No time is wasted. We are heading straight up the first and highest hill in a car shaped like a shark’s head. The climb is steep, and we know as soon as we crest the top, we’ll dive down, hitting 73 miles an hour. That’s one fast roller coaster.
We’re riding Mako, SeaWorld’s new hyper coaster, which opened June 10. My companion is an old hand at roller coasters whose standards were set at Cedar Point in Ohio. Mine were set at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Southern California. Both parks have coasters taller and faster than this one, but it’s been a long time. I peek at my companion. His face is red. Is that caused by anticipation or heat on a 94-degree June day?
At 73 miles an hour, this is one fast roller coaster — fastest in Orlando.
Already we’re higher than Kraken, the coaster on our left. I have a few seconds to take in the panoramic view as we rise toward 200 feet above flat and sprawling Orlando, and then we’re over the top. We rise gently out of our seats, restrained by a contraption that looks like a small tray across our laps, and speed down. I let out a long scream. My ride partner is cursing, but it’s an admiring curse.
Quickly we’re heading back up again. This hill is a little shorter, maybe 175 feet, but still taller than Kraken. Again as our car starts down we rise out of our seats. There are seven more hills ahead, each a little shorter than the last, plus a few other elements that give us air time. I don’t think I’ve ever spent as much time out of my seat on a roller coaster — a feature that SeaWorld deliberately designed for Mako. Relentless air time, the engineers call it, and it’s an accurate description.
Mako is kind of a retro coaster. Although it’s got steel rails, its design is reminiscent of old wooden coasters where the track couldn’t be shaped into the pretzels and upside down loops that are so popular in today’s steel coasters. Wooden coasters once thrilled riders with air time, but the ride could be bone-rattling — like Gwazi, which closed at Busch Gardens in early 2015. Mako’s ride is never bumpy. It’s surprisingly smooth.
Shark Wreck Reef, the plaza where riders board Mako, has other shark-themed elements.
Mako is what’s called an out-and-back coaster, no knots or inversions, just a lot of ups and downs and some overbanked curves at either end where the cars turn sideways. The track is nine-tenths of a mile long, which makes it the longest in Orlando. It lasts about 2 1/2 minutes.
Our car slows as we come into the station. My companion gives me a fist bump. We’re both grinning.
We disembark, look at some of the other elements of this new shark-themed plaza as we regain our equilibrium. A shark sculpture built of beach litter, a shark mural painted by Guy Harvey, a walk-through aquarium, some educational exhibits. My friend spots the sign for Sharks Underwater Grill, where the bar is topped by a shallow aquarium. “Do you suppose they have Land Shark beer?” he asks. We decide to find out. We haven’t had our fill of sharks yet.