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.
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