SeaWorld Orlando opened its latest addition, flying rollercoaster Manta, to huge crowds back in May. TPT finally got to experience the ride in August, shortly after catching rival Universal’s Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit on its opening day. Following our review of the Rockit, we thought it only fair to share our impressions of Orlando’s other major new addition for 2009.
As with all of SeaWorld's attractions, Manta has an aquatic theme – in this case, the coaster aims to simulate the gentle gliding of Manta rays through sea water. To do this, SeaWorld has selected Bolliger & Mabillard’s flying coaster system, which was first used for Air at Alton Towers and has since been replicated around the world. Riders lie on their stomachs (or on their back through the coaster’s many inversions), simulating the feeling of flying, or in this case gliding.
The new rollercoaster is a beast – stretching some 3,359 feet, reaching a top speed of 56mph and featuring a 98-feet-tall first “pretzel” loop. However, SeaWorld’s ambitions with Manta go beyond simply adding a new thrill ride – the park has created a lavish new centrepiece that draws in visitors as soon as they enter the park. Manta swoops and glides through a stunning artificial oasis, in a mysterious dance that will captivate guests. Add to this a brand new aquarium featuring rays and hundreds of other sea-dwellers, and Manta represents a major new area that has the potential to soak up a large portion of any guest’s day at SeaWorld.
Visually, Manta is a triumph. But is the ride itself any good?
As a major rollercoaster located close to the entrance of SeaWorld, it’s inevitable that Manta will have to deal with hefty lines during peak seasons. It’s fortunate, then, that SeaWorld has created one of the best ride queues anywhere in the world for its new headliner.
Guests enter the queue through a hole in the rockwork that makes up part of Manta’s theming. Once inside, they are kept both cool and entertained. The queue area is air-conditioned and covered, and features walk-past tanks containing dozens of species of fish and, of course, rays. While your impatience to get on the ride may not completely go away, the feeling that you are walking through a world-class aquarium and not just another dull attraction queue at least partially makes up for it. And there’s no doubt that seeing real rays gliding gracefully builds up the excitement for the ride to come.
Although Manta attracts big crowds throughout the morning due to its location, we found that by mid-to-late afternoon the crowds began to dissipate. When the ride is at full capacity, with two loading stations in operation, it’s likely that you won’t have to wait much longer than 30 minutes to get on board.
Boarding / Trains
Getting into Manta’s ray-themed trains is similar to boarding any other suspended rollercoaster. The main difference is the foot clasps which close around riders’ ankles. This is in preparation for the seats swivelling up, leaving guests lying facing the ground – an exciting part of the ride in itself, especially for those who haven’t experienced a flying coaster before. Overall, the combination of shoulder harness and foot clasps is surprisingly comfortable, although you’ll probably notice the blood rushing to your head.
The only downside of B&M’s flying coaster trains is that since riders are looking straight down at the floor, the immediate temptation is to look up to see where the ride is going next. Unless you are at the front – which is well worth the extra queuing time – you are likely to meet with the image of another guest’s dirty feet. Although you’ll spend much of the time far too engaged in the ride experience to notice, it can be a little off-putting – real-life Manta rays certainly don’t have to contend with somebody’s verrucas when they are gliding around the ocean.
First half - Lift hill, pretzel loop and corkscrew
Manta begins with a 140-foot lift hill that allows riders to take in the view below and to enjoy the blood in their body returning a more normal distribution. This doesn’t last long though as the ride plummets and then twists and turns through its most extreme section – the massive pretzel loop. Although the g-forces experienced on the downward section of the loop are most intense at the back, everyone on-board will feel them.
We had mixed feelings about the opening section of Manta. Coaster junkies will love the intense experience offered by the pretzel loop and the ensuing twists and turns (which culminate in a corkscrew). Undoubtedly, it is one of the most thrilling experiences available at any theme park in Orlando. However, those expecting Manta to be a genuine simulation of the beautiful movement they have just seen from the rays in the queue’s tanks may be taken a little by surprise. Some will be left feeling a bit groggy, as most of the movement is unexpected with riders unable to see where they are headed to next.
We’d advise those after a gentler experience to ride on the front. You’ll have to queue for a while longer, but not only will you experience reduced g-forces, you’ll also be able to take in more of the amazing setting SeaWorld has created for Manta. As for thrill seekers – head to the back of the train and strap in!
Second half - Water dive and waterfall
The second half of Manta is more relaxed than the first, but just as thrilling for different reasons. After exiting the corkscrew and passing through a brake-run, the coaster glides down for its signature move – a dip in the lagoon below. In reality, only the tip of the “ray” mounted to the front of the train actually gets near the water (with timed water jets creating the “splash”), but the effect is visually astounding for both riders and onlookers. Don’t worry about getting wet – you may get sprayed with some cooling mist, but Manta is no water ride.
After skimming the lagoon, Manta banks to the right and then presents its next trick. Rushing down towards a waterfall, it seems to riders that a soaking is inevitable. However, the coaster twists away at last second, missing the water by inches. It’s a breathtaking effect, and will leave most riders gasping for breath or giggling uncontrollably.
In our opinion, the second half of Manta is one of the best-themed sections of any rollercoaster in the world. SeaWorld has played to its strengths, and created a water-based experience that will surprise and delight everyone who experiences it – provided they survived the first half of the ride. Best of all, it’s almost as much fun to watch as it is to ride – Manta is surely the most photogenic ride in Florida.
Waiting to disembark at the end of Manta can be a little uncomfortable, with trains pausing outside the station for what can be a minute or more. This is down to the extended loading time that is needed for flying coasters, although B&M has trimmed this as far as possible since Air’s debut back in 2002. If you’re unlucky, you may experience a slight headache from lying face down for so long – but it’s likely you’ll be buzzing and itching to get back in the queue for another turn.
When you have finally had enough, there’s a chance to pick up a ride photo and wander around the new aquarium. We’d rate this as not to be missed – it’s a chance to learn more about the amazing creatures which inspired Manta. As well as featuring a circular tank that allows guests to admire the rays from below a glass ceiling, knowledgeable SeaWorld staff are also dotted around and able to answer questions from inquisitive kids (or adults!).
Having experienced Air at Alton Towers, we were really excited about the addition of a flying coaster at SeaWorld. We’ve often bemoaned the dreadful lack of theming on Air, which detracts from an otherwise excellent attraction. We hoped Manta would overcome this – combining the unique thrill of “flying” with the kind of spectacular theming for which Orlando is famous.
Riding Manta for the first time, we loved it – but were a tiny bit disappointed. SeaWorld had undoubtedly nailed the theming aspect, with the lagoon and surrounding environment really adding to the overall experience. But as we rode right at the back (and thus were exposed to the most extreme g-forces), we were a little surprised by the opening section. Although a great piece of traditional steel rollercoaster action, it seemed to lose the uniqueness of being on a flying coaster.
However, when we rode for the second time on the very front of the attraction, we were simply blown away. Riding Manta with an unobstructed view not only makes it more comfortable for those who suffer from motion sickness, but also allows a full appreciation of the wonderful visual spectacle that SeaWorld has created. Orlando has its share of rides with great theming – Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Studios springs to mind – but none that seem to fit a whole park’s theme as perfectly as Manta does for SeaWorld.
We still wish that the opening of the ride was toned down a little, and the overall duration extended slightly to give more time to appreciate the experience. However, we’re also aware that for many the pretzel loop will be one of the highlights of their entire Orlando visit. The appeal of Manta is that it can be enjoyed both as an extreme thrill ride (at the back), or as a sensory experience (at the front). It’s a triumph for SeaWorld, and deserves all of the plaudits that have been thrown it over the last five months.
Comparison to Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit
And how does Manta compare to Universal's Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit, Orlando’s other major new addition? We’d have to say it’s a tie. The Rockit features more genuinely new innovations, such as its “double take” loop and personalised music system. Manta uses an existing, proven design – but undoubtedly wins on theming with its lush landscaping contrasting drastically with the Rockit’s cramped location. Those after an extreme experience may enjoy the Rockit more, while Manta’s more relaxing second half may give it broader appeal.
Overall, though, coaster lovers have been spoiled by this year’s additions to Orlando’s array of attractions. And in Manta, SeaWorld has a world-class thrill ride that will draw in visitors for years to come.
If you've experienced SeaWorld's Manta, what did you think of it? How does it compare to Florida's other attractions? Let us know in the comments section below.