How is the Spew Factor Weighed in Theme Park Design?

Posted by Rachel S on Friday, November 1st, 2013

Should rides be tested for the queasy factor?

On a recent trip to Six Flags Over Georgia theme park, we rode Superman Ultimate Flight. We’ve ridden it a dozen times but this time noticed something quite different thanks to a hang-up with the car in front of us loading and unloading. If you’ve ridden Superman, you know that it has ankle restraints and flips you horizontal so you face the ground. During the ride, this is interesting. Stuck waiting to disembark, you feel like cattle in a cart.

Hanging there at the end of Superman, you have no choice but to look down and what we saw was disturbing. On the metal grating below us, we could see stains. Upon a closer look, it became obvious these were stains from prior riders – years of riders – that had hurled at the conclusion of the coaster. A couple of rows up we could see a more recent explosion with sawdust tossed over it. These are permanent spots from stomach acid eating into the once pristine paint. See our pic below.

Vomit stains at Superman Ultimate Flight

This started me thinking about theme park design and motion sickness. Superman doesn’t normally make me want to hurl, but across the park Batman the Ride consistently makes me queasy no matter how much Dramamine I pre-medicate with. And yet Dragon Challenge at Harry Potter World in Orlando (a larger but very similar iteration of Batman) doesn’t make me nauseous – but does if I ride it more than once in a row.

Frankly, I’m prone to motion sickness. But I temper this by layering two different types of motion sickness medication and keeping candy on hand. Popping a sugary treat immediately after an icky ride helps. But it seems like some of these rides are intentionally nausea-inducing and makes me wonder if the spew factor is considered in design and tempered (or heightened) purposefully.

On our first trip to Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we rushed to the castle to revel in Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. I’m not sure how I made it through the ride without projectile vomiting – it was a close call and resulted in me spending 45 minutes in the nearby first aid office crunching Dramamine mega doses and applying cold compresses to my neck.

Even my husband – who has a pilot’s license and an iron stomach – felt his stomach roil on that one and I’ve never seen him bothered by any ride ever. Was this ride tested among normal humans? I’ve read similar complaints in other forums and I have to wonder if they knew too late in the process to try and make it less spew inducing or if they didn’t care.

The Spiderman ride is similar but not so intense, so I can live with it. But the new Transformers ride is much more Potter-esque and nauseating so I likely won’t repeat it often. In Russia, one ride is intentionally designed to induce vomiting (it seems to be their mission statement) and they take pride in it. Plenty of visitors queue up for the challenge so it must not be too off-putting.

And it’s not just tangible parks that deal with upchuck- even video game Sim Theme Park takes on the prevalence of barf at the park. One of the tasks maintenance men in your virtual amusement park must accomplish is cleaning the leavings of sick passengers. Ick. If you don’t clean up the vomit, your health scores decline and your park appeal diminishes – as it would in the real world.

Extreme Gs can induce motion sickness

So here’s my question – do ride designers take motion sickness into account when developing a ride? Is it possible to test the potential for motion sickness during the design phase or is it only able to be evaluated once it’s constructed at which point it’s too late? Who’s going to scrap a multi-million dollar attraction simply because it turns a few stomachs? How much upchuck is too much?

It’s the newest craze in 3D (and 4D and even 5D) projection-driven rides that are the hardest on my vertigo and yet these seem to be the trend and understandably so. When you can construct what is essentially a moving video game ride for 1/5 the real estate of a traditional coaster and enjoy the weatherproof benefits, why wouldn’t you?

Terror is preferable to nausea

For my amusement park dollar, I prefer to be thrilled (even terrified) and larger coasters seem to do the trick for me. Give me the Dragon Challenge, The Hulk, Goliath or the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit any day. Screams without getting green around the gills will always be my preference. Video simulated heights may fool my inner ear fluids into thinking I’m falling, but nothing will ever compare to the true life sensation of plummeting down a metal track, wind in my hair with the screams of genuinely terrified co-riders ringing in my ears!

image sources: EntertainmentDesigner.com, JobsPapa.com, Sharenator.com, MouseInfo.com

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