Exploring San Diego


Behold, the 'Emperor': SeaWorld debuts new roller coaster

Ride emulates Emperor Penguins
Posted at 12:48 PM, Feb 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-28 20:51:48-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - With screams and cheers, SeaWorld San Diego debuted it's newest roller coaster Monday.

Emperor is a 153-foot tall dive coaster, that includes a 14-story drop at 90 degrees, so riders are facing straight down.

"That kind of coaster, this is what I live for," says Theron Langhorne, who got a sneak peek at the ride Monday morning with the American Coaster Enthusiasts.

In addition to the dive, the ride includes an "Immelman," a "Hammerhead Turn," a "Barrel Roll," and a "Flat Spin." Lasting just around 40 seconds from the initial drop to the finish, it packs thrills into every second.

"It still takes my breath away," says SeaWorld Project Manager Jim Potter. "It's very cool and I can't wait for everybody to get to ride it."

The ride is designed to mimic the movement of Emperor Penguins in the water as they dive and swim. SeaWorld chose to associate the two because the park is the only place in North America where you can see Emperor Penguins in person.

"The animals are extremely important to us," says Potter. "That connection to the animals is vital and we take that to heart as employees."

But the ride is also a sign that SeaWorld is putting less emphasis on animals and transitioning to a ride-centric park.

This is the third roller coaster to open at SeaWorld since 2018, joining Electric Eel (2018) and Tidal Twister (2019). In that time the park has also opened a handful of new kid-sized rides. They've also launched new themed activities, parades, and food festivals.

All of this comes as the park tries to climb back from an attendance collapse after the documentary "Blackfish" came out in 2013. It alleged mistreatment of the animals in the park.

Attendance plummeted from 4.5 million guests in 2013 to as low as 3.1 million in 2017. But the new rides led to increases in attendance in 2018 and 2019. The Pandemic brought numbers back down.

Now, park officials say they hope Emperor can help 2022 get back to, or surpass the numbers they saw pre-Pandemic.

"He have to balance animals and rides," says Potter. "This creates a diversity in our park where we have the animals, we have the people who love the animals. And now we're opening it up and inviting more members of the family who enjoy the thrill rides as well."

SeaWorld won't stop at Emperor. The company will open Sesame Place in Chula Vista at the end of March. It will be just the second Sesame Street-focused theme park in North America. The other is near Philadelphia. And the company has also announced plans to replace the current Wild Arctic motion-movie ride with a new thrill ride in the next few years.

In the meantime, Emperor should bring in coaster-fans eager for a unique thrill in San Diego.

"It takes my breath away every time I go over the edge," says Potter.

The ride opens to the general public on March 12. Annual Passholders will have a chance to ride it before then with special preview days.