Theme parks hate bad press. Disney works tirelessly to maintain its wholesome, safe image; and as the behemoth in the market, a rare story of murder or mayhem makes the national news. No Orlando park wants guests to get injured or die. It’s not ethical and it’s not good business.
However, it happens. When deaths do occur on any park ride, the final autopsy usually blames it on something like “an unknown heart condition that he’s probably had since birth.” Men in my family tend to drop in their 50s, and it doesn’t take a doctor to explain why that could happen faster on a coaster at 50 mph than in a reclining desk chair.
Human error sometimes plays a part; however, it tends to affect a park employee rather than a guest. The Magic Kingdom’s sky ride – now gone – is an example. A maintenance worker got in the way of a ride gondola before the park opened and fell.
Rides, by definition, are controlled thrills. Still, safety is every parents ongoing concern. With that in mind, here are the types of rides to watch out for:
Slow rides are deceptive. “I can jump from car to car,” the 16-year-old says, oblivious to the fact the he, too, shall die one day. So he jumps. And misses. The illusion of safety empowers some people to take chances on slower rides. To make things worse, many slow rides use a magnet system to move cars, and the ride vehicles reverse a little if the operator stops them. That could be a double whammy for anyone trapped underneath.
One example: Disney’s Haunted Mansion uses a series of connected “tomb buggies,” that seat up to four people. At one point, the Disney special effects people make it look as if a ghost is sitting inside the tomb buggy with you. However, there are three different ghosts, so a kid in one car might see a way-cooler ghost in his brother’s tomb buggy and jump from buggy to buggy without thinking, falling between the vehicles as he does so. (Yeah – real example.)
Each high-thrill attraction has a laundry list of do-not-ride rules posted multiple times. Don’t ride if you’re pregnant, have back problems, a heart condition, etc. Yet people ride anyway. The Orlando Sentinel tracked the number of lawsuits filed against specific attractions over the past five years, with the analysis noted below.
Important point, however: The number of lawsuits is not statistically significant, and it’s not fair to say any of these rides is inherently unsafe. Second important note: In America, anyone may file a lawsuit about anything. Filing, in and of itself, does not imply guilt.
• 7 lawsuits: Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, Universal’s Islands of Adventure. A log flume ride, the threat comes mainly from slipping on wet surfaces.
• 5 lawsuits: Mission: Space, Epcot. Essentially a really fast Ferris wheel on its side, the ride is worse than it appears. Rumors say Disney slowed it down a bit after repeated problems early in its life – and they installed vomit bags.
• 3 lawsuits: The Black Hole, Wet ‘n’ Wild. One of many water slides, the Black Hole’s legal troubles may be bad luck. There’s an inherent danger in all water slides, and some of the fastest did not make the lawsuit list.
• 3 lawsuits: Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges, Islands of Adventure. Water and wet surfaces again come into play. This ride, which runs on giant inner tube boats like those found at many theme parks, has dips and falls. That, of course, also makes Popeye & Bluto one of the best. (At Disney, Animal Kingdom’s Kali River Rapids is a milder version.)
3 lawsuits: Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Note: Eleven other Orlando rides tied at two lawsuits each, including It’s a Small World, Disney’s slow-moving boat ride.