SeaWorld San Diego’s Tidal Twister throws fun-seekers a curve

Skyline Attractions’ Skywarp Horizon delivers flip with zip

AT: Dean Lamanna

SAN DIEGO — With last year’s unveiling of Electric Eel, a Premier Rides triple-launch vertical looping coaster, and next year’s planned arrival of Mako, a 153-foot-tall Bolliger & Mabillard floorless dive coaster, SeaWorld San Diego is on a coaster roll.

Tidal Twister, a new ride the park opened to the public on May 24, seems the perfect “side” for this extreme thrill-ride sandwich.

Supplied by Orlando-based Skyline Attractions, LLC, the figure-eight-shaped, 300-foot-long single-rail installation offers unique coaster-type fun — complete with a generous, hangtime-generating inversion — that can appeal to, and accommodate, more members of the family.

“It provides its own little kick in the pants,” said David Koontz, park director of communications, in a chat with Amusement Today at the ride’s May 21 media preview. “We’re promoting it as a roller coaster, but we’re also promoting it as one that, due to its lower height requirement [48 inches], is something that enables younger visitors — we might be looking at kids who are in the second grade — to ride. What’s great is that they have the opportunity to experience riding it with their family.”

Tidal Twister is Skyline’s prototype Skywarp Horizon, a horizontal version of the company’s Skywarp, which made its debut last summer as Harley Quinn Crazy Coaster at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, Calif. SeaWorld’s model has similar dueling-train action with tight curves, plus a single zero-G inversion where the track passes under itself at the center. Accelerating to more than 30 mph, the two 16-passenger vehicles, which technically are part of one linked train system that maintains their separation while moving them around the track, load at opposite ends of the attraction and seat passengers facing forward and backward.

Chris Gray, Skyline founding partner and vice president, told AT that the ride’s horizontal orientation was inspired by potential clients — including several from Asia — who expressed interest in Skywarp but had different size and site needs.

“We had a lot of people asking for something that would fit into a 30-foot building,” said Gray, who noted that the ride has a base price of $2.5-3 million. “So, we basically laid it flat for SeaWorld. We then went back and forth on whether the hump should go under the loop or over the loop. The profiles we did with it positioned under the loop just didn’t allow for a really fun experience of the element.”

Although the decision to run the inversion underneath sacrificed some of the vehicles’ cross-interaction from the passengers’ point of view, it created a sharper, more thrilling drop coming off the hump without any loss of the ride’s sinuous ground-level visuals. “It’s just really pretty,” Gray said of the ride, which sports a color scheme of blue and purple hues on hot-pink supports. “Most people have no idea it’s one big moving system, but after looking at it for a minute, they figure it out.”

Tidal Twister is propelled by kicker plates and three drive tires positioned on each side of the track structure, similar to those found on swinging pirate ships. Because of the ride’s 40-degree-banked turns, the vehicles must be tilted sideways up to level platform position for loading / unloading and then, for operation, returned to the track’s actual angle — all in an electrically-powered manner akin to that of a Schwarzkopf Bayern Kurve ride.

“This is the first coaster I’ve worked on that really feels like a machine,” said Gray, a U.S. Navy veteran with a technical drawing and drafting degree who spent 12 years rising through the ranks at Sudbury, Pa.-based Great Coasters International, Inc., prior to co-founding Skyline. “It looks like a coaster and acts like a coaster, but it’s got so many other things going on — including big panels on the [inner-track] side of the trains that come up to block riders from stepping all the way across.”

Tidal Twister’s horizontal orientation and location between the park’s Bayside Amphitheater and Aquaria: World of Fishes aquarium are a boon to SeaWorld not only in light of California Coastal Commission-imposed height restrictions (the ride is a mere 16 feet high), but because of local noise ordinances.

“With the amphitheater there beside it, the noise is blocked from going across the bay,” Gray said. “At SeaWorld’s request, we filled the ride’s box beam with pea gravel to further deaden the noise. It’s something done on a lot of coasters with big box beams just to tone it down a little bit. There’s a resonance that can get started inside of them that will just harmonize itself into a roar.”

From initial inquiry to operating ride, Skyline completed Tidal Twister in what Gray described as a “pretty intense” turnaround period. “We were finishing up Harley Quinn, and SeaWorld said, ‘Hey, there’s an interest in one of these, but it’s got to happen fast.’ The team took it from concept to real-life running in about nine months.”

He added that Tidal Twister, with its less-intimidating size and fewer wild moments, makes a good fit for the park.

“I honestly think it’ll be a lot of kids’ first looping coaster in this area,” said Gray, whose first looping coaster ride growing up was Greezed Lightnin’ at the late Six Flags Astroworld in Houston.

As with all major SeaWorld ride openings, Tidal Twister is accompanied by a conservation component. The adjacent, newly refreshed Aquaria touch tank and aquarium feature elements encouraging oceanic conservation from Rising Tide Conservation, a collaborative aquaculture research effort SeaWorld launched in 2009. It seeks a sustainable alternative to the collection of ornamental wild fish, a practice that can damage coral reefs.

The park, which saw a reported 20 percent jump in attendance after the opening of Electric Eel last year, continues to procure all needed approvals for Mako before it can break ground on that coaster project. It recently completed a repainting of Journey to Atlantis, a 2004-built Mack Rides water coaster.

This article appears in the JULY 2019 issue of Amusement Today.
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