When things really go terribly wrong in a theme park...

October 10, 2011, 10:52 AM · What was the biggest in-park disaster have you experienced?

Mine was when I worked at the Jungle Cruise, I was working Parade Audience Control on New Years Day, the busiest day of the year at the Magic Kingdom. I was in Liberty Square when a warning came along. At the Liberty Belle dock, there is a pipe connected to the sewers (I don't understand why it is there) but early in the day, it started leaking. This happened before, and like before they fixed it.

Then about 40 minutes later, all of Frontierland from the Little Mississippi to Pecos Bill was flooded with sewage.

Remember, we are at capacity, around 80,000 guest who need all the space they could get. Instead, we close the major thoroughfare to both Splash and Thunder, causing all that traffic to go through Adventureland.

On top of that, all the restrooms on the west side of the park were closed...

On top of that, the sewage access point was smartly placed in the patio of Pecos Bill, so we taped all the windows of the restaurant with black costuming fabric so the diners wouldn't be repulsed by the men diving in and out of the manhole covered in...stuff.

On top of canceling the day parade where 30,000 people were lined up do see because we couldn't sweep up and sanitize the street fast enough, and we had a mob of angry 30,000 people to whom we couldn't explain what was happening and to five angry guest bands who couldn't perform.

On top of that was because if all the secrecy of hiding the patio, blocking picture taking at all of the executives (I got to meet some pretty high up people that day) a lot of the guest thought some one died.

The candle on the cake was that Splash would leak animatronic fluid into the ride water and would have to be shut down for half the day.

Replies (13)

October 10, 2011 at 1:59 PM · The biggest in-park disaster I saw? When I was at IOA and in the preshow room for Poseidon's Fury, a guest fainted, which caused the "tour guide" to frantically call for help. That showing was then cancelled.
October 10, 2011 at 2:17 PM · A Tom Sawyer's Island raft driver taking down five attractions and snow closing half the Magic Kingdom.
October 10, 2011 at 4:18 PM · Well...I work at my local theme park and this summer we had Miranda Cosgrove come and do a concert weekend. That Saturday she was there, the park reached upwards of 40,000 people (keep in mind this is BGW and the normal max is 32-35k). Around noon there were over 6000 little girls waiting in line for the concert to start at 6:00...the theaters max capacity is roughly between 3 and 4 thousand. Throughout the day, my ride experienced 12 shutdowns (a record) and had a 2+ hour long wait ALL DAY. Having to walk to the very front of the park to go on break was a hassle because everyone was packed in like sardines. That was the busiest day all season...oh and it was around 100 degrees outside.
October 10, 2011 at 7:30 PM · For me it was last Sunday at USF, where The Simpsons Ride had a 30 minute posted wait, when it was really 70 minutes. Not to mention September 23 at MNSSHP where I almost missed Happy Hallowishes because I was stuck on Haunted Mansion for 10 minutes.
October 11, 2011 at 2:45 AM · People will just have to accept that sometimes everything is not going to be satisfactch'll !!
October 11, 2011 at 3:40 AM · It was late in the spring of 2002; height of the super-patriotic-pro-military fervor of post 9/11. I was a young Marine who decided to take some leave just before my first deployment in order to take advantage of the freebie tickets for military personnel that the Universal Resort was running at the time. IoA was fairly new and I wanted to check out this crazy Spiderman ride that I had seen on TV. The free military tickets extended to one or two guests (can't remember exactly) so I brought my pal Eric along with me.

We arrived at the front gate of Universal Studios, tickets-in-hand, about 30 minutes prior to opening. I like to get places early - a byproduct of my former military lifestyle. When we arrived, I could sense it would be a great day from the mild weather and particularly the lack of any real, sizable crowd stacking up at the still-closed turnstiles. With my McDonalds coffee in hand, Eric and I started chatting up the turnstile attendant. As the minutes passed by and the conversation grew more and more comfortable with this staff member, we began sharing random, benign anecdotes to pass the remaining minutes until opening. I causally leaned against one of the turnstile assembly boxes.

The turnstiles back then were not the high-tech, CIA-biometric-start-trek things they have there now. They were simple chrome metal boxes, wired to take an electrical count of each time the turnstile bar went 'click' and nothing more. I leaned more body weight into the metal box as the staff member told us about the new IoA and how grand it was... I was rather excited. SO excited, in fact, that while leaning against the turnstile assembly, a casually slapped another adjacent assembly in a slightly forced display of excitement...


Immediately it felt like I stuck my finger in an electrical outlet. Alternating current shot up my arm like a damned bullet train. I howled like some animal off of wild kingdom. This elicited confused and somewhat frightening stares from all cast members and the few guests within earshot. I figured an explanation was in order.

"Dude!" I told him, "I'm pretty sure there is a short in here somewhere!" At first he seemed rather skeptical as he simply swatted his hand quickly at the apparently offending machine and received what appeared to be no shock whatsoever. "Are you SURE?" He asked? I replied "No no... touch BOTH of these at the same time."

He did, and he leaped back in surprise. "Jesus, I gotta call someone!" he said in a rather quiet, 'just-between-me-and-you' voice. I told him to do whatever he had to do and gave my word that I would not allow anyone near them until he rounded up the appropriate superior, which frankly only took him a minute or two.

What followed was a rather humorous bureaucratic display of supervisor, head supervisor, head HEAD supervisor, ad nauseam approach the turnstile, question the veracity of the electrocution claim, be told by the previous-tier employee "touch both", them touching both, and getting the crap shocked out of them. Finally a high-up-enough decision maker decided that the entire string of turnstiles in that area would be shut down for the day so that maintenance could work on solving the problem.

Afterwards, Eric and myself were escorted to a disguised side-room in the amusement park facade by two well-dressed gentlemen who wanted to speak with us about the incident and acted quite concerned for my safety. In retrospect, I clearly realize that this was lawsuit damage control of the highest caliber... but seriously, what was I gonna cry about? I wasn't injured, nothing serious happened... frankly it was rather funny. I simply told the gentlemen it was a non-issue and I was only glad that it happened to me and not a small child or an elderly person with a pacemaker. They nervously agreed, asked once more if I was fine, and set Eric and I loose in the park.

...only now I realize, I DEFINITELY should have tried for a lifetime pass. Oh well. :-)

October 11, 2011 at 5:32 AM · Mike.......great story and , in my view, all men & women in the Services should get lifetime passes anyway without having to electrocute themselves at the turnstiles.
Bet Spiderman seemed tame after that :- )
October 11, 2011 at 9:32 AM · I hadn't logged in. The last message was mine.
October 11, 2011 at 11:15 AM · I was on the Jurassic Park ride some years ago when something went terribly wrong. It all seemed like smooth sailing at first as we cruised past the gates and into the lagoon area. We floated gently part the brachiosaurs and the triceratops, but then just as we passed the hydrosaurs the boat seemed to veer off course and we were alterted by the ride's speaker system that something had gone wrong and that we should stay in our seats while the operators diverted us to a safe point of exit.

Well, that didn't go so well. I don't want to tarnish Universal's sterling safety reputation, and I did not attempt to bring about a lawsuit in this situation, but let me tell you, things went from bad to worse. Quick. It's lucky nobody was hurt. Universal jeeps were damaged. There were electrical problems. Dinosaurs that had no business being placed in proximity to guests were loose and causing chaos. Thank God for the waterfall in the ride building because we were very nearly eaten alive by an unconfined Tyranosaurus Rex. This could have gone very badly for Universal if even one guest had a bad reaction to the venom spit by a loose dilopiosaurus.

October 11, 2011 at 11:19 AM · Mike, not only was that a terrific story, but I can verify it and (perhaps) add an amusing footnote....

I was the administrator for the admissions control system at UO back in 2002...one fine morning while sitting at my desk (probably reading Theme Park Insider) and waiting to see when they would start letting people in the park for the day, my desk was suddenly surrounded by some very ashen-faced technicians. A herd of them, in fact. And the phone started ringing. All the lines.

The first one finally managed to get out the question, "Did you do something to the turnstiles?". Keep in mind that my desk is about a mile from the turnstiles and most of my work was done on a PC, so the question was a little bemusing. I asked, "Like what?".

"Well, did you do something because the turnstiles are giving the guests shocks??"

Ok, I have to admit to having two reactions, one of which would not have been considered guest-helpful. I said, "Yes, of course, that is a feature of the system. I just bring up my little console and pick which turnstiles and check the flag "zap the guests". Isn't that nifty?"

After a few moments, as it was slowly dawning on these poor guys that I probably really was kidding, I suggested they might contact maintenance who control the power to see if perhaps some work had been done in that area overnight.

Anyway, sure enough, maintenance had not quite gotten all the grounding correct after some work, resulting in a bank of turnstiles that was really energizing, so to speak.

I'm still amused by the thought that a few of our cast really did think it was a feature...after that I tried to get the developer to add it in, but no such luck :-)

Thanks Mike.

October 11, 2011 at 6:14 PM · My mother had polio when she was a kid, and had to wear braces on her legs and use a wheelchair to go any sizable distance. We were at Disneyland sometime in the late 60's, and my mom expressed a rather wistful wish that she could ride on a roller coaster.
At the time, the only coaster on the horizon at Disneyland was the Matterhorn, and arrangements were immediately made for us to go to the front of the line, where my father lifted Mom into the car, and the four of us (little brother included) began the ascent inside the mountain.
Back in those days, the interior of the Matterhorn was a lot more open than it is now. As we reached the halfway point of the lift hill, the ride suddenly stopped. Dad, brother, and I tried to play it off as if this was just part of the ride, not wanting to alarm my mother. After a few minutes though it became clear that something was definitely wrong. Mom, surprisingly, took it in stride.
A few minutes later, a ride operator came strolling cheerfully down the track from above, and if memory serves, hooked a hook to the car which was winched to the top of the lift hill. He joked and chatted with us until a nearby rock rang. He opened it, revealing a phone, and chatted with someone at the other end. Upon receiving word to proceed, he then gave us a push, starting us down the mountain.
When we arrived back in the station, we were given the option to either receive a free ride on any other ride (back in the days of A to E tickeds), or another time on the Matterhorn. Mom was given the final decision, which was, oddly, another time on the mountain. Without disembarking, we rode right through the station and back into the depths of the Matterhorn for a considerably less stressful ride. Thanks, Mom!
October 11, 2011 at 6:15 PM · @ 192.195:

Get out of here! You were supervising when that went down? That's hilariously awesome! It sure made for a great story.... and electrocution or not, UO is still one of my favorite places to spend an afternoon in Orlando. Cheers man.


October 11, 2011 at 6:18 PM · @ Rod:

Oh you...


This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Park tickets

Weekly newsletter

New attraction reviews

News archive