Tonight's non-story: Riders got stuck on a roller coaster

October 9, 2013, 9:54 PM · TV news in Orlando and cable stations around the country broadcast from Universal Studios Florida Wednesday night, after the park's Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit roller coaster got stuck, stranding 12 riders near the top of the attraction's 167-foot lift hill.

Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit

What might be news to assignment editors at TV stations shouldn't be news to theme park insiders — rides "break down" and get stuck all the time. And once in a not-too-rare while, riders get stuck for longer than an hour. That's what happened tonight in Orlando.

Yes, spending more than two and a half hours stuck on a roller coaster stinks. But no one on Rip, Ride, Rockit (or anyone on one of the other hundreds of rides that get stuck for an extended period every year) was in any real danger. The Orlando Fire Department responded and worked with Universal Orlando personnel to get everyone down safely, at around 9:45 pm Eastern time. (And Universal Orlando certainly will accommodate those riders with some compensation for their lost time and ordeal.)

Park insiders and visitors often talk about rides "breaking down." But when roller coasters trains stop on their track, it's almost never because they "broke." Instead, rides stop because that is what the ride's designers wanted. Coaster designers create mechanical and computer software systems to ensure the safety of riders and equipment. When these systems detect something not exactly correct about the ride's operation, they begin a procedure that shuts down the ride.

We wrote about this several years ago, in explaining why people have to be 40 inches tall to ride Disney's Thunder Mountain. Roller coasters are designed to operate on a precise cycle, and anything that disrupts the cycle prevents the coaster from operating properly. Whether it's a crying child in a station holding up a train, or a sensor somewhere on the track reporting something amiss, the ride's computer system will try to bring trains to a safe stop, as quickly as possible.

Ideally, the shut down brings riders to a place on the track where they can be easily and quickly exited from the train and led out of the attraction. Obviously, that didn't happen here. While the coaster stopped in a way that ensured riders' safety, it did not do so in a way that minimized their inconvenience. TV crews seem to love shots of people stuck on theme park rides, though heaven knows what they think might happen. People are stuck on rides because the ride worked. If it had actually failed, you'd be looking at a far different scene. Fortunately for visitors and the industry, that's a scene that rarely happens.

Even though Rip, Ride, Rockit did its ultimate job by keeping its riders safe, this Maurer Söhne coaster has endured sharp criticism from fans over the years for failing to deliver the entertainment that any ride should. Fans have complained about frequent shutdowns that back up lines and rough rides that have made them question why they even bothered to wait in those long lines. Many fans on Twitter and Facebook used tonight's shutdown to call again on Universal to give up on this ride. Sister park Universal Studios Japan also has a music-themed roller, but that coaster was built by Bolliger & Mabillard and has a much better reputation for uptime and rider comfort.

That said, when you see these scenes on TV, chill. No one's in danger. The moment of greatest risk actually has past. But enjoy the visuals of the park — there's a lot more depressing stuff you could be watching on TV, after all. And let's hope that someone among the 12 stuck on Rip, Ride, Rockit tonight got some fresh Harry Potter construction photos from up there that they'll share with the rest of us tomorrow.

Replies (25)

October 9, 2013 at 10:38 PM · The only issue I find is not in the safety, but the discomfort. I remember that lift being very steep, and a little uncomfortable. To be stuck on it for 2.5 hours (is that how long it was?) could become pretty unbearable.
October 9, 2013 at 10:40 PM · I watched a 10 minute news segment with helicopters and spotlights... a little blown out of proportion. Better to be on your back than tilted straight down. I do feel bad for them, however.
October 10, 2013 at 12:14 AM · How long before the first law-suit for 'trauma'. Shall we open the bidding at $1 million?
October 10, 2013 at 2:19 AM · A Universal spokesman indicated that to make up for any inconvenience caused by the technical glitch, guests who were stuck on the coaster would be offered a complimentary, one-night stay at a Universal resort of their choice. The spokesman quickly added that these guests would still be required to pay for parking during their stay at the resort.
October 10, 2013 at 4:35 AM · I once got stuck on It's a small world for 3 hours. It was torcher! The dolls creeped me out with their dead eyes and that tune, that endless tune going on and on. To makes things even more worse a baby on board started to cry on the top of it's longs and it took forever for the ride to start again.
When we came out only 10 minutes had passed, it must have been a strange time paradox thingy.
October 10, 2013 at 4:44 AM · This is the true meaning of the term fail safe - not safe from failure - thats impossible, but fails in a safe way.
October 10, 2013 at 4:59 AM · I am not sure, I would think it would be news if they were stuck for an hour. People here still talk about the Demon at Great America getting stuck for a few hours (of course, they guests were stuck upside down too).

Either way, I think the bigger problem is that this attraction breaks down too much. I think it has to do with the restraints because when I went on it, it felt a little too open for my comfort. Perhaps the computer noticed that the bar started to (falsely) open and stopped the attraction.

If this ride keeps breaking down, they should probably go back to the drawing board. Six Flags Great America got burned by Deja Vu, a boomerang coaster that kept breaking down. It is gone now!

October 10, 2013 at 6:24 AM · It's time for Rip Ride Rockit to go. It is not a groundbreaking ride anyway, and it has had too many breakdowns in the past. It was already shut down for almost a year to fix it, eh? This is the second time in two months the ride has been in the news locally for some issue. It has garnered too much bad PR, which is not what I would think Universal would want, especially with all the goodwill they've been getting from Transformers and Harry Potter. There is a lot that can be done with that space if they removed the ride. It is the only ride at the park not based on a movie or tv show (or genre of movies at least), so I never really felt it fit thematically. Universal should use that space for an expansion of Despicable Me; build a Silly Fun Land like they're doing in Hollywood, except bigger (maybe a second ride). Despicable Me is the most popular franchise Universal has behind Harry Potter; they should capitalize on it.

October 10, 2013 at 8:52 AM · "Perhaps the computer noticed that the bar started to (falsely) open and stopped the attraction."

That is impossible. The sensors on the train can not be read out outside of the station, and the locking mechanism can't open (even a little bit) during the ride.

October 10, 2013 at 9:03 AM · It could have been worse. There were two dozen people stuck on the Demon's loop upside down for three hours in SF Great America.

Edit: I should learn to read comments before posting my own.

October 10, 2013 at 9:32 AM · You'd expect something like this from a Six Flags or Cedar Fair park. But if Universal really wants to be considered even with Disney on all levels, it needs to avoid situations like this. Taking almost 3 hours to evacuate the ride is a little ridiculous, and makes Universal seem on the level of a Six Flags type park. You don't often hear of riders being stuck for hours on a Disney ride...
October 10, 2013 at 10:44 AM · I was stuck in December on the 2nd to last break run. Freezing cold and far up enough we could see the a Fireworks from Disney. They had to bring a battery pack with a special key to release the restraints. They will not budge at all without doing the special process. We felt safe the entire event, but it was cold and windy up there!
October 10, 2013 at 10:59 AM · Robert, since you brought up the issue of safety on Big Thunder Mountain, I went back and read the stories on this website about the fatal accident at Disneyland in 2003, which I remembered reading in the local newspapers. I noticed that it's been just over ten years since this happened.

Any chance that you could write about Disney's bringing the ride back into operation after the accident (I read the ride was closed at all four parks worldwide after the accident), and how safety including regular maintenance has been improved since 2003?

I find it interesting that in the discussion of the delay in re-opening the ride in California after its current refurbishment, people have been citing the 2003 accident and that the delay is justified to make sure the ride is completely safe before reopening it.

October 10, 2013 at 11:16 AM · Blown way out of proportion by sensationalist, blood thirsty media. Machines break down periodically, it's unavoidable. We all know and accept the risk that something like this can happen when we get on a ride. I'm sure they were well compensated for their inconvenience.

On a separate topic, The RipRideRocket was a mistake. It just doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the park. Also it is a lame coaster with terrible vibration problems. I had a headache for 3 days after riding it. They should just tear it down and use the space for something else. With all the $$$ they are raking in from Harry Potter, they can easily absorb the loss.

October 10, 2013 at 12:19 PM · SFGA had another incident with V2. The train got stuck at the apex of the twisted vertical portion. Most of the passengers were from an 8th grade graduation class. It was several hours before they got them down. I happen to know one of the people that was on it at the time.

TH, your negativity and dry wit is charming as always, you should be a writer for British comedies on the Public Broadcasting Network.

October 10, 2013 at 2:44 PM · I don't recall there being any incidents with the V2 Vertical Velocity roller coaster getting stuck. It doesn't even make sense. When did this occur?

Rip Ride Rockit' is a pretty mediocre ride. It's too bad that Universal at the time didn't go with Bolliger & Mabillard instead. However, this sort of publicity has zero impact on the park. If anything it's the type of publicity in the end that's favorable even though the incident is unfavorable.

October 10, 2013 at 3:52 PM · Last week, my better half and I were stuck on MK It's a Small World for 45 minutes real time. After half an hour they finally turned off THAT song (we were in the South Pacific section). Three CMs showed (one in waders, another with a tow hook; I guess the third was there for moral support) to tow each boat to the emergency exit. Once out the door, each guest was given a FastPass for any attraction, any time (except the character greetings). This was our first ride on IaSW in a few years (we're passholders from Tampa, but we usually skip this). I don't plan to ride it again anytime soon (at least until they add the Buzz Lightyear blasters).
October 10, 2013 at 5:58 PM · I am looking for all of the people who come on theme park sites and crow that "Universal is the leader in the theme park world" to reconcile that with the fact that for many, many years Universal has had a "good enough" attitude when it came to almost everything. It's "good enough" to have rides that barely work or that break down and leave people stranded in awkward and dangerous places. "Good enough" to have expose steel coaster tracks in its parks that destroy the themed environments.

This is what I expect from a Six Flags amusement park...not a world class theme park.

It's weird how silent the Universal fans get when something like this coaster stranding happens. Quiet as mute church mice they all become.

October 10, 2013 at 8:03 PM · Quiet Annette? There are plenty of other theme park forums, like Orlando United, which is Universal-centric (you would probably dislike it), where people are showing their disdain over this attraction. Universal lovers, including myself, generally don't like the ride. It is a mechanical nightmare and an eyesore on the park, particularly the heavily detailed New York themed land.

I love Universal Orlando to death and think that it is amazing resort and has two of the world's greatest theme parks, but not everything that they do is perfect, especially RockIt. I think it would be best that it would suffer a fate similar to Drachen Fire.

And by the way, these things happen at Disney too. The string of events associated with Mission: Space immediately come to mind.

October 10, 2013 at 8:19 PM · Quiet? Only because this is a media hyped non issue. The ride was back up the morning after the incident. Ride breakdowns happen often at all parks.Rocket has had more than it's share of problems, but it remains popular with the general population,though probably not so much with extreme theme park enthusiasts... Universal's new attractions are cutting edge. That's a fact. Universal is spending more money on new USA park attractions than anyone else. That's a fact. Universal has had large attendance increases since Harry Potter opened. That's a fact. Universal's new lands are as immersive as anything Disney has done. Universal's entire Florida resort, including hotels,waterways, walking paths, CitiWalk & the theme parks is probably the most immersive total theme park experience there is in this country. And even at Disney you can sometimes see into other lands and ride buildings even though Disney is considered the best at immersive attractions. These are theme parks after all, not enclosed movie sets. To compare Universal with Six Flags is absolutely ludicrous.
October 11, 2013 at 12:28 AM · I see Annette is a Disneyphile looking for every chance to complain about sight lines in the Universal parks....

It's so easy to hide a 200 foot lift hill.... (sigh).

I think she is transplanted from the Disney forums and is used to everyone patting each other on the back and agreeing how great Disney is while talking negatively about Universal.

Have you been there lately? Ever stayed on site and see what a difference there is between the two resorts? We spent $30K plus on our four Disney vacations and close to $50K on our Universal stays.

I think I have the right to judge both resorts objectively.

I don't think anyone ever said RRR is a 10 out 10 coaster. The last few years, the ride has been rough and it is definitely prone to breakdowns. That being said, it has a lot of one of a kind elements and is the best night time coaster of all time (in my opinion).

I have gone into great detail about all the ways we were disappointed with Disney, which is partly our fault for going during peak season every time. But the same peak season vacations at Universal are a joy by comparison, even with the hotel parking fees.

October 11, 2013 at 7:08 AM · NB; Good comments.Seems like there is a bit of a Universal hater group migrating to the site. Just read two recent Harry Potter reviews on TPI's review page that gave the ride a "Zero" rating. Those are absurd & irrational ratings for what is arguably one of the top attractions in the world.
October 11, 2013 at 9:36 AM · Plenty of rides break down at all of the parks, it's nothing new. Although, as much as I love riding on roller coasters, I would hate to be stranded on a roller coaster for a couple hours. I remember the story about the roller coaster, Demon and how people were stranded on it upside down. The thought of a roller coaster coming to halt is terrifying enough, let alone being upside down!
October 11, 2013 at 11:43 PM · I'm totally shocked, shocked I say at those who want to tear down HRRR. It's an awesome ride for those seeking a thrilling roller coaster and the only decent ride at the Universal Studios park, IMHO. I would ride this again long before the other themed rides that put you to sleep. Put on the ZZ Top and let's fly! That's a ride!
October 12, 2013 at 12:24 AM · To me this story isn't about the safety of the ride. It's just a scary situation for those involved, not due to real danger, but for anyone with fear of heights or claustrophobia, it's just a terrifying scenario not for any rational reason. I love roller coasters but I fear heights and am somewhat claustrophobic. These are fears that subside when I'm moving fast on the ride, but in a still position, I'd be terrified the whole time up there even though I'd logically know how safe I am.

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