Lifts in the shoes? Seen it.
Spiked up hair? Nope, not gonna get ya through.
Standing on your tippie toes? Um, feet flat on the ground, please.
Begging, pleading, crying? Actually, we are the ones trying to help your child here.
That's because, as theme park employees working a roller coaster, we know what can happen when a too-short child rides a coaster.
Now, I'm start with a confession. In normal operation, we could take an infant on Walt Disney World's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and no harm would come to the baby. I worked with cast members who could eat a bowl of cereal while riding a test train on Thunder in the morning and not spill a drop of milk. So they clearly knew the ride well enough to hold a baby securely throughout. I don't doubt that some Disney fans could do the same.
But theme parks don't establish height requirements based on a ride's normal operation. They put those in place to protect riders in case of something going wrong on the ride.
By that, I don't mean a mechanical breakdown. I mean that something happens, usually because of a guest's actions, which disrupts the normal flow of operation on the ride. What happens when a child starts crying in a train, which prevents us from dispatching it from the loading station?
With no room in the station, the train behind on the track has no place to go. So it stops out on the course, on the final block brake. And with a train on that block brake, the train behind it has to stop on the third lift. And so on.
Those "cascade" stops happen in orderly manner, and probably wouldn't make an experienced rider spill his milk (or drop a child). But what happens when a guest panics, and tries to jump out of a train while it's on a lift? It's happened, and I've seen it.
In cases like that, the operator in the coaster's control tower does a "power disconnect," shutting down power to the entire track. Any train on a lift will stop immediately. But trains that have crested their lifts will continue running, propelled simply by the free fall of gravity along the track.
To keep those trains from running into one that might be stuck on the next lift, ride designers have installed what's called a "safety brake" in front of each lift. And that is what you do not want to hit if you are shorter than 40 inches tall, or pregnant, or have a back, neck or heart condition. A safety brake can take a train running nearly 30 miles per hour to stopped in about eight feet. It's a hard, hard stop.
After the ride shut down with trains on the track, no one ever wanted to be the one assigned to go check on the guests who'd been stopped in a safety brake. Only the most experienced Thunder operators were assigned that task, and even though I worked that location for a year, I never had enough seniority to draw that thankless assignment. (I always got sent to people stuck on a lift, instead.) But I heard reports from those who did about the sore, shocked and sometimes angry guests who had to endure the misfortune of hitting the safety brakes.
Still, I never knew anyone to be hurt from hitting a safety brake, as unpleasant as that experience must have been. To me, that's testimony to the effectiveness of Disney's boarding restrictions.
So next time a cast member, team member or theme park employee stops a too-short child from getting on a ride, don't criticism him or her, okay? Don't make them the bad guys. The more you know about how roller coasters work, the more you might appreciate the important work that the folks at the front of the queue do everyday.
For more stories about working in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, visit Stories from a Theme Park Insider.Tweet
If the train's not out of the station, it's a judgment call if the train's been cleared for dispatch. Typically, the operator would stop the train only of s/he felt the child was going to try to exit the ride. (Once a train starts moving, stopping it shuts down the ride.)
The idea is to prevent a crying child from boarding the train. But if a child starts crying after boarding, standard operating procedure if to try to get the child's family to exit the train before it needs to dispatch. Only if they refuse - and the child keeps crying - would we have to hold the train, and run the risk of the cascade stop.
I see that problem with the crying child, but where were they when they could have saved me?!?!?!?!?!
Good point on the height requirement. I always was curious on why some were really high and they had to go through health issues too. I mean Soarin has a bunch of requirements too and its one of the smoothest rides at WDW!
As someone studying mechanical engineering, I see this happen in all aspects of transport and dynamic attractions, and I haven't even finished school! I know people who refuse to fly because it's dangerous, but then tailgate cars by a foot while driving 60 mph. I know people that have gone boating while drunk, but refuse to bungee jump because the probability of death is too high. These designers know what they're doing. Yes, there have been deaths and injuries due to unforeseen circumstances, but they're pretty damn good at what they do.
I used to be really bothered by parents who would argue that their children should get to go on the ride even though they were too short. One woman once told me that she was a lawyer and would write a waiver to allow her kid to go. I thought it was terrible that as a 19-year-old college student, I was more concerned for the safety of these kids than their parents were.
Parents just didn't understand why we couldn't just look the other way. In addition to the safety concerns of the child that Robert mentioned.. I was always concerned about the media and my legal liability too. Any little incident that happens at Disney is instantly a lead story in Orlando, and every bit of info possible is squeezed out of the story. If something happened to a child on a ride, the child's height is instantly going to be looked at by the press and by the parents legal team. In addition to protecting the child, I was also looking out for myself by standing firm.
Ketchup packets in kids shoe,
Wearing there mother or fathers shoes,
Tissue in shoes
Those are just some of the things I've had to deal with.
With a crying guest, especially with a child, its up to the parent if they want to ride or not. If the child is crying I will pull aside the family and see if the child stops or not. If there not to disruptive I will put them on the ride, with other guests and send the elevator. Now if the child is crying and cant com down but the family insists on going on and forcing the child on I will pull them aside and put them on there own elevator where the child can cry as much as they want. I will only do this though depending on wait time and time of day.
Anyway that emergency stop sounds wicked. A 30 mph train stopping in 8 feet! That is something i dont want to experience.
The crying child issue is a tricky one. But the parents will often know already if their kid's a screamer. On rides like Tower of Terror it's nonsense to take a small child. Then there's the effect on other riders. How fair is it to make someone wait 90 mins in line and then have it spoiled by a crying child. Parents have be realistic and have respect for fellow riders.
Mind you I cried on Stitch's Escape. But only on the way out because it was so bad and it was 30 minutes of my life that I knew I'd never get back.
As I said, we are rule followers and I agree that the height requirements are in place for safety reasons so while I understood, I just wish there was some consistency in the way chldren are measured. One full day of our vacation was ruined because of a CM - not at all a magical experience for us on that day.
AND ITS MOSTLY THE DARN PARENTS!!!!! DARN DARN DARN! I would measure the kids and if they were short, I always tried to sound very excited about the rides they COULD go on-- and they'd be very happy... but then the parents get mad about the rides their kids COULD NOT go on... and THAT'S when the kids start crying. (And yes, it doesn't help that BGT's rides were always compared to Disney's shorter height requirements)
UGGGGGH. i'm ranting and ranting and ranting!!!!
I really believe that every theme park has things to see and do no matter how small you are. It's not ALL about roller coasters.
My son was always big for his age so he met most of the height requirements early on. His maturity level was not commensurate with his height. I remember waiting in line at SM for over an hour. He was fine until we got up to the part of the queue where you could actually see the loading area. That is when he decided that this was not the ride for him...we exited. I hate seeing parents forcing their kids onto rides they are not ready for.
A part of society that no one has mentioned are the little people (or whatever the proper PC term is) of the world. Many of them do not reach the height requirement. I would love to hear their stories.
As for the height restriction issue. If they installed one or two laser measurers (like they have in hotels and Nike stores) somewhere near the entrance then parents would have an accurate printout for their child that could be shown to the CM at the line.
It could also print the list of rides that the child was able to go on to save more time. Just an idea.
That was almost a year ago and she still talks about the Barnstormer. We are going again in a few weeks (to celebrate my graduation from Grad School, any excuse to go back) and now she is ready to tackle Big Thunder Mountain! Oh and I measured her already and she is the proper height for the ride. So no hat adjustments on this visit.
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