Designed to mimic the diving movements of the Emperor penguin, SeaWorld San Diego’s newest roller coaster is an exhilarating attraction designed for thrill-seekers and families alike. The defining element of this ride is a 153-ft ascent that starts as a beautiful panoramic view of San Diego. However, riders soon realize that the turnaround ends abruptly and find themselves dangling, facing straight towards the ground. Engineered by Swiss roller coaster designer Bolliger & Mabillard, the ride fits five unique elements into 2,500 feet of curved steel track. The ride opens to passholders starting on March 2, and to the general public on March 12!
Technical and Pacing
After boarding the 6-seat wide ride vehicles, the train turns out of the station and ascends a 153-ft lift hill. As the train crests the lift hill and slowly approaches the drop, riders receive a breathtaking view of Downtown San Diego, Mission Valley, Clairemont, and Mission Bay. Finally, the train slows as a second chain mechanism engages. Riders dangle for between three and five seconds before plummeting 143 ft down towards the ground. The train swoops up into an Immelmann loop, mimicking a flight technique named after the famous German fighter pilot.
After the Immelmann, the train speeds up as it runs closer to the ground. Riders are thrown into a highly-banked hammerhead turn which twists you to the left and almost feels like an inversion. The next elements are a series of inversions – first comes a barrel roll that immediately leads into a flat spin (you may also know this element as a corkscrew). After completing the last inversion, the train speeds through a final banked turn before hitting the brake run with astonishing speed. The ride experience from lift hill to brake run takes approximately 1 min 10 sec, though the actual experience feels much longer.
Emperor features vest restraints that are common on other recently-constructed Bolliger & Mabillard coasters. While the vests can dig into the shoulders of particularly tall individuals, the overall experience is positive and riders feel seconds of sustained floater airtime on the first drop. The vests do allow riders to lean forwards, and the lap bar does not clamp down further once the train dispatches from the station. This is encouraging because it seems like the vests on Emperor are much less restrictive than on other dive coasters. In fact, Emperor probably has the best ride vehicle restraints of the three non-water coasters at SeaWorld San Diego. Emperor’s restraint is much more comfortable than Manta’s lap bar, which progressively squeezes riders’ thighs as the ride goes on. Electric Eel’s trains are notorious for being hard to get into, but there are no issues like that with Emperor. There is plenty of space between the vehicle’s rows, and the vests are probably just as, if not more comfortable than Electric Eel’s comfort collars.
Emperor stands as the tallest roller coaster in San Diego, three feet taller than Electric Eel. The ride features three inversions, the most on any ride in the park. In many ways, Emperor seems to be the most exhilarating in the park. The face-down vertical drop is the only one of its kind west of Texas. The only similar ride in California is Hangtime at Knott’s Berry Farm, which is marketed by Knott’s as a dive coaster as well. However, while Hangtime does feature a beyond vertical drop, not every row is held in the face-down position. Furthermore, Emperor is the only floorless dive coaster in California, which increases the excitement since there is nothing between you and the ride’s track. Seeing your legs dangle while more than 15 stories in the air is a very unique and gripping experience.
The Emperor coaster is themed to make you feel like you’re diving with Emperor penguins, and the ride’s sign is decorated to look like a glacier. Iceberg-shaped signage throughout the queue educates guests about penguin conservation, but that’s the extent of any real ‘theming.’ The area is pleasantly landscaped, but none of the plants in the Emperor realm make you feel like you’re in the penguins’ natural habitat – in fact, there are no tree or shrub species native to Antarctica!
One of the most glaring observations about the ride is that the coaster’s station does not have a roof. While there are two shade sails to protect parts of the line, the rest of the queue is, for the most part, uncovered. Additionally, the location of the station next to the parking lot does not help riders imagine that they’re in Antarctica journeying with penguins. While the ride experience excellently ties in with the graceful swimming movements of the Emperor penguin, there’s very little physical theming. The level of theming at Emperor is below par, even compared to similar rides at Six Flags or Cedar Fair parks.
Emperor is probably the most unique out of the North American dive coasters. “The six-across seating arrangement gives us the ability to use a much tighter turning radius,” said Jim Potter, project manager at SeaWorld San Diego. “This is a unique design for the United States.” In addition to the distinctive seating arrangement, Emperor is the only dive coaster in North America that does not feature a mid-course brake run. This gives the ride a more traditional roller coaster feel, with multiple consecutive elements. While the first drop is the most intense portion of the experience, the inversions are quite forceful and exceptionally smooth.
Probably the most unique aspect of the ride is the amazing view from the top of the lift hill. Most visitors to the park will probably not remember every single aspect of the ride’s layout, but the panoramic view of San Diego, Mission Bay, and the Pacific Ocean is truly unforgettable. While we weren’t able to get any night rides yet, we are very excited to experience the coaster at sunset.
Is Emperor the Best Dive Coaster in North America?
After analyzing all the factors, Emperor is a contender for the best dive coaster in North America. However, whether it tops your list depends on your taste in roller coasters. If you don’t like other dive coasters because they feel like ‘one-trick ponies,’ then you’ll love Emperor’s diverse layout of elements. If you love the landscaping and theming on rides like SheiKra and Griffon, Emperor may be a different experience. If you like taking in the view at the top of lift hills, them Emperor’s definitely going to be one of your favorites.
For me, the 153-ft panoramic view makes Emperor the best roller coaster at SeaWorld San Diego and also the best dive coaster in California. The Emperor dive coaster is a fantastic experience; it brings a solid thrill to the park’s lineup and is a must-ride for roller coaster enthusiasts across the country.
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