I have to admit that I have a somewhat unique perspective on SeaWorld Orlando’s new coaster, Manta. Given that several weeks ago, I was lucky enough to get a hardhat tour of the then-still-under-construction attraction. And just last week, I was held upside down on the thing.

Manta logo Seaworld Orlando
Copyright 2009 Busch Entertainment Corporation. All Rights Reserved

Now as for that hardhat tour, “Manta” was still a working construction site when I got my walk-thru a month or so back. All 3,350 feet of track for this brand-new flying coaster were already in place. But as for the rest of this SeaWorld Orlando addition, it was still bare bones with piles of dirt everywhere. And I remember thinking “How are they ever going to get this attraction open on time?”

Well, I clearly under-estimated Manta ‘s construction crew. For – as I made my way through the queue last week – I was dazzled by all the detail. Not to mention the lush foliage that SeaWorld Orlando’s horticultural staff has put into place to give this new flying coaster that it’s-always-been-here look & feel.

Manta Rdie Sea World Orlando
Copyright 2009 Busch Entertainment Corporation. All Rights Reserved

Now I know that you want to hear about how fast “Manta” is (Its top speed is 56 miles per hour) as well as what sort of drops this new thrill ride has (Its maximum drop is 113 feet), but – to be honest – one of the truly unique aspect of this SeaWorld Orlando addition are the 10 aquariums that you’ll encounter as you make your way through the queue, which will allow you to learn more about the species that this attraction pays tribute to.

And these are NOT small aquariums, folks. We’re talking 250,000 gallon tanks with “pop up” features (Which then allow smaller SeaWorld Orlando visitors to “pop up” right in the middle of an aquarium surrounded by hundreds of fish). And let’s not forget about that 220-square foot viewing panel that allows guests to look up at the hundreds of rays that are swimming over their heads.

Manta - Ride the Ray Sea World Orlando
Copyright 2009 Busch Entertainment Corporation. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, my favorite part of Manta’s queue area is that – in the tradition of the Imagineers deliberately adding Hidden Mickeys to all of Disney’s rides & shows – SeaWorld Orlando has begun stashing Hidden Shamus in its attractions. So as you make your way to the load area, keep a weather eye out for a certain killer whale.

Yeah, it’s hard not to appreciate all of the obvious thought & care that went into the design of Manta’s queue area. With all those great little touches (ex: The colorful stingray panels with adorning seashells that are used to designate your row number in the load area). But when you get right down to it, what people really want to know is does SeaWorld Orlando’s newest coast deliver? Is Manta a truly thrilling thrill ride?

Manta - Ride the Ray Sea World Orlando
Copyright 2009 Busch Entertainment Corporation. All Rights Reserved

Me personally? I’d have to say “Absolutely! Yes.” Manta is easily the coolest attraction that I’ve been on in quite some time. Once those seats rotate horizontally and you’re face-down toward the water and ground below, you really do get the sense that you’re flying.

As for ride specifics (for all your coaster enthusiasts out there), Manta has four different inversions; two in-line spins, one flat spin and one pretzel loop. But speaking as a hospitality industry professional who couldn’t tell a pretzel loop from a fruit loop, what impressed me most about SeaWorld Orlando’s new flying coaster was how smooth and how quiet it is.

Manta Ride the Ray - Sea World Orlando
Copyright 2009 Busch Entertainment Corporation. All Rights Reserved

Of course, it didn’t hurt that – while the posted wait time for this ride was 60 minutes – I found myself being loaded on Manta inside of 20 minutes, squealing with delight as we seemed to get far too close to that waterfall, and not to mention those water cannons that automatically go off as this flying coaster seemed to skim the surface of the ray pool.

Now as for the getting-held part of today’s story, it actually happened as our train was pulling back into the unload area. And I’ve been told by SeaWorld Orlando insiders that this getting-held-face-down thing was just a complete fluke (Get it? SeaWorld? A theme park with a killer whale as its icon? “Just a fluke”? … Gee, making marine life-based jokes is a lot harder than I thought).

Manta Ride the Ray - Sea World Orlando
Copyright 2009 Busch Entertainment Corporation. All Rights Reserved

Roller coaster enthusiasts can sympathize that things like this due tend to happen on roller coasters, even the best of the best. But the brains behind Manta seem to be one step ahead of the roller coaster curve. The load / unload area for Manta was deliberately designed so people will not wind up held in that face-down position for very long. The two loading tracks through the station allow trains to easily flow through the ride and then smoothly pull into the station with little-to-no hold up, revolutionary for roller coasters (which typically have the one loading track)! Plus, this allows for double the loading capacity at one time.

Long story short: I and my fellow SeaWorld Orlando visitors weren’t held in the face-down position for all that long. And I clearly wasn’t traumatized by this event, given that I’d rideManta again in a heart beat if I had the chance. I love it!

Manta Ride the Ray - Sea World Orlando
Copyright 2009 Busch Entertainment Corporation. All Rights Reserved

Speaking of which: I wonder if I can sneak out of work early today? Make that five minute drive from Orlando Fun Tickets’ office on Palm Parkway over to SeaWorld, with my discount SeaWorld tickets (of course!). And then maybe see if I can spot a few more Shamus while I make my way through Manta‘s queue.

Yeah…that’s not skipping out on work early…It’s research. Riiiggght?!

Manta Ride the Ray - Sea World Orlando
Copyright 2009 Busch Entertainment Corporation. All Rights Reserved

Orlando Fun Tickets is located less than 2 miles from the Walt Disney World Resort, 2 lights west of I-4 at 8472 Palm Parkway. Their office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. EST Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. For further information, please call 866-225-4712 and/or check out the official Orlando Fun Tickets website.