Theme Park Insider

What's your most memorable attraction breakdown moment?

January 27, 2017, 4:42 PM · How do you react when a ride you're on shuts down? Do you feel fear? Disappointment? Frustration? Or are you one of those true Theme Park Insiders — the geeks who actually get excited when a ride breaks down?

That's the topic for my Orange County Register column this week — It's true - some park-goers really do want a ride to break down.

Before we go on, I need to point out — as I do in the Register piece — that rides almost never actually break when then "break down." These are the controlled shut-downs that happen when something happens that prevents the ride from operating normally.

Sometimes it's the weather. Sometimes it's a crying child. But sometimes, it really is a mechanical failure, such as the time I watched an animatronic bear pee his pants. But show failures such as that aren't nearly as exciting for some fans as a ride breaking down and forcing an evacuation, or as managers prefer to call them, "in-show exits."

That is the crowning moment for the theme park geek. As a fan, I've only been part of one major evacuation, which I guess speaks to the reliability of most theme park attractions, given the tens of thousands of rides I've likely been on in my life. But as a Disney cast member? Yeah, I saw a few.

Fortunately, not one of the breakdowns or evacuations I was part of as a cast member or a guest involved an injury to other visitors. Which makes it easy for us to look back, laugh, and share funny stories about the evacs (sorry, "in-show exists") we've experienced. I've linked several of my favorites in this post. (You'll find them all in Stories from a Theme Park Insider, by the way. /plug) But I hope that you will share a favorite memory or two of yours, in the comments.

What was your most memorable theme park attraction breakdown moment?

Replies (34)

January 27, 2017 at 5:27 PM · We were helped off the Indiana Jones attraction and guided out through the hallway full of skeletons hanging from the wall. Our CM pointed to them and said "Here's some guests from the last time this happened". Keeping us entertained regardless of the circumstances!
January 27, 2017 at 5:30 PM · During our family's visit in August to DCA we were stuck on a drained Grizzly River Run for about 45 minutes. We found out later the shut down came about due to a woman bringing (sneaking?) her small service dog on the ride. Cast members escorting us to the exist were focused as much on photo prevention as they were guest safety. We received Fast Passes for our trouble, so it wasn't all bad.
January 27, 2017 at 5:37 PM · Last summer, we were evacuated off the Haunted Mansion (WDW). They had us walk up the ride path (we had stopped right before the ballroom) to the entrance and out, but they let everyone take their time, get pictures, whatever, because we walked up the side where most everything in the first half of the ride is. The lights were on and you could see everything clearly, and I have the most amazing video just walking up the ride. Only way it could've been better was if we had gone the other way and gotten to walk the graveyard.
January 27, 2017 at 5:38 PM · Thunder Mountain at Disney World on the first lift hill. That cave is kinda crazy looking with the lights on. And as a frequent park visitor, it was only my second time experiencing a break down. Kudos to the staff who keeps all that going.
January 27, 2017 at 5:41 PM · I've done a couple of the behind the scenes tours and gotten to see backstage at a variety of parks, and that was always cool. The best was at busch gardens Williamsburg and half the tour group got stuck at the top of Griffin because the elevator broke.
January 27, 2017 at 6:19 PM · Mine was on the Indiana Jones Temple of the Forbidden Eye some years ago. It was a hot late-spring day and I had flown down to OC to attend a conference and decided to do Disneyland afterwards. On the flight down I sat next to a lesser-known celebrity who showed signs of having a cold or flu but I felt fine during the conference and once free I rushed over to the park. It so happens that day some sort of conference of cheerleaders was talking place in the area so the park full of groups of young girls competing with each other to see who could be the "most spirited". Didn't really bother me and even thought it was kind of cute. A couple of hours in and I hopped on IJTOFE queue ready to ride one of my favorites again. All of sudden it hit me, chills, fever, body aches. But I was already committed and thought it might pass. Feeling a little better by the time I boarded. And of course, it broke down at the giant boulder. The lights went on and we got out but for some reason they didn't evacuate us right away. I was feeling the flu full-force now, stuck inside a hot show building surrounded by a bunch of pre-teen cheerleaders who naturally decided to entertain us with rah rahs. It probably wasn't very long until they walked us out but it seemed like an eternity.
January 27, 2017 at 5:54 PM · The only real evac I can remember being a part of was on Winnie the Pooh at MK in 2015. The entire ride shut down, all animatronics, voices and music stopped and all the main light came on. We were walked out to the exit past the rest of the suddenly-static show scenes. The cast members seemed to have trouble opening the doors to some of the ride vehicles and positioning the little portable step unit, but maybe it just doesn't happen that often. What struck me was, as a theatre professional myself, I'm used to looking at sets and prop pieces that present illusions to an audience and seeing the "real life" version of a ride I've ridden many times shows how magical all the other elements can be become at the flip of a switch.

It was also interested this happened during our "Marcelina to Magic Kingdom" tour so we had earpieces with a cast member tour guide speaking in our ears. She was a little embarrassed her charges were caught in a shut down with her on the ride with us!

January 27, 2017 at 5:57 PM · Unfortunately, I've never had the chance to be evacuated off of rides. Had them stop plenty of times, sure, but never evacuated.
January 27, 2017 at 6:34 PM · Been evacuated off Transformers: The Ride at USH. We stopped after the first elevator shaft (which I'd barely even realized existed from prior on-ride experiences) and were led down catwalks and through the initial rooms. With all lights on, it was telling to see where screens end and stage dressing begins, and now so so dependent Transformers is on lighting, projections, and everything else that was off. A really fascinating look into the bare bones of a high-tech modern classic.
January 27, 2017 at 7:18 PM · The one and only time I rode Superstar Limo it broke down and walked through almost the entire ride. It was just as disappointing to walk through as I imagine it was to ride.
January 27, 2017 at 8:34 PM · I have been fortunate/unfortunate enough (depending on your perspective) to get evacuated from a grand total of five different rides. Each has its own story to tell:

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride (Disneyland): This happened when I was really young, so my memory of it is a bit hazy. From what I remember, we got stuck in the train crash scene and had to walk backward through the entire ride to get out. I remember it being really neat to see everything, but I don't remember specifically what all I saw.

Blue Streak (Conneaut Lake Park): Easily the most harrowing evacuation I have experienced. As I was at the park for a private event, the park kept running the ride even though it was a torrential downpour outside with lightning in the distance. Eventually, it got too wet for the brakes to stop the train, so they had to shut off the lift and get us off there. Evacuating this ride was an obstacle course: Jump to a platform a short distance away, climb down a rickety ladder, run through the mud under the the ride back to the station, ascend a wooden staircase with cracked steps, and try not to slip on the wet tracks while crossing to the exit ramp.

Goofy's Sky School (Disney California Adventure Park): The least exciting evacuation I've had to do...just exit the car and climb down the ladder to the station. The best part about this was that everyone whipped out their cameras as soon as we stopped despite the ride being in full view.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (Disneyland): The most interesting evacuation, as we got to see quite a bit of backstage area. Our train was stopped on the second lift, so after evacuating we went along a path into the mountain, through a backstage corridor that emerged at the bottom of the first lift, then along the track back to the station from there. It was very interesting to see the cave with the lights on, and surprising how simple some of the effects actually are.

New Revolution (Six Flags Magic Mountain): My most recent evacuation, this happened during an ERT session at an event and ended our ERT early. One of the trains got stuck entering the station, so the train I was on stopped at the far end of the brake run. In order to evacuate us, they had to bring out a ladder and have a mechanic climb all over the train to manually release one restraint at a time. Interestingly, the park collected personal information of all on the train.

At all parks except Conneaut Lake, I was compensated with one or two exit passes for the inconvenience (SFMM also gave the event organizers a stack of exit passes to make up for lost ERT, so I ended up getting a bonus one there). I actually never used mine from Thunder and still have it as a souvenir.

January 27, 2017 at 11:48 PM · One time, we got evacuated from Ellen's Energy Adventure at Epcot. The cool part was walking past the dinosaurs and taking close-up pics of them.
January 28, 2017 at 2:52 AM · As a season pass holder, normally I would love the opportunity for an evacuation. Unfortunately mine happened during Very Merry Christmas. As it was a separate ticket event and caused us to miss the 1st parade and almost the special fireworks I was not pleased.

We were stuck on Pirates for over an hour. 4 boats away from the ride exit. With a 1 year old. I was 8 months pregnant with a full bladder. I can laugh about it now but it was a rough night!

They had to pull our boat backwards to get to a spot we could jump off then walk through a long backstage where all the ride floats (from the parade we just missed) were parked.

January 28, 2017 at 4:43 AM · Best breakdown I encountered was on Dinosaur in the Animal Kingdom. We made it through the ride to the point where we are supposed to be transported back to the lab, when the ride stopped as the narrator is saying "we're gonna make it!". My niece says in deadpan "looks like we're not gonna make it". Had all of us laughing until the ride started up again...
January 28, 2017 at 9:04 AM · My two most memorable were Raidator Springs and Space Mountain at WDW. The Space Mt one was so intense because when they turned on the lights,a cast member came out to assure us things were ok but then she had to leave to go talk with another group. After she left we heard a noise and looked up. Another car was being freed so it could come down the track. No one thought much about it till someone said, Hey, isn't that car gonna run into us--we're below it. So panic did set in in all of us. We called for the crew member, she let us know the car was on the other track of the roller coaster. . . Crisis averted. . . On Raidator Springs we got to walk through so much of the interior of the ride. My nephew got to wave his hand over one car's eyes which were an animated projection from above and then outside the bank of the track is incredible!!!! I do like to see "behind the curtain" when things break down.
January 28, 2017 at 9:50 AM · I've only had 1 evac, but it was AWESOME! After waiting 3+ hours for Radiator Springs Racers at DCA on an extremely busy memorial weekend holiday, our vehicle stopped during the carwash scene. A cast member evacuated us, and walked us along the duration of the track. It was an insane experience being able to see perfectly clean, maintained sets up close and personal. We were given exit passes for the ride for the "inconveniece" which were totally valuable during the busy weekend.
January 28, 2017 at 10:45 AM · Back in the mid 90s during my first visit to Disneyland, we went on the subs (this was before Nemo, of course). It was a sweltering day and it was extremely hot inside the sub. We had gotten maybe a third of the way around the track when the CM piloting the sub just collapsed to the floor. Guests attended to the poor guy while another figured out how to radio to shore, where another CM explained how to continue to 'pilot' the sub around the remainder of the track. Pretty interesting sub ride, but put me off riding it again.
January 28, 2017 at 10:59 AM · I have been evacuated off Pirates of the Caribbean at WDW.

We were involved in a crash at the bottom of the drop. The boat in front had become wedged and we crashed in to the back at speed. There were quite a few minor injuries ranging from minor abrasions to some kids with large bumps on their heads.

It took over 20 minutes to get us off and we were walked through the back of the ride. Some remained to get medical attention.

We got a free fast pass for our troubles (WOW).

January 28, 2017 at 11:11 AM · My brother in law and I were on TOT in HS and the ride was stopped at the bottoms of the elvator shaft for about 10 minutes after the drop. The CM told us we can folow her to the top for an immediate ride for the wait. All of us but one guy did it. He was having a complete meltdown while we were stiuck.
January 28, 2017 at 11:41 AM · We had a shut down on Space Mountain a few years ago. As soon as the lights came on my geek increased by about a factor of 1000. Just gutted we left our bags with everyone who didnt ride so no pictures! We were actually just on the flat track towards the exit so werent walked out, we were pushed in our vehicle!
January 28, 2017 at 1:29 PM · The Great Move Ride. Walking into the Wizard of Oz scene was so great. It was like a behind the scenes tour.
January 28, 2017 at 2:24 PM · Journey to Atlantis (Seaworld Orlando) stopped at the top of the big drop, stuck for 10 minutes before staff came, and then had to step across the 2' gap between car and the internal steps.
January 28, 2017 at 2:54 PM · Spaceship Earth brokedown shortly after I got on in 1985.
January 28, 2017 at 4:42 PM · I have broken down and been evacuated out of many rides, but there is one that sticks out in my mind. We broke down on goofys sky school at Disneyland. We stopped right at the top of the big hill. A cast member came up and informed us that we up just high enough to not be able to safely exit the vehicle and we were going to have to wait for the fire department to bring their ladder. It was pretty hot that day so they brought us one umbrella to try to share between the four people in the car. We were up there for about an hour waiting for the fire dept. normally I enjoy breaking down on rides. That day, not so much.
January 28, 2017 at 6:12 PM · Back in a 1990 trip to Disneyland, on Pirates when it just stopped. No idea what happened, just the boats began drifting into one another and we were in the cavern section so couldn't tell what the effect was on the rest of the ride. They had to slowly back up boats to get us to a landing section and the doorways, interesting experience to finish the day.
January 29, 2017 at 4:42 PM · Got a nice inadvertent backstage tour after being evac'd from Escape From Gringotts. Fortunately for us, our train was at the last scene when it stopped.

Was evac'd off Expedition GeForce, stopped on the lift hill, then they finally got the train to go over. They couldn't get the catch car back down to pull the other train out of the station. So we were evac'd by step ladder at the brake run.

That's the best I've got LOL.

January 29, 2017 at 7:01 PM · We were in "it's a Small World in 84'. The ride broke down for close to two hours. We were stuck in Japan and heard the song over and over in Japanese. We memorized the song in Japanese, and to this day, we could probably sing it to you perfectly.
January 30, 2017 at 2:03 AM · Spiderman at IOA broke down when we were there in 2000. We walked about half the ride between the different scenes and screens. Kind of exiting.
January 30, 2017 at 6:03 PM · Getting stuck in hell in Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.
January 30, 2017 at 11:21 PM · We were stuck on Splash Mountain at DL at the very end of the ride where they show your photo. Surprisingly, the CM came and we exited through a doorway in the wall - then went up and down a few stairs and past scaffolding backstage. I thought it fascinating to see that the behind the scenes looked like a construction site.

We also got stuck on Mystery Mine at Dollywood at the bottom of the first lift hill. They simply evacuated us through a side door in the shaft and walked us across the landscaping back to the main path.

During Rocket Rods' brief tenure at DL, we got in the single riders line and surprisingly got to ride together. The ride stopped in some random area for several minutes, then started again. When we got back into the station they asked us if we wanted to go again due to the malfunction. We did and the ride stopped again - and they let us stay on. This happened every single time and by the 5th time around, we were done.

And although not a breakdown, I did get to experience a rollback on Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point.

January 31, 2017 at 9:41 AM · Expedition Everest just as you re enter the mountain we got stuck. We had to walk all the way back down inside the mountain. Loved seeing all of the intertwined structures, the cracked cement on the ground, controls, pipes. Very cool. What wouldn't have been cool is if we had been seated in the row behind us or further as half the train was still outside the mountain and they had to walk on the metal walkway high up in the air and then cross through the car to the side we were on. As someone who does not like heights I think I might still be frozen in my seat. hahaha.
February 1, 2017 at 2:07 PM · At DLR 3 years ago we were on Roger Rabbit's Cartoon Spin, the ride stopped in the Chandalier room where you can start spinning the cars. It was just my husband and I in the car. After several minutes 2 CMs walked into the area and told us to remain in the car and they would be back to get us. So we sat there and waited and waited and waited - well you get the idea. Anyway after 25 minutes 2 different CMs walked into the area,stopped and stared at us , my husband said "What's wrong? Do I smell funny? To which one of the CMs said "What are you doing here?" I said "We were told to stay here so we did - not that we could have easily crawled out of the car. They released the door and lap bar and we stepped out and walked back to the station, there we were met by a supervisor who expalined that the 1st pair of CMs had statred the evacuation but were sent on their break and the pair finishing the evacuation assusmed all of the other areas were clear. We had been discovered on their pre-startup sweep of the ride units.
Several years before that we were on Splash Mountain, going up the conveyor to the drop when the ride stopped. We sat there for several minutes and we watched as riders in the log in front of us climbed out onto the catwalk. I'm thinking "Great we get tot see the inside of this thing" when the conveyor started up and we chugged past the folks standing -unaccompanied- on the catwalk; I yelled at them to stay put. When we got back to the station I called over a CM and pointed to the log infront of us telling him that the log was empty because the riders in it had climbed out when we were stopped on the conveyor. I have never seen a group of people disappear so fast as those CMs did in the Splash Mountain station. We left before we could be questioned any further about the incident.
February 2, 2017 at 4:16 PM · At Disneyland I was invited to attend on a night that was for the CSF kids. These are kids from CA high schools with a high GPA. This was one of the most crowded days I have ever witnessed. We had been in line for 45 minutes or so and were about 10 minutes away from boarding the Rocket Rods. The 3 high school girls behind us started to get anxious. One of them went to the elevator to get out of line but her friends did not follow. When she came back to the line I asked about their problem. It was explained to me that they needed to check in with their chaperone at eight o'clock. It was now 10 minutes to eight. I asked them what they thought would happen if they were 10 minutes late, considering they were the smart kids and the line was longer than expected. Were they going to be sent back to the bus to wait until the park closed? Would they need to stay with their chaperones all night? Would their GPA go down? Anyway, they decided to stay in line and we let them in front of us. Due to the way the ride boarded they were two cars in front of us. The car in front of us took of down Tomorrowland, only to stop halfway through. We were stopped for about 20 minutes and all I could think about was those poor girls I convinced to stay on the ride and how they must be freaking out. To this day I have a mental image of them trying to gnaw through the seat belts to get to the check in.
February 2, 2017 at 7:41 PM · I rode both Space Mountain and Indiana Jones at DL with the lights on. I guess it was cool to see, but disappointing as well! Space Mountain was really boring actually, it's mostly just grey walls and tracks and no music, but they let us stay on the train and ride again after, which was cool.
This one didn't happen to me, but I saw a train get stuck halfway up the first hill on Millenium Force for HOURS! It was when it was still the tallest coaster, and just remember everyone in the park looking up at it every few minutes to see what was happening. How terrifying if any of them were scared of heights!

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