A new water slide adds speed and maneuvers inspired by extreme sports to Aquatica, SeaWorld's water park.
Omaka Rocka, the first expansion to the park since it opened two years ago, is designed to send riders through half-pipe action typically reserved for skateboarders and snowboarders. But don't be alarmed, you won't achieve the kind of airtime that Olympian Shaun White pulls off, and it all happens so quickly, there's no time to attempt one of White's famed Double McTwist 1260s.
But you will get wet-wet-wet — and maybe a mouthful of water to boot.
Omaka Rocka was constructed near the wave pools, and it shares a loading tower with Whanau Way. Those two water rides are so intertwined that it's hard for landlubbers to distinguish which ride is which. The architecture of the new attraction helps it stand out with three giant funnels attached to each of its two slides. It's a cornucopia effect.
Each funnel has netting over its opening, thus ending any aerial/lethal opportunity. It's nearly impossible to see what's going on from the ground, and even when preparing for take-off from the tower, it's unclear what's about to happen.
Right out of the chute, riders hit a little bump that propels them into the first funnel, which sloshes riders around the tube and usually disorients and turns them around, quickly sending them down the tubes — but no longer facing forward.
The stretches between funnels move along at a faster pace than most of the other Aquatica rides. There's an open-air feel that I didn't fully appreciate until my second ride-through. The side-to-side motions create a pretty intense splash factor. Water comes from all directions.
After the third funnel, the ride ends with an extended corkscrew portion that builds speed. This is the darkest part of Omaka Rocka, but, refreshingly, it's not pitch black like other Aquatica attractions such as its signature Dolphin Plunge or Walhalla Wave raft ride.
The splashdown is not too harrowing, and the landing pool is reasonably shallow and easy to exit. More alarming was what appeared to be the color of the water, which I choose to call "Radioactive Gatorade" rather than "Body Fluid." Upon closer inspection, that yellowish hue was created by the flooring, not the water. (Note that the water immediately at the end of the slide is the usual lovely blue, and there's a distinct line where it changes.)
It's disappointing that you can't see the action from the ground. If the sun is just right, you can see shadows of the riders through the chutes. They look like passing stingrays, but I think that's a happy theming accident.
The original announcement of Omaka Rocka indicated it would be a two-person float, but it has opened as a single-rider only. (Riders must be 48 inches tall, and unlike other Aquatica rides, even using a life vest doesn't gain entry to those not tall enough.)
Overall, the ride is flustering in a fun way, if not super-frightening. You don't hear screams, even from those megaphone-like funnels.
Meanwhile, on dry land, Aquatica has added more private cabanas for rent. New on the scene are "premium" and "ultimate" cabanas, which are tucked away on a private "island" between the two wave pools.
Amenties include soft drinks, towels, lockable storage, ceiling fan, upgraded furniture, etc., but at a price. I gulped hard at the thought of paying $599.99 for the ultimate one, which is allowed to have only six occupants. The ultimate is about 500 square feet and includes two 10x10 foot tents, a separate dining table and a variety of seating choices.
Pricing for the less elaborate premium cabanas is seasonal and begins at $174.99 per day.
"We're actually selling out before we open," says Bryan Nadeau, Aquatica's director of operations. The current cabana lineup is 17 general, six poolview, two premium and one ultimate.
OK, so maybe ultimate isn't aimed at my cheapskate demographic. On the other end of the add-on scale is a reservation for two lounge chairs and one umbrella set on a slice of sand inside Roa's Rapids (a.k.a. the crazy river). There are 24 of those sets, and they go for $20. After arriving midday last week and having to scout for an empty spot among the masses, I will consider that in the future.
Reservations are recommended and available at aquaticabyseaworld.com or 800-327-2424. (Ultimate-cabana reservations must be made via phone.)