Happy Holidays! For the second year in a row, we are running our 12 Days of Coasters special! Every day from Christmas until January 5th, we will be giving away a roller coaster review for you to enjoy. We thank you for reading, and wish you a merry holidays and happy New Year!
A few weeks back, I traveled to Orlando to experience its collection of world-class theme parks. In addition to Disney and Universal, I also decided to take a visit to SeaWorld. Even though I only spent a half day’s worth of time there, I managed to grab several rides on their spectacular hyper coaster Mako–the tallest and fastest roller coaster in Orlando!
SeaWorld found itself in an identity crisis. Would it double down on its orca shows in the face of public outcry, or would it transition towards a stronger focus on traditional rides?
Mako, a B&M hyper coaster with a signature out-and-back layout, debuted back in 2016 at SeaWorld Orlando. At the time, the park had been struggling amidst backlash from the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which tried to expose alleged maltreatment of animals. Regardless of your feelings toward the subject, the documentary managed to kick off a wave of skepticism over SeaWorld’s killer whale keeping practices. This skepticism led to attendance taking a nosedive, leaving the company in a financial mess and hemorrhaging money the past few years.
SeaWorld found itself in an identity crisis. The park, which had once marketed heavily around its killer whales (such as Shamu), now had a decision to make. Would it double down on its past reliance on orca shows in the face of public outcry? Or would it begin to transition towards a more diverse theme park offering–a park with a stronger focus on traditional rides?
SeaWorld, it seems, has chosen the latter. They cancelled their orca breeding program and committed to phasing out the killer whale shows over time, while continuing to care for the whales currently in their hands. In addition, SeaWorld has been championing their increased contributions to conservation efforts around the world.
And throughout it all, SeaWorld parks have received a flurry of investment even in the midst of the chain’s struggles. These infusions of cash have gone into creating new attractions centered around traditional theme park rides rather than animal entertainment–the first major example of which was Mako. As it takes 2-3 years for a roller coaster to be planned and built, the decision to invest in Mako had to have been made in the recent aftermath of Blackfish. The company may have purchased 4,760 feet of steel, but Mako is so much more than that. Not only is it a fantastic roller coaster, it is the blueprint for what a signature attraction at modern-day SeaWorld parks should be.
The Lead Up
You’ll find Mako sitting in the back of the park, across the lake and next to Kraken. At 200 feet, it is the tallest coaster in Orlando, and is a great addition to SeaWorld’s skyline. But it doesn’t just remain in the clouds; one of the first impressions you’ll get of the coaster is its finale–a twisted jumble of turns over the midway culminating in a seemingly-inches-away glide over the park’s lagoon.
Another readily apparent observation is how heavily themed the area around Mako is. There is ship wreckage all around, along with rock-work masquerading as a coral reef and wave-like structures to make you feel as though you’re actually underwater. Most of the railings that line the queue are faux-wooden. Part of the queue under the station has signs with facts about mako sharks, along with cool water refraction-like wall projections. The station itself, though, is the star of the show. Its exterior is themed to that of a wrecked ship, and its interior features a great projection effect. It seems as though there are numerous sharks swimming around in a tank directly above you. When a train dispatches, a group of sharks appear to follow it–a cool touch.
Soon, you’re leaving the station held in to your comfortable bucket seat by B&M’s trademark clamshell lap bar. As you climb the lift, a custom-made musical score swells, heightening anticipation for the ride to come. Before you know it, the drop is upon you. And it is quite the drop–you feel all 200 feet of it. It is a similar first drop to the other B&M hypers, but that isn’t bad–in fact, it means its good!
A very brief straight section at the bottom of the 20 story plunge allows you to really get a sense of the 73 miles per hour top speed, before rising into a hill topped with a turn and a brief pop of air–similar to the first hill found on Intimidator at Carowinds. After completing the L-shaped turn, Mako drops and sends you over the first fully parabolic hill, which is filled with oodles of airtime! On this hill, I personally got airtime that was more of the “ejector” variety than the typical “floater” air most B&M hypers deliver.
After a tight “hammerhead” turn, the relentless airtime continues with another large hill (albeit one with trim brakes), before a turn heading towards the brake run. But before you get there, you are thrown over, in my opinion, the best element on the coaster: a shallow, low-to-the-ground air time hill. If you’re a seasoned coaster vet, you know how out-of-place a hill of this shape is. Most B&M hypers consist of large, umbrella like parabolic hills; in fact, I have never experienced a high-speed shallow air time hill on another B&M hyper. So for Mako to have a sensation like this is incredibly cool and unique. It was a great surprise!
A slow-down on the Mid Course Brake Run is followed by a “floater” airtime hill before you head into the aforementioned twisted finale. After a pair of swooping turns, you dive down towards the park’s main lake. Skimming right by the surface is a great feature and even more intimate if you are sitting in the seat furthest to the left, as that is the closest to the water! Because you’ve still got decent speed, it goes by fast and soon you’re sitting on the brake run at the conclusion of your journey.
My reaction? Mako is terrific. First and foremost, it is a fantastic roller coaster. It’s got height, speed, and intensity, all while being glass smooth. It is the rare airtime machine that gives you both ejector and floater sensations. On this alone, Mako could be considered a world-class coaster.
But thanks to SeaWorld’s design team (looking at you, Brian Morrow), Mako is also a fantastic themed attraction. The movements of the coaster (especially in the second half of the ride) attempt to mimic that of the mako shark. The entire area around Mako has a great sense of place. Also, kudos to SeaWorld for not only the extensive theming, but the use of a custom scored soundtrack as well. It’s seemingly small details like that that push this coaster into being a world class experience.
Mako is, in my opinion, the best B&M hyper coaster in the States. And I say that having ridden all but one of the B&M hyper coasters in America (only missing Raging Bull). There’s no doubt in my mind over rating this coaster a 10. This type of attraction–where the cold, hard thrills of traditional rides is mixed with tremendous theming and attention to detail–should be the blueprint all new signature additions to SeaWorld follow in this post-Blackfish reality.
Final Rating – 10 out of 10 (Superior)
Watch a POV of this coaster’s intense but fun-filled layout! (footage by SeaWorld Orlando)
We’d love to hear your thoughts on Mako. Is it as spectacular as I think? Should it be a template for future SeaWorld attractions? What does the future of SeaWorld look like? Let us know via a comment below, and do have a merry Christmas!
This was a part of our 12 Days of Coasters special! Every day from Christmas until January 5th, we gave away a roller coaster review for you to enjoy. You can check them all out here. We thank you for reading, hope you’ve had a merry holidays, and wish you a happy New Year!