Bigger riders mean bigger headaches for theme parks
Written by Robert Niles
Americans are getting fatter, and theme parks are responding.Tweet
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:
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