Review: SeaWorld’s Tidal Twister coaster packs a ton of thrills into a tight space for the tween set

This week SeaWorld debuts their newest roller coaster.


SeaWorld San Diego’s new Tidal Twister is designed for grade-school riders who want to go upside down over and over again on a roller coaster but still haven’t worked up the courage.

I rode Tidal Twister five times on Tuesday during a media preview and found SeaWorld’s new ride to be a little rough but perfect for my inner child. Tidal Twister opens to the public Friday after a week of previews for employees and annual pass-holders.

The first-of-its-kind ride from Florida-based Skyline Attractions combines the adrenaline of a roller coaster with the excitement of a thrill ride that will make grade-schoolers swoon with young coaster love.

With a 48-inch height requirement, Tidal Twister is tame enough for most young kids but wild enough to make your smartphone fall out of your pocket during any of the multiple inversions.

It’s a truly unique set up. Tidal Twister has two load stations at either end of a figure-eight track. Dueling trains are attached to either end of the coaster with missing cars in the middle. The ride looks like a snake continuously chasing its own tail.

With two load stations, I’d recommend heading to the line at the back of the ride, which will likely have a shorter wait. The experience is the same no matter which station you choose.

The twin coaster trains have forward and backward facing seats with riders facing each other. I found the seat set-up to be too tight for four adults, but perfect for four grade-schoolers. The arrangement made for some tricky loading and unloading situations.

The experience starts before the ride even begins. Once riders are securely on board, the coaster train tilts 45 degrees to match up to the angle of the track.

The whole ride is driven by two sets of tires that propel the coaster around the infinity twist track. Those tires make for a pretty rough ride. You can feel every vibration of the rubbing radials.

The ride starts with a back-and-forth motion that gives the train enough momentum to get up over the one and only hill in the middle of the figure eight track. The ride passes through the station forward and backward several times before making it over the lone hill in the middle and through the first figure eight twist.

It’s important to mention that while the ride is essentially a pair of interconnected circles, I never felt like I was spinning around in a nauseous loop. That’s thanks in part to the upside down inversion on the second pass through the middle of the figure eight. That inversion is about 10 feet above the ground and pretty thrilling if you’ve never been upside down before on a coaster, especially for the target audience of 8- to 12-year-olds. It’s even more exciting and unexpected if you enter the inversion backward.

The coolest part of the ride is you won’t know if you’re going forward or backward until the coaster makes it up and over the center hill for the first time. It all depends on the amount of weight in the car. Centrifugal force determines the direction of the ride. Not even the ride operator knows which way the coaster is going to go around the figure eight.

Unlike most coasters, Tidal Twister has no lift hill, which makes for an extremely low profile and ground hugging ride experience.

At a mere 30 mph, Tidal Twister feels fairly slow when you’re going forward. But the ride feels much faster when you’re going backward through the single inversion in the middle of the track. The speed isn’t any different, but the anticipation of the unseen upside down twist adds to the excitement of the ride.

SeaWorld calls Tidal Twister a dueling coaster, but there’s no way for either train to win the duel since they are connected in the middle. You see the other end of the train in the middle of the figure eight. But it’s impossible to catch up to or overtake the other car.

Another unusual part of the ride is that you’re never more than 16 feet above the ground at any time. During the inversion your head is only one story above the ground, making for an exhilarating experience.

The entire attraction only takes up one acre of land. It replaced a bathroom next to the Bayside Amphitheater. The super small footprint and very low profile means you won’t see Tidal Twister until you’re right up on it.

Tidal Twister seems incredibly approachable for kids. The whole ride is shorter than a two-story home and fits in the space of two backyards in a typical residential neighborhood. I don’t know too many second graders who would be brave enough to tackle a coaster that goes upside down four or five times, but there will be plenty of grade-schoolers who will be able to make that boast after they get on Tidal Twister.

And that’s the point. SeaWorld is going after the tweeners with this coaster. Tidal Twister isn’t designed to appeal to coaster enthusiasts, unless they’re curious to see this strange and unusual creation for themselves.

Indeed, some fans don’t even consider Tidal Twister to be a true and authentic roller coaster. But Roller Coaster Database, the authority on such things, has determined that Tidal Twister does indeed “coast” and qualifies as a coaster. Nonetheless, many coaster purists will still consider Tidal Twister to be nothing more than an elaborate “flat ride,” industry-speak for a spinning carnival-style attraction.

The most interesting aspect to me about Tidal Twister is that it could shatter coaster records for the number of inversions in one ride. The current record is 14 inversions on the Smiler coaster at Alton Towers in the United Kingdom. Tidal Twister could crush that record in under five minutes.

In theory, you could go upside down dozens of times in one ride cycle on Tidal Twister if your stomach could handle it. It’s a real risk to consider, since you’ll be sitting directly across from another rider whose stomach may not be as ironclad as yours.

For the record, SeaWorld has no plans to set any such records. But any attempt would certainly bring out the ride enthusiasts to either cry foul or give it a try.

Brady MacDonald is a freelance writer based in Orange County who has written about theme parks for the past decade.