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SeaWorld San Diego announces its latest coaster: It’s the park’s sixth one

SeaWorld is doubling down on coasters yet again, with the announcement Tuesday that it will be opening next year Arctic Rescue, a straddle-style ride that will allow passengers to experience the sensation of riding a snowmobile at speeds as high as 40 mph along a 2,800-foot-long track.

The latest attraction builds on the theme park's practice in recent years of opening a new coaster nearly every year, although that plan got interrupted in 2020 when the pandemic shut down all theme parks and postponed the opening of its Emperor coaster that debuted earlier this year. Arctic Rescue will bring the park's coaster count to six.

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While it's been no secret over the last several months that a new roller coaster was in development to replace the former helicopter-themed ride in the park's Wild Arctic area, SeaWorld had kept the actual details of the ride under wraps until now. With construction already underway, Arctic Rescue is expected to make its debut in late spring of 2023.

The coaster is designed so that riders will straddle snowmobile-style seats that will allow them to effectively lean into banks and turns, with the speed accelerating along the course of the ride, from 34 to 38 to 40 mph. There will be two trains that will hold 16 riders in eight, two-person rows.

"With most coasters, you sit down in a seat but with this one you'll ride a snowmobile, almost like you'd sit on a bicycle and you straddle the seat and hold onto handlebars," explained Jim Potter, SeaWorld's vice president of plant engineering. "You're held into the seat, but with a lot of coasters your shoulders are also restrained by the seat. Here, you feel like you're riding an actual snowmobile."

Park officials are calling it the longest and fastest straddle coaster on the West Coast, although there are not a lot of them in California. Other examples include Pony Express at Knott's Berry Farm and RailBlazer at California's Great America in Santa Clara. And outside California, the SeaWorld park in San Antonio has Wave Breaker where riders straddle a jet ski-style car.

The height limit for the ride is 48 inches, which typically means that children 7 and older will be able to board the coaster, although the age can vary, SeaWorld said. For comparison purposes, that same restriction is in place for the Manta ride, which SeaWorld says is its most popular family-friendly coaster. The duration of Arctic Rescue is just under two minutes.

Just last month, the California Coastal Commission gave its OK for SeaWorld to proceed with the coaster project, which involves repurposing some of the infrastructure for the former Wild Arctic ride. That attraction, which included two simulators, shut down in early 2020 after park officials decided the ride had run its course and it was time to bring in a new one. The existing Wild Arctic building, which currently contains a theater and is located directly north of the area's animal exhibits, will be remodeled to serve as the rider loading area for the new coaster.

Arctic Rescue, SeaWorld says, was inspired by the longstanding animal rescue work the park is engaged in. The storyline of the coaster itself is that riders are racing through the unpredictable Arctic climate to save the animals that inhabit that area. SeaWorld wants visitors to understand that with the continued climate change, the Arctic sea ice that many animals rely on for survival is melting, threatening the survival of many species.

As people exit the ride area, they will go directly into the Wild Arctic exhibit, which is home to belugas, walruses, and a ring seal, which are among the species most impacted by Arctic sea loss.

"You will also be able to go downstairs and see the belugas and seals underwater," said park president Jim Lake. "There's also an interactive ice cave where kids like to play and an ice wall where you can run your hand along the wall. There will be signage and educators at the exhibit talking about the challenges of global warming and climate change that are impacting these animals in the Arctic."

While SeaWorld never discloses how much money it invests in an individual ride, Lake said the investment in Arctic Rescue is on par with that spent on the park's other larger coasters.

The park will spend the next several months building the coaster, but in the meantime, SeaWorld visitors can take advantage of what might be considered a bonus coaster. Just three weeks ago, the park reopened the long-shuttered Tidal Twister ride that debuted in 2019. Dogged by operational problems, the coaster was shut down a number of times and then closed for good until last December, when the park tried to revive it. Within a week, it broke down yet again, SeaWorld said.

However, ride manufacturer, Skyline Attractions, in collaboration with the park, was able to make significant changes to both the ride itself and the computers that work in tandem with the attraction, Potter said. The result is a now functioning coaster that has not broken down as it did in 2019.

Even as the park continues to place more focus on thrill rides, that doesn't mean there is any less attention paid to the animal side of SeaWorld, Lake said.

"I don't want to lose sight of the animal exhibits, but the addition of the thrill rides has made it so there's more things to do and something for everyone," he said. "And they complement our animal exhibits. We've been able to tie the two together so it tells a nice story."

©2022 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Visit sandiegouniontribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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This story was originally published September 28, 2022 1:03 PM.

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