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The West Coast Version Is A "Mack Daddy" Family Coaster.

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Pop quiz: How awesome are manta rays and their batoid brethren?

A. Extremely
B. Sublimely
C. Totally
D. All of the above

If you answered "D," you are correct. Rays - manta, butterfly, sting, spotted eagle, every one of them - are extremely, sublimely, totally awesome. I can find things to love about almost any creature, great or small, but an animal that looks like some kind of biomorphic spaceship gets serious bonus points.

Did the designers at Bolliger & Mabillard have the elegant, hydrodynamic form of the ray in mind when they were shaping the vehicles for their "flying" coasters? It's hard to imagine they did not. Regardless, it was an entirely natural fit for SeaWorld Orlando to build a B&M flyer and theme it to mantas, the largest type of ray (with "wingspans" of up to 30 feet!). I haven't yet ridden Florida's Manta, but I do love the Beemer flying machines and SeaWorld went to town with all the custom aesthetics. It's gorgeous.

Here on the West Coast, SeaWorld San Diego now has its own Manta, and while the only things it shares with the Florida ride are the logo and "wing dip" splash effect, it's pretty awesome, and gets its own bonus points for two linear synchronous motor launches; a multimedia jump-start tunnel; and more rambunctiousness than its "family coaster" appellation would have you expect.

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I don't get down to SeaWorld too often – my last visit was three years ago –but it's a beautiful park in a beautiful city with lots of cool sea critters and a couple of diverting rides; three years is too long between visits. And the lure of Manta was inescapable (two launches!). So when my Season Pass homeboy Doug came down to L.A. for the Transformers media preview, we made plans to hit up SanD the following Saturday, which was, conveniently, the public grand opening for this Mack coaster.

We met up with our amazing buds Paul and James Lebowitz, who totally scored us some killer Premium Passholder benefits for the day, and joined the throngs for the big ribbon-cutting ceremony. (I honestly don't know if any actual ribbons were cut; we couldn't see much from where we were standing.)

(Also, we connected later with Todd, Norm and Matt from MiceChat and rode Journey To Atlantis with them as well; great to hang with you all!)

The jaw-flapping went on a bit longer than I would have recommended; I think there were four speakers? Maybe more? Anyway, we had this beautiful sculptural ride iconography and rockwork to look at in the meantime. Finally, they let us start queuing up.

I'm not sure if/how our "journey" with the ray is supposed to do anything constructive to protect its ocean home, but I fully support the conservation message.

Before we move on: adjacent to the ride exit and gift shop there's this sheltered pool where you can reach in and pet bat rays, little cousins to the manta. AWESOME.

Their skin is very slick. Icky, but in a great way.

And they don't seem to mind the fondling, as long as you are gentle. So very, very cool.

I could have hung out here for a long time, looking at these wondrous beings. They are hypnotically graceful.

And the queue, with windows in the ceiling, passes beneath the pool so you can get an occasional glimpse of their undersides. Seriously: Best. Fish. Ever.

A nice little detail: these "etchings" in the "stone" as you enter the sub-aquatic portion of the line.

Landscaping for the coaster was very much a work-in-progress this day, both here in the queue and over the majority of the ride course, but once all the greenery is planted and fills in, this already attractive area will look even better.

As seen from the Sky Tower, where now there is dirt, there eventually will be more pretty green things. Anecdotally, we heard that they worked hard until the last minute to get this ride open for Memorial Day weekend, and I don't mind cutting the park some slack for not having every blade of grass in place. Getting all that sexy cobalt-blue steel where it needed to be was Job One, and a fine job they did in that regard.

A little lower down the pole: the tile-roofed ride station, and the white and chalkboard-green-roofed show building on the right.

There's a definite Asian influence going on here, as illustrated by the architecture and a pagoda-like structure on the rockwork out front. I'm not quite sure why. But I like it.

This "pull down from above" lap restraint is easy to use and very comfy, and I dig the feet-off-the-floor elevation of the seats. Once we're all secure, it's time to ride the ray and feel the rush, baby.

Set loose, we make an immediate right turn into the show building and Manta's first launch zone. Through the use of some A/V magic, we are now under water, near a reef where a large school of manta rays has congregated.

The LED image quality is compromised a bit by sunlight from the far end of the tunnel (I wished we'd had a chance to ride after sundown), but it's still a delightful effect, enhanced with an emotive musical score. Look up and marvel as they cavort above us... and feel the train slide backward... then forward... then backward... The music builds, the rays appear to assemble into some kind of formation... and with a sudden burst of speed, they are gone. So are we.

Racing forward and up, we breach the water and soar into the sky blue. Manta's relatively mild temperament doesn't provide acne-removal acceleration, but it's a good, firm thrust. And we bank right into high, steep turn, going 90 degrees off horizontal for a second. (It really is amazing what passes for a "family" coaster these days.)


See? One guy has his arms raised. When I was a tyke, this coaster would have been classified as a full-bore thrill ride, without qualification. (And that lead car... HOT.)

Manta dives back down to the water's surface for some splashy showboating, scooting underneath the pedestrian bridge at the ride's entrance.

"Check me out, people; I am MANTASTIC!" (The environmental design in this area earns an A+. No, wait, Ray+.)

Up and around the "sea cliffs" we go, and again, dig the lean at the top of this curve, getting very close to a true overbank.

After our first turn to port, things proceed swimmingly with a real dose of airtime on Manta's largest camelback hill: not too much for the lightweights, but more than enough for the diehards.

Then we slip and slide through some wavy undulations before hitting a very gradual, decelerating decent into our second electromagnetic push.

This braking here: a deliberate choice, or something necessitated by technology? Someone smarter and more informed than I would be able to tell you, but whatever the reasons, we are slowed to a crawl before hitting the next sequence of LSMs. The drooling, knuckle-dragging adrenaline junkie in me can only pout "Brakes BAD!" and wish they hadn't slowed us down before speeding us back up.

But that is a minor complaint, because when we do level off, we throttle right back up to a respectable velocity, a velocity that is magnified by a whirlwind of twists and turns.

Had we been able to marathon this thing all day long, I might be able to give you a completely clear and accurate accounting of Manta's second half. After just two rides, that I cannot do.

But I can tell you that Manta brings it. And by "it," I mean crazy-fun, ground-skimming, non-stop action.

Is there more airtime? Oh, yes.

But it's the swoopy stuff that I found most delectable. We're all over the place, left to right, right to left, hitting that sweet spot where "Wheee!" and "Wow!" converge.

Our first ride in the morning, we chose the last car, looking for maximum sting. Later in the day, we rode closer to the front, and all agreed that there was no measurable decrease in forcefulness. And the tubular pre-launch show actually felt a little more immersive, sitting further forward.

Journey To Atlantis is not without its appeal, and I'd certainly rank Shipwreck Rapids as a highly decent whitewater rafter. But with Manta, SeaWorld now has a ride that makes the gas-guzzling, 250-mile round trip drive to and from Los Angeles a completely justifiable trek.

Fun, fun, fun!

Postscript: We'd forgotten that this was new here, too, SeaWorld San Diego's only full-size spin and spew, but we stumbled upon Riptide Rescue and rode it as well. Not bad at all!

Post Postscript: They sell Manta plush toys in the gift shop... Does this really look like something you'd want to snuggle with? (Have you seen "Godzilla Vs. Hedorah?" This is totally the "flying form" Smog Monster, right?)

Post Post Postscript: I guess they tried to cute it up with a "Bambi eyes" version...

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  • Track Length: 2800 feet
  • Maximum Height: 30 feet
  • Maximum Drop: 54 feet
  • Top Speed: 43 MPH
  • Maximum G-Force: 4 Gs
  • Ride Time: Approx. 2  minutes
  • Manufacturer: Mack Rides GmbH & Co KG




© Robert Coker.
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