Maurer Rides, Carnival open door for roller coaster thrills at sea
AT: David Fake
Special to Amusement Today
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — When Carnival Cruise Line’s newest ship, Mardi Gras, set sail with its first passengers for a pre-maiden voyage on July 31, it made history by doing so with the first-ever “roller coaster at sea” also on board.
The introduction of Bolt, a Maurer Rides Spike model motor-powered coaster that towers an fantastic and breathtaking 187 feet above sea level, was postponed multiple times; originally because of ship construction delays, then again on several occasions due to Carnival’s operational pause, a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But with cruises from Florida once again greenlit, the time has finally come for those lucky cruise passengers to experience Bolt.
Carnival gave select guests an opportunity to “sip & sea” Mardi Gras in a preview event the day prior to its maiden voyage on July 31. The preview allowed guests to tour staterooms and entertainment venues, sample food and beverages and take the first rides on Bolt.
Guests enjoyed samples from Mardi Gras’ vast array of restaurants and eateries, including the first seagoing version of Big Chicken by Chief Fun Officer Shaquille O’Neal, Emeril’s Bistro 1396, the first shipboard restaurant created by famed New Orleans chef Emeril Lagasse, and a new international street food venue called Street Eats, along with libations from the new Polynesian-inspired RedFrog Tiki Bar, New Orleans-themed Brass Magnolia and others.
Ribbon-cutting ceremonies were held for the new Rudi’s Seagrill developed by celebrated chef Rudi Sodamin, the Heroes Tribute Bar with representatives from the military families support organization Operation Homefront with which Carnival partners, and a colorful new floral statue inspired by a young artist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the cruise line’s longtime charitable cause.
“Today’s event was five years in the making and it was simply amazing watching everyone enjoy all that this game-changing ship has to offer — live and in-person!” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line. “Tomorrow is going to be even more exciting as it will be our honor to welcome our first guests on this highly anticipated ship. Our crew is the best in the business, and they are more than ready to provide our guests with the vacation of a lifetime.”
The first cruise ship in the Americas powered by liquified natural gas, Mardi Gras sails week-long voyages to the eastern and western Caribbean from Port Canaveral every Saturday to San Juan, Puerto Rico; Amber Cove, Dominican Republic; and Nassau, The Bahamas.
The history of this project is as unique as Bolt and the Maurer Spike model itself. Until this model by the German-based ride designer and manufacturer, the existence of such an attraction on a cruise ship was not a possibility. Specifically, Spike’s drive system, a motorized rack and pinion design, is what created the opportunity.
Marco Hartwig, Maurer’s project manager for Bolt and other similar Spike model installations, explains the challenges that the Spike model eliminates in this way, "Since the movements of the ship are not predictable, you cannot rely on gravity as with conventional roller coasters. Conventional gravity-coasters are not able to cope with the unforeseeable ship motions. If, for example, the ship is moving around its longitudinal or transverse axis, the vehicle may not be able to cope with the next upward section or may become too fast for the next turn. That's why every Spike ride is equipped with a powerful motor and a drive wheel. In addition, a gear rack is attached along the entire track. This patented toothed system allows the electric motor drive force to be transmitted at any point on the rail, even in the tightest curves and even in vertical sections of the track.”
Without the need and limitations of gravity or kinetic energy as a forward propellant, height is not necessary to provide the thrills of a traditional roller coaster. Similarly, a long launch section of track to provide room for the acceleration of air and magnetic launches is not needed, since Maurer’s drive system creates virtually immediate acceleration.
As for Bolt’s ride experience, the 800-foot journey begins with the short acceleration section, right out of the station and is immediately followed by an upward helix and two camelback hills, which provide a spectacular and breathtaking launch above the heads of passengers on the ships top deck and ends with a 180-degree turn around the imposing and iconic Carnival Stack before the vehicles return to the station.
Bolt utilizes sleek, stylized two-passenger vehicles (which almost appear to be the lovechild of a jet ski and a Star Wars Speeder Bike) as its means of transport for passengers at speeds up to 45 mph along its diving and twisting blue track. Bolt does not break any speed, length or even height records, but its design is truly groundbreaking.
There will be some who will argue that Bolt and Maurer’s entire Spike design is not a roller coaster by its purest definition. However, the ride experience captures the thrilling vertical and lateral forces of a roller coaster, as well as the excitement of speed. The passenger throttle-control similar to that of a jet ski, motorbike or race car, provides a unique ride that passengers of all ages will want to experience again and again.
"Passengers can control the vehicle themselves and accelerate it at over 1g. The acceleration is comparable to the start of a Formula 1 car. In addition, the lowest seating position ever achieved on a roller coaster is also a feature. During the ride the rail is between the legs of the guests, who are only secured with a hip belt," says Hartwig.
The environmental conditions on the ship are also completely different to that of a coaster on land. To withstand the salty sea air, the vehicle components were scrutinized for corrosion behavior in advance by means of a salt spray test. This enabled Maurer to identify and eliminate potential weak points.
Additionally, the swell on the high seas leads to deck deformations of the ship and, therefore, additional stresses for the coaster’s structure.
Because of the differences between shipbuilding and steel construction tolerances, it was also necessary to assemble and test the complete coaster in advance on land. By doing so, the exact base point coordinates of all supports could be measured and sent to the shipyard to prepare the foundations on the ship.
The Spike concept itself is not new and existed prior to the initial ingenious pitch of the coaster to Carnival over five years ago by Maurer’s Steve Boney, the Florida-based executive responsible for business development.
Maurer began working on the Spike technology back in 2008 while looking for the next big innovation to tackle. Hartwig said that the results of the initial brainstorming workshops held for this purpose were not very spectacular.
“Roller coasters seemed to have been developed to a large extent with all imaginable ride figures or seat variations. Unique themes like mechanical special effects or the simple ‘farther, bigger, faster’ did not really offer any starting points for a general development direction,” he said.
However, it was a conversation with TÜV-Süd, a provider of safety, security and sustainability solutions through testing, certification, auditing and advisory services, which digressed into accidents on summer toboggan runs and a desire for roller coaster safety standards for these products that finally led to the first considerations to develop a controlled, powered coaster. “Because only with this development, did it seem possible to ensure the necessary safety distances between the cars also with interactive rides, i.e., speed controled directly by the passenger,” Hartwig explained.
The powered coasters to this point were based on friction wheel drives and therefore could not reach the acceleration and layout possibilities of conventional roller coasters. Powering these kind of vehicles results in extreme wear on wheels as well as the need to distribute the drive force among several drive units, which ultimately leads to additional maintenance costs. In addition, the energy efficiency and the positioning accuracy of friction wheels are less. Upon this realization, Hartwig said Maurer’s development goal became suddenly clear, “to combine the performance of roller coasters with the advantages of powered vehicles and to turn it into the first real interactive roller coaster.”
Linear motors are the most expensive option and have, so far, only been installed on magnetic lev trains for the entire length of a track. With roller coasters, in addition to the extraordinarily high costs, the twisting layouts can be problematic. Since linear synchronous motors work only on straight lines due to the necessary small distance between the vehicle and rail components of the drive, it can be used at most on very large radii. Even in this application, the efficiencies are well below the Spike drive.
Maurer claims that the Spike drive is the most powerful and economical option and defines the current state of the art for heavy loads for roller coaster vehicles for any layout.
The kinetic energy required for a Spike coaster has no restrictions in the layout design as it is not relevant, also no block sections as with normal roller coasters need to be observed because the safety brakes are integrated in the vehicle itself which creates its own moving block zone.
The vehicle is designed for high compression, large uplifting and cross forces. However, one of the few limitations of powered coasters is that since the vehicle can stop at any point in the event of a power failure, slopes should not be steeper than 50 degrees, so that passengers do not have to wait in an uncomfortable position on a slope before continuing.
Compared to conventional gravity-propelled and launch coasters, the Spike model is characterized by the fact that launch acceleration is not only possible once or twice, but always.
The driving experience is therefore completely new and can be extremely intense until the end. Accelerating out of the curve or adding additional power by a guest on a slope has not been able to occur on traditional coasters, yet with the Spike coaster, it is an integral part of every track.
There are currently two Spike installations operating on land: Desmo Race (2019), at Italy’s Mirabilandia and Sky Dragster (2017) at Germany’s Skyline Park. A third, unnamed installation is under construction and scheduled to open at China’s Nickelodeon Universe in 2022.
As project manager of roller coasters, Hartwig says he not only managers the process of creating an amusement ride but is also a “creator of joy.” He added, “When I realize roller coaster projects, I always have the future passenger in mind. When the passenger leaves the roller coaster with a smile, my team I and have done everything right. We have to create the feeling that when customers get out of the roller coaster, they want to ride again.”