Safety in the amusement industry is an ever moving target. There are many factors at play like rides pushing new thrilling boundaries, new technologies, and guests behavior. Last year parks like Universal and Six Flags started requiring locker rentals for lose articles on select rides and enforced it in their own ways. In the past it was up to the rider's discretion on how to store loose articles. These new policies were met with sarcasm and many people acted as though it was an annoyance, with little regard for the goal of these rules. Recently Cedar Fair has joined in with similar rules on select rides and this time the reaction was anger. Many people’s initial reaction was to call this policy a way to increase guest spending, and sarcastically called these attractions up charges because of the locker policy. But there is a hint of truth to this complaint.
Before I discuss the merits and pitfalls of these new safety rules I wanted to go back for perspective. First if theme parks weren't safe they couldn't remain fun. No one is going to say this would be more fun if it were less safe. However I was thinking about how parks have changed over my lifetime and many things I experienced in the past would not fly today, but at the time they didn't trigger a warning for me.
I am going to try and not sound like old man roller coaster here, but I recall a time before air gates that separated guests from the boarding area. The safety device at the time was a line painted on the floor and for the most part guest obeyed the line without instructions. This is a foreign concept today, but it's addition didn't really impact my experience as a guest. I also remember ride ops hyping up the train by running past it giving high fives while the train was moving. Again this would be crazy today, and ride ops have specific places they need to stand, with foot pedals or buttons to ensure they are following safety procedures. Again this just disappeared and didn't really affect me. Then there is Action Park, what would they have said about safety back in the day?, hold my beer. They were the actual case study in safety vs. fun, and was extremely popular almost a right of passage at the time. How was safety implemented at Action Park? Where to begin; attractions that were controlled by guests, designed by amateurs, and allowed people to bring in their own alcohol. This place would have made any insurance adjuster have a panic attack. And there is the real driving force, insurance premiums.
That brings us full circle back to lockers and loose articles. If state regulations don't keep up with safety or change as fast as needed the fear of liability is a driving force. And here is where the disconnect between the parks goal of safety and the guests perception of being squeezed for more money come together. The parks want to add safety procedures, but have not invested in making the experience safer, and at the same time added a cost for their guests. But the most important issue would be that it is doomed to fail. It actually encourages guests to not comply with a safety rules and could negativity impact other park rules. If a guest is trained to ignore or circumvent one rule it probably will trickle down to others.
The main issue here is implementation, in the future it might seem as crazy to ride a roller coaster with something in your pocket as it would be for ride ops running next to moving trains high fiving guests. The problem is everyone is in love with their phone, and lines are long. Ironically parks are making Wi-Fi free and have good coverage, but they are taking the device away to help you use it to pass the time. There is another motivation for guests to not comply that needs to be addressed by the park. There are many groups of kids/teens from; school groups, camps, and locals who are dropped off. Typically unaccompanied minors don't have credit cards, and the ride locker systems are increasingly cashless. I know responsible teen is an oxymoron, but if one was in line with me they might not have the ability to use the required lockers. They have probably also been instructed by their parents or supervision to keep their phone on them to check in. This is a major demographic of roller coaster riders. This policy of no loose articles is designed for my safety, but since it isn't implemented in away that guests like it will frustrate many and be ignored by others. This just leaves guest in danger of being struck by falling objects, as I know firsthand, and frustrated. So who wins? Right now the parks as they will get more revenue from locker rentals, and lower insurance premiums. How can we all win? Many suggestions are swirling around, and I have heard many good ideas. I won't weigh in on the best solution, but I know the only way parks are going to get guests on board is to share in the solution not just point us to a pay service they already have. Please find a way to work in changes in infrastructure with these new policies to make guest want to follow safety rules, and don't take away my phone while waiting, just while riding.
I've been seeing a lot of angry people the last couple days over the new "no phones in the queue line" policy for Steel Vengeance. There are similar policies for some other really popular rides as well and most of the discussion has been around money (the parks' potential loss of a lawsuit versus their potential profits from locker rentals).
Let's put aside that particular topic for a minute and have a conversation about having a "queue line conversation." This is something that those of us that grew up without cell phones (especially smart phones) are probably used to. In fact, it's often how I made new friends in the park and found my "riding buddy" for the day or at least for a couple hours.
For some backstory, I grew up in the 80's and was the youngest of three kids. My parents were older when I was going to Cedar Point and Geauga Lake and other random parks as we traveled the country. Most of this time, my parents had issues with arthritic knees or back issues and didn't want to ride many of the more extreme coasters, so if my sisters didn't want to ride with me, I'd have to ride as a "single rider" and hope to meet someone in the queue line that was also a single rider and wanted to ride together.
It can sometimes be tricky to start a conversation with a random stranger, so start with something you have in common...you're both there to ride the ride that you're in line for. Start by asking the person if they've ever ridden the ride before. If they have not, don't ruin anything for them or scare them to death or lie to them, but assure them that there's nothing to worry about and that it's perfectly safe if you've ridden it before. If neither of you have ridden it before, then you already instantly have a bond and you can say something like, It's my first time too, I'd love to hear what you think about it after we've ridden it."
If you find that the person is knowledgeable about the current ride, you may want to start talking to them about the park that you're in and see how much of an "expert" they are (you never know, you may have just run into someone like Andy or Danny, or even Devin Olson, the founder of COASTER-net and Devin Olson Media). From there you may be able to start a conversation about how well-traveled they are and compare and contrast favorites...this might be a great time to invite such a person to our COASTER-net Poll and Thrilling 32 Bracket Challenge. More information about this can be found at ridewarriorchoiceawards.weebly.com.
The conversation then may switch to what communities you are a part of. Exchange information about what clubs or forums you are a part of and encourage them to check out our YouTube channel, Facebook, and/or Twitter to connect with us. I know this is usually easier if they can have their phone with them. As an admin for the site, I usually carry business cards around with me that have this information on them to easily share with people in the queue line. We also sell T-shirts with some of this information on them and these too are great conversation starters, especially if people are already familiar with the site or our YouTube shows.
Now, if you're already in a group of friends, you may not be extremely interested in meeting new friends, but you still may need some ideas on how to pass the time. Hopefully you feel comfortable enough to talk to your friends in person, but sometimes it may be the first time meeting someone in-person--especially if you're at some kind of meet-up or club event. Here are some ideas on "ice breakers" that work in theme parks just as well as they work at any party:
1) Ask everyone to tell their name and something about themselves that they think people don't know. Be careful to not "over-share" here.
2) Play a game like "Never Have I Ever" or "Two Truths and a Lie" where you have to guess from what you know about the person whether the person is telling the truth or faking it.
3) If you're really bored in a line because of something like a mechanical failure, you might want to try a game with the people around you like getting people to name a coaster that starts with the letter 'A,' then the next person has to pick a coaster starting with the letter 'B' and so on. People will learn of how many coasters the other people know about that they don't even know.. It's not a bad idea to say where the coaster is located in case it's one you've never been on. I try to stick with coasters that are operational when I play this game because I feel like the point of it is to encourage people to go new places and try out rides they've never experienced, not to tell people how much more I know about coaster history.
These are just a few ideas that I've learned from my friend Devin Olson who was the founder of COASTER-net.com and my best friend while I was at college at Liberty University. I hope some of these ideas are valuable to you as you visit your favorite amusement parks, theme parks, and water parks, and maybe even some of your favorite theme park haunts this fall (I hear the lines for the houses can get pretty long there too). If you have other ideas that you'd like to share with others, feel free to look for this post on our Facebook or Twitter pages and share your thoughts there.
Hello coaster friends,
We are deep in the heart of speculation season. Parks have all been open for awhile, the new for 2018 rides have been unveiled, and a lot of energy and imagination switched gears towards the future. Enthusiasts are watching for teaser campaigns, survey markers, construction fences, and other rumblings that may foreshadow something to come. Is that spray paint dot that wasn’t here last week a mark for a new roller coaster, or a water fountain? And if you are at Kings Island, no it is 100% not for a giga coaster!
The next part of that speculation turns to what type of coaster is going to be built and by whom? When I was a kid Arrow was the go to answer for getting people's’ excitement level up. They were promptly replaced by B&M. Premier Rides had a moment in the sun, but then Intamin started getting the contracts for some really serious rides. For a long time it was all Intamin or B&M and those were the only two flavors out there. Then Intamin faded away and a new kid on the street RMC stepped forward and became the flavor of the day.
Now as enthusiasts focus on the 2019 season and beyond what is the flavor that is making people drool? It seems to be Mack, according to people I talk to, social media, comment sections, and message boards, Mack has got to be working on the *insert your favorite park here* project. That is quite a bit of work for a company that is just starting to develop a foothold in the North American market. There are already seven confirmed projects being built in North America and several more speculated to be announced in the coming months. So how many Mack coasters do you want?
One thing that has fueled this desire is that we, coaster enthusiasts, want a new experience. We have been watching from afar as Mack rides have been gaining praise in Europe and Asia. Let’s just admit it… We are jealous! We want to taste the Mack flavors! If you comment Wild Mouse we aren’t friends any more! But before you get disappointed that Mack isn’t announced to be working the project you have been speculating on don’t forget about what else is out there. B&M is sweet and always pleases. Gerstlauer has become an acquired taste that gets more and more praise for their newer projects. Vekoma is new and improved now with a new formula. RMC is like sriracha just put it on anything and it makes it better. Intamin is spicy, it is bound to surprise and leave you trying to catch your breath. My point is if everything is just one thing we lose the variety that we all say we like.