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”
It 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.
In 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.
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? 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.