Tens of thousands of people turned out at SeaWorld San Diego on Saturday, with many of them trying out the new Manta roller coaster.
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The roller coaster has been in the works for three years and Saturday's grand opening happened in time for a holiday weekend that has already seen a new pirate-themed attraction open at Legoland California.
The ride carries visitors next to a 100,000-gallon aquarium. After a ribbon-cutting ceremony, which included park and city elected officials, students from the Elementary Institute of Science got the first ride.
SeaWorld officials envisioned the coaster to be both fun and educational, as riders learn about the manta ray's environment.
Stevie Acedo said he came all the way from Tucson, Ariz. just to ride the new ride. He told 10News he was pretty nervous before hopping on the ride. But when he got off the ride, he was out of breath and all smiles.
"It was just like so exciting, and I was, like, so happy," he said. Acedo said.
David Koontz, who is with SeaWorld, said it would be an understatement to say they are excited about the new ride.
"It's combining the thrill-wow of a coaster with the inspiring-wow of an interactive animal experience," said Koontz.
He said the launch station makes the coaster the first of its kind.
"Projected on the screen will be underwater images of rays and the coral reef, so you'll actually feel like you're underwater, immersed in the world of the rays," said Koontz.
The coaster rocks back and forth in the dark room with high-definition projections. Once the door opens, the ride reaches speeds of 43 mph. The ride is about half a mile long and lasts for less than two minutes.
In the ride, there are two launch points. In the middle of the ride, it nearly comes to a stop before hitting the maximum speeds again.
Koontz said it is a game-changer for both SeaWorld and the city. SeaWorld is also hiring an extra 200 summer employees this summer to handle the added rush.
The Manta roller coaster is the largest capital investment in SeaWorld San Diego's history, and they hope it will translate to a big boost in attendance numbers.
Forbidden Reef, an existing SeaWorld attraction where guests can feed and touch bat rays, had been shut down for 18 months for construction. It reopened on Saturday.
The Legoland attraction that opened Friday is Pirate Reef, which includes a 25-foot plunge down a chute between a pair of pirate ships, and water cannons that can be fired by kids on the "vessels." Comments on the theme park's Facebook page say riders get soaked by the time they're finished.
"Pirate Reef encompasses three things we know are already a hit with children -- water, LEGO and pirates," said Legoland California Resort General Manager Peter Ronchetti.
Around the ride are 30 models of pirates, monkeys, parrots and frogs, created out of more than 223,000 Lego bricks.
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