Easy Riders: What You Need to Know

If you read just newspaper headlines, this one got your attention. It involved roller coasters.

And it was about Universal Studios Orlando’s Harry Potter ride.

An ugly picture: Some riders were retching.

Not a lot.

Just a few.

But that may have caught your attention.

Which may have made you even reconsider buying those Universal Studios Orlando tickets…even if they were discount tickets.

Yes, let’s not be surprised to consider that even coaster-lovers have at least a few qualms about riding them.

A doctor who has studied this subject, David Lewis, said:

“Your brain and body react as if you were in real danger even though you are well aware that the ride is actually completely safe. Excitement triggers what is called our body’s fight or flight response, which causes an increase in heart rate and sweating.”

Even just anticipating the ride while standing in line can cause excitement.

Lewis added:

“At the same time digestion is slowed down, which explains why when queuing for a ride you may notice your mouth has gone dry.”

This in no way reduces ride popularity.

Scary rides always popular

People like to get a little scared.

And estimates are that every year more than 300 million people…or more than the entire population of the United States…ride roller coasters. So says American Coaster Enthusiasts.

Complaints? Few.

And why not?

Coasters are enjoying a boom. And nowhere more than Central Florida, and its theme parks.

More coasters are coming.

So the news story about Universal had to get your attention…and even if you are an easy rider yourself, you may have a friend or other member of your group who has some queasiness when boarding a car to take you to new heights (and depths as well).

We’ll take look at that story, and give you some background information on coasters themselves (and some things you may not have known about them…despite your fondness).

Well, no matter how fanatic you are about coasters…and how much you adore, love, can’t-live-without them…this is not something you want to stomach…let’s say.

So let’s at least take a closer look at it.

Specifically, the stories…more than one…involved the new “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” ride opening at Universal Studios Hollywood next month.

Forbidden Journey in Orlando

It’s almost identical to the original in Orlando — “right down to the barfing,” writes a news story.

That report quoted aTMZ.com report saying the Hollywood ride prior to opening has been making people “hurl.”

That’s another word for “barf” (it’s amazing the wide variety of words for motion sickness).

The newspaper report said:

“Universal spokesman Tom Schroder wouldn’t discuss the TMZ report in detail. But he said guests’ physical reactions in Hollywood are relatively infrequent and happen no more often than in Orlando.”

It’s “the king of motion-sickness rides,” said Scott Smith, assistant hospitality professor at the University of South Carolina.

Schroder said “the number of people who have a reaction compared to the number who don’t is very small, and literally tens of millions of people have ridden these rides” in Orlando and Japan

Small numbers of riders have strong reactions

The story quoted those who were queasy during the ride.

One Atlanta woman rider tried the Forbidden Journey when it opened in 2010 as part of Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

She took Dramamine as a precaution.

It didn’t help.

She vomited twice afterwards.

In a trash can. And in the bathroom.

She felt better after resting a couple hours in her hotel room.

Others…at least a few…have had similar reactions, according to the story.

State law in Florida requires major theme parks to report ride-related injuries and sickness serious enough to send people to the hospital for more than 24 hours.

Universal Orlando has reported ten such cases of motion sickness or nausea for “Forbidden Journey.”

The tendency turned up mainly in older riders.

Older riders most affected

The two most recent recorded cases involved men in their 50s during the last quarter of 2015, the newspaper said.

With so much anticipation of and publicity about the Harry Potter land openings, Universal spokesman Schroder said some people might try “Forbidden Journey” even when they are prone to motion sickness.

The ride was described this way:

“Forbidden Journey takes people on a wild trip through iconic scenes from the Potter films. A robotic arm lifts the ride’s “enchanted benches,” moving visitors up and down and sideways around a room featuring a mixture of props and screen images. At one point, it flips riders onto their backs.”

The only major difference in the Hollywood version opening next month is that visitors wear 3-D goggles.

Schroder said the 3-D aspect has not made people ill.

Universal describes their more than two dozen thrill rides as “gravity-defying” that “hurtle you beyond your imagination.”

The rides are “guaranteed to get your pulse racing.”

Their advice: “Hold on tight!”

Roller coasters have come a long ways since the first one, called the Switchback Railway in 1884.

It opened in Coney Island, Brooklyn, and only reached speeds of six miles an hour. But it only cost a nickel to ride, and was popular enough to spawn a whole new entertainment concept.

As recently as the 1920s, there were only 145 coasters, according to trade groups. But now there are almost 1500 of them, an obvious indication of their popularity.

Coasters are high-tech models

The coasters are often models of how new technology is impacting theme parks.

That technology can bring a 60-mph ride to a bone-rattling stop in as little as 75 feet.

Did you also know…

Aluminum fins on the cars literally surf on electro-magnetic waves.

That means roller coasters can go from a standing start to 60 miles an hour in just over three seconds.

Much faster than even big horsepower auto engines.

That eliminates the need to send roller coasters up long, slow hills to build up speed on the other side.

One company notable in the field is Premier Rides, which pioneered the use of linear induction motors, or LIM, in thrill rides. It’s the same advanced technology that NASA uses for the space program

Designers say technology makes the rides faster, more exciting and more fun.

It also makes them safer, too.

Thank high-tech for safety

For that, say thanks to computer modeling and biomedical engineering that can precisely measure the forces exerted on riders.

As we have written about them before, the chances of getting hurt while riding one are rare.

They may be scary but they’re safe.

We have examined the safety issue before. And concluded that it is as safe as practically anything you do.

Including some non-thrill events. Such as climbing out of bed in the morning.

Yes, you are far more likely to die tumbling off your bed than get seriously hurt on a roller coaster, according to some studies.

According to the National Safety Council, you’ve got a 1 in 24 million chance of getting seriously injured on an amusement park ride.  You have a greater shot of dying by falling out of bed in the morning (a 1 in 423,548 chance, in case you were wondering).

So what’s it like to ride the Universal coaster in question…if you are a first-timer?

Describing the ride

One objective rider put it this way on the Internet:

“It has lots of jerks, ups and downs and you get some very bumpy flying lessons…if you can stomach it… I definitely struggle with motion sickness and this was the worst ride for me to get through. I just had to close my eyes at one point because I was so dizzy. The ride got stuck upside down for about five (minutes) so that was fun….For anyone with motion sensitivity, it’s a rough one.”

Before we tell you what to do about motion sickness, here’s a little about understanding it.

Motion sickness happens when the brain’s monitoring (official name: equilibrium or really sense of balance) can’t make sense of where you are going. So the body rebels.

The result: dizziness, slight in some and not so in others.

“Sometimes a sense of impending boom,” says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This is ok unless it leads to real nausea.

Motion sickness hits people of all ages. It seems to especially impact older riders.

Coping with motion sickness

So what do you do if you want to ride a coaster…or please someone else in your family despite your unease at the prospect?

One answer was the person in the newspaper story who took Dramamine (it didn’t help her but many others have reported far greater success).

There are non-drowsy versions of Dramamine.

Other even milder drugs and anti-motion sickness bands are also readily available at any drug store.

You can also apply scopolamine or other anti-nausea patches.

But what if you don’t want any drug?

Just to ride totally clear-headed and drug-free?

There are things you can do (either for yourself or to suggest to another family member or friend):

—Sit in the most stable part of the ride. That is almost always the middle. Riders seated in the back and front tend to get whipped around the most.

—Breath deeply if you feel any discomfort. Large amounts of air will help maintain your sense of well-being.

—Try not to ride on an empty stomach. Stomach juices are secreted from ride stress. While this sounds counter- productive to feelings of motion sickness, eating a small and simple meal (with bread staples or crackers) an hour or two before a ride might help.

—Drink water before riding, and not soft carbonated drinks which tend to cause bloating.

—Ginger ale is also a stomach-settling drink. Ginger itself has good qualities. And you can buy it anywhere (with or without the drink).

—Keep your eyes on a fixed point. You are more likely to get dizzy if your eyes are swirling around in front of you. Keep your eyes on a fixed point wherever you are. On a roller coaster, it helps to stare at the car in front of you or simply to close your eyes

—If you do start to feel ill, keep your head straight. Tilting your head will make it worse.

If you’re a fan, consider this also

Even fanatic coaster-lovers might want to know when to say when. Or enough.

Many riders do go on repeated rides.

And no one is telling you to quiet. Or when.

But common sense comes in here.

And the best advice is to relax for a while between rides.

Take some recovery time.

This is particularly true with swinging and spinning rides which are most likely to trigger motion sickness.

One more footnote

It’s not a roller coaster and you have to get to Los Angeles to try it…

But if you want a thrill, and you really like heights, you can find a clear glass slide atop the tallest building west of the Mississippi.

It’s 1,000 feet above the ground, taking riders from the 70th to the 69th floor of the US Bank Tower in downtown Los Angeles.

Nothing but two-inch glass separates you the rider from the ground.

Far below (the building is 72 stories tall).

“There will be nothing like it in the US,” said Lucy Rumantir, head of US operations for the building owner OUE Limited of Singapore.

“Promising to provide both a thrill and quite the view for anyone willing to open their eyes along the way,” according to news accounts.

It only costs $8 for a ride.

No one has yet to report any discomfort or motion sickness.

But it does not open till next June. ###