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Theme park cast member stories: A white-knuckle ride on Disney's Body Wars

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Published: November 9, 2009 at 12:41 PM

One 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.

Body Wars at Epcot

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.

Cool.

So I walked into the simulator, took the seat in the far back corner, and buckled in.

Way cool.

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.

Not cool.

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!

Readers' Opinions

From 76.8.200.120 on November 9, 2009 at 1:01 PM
Yikes!! Doesn't sound too fun for me!
From Robert Niles on November 9, 2009 at 1:07 PM
"Thrill" is not necessarily a good thing.... ;-)
From Steve Smegner on November 9, 2009 at 3:12 PM
I would have assumed the safety system would have detected a seat belt not closed and stopped the ride. I know they check the panel of green lights before they start the ride so the ride is at least aware of the seat belt status.
From M. Ryan Traylor on November 9, 2009 at 3:45 PM
60 hrs!?!?!?! I want to be the last guy in that line!

Back in the mid 90's I was at DisneyWorld with family and friends. We went on Body Wars much to the pleasure of my mother who enjoyed the fantasic voyage and works in a hospital lab. It was that attraction that she discovered motion sickness.

The worst part was four hours later when we tried to get some ice cream her travel tourist wallet with the 7 7 day park hopping ticked and about 300 cash was missing from her bag. Back tracking through four hours of attractions is not my idea of a goodtime. Finally we get back to body wars and cast member informs that she did fnd the item with it's contents and sent it to lost and found.

The items were retrieved and we each got an extra scoop in celebration.

From Robert Niles on November 9, 2009 at 4:28 PM
Steve, you are correct about SOP [standard operating procedure] for simulator rides. However, I suspect that, uh, a few things were still being worked out and debugged in those early runs.

Hey, that's what cast tests are for....

From Steve Alcorn on November 9, 2009 at 4:36 PM
These days the seat belt sensors would definitely be tied into the control system, but in those days it was a manual system, checked before departure, and the belt sensor was able to make contact a tiny bit before actually latching.

You're correct, the motion was dialed back after a short period because it was making nearly everyone sick. Unlike Star Tours, there weren't a lot of good visual references, and the motion was quite rhythmic. The result was almost guaranteed to create nausea.

From Anthony Murphy on November 9, 2009 at 4:59 PM
Its still there...............I saw it! :)
From 76.172.237.107 on November 9, 2009 at 11:22 PM
I volunteered for Cast Member "Test and Adjust" for Toy Story Midway Mania when I was a CM at Disneyland Resort. Luckily nothing went wrong with that. It operated perfectly on the few runs I took through it. I can't say the same for my arm. Pulling those "spring action shooters" for round after round after round non-stop gets a bit tiring after a while.

I was also to be on a Cast Member tour of the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage show building "caverns" when our tour was canceled because they needed to get a sub out of dry-dock and had to lift the internal catwalks. Turns out even with the catwalks lifted an unloaded sub sat just a bit too high to comfortably navigate the caverns. Our CM "tour" group was quickly converted to "ballast". I did get a backwards ride in the sub with all the maintenance lights on. That was cool.

From Joshua Counsil on November 10, 2009 at 9:44 AM
Body Wars is bad enough without having to worry for your life. One ride was more than enough for me.

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