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SeaWorld – North End: Manta

Rating: * * * * *
Type: Flying roller coaster
Time: 2-1/2 minutes
Kelly says: First of its kind in Orlando

In Summer of 2009, SeaWorld unveiled its latest entry in the ongoing Orlando roller coaster sweepstakes. This is not a "me-too" coaster but another new departure that has drawn coaster enthusiasts in the thousands.

Manta celebrates the ray, one of the sea's most majestic and graceful creatures. The queue line for the coaster begins with a total immersion in an aquarium filled with 300 rays of all descriptions — shark rays, spotted eagle rays, leopard rays, cownose rays, and oscillate river rays — along with an amazing giant Pacific octopus. (Thoughtfully, non-riders get their own exclusive entrance to observe the aquarium.)

Then you get a chance to actually be a ray, a supercharged one, in fact. The business part of Manta is a so-called "flying" roller coaster, the ride vehicles themed to resemble the creatures they celebrate. The coaster starts off looking like a standard "inverted" model with seats hanging chairlift-style below the track. But just before the coaster takes off, the seats tilt to face downward, leaving you lying prone on your well-padded chest harness. This unique posture gives the distinct sensation of zooming, superhero-like through the air. The ride features lighting and sound effects, as well as rushing waterfalls, to take riders high overhead, then speed them to within inches of the simulated sea below.

A remarkable aspect of this coaster is the way it changes depending on which row you ride in. From the front, the ride feels unexpectedly gentle, with swooping turns providing a largely visual thrill. But in the back row, the 98-foot tall pretzel loop can make even hardened coaster addicts "grey out" from the extreme G-forces. Whichever level of intensity you prefer, make sure to make this your first destination in the morning if you plan to ride, as Manta attracts the park's longest lines.

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