In-show Exits and Evacuations

November 8, 2021, 1:34 PM

This is one of those topics that I have mentioned several times in the past, but only in passing. Yet with the recent breakdown of Pirates at DL this week, I’ve decided to talk more about in-show exits and evacuations.

Now to properly set the stage here, you need to understand that I am a rather claustrophobic person. Getting stuck in pretty much anything fires up those little anxiety receptors in my brain which ultimately leads to a what some would call a “total meltdown”. Elevators?? I hate ‘em! Traffic jams?? Let’s hope it’s not long! The Skyliner?? Not a snowball’s chance in Orlando! As a child, I adored the monorail but today I’ll take a bus if it is available. Sadly, these are the types of issues that get worse with age and I find myself now choosing attractions based on the likelihood of a breakdown and the ease of evacuation.

So, I need to make note here that I have never actually been evacuated from any WDW attraction. But I have spent my fare share of time in a “halted” ride. We’ve all had playful spooks interrupting our tours and had critters causing commotion up ahead. And these little 5-minute interruptions are commonplace especially on omni-mover attractions with handicapped guests. Who doesn’t want to fill up their Spaceship Earth Bingo cards by stopping in every scene!?

I’ve spent 45 minutes in Splash Mountain and over an hour in the original Journey into Imagination. 30 minutes on Nemo and Friends and 30 minutes in Spaceship Earth. And to be honest, what really bothers me the most is the inconsistency of how estops are handled. Surely there are procedures in place when a ride stops but from a guest standpoint, it all seems quite random. Yes, I understand the complexity of these attractions and the number of moving parts which constitutes this complexity. I also understand the manpower involved with executing an in-show exit and the desire to avoid it if at all possible. But WHO makes that call!? What determines if and when the time has come? When is “too much time”, too much time??

The Skyliner accident aside, what sticks with me the most was a few years back when Pirates at WDW went down during an after-hours event. Maintenance workers were trying to get it going but were unsuccessful and guests were stuck in their boats for over 2 hours. That in my book is outrageous! Granted this was a worst-case scenario and most evacs are done in a timely manner…but that poses the questions of “why” did it take that long and “who” made that decision? Why did the breakdown at DL Pirates this week take 90 minutes? You have a show building filled with a captive audience that might include scared children, people that need a restroom, diabetics that may need food etc… Half the time cell signals are weak inside buildings and you can’t get in touch with your party who was expecting to meet up with you an hour ago. Or worse yet, you’re late for your reservation at Victoria and Alberts (yes, that happened to me because of a Splash breakdown.) I had a mom that always said “pee now for after while” before a long car trip because you don’t know when you’ll get to a bathroom. No one really boards a Disney attraction that’s 3 minutes long expecting it could be over an hour.

Of course, it’s hard to evac water rides due to the nature of…water! If a boat isn’t near a docking area, a CM has to get in and push it to one. Or Peter Pan needs to be moved close to stairs which I suppose is the drawback of a ride system of that nature. But attractions such as JII at Epcot which are clearly all on floor level…why wait 35 minutes when you can easily get folks off quickly and efficiently?

Sometimes when an attraction stops, I’ve noticed either a live announcement or pre-recorded one will play within 30 seconds informing you what’s happening. I’ve also sat stopped on an attraction for over 5 to 10 minutes where NO announcement has been made, show scenes are still fully operational, and work lights never come on. You have no idea what’s going on or what’s happening back at loading/unloading. The fear of the unknown is a very powerful force and you could at least be honest and tell me what’s happening. The magic is already destroyed at this point so telling me it’s “playful critters” only agitates me more.

I fully understand that most folks just roll with the punches of “we get out when we get out.” So please help me understand why certain procedures aren’t consistent. How comes the Tower of Terror will be evaced in 20 minutes one time but an hour the next time the same failure occurs? To me, it seems like this all depends on who is at the console or in charge of that attraction at that very moment. Are there not SOPs that say “begin evac if time is greater than 20 minutes….”? I suppose there are so many variables that it’s hard to etch that into stone. Yet the odds are good that at any moment during a breakdown, you’ve got about 25% of an audience like me who will have a great difficulty in coping with the unknown or have issues with your family the longer it takes.

Sure, I overthink this waaaaaaay too much but it is a question I’d legitimately like an answer to. Perhaps I would be more at ease if I knew what determines an in-show exit and what the limits are on time. I also blame Youtube for showing me people trapped in hot, unpowered monorails and being stuck on Frozen Ever After for 45 minutes. To a degree, I’ve done it to myself.

Replies (3)

November 8, 2021, 2:49 PM

The front line manager that is in charge of the attraction at that time makes the decision to evacuate. Nobody is going to know that attraction better than the people who are running it every day so for someone else higher up to come in and try to micromanage a scenario like that wouldn't make sense.

To answer your question about the onboard spiels, its typically supposed to be every two minutes, but if you are stuck on a ride a long time sometimes it makes sense to let off and not do it as much because after a while it just annoys the people on the ride that they keep hearing the same annoucement over and over again. Although what tends to happen a lot, particularly at night when its mostly part time and college interns, is things like this can get lost in the shuffle because the people working don't have a lot of experience and their dealing with stressors from all ends (trying to focus on doing the right things, pressing the right buttons, assigning cast members zones to go to, checking the cameras, while dealing with angry/confused customers).

In regards to time standards for evacuations every attraction has general guidelines as to when to call an evac, but those are just that....guidelines. It really depends on what is wrong with the ride and the circumstances surrounding the downtime. I tend to go more with the get people off quickly approach because I have had it happen to me so many times where maintenence will say they can get it running quickly, but then their fix doesn't work like they planned, and you end up having to evacuate people anyway after they have waited while maintenence is messing around with whatever they were doing. Plus if you leave people on the ride 20+ minutes then you're going to have to deal with lots of angry people on the back end who are going to want compensation. This is a huge pain in the a** particularly at Disney because the rides can hold so many people on them at a time and everyone has different circumstances (like you said: dining reservations, we missed the fireworks, we can't see the princesses now because they aren't on stage anymore, etc).

Although there are some attractions and situations where you don't evac that thing unless you absolutely have to. Like a B&M Flying coaster, particularly one that's stuck on the lift. Best way to describe that is a f'ing nightmare.

Edited: November 9, 2021, 8:08 AM

I think it's a tough call, and typically would come down to the overall reliability of the attraction. Rides that don't break down very often are probably viewed as easily fixable, so guests are instructed to stay in their ride vehicles until CMs can get the system moving again. In most cases, calling for an evac can take an hour or more off the operational time of an attraction even if it only takes 2 minutes to fix it, so the last thing the ops manager wants to do is to make that call and go through all of the rigmarole that comes with a full ride evac. Rides that break down often (RotR and RSR) have well known repair times for typical breakdowns, so ride ops can better gauge whether a full evac is the most efficient way to handle the situation. Also, some ride systems are better repaired when there are no riders on board and passenger safety systems can be bypassed to more quickly and efficiently hand vehicles through blocks.

In the end it comes down to maintenance making the determination of what it will take to get the ride operating again. If maintenance miscalculates and initially estimates a 5-minute fix time that ultimately takes 30 minutes, that's when you end up with situations where guests are stranded on broken attraction for far longer than necessary.

November 9, 2021, 3:55 PM

Back in 1990, family and I chose to end our day at Disneyland on Pirates...and yes, it was stuck with us in the caverns section. We had to wait about 20 minutes for them to be able to walk the boats back to the nearest landing so we could get off which gave us a fun look at some behind the scenes stuff.

Only time had to be evacuated, a few halted rides here and there but amazing how you get peeks at things when it happens.

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