Height limitations have always been a challenge for some amusement park guests, as safety features on thrill rides aren’t designed to accommodate every rider. But Mario fans flocking to Universal Studios Hollywood this month for the opening of Super Nintendo World may find themselves unable to enjoy the park’s most exciting attraction, this time because of their waistline.
According to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, Universal Studios Hollywood has warned that some guests might not be allowed to ride Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge, which allows guest to climb aboard a go-kart and experience the popular Nintendo racing game in real life through augmented reality effects and animatronic characters, “if their waistline measures 40-inches or more.” With the average male waist size in America now exceeding 40-inches, that limitation is going to potentially leave many guests very disappointed after enduring what will probably be very long lines at the new attraction.
In recent years, theme parks around the country have become more stringent about safety and the restraints used on ride vehicles, and it’s not just for high-speed attractions like roller coasters that can take riders through inverted loops and steep curves. As indoor rides have become more complex and now provide riders with highly immersive experiences, the technology they employ has also become more complex... and more dangerous.
Trackless vehicles now deftly weave through attractions like Galaxy’s Edge’s Rise of the Resistance with more speed and agility than the ride vehicles used on classic attractions like The Pirates of the Caribbean. As a result, while Pirates doesn’t restrain riders, Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge will, as there is a serious risk of injury should a rider exit a vehicle before the ride is finished. On top of that, there’s now even more emphasis on safely securing smaller children in the same seats used by adult riders, which contributes to more limitations for larger guests.
Jeff Polk, the senior vice president of resort operations at Universal Orlando Resort, told the Wall Street Journal that many of its parks’ attractions offer test seats located outside the rides as a result, allowing guests to test restraints and capacity ahead of time to avoid finding themselves turned away after waiting hours in line. But at the same time, some park visitors also told the Wall Street Journal that testing seating ahead of time can be awkward, embarrassing, and not always indicative of the ride’s actual build and design.
Some attractions, like Universal’s Islands of Adventure’s The Incredible Hulk Coaster in Florida, now offer certain seats specifically designed for larger guests. But as the pandemic-weary population is embracing travelling and vacations again, theme parks are bursting at the seams with hours-long wait lines, and there’s simply less incentive for parks to offer rides with seats they may not be able to fill every time the ride is operated.
Update 2/2/2023 at 11:00 AM ET:
Universal Studios reached out to Gizmodo to clarify that the 40-inch waist size guideline is not a hard limit and that some riders who exceed 40 inches might still be able to ride, depending on individual circumstances. In the company’s words, “This guideline is not a specific restriction, but is instead meant to encourage guests to try a test seat or to speak with one of our Team Members before riding so they may comfortably and safely board the ride.”
The company also told us that it is working to ensure test seats have a strong balance of privacy and ease-of-access, though did not provide specifics.
This is also not the first time the company has employed the 40 inch waist limit, with previous rides like Flight of the Hippogriff also warning larger riders to use test seats before boarding. Universal Studios told us that it has a task force looking into ride design and test-seat placement and that it is reconfiguring some existing rides, including Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, with an eye towards accessibility.