What to Do About an 'Empty Pockets' Policy on Theme Park Rides?

January 21, 2015, 3:04 PM · How do you carry your stuff around a theme park?

Hauling around cash, cards, ID, a phone, and whatever else you need for a day out in a purse or your pockets might not seem like such a big deal when you're just running errands at home. But when you're on vacation in a theme park, your stuff can really slow you down. Many parks won't let you take purses and bags on thrill rides, such as roller coasters, forcing you to rent a locker or leave your valuables in a cubby while you ride.

The backpacker

So what do you do? Disney's spent a billion dollars trying to rid you of the need to carry a bag around its theme parks, with its MagicBand initiative at the Walt Disney World Resort. Disney's wristbands are linked to your admission tickets, Fastpass+ reservations, hotel room key ,and resort-wide charging privileges, freeing you from having to carry a purse or wallet to hold all that stuff. With MagicBands also serving as a PhotoPass, too, you don't even need to bring a cell phone or camera to take pictures — Disney's photographers will scan the band when you want a picture at a photo spot, and the MagicBand will collect your on-ride photos throughout the day.

Still, if you want that phone so you can keep in touch with others in your family or group, should you become separated, or to give you something to do while you're waiting in line, you'll need someplace to keep it. Don't go out with those pocketless shorts just yet!

But what if you couldn't even keep your phone in a pocket? Over at Universal Orlando, visitors have been complaining about Universal team members insisting that riders empty their pockets before going on Incredible Hulk Coaster or Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit. Universal has its reasons for the restrictive policy — flying phones and other objects from riders' pockets have struck other visitors, off ride and on, in the past.

No one wants to get clunked in the head with someone else's cellphone. But what do you do when you can't even keep stuff in your pockets when visiting a theme park? Universal provides lockers, with a free grace period, outside its most restrictive rides. Yet our Russell Meyer brings up an interesting question: what happens if you go over the free period, then need to pay to open the locker? That's kinda hard to do if your wallet, cash, and charge cards are in the locker.

(Let's just imagine for a moment if Disney World were to adopt this "empty pockets" policy on one of its rides. How many fans would be accusing Disney of doing this just to promote MagicBand use? Of course, this presumes that Disney World were to have a thrill ride capable of dislodging anything from a pocket. Unless Disney brings Space Mountain: Mission 2 over from Paris, that's not happening.)

Here's a potential solution: Maybe it's time to start using a money belt on your next theme park visit.

Money belt

It's not just for visits to crowded third-world cities anymore! The main purpose for money belts has been personal security. Hidden beneath your clothes, they keep valuables away from the prying hands of pickpockets on unfamiliar streets and trains. But their security might make them the ideal place to keep a few valuables on a whippy theme park thrill ride, too. Safely zipped up inside your shirt or pants, the stuff in your money belt won't come flying out on even the most extreme thrill ride.

I've used a money belt to carry cash, cards, ID and even my cell phone when traveling abroad. The money belt probably saved me a little money and a lot of hassle when another pedestrian crashed into me while he was running for a crosswalk light outside Harrod's in London. It's a classic diversion that pickpockets use take your attention away from that other waiting pedestrian who will be lifting your wallet. But my wallet wasn't in my pocket that afternoon. It was at home, and its contents were in my money belt.

Perhaps the money belt can save me some hassle on my next theme park visit, too? What do you think? Would you consider using a money belt in a theme park?

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Replies (30)

January 21, 2015 at 3:16 PM · The one nagging issue is guests who carry on, say, a camera inside their zippy pocket and then whip it out after the attendant has secured their restraint, to take selfies or go-pro the ride and lose their grip and someone still ends up being bonked. I am in favour of allowing small items that will remain in a securely zipped pocket until unloading, but anyone caught with handheld items at any point in the ride cycle one one of these dynamic rides should be frogmarched to the park exit.
January 21, 2015 at 3:39 PM · "Frogmarched to the park exit" at the end of a selfie stick.


January 21, 2015 at 3:46 PM · If my cellphone can survive in my pocket (strapped to my belt via a wrist strap)on Kingda Ka, then I don't seen any other ride prying it from my pocket.

That being said, I'm headed to Universal Orlando tomorrow; I guess as they say at Rip Ride Rockit, I'll have to leave my "Food, Drinks and Smokes in a Locker."

January 21, 2015 at 3:46 PM · A money belt is just a tiny step away from the most maligned, yet practical piece of luggage on the planet...The Fanny Pack. I try to travel as light as possible when I visit a park, but I will always want to have my ID, Insurance Cards, Credit/Debit Cards and a cellphone at the very minimum. Mine also has a place to clip my keys so even they are inside and secure. I usually have one large Ziplock bag in the fanny pack so if a trip on a water ride comes up, there is protection from the water.
It's worth being looked at funny to know everything is together and safe.
January 21, 2015 at 3:55 PM · This is where the iwatch, android watch, smart watch come into play. We all be using the Internet watched to pay for stuff then, so we can keep our stuff in these lockers. Watches that's the future and making a comeback. We just need Universal, Cedar Fair, & Six Flags to adopted mobile pay.
January 21, 2015 at 4:46 PM · Cargo pants with pockets that either zip or double button. John Hildebrandt, past Vice President and General Manager of Cedar Point, told me that cargo pants (and shorts) are the best thing to wear to a thrill park like Cedar Point. I've never had a problem with putting things like my phone, wallet, etc. in any of the pockets and not feeling like they were safely secured. My biggest problem is hearing my phone ring and 1) forgetting which pocket I put it in, and 2) getting the pocket unbuttoned in time to answer it.
January 21, 2015 at 5:15 PM · Yes, as James said, cargo pants are the best. I've been using them for the last few years and they are really helpful for stashing all of those extras like camera's, sunglasses and phones. They're especially helpful since my GF wears super tight form fitting jeans that you can't fit a dime in. So I end up with all of her stuff in my pockets too.And, yes, a small zip lock bag for the water rides is very helpful...Reportedly, Universal Orlando has relaxed the extremely strict search policies they had during December, and are closer to their previous norm concerning searches & restrictions.
January 21, 2015 at 5:36 PM · Interesting enough I came up with my version of the money belt. Large enough for a rental car key, license, 1 credit card and 20.00 bill. It is securely fastened and attached to my body/belt with a lasso. So if it does not come back I am not coming back. I got bounced at Hulk in this set up. I get the cell phone. I get the cameras. I think Universal has decided to remove the workers from the decision making process by going way beyond being reasonable. Basically to avoid customers complaining that "they got to ride with...". I think they could loosen it up a bit and maintain safety. Mean while at BGT same get up no problems on Falcon's Fury....
January 21, 2015 at 5:50 PM · Cargo pants are handy to keep wallet/phone etc safe. Universal's free lockers are easy enough to use as well.

A lot of parks in Europe are fine with any manner of loose object - my DLSR has more credits than some coaster enthusiasts - but I've seen people asked to remove park maps (dangerous!) from their pockets in the US. Then again, park guests in Europe seem to have a bit more common sense than some of their US counterparts.

January 21, 2015 at 5:52 PM · Universal has FREE lockers for Mummy, Rockit, Hulk, etc. Free! Despite this, guests still lose a lot of loose articles from the coasters. If you loose anything, it's your fault.
January 21, 2015 at 6:33 PM · Unless it is unusually cold, I pretty much always wear cargo shorts to an amusement park. Generally I take two zip lock sandwich bags, stick one in each Velcro/button/zipper pocket, and put everything I need in those (typically all I bring is my wallet, keys, iPhone, and a pocket sunscreen). I've never once lost anything, and there have only been a handful of times I was required to remove the items from my pockets.

If a park wants to have a policy of nothing in your pockets, I have no problem with that, but they need to provide free secure storage if that is the case. Holiday World has an excellent system for this, as they are very strict about loose articles. There, lockers are present in the station of all three coasters and you simply stick your valuables in a locker and take the key with you on the ride (there's a wrist strap on the keys). When you get back, open the locker and take your stuff. It's pretty efficient and allows for free storage without non-riders poaching it or the risk of theft from those in the other train.

January 21, 2015 at 7:30 PM · 6 years ago we were a theme park addicted family. We had season passes to Universal, Disneyland and/or six flags every year. At that time, I loved my fanny pack. Honestly, My cell phone and PointnShoot camera were larger than they are now. I also brought along my camcorer, which fit (barely) in my fanny pack. Today, I would likely bring a mid-sized back pack. My wife rarely rides any ride that has a "no carryon" policy, thus she is the person that holds all of the backpacks during day. My fanny pack is still getting used; I use it for projects up on my roof. No one can see, thus no one points and makes fun of me up there. lol
January 21, 2015 at 7:47 PM · Universal was testing that policy over the holiday season but stopped after New Years. Some were hoping that they might use the policy to return the Dragons to Dueling, but no signs of that happening yet...
January 21, 2015 at 8:41 PM · I have a small camera bag that I use during the summer. It's able to hold my wallet, phone, tickets, and all else and can easily be sneaked on any ride by putting my shirt over it. During colder days, my North Face has zip up pockets that can be used.
January 21, 2015 at 8:57 PM · The big difference between a money belt and a fannie pack (apologies to our British readers, but that is what we call a waist bag over here...) is that a money belt is thin and worn inside your clothes. If people can see that you are wearing a money belt, you're doing it wrong!
January 21, 2015 at 10:17 PM · I like to carry as little as possible around parks, that's why I like the idea of magic bands so much, but I have to carry my epi pen and asthma inhaler with me all the time especially if I am going to eat anything so I always have to have something with me. Every once in a while Anthroplogie has a fanny pack type of thing that is closer to a coin purse or a little larger on a typical belt which is what I use or I use a bag from Lesportsac that has clips to attach the strap and put it around my waist. Esentially a fanny pack, but I feel better about it. :) I think for guys having cargo pants that zip securely is the way to go, although even if you wore your money belt outside your shirt I wouldn't think that was a big deal. It's just the bulky shape of those old fanny packs and the big plastic clips on them that gets me. Aren't the 80s back in style now? Maybe fanny packs are on the cutting edge of ironic hipster cool now. :) But in the end function trumps fashion- that is why I never wear heals anywhere. If I didn't have to carry around medical stuff I would think it would be nice to have just an Apple watch and a magic band, especially at Disneyland where you can just quickly go back to your hotel if you really need to for a jacket later in the day or something. I think you need your phone with you for an Apple watch to work though so there's really no way getting around having your phone if you need to contact other people in your party if you are separated.
January 22, 2015 at 7:32 AM · I'm here to second the 'cargo pants with buttoned or zippered pockets' comments. Maybe not the most stylish option, but super convenient.
Also, bonus tip that has almost certainly been discussed in previous posts, slip your cellie or camera in a zip-loc sandwich bag if you plan on doing any splash rides. Every time I pass the bag-check line at a park, I think/scream CHUUUUUMPS!
January 22, 2015 at 8:22 AM · I'm the person, aka the chump in the bag check line (that did make me laugh) with poncho, cardigan, spare shoes, suntan lotion, lip balm, phone, charger, camera, wallet, straws (you never know), gum... I could go on. Hands free won't ever happen for me, I am at peace with that. Luckily for me on a theme park vacation there's usually a willing member of our party (hello mum!!) who doesn't ride.

However I have often thought the exact same thing about Universal's lockers. What do I do if I go over time - you have all my money! *stashes dollar bill in shoe*
I was under the impression, although I'm not sure where from, that the free slot is in line with wait times and if say RRR has an hour line, it adjusts the free period accordingly. Am I making that up?

January 22, 2015 at 8:24 AM · Ps, for us Brits, we know what fannie packs are...but we still always have a little snort of a chuckle
January 22, 2015 at 8:40 AM · I totally meant that 'CHUUUUMPS' in the light-hearted sense, glad it came across! Internet comments sometimes have a way of being read in a harsher tone. My Dad is diabetic, so he's always traveling with a bag. I guess that makes him a medical chump, which is coincidentally the name of my new punk-fusion band.
I will say having a non-rider in a group that can act as a pack-animal is super convenient. I always feel bad for them just having to stand around and wait, though. They should be given a freebie t-shirt or something for their troubles, like stadiums and arenas sometimes do at sporting events for designated drivers. They're the real MVPs.
January 22, 2015 at 9:02 AM · Cargo pants are great, but when ride ops are not letting you bring ANYTHING in line, regardless of the type of pocket it's in, all of those buttons and zippers don't do you a bit of good. I was told at the head of the RRR queue that I could not carry my wallet in my back buttoned pocket. Granted my wallet is pretty thick and it was during HHN, but upon further inquiry, the ride op said that even if I had my ID and credit cards in my back buttoned pocket I'd be asked to remove those as well. They were literally making guests turn out their pockets, and anyone with pocket marks (wallet, cell phone, or snuff) had to demonstrate that those pockets were empty before being allowed to queue up.

To Kelly---The free lockers at Universal do adjust based on the current line (typically 10-20 minutes more time than the estimated queue length), but if the ride breaks down, or if you inadvertently forget that your stuff is in a locker because you don't usually use one, it would be very easy to have your stuff trapped with no way to retrieve them. The time adjustment is only made when you initially rent the locker, not as you stand in line.

What bothers me most is that these policies have arisen because of the misbehavior of a very few number of guests. It's the selfish nature of the few that think they're so cool filming GoPro videos and cell phone selfies that has ruined it for everyone. With the amount of surveillance on theme park rides these days, it would be far easier to eject guests who conduct themselves in this way, but instead ride ops simply verbally reprimand these hooligans and laugh it off. If the parks had taken a stronger stance to enforce rules against those who attempt to hold loose articles during ride cycles, then guests would not be subjected to these ridiculous, over-the-top nothing in your pockets policies.

January 22, 2015 at 9:33 AM · It is obvious that they should give you a free locker that opens regardless of how long you returned from the ride. On the claim that your stuff is trapped without a way to retrieve them, is this accurate? It would seem that if this is happening on a daily basis, we would know about it, but it is merely a fear. Universal has many more rides where items are at risk of dropping out or getting wet. Lockers should be a feature at more rides. The solution should be a cheap all day locker pass. I'm surprised this requirement isn't at the Harry Potter ride.
January 22, 2015 at 1:44 PM · Let's not forget Anon that Universal bucked the industry trend by offering free lockers in the first place. I think it is an excellent perk, and allows them to design more intense ride systems compared to Disney where they must find a way to get people's baggage onto every ride. If you note, Universal water rides do not have free lockers, but you are free to carry bags and such onto the ride vehicles (I use a backpack with a built in poncho).

However, the use of a locker was never intended to stash items that people normally keep and stay in the pockets throughout a ride. It was supposed to be a place to securely store your backpack, purse, camera, and souvenirs that cannot fit into your pockets. With this no loose items PERIOD policy, it now requires people to use lockers for items that were never intended to go into lockers like money clips, wallets, cell phones, spare change, keys, and the like. I brought up the point because the Universal ride op didn't have an answer as to how a guest should approach the scenario. Despite my concern, I still chose to place my wallet into a locker and took my chances (I didn't have any other choice if I wanted to ride), but with the unpredictable queue movement of the RRR during HHN, I was worried that my free time would expire before I got off - I ended up having 5 minutes to spare. However, the potential still exists that a guest could be forced to store their identification and credit cards in a locker and be refused access if they returned after the free period expired. If Universal doesn't know what a guest is supposed to do in this situation, I certainly don't know what you're supposed to do. I would guess you could go to a locker attendant and hope that they'll open it up for you, but whether they'll do so for free is unknown. I doubt it happens very frequently, but the fact that they enacted this policy without considering the consequences is troubling.

I don't think they should make the lockers completely free since they are supposed to be used only while on the ride to prevent people from keeping things in there all day (like a parking meter). However, guests should not be required to store items that are secure on their person, and important for identification and payment, into a locker.

Both Harry Potter rides have free lockers, but they have not enforced the empty pockets policy because if something falls out, it is not a risk to injure another guest.

January 22, 2015 at 5:17 PM · Universal Singapore has had a rather strict no loose items rule on its roller coasters (mainly the Mummy and BSG) since opening day - but these are the rides with limited time free lockers for you to stash everything (usually free period extends just over the estimated queue times). Actually I have gotten away with carrying things like phones in my pocket onto the Mummy ride. For the Mummy it is more of a 'no bags' rule.

However the battlestar galactica cast members were actually equipped with hand held metal detectors at queue entrance check that you weren't carrying phone or cameras (and probably keys) on. Why they were that extreme back then (BSG has been closed for over a year now for modifications) I have never really understood.

January 23, 2015 at 6:02 AM · We go once a year to Universal and have adapted to the rules. We carry a small backpack that contains things like water and rain jackets. It has become routine to walk to a locker put the stuff in, go on the ride, and then pick up our stuff. Only once did we go over for some long line up and we talked to the person who opened our locker. But like someone said previously the times very based on how busy the ride is. In general as long as you know what is in your locker it hasn't been an issue to get someone to open it.

The idea of a money belt is great to carry some cash to pay for a locker in the event that you over-extend the free time. Last fall my husband kept a few dollars zipped in his cargo pants pocket. You couldn't tell and nothing was said about that, though I can't speak for now.

I think sometimes we make super big deals about things that aren't. We are all there to have fun but not at the risk of others. If you don't like the rules don't go to the park.

January 23, 2015 at 7:10 AM · I saw an employee at universal orlandos rip ride rocket look at the rear end of a guest as he was going up the stairs past the fast pass check point and notice he had his wallet in his back pocket and made him lose his spot in line (those who've been there know how close that is to the end) and make him put it in a locker. This was right after not letting me get in line after I put my hat and phone in a locker and asked about my wallet, my wallet was in my back pocket and BUTTONED closed and they still would not let me in line. Just seems excessive. I'm all for safety restrictions, one bad egg with a cellphone ruins it for the rest of us, but a back pocket wallet that I sit on and is secured?
January 23, 2015 at 7:36 AM · Very sad news I enjoy reading the articles of this site on almost a daily basis. Over the last number of years I've got the sense of joy and excitement from reading Daniels articles and his experiences of been in the theme parks. He will be missed here. May he rest in peace. Derek (Ireland)
January 23, 2015 at 10:23 AM · I beg to differ with the line about Disney not having a ride that can dislodge an item from a pocket. My son's phone fell out of a very deep cargo shorts pocket while we were riding The Tower of Terror a few years ago. He never knew it was gone until we got off the ride. He was in a seat up against the side of the car and it fell out of his pocket, down between the seat and the wall, and shattered into a gazillion pieces on the floor of a basement area some 40 feet below. They eventually sent the pieces back to him in a box.

We are Annual Passholders at Universal and we don't really mind putting our things in a locker while we ride. We've pretty much got it down to a science now. I do have a real problem with theme parks that require you to put your things in a locker and then don't provide a grace period for the locker use. Great Adventure makes you lock up your stuff and then charges you a dollar to do it! That was the straw that broke the camel's back for us with Six Flags properties. We had put up with their dirty parks, unkempt attractions and hordes of disrespectful, out of control teenagers but when I was having to pay an extra dollar for just about every ride ... enough was enough!

January 23, 2015 at 12:59 PM · Fortunately, I've never been to a park that required guests to empty their pockets and have gotten by very well carrying nothing with me to the park other than what will fit into cargo shorts or pants with a combination of zip and button or Velcro pockets, as I refuse to pay for a locker and don't want to be encumbered. A ride op on Skyrush at Hershey said that Velcro pockets won't do the trick but she was mistaken; I've ridden extreme coasters and coasters with multiple inversions over and over without incident. I probably carry more junk than most people to theme parks - wallet, phone, phone charger, camera, notepad, pen, business cards (for my website), keys, sun screen, lipstick, hand sanitizer, smokes and medication - and manage to fit all of this into cargo pockets. BTW, cargo shorts for women with multiple zip pockets are not easy to find and it took a lot of searching the web to come up with a suitable theme park wardrobe.
January 23, 2015 at 11:52 PM · We still carry just about everything in our back packs. Too convenient not to, and everything has a zipper.

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