When theme park and amusement park fans begin to plan their dream trip or their first regular visit to their home park, some people have the basics down. They save up to buy tickets or season passes, make overnight accommodations, pack a bag with sun block, sunglasses, comfortable clothes, swimwear, maybe a poncho. They may have carefully researched travel times, hotel reviews, available discounts, local traffic, and what time of day and which day of the week a park may be the busiest, but there are other considerations that can make or break a trip that many either never need to think about, or never realized it may affect the outcome of their venture. For some, the question is “Will I fit?”

The Roller Coaster “Walk of Shame”

Rougarou - Cedar Point - Larger GuestsIt has been an increasingly common site at least in American theme parks and amusement parks, a guest of a larger size tries out a test seat and has to pass on a ride, opting to wait for their friends at the exit. Then there’s the worst case scenario, what’s come to be known as “the dreaded walk of shame”, when a guest either skipped the test seat or there was simply no test seat available (something fairly common for older rides) and when attempting to get buckled in, there’s not enough seat belt, the lap bar won’t go far enough, or perhaps they simply cannot squeeze between the seat divider of the common Philadelphia Toboggan Company car on a classic wooden roller coaster.

After a few uncomfortable moments of squeezing and tugging, maybe an expletive muttered under the breath, the ride attendant says, “I’m sorry Sir/Ma’am, but you will not be able to ride the Bone Crusher today.” The guest then has to walk to the exit in front of the train full of eager riders as well as those waiting for their turn in line. It’s embarrassing, can make you feel bad about yourself, and if the Bone Crusher was the one ride you’ve suffered through all of the hype and rabid speculation for, waiting all winter to experience its thrills and wonders, it can be a crushing blow to your ego and impact the overall satisfaction of your trip.

Big Boy Seats & Park Warnings

Americans are getting larger, this is not something new, and many enthusiasts have written about their experiences, writing tips on their blog, or discussed it at length in online forums & social media. The industry is keenly aware of this fact and has gone out of their way to try and keep riders of all sizes safe and happy. This comes in the form of providing test seats, warnings on park’s websites and at their ride entrances advising as to whether larger guests may want to give it a pass, lest they become the next victim doing the walk of shame.

GateKeeper Twists Over Cedar Point EntranceIn recent years, it’s become common for manufacturers, especially the popular Bolliger & Mabillard (B&M), to provide certain rows or seats with a longer seat belt that can help. Often called the big boy seats, B&M has included this feature on at least three new roller coasters at my home park that I’m familiar with. If it weren’t for the big boy seats I would have been unable to ride GateKeeper (2013 Wing Coaster), Rougarou (2015 Floorless Coaster, formerly the uncomfortable stand-up coaster Mantis), and Valravn (2016 Dive Coaster). These three rides can be found at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. For GateKeeper and Rougarou, the 4th row is where these seats can be found, indicated by a telltale red seat belt for the former and two belts instead of one for the latter. On Valravn, each row has one big boy seat available.

My Experiences

The inclusion of this feature has been great for me, but it took a good kick in the pants to realize how much weight I’d gained over the years. That kick took place in 2013 when, attending a media day event for Cedar Point’s entrance-transforming GateKeeper, I realized while attempting the test seat that even though it did offer a big boy seat, that I was just too big to ride. That motivation helped me to lose about 10 lbs for next season, but I was a bit flabbergasted. Why was it I had no problem at all riding in the one-size-fits-all seats of Cedar Point’s Maverick, a ride designed by Intamin which is way more extreme in its maneuvers, practically attempting to buck riders off? Yet, at the same time, the same manufacturer’s other offerings at the park including Millennium Force, Wicked Twister, and Top Thrill Dragster had been off limits to me due to my weight for years?GateKeeper Entrance - Welcome Coaster Fans - Media Day 2013 Regardless of the why some designs are more accommodating then others, I knew the real answer was that if I wanted to ride, I needed to make some serious changes in my lifestyle in order to continue riding.

So, I made some changes, exercising more and trying to set limits and restrictions on my intake of food & drink. In 2014, I finally rode the now not-as-new GateKeeper, but I was still missing out on a lot. A pinched nerve in my neck mid-summer in 2015, and a slipped disc in my back the next summer left me both too injured to even attempt further visits and worse, it prevented me from getting the exercise I desperately needed. It was Christmas by the time I healed from that slipped disc, but I was determined. Using the cliché New Year’s resolution as a starting point, I began to ease myself into new routines last winter which have led to significant weight loss and, hopefully in the next few months, allowing me to get back on rides that I’ve been dying to revisit for years.

To this date, I’ve lost 30 lbs and while I still need the big boy seats, it has been getting easier and easier. Not everyone is so lucky and I’m very cognizant of the fact that even significant lifestyle changes can do nothing for someone whose disability or health problems prevent them from obtaining similar results. However, my motivation to succeed in what I’ve been calling my Millennium Force Mission has been strong and I have no intention on giving up now.

11 Responses

  1. Coaster Whore

    Man, I’m glad that you wrote this post and that I found it. I too have had to deal with the walk of shame for YEARS, and it was no fun. You mentioned about all of the planning that people would do for their visits to a park, one of mine was to ensure that I had to wear some basketball/mesh shorts. It was ONLY these type of shorts that allowed me a little extra room to slide down in the seats and attempt to make the seatbelt click. Any other material of shorts would make it pretty impossible. I’ve been in your same exact predicament with setting a “Millennium Force Mission”, except mine is with El Toro @ SFGA. That’s one right that I have NOT been able to ride since its debut due to my size, BUT all that *hopefully* has changed as now I’ve lost 80+ lbs and have been able to get on coasters that were once an automatic NOPE. I shocked myself last year when I took a gamble to get on Superman at SFA, and the seatbelt AND lapbar fit with no problem, El Toro, this summer, I’m coming for you! To you brother, stay at it with the exercise and healthier eating habits and you will absolutely reach your goal weight.

    • John

      I’m thrilled you liked the article and that’s great you’ve got an El Toro mission going! El Toro is on my bucket list and I’m certain where I’m at right now I’ve got some ways to go before I’d be able to ride. I will definitely keep going and working hard. It’s fantastic what you’ve accomplished and I hope we can continue to inspire others! Thanks again for reading and commenting!

  2. Jon H

    Great piece. Personal and meaningful, and one that needed to be written, as the topic is under-discussed. I’ve been blessed, per say, to be skinny; the ability to ride has always been a guarantee for me. So it’s good to gain the perspective of someone with a different experience. I hope you will continue your Millennium Force Mission and one day maybe not have to worry about red tags and double belts!

    • John

      Thanks Jon! It means a lot to me to be able to share my perspective and your kind words are greatly appreciated!

  3. Amy Ross

    John, this is wonderful motivation! I’m so proud of you. I know how much you love your coasters!
    Love, Amy

  4. lily the walrus

    It bears mention that exceptionally tall folks, even if their body type is otherwise average, may run into difficulty as well, especially with over the shoulder restraints. I saw an embarrassed and disappointed tall guy go through this on Wicked Twister at Cedar Point. I feel so bad for anyone who has this experience — it’s a double whammy, embarrassment AND not getting to ride.

    And yeah, El Toro is TOTALLY worth getting motivated for–after all is said & done, many coasters later, it’s still my #1. So hang in there!! You will be so glad you did!!

    • John

      Thank you so much! You are right on in that there are definitely height limitations some folks have to take into account as well. On the same signs near ride entrances and also on websites, it’s common to list the other side of the height restriction, and for folks that are right around that height (often 6′ 6″), it can be hit or miss. Onward with the Millennium Force (and El Toro) Mission! Thanks again for your kind words and pointing the height issue out!

    • Big Pat

      Good luck and enjoy El Toro. I am 295, 6′-0″, 46 waist. Sometimes I fit, sometimes I don’t. However, I bet I can protect the quarterback better than any other guy in the park.

  5. Bobbie Butterfield

    Good article and congratulations! Coincidentally, I had been thinking of writing something on the same topic but you beat me to it. I’d even had someone record a video of me in a ride test seat but the audio was drowned out by the roar of El Toro thundering downhill. And speaking of El Toro – at my home park and still my favorite of the 132 coasters I’ve ridden – I can’t even count the number of times I’ve seen someone do the walk of shame after failing to fit into the tight restraints. There is a test seat at the entrance to the ride and for the life of me I don’t know why more people don’t try it out before getting in the queue. On busy days I’ve seen people who couldn’t possibly fit under the lap bar standing in line for a considerable time. At times I wished I could tell these people that they’re wasting time that could be better spent elsewhere but of course I couldn’t because that would be cruel. Not only is it an embarrassment for those who end up doing the walk of shame; it’s an inconvenience to riders who have to wait for the train to be dispatched while ride ops do everything in their power to try to jam the lap bar down on people for whom it was not designed, only to give up because it simply isn’t possible.

  6. Kevin

    Great article, and very motivating. I love thrill rides, especially coasters. My older daughter, who also loves rides, is now at the height where she can do these rides. I felt terrible when we were at Six Flags Great Adventure and I couldn’t fit on the bulk of them. I made a promise to her that I’m going to make it a goal between now and the season opening next year to lose weight, and we’ll get a Flash pass and do them all. Keep up the hard work. I’m just starting mine.

    • John

      Thanks, Kevin! You can do it and it’ll be so great to ride with your daughter. Cheers!


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