Pamela Denman knows, “The world was not made for me,” so she tries to make it more inclusive for others.
Over the years, the self-described “Plus Size Fairy Godmother” has visited hundreds of theme parks and created a wealth of personal knowledge, which she shares online as Pammie Parks Plus. One of the questions she regularly faces is which tours are “fat friendly”.
Although minimum height and other types of requirements can be easily found on park websites, she said, “There’s no tab you can click on that will give you information that will help someone with the size. That’s something you have to find through other resources, usually from other people who are as experienced in the fields themselves.”
Many theme parks offer test seats for thrill rides, so guests can decide if they’re a good fit before standing in line and risking the “walk of shame” if they’re turned away, but even then it’s not cut and dry.
“I’ve gone on a ride and I lie in the seat, the restraint comes down, but there’s something about the ride itself, where the movement of the car and maybe the restraint, the way it’s positioned, where it’s really uncomfortable, and it’s scary,” Denman explained. “You know you are safe. You know you’re not going to fall out of the vehicle, but it’s scary because you’re worried about, ‘Is my body going to hurt when I get out of here? Will I get bruises? Will I be able to walk around for the rest of the day?’ ”
The biggest question is, perhaps, why aren’t more things done to accommodate more guests, when most US adults considered overweight or obese. To find out, USA TODAY spoke with several attraction manufacturers and industry experts.
“Our goal is to include everyone, as much as we can,” said Jacob Kilcup, director of Design and Engineering at Rocky Mountain constructionwho created ArieForce One at Fun Spot America Atlanta and Iron Gwazi at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. “Of course, however, safety is paramount. These are big, aggressive machines so we have to make sure they are designed in a way that the rider has the ability to ride and ride safely.”
The size of the passenger is one of many aspects to consider.
“You’re designing the seat to be comfortable, but also to withstand (G) forces and how the forces act on the body,” said Har Kupers, CEO Vekomaincluding TRON Lightcycle / Run at Walt Disney World and Big Bear Mountain Dollywood.
Kupers, who started out as an engineer, said restraints have to be strong enough to withstand those G-forces and be able to hold passengers in them because “when the restraint is gone, when there’s a gap or whatever, you’re done.”
He said that it is easy to calculate the strength. “If you have a guy from 100 pounds (to) 300 pounds, it doesn’t matter.” He said that it is challenging to restrict passengers of different sizes. “Even if the restraint is strong enough, how could people escape from that seat?”
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One size does not fit all
Most attractions are designed to accommodate the widest range of guests in each seat.
“The harness system you design has to work for that youngest person, the smallest size that’s allowed to go on that trip, but you also have to look at the biggest person you’re going to have,” said
Jim Seay, president and owner Rides Premierwhich designs and manufactures attractions for the likes of SeaWorld, Universal Studios and Six Flags.
Seay, whose background is in engineering, is the chairman of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions The Global Safety Committee and ASTMs The F24 Committee on Raids and Amusement Devicesglobal committee that sets industry standards for attraction safety.
“You could make it bigger and then restrict the younger or smaller people from riding the ride,” but he said that could take away some opportunities for intergenerational families to experience rides together.
But Denman said, “That family-friendly ride isn’t really that family-friendly if everyone in the family can’t go on it.”
“I’ve experienced it in the body I’m in,” she said. “But my family and friends don’t really get that … and it can be very disappointing for your family or travel group when you can’t enjoy things with them.”
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Why not offer different sizes?
Different types of vehicles can be designed for the same ride, as Vekoma did for TRON, mainly for people with disabilities.
“I would like to see the tours continue in the future, that there is an adaptable vehicle that is more suitable for people with disabilities, for people who use prosthetics, for people who are very tall, for people who are very short, for people who are very large,” said Denman, who also educates and advocates for people with disabilities. “These types of vehicles work for a lot of different people and are much more manageable and make a park much more family friendly and inclusive because more people can ride and enjoy the ride together.”
“That’s always possible, of course,” Kupers said. However, he noted that many park clients prefer a one-size-fits-all fit. “The challenge is to have one suitable seat and a limit for the maximum number of people.”
“The industry is pushing more and more towards trying to include more people,” RMC’s Kilcup said. “That creates engineering challenges, but I think it’s moving in a good direction.”
“It can’t be in our best interest to limit people (from) riding the rides when they could,” said Jakob Wahl, president and CEO of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.
Wahl noted that making tours inclusive is important for ethical and business reasons. “I can guarantee you that this is an ongoing discussion within our group on how we can allow maximum fun.”
Denman agrees, “Most theme parks try to be as inclusive as possible.” But she knows that more can be done.
She encourages travelers to contact parks, “answer their tweets, send them letters of request, advocate for ourselves and ask for the things we need to be able to enjoy all the rides.”