anything for you to see.

May 24, 2012 at 3:44 PM

Seems like it's not spectacular compared to Orlando's "flying simulator" rollercoaster.:(
Sorry to say but I would rather go on Orland's roller coaster than San Diego's ride...

-Very Sorry

May 24, 2012 at 3:52 PM

I actually like these videos that don't reveal too much. Yes, video rarely does an attraction's videos any sort of justice, but I like surprises. Can't wait!

May 24, 2012 at 4:16 PM

Thanks for the great review, Robert! It was really awesome meeting you yesterday morning at SeaWorld. (I was your adoring fan!) Manta IS really a fun ride and I think it will help SeaWorld San Diego get a little more of the family tourist business it tends to lose to Disney.

May 24, 2012 at 5:04 PM

Any word on what the hourly capacity might be for the ride?

May 24, 2012 at 6:02 PM

Yes! Thanks, Tim, for the reminder - I'd meant to cite that in the post. Jim said that Manta has a capacity of 1,400 guests per hour, running four trains.

And thanks for saying hello, Jackie. Pleasure to meet you!

May 24, 2012 at 6:30 PM

Excelent review!!

May 24, 2012 at 11:23 PM

The ride looks awesome and I can't wait to experience it for myself this summer. Great review as well.

I've always had a question as to why the ride can only be 30 feet above the ground. When other attractions at the park go higher. Sky Tower goes well over 100 feet, but that may get a pass since its a San Diego landmark and its been there forever, but how about Journey to Atlantis? The ride seems to be at least 60 feet and is easily visible from outside the park on I-8.

May 25, 2012 at 4:36 PM

Two Sea World theme parks with a coaster named Manta and two completely different coasters.... all this time, I actually thought San Diego's version would be a duplicate.

May 25, 2012 at 7:09 PM

I believe it has to do with its location relative to the Bay (Atlantis is located farther away), and the fact that a coaster needs multiple supports, as opposed to a single-support observation tower. But I need to check and get a definitive answer for you.

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