DROP EVERYTHING

Countdown over: Aquatica debuts extreme-drop slide

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Guests drop nearly 40 feet at an 80-degree plunge before sliding down the new 80-foot tall attraction, Ihu Breakaway Falls, at SeaWorld Orlando's Aquatica water park Monday, May 5, 2014. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel)

Aquatica, SeaWorld's water park, took the idea of an extreme-drop slide and gave it a twist. Make that several twists.

Ihu's Breakaway Falls, which opens to the public Friday, begins with a dramatic launch but instead of riders taking a straight-line path back to the ground, they follow a vertical plunge with a curving trip through tubes that follow a corkscrew pattern before splashdown.

The attraction's four slides start 80 feet high. It's taller than anything else at Aquatica.

"When we looked at our ride portfolio, this next level of thrill was the next logical step for us to add to the park," says Bryan Nadeau, vice president of Aquatica.

Three of the slides begin with "breakaway boxes," an upright canister for folks to stand in. Water streams behind the riders, who stand with arms crossed across their chests and legs crossed as the ankles.

A thump-thump heartbeat is piped into the boxes. Ride operators ask the visitors to give a thumbs-up signal. All three riders can see each other as a countdown begins, but they don't know who will drop first. It's like an extreme dunking booth.

And then the bottom drops out, one box by one.

"Half the excitement of this attraction is the anticipation of the drop," Nadeau says. "You're facing your friends and not knowing who's first."

That anticipation starts building from the ground, he says. Riders, who must be a least 48 inches tall, climb 126 steps — about eight stories — to reach the launch platform. Then they get a good look at the launch mechanisms.

They might also get a nice view. Aquatica is spread out before them, with International Drive buildings such as the Orange County Convention Center behind them. I could see downtown Orlando in the distance. Look the other direction and you see SeaWorld, particularly the Journey to Atlantis ride and Kraken roller coaster.

Folks who don't want to step into the breakaway boxes have a sliding option. The fourth slide — the purple one — allows guests to pace themselves and push themselves over the edge. It's still intense, Nadeau says.

"It's no chicken slide," he says. In fact, the purple option has the steepest descent and moves the fastest, but they're all "very different," Nadeau says. The other slides are blue, orange and green, squarely in Aquatica's palette.

"One is longer, one is steeper, one is faster," he says. "Guests can come up and ride over and over again and pick which one their favorite is."

My sidekick Ron tackled Ihu's orange slide first during a preview for annual passholders. His two-word (and wide-eyed) review: "It's fast."

He also found the tubes a bit claustrophobic. And he found a solution to water rushing up his nose during the descent, thanks to kids in line on his second time on Ihu's: Hold your nose.

Although many riders look apprehensive at the top, most people look pretty happy at splashdown. And, unlike many steep-drop rides, the number of wedgies was low, according to my unscientific observations.

The new slide, which is very visible from I-Drive, took the place of several cabanas that were next to the park's wave pool.

"When you walk the park and you see Ihu's, it looks like it's always been here," Nadeau says. "The park is 6 years old and this is a natural fit. It's just nestled in here."

dbevil@tribune.com or 407-420-5477

Ihu's Breakaway Falls

Where: Aquatica, SeaWorld's water park, 5800 Water Play Way, Orlando

When: Opens todayPark hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Who: Ihu — pronounced "EE-hoo" — is one of the park's animated mascots. He's the gecko.

Cost: $56 ($51 for ages 3-9). There are discounts for online purchases and Florida residents.

Phone: 407-351-3600

Online: aquaticaorlando.com

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