Bigger riders mean bigger headaches for theme parks
Americans are getting fatter, and theme parks are responding.
Bigger riders mean tighter fits into roller coaster and other ride seats, particularly on attractions designed a generation ago. As a result, parks are adding "plus-sized" seats to roller coasters, "test" seats at the beginning of ride queues, and in some cases, rebuilding ride systems entirely. But the changes are not coming quickly enough for some frustrated visitors, who are going online to ask others for advice on which rides will be able to accommodate them.
Theme Park Insider reader Rachel Crichton expressed her frustration over a trip to Cedar Point. "I only stood in line for five rides before giving up on the park," she wrote in a thread on TPI's discussion board.
After "being brutally embarrassed at three of them, I managed to fit Mean Streak and Gemini just fine, but was asked to get off of the mine ride and Blue Streak, and didn't even bother trying to fit... into Magnum.
"They say to try a test seat before waiting in line, and i gladly would've done that... except they only have test seats at, like, four rides, and none of them were rides I tried getting on. The website claims you can skip the line to try out the seats before waiting in line, but if you ask me, that's even more humiliating than waiting in line and then getting turned away," Crichton wrote.
Busch Entertainment Corporation spokesperson Damon Andrews acknowledged that theme parks are concerned about the trouble that some visitors are having.
"It's an issue we've recognized and we've tried to make accomodations where they've made sense," he told TPI in a phone interview earlier this year.
"On many rides, such as a Sky Tower, there's no need for individual weight restrictions," Andrews said. "But on a ride like a roller coaster, you are going to reach a point where you will have difficulty accommodating people over a certain weight."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2005 that the average weight for men aged 20-74 increased 25 pounds between 1960 and 2002, from 166 pounds to 191 pounds. During the same period, the average weight of women the same age increased 24 pounds, from 140 pounds to 164 pounds.
Kids are getting bigger, too. The CDC reported that the average weight for a 10-year-old boy increased from 74 pounds in 1963 to 85 pounds in 2002. Girls' average weight increased from 77 pounds to 88 pounds over the same period.
And as average weights increase, so, to, do body shapes.
"It's an issue of proportion," Andrews said. "Perhaps the top fits well on a ride, but the bottom doesn't. So that person really needs to see the ride seat beforehand, so that he or she can decide whether to ride."
Busch, like other theme park companies places sample seats at the entrance to selected rides, so that overweight visitors can try to fit themselves into the ride seat before taking the time to wait for that ride... and risking the embarrassment of not fitting in when they get to the load platform.
But sample seats are only ones of the accommodations that parks have made for larger riders.
"Depending on whether the ride manufacturer allows it, we've made accomodations ranging from extended seat belts to adding extra-large seats on some rides," Andrews said. "If, even with the larger seat or other accommodation, if we see someone still having a problem, we try, as tactfully as we can, to suggest that rider might not be able to go and to offer an no-wait admission on another ride."
The Walt Disney Company is making changes, too. Walt Disney World spokesperson Zoraya Suarez would not provide specifics in response to Theme Park Insider's query, but noted that "the diversity of our guests is one of many considerations in the design phase of our attractions."
Al Lutz reported on MiceAge earlier this month that Disney will next year rebuild the ride system of the It's Small World attraction at Disneyland to add larger boats and a deeper flume, to prevent what's become a common occurrence -- the 1960s-era boats "bottoming out" and coming to a stop, due to the excess weight of today's riders.
"The new flume will follow the exact same path as the original, and it will travel past sets that are in the exact same locations. But the extra depth of the new flume and the added buoyancy of the new boats should allow for several hundred extra pounds of churro-loving park visitors to pile into the new boats before they bottom out and bring the ride to a stop," Lutz wrote.
Some visitors aren't waiting for parks to design new seats and rides, however. They're using bad experiences with theme park rides as inspiration to make their own changes to, literally, fit in.
"I had the crappy experience this weekend of not fitting onto the Powder Keg at Silver Dollar City," wrote Theme Park Insider reader Becky Clubbs, on another discussion board thread. "I am now on a diet/weight loss program because not fitting onto theme park rides is a pretty big motivator for me."
Here is a sample of recent TPI discussion threads about weight issues:
Weight restrictions at Busch Gardens Europe
Weight limits for coasters at Busch Gardens Europe
Size issues at Busch Gardens Tampa?
Cedar Point Planning for a Big Guy
Are there any overweight Cedar Point Riders out there?
Need help! Question about Kennywood
Size limits (Six Flags Great Adventure)
Test Seats/Weight Restrictions (Six Flags Great Adventure)
Six Flags St. Louis for overweight riders?
This Kinda stuff drives me nuts!!!! Why are the Theme parks changing the ride systems because people can't control there weight. You are not entitled to ride the rides just cause you paid admission, if you don't fit, to bad. The parks shouldn't spend money changing ride systems and ride seats just to accommodate fat people. That leads to higher operation cost and in turn higher ticket prices for me since people can't push themselves away form the table. Accommodate Accommodate? why to the parks feel the need to accommodate people who have made a choice to be big. This is a slippery slope, once you start accommodating people on there personal choices it can lead down the wrong path.
I have though its never kept me off a ride! It seems to only happen on Wooden Roller Coasters at Six Flags Great America. Some of those are a tight fit! Never at Disney or Universal strangely enough!
It's a business. And if a business needs to change its facilities to accommodate a changing audience... well, if that business wants to stay in business, it had better do that.
It's probably a good business deal to make room for these overweight riders to ride. If most of America is changing shape, it only make sense for businesses to want to accommodate them. Not that I agree with this. They should keep it the same and use it as a motivator to people to lose weight and fit in the seats.
I kind of agree and disagree with this idea.
Like the guy said in the article, it is sometimes a "matter of proportion"; for me anyways. My butt region is just fine being able to fit in the seats, its just that i have a bodybuilders upper body and sometimes the shoulder restraints just can't get around my shoulders and chest. So sometimes its really not about weight. Its really not that embarrassing for me anymore since i know which rides at Busch Gardens Europe i can do...lot o trips on Apollo's Chariot is fine for me. I was able to do Griffon, but just barely, and it was quite uncomfortable. The B&M coasters may be forgiving on lower body, but ive had bad problems with their upper body standards...even tried the "diamond" lines and i still came off with a sore shoulder.
Just another good reason for people to get their weight under control. No I do not think theme parks should make special accomadations for those who have problems with with weight.
Even though I am not a large person by any means, I am feeling quite offended by the bone-thin prejudiced people that are looking down their stick noses as large people. Not everyone of them can "help" their weight. It doesn't always mean they "can't push themselves away from the table" As usual it are the sickly skinny people of the world who never eat who think they can have everything their way in the world and anyone different than them can suffer. If a theme park is willing to put extra large seats for bigger people in their rides then God bless them for recognizing the diversity of the world and keeping the parks family oriented. If you are ashamed to be in the same place as large people and are not compassionate enough to share the theme park then maybe you don't need to come. They made the lap bars and shoulder harnesses to keep the skinnies in their seats so a gust of wind doesn't make them fly out, and now they are thinking or the majority of body sizes in the world. Get over it
It is not necessairily a matter of being over weight. Some people who work out their legs can have trouble with some seat designs, and body building causes an issue too. I have seen both be a big problem especially since the new rides were designed for smaller than average adults. I use to work in the industry, and I know that the systems have gotten smaller over the past 20 years.
Back when i was skinny, i still always had a large "chest" area and it made it hard and sometimes painful to ride some rollercoasters...now that i am much bigger(mostly in the lower region) it gets a little uncomfortable, but i am willing to do anything to keep riding. Big or small, for me its still a pain in the butt. If the industry can do something about it, amen to that.
I had a friend whose motivation to lose weight was to fit in the Millennium Force seats... as much as it sucked that he couldn't ride them without changing, it was a great motivator.
Robert I couldn't disagree with your comments more. It's not good business to spend millions of dollars to change a ride because a few fat people can't ride it. Yes America has a an epidemic of overweight people but most of those overweight can still fit on a ride. Like in most cases it's a small minority of hugely overweight people crying fowl. Think about it, it's not like there are hundreds of people being turned away every hour cause there to big to ride. Most rides fit 90-95% of park visitors, why then pay the money to get the other 5-10%. Those visitors won't make up the cost of changing the ride.
This is a sad but true fact, Americans are getting fatter at an alarmingly faster rate than the rest of the world. The majority of people attending amusement parks and theme parks are not overweight. The reason parks are paying so much attention to them is that all it takes is one small voice to get the ball moving.
I'm chuckling at the image of 'lardies' wedging themselves into little carts having previously wedged their faces at not being able to say 'no' at the question 'you wanna go large on that?'. I'm 6' 5" and occasionally suffer on rides that cramp folk with extra height - whilst my girl suggests 'why should trim people rattle about in rides built for bloaters?'. Sounds fair to me.
Not all people who have problems "fitting" are overweight. I know I'm not skinny, but I've never had a problem fitting in the seats, unless there are over the shoulder restraints. I have a large chest, and that is something I cannot help, or fix. I love roller coasters, though, so I'll deal with the pain they cause, but it really is quite uncomfortable. Wear a pair of DD's for a trip to a theme park, then revisit this with your comments.
According to the CDC, 35 percent of American adults are overweight and 30 percent are obese. That means nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese. And the trend is that those numbers are increasing. So this isn't merely an issue for a small number of overweight people.
I agree with several posters here. And too, back when I was skinny, I have broad shoulders & I'm taller so although I fit great in the seat, I still got bruises from the OTSR and/or the seat in general since I was a female at her appropriate weight but with broad shoulders it still was a tight fit sometimes. I have long arms to so my arms usually end up outside the car rather than in. No offense to fellow overweight riders but since they're accomodating the NEW rides, wouldn't it be more costly to change older existing rides to accomodate? What about coasters like arrow or vekoma even some swartzkopf coasters that have certain size train cars. Again to reiterate about the physics comment, would that affect the ride or the layout/design, for safety & stress on the track if they had wider trains? Were the track layouts designed for those smaller type trains? (I just mentioned those companies since we all know how small/tight the cars usally are or can be.) I simply just lost weight since I got embarrassed once & that's all it took for me. I'm still wayy overweight but riding coasters is important to me so I decided for myself to just lose some weight so I can fit better. Even at sz 22-24 & 229 lbs, I only had real trouble on wooden coasters, the Georgia Cyclone is the one I couldn't fit in. The others I could shove myself into but it WAS uncomfortable. I know that there are some of us that either can't lose weight or may feel they can't (and YES I understand it may be personal choice so I'm not trying to throw my views on anyone or hurt anyone's feelings or tick anyone off) but seems to me there ARE plenty of rides available that CAN accomodate those who are of a larger size. I'm in a sz 16 now & can fit BETTER but would be better if I were smaller, at least a 12 which I probably won't get any smaller due to my thyoid condition but if I were able to lose more, I wouldn't have to work so hard to get into the seat & fix the seatbelt around me. Being smaller DOES make it more comfortable to ride. I do have to say but at least there ARE those rides that do accomodate. Just look at the ride & riders next time. Do you see anyone of a larger size riding it. Does it look like a larger rider WOULD fit. I'm sure there are places a person can watch the ride/riders for a few minutes w/o standing in line. That's what I did. That's why I didn't bother w/Apollo's Chariot, I knew the type of restraints were on it & thought my belly would hinder the fit so I didn't even bother. I knew I'd fit in the other coasters since I've ridden those types earlier at other parks. AP was the only one I was concerned with. I don't get angry at the park if I don't fit. It's not their fault I don't fit. That's just the way it is. I DO however agree that there should be tryout seats available at all the rides or at least the coasters. That seems to be the most popular ride at a park. Anyway, I hope I didn't tick anyone off by my input. It certainly wasn't intended if I came across that way. Thanks!
While I do agree that accommodating larger riders from a business perspective is a might be a good move financially, socially I think it is a bad idea. All it does is serve to accept being overweight as the norm and that it's okay. I'll be the first to admit that I am not at my ideal body weight, but being a little under 200lbs at 5'8" also hasn't made it uncomfortable for me on any ride. As it is I already think harness on many inverted coasters are too large and my head ends up being banged around. There are some people out there genuinely have had a hard time losing weight despite honest efforts. It has been scientifically proven that overweight people have a hard time losing weight because of body chemistry. Genetically we are built to store fat. This goes back to when during a colder climate you may need to use that stored energy. However, our diets have changed dramatically and we now consume more calories and fat than is reasonable thus resulting in more storage.
I dont have a problem with having sample seats, not at all. I think that they are a great way to prevent humilation for over-weight guests. But, I do have a problem with having to change the roller coaster seats. I have never, thank god, had a problem getting into seats. I am 15, average weight, I have a large chest area, and a big butt too. I am a lot of muscle as I do cheerleading and swimming. If I couldnt fit into a ride that would encourage me even more to lose that weight!
instead of changing everything, why not just change a car or two that fits just one person. for example, most roller coasters fit 2 people across, so make it where that row only fits 1 person across. so if the row fits 4 people, then you fit 2. now don't change all rows, just a few. that way the bigger people will feel better about not having to be embarrassed in front of everyone.
The way I see it, this is a health condition issue. Regardless of whose fault it is- whether it is glandular or flat out overeating, obesity is a high-risk health condition... period. And if we have to make concessions for one issue, then do we have to start making them for all?
as a big person(5'11 245 lbs) i never has problem in the universal and disney parks. but lets be real nobody wants a very big person(350+ lbs) seat near you or your children because you can think there are more porcentage of danger in this ride. the parks must make a more discret form to fit in the sample seats for example in hulk in IOA the sample seat is in the main entrace. nobody can be ashamed in this situation.
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