Journey to Atlantis

by Karl Buiter, staff writer

The brand new Journey to Atlantis ride at Sea World San Diego, which opened its doors to the public over the Memorial Day Weekend, is an enjoyable fusion of flume ride and roller coaster, theme, surprises, and education.

The new Journey to Atlantis ride at Sea World San Diego opens in time for the big summer crowds this past Memorial Day weekend. Photo by Karl Buiter.

A water flume drop is showcased at the front of the attraction. Peaking behind the various aquatic-colored towers are sections of the roller coaster. Yet more hidden show and ride elements and the exceptional Commerson's Dolphin exhibit make this attraction a must-see.

Riders take the watery plunge. Photo by Karl Buiter.

Family Attraction

Atlantis is a family ride blending the fun elements of flume rides and coaster experiences.

The showcase drop of the Atlantis flume element is certainly steep and tall, but not very menacing. The riders sure do look like they are having fun making a huge splash into the pond.

The ride becomes a roller coaster. Photo by Karl Buiter.

The coaster element provides a good moment of thrill. The drop is a bit taller than junior roller coasters with a big swooping turn, then rise up and down into the water. The coaster element does not have the major airtime, drops, and g forces found on record-breaking roller coasters.

Detail from inside the queue. Photo by Karl Buiter.

These ride elements are at the levels seen by many of Disney's legendary mountain attractions. It could be convincingly argued that Journey to Atlantis is an evolution of the ride experience pioneered by Disney on Splash Mountain.

A shaded atrium. Photo by Karl Buiter.

The Queue

Pastel sea-like colors, wall sculpture, and detailed flooring decorated with shells and dolphin shapes establish a setting for Atlantis. While the early portion of the queue is most subject to outdoor sun and heat; the queue eventually winds its way into a shaded switchback atrium, and then into a covered hall before opening up to a load plaza on the back side of the structure.

While the queue exhibits nice architecture, one does not get a sense of immersive environment or back-story found in the high-art of the Indiana Jones Adventure attraction in Disneyland. You won't find interactive elements such as glyphs to decipher, rope-climbing archeologists, or flickering film projections.

However there are nice fun elements in the load plaza. A quiet fountain in the center of the plaza occasionally goes “out of control” and soaks unsuspecting guests in the queue. Bare feet imprints in the boarding area are another nice touch; one of the locations sports two left feet.

A view of the front area from the first chain lift. Photo by Karl Buiter.

Ride Show Elements

While the fusion of water flume and coaster is evolutionary, the theming of the ride is limited. Most of the decorated areas are those viewable from the front. There is no village and no strong story arc as found in the Florida version.

The ride cobbles together a disjointed “story” through several ride element “scenes.” Ride narrative played on speakers mounted throughout the ride provides prelude to the next ride element. While the audio was clear, the distraction of the ride and the music made it hard to understand everything that was said; nor could this reviewer find any cohesive story arc after several rides.

Despite these shortcomings, the actual ride is quite a bit of fun, mixing the different ride experiences with suspense and very wet opportunities. And in the middle of the attraction is a hidden ride element not seen on other rides.

Looking backwards from inside the tunnel. Photo by Karl Buiter.

Spoiler Alert

After coasting through the front pond after the first drop, the boats enter a two-section tunnel. In the first section a flood of water enters from the sides. The boats then move forward into a “capsule.” Projections of Commerson's Dolphins drift on faux windows of the capsule as you rise unsteadily upward. At the end of this experience, your boat had been elevated to the top of the main tower ready for the coaster drop.

The final drop. Photo by Karl Buiter.

Atlantis will get you seriously wet. Along with the two water drops, there are water eruptions, water cannons, and places where water washes down into the boat. However as wet as I felt after three back-to-back rides, I still ended up far more soaked on the Shipwreck Rapids raft ride found on the other side of the park!

Commerson's Dolphins are showcased at the Atlantis attraction. Photo by Karl Buiter.

Commerson's Dolphins

At the end of your journey, the riders disembark and exit down a stairway under the attraction. Past the ride photo station, a stairway climbs up to the big windows of the Commerson's Dolphin exhibit.

Commerson's Dolphins are found in cold waters at the southern tip of South America. They share many similarities to porpoises. Commerson's Dolphins feature distinctive black and white coloration, usually grow to no more than five feet in length, and usually travel in groups of four to five members.

Journey to Atlantis marks the on-stage return of Commerson's Dolphins to Sea World. The original Sea World San Diego Commerson's Dolphin exhibit occupied the area replaced by Shipwreck Rapids. The collection was moved backstage to the animal care area.

Joining the group are Commerson's Dolphins from the Patagonia Passage exhibit at Sea World Ohio. This dolphin collection has its own history. In the spring of 2000, three dolphins died from colitis and another two dolphins were put on antibiotics. A year later, Sea World Ohio was sold to Six Flags and the remaining collection of four Commerson's Dolphins was transported to Sea World San Diego.

As beautiful as the Commerson's Dolphin exhibit is, some education elements could be added to explain these wonderful creatures.

The exhibit features an outside view. Photo by Karl Buiter.

The exhibit can be entered and viewed inside and outside from an entry near the front of the attraction without waiting in the ride queue. Next to the Commerson's exhibit is an attraction-specific store selling gift items and Commerson's Dolphin plush toys.

An engineering T-square provides a definitive answer. Photo by Karl Buiter.


The plaza queue breaks out into two lines, plus an area for disabled access. The lines wind around the stunt fountain. Both a two line and one line configuration were used in the preview.

Riders need to be at least 42 inches tall. An adult must sit next to children who are 42 to 48 inches tall. No full arm or leg casts are allowed, and all the other general thrill ride rules apply.

Atlantis has a load area designated for disabled access. A slide switch moves vehicles from the main track into a controlled area. Riders can enter and exit the vehicles without feeling hurried by the pace of the primary load area. Once loaded, the vehicle moves forward to another slide switch, then switched back onto the main track.

View of the vehicle seating area. Photo by Karl Buiter.

Seating is fairly comfortable. Lap bars slowly slide down to secure the rider.

The first chain lift rises immediately after leaving the load plaza. Photo by Karl Buiter.

The main loading area handles three four-row, eight-passenger vehicles at a time. During the ride preview, the process appeared to be taking around two minutes per cycle or roughly 720 per hour. At peak efficiency, they could approach the 1,400 riders-per-hour level.

Riders enjoying the coaster section. Photo by Karl Buiter.


Sea World San Diego's Journey to Atlantis is a welcome addition to the Southern California theme park region. While the attraction does not have the grander themes and story of the Florida original, it does mix in some really cool ride elements on its own.

The dolphins are spectacular. Photo by Karl Buiter.

The return of the Commerson's Dolphins to Sea World San Diego is an equally enjoyable addition to this park.