Theme park cast member stories: A white-knuckle ride on Disney's Body Wars
By Robert NilesOne of the great perks of working in a theme park is the opportunity to be among the first to ride its new attractions. I took advantage the few times I had that opportunity, starting with the opening of Body Wars in the old Wonders of Life pavilion at Epcot in 1989.
Published: November 9, 2009 at 12:41 PM
With so many simulator rides now in theme parks, museums and even shopping malls, it might be hard for some to remember what a big deal they were back in the 1980s. Star Tours debuted at Disneyland in 1987, and it was such an immediate hit that the park stayed open for 60 hours straight to move through the crowds.
The simulator was the most revolutionary new ride experience for theme parks since the introduction of roller coaster inversions in the 1970s. Body Wars was to be the Orlando area's first simulator ride. (The east coast version of Star Tours would not open at the then-Disney-MGM Studios for another few months.) So of course I switched a shift in order to be at Epcot the first afternoon the ride was open to cast member previews.
To my delight, I found that Body Wars was, thematically, a souped-up version of my beloved "Adventures Through Inner Space," the long-closed attraction that was my one "must ride" whenever I visited Disneyland as a child. We'd be shrunk down to the size of a blood cell, zipping through the circulation system on our way to save a patient.
So I walked into the simulator, took the seat in the far back corner, and buckled in.
The cabin lights dimmed, and the theater itself began to buck forward.
Inexplicably way cool.
And, then, as the theater whipped to the side and we began our chase, my seatbelt unfastened.
At that moment, I first understood the origin of the phrase "white knuckle ride." The blood drained from my fingers as I pressed my hands into the armrests, trying to get enough leverage to push my back into the seat as the Body Wars theater treated me like a wet pair of jeans in a dryer spin cycle.
I tried to refasten the belt, but though better when the ride whipped to the side as I began take my hand off the armrest. Nope, I'd have to hold on for this flight.
And, remember, I'd never been on a simulator ride before. Today, if the same thing were to happen, I'd know how the ride would behave and better be able to react. But then, I had no clue.
Pitch. Yaw. Roll.
Clutch. Press. Pray.
Later, once I was safely off the ride and the nausea finally had gone away, I learned that the back corner seats typically get the widest range of motion on simulator rides. (If you're a newbie and want to take it easy, try to get a seat in the middle of the theater. And, oh yeah, they fixed the thing with the seatbelts.) A maintenance tech also later told me that Body Wars ran on its highest motion levels those first couple days of cast member testing, and that Disney dialed down the range of motion substantially before the ride opened to the public.
I don't know if he was feeding me a line. But I do know that I've never has as much of a thrill on a simulator attraction as I did on that very first ride, on Body Wars.
Check the archive of Robert's stories about working at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Or, tell us about your experience as a theme park guinea pig, in the comments!
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