Journey To Atlantis

More Fun Than A Barrel Of Sea Monkeys.

Anheuser Busch, corporate owner of the Sea World marine animal parks since1989, is a company that Thrillseekers know and love for its dedication to The Cause. The conglomerate's two East Coast theme parks, Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Busch Gardens Tampa, are names most familiar to lovers of huge, glorious scream machines. For quite some time, however, AB seemed content to keep their Sea Worlds relatively sedate enterprises. Sure, the Texas park has some water rides, but there was never much into which we could really sink our teeth. In 1997, that all began to change. Sea World San Antonio added the Bolliger & Mabillard-designed Great White inverted rollercoaster and suddenly there was a Sea World we needed to visit. Luckily for us, this wasn't to be an isolated incident.

Earlier this year, Anheuser Busch "repositioned" the entire chain, renaming them SeaWorld Adventure Parks, complete with a spiffy new logo. It may seem like a small touch, but it's a important one because it means these parks are heading in a bold new direction, one that goes way beyond fish tanks. Of course, when you promise Adventure in a town like Orlando, Florida, you better be ready to deliver the goods. So, the SeaWorld Orlando folks went for the gold - they invested a small fortune in a prototype attraction, the world's first flume ride-rollercoaster hybrid, contained within a towering mythological city. And this past April, after months of construction, they finally pulled the wraps off their glittering new toy: the spectacular Journey To Atlantis.

Some thrill rides are all about scaring the bejezzus out of you; others aim to overwhelm with mind-blowing special effects; still others just want to make ya laff till your sides ache. Journey to Atlantis may not leave you gasping in terror, nor will its solid fx produce wide-eyed wonder. But this surprise-packed voyage pegs the Fun Meter like no other flume ride I'm able to name. As one sopping boat after another makes its final stop, every single rider disembarks gigging like they'd just won the lottery. I don't care how many people swear by Prozac; if this royally goofy pleasure doesn't elevate your mood, no pill is gonna do the trick.

Oh, and another thing, a word of warning: Journey To Atlantis will never dampen your spirits, but it's gonna do a whole lot more than that to your physical person. There is no water-based thrill ride anywhere that'll get ya wetter than this Super Soaker. It is outrageous.

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When you walk up to the park gates, you'll immediately notice a change in the scenery; SeaWorld Orlando sports a brand new 12-acre welcome mat, complete with lighthouse, marina and colorful floral displays. They say first impressions count, and this one is a winner. Financial transactions completed, you'll saunter past some of SeaWorld's niftier exhibits, like the Stingray Lagoon (a personal fave) and the Dolphin Cove. Once you've rounded the bend alongside "Manatees: The Last Generation?" the grand structure of this ornate creation will stop ya dead in your tracks. There it is, the awe-inspiring reincarnation of a long-lost Grecian utopia - the city of Atlantis.

(For those who may be unfamiliar with the legend: back in the Fourth Century B.C., the Greek philosopher Plato first wrote of an advanced island civilization in his "Dialogues." He describes a cateclysmic disaster, a single day and night of earthquakes and floods that consume the city and drag it down into the murky depths of the sea, wiping it off the face of the earth. Since then, innumerable efforts have been made to find evidence of Atlantis and solve this centuries-old mystery.)

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Friends, this is one seriously cool-lookin' thrill ride, as impressive as anything SeaWorld's bigshot neighbors have ever produced. The columns, arches, pediments and domes of this empyrean metropolis rise over a rocky, mist-enshrouded lagoon and a smaller, whitewashed Greek fishing village. Even if you don't have a Ph.D. in Classical Architecture, you'll get a sense that the JTA creative team did their homework. The design for Atlantis' main Temple is modeled on an existing Greek palace, called Knossos, and the buildings' various hieroglyphics are lifted from murals and pictorial representations from historical Etruscan books. Even the sparkling white "fishing village" is based on a real-world example: the Mediterranean island of Thera.

Walking around the lagoon, you'll encounter one of JTA's extra-special perks: an array of water-guns, barrels positioned for a most mischevious purpose. As boats pass by, non-riders can squeeze off a round right down onto the hapless passengers below... heh, heh, heh! Go ahead and take your best shot, but remember - soon you'll be at the receiving end of this torment.

Before riding, it's helpful to know the complicated storyline behind the journey you're about to begin. The action takes place on Thera, an island off the coast of Greece where, without explanation, the ancient city of Atlantis has risen from its watery grave. Needless to say, this has caused quite a stir, attracting the media and assorted onlookers, you and I included. There's even a black, satellite dish-equipped TV news van parked alongside the lagoon, beaming live reports around the globe.

As we walk through the village, overhead monitors telecast the newsfeed. Experts are at a loss to explain this miraculous event and one fellow in particular, an old Greek fisherman, is supremely agitated about the whole thing. Stavros is his handle, and he has only this to say: Keep Out. Seems there's something bad hidden behind the city's walls, and we don't want to mess with it. "It" turns out to be an evil Siren known as Allura, an ethereal goddess who plans to use her seductive charms to lure us into Atlantis... and to Our Doom.

" 'Evil spirits,' " we mutter, "yeah, whatever, ya loony codger..." Disregarding his admonitions like the fools we are, we board our eight-person boat and set sail for adventure, already victims of Allura's malevolent powers. This is your last chance to stow yer valuables, my friends, and you better stow 'em good.

As we near the edge of the city, Stavros calls out, seeing that we cannot turn back. He has something for us, a guide to protect us on our voyage. In his hands, he clutches a golden seahorse and as he reaches out, the seahorse transforms into a shimmering light - it is the spirit Hermes, the only thing that can save us from Allura's despicable grasp. Hermes flitters overhead and leads the way - kewl. Our craft passes under a glittering canopy of tiny stars and we cruise into the heart of Atlantis.

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We glide along a canal through the legendary burg as an unearthly glow illuminates the surroundings. Fountains burble and leap this way and that. It's all pleasant and magical, but there's something a little creepy about this soggy ghost-town. A statue comes to life, laughing at first - until some kind of disturbance around the bend brings a halt to the levity. Hermes races forward. Uh, oh...

The passive sightseeing is over; Allura has us right where she wants us. Our boat turns to the left and there she is up above, in the form of a snarling, hissing, growling mask. Yikes! Passing beneath this gnarly visage, our little ship begins to climb up a dark, foggy tunnel. A piercing green light radiates over our heads and - whoa! - the climb suddenly gets steeper. Higher and higher, we brace ourselves for the inevitable fall. A doorway swings open. "Here we g-"

Waitaminit, we're turning a corner. Folks, this unexpected maneuver is just the first of JTA's many crafty surprises. All the eye-candy inside the city is plenty enjoyable, but here's where the magic really begins... and, uh, get set to get wet.

Now we're traveling along the exterior of the temple, making a U-turn and fast approaching an archway... and a sheet of water is pouring directly over our path! There's just no way we're gonna travel through that, is there? Everyone instinctively ducks down, girding for a major soaking... but in the nick of time, the waterfall stops. Whew!

We mount a second lift hill, chuckling and shaking our heads - "that sure was a close call" - went it hits us: KER-FLOOSH! A water cannon lets loose with a megaton volley of H2O and most of us get that soaking we thought we'd escaped.

You may still be high and dry, taking great pleasure in the misfortunes of those around you, but I wouldn't laugh too hard - your time is near. We level off near the very pinnacle of the temple and another cannon fires: SPLOOSH! Water jets hidden in the trough spout upwards. SSSPISSSH! Make no mistake - this nasty minx is on the warpath! Is there no escape?!

You bet there is. Hermes has found us a way out and it's a doozy - Gee, we sure have climbed pretty high... Our vessel hangs another Louie and we re-enter the temple. There's one last turn before our bow points a delicious 60 degrees South. Down we go!

That ferocious 60-foot dive sends us flyin' into the lagoon- FOOOSH! Sputtering and guffawing, we can rejoice: Free at last! Sure, we're battle-scarred and shivering like kittens, but Allura has been vanquished!

Or has she?

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We slosh around a wide turn, right past those water guns. Allura has enlisted some weaker mortals to help her do her dirty work and the more you plead for mercy, the likelier you're gonna get it right between the eyes. SQUISS! Wet stuff rains down. Curse her name all ya want, Allura is not about to give up so easily. A demonic mist gathers around the boat and we find ourselves headin' right back into trouble.

With the temple looming up ahead, our ship enters a rocky crevice and and shudders down. SPLURSH! "Jumpin' Jiminy!" Water pours up over the edge of the boat and right into our laps, drenching us right down to our BVDs. I'll tell ya, friends, if you're sittin' in the front row, you're a goner - I'd swear the front of the boat practically submerges at the bottom of this unassuming little drop. As Allura's wicked cackle echoes through the air, we find ourselves drawn back up and into this mysterious realm; yes, friends, the best is yet to come.

At the top of this climb, we enter what seems to be Allura's secret hideaway, a candlelit shrine dedicated to her evil majesty. Despite the multitude of burning wicks, the chamber is tantalizingly dim and our luminescent little buddy Hermes is nowhere to be seen - most unfortunate. Slithering through the darkness, you can sense we are no longer being pushed by water - now we're ridin' rails, people. As a horrible shriek begins to rise in pitch, our boat picks up speed... this wild Journey is about to serve up its coup de grace.

Some primal Thrillseeking instinct kicks in and our hands find something to grab ahold of. Allura lets loose with one final scream and we dive: roaring down a 55-degree slope, swooping to the left, banking hard, still falling, surging to the right, rising up, blasting out into daylight - SPLOOOOOOSH!..."Wow!"

Folks, this radically twisting plunge is so unexpected, so far removed from anything you've ever experienced on a flume ride before, ya just can't wait to do it again. It's fan-freakin'-tastic!

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The good times don't end with your return to the loading station. There's a well-stocked gift shop to peruse and, far more impressive, one of the coolest exhibits on the SeaWorld property: the Jewels of the Sea Aquarium Gallery. This circular room boasts exotic creatures to gaze at in every direction, even beneath your feet and above your head. Sharks, stingrays, glowing jellyfish, it's a whole cavalcade of nifty fishies.

Safely back on dry land, you'll discover that you're anything but dry (my leather wallet was still clammy days after the several Journeys I took). A last piece of advice: if you plan on riding JTA after the sun goes down, I'd strongly suggest bringing a change of undies; otherwise, your ride home is gonna be a moist one.

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It took an impressive squad of talent to bring this tremendous project to fruition. Richard Hoag, the industry veteran who led the effort, has been designing theme park rides and attractions for over 25 years. Other key figures included Jim Wible, senior attraction designer at PGAV in St. Louis, and Kim Wilson, a designer at the St. Louis-based scenery design firm Suzanne Sessions. And it was the renowned German ride engineering firm Heinrick Mack Gmbh & Co. that supplied JTA's stunning transporation system. You'll recall that Mack is also responsible for another recently-debuted thrill ride prototype, the rotating-vehicle rollercoaster, Euro-Mir. Summing it up nicely, Hoag went on record with the following: "I'm speaking for the entire creative team when I say we worked to the peak of our abilities."

To fully appreciate JTA's scope, SeaWorld's largest, costliest expansion, take a look at a few of the ride's production details:

  • The entire ride complex spans 6 acres, and stands 10 stories high.

  • Each eight-person boat tips the scales at 1.2 tons, matching the weight of a four-door Honda Civic. To get those hefty puppies in motion, more than 116,000 gallons of water circulate through the attraction.

  • LCD technology, lasers and holographic illusions are just some of the far-out gizmonics utlized to bring the Atlantean world to life.

  • Nearly 24,000 fiber optic lights delineate the spirited Hermes as he travels through the city.

  • Allura's ear-piercing shriek is produced through a careful remixing of eight animal noises including a lion's roar, a bear's growl and a rattle snake's trademark rattle. Neat, huh?

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Even though this tribute to the Atlantis fable is all in good fun, we should keep in mind that the real search is far from over... Not too long ago, Newsweek reported that an expedition to find Atlantis is under way in Bolivia's Lake Poopo.

And if Atlantis is really sitting at the bottom of a Bolivian lake, we need to ask ourselves: dare we enter?



© Robert Coker.
All Rights Reserved
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