It may not be the tallest or fastest flying coaster, but the new Manta at SeaWorld Orlando is very thrilling and fully themed. One minute guests witness rays in underwater flight; soon after they feel what it’s like to become one.
The ride provides two signature experiences. The first is an aquarium featuring encounters with hundreds of rays, sea dragons and other exotic marine life – around 3,000 creatures in all. This undersea adventure, however, is the prelude to the coaster experience. Swooping over “sea” and sky, Manta treats riders to a head-first, face-down experience courtesy of Bolliger & Mabillard.
“This ride is uniquely SeaWorld,” says Dan Brown, executive vice-president and general manager of SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica and Discovery Cove. “SeaWorld is famous for connecting guests with the sea and its amazing creatures, and Manta creates a true sense of oneness between human and animal.”
Manta incorporates numerous thrill elements and completely different sensations from the front of the train to the back of the train. A track-twisting pretzel loop, in-line spins, a waterfall close call and a wing dip just inches from the water ensure a high repeatability factor.
There are only 17 flying rollercoasters in the world. Boarding Manta, riders climb into what look like traditional seats and harnesses. The entire seating assembly is then hoisted forward, positioning riders horizontally in a prone position. It’s like flying. Or even better, it’s like riding below a massive 12ft-wide manta ray as it glides, twists and soars above the ocean.
“Busch Entertainment is committed to creating unique entertainment experiences,” notes Brown. “Last year we opened Aquatica, a waterpark that only SeaWorld could build, and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay opened Jungala. We worked on the Manta concept for several years; it offers thrills for every age group and fully complements and broadens the SeaWorld brand.”
The 140ft-tall attraction is located inside the park’s main entrance and towers over its 200-acres. Cloaked in hues of dark purple, ultramarine and cobalt blue, like all coasters from B&M, it’s very smooth, and with supporting columns filled with sand, very quiet, too.
“It’s always a challenge trying to build a major attraction in the middle of the park when you’re open 365 days a year,” admits Brown, “but we didn’t have any problems. We have an outstanding team with significant expertise and experience. In fact, we were ahead of schedule and were able to open a few weeks early, allowing guests to sneak-preview Manta back in April.
Brown is full of praise for B&M: “Bolliger & Mabillard is among the best in the world, and we have a long and successful history with the company. B&M helped us create other coasters such as Kraken at SeaWorld; SheiKra, Montu, and Kumba at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, and Griffon at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. The guys were and are consummate professionals.”
As for Manta, the voyage of discovery begins the moment visitors enter the mythical village that forms the attraction’s entrance. What follows is an elaborately-themed queue line, as guests wind their way through caverns adorned with art in marble, jewels and mosaic.
A separate path for non-riders ensures all SeaWorld guests enjoy the “pre-show” thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows that create mesmerising “face-to-fin” encounters with over 300 rays, as well as thousands of fish and other creatures, including a massive Pacific octopus, hundreds of colourful clownfish and mysterious sea anemones.
Elaborate lighting, sound and rushing waterfalls further submerge guests into this underwater universe.
Meanwhile the giant Manta coaster train glides, swoops and dives at up to 60 mph, as its wings almost touch the water. Travelling over 3,359ft of track, riders encounter four inversions including two in-line spins, one flat spin and one pretzel loop. But one of Manta’s most memorable elements is surely when it speeds past the queue line, separated only by a waterfall from the waiting guests on the other side.
According to Brown, reaction to the ride has been “outstanding. Guests have been raving about it since we first let them ride,” he says. “In my view, the best part of it is the feeling of weightlessness during the pretzel loop. You don’t really know which way is up, and that’s something unique about Manta: the way it makes you feel, as if you’re flying. Most coasters have thrills, but none can offer this sensation of flying the way Manta does.”
One of the best views of the new coaster is available to guests as they enter the park: Manta’s train swoops low and seems to skim the surface of the lagoon. The wing dip throws a 14ft-high, 60-ft long spray of water towards onlookers standing just a few feet away.
“The wing dip is one of the elements that add to the ride’s appeal,” contends Brown,” and it’s a stunning effect. It’s visually impressive, both from the ride and for observers, and it adds an extra element of surprise to an already fantastic flying coaster.”