Behind the scenes of your favorite theme parks, there may be more scare and danger than you could have dreamed.
Since Monorails are such a familiar form of transportation at Disney (and other) theme parks, they must be safe, right? They’ve been vetted, tested and approved, and they are used around the country for transportation. The truth is that if they were completely safe, there wouldn’t be any accidents, particularly not deadly ones, like the one depicted here at Disney. And, while theme parks continue to work to make the monorail safer, it’s always a good idea to be fully aware of the danger.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported that the Disney monorail accident was likely a result of a combination of operator’s error and the coordinator’s failure to verify the position.” The American Monorail Project also claims that monorails have the highest safety record of any form of transportation.
Theme parks offer lots of fun activities, including great rides. If you stop to think for a moment, though, you’ll also remember that they always tell you to lower the safety harness/apparatus, and then say something like: “Keep your arms and legs inside the ride.” You may not think much of that statement, but it’s obvious that theme-park employees know a bit more about why that disclaimer is so essential before every ride takes off.
Kaitlyn Lasitter and her friends were on the Superman Tower of Power, Six Flags in Kentucky, when a fatigued cord came loose and wrapped around her ankles, severing her feet. There were calls for “Stop the ride,” but by the time the operator pressed the emergency “Stop,” it was too late.
Daily maintenance is required for all rides that are part of a theme park. The crew inspects tracks, checks safety systems, and even rides the units (typically on a daily basis). And really, that should be good enough, right? After all, if the ride is not functional, the theme park can’t make money off the visitors who ride it.
The problem sometimes arises when the maintenance is just enough to make the ride functional but may not account for long-time-use replacement and preventative maintenance measures. In the case of Kaitlyn Lasitter, for example, investigators found that the accident was caused by the “fatigued” cord, which broke.
Self-Inflicted Danger? Or Worse? Decapitation
So, yes, accidents do happen, and sometimes it’s related to lapses or oversight in maintenance or repair, but some disasters also happen when the visitors/guest force their way into restricted areas. Such is the case for one teen who was decapitated.
At the Six Flags Over Georgia theme park, the teen was hit by the Batman roller-coaster ride, but he had also climbed over two fences into a restricted area of the park to put himself in danger. Even so, the danger was there and very real. Questions will remain about what more could and/or should have been done to protect him.
Looking For Danger, Really?!?
Theme park employees say that guests/visitors really will do just about anything to put themselves in danger. That includes (but is not limited to) the parents who stuff their child’s shoes to make them appear taller for a ride. You may have also seen the roller-coaster riders who stand up while the ride is in full swing. Or perhaps you’ve noticed the parent who try to smuggle their infant onto a ride by wrapping them in their jacket.
Crazy, even haphazard, actions could cause any number accidents, and injuries (or worse). Fortunately, the employees have seen so many of the dangerous hair-brained antics that they can often head them off before anyone gets hurt. And, many of the most common idiocies really are more annoyances than anything.
It may not happen every day, but theme-park employees see it happen. Rowdy teens go topless on rides at Disney (and other parks). Sometimes it’s part of a “Truth or Dare” challenge. Or, perhaps (more likely), they are wired on caffeine and/or other illegal intoxicants.
Whatever the inspiration for their daredevil exploits, though, it’s often more of an annoyance than anything, particularly as the exhibitionist tendencies can offend other visitors. It’s unlikely that the visitors/guest will be hurt or permanently scarred (psychologically) by witnessing the topless shenanigans, but it does happen. Most any theme park employee will tell you.
Puke Happens, But Not Often
Yes, there are incidents of vomiting on roller coasters and other rides. Typically, the theme-park workers say that it doesn’t happen as often as you’d imagine. But, it just takes one person to start spewing their lunch.
Beyond the puke-splatter, the vomit can set off a chain reaction, eloquently known as a barf-a-rama. That means that one visitor/guest vomits, which causes others around him/her to also lose their lunch. The chain reaction can continue down the line, depending on the ride and also on how sensitive the visitors/guests are to the smell of barf. For everyone involved, employee and visitor alike, it’s not a fun experience. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want to be the one who had to clean it up either.
The little straps are designed to keep children from falling off their mounts. Instead of safety, though, they could put your kids in a whole world of danger. When kids really do fall off, the straps can catch them, prevent their falls, but also present very-real strangulation hazards.
The possibility of real-danger on the merry-go-round reinforces something that parents may overlook. Even in the most ideal, fun-and-good-times environment of a theme park, parents must be aware and cautious. In most instances, it’s likely that the ride is safe and fun, but if there’s even a chance of falling or otherwise harming themselves, parents must be close by and vigilante to the dangers their children may face.
It makes sense that it gets super hot for theme-park workers, as they are walking around the park. That’s why they’re required to carry water with them at Orlando’s Disney World, as well as other theme parks. Particularly when they’re wearing their costumes, the character actors can become quickly dehydrated.
Water is an essential requirement on a hot day, which is why most of the safety charts display reminders for guests/visitors to “Drink lots of water” while at the park. Beyond the danger of dehydration and heat stroke, guests/visitors can also be more susceptible to other health issues if they aren’t drinking enough water. It’s better for both guests and employees to stay hydrated.
Beware Water Slide Danger
In all the fun of a day at the water park, it’s easy to forget that water can be dangerous too! People sometimes travel as fast as 25 miles per hour, but the danger isn’t just around speed and the overall safety concerns with the slide at a water park. It can be much more basic.
A 22-year-old in New Jersey took the slide head first, and hit the water with so much force that he was paralyzed. Yes, he was traveling at high speeds, and his head-first orientation also exacerbated the danger. All of that, though, took place with a receiving pool that was also just 3-feet deep, which would be dangerous no matter what other factors were involved.
Human Catapult Insanity
A catapult is the contraption we’d expect hear about in relation to medieval battles and circus stunts, but people still create catapults in modern times, and they’re even found at famous theme parks, like Middlemoor Water Park.
While human catapults (and other similar rides) are not as common as they once we’re, you can still find them, and experience them, if you’re daring. To reinforce the danger of the contraption, Kostydin Yankov was killed when he was propelled into the air and subsequently missed the safety net. Strangest of all, it wasn’t the first time that injuries had been reported from the medieval-style trebuchet catapult.
Not For The Faint Of Heart?
There’s possible danger for kids and adult who have heart conditions and other serious illnesses or injuries when they ride on theme-park rides or other forms of entertainment. That’s what happened when Daudi Bamuwamye went on the “Mission: Space” ride at Walt Disney World. The danger took the worst possible turn, when the young boy died after becoming unconscious. It turns out he had an undiagnosed heart defect that placed him at extreme risk for sudden death if he were put under stress.
The lawsuit brought against the park claimed that Disney did not warn them of possible danger. After the wrongful-death suit was settled, Disney opened a version of the ride that’s been described as “tamer.” Cases like this serve as reminders to the theme-park employees and visitors/guests of the very-real dangers of these rides. It’s tragic, and the worst part about it is that these accidents are avoidable.
Panic Or Terror?
Yes, terror happens in theme parks. It’s often associated with the silly-scary stuff. Ghosts and goblins. Pirates. Even zombies. Most visitors love it, and even if they don’t, the reactions are manageable and even predictable. Panic is also one of the things that theme park employees learn to watch for and deal with, when it happens.
That’s because panic can become irrational and even violent. It can involve fight-or-flight psychology, which means that visitors are liable to do anything to get away from the situation that invoked the panic. It’s often predicated upon the perception that real danger is involved (even if the situation really is under control). Such panic can ensue if a visitor were to believe that he/she was trapped, in a life-threatening apparatus, or similar situation.
Injured? Upset? Sue?
Injuries do happen, even when great care is taken to avoid them. Even without injuries, catastrophes or death, some visitors just get upset, often for reasons beyond the control of the employees. To avoid further exacerbating the situation, employees are not allowed to talk with any guest/visitor who threatens to sue.
That’s not to say that they shouldn’t (or don’t) try to get the person assistance and help if he/she is injured, upset or confused. But, it just runs counter to the best interests of the theme park if employees do anything that might encourage or provide further ammunition for a lawsuit, justified or not. Employees say they’ve been told just not to talk to anyone who threatens a lawsuit.
Characters/Actors Lie A Lot
You can probably imagine many of the questions that theme-park actors hear on a daily basis, while they’re on duty as a character, around the park. Visitors (often children) want to know all the “secrets,” those burning questions they’ve always wondered about Cinderella, Snow White or even Snoopy.
What that means is that the character actors must know the storylines for their characters. For many young visitors, the characters come alive. They’re not just relegated to the big screen or the story book. Particularly as they watch them walk down the theme-park avenues, visitors want to explore the common knowledge about the characters, and then delve deeper. Where did the character grow up? What is his/her favorite color, or dearest dream? The character actors must be willing and able to embody and then tell the tale for real.
You might have imagined a team of make-up artists whose sole job it is to get the characters ready every day. The truth is that the make-up is a time-consuming process. Each character must “look” a certain way, and each actor goes through training that includes the make-up artistry of the role.
Each character actor applies his/her own make-up before every shift, and the process is also part of what it takes to become immersed in the role. Each of them takes on the look, and in (a very real sense) they become the character. So, whether it’s Belle, Tinkerbell or Captain Hook, the make-up and clothes make them come to life. And, no their hair is not real.
Is Snow White Really Sexy?
Some kids (and even adults) seem to find sexual assault hilarious. They grab every possible part of the character actors, no matter how inappropriate it may seem. It’s been called “frotteurizing,” or “non-consensual groping,” and it’s really irrelevant if the visitors/guests think it’s funny or harmless.
It’s actually offensive, battery and assault, and it’s perpetrated by men and women alike. Some of the worst offenders may be exploring heir attraction to the characters/mascots. Whatever the predilections, preferences or reasons for the groping, it’s one of the most obnoxious secrets from theme-park employees.
One Tough Gig?
You might think that dressing up as a character actor at a favorite theme park has got to be one of the best gigs in the world. The truth is… The job is much less glamorous than you might want to imagine.
Yes, the character shifts may be 30-minutes long, but they seem like much more, when you’re in a fully furry suit, walking through masses of clamoring people (some screaming, demanding or just plain rude). So, yeah. Are you really shocked that the character actors might not want to spend any of their free time at the park where they spend most of their days? Free or not, it’s just not worth it.
Music Gets Old
Yes, theme park music is happy, upbeat and cheerful. In small doses, you probably love it, when you visit your favorite amusement or theme park. But, you have to admit that any music heard over-and-over, every day for weeks and months on end will tend to get very old, tiresome, and even obnoxious.
It’s not something that most visitors would know, or want to even imagine. After all, many of the tunes, particularly at Disney parks, are childhood favorites. But, if you’ve ever gotten really tired of watching The Beauty and the Beast movie or listening to the soundtrack thousands of times, you’ve glimpsed into just a bit of the excruciating pain that theme-park employees experience.
You’re Not Going To Die, Probably…
According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, around 4,900 people are injured on inflatable rides. Of course, when asked, theme park employees are fond of reminding guests that the theme park is “certainly safer than their shower/bathtub and their car.”
The full and accurate statistics of theme park accidents may be difficult to determine, though. After all, accident reports are typically filed by the park, which may reflect the best possible spin on the incident. When serious accidents occur, the news tends to come out, but it’s difficult to say what the stats really are.
What is certain is that at least some of the worst accidents and injuries could have been avoided if the guest/visitor had followed the rules. Even if they do seem annoying and pointless, the rules are in place for a reason. If you follow them, you may just end up having a good time, and not getting hurt. At the same time, though, it’s always important to keep your eyes open and follow your instincts. If it doesn’t look safe, don’t go there!