It seems like every week this summer, the news has stories of horrific injuries or deaths at an amusement park. With that, comes the predictable “I knew that ride wasn’t safe. They should have never opened it,” chatter online.
But, as hard to believe as it is: Amusement parks are not trying to hurt or kill you.
Around the turn of the century, things were different. Rides were a new concept and safety systems were, well – non-existent. In fact, a ride with a “killer” reputation was actually MORE popular, as people were willing to test their mettle against the machine.
But as the industry matured, so also did it’s guests – and the demand went from a killer coaster to a safer one. Manufacturers responded with the lap bar, seat belt and over the shoulder restraint.
It’s no longer in the best interest of a park to have a ride that’s not safe – and that’s been the case since the 1920’s. Coasters and flat rides can be millions of dollars of investment – and one accident could turn that investment into a fancy lawn ornament.
Yeah, there’s always the exceptions to the rule, but thankfully in this industry – they tend to be easy to spot. If a ride doesn’t “look” right – it probably isn’t. And if you don’t like the way it looks, you don’t have to ride.
So, with this rash of incidents across the country – could better oversight lead to safer rides? I’m not sure. Currently, the states regulate amusement rides, to varying degrees depending on location. Could a uniform standard be better? Maybe. But uniform rules have their drawbacks, too.
It’s hard to create a “one size fits all” methodology for the entire United States. If we can’t agree on anything in Washington, it would be tough to push through legislation that would work fairly for everyone.
I repeat this stat often, because it’s worth repeating: You have better odds of being injured driving to an amusement park than you do while inside. You may hear about a deadly crash on the freeway, only mentioned as a “Sig Alert” in a traffic update. A death on a coaster, however will cause the news choppers to be summoned to the scene.
So go to your local amusement or theme park with confidence – just follow the safety rules. A park doesn’t want to hurt or kill you, despite what the internet says. Because if they did – you wouldn’t be able to go back and spend more money there…
This past week, a guest at Six Flags Great Adventure sued the New Jersey park, because a loose cell phone smashed into them on the “El Toro” wooden roller coaster – giving the riders “substantial injuries.” Here’s the link.
Earlier this month, trains on California Screamin’ at Disney California Adventure were e-stopped when a guest whipped out a cell phone selfie stick (apparently to film themselves) all while the ride was in motion. As a result, guests had to be evacuated and the ride was down for over an hour.
Three days later, a ride attendant at Carowinds was assaulted when they refused to allow a guest to retrieve their dropped cell phone from the show building of a dark ride. The operator was shoved to the ground as the guest proceeded to walk along the track to retrieve their precious cell phone. The ride was immediately e-stopped and security arrived shortly thereafter.
Nearly a year to the day that Disney Parks officially banned selfie sticks and phones on rides, guests are still not getting the message – leave the phone in the station or in your secured pocket – and parks have not heeded the call to make it more clear that filming on a ride isn’t safe, or tolerated.
Our partner site, Thrills By The Bay had two guests whip out their cell phone on Twisted Colossus at Six Flags Magic Mountain – and when they told the operators, “…they practically shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘Well if they lose their phone it’s on them.'”
Actually, it won’t be on them – it’ll be on the face of an innocent rider, who never saw it coming.
Enthusiasts have been trying to warn parks and ride operators for years now about this – but no one seems to want to listen. Sadly, it may take more suits like the one against Six Flags Great Adventure before the industry steps up and tackles this problem properly.
It’s good to know people. But it’s even better to know there’s all sorts of things inside our favorite amusement and theme parks that can make your day that much more special, IF you know them! Here now is my top six most celebrated amusement and theme park “insider” experiences as parks open up for full time operation this week:
6.) Dole Whip:
Once only reserved for visitors to Disney’s Tiki Rooms, this Polynesian frozen treat is slowly making its way out from the mouse and into regional parks, to the delight of pineapple fans everywhere. If you haven’t experienced one yet – hunt it down or request it be brought to your park.
5.) The Rollback:
We ain’t talking about WalMart here…an exclusive experience to Intamin cable-launched coasters, this delightful event occurs when the launch isn’t quite strong enough to get you over the first hill, resulting in screams of euphoria from enthusiasts – and shrieks of horror from the general public.
In reality, it’s all perfectly safe and for the lucky riders, it’s like getting 1.5 rides for the wait of just one!
4.) The Round-Trip Skyway Ride:
Because nothing’s better than watching all those people in line scratch their head over why you’re not getting out of your sky bucket. But, with so many of these rides being removed in recent years, plus the increase in overall park attendance (which means longer lines for rides) this experience has become far more difficult to cross off your list.
3.) The Track Walk / Evacuation:
A very rare event that you don’t necessarily want to root for experiencing for yourself. Why? Because it most certainly means the ride will be down for at LEAST the rest of the operating day.
But the experiencing of walking a coaster lift is most certainly a memorable one.
2.) The Last Ride of the Night:
There is something oddly cathartic about knowing you’re the last person to experience all that fun. Well, at least until the mechanics come in tomorrow morning to start checking on things. this fun. But, until then…
And the number one most celebrated amusement park insider experience?
1.) Exclusive Ride Time (ERT):
The only thing better than the last ride of the night, is having the ride all to yourself or the group you’re at the park with!
Just think about it – no line and fast operations. It doesn’t get any better than that. Heck, it’s one of the biggest reasons I joined ACE!
Did I miss an experience? Do you have one to add to the list? Tell me about it on my social media channels or leave a comment below!
Over the past few weeks, as seasonal parks begin to thaw out from winter and re-open for the season, we’ve seen a significant uptick in news coverage of what we in the amusement park industry know as “evacs” – taking people off a ride either via the lift or block brake.
But what I’ve noticed lately is the media making a far bigger deal out of these events than necessary. It really came to my attention when one of my co-workers in the newsroom (who knows I’m a big park and ride fan) asked me, “What’s up with all these ride breakdowns lately?”
FULL DISCLAIMER: I am a credentialed member of the media. I broadcast the news on a daily basis. My job is to inform and educate the public via the airwaves. In a strange way, I could be seen as part of the problem based solely on my position.
On the other hand, I can be a harbinger for truth and education.
Let’s take that previous example of a coaster stalled on the lift. Why then does a person who’s car has broken down on the side of the interstate not make news? (Outside a traffic report). Think about it – here’s a ride vehicle, who has stopped suddenly – and is now on a median designed specifically for breakdowns.
How is that different from a coaster that stops on the lift or brake run – where there is a platform (or two) that allows guests to safely disembark?
I am missing something?
So today, I am challenging my fellow media personnel to better educate themselves so as NOT to sensationalize the unsensational. Because a coaster that has a simple malfunction shouldn’t be click bait – when we have so many other stories worthy of telling, instead.
Colossus – the wooden racing coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain that has been closed for several weeks to undergo a massive renovation, caught fire today in an area where workers were removing track pieces. A portion of the lift has completely collapsed, but the rest of the circuit appears to be in good condition, based off of video taken from the scene. The park was closed at the time – no injuries have been reported.
First reports of the fire came in around 2:30pm and immediately photos began to “light up” social media. The park and ride became a trending topic almost immediately:
The official statement from the park confirms that:
“(The fire) happened while work was being done to disassemble the ride. The park was closed and there were no injuries. Colossus has been closed since August 17 for renovation. Plans for the spring debut of Twisted Colossus are still on track.”
The Coaster Guy reported just a few days ago that he saw what appeared to be burn marks where track had been removed on the lift. The ride is being renovated by Rocky Mountain Construction, who have done several other ride modifications, but never on this large a scale.
So how will they accomplish such a quick turnaround? The answer is simple – they’ve got everything they need already on site to repair and replace: Because the re-design of the ride does not incorporate all of the original layout, there will be literally thousands of board feet of lumber on the site that can easily be recycled into repairing any damaged sections of the ride.
TO RECAP – an apparent construction accident caused Colossus’ lift to catch fire today – while it was under renovation and NOT open ot the public. Thanks to the efforts of both the park and Los Angeles County Fire Department, the blaze and subsequent damage to the structure was quickly contained -no one was injured.
A major incident tonight on a Six Flags Magic Mountain roller coaster has capped an already tragic day in the amusement industry.
First, a young, British teenager was killed after being allegedly ejected from an Intamin ZacSpin, called “Inferno” at Terra Mitica park in Europe.
Then, just moments ago – reports came in that Ninja, Six Flags Magic Mountain’s suspended coaster – had a major derailment, with at least one car wheel assembly completely separated from the track. At least four people have minor injuries, according to local media. Crews from the local fire department, as well as Magic Mountian maintenance staff are on scene, assisting riders as I type.
UPDATE: A statement from Park Public Relations Manager, Sue Carpenter: “The issue was caused by a tree branch fell on the track of the roller coaster obstructing the train.
In situations like this – and I cannot stress this enough – we need to let the investigations run their course. There will be much said over the next few weeks about maintenance, ride safety and parks in general that will be absolute junk and rubbish. “Coaster experts” will pop up all over the media, spouting off things that they have no qualifications to say, with their only qualifications being that they’ve ridden many rides.
You will not find any of that type of speculative reporting here.
Let’s allow the facts to come out – as speculation will only lead to rampant misreporting and really ends up being a complete disservice to everyone involved.
The thoughts and prayers of the entire Great American Thrills staff is with the friends and family directly affected by this difficult day.
This past month has not been a good one if you’re a wooden roller coaster residing at a Six Flags park. The chain announced the closure of not one, but two additional woodies: the Riverside Cyclone at Six Flags New England and the legendary Colossus at Six Flags Magic Mountain.
The Colossus rumor is the worst kept secret in the industry – but the Cyclone announcement was out of left field. In the past 5 years, five different wooden coasters will be either modified or removed from Six Flags parks. So why do I claim this as the “death” of the wooden coaster era there? You have to look at the pattern of other parks in the chain to understand it:
1.) Park builds wooden coaster.
2.) Due to unknown reasons (some insiders claim it’s to save money) maintenance is deferred, making the ride rougher.
3.) As a result, the coaster must be modified from original form to save on wear and tear, either via brakes or “topper track.”
4a.) The coaster is EITHER removed altogether due to lack of ridership, complaints or sheer amount of work needed to repair and restore it…
4b.) The coaster is modified to a steel track, provided by Rocky Mountain Construction, making it a steel coaster with wooden structure. (a la the “New Texas Giant,” “Iron Rattler”)
Now, to be fair – each of these rides (sans Medusa) were well beyond their prime. Of the five wooden coasters that have been converted to steel or are slated to close, three were heavily modified from their original form, making them shells of their former selves. (In the case of the Cyclone, the ride itself was just poor, rough and terribly paced to begin with.)
Hell, Colossus and it’s dual track hasn’t really raced for the past 20 years. Why? Usually only one track was open – you guessed it – to save on maintenance and wear. Anyone who’s ridden it this year will attest, the right side track hasn’t been used in months – and it shows.
Not many guests know, but most of the rides and attractions at Six Flags aren’t American built – they’re almost exclusively from Europe. The traditional wooden coaster is really America’s sole contribution to the amusement community worldwide (not forgetting the Log Flume).
So then, are we witnessing a generational shift in technology, much as our Great Grandparents saw the shift from side-friction coasters to safer (and more extreme) wooden upstop rides? Or are we witnessing a stopgap cost cutting measure? Tell me what you think in the comments section, below.
Personally, I’m torn – everyone loves the latest and greatest – but you have to remember and preserve the past, too. Wooden coasters are expensive to maintain, no doubt – but NOT maintaining them through their life ends up being more expensive in the long run.
My final thought – the Giant Dipper in Santa Cruz is 90 years old and yet it’s smoother than any wooden coaster at any Six Flags park. And yet, all of those woodies are at least 50 years YOUNGER.