Face-to-face: Mike Denninger – VP Theme Park Development at SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

Face-to-face: Mike Denninger – VP Theme Park Development at SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

Mike Denninger discusses the key features of two exciting new rollercoasters opening at Seaworld this summer

Mike Denninger discusses the key features of two exciting new rollercoasters opening at Seaworld this summer


Tell us about the stand out features of both rides – why are they unique? 

Mike Denninger
Mike Denninger

We have two new rides opening this summer –  Mako over in SeaWorld Orlando and Cobra’s Curse in Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. Both are very different but they have one thing in common: thrills! Let me tell you more…

Mako is themed around one of the fastest predators in the ocean, the Mako shark. We have created a ride that mimics the hunting patterns of this hunter top predator – and that means plenty of speed, height, and quick, agile turns! In fact, Mako reaches speeds of up to 73 mph on nearly a mile of track and reaches heights of up to 200 ft so you can see why it is bearing the title of the longest, tallest and fastest coaster in Orlando!

Cobra’s Curse is based around an archaeological dig in ancient Egypt and features a live snake exhibit whilst visitors queue up – imagine how quickly the wait will pass when you are learning about some of the most interesting reptiles on the planet? The ride itself features a unique vertical lift and a spin mechanism on the coaster cars that means that every ride will be slightly different depending on the weight distribution of the riders. This ride is made for families, with a slightly lower height restriction meaning that everyone can enjoy the thrills.

Cobra's Curse
Cobra’s Curse

What customer research went into developing these new rides? i.e. to find out what people want?

We live and breathe for our visitors at SeaWorld and Busch Gardens, and this starts by being in touch with our guests and delivering unique experiences that exceed their expectations!  We do this through a variety of means, the most important being listening and paying close attention to what our guests say and do.  Whether through in-park conversations, structured surveys, consumer focus groups, or by observing guest behaviour and traffic patterns in our parks, we stay attuned to guest needs.   Our drive and our passion for developing new rides and attractions is spurred by the desire to create experiences that matter, with attractions that inspire people to protect animals and the wild wonders of our world.

How did you test out these concepts?

The fresh, new ideas from our designers come from an incredible amount of creative energy and skilled individuals with years of experience developing world-class attractions and rides for our parks. We are very aware of what will work in our parks, and what experiences will thrill our guests in just the right ways – whether through ride dynamics, family experiences, or awe-inspiring moments based in nature.  Our parks are intended for everyone in the family, and as such we deliver a multitude of experiences with broad appeal and ridership opportunities.


For example, the prototypical trackless ride system that takes our guests to the bottom of the world within SeaWorld Orlando’s Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin geared as an all-family attraction; or the feel-like-a-cheetah speedy triple-launch coaster that is Cheetah Hunt at Busch Gardens Tampa which hits its mark as a custom family-thrill coaster; or the new Mako coaster opening this summer in an all new Shark-themed realm at SeaWorld Orlando which will deliver higher thrills for riders with its speed, height, and relentless airtime!  We have always pushed the design envelope in the just the right ways to deliver attractions that our guests love and better connect them with our natural world.

What R&D goes into safety and technology when developing these rides?

For any new attraction, and for anything we do in our parks, the safety of our guests, employees, and animals is of utmost importance. As such, safety is always starting point, constant design requirement and an underlying theme in our ride and attraction development process.  Our years of experience operating and maintaining rides and attractions is a firm foundation that guides our development process. Additionally, we conduct multiple layers of inspections, tests, and reviews during ride design, fabrication, and operation in order to verify compliance with our standards.

In addition to a sound, proven design and engineering methodology as it relates to ride safety systems and the use of technology on attractions, we utilise other tools to enhance our design process. For example, we have built full-size mock-ups of ride vehicles, or ride mechanisms, when they did not exist. These mock-ups are not only used to verify design of safety systems, but also to ensure guest comfort, ideal viewing angles, and optimum rider orientation.

Describe how these rides will make people feel?

Ride dynamics are thrilling because they make people feel things they are not accustomed to.  SeaWorld Orlando’s Mako is one of the world’s only true hypercoasters, and is a great example of using ride dynamics to incite thrill.  Mako’s speed, height, and ride elements are specifically crafted to maximize rider “airtime” throughout the nearly mile long length of ride track. Airtime is that feeling of near weightlessness, where the rider will physically feel like they are floating. This is created using the accelerations (or g-forces as they are commonly known) due to the coaster train speeding over the tops of hills. In a nutshell it is that feeling in your stomach that we all love! Thanks to a very open kind of lap guard restraint, the riders will be able to fully experience the ride and the effect that airtime has on their body.

Ride dynamics and rider orientation are an important part of Cobra’s Curse at Busch Gardens.  We’ve designed and built the Cobra’s Curse ride system to provide multiple experiences that will be different for all groups of riders.  The ride starts with the coaster cars facing forward, rising up an unique vertical lift, and dropping through a gravity powered, twisty and fun coaster experience. A third of the way through the ride, we turn the coaster cars around and with the riders facing backwards we take the coaster through a series of dynamic turns and then up an inclined lift. At the top of the inclined lift we release the coaster car to freely spin based on the ride dynamics and weight distribution of the riders in the coaster car.  By provide multiple types of ride accelerations, as well as changing rider orientation throughout the ride, we’ve created a completely new coaster experience that will have broad thrill appeal to all members of the family.

How did you seek inspiration for the themes, concepts and details of the rides?

As with all of the rides at the SeaWorld parks, we get our inspiration from animals and nature. We realise that using something as fun and dynamic as a rollercoaster is a great way to get park goers engaged with nature on a whole new level. As mentioned above, we also have rides that mimic the dive of a falcon, the fast acceleration of a cheetah and many more.

It is indicative of what we stand for here at the parks, a connection with nature and fun!

What do you hope will be the results of introducing these rides?

We hope our guests are as excited about these new rides and attractions as we have been developing and building them! For Mako, we are hoping that the most hardened riders will want to come and test themselves on the longest, tallest and fastest coaster on the skyline in Orlando, whilst with Cobra’s Curse it is a thrill for the whole family, that can’t be enjoyed anywhere else in the world!

The overall aim for our rides is that guests coming for a fun, family day out leave with a better understanding of the natural world and a desire to connect more with it.

Are you game enough to go on these rides?!

Try and stop me!

Gary Marshall
Written by:
Gary Marshall
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