Like many in the traveling public, I fall into the category of the obese. Despite the label, I’m a very healthy guy (per my family’s doctor) who absolutely loves the Orlando theme parks, including Universal Orlando Resort.
Unfortunately, not all attractions are equally accessible to all body types. If you consider yourself a larger person, plus size, curvy, or even just big-boned, there are some factors you’ll want to consider as you plan the rides you’re going to tackle at Universal. (Keep in mind that my advice is written for guests who are a little larger – if you have any medical issue, don’t follow my advice and instead contact your doctor or Universal directly.)
I imagine the first thing that goes through many people’s minds when reading this is, “Why not just lose weight?” Obviously, that is something that larger people have to deal with all the time. For many of us, life is a constant struggle with weight, and it can be very difficult to drop the pounds. A lot of larger people have various genetic issues that make it nearly impossible to slim down, yet they can still be in high health and have a desire to enjoy the parks as I do. Furthermore, “just losing weight” doesn’t apply when you fly many miles – and spend thousands of dollars – to get to Universal, only to find out that you won’t fit on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. As you might imagine, this is terribly upsetting.
The key to avoiding this – other than dropping a few pounds in the months leading up to your trip, if you’re able to – is knowing in advance which attractions may give you an issue.
Potential problem attractions at the theme parks
I currently weigh about 300 pounds and stand at six feet tall, with most of my excess weight in the belly. After many trips to both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, I know the rides that give a large person like myself the most issues:
Universal Studios Florida
Islands of Adventure
- The Incredible Hulk Coaster
- Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
The vast majority of the time, the problem concerns the restraint system. Let’s take a look at this issue in detail, shall we?
Testing the test seats
Located near the attraction entrance, each of Universal’s thrill rides has a mock-up of the seats and restraints used in the ride vehicle. Many people mistake these test seats for a photo opportunity and will take pictures or simply sit in them for a while, but they do have a purpose.
If you’re larger, you can avoid a lot of potential embarrassment and anger by using these test seats to see if you can buckle or latch them. Keep in mind there are no “weight restrictions” on any of Universal’s theme-park attractions; instead, it comes down to how your unique body dimensions fit inside each ride’s restraint system. Two people may weigh the same, but one will fit and the other will not – which is why the test seats are so important.
The Incredible Hulk Coaster
The test seats outside of The Incredible Hulk Coaster offer an example of the roller coaster’s specially modified seats that have two buckles instead of just the one. In the photo below, the seat with the red straps is the modified option:
There are three outcomes that can arise from your spin in the modified test seat:
- If you can fit very comfortably, with room to spare, you may be small enough to use the regular seats and sit wherever you like on Hulk.
- If you can buckle the test seat’s straps easily, you should be able to ride in the modified seats with no problem.
- If you fit, but just barely, you’ll need the help of another party member. Make sure you get seated first and have your companion push the restraint down enough until you can get it buckled. If it’s too painful, you’ll need to forego riding.
Here’s why this last point is so important: if you’re riding alone and can’t get the restraint on, you’ll be forced to ask an attendant to help. Sometimes, the team member will step up, give it a hard, gradual push, and get it successfully buckled. Other times, the employee will refuse – whether it be due to a lack of strength, or to simply err on the side of caution – and will ask you to leave the ride vehicle. If you bring your own back-up, you won’t have to take that gamble.
The specially modified seats, in case you need to take advantage of them, are located in rows one, four, five, and eight. Although their exact positioning in each row is different – for example, it’s the second seat in row one, but the third seat in row four – you can easily identify them because their restraints have red straps and two buckles instead of one.
Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls
If you’re near my size, I can gladly report that Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls (and, for that matter, Revenge of the Mummy) will most likely accommodate you – but there can be some challenges.
The Ripsaw Falls log vehicle fits up to five people in single-file accommodations, so it’s usually easy to get in. The problem occurs when you try to get out. The constant deluge of water makes the ride vehicle floors very slippery; when you attempt to exit the vehicle, you may have great difficulty, as I do, because the opening can be very tight for a large person, and it’s almost impossible to get your feet under your body to lift with your legs. If this occurs, you’re almost certainly going to need some help to lift yourself out. This can be a little embarrassing, so be sure to coordinate with that all-important party member of yours.
Revenge of the Mummy
The ride vehicle for Revenge of the Mummy fits me fine, but there’s a trick to it.
For the most part, I have little difficulty with this ride, as it features a mere lap restraint. However, the attendants will insist that the lap bar come far enough down that a light on the side of the vehicle shines. If you’re already seated, you may not have enough leverage to pull the bar down far enough to activate that light, and because of the way this ride is oriented, the team members will not be able to help you push.
But here’s my trick: Mummy’s ride vehicle seats four people in rows of four, with slightly more “leg room” (which can be Universal code-speak for “large guest room”) in the back row. Ask for that back row, suck in your gut as you sit down – quickly pulling the bar into place – and then exhale. This usually works very well, but be advised that this may be too tight for some riders (in which case you can just ask to exit).
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
This one seems to be the trickiest of them all. Since Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts‘s ride vehicle is extremely similar to Revenge of the Mummy’s, you’d assume that everyone who can fit on the latter will also be able to ride the former – this, unfortunately, isn’t always the case.
The Gringotts vehicle employs an additional shin guard, which seems to be what causes most of the problems (not just for larger guests, but also for those who are tall, regardless of their weight). Yes, that’s right – this one element might prevent you from riding, even if you can conquer all the other attractions on this list with minimal difficulty.
Fortunately, there are three rows per ride vehicle, with each subsequent row providing more and more leg room, so if you can’t fit into the front one, you’ll have some options. Unfortunately, there are no modified seats whatsoever, which means it’s the last row or bust.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey & Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
Unfortunately, these two rides represent an insurmountable challenge at my current weight. I’ve slimmed down 30 pounds in an attempt to ride them, plateaued at 300 pounds, and still have no chance in the foreseeable future – mostly thanks to their (newer) restraint systems, which don’t use any noticeable ratcheting to close around their occupants.
I strongly advise you to check the test seats to make sure you fit before riding either attraction! There are few things worse than waiting an hour in line only to find out that you don’t fit, and then taking the embarrassing walk of shame to the exit as everyone looks at you. Once seated in the test seats, pull in the restraint (or have your companion push) until the three lights on the side turn green – only then will you be allowed to ride.
Need some help fitting better in Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey? This little trick might work for you: first, put your bottom as far back in the seat as possible before leaning backward, then pull down on the harness – this seems to allow it to click into place more easily. And if you’re having problems with Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, remember that it has specially modified seats available in rows one and four.
A note about Forbidden Journey: when it first opened, this attraction was notorious for being nearly impossible for anyone over 220 pounds to ride. There were several reports in the media that made Universal look aloof at the time, causing the company some grief. As a result, Universal finally responded (nearly a year later) with modified seats that could accommodate some larger guests. Unfortunately, even with these changes, the ride simply won’t take guests with predominantly large chests. The only way to know for sure, again, is to try the test seats – if you can get the light to turn amber, you should be able to ride using one of the two outside seats in the ride vehicle.
Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
Unfortunately, the newest addition to Islands of Adventure has been known to pose a challenge for larger guests. Test seats are located both inside and outside of the queue, and I highly recommend you check them out before committing to the often-lengthy wait for this ride.
Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure offers two different seating options: the motorbike and the sidecar. The motorbike has you position yourself just as you would on a real-life motorcycle, while the sidecar has a lap restraint setup similar to Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Depending on your proportions, you may find it easier to comfortably fit in one location over the other, so be sure to try out both.
Surprisingly, of the two seating options, I’ve found that the sidecar is more likely to pose a problem than the motorbike. Just like Gringotts, Hagrid’s sidecar has a shin guard that may cause difficulty or discomfort for both larger and taller guests alike. The motorbike, on the other hand, offers a little more breathing room, making it a bit easier to get that light on the restraint to turn green. Your best bet is to opt for the motorbike and employ the same technique as you would on Revenge of the Mummy: sit up straight and suck in your gut as you pull the restraint down. And, as always, when in doubt, ride with a friend who can help you out.
One more note about Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure: remember how I said there are test seats both inside and outside of the queue? The interior ones are located quite a distance inside – just before you board the ride, in fact. Depending on your size, there’s a chance a team member will request you to hop into the test seat to ensure that you’ll be able to fit before boarding. If you can’t get the light on the restraint to turn green, you won’t be able to ride, so definitely be sure to take advantage of those outdoor test seats before you spend numerous hours in line.
Everything else at Universal’s two theme parks
Now, in addition to all the rides that we’ve just gone over, Universal also lists other attractions that may not be able to accommodate those guests whose waistline is 40″ or greater:
Universal Studios Florida
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
- Transformers: The Ride – 3D
- Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon
- Men in Black Alien Attack
- The Simpsons Ride
- Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster
Islands of Adventure
- Doctor Doom’s Fearfall
- The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
- Jurassic Park River Adventure
- Flight of the Hippogriff
- The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride!
- The Cat in the Hat
However, I personally have been able to fit on all these, and I haven’t heard of any serious issues for other larger riders.
Do keep in mind that some attractions – such as Spider-Man, Transformers, Jurassic Park, The Simpsons, and Despicable Me – all use single bars that pull down across an entire row. Despicable Me and The Simpsons, in particular, can get a little tight when the restraint is lowered. Because of this design, your size may leave a small child with a lot of extra room. This can scare some children when the ride starts, so be advised.
What about Volcano Bay?
Since Volcano Bay, Universal Orlando’s water theme park, consists mainly of water slides, it’s an entirely different beast. Some of the rides here do operate on a strict weight limit, especially those that use a drop door to send guests careening down. If you exceed the weight limit, you can’t ride – it’s as simple as that.
Here’s what Volcano Bay’s restrictions look like:
- Ko’okiri Body Plunge: 300 pounds
- Kala and Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides: 275 pounds
- Punga Racers: 300 pounds
In addition, there are a number of multi-person rides that have a total weight limit. I’m going to list these here, too, in case you had your eye on one of these, as well:
- Krakatau Aqua Coaster: four-person canoe; 700 pounds total
- Honu of Honu ika Moana: five-person raft; 700 pounds total
- Ika Moana of Honu ika Moana: five-person raft; 800 pounds total
- Maku of Maku Puihi Round Raft Rides: six-person raft; 1,050 pounds total
- Puihi of Maku Puihi Round Raft Rides: six-person raft; 850 pounds total
- Tonga and Raki of Taniwha Tubes: one- or two-person raft; 300 pounds solo, 450 pounds total
I will say that Universal seems to be constantly tweaking these weight limits (for the individual slides, at least), trying to get them as low as possible while still being able to maintain riders’ safety. Before you purchase your water-park tickets, take the ride over, and then wait in Volcano Bay’s “lines,” make sure to double-check with the company directly – it’ll potentially save you a lot of time (and heartache).
Finally, I’d like to point out that Universal uses the same fine-print disclaimer for each of the above rides: “This attraction may not accommodate certain people due to their body shape or size.” So just keep that in the back of your mind, as well.
Addressing our grievances
What happens if you have a condition that makes weight loss nearly impossible, and you simply can’t ride the attraction you want? All you can do is complain to Universal. Before I moved to Orlando, I went to Universal Orlando Resort shortly after it modified the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey restraints so I could ride for the first time. Unfortunately, I didn’t fit into the seat. I’d spent over $1,000 on my flight, room, and food just to experience the new Harry Potter attraction, and I was unable to do so. This upset me, especially when I thought about the fact that I didn’t have any trouble fitting on any of the rides at Disney, and some of them are very intense, as well.
Needless to say, I went to Guest Services and complained. To their great credit, they apologized and gave me a total refund for the admission to their parks. They told me they hear this complaint a lot, and they will take it into account in the future. Not long afterward, I spoke with a Universal engineer away from the parks, and he told me that they had factored this into the design of Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. If this is correct, then it means that negative feedback from larger people helped influence Universal’s design for a ride to make it more accessible. I was glad to hear this, and, hopefully, it bodes well for the park’s future.
Plan ahead and have a blast!
If you’re a larger guest, it’s best to expect some problems with a few of the rides at Universal. If it’s the first time you’ve heard of these issues and you’re planning on going to Universal Orlando within a year or so, then take that time to start dieting and exercising – maybe you can use this problem as an incentive to drop a few pounds before taking your big trip to the resort. I know this is easier said than done (I’m living proof), but just walking regularly will condition you to be able to at least navigate the parks without being overly fatigued or needing a scooter (don’t get me started on those things!).
If you don’t have the time to lose weight before your vacation, or if you just can’t reach an ideal weight, then use my tips – just remember that, even with all my information, you might not be able to get on certain rides. As long as you’re prepared for that potential disappointment, you can still have a fun time at this awesome resort!
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