Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Scott & Carol Present: A Look At Manta's Construction

SeaWorld Florida has a big fish to land for 2009 and it’s called Manta. The first Bolliger and Mabillard flying coaster in Florida, it has already changed the skyline of the park. And they’re not done yet. Manta will cover nearly seven acres just inside the main gate of the park.

Whether guests choose to fly or watch, this new attraction will have all guest entranced. Not too many parks will build a complete aquarium just to entertain and educated people waiting in line to ride. But then this is a Busch park, where they go the extra mile to enhance the guest experience.

When you look inside the fence, you see a flurry of activity. Something is happening onsite twenty-four hours a day. Here you can see the station, and alongside it the aquarium with floor to ceiling windows that will showcase over 300 rays and thousands of fish. There will also be an educational component with every animal on exhibit having a conservational component.

Which brings up an interesting question, how do you keep a Pacific Giant Octopus comfortable with 32 screaming riders flying by every two minutes? For that answer we asked Gary Violetta, SeaWorld’s Director of Aquariums. His reply, “Because the aquarium and the coaster are separate (the coaster does not go into the aquarium water) there was little that had to be done. The major concern was sound vibration but the sound was deadened by adding sand to the coaster supports.” So that explains why the aquarium stands alone and is surrounded by the coaster without actually touching it. If you look closely at the ends of the track pipe, you can see the plugs holding in the sound suppression material. Okay now for the next question.

How do you build a coaster in the middle of the park when it is still open? To get an answer to that Lauren Skowyra, Senior Publicist said “Why don’t you come over and we’ll show you.” After we took some pictures inside the fence and up on a hill, she said “Why don’t you ride the Skytower?” So we did, and as we rose we could see how the gates closed off the pathway to ensure the guests safety. A truck slides through carrying a piece of track, the gates open, and people continue to use the walkway while the unloading process goes on. When the truck is ready to leave, they just reverse the process. Very slick and efficient, and it garners some added attention for next years attraction. The next question is what does it look like from above?

When you look at the overall site from nearly 400 feet above the ground, you marvel at how the coaster twists and turns in every direction. Even though Manta Rays rarely invert in the water, the coaster will have some inversions added “just for fun.” While flying upside down in the four inversions, riders will have a good view of the sky. Many sweeping turns over the pathways will make riding Manta a communal experience to be shared with onlookers. A flyby of the Whale and Dolphin Stadium could send onlookers ducking for cover as the twelve foot wide Manta Ray inspired trains swoop by just overhead. Manta will also have the first fly through pretzel loop on a flying coaster.

As we were walking around the outside of the fence, we stopped by a restaurant and watched as they bolted a double section of the track to the support columns. The precision of the fit was apparent as it took just one pry bar to move the track so the bolt holes matched. The crew made it look easy as they worked several tons of steel together and tightened the bolts with air-powered torque wrenches. According to Brian Morrow, “This was the flat spin after the dive loop."

But that is not all the news from SeaWorld. On December 12, 13, 15, 16 Wheel of Fortune will be taping four weeks of shows at SeaWorld’s Bayside Stadium. Many of Florida’s hometowns will be represented and a good time will be had by all. It’s not one of the most popular game shows because it’s dull. In between takes you can watch Manta grow each day. The times for taping have not yet been released.

So that’s the latest from SeaWorld in Orlando. We finished our day by watching Shamu’s Christmas Show so that topped off a magical afternoon. This looks to be a great addition for SeaWorld in 2009. Is it summer yet?