When you think of SeaWorld, you might think of fabulous aquariums, exciting shows, and family fun, but you probably don’t think about cutting-edge rollercoaster experiences.
The Orlando amusement park is betting that Pipeline, their new coaster, will change that. GPRS was excited to help pave the way for the installation of the world’s first “Surf Coaster,” which opened in the summer of 2023.
Pipeline invites riders to “experience the power of the ocean in a whole new way” as they climb aboard a giant segmented surfboard, and strap into its innovative, dynamic seats that provide an individual freedom of movement never before seen in the coaster world.
Before excited riders like NSYNC’s Joey Fatone could hang ten, SeaWorld style, General Contractor, Balfour Beatty, brought in GPRS Project Manager Josh Conover to map the underground utility infrastructure, so that the massive ride that boasts 2,950 feet of track, 110 feet of height, and speeds of up to 60 miles per hour could move into its new home.
The Constant Evolution of Theme Park As-Builts
The challenges when installing a marquee attraction into an already established park require a lot of intelligent planning and design.
“Project teams must work safely around tight timelines with rigid deadlines, manage a diverse group of stakeholders and grapple with evolving technology. All the while, they must align with the sponsor's ultimate goal: to deliver thrills that keep crowds coming back for more,” reports the Project Management Institute on theme parks.
As if those opposing factors weren’t challenging enough, statistics show that installing a major new attraction does increase interest and attendance ¬– for about two years. So, theme parks around the world are in a constant state of reinvention. Which highlights the need for accurate subsurface as-built information that is aggregated and updated continually.
To make sure the installation of Pipeline was as safe as possible and to avoid service interruptions and utility strikes, GPRS’ Conover initially spent three days locating and mapping the underground and utility infrastructure of the coaster site. What made the job even more important was discovering that under the walkways and landscaping that occupied the site before excavation was a main utility corridor for the park.
Installing the coaster safely in that location would mean re-routing a lot of utilities to assure that the foundations and any new utility needs for the site would not negatively impact the existing infrastructure. So, Conover continued work at the coaster site as needed to update the subsurface as-builts throughout the completion of the project.
One of the little-known facts about locating at theme parks is that the work usually must be done at night, after the park closes, and the mark-outs often have to be done in chalk or some other removable medium so that nothing bumps guests out of their thrill-seeking experience.
So, for theme parks, it is essential to capture and complete accurate digital as-builts to keep comprehensive, aggregated records of every new project. Because before installation is complete on one attraction, planning has already begun on the next.
What Makes SeaWorld’s Pipeline Unique?
“Just knowing I was doing a [utility] locate for a project that was the first ever of its kind was pretty cool,” Conover said of the experience.
It is pretty cool, and signals a sea change in the way SeaWorld envisions its branding. In the packed theme park playground of Greater Orlando, it can be challenging to grab eyeballs – and the millions of tourism dollars that go with them.
When you have to roll out something new every two years on average to stay relevant, it can be a daunting task.
“We do a lot of locates at Disney and Universal… mainly ‘back of house’,” says Conover, referring to the massive behind-the-scenes infrastructure needs of every major theme park.
Learn more about how GPRS works with general contractors to help Orlando theme parks create exciting and seamless guest experiences, here.
SeaWorld is banking on their new attraction to change the focus of the park and gain new coaster enthusiasts. The park didn’t go for the fastest roller coaster, or the most dangerous. Instead, they opted for a wholly new approach that aligned with the park’s brand and created something revolutionary in the amusement park world.
Pipeline was manufactured in Sweden, where SeaWorld’s Vice President of Operations, Rob McNicholas, traveled to experience the technology firsthand before bringing it to Florida. The innovations in this first-of-its-kind coaster experience include the addition of RFID technology that customizes each rider’s experience as they are harnessed into their seats, which are calibrated to move in two-inch increments to resemble riding the waves as closely as possible.
“It can go two inches up and two inches down so when you launch, you are going up and down, your legs come off the ground, and the best advice I can say is just let it go… Our operators come by and they check your restraint, and then they have an RFID watch that they will tap on the side and that is where — based on your height — it will lock the column two inches up two inches down based on your height,” said McNicholas.
“It’s a proud dad moment,” McNicholas told local Bay News at 9 on Pipeline’s opening day. “You know, hearing the screams after years of working on this, and better yet, hearing their reactions afterward, people are blown away by it.”
GPRS is pleased to have played a part in bringing Pipeline to SeaWorld by Intelligently Visualizing The Built World™ for Balfour Beatty.
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