First ride: SeaWorld Orlando’s Pipeline roller coaster

·3 min read

You may sense something in the air at SeaWorld Orlando. It’s the passengers aboard Pipeline, the theme park’s new roller coaster, which uses a bouncy surfing theme and a distinctive ride harness to create lots of weightlessness for riders.

The thrill ride’s grand opening isn’t until May 27, but SeaWorld’s annual passholders will start arriving in waves for previews that start Friday. Members of the media got sneak peeks Thursday afternoon. Here are five things gleaned from the experience and a chat with Rob McNicholas, vice president of operations for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.

Early air

The off-your-feet moments come early and often, starting with the straightaway that launches riders into the highest hill. While previews gave the impression of being flatfooted, I felt surprisingly flung fast. I had been concentrating on the old high-school band director mantra of “don’t lock your knees,” and that’s still solid advice for the little landings along the way on Pipeline.

How to ride

Let’s back up into the loading station. The “seating” is, well, seat-free. Folks ride it upright, equipped with an over-the-shoulder harness and a between-the-legs saddlehorn of sorts. That apparatus is connected to a post, and there is a decent amount of give in the up-and-down direction. Still, it’s foreign to modern-day coaster riders upon approach. The Pipeline position is practically perpendicular to the riding posture for Manta, SeaWorld’s flying coaster.

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“We do rely on our queue line video to be really clear and concise on the proper loading instructions. With this being a first of its kind, we know there’ll be confusion,” McNicholas said of Pipeline on Thursday. “So we encourage you to watch that video. It’s brief. It’s to the point. And it’s a really clear understanding of step in, push down, sit, let it rise … and your legs should be straight. Stand fully upright.”

Just let it go and enjoy, he said.

“Hold on, stand there comfortable. Because it’s like nothing else out there, it’s hard to explain the experience without stepping on and riding it,” he said.

Twist again

The initial hill is followed by another one that’s topped with an inversion. Then it’s a series of flopping around in disorienting curves. By now I had the meter of the motion and moved into a treading water pose, with one leg always extending down to the surfboard in moments of airtime.

“The layout is almost two different rides, where the front portion has very long movements … the hammerhead [maneuver] diving into the water feature, the barrel roll,” McNicholas said. “And the back half is a lot of tighter turns, twists and lots of airtime.”

Family fear factor

It’s not exactly harrowing, but it’s definitely active. The top speed is 60 mph, as opposed to sister SeaWorld attraction Mako, which moves up to 73 mph. Pipeline tops out at 110 feet versus a peak of 200 feet for Mako.

“It is really a family ride on the higher-thrill mark. It’s not straight high thrill, so the whole family can still ride it,” McNicholas said. The height requirement for Pipeline riders is 54 inches.

What’s next?

There’s thought, talk, speculation, rumors and construction walls these days around SeaWorld Orlando. So, what’s next?

McNicholas shifted into a tightlipped executive mode for a full five seconds after this question.

“This year, we have a ton of events,” he jokingly deflected.

Fine. This was Pipeline’s day or really the first of several days building up to its official debut. Previews start Friday for folks with platinum-level passes through Monday. Gold level passes are added to the mix May 18-20. Silver passholders join the previous groups May 21-23, then bronze May 23-25. On May 26, Fun Card holders round out the previews.

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