It's official: SeaWorld is getting another coaster that will debut in 2019

SeaWorld will debut its second coaster in as many years as it begins construction next month on Tidal Twister, a compact, horizontal ride that will open next May, the San Diego theme park announced Tuesday.

Like its more thrill-inducing predecessor, Electric Eel, which debuted earlier this year, the newest coaster will invert riders but because it is a horizontal ride, it will be just 16 feet tall and will reach a speed of 30 mph versus Electric Eel’s speed of 62 mph.

SeaWorld boasts, though, that the ride’s horizontal design, with its dueling trains traversing a figure-eight track, makes it a coaster like none other in the world.

Adding to the coaster’s intrigue is a 360-degree inversion that will occur when the two 16-passenger trains, which load at opposite ends of the figure eight, meet up and cross paths. At that point, the car on the lower track will invert.

Tuesday’s unveiling, while not a total surprise considering the project went before the California Coastal Commission in August, comes at a time when parent company, SeaWorld Entertainment, is trying to step up its rollout of big-ticket rides.

Although the SeaWorld-branded parks continue to emphasize their connection to marine life and the oceans, the Orlando-based company has made it clear it wants to be introducing more high profile attractions at a more rapid pace, a move that can help build on SeaWorld’s more recent progress in growing attendances following years of slumping visitation.

While Electric Eel has been a draw for older teens and adults, Tidal Twister will likely appeal to a broader demographic extending to younger elementary-school-aged kids and their parents, says SeaWorld.

“The intention is for the pace to be fast and to quickly take the park to being the absolutely best it can be in a quick period of time,” said SeaWorld San Diego Park President Marilyn Hannes. “If you go back in recent history, you might have seen one new big attraction every three years. We know from consumer research and guest surveys that we needed to add more rides over time and re-balance the whole park experience.

“We also know the main driver is to come and be inspired by the animals but we want to have a critical mass for people to visit and we know people respond to the rides.”

Located in the northwest portion of the park adjacent to the Aquaria touch pool and aquarium, Tidal Twister will still have a marine component.

In a move to showcase its Rising Tide conservation program, started in 2009, SeaWorld will reimagine one of its four aquariums in the park’s Aquaria: World of Fishes building.

The plan is to re-stock an existing 100,000-gallon tank with juvenile ornamental fish that, once mature, will be sent to research labs in Hawaii, Texas and Florida where they will be propagated. The end goal is to increase the availability of such ornamental fish for the aquarium industry in order to minimize the impact on the coral reefs where these fish normally live.

In addition to offering a preview of next year’s planned attraction, SeaWorld also unveiled a new multi-tiered annual pass program that will offer yearly admission to the park for as low as $7.99 a month and as high as $19.99 a month but with perks like up-close parking, reserved seats and free admission to all of the 11 other SeaWorld-owned parks.

The park has offered a number of promotions throughout the year for its one-size-fits-all annual pass program that at one time was priced as low as $99.90, which included free parking and no blackout dates. The new tiered program is now being rolled out at all the other SeaWorld parks, although with different pricing levels, as the company continues to pursue new strategies to build attendance growth among more local visitors.

“They’re trying to reach a broader market, more economic stratas, from the low end and now reaching up to the higher end,” said theme park consultant Dennis Speigel. “This is what parks are doing now. This comes down very simply to attendance growth, by introducing these different programs they can grow attendance even more by giving customers more options.”

Last week, SeaWorld Entertainment announced a major turnaround in revenue and attendance, which it said soared 10 percent over the last nine months.

lori.weisberg@sduniontribune.com

(619) 293-2251

Twitter: @loriweisberg

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