Fat Vacation Deathmatch: Universal Studios vs Disney World

I have now ridden every adult ride at Disney World and I fit comfortably in them all.  Feeling confident from that experience we went to Universal Studios because my best friend really wanted to do the Harry Potter Experience.  We got there and, after going through Olivander’s Wand Shop, we got in line for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

We waited for about an hour and a half and as we were waiting the gentleman in front of us (who was at least 6’5) was pulled out of line by an employee so that they could see if he would fit in the seat.  I looked directly at her, assuming that if there was any question about my size she would pull me too.  She just smiled and walked away.  When it was time to board I got in the ride and fit comfortably width-wise.  Then the park employee pushed down the restraint and it became obvious that I was to wide front to back to fit the ride. He said “We are unable to accommodate you safely” and asked me to step off the ride.

As soon as I stepped off the ride every employee knew what was going on and I was directed to an area I’ll call the FGHA (Fat Girl Holding Area) where I joined 7 other women waiting for their friends to get off the ride.  Oddly, everyone but me was offered passes to get to the front of the line in other rides. I have no idea why they weren’t offered to me.

My best friend, his husband, and I decided that we weren’t interested in spending our time or money at a park that wasn’t interested in my experience and we headed to guest relations.

First let me say that I certainly could have done a better job researching this.  I absolutely would have researched this further but I fit into all the rides at Disney World with so much room to spare that it didn’t occur to me that it would be a problem.  In researching it now I read articles that said that there were some seats made to accommodate larger passengers but this wasn’t offered as an option to me.  When we got to guest relations Samantha let us know that there were test seats available.  Unfortunately they were being blocked by a tour group and we didn’t realize that they were test seats at all (and the employees are told not to point them out to fat people).

The policy, as explained to us, is that employees can pull tall people out of line to test them in the seats, but they cannot even suggest to fat passengers that they do the same. So if you are fat and miss the test seats, nobody will say anything to you until you are sitting on the ride and an employee is pushing a restraint into your gut. Again – I could have researched it further and the tests seats would have saved 90 minutes of waiting but would not have changed the overall outcome.

Samantha in guest services, a larger woman herself, was extremely empathetic and kind.  She offered to tell me which rides she thought that I would fit on, but I politely explained that I wasn’t interested in giving the park any money or time since they had chosen not to give me the full experience.  She went to bat with her manager and we received full refunds for our tickets and meal passes. So, what have I learned?

I think that this illustrates well the issues with attaching shame to horizontal body size that is not ascribed to vertical body size.  The cast is allowed to pull people who are too tall out of line, but not allowed to even suggest test seats to passengers who may be too wide. The women in the FGHA with me were all embarrassed and ashamed but the tall dude was just annoyed when he was pulled out of line after waiting.  If we correctly acknowledged that bodies come in different shapes and sizes then 1.  all the people who Universal doesn’t bother to accommodate on their rides would be treated the same and fat people wouldn’t have to wait until they are on the ride to get kicked off and  2.  People would rightly place the blame on the park for choosing not to accommodate them, and not their own bodies.  Some of the women in the FGHA were talking about diets but the tall guy never once talked about trying to be shorter, even though our heritability and likelihood of changing our body size is roughly the same.

If you’re not going to accommodate guests of size, how about you let us know before we spend our money. The test seats should be in the front – before I pay or enter.  The website should give me the height, width, depth and any other possible measurements that each ride fits.  At least there could have been an employee pointing out that the test seats were hidden behind a large tour group,  but even if I had known about the test seats I still would have had to pay for the cab to Universal Studios, pay for a ticket, and walk all the way through the park to find out that they didn’t care if I got to ride the ride.

I’m confused about why Universal didn’t just make the seats more accommodating.  I can understand if a ride uses a lap restraint that goes over a group of people, that having it accommodate those with large thighs can be a problem (since then the lap bar is then too high for the rest of the passengers).  But this was a single person restraint so it seems like it could have been made to fit a wider variety of people.  It can’t be an issue of weight and physics since a person of my weight with a different frame could have fit on the ride.  If Disney World can make all of their coasters work for someone my size, why can’t Universal?  Or why won’t they?

One thing that I was very happy about was that I did not feel embarrassed, ashamed, or bad about my body or go into dieting thoughts as I would have in the past.  I was crystal clear that the park had decided that it wasn’t interested in giving the full experience to guests of my size –  the park is wrong for me, I am not wrong for the park. All of this work on body image and HAES is really paying off!

It was obvious when we went to Guest Relations that this had happened before.  I don’t know how often (although I do know that there were eight of us in five minutes in the FGHA) but my Best Friend was so excited he had planned to spend what he called “an embarrassing amount of money”.  He fully intended to buy every food and drink and a ton of clothing and souvenirs – basically any clothing that was available  and other toys and trinkets as well.  Instead we stood at guest relations while they refunded over $300 of our money and we didn’t buy so much as a butter beer.

My research shows that the park has been aware of this issue since before the ride opened, so I wonder if they did a cost benefit analysis and found or bet that most fat people would be too embarrassed or ashamed to make a fuss, and would spend their time and money in the souvenir shops and food court anyway.   I’m guessing that there are fat people who can’t fit into the rides and happily make the decision to stay and spend money at the park and that’s certainly their valid choice.  As for me and my house, we will spend our money at places that have proven that they deserve it.  I believe in hitting a fat-hating company hard in the checkbook and then kicking them in the bank account when they are down.  I had a fantastic experience at Disney World (my one regret about Disney was that I couldn’t find any merchandise with the dancing hippos from Fantasia. That jackass editor really made me want to collect stuff with them on it but it looks like they are out of vogue.), other than that everything was fantastic, they obviously wanted me to have the full experience, and that’s who will be getting my money now and in the future.

Blog Poll: I talked yesterday about the Georgia Body-Shaming billboard campaign, and  the brilliant Well Rounded Mama gave me an idea.  What if we did some fundraising and put up a billboard or two with our own slogans (for example instead of “Being fat takes the fun out of being a kid” something like “State-sponsored bullying and stigma takes the fun out of being a kid”.  We could even have a design contest and include a url to a resource list. I would be willing to coordinate the project, I just want to get a sense of the level of interest (if any) in supporting something like this before I do a ton of research.  What do you think?

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on January 8, 2012 at 8:07 am  Comments (82)  

82 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I love the story you tell about Universal Studios Bad Behavior and your perfectly wonderful response. It’s a good story. I hope lots of people read it because it provides a model for dealing with Bad Behavior. And I LOVE you idea of using billboards in Georgia to counter the state sponsored propoganda about fat bodies. I wish we could get some humanitarian organization that has as its purpose intervening in human rights violations, esp. violations of children’s lives, safety, and health.

  2. De-lurking to say HELL YES to the idea about creating our own billboards and slogans. I am so down and would totally try entering the design contest if I’m feeling particularly clever or artistically creative at the time.

    Also, glad to hear about your experiences. A) so I know never to deign Universal Studios with my business and B) because you inspire me to see the situation as wrong, not myself.

    (For example with B, I recently went shopping with my mom. A lot of clothes didn’t fit, my mom of course immediately went to the “If only I could lose weight,” and “why can’t I be smaller” thought process. Thanks to you the mantra that ran through my head during this was instead, “Companies who can’t design clothes to fit my body don’t deserve my money,” and “It is the clothing that is wrong, not my body.”)

    Thank you so much for everything you do here on this blog.

  3. I will give money for a billboard!

  4. Well done Ragen! I am glad you enjoyed Disney, and didn’t let Universal (now there’s an ironic name) hurt you.

    I love the idea of your billboard project!

  5. While i agree with you on most of your points, I don’t think i would want some park employee eyeballing me and telling me to see if I fit in the test seat. I think that would be likely to open more people up to fat hate because it is subjective rather than objective. I would rather find out myself that I don’t fit, be that by trying out a test seat or by trying to see if the actual ride fits me and if it doesn’t, getting off the ride.

    I had this happen to me recently at the Movie World on the Gold Coast theme park here in Australia. The pull over safety bar would only click twice rather than 3 times and as such I had to get off the ride. There were no test seats available (which I would have used if they had been available). I didnt bother to try any of the other rides (not that there were many I wanted to go on because I don’t like roller coasters).

    • I can’t remember where I saw it, but I’ve definitely seen one ride (a small ride, like a human bungee swing or something) that put out a test seat at the beginning of the ride. Since the seat itself was kind of complex (one had to fit front to back, side to side, and have thighs that fit the restraints), it especially made sense that people would want to try it out before standing in line.

      Particularly for major theme parks, I think it would make sense to: 1) have test seats available for as many rides as possible; 2) publicize the fact that there are test seats.

    • While I agree that I’d rather not be singled out to be taken out of line to the test seat, I think there’s a compromise position. Perhaps when lines start getting to a set length, have an employee go up and down the line making a general announcement about the test seat and assisting any visitors who’d like to try the test seat before waiting a significant length of time.

  6. When I heard of the new Harry Potter Experience I was so excited. I wanted to go. But then I heard that for whatever unknown reason they decided to make the seating smaller. Smaller, even, than most of their other rides. Universal has gotten a lot of flak for it, too. An article once pointed out that one of the characters in the Harry Potter series, Hagrid, is larger than life and to make the seating on the smaller side was to deny one of Harry Potter’s most beloved characters. I am not really all that interested in the rest of Universal, so I guess I will never go. But I have always been a Disney fan and I hope some day I will get the chance to visit DisneyWorld.

    There are lots of plushies and collectors pins of Disney’s Fantasia Hyacinth Hippo ballerina, but you would have to find it all on eBay.

    • This is such a good point. Also, J.K. Rowling has been known to take a stand against body shaming herself. Wonder what her thoughts are on this situation?
      ~ManDee

    • When the ride first opened, there were no options at all for people of size; a lot of my friends developed sudden cases of Potterexia trying to make sure they’d fit into the seats. However, when my husband and I went to ride it, we tried out the test seats, got told we’d need to sit on the ends, and that was it. What I don’t understand is why they don’t just test everyone as they get on the ride. Sooner or later Universal is going to have to cave and redesign the seats altogether (undoubtedly triggering another round of pearl clutching about encouraging fatness), and that will mean more lost time and money because they didn’t think this through in the first place.

  7. The Harry Potter ride at Universal has a rather sordid history or denying access to fat people. Actually the problem popped up almost immediately after the ride opened and I followed it for a while, through various twists and turns that involved them not having tests seats, to having test seats and pulling people out of line to try them, to at least one case I could swear I read about someone who fit one set of test seats then didn’t fit the other set/didn’t fit the actual ride, and then just kind of lost track of the debate. Long story short, around the time the issue was really gaining steam my parents and I were talking about the possibility of going to Disney again, and my mother mentioned wanting to go to Universal. I told her I refused to go because pretty much the only thing I would want to do there hadn’t been built to accommodate people of size. She agreed. We wound up not making that trip (went to Japan or Ireland instead, can’t remember which…) but we have decided that even if we DO ever go back to Florida for a vacation we’ll be avoiding Universal Studios unless they make changes to this ride (and others from the sounds of it? I’m not sure) to accommodate people like me.

    I love the idea of a billboard but I’m not sure how I feel about that particular slogan. I love it but it seems like it has the potential to just be confusing to people who aren’t aware of what it’s referring to. Ah well, plenty of time to come up with tons and tons of possible slogans for billboards, right? I know what I’ll be thinking about on my plane ride home soon!

    • It would have to be strategically located near billboards with the negative slogan, I think. “Hey, Georgia, leave those kids alone!” Like the Pink Floyd song. I like the idea.

      • Oh! Well, it makes more sense then. I was imagining this totally random billboard in a totally random place with that slogan, followed by imaging lots of confused people (who aren’t familiar with this blog or anything discussed here) reading it. But actually placed near one of the offensive ones, it works.

  8. I am very sorry about your experience, Ragen, but extremely proud of you for the way you handled it. Great job, as always. And I don’t travel, but it is nice to know that, if I did go to Florida, I could visit Disneyworld with a clear conscience. I love Disney. Unfortunately, I also love Harry Potter, but Universal will never get a penny of my money.

    And I also think that the billboard is a great idea.

  9. I would be completely interested in the billboard campaign- in contributing, helping, anything.

  10. I love the idea of a billboard counter-attack. Add a little something positive and uplifting too. Something to help heal the damage they are doing. Make the picture be one of happy kids of all sizes hugging each other with a message like “every body deserves respect!” Add a link to the HAES community too. That’s a cause I would definitely stand behind. I’d love to see billboards like that everywhere.

  11. I love the idea of a billboard and would be very proud to contribute.

  12. In 2002, when I was still wearing my size 20-22 jeans which were a good size for me because of my very wide god-given hips, I had the most embarrassing day of my life at the six flags in Chicago when I too went through the line for the Batman ride only to find when I got there that I had a hard time fitting width wise and could not squeeze all the way into the seat and thus the front harness would not close. Scary part, the checkers just glanced while I was struggling and kept walking. I had to scream for them to come back and let me out as they had already locked the arms down and I couldn’t get it up and get out, yet was definitely not secure in my seat with the belt part latched to the seat below. My then fiancee, now separated husband, who pointed to said event as a reasoning for leaving as he thought we would never be able to take our children to Disney World as a family, etc., walked off the ride with me and assured me it was okay. He was really sweet about it at the time, but as years continued and two kids further widened my frame and my pant size his attitude toward me soured and resentments and assumptions that since I didn’t fit as a slimmer person on the rides in Chicago that I wouldn’t fit anywhere. It was heart breaking and I haven’t been to a amusement park since, but I always figured that when the time came, young kids can’t go on the rides that would keep me from being able to ride anyway so you spend most of your time hanging out outside their rides and seeing what they want to see, and while I might not be able to ride everything, you always need someone to hold the stuff and it’s a small sacrifice for living life with my kids and seeing the joy on their faces.

    The whole experience and subsequent results within my personal life hurt bad and had me feeling so bad about myself. A couple of months into our separation, I found this blog and a renewed sense of self worth and pride. Even at my slimmest as a teen actively participating in some major eating disorder behaviors I had a hard time fitting in some of the six flags rides. I will NEVER be that small again, I’ve come to accept that fact and I’m not going to beat myself up over it anymore. Thank you Ragen for this blog and your insights and strong spirit. It is so encouraging. I also LOVE the billboard idea. I can’t even support the blog right now as much as I would love to due to the financial ramifications of the separation with my husband, so I wouldn’t be able to lend support in that manner, but I will cheerlead the heck out of this initiative on facebook and twitter if you move forward with it!

    • Size is not the only reason that a parent can’t accompany his or her children on a ride.

      I had hip surgery 8 years ago and cannot go on rides that might jostle me. I also have an extremely fragile spine–yet another reason to avoid all rides.

      Eight years ago, my kids were 10 and 8 and I did feel sad that I couldn’t share in their fun, but–like the tall man Ragan mentioned–I had no reason to feel hurt or insulted.

      While your ex conveniently used your size to (pardon the pun) belittle you and make you feel embarrassed and bad about yourself, my husband has never used my “poor architecture”, as I like to call it, as a weapon against me, nor should he or anyone else. It’s just the way I am.

      I am so sorry (and indeed angry) that you have not been given the same understanding and good treatment that I have received from my loved ones.

      • Thank you…I appreciate it 🙂

    • I am disgusted with your ex and think that you show a lot of resilience in being able to talk about his problems as HIS problems – not yours. Kudos to you.

      • Thank you…It’s not easy and I don’t always have such a positive and brave outlook on it all, but at the end of the day I am who I am. He knew certain things about me when he married me…but as time has continued, his understanding has melted away. Anyway, thanks for the Kudos.

    • i recently also had an awful experience at six flags, this one over mid-america (which is in St.louis) oddly enough i fit into all the rides that had been there since i was little. but anything new…forget it! I have the unfortunate wide fat hips and im tall…..so if my ass fits in my knees wont.. but i will admit i cried as i stood in the FGHA for 3 or 4 different roller coasters. i do know i will never be going back there again. that is also why i LOVE water parks. i can always fit into a floaty somehow!

      Also ragan its awesome to kow i will probably fit on all of the Disney stuff…i have been wary of going back to an amusement park since then…but now i may.

      • Oh sweetie…I’m so sorry to hear that. I feel your pain, both on the issue of the wide hips which makes sitting in basic stadium/theater seating a difficulty. (I sat on the edge of my seat for the entire showing of Wicked two months ago because the arms of the seats were just a little too narrow to fit my hips. I’ve had the same problem at hockey games.) I too was excited to hear Ragen’s experiences at Disney, though I wonder if she may be narrower in the hips than I am.

  13. Ragen, next time you go to WDW, you should check out the Fantasia Gardens Mini-Gold course, outside of the Swan and Dolphin resorts. It’s been a few years, but I seem to recall some Amazing Dancing Hippo statues there. Also, in the Mickey meet-and-greet area in Town Hall, there’s a “chalk sign” that gives reminders to characters in a variety show- one of them is that the Hippo dance rehearsal has been re-scheduled.

    • Awesome, thank you, I absolutely will!!!

      ~Ragen

  14. I am a graphic designer and I would be happy to help with the billboard or any other ad campaign that speaks out in favor of health and against attacking people for their size.

  15. You said “I’m confused about why Universal didn’t just make the seats more accommodating.” I wondered the same thing, and while attending a special event at WWoHP, my friends and I were given the opportunity to ask several Reps from the park and the design team. The reps gave us what was probably a carefully worded legal statement about “everyone being able to enjoy the rides so they had to make them safe”. But they kept saying “everyone” and clearly at least 1/4 of the 1500 people who were at the event I attended would not be able to ride. Of our “group” of about 7 people, only ONE person could ride. One girl, who is probably a size 12 at the most, didn’t fit because she has very large breasts. Someone argued at the event that it’s “our own fault we are fat” (don’t GET ME STARTED). The point is that the seats are TINY and even what they called “normal” sized women with large breasts would not fit. Thin, flat chested women and tall, thin men – no problem at all.

    Interestingly, JK Rowling has spoken often about how she hates sizeism and how she doesn’t like the trend of so many young girls starving themselves, so she deliberately included people of all sizes in her stories. I guess the theme park creators would rather sell tickets to people like the one I stood behind while buying Butterbeer, who had no clue what Butterbeer is and really wasn’t sure what “Hogs-medddd” was all about.

    I made a list of people from the Harry Potter World who could not ride the ride unless they used magic: Hagrid, Madame Maxime, Mrs. Weasley, the Dursleys, Professor Slughorn, Mad-Eye Moody, Crabbe, Goyle and the Fat Lady from the Gryffindor Common Room.

    • Hagrid couln’t ride and neither could Madame Maxime
      Mrs Weasley (at least the one from the movie) would fit, as would Petunia and Dudley, Vernon would be close but probably wouldn’t as his weight is carried in the lower stomach where it would interfere with the restraint.
      Slughorn would be in the same boat as Vernon, but I believe he would be able to fit in an outside seat.
      Alasor, Vincent, and Gregory would all be able to fit.
      The Fat Lady probably wouldn’t, but then again she is a painting.
      So 4 of the 11 people you mentioned wouldn’t fit, with another being questionable, but the other 6 would be able to ride.

  16. I love the billboard idea! I would definitely chip in for it.

  17. I would *love* to go on the harry potter experience but never will for this very reason. Two years ago we spent about a month in Orlando for work and work also paid for tickets to various parks so we pretty much hit them all. The Harry Potter experience was still under construction when I was there, but I rode the dueling dragons (got put in the FGHA to wait for a larger seat- which I had seen so I specifically said “I need a larger seat” and then I was forgotten about for at least ten minutes). On another ride (don’t remember which one) the guy checking everyone tried to help me push down my restraint (like you, i was too wide front to back) and, without even asking, he stepped back and then literally kicked the harness. I was in a lot of pain but I was too embarrassed to say anything to anyone about it. After the dueling dragons I was depressed and near tears the rest of the day and refused to ride anything else. This year when we decided to go on vacation I researched Disney and we stuck specifically to those parks- again, like you said, there was never a problem which made our vacation much more enjoyable!

  18. So… I wonder what they do to people who are tall AND fat?

  19. I live in Florida and I was considering going to Universal to see the Harry Potter stuff. Guess I know now to just stick with my beloved Disney. I never feel ashamed of my size or for my love of make believe and princesses there. 🙂

  20. I will contribute to a billboard fund. I like both the idea of turning the anti-obesity message into an anti-bullying one, and the beautifully simple “Every Body Deserves Respect” message. I also like the idea of a website (and/or QR Code) that takes people to solid information.

  21. I would contribute to such a billboard project, for sure!

  22. I can say from living in GA and seeing those billboards more often than I care to think about that I think a counter point billboard is a phantasmagorical idea. Growing up as the heavy set girl and being teased by classmates, teachers, and at times my own mother made me wish that there was just one person out there who would stand up for me and tell me that it didn’t matter: that I could dance and sing just as well and maybe even better than my classmates if someone would have just given me a chance. Now I’m older I’m giving myself that chance 🙂 I just think it’s an awesome idea to show those kids that there is someone in their corner rooting for them to be the best kids they can be 😀 keep up the blogging and the dancing! You’re awesome ^_^

  23. I’ve SO got some cash for that. Let’s DO EEEEEEET!!!!

  24. Look at how many people refuse to go to Universal JUST from your article. This needs a lot more publicity. I had not heard about the issues surrounding it before, so it’s very good to know. I hope this post goes viral!

  25. I love love love roller coasters, but I haven’t been to an amusement park since like the late 90’s because I want to save myself the time, money, and embarrassment of trying to ride the rides. My love of roller coasters and my desire to attend events that have seats with arms are the biggest things that make me still entertain thoughts of dieting and make me have such a problem applying HAES to myself. I have been not giving my money to places that don’t accommodate me for years but nothing has changed except the list of things I can’t do has grown and grown and grown. It’s really really frustrating and your ‘second class citizen’ graphic sums it up perfectly,but I admire you for fighting back!

    And heck yeah, I’d throw a little money at a billboard like that!

  26. Hrm…I seem to be in the minority here. I went to the Magic Kingdom right before Christmas and didn’t have any problems fitting into the seats, although admittedly I didn’t go to the Harry Potter thing (wanted to..!). I never saw a “test seat” for any of those rides, either.

    And I live in GA and have yet to see any of the aforementioned billboards. Maybe I’m just oblivious. What I will do, if it helps at all, is contact the local newspapers and maybe the TV stations and tell them to stop this current campaign. I don’t want my son seeing this stuff.

    • universal studios (where harry potter is) is a different park than Disney anything. the magic kingdom is disney.

  27. I don’t have much in the way of money to spare, but I will empty the penny jar to help get size positive billboards up in Georgia. Fuck getting new jeans! These kids need help.

  28. Love the idea of the counter-billboard campaign — would definitely support it!

  29. Bare minimum cost for a bilboard is about 3K. While it is a fine idea I seriously doubt it will come to anything and I wouldn’t recommend spending too much time working on it.

    • We could forget billboards and just go for sponsored vandalism then. lol

    • Hi Tara,

      Thanks for your concern. Even if that is the cost and we don’t get any organizational support, all we have to do is get a maximum of 300 people to give a minimum of $10 which is entirely doable. I’m glad that you think it’s a fine idea and I think I will spend a lot of time on it because i believe it’s better to try to do the things are are worth doing than quit before you start because it might be hard or it might not work. This is what these bigots count on – that we’ll be too scared to take them on, or that they have the gold do they make the rules. I’ve been really encouraged by all the positive response and this comment clenches it. I’m starting the research- watch the blog and Facebook for details, we’re doing this.

      Sent from my iPhone Please excuse my thumbs!

    • I worked in outdoor advertising a few years ago. I can tell you that cost varies widely, taking into account size of the board, location, market, population, visibility, traffic count, type of face (poster/vinyl) etc. I’ve seen boards rent for $4,000 per month, and I’ve some go for as low as $150/mo in rural area. A large, 14′ x 48′ board on an interstate will be out of price range for most advertisers, but also realize that prices are fairly negotiable, especially for locations with less demand. You can often get a discounted rate for Public Service Announcements, and sometimes billboard companies will post PSAs very cheaply or even free, rather than leave sign faces empty. It is definitely worth putting some time and effort into this idea.

      We used to say that the best designs for billboards are BIG, BOLD, and BEAUTIFUL. Less is more when it comes to this medium. Your reader has an average viewing time of 5-8 seconds.

    • i know in my area (kansas city, mo) you can rent ad space on a billboard for like 300-1000 depending on loaction.

  30. “My research shows that the park has been aware of this issue since before the ride opened, so I wonder if they did a cost benefit analysis and found or bet that most fat people would be too embarrassed or ashamed to make a fuss, and would spend their time and money in the souvenir shops and food court anyway. ”

    To be honest, my guess is that they’re probably focusing on all the potential monies from family units. I don’t exactly live in a place with a lot of these amusement park type deals, but the advertisements I do see definitely focus on the families. If you have bigger parents bringing their kids and teens to the park, and mom and dad maybe don’t fit on the rides, the family would probably still stay in the park and keep spending money for the sake of the children being able to experience the park, and everyone is paying the entry price. Single adults without children are probably just not considered enough of a target market to bother with.

    I’m not sure why they just don’t make better seats. Airlines are resistant to the idea because they treat every square inch of seating area as a potential for money, but I’d think that ride seat sizes are more flexible in their design.

  31. Great post & good for you for hitting Universal in the checkbook AND for spreading the info so that others can do the same.

    As far as the billboard, I’m not sure I’m comfortable using the same bullying tactics to attack the campaign. I like Mari (@tearosemoon)’s idea of having something uplifting & positive. Maybe having the positive message be the main one, and the “against Georgia state” message be a minor one?

    Are any of your followers PR professionals in Georgia? It would be worth it to get 1 billboard put up & get a lot of publicity about it.

    Thanks again for the Disney/Universal post. I know where I’ll spend MY money in the future.

    • I’m not sure that I agree that it’s bullying to attack a campaign. It would be bullying to attack the individual campaign designer. Like I wouldn’t be okay with something that said “Such-and-such is a bad person,” but that hasn’t been suggested at all.

      I would say that all of the suggestions relating to the billboard idea so far have been very much NOT bullying, most have just been ideas about size positive messages.

      The only one that could possibly be construed as bullying that I saw was the “Hey Georgia, leave those kids alone,” but when paired with HAES information and posted near one of the billboards we’re hoping to counteract I wouldn’t say that it’s bullying. A state isn’t a person and when referencing a state like that, most people would recognize the discussion as focusing on government – not on individuals within the state.

      I will agree that we want to make sure not to use any bullying tactics on our side; I just don’t think that has been suggested at all. Bullying targets individuals or groups, rightfully criticizing a campaign or an organization for policies they have enacted isn’t bullying.

      • After reading your reply, I agree that the suggested messages are not “bullying”. I guess the word I meant here was “negative”. I’d rather have a positive message being sent to the kids rather than a negative message sent to the state of Georgia. Just what I am more comfortable with.

        — Buffy

  32. I will definitely chip in for a billboard like that.

  33. Sadly, I cannot report that Disney is completely across the board on size acceptance. At Disneyland, for instance, the ride entrances are often far too narrow for a friend of mine who is overweight. This is especially egregious on the train boarding platforms and it was a very frustrating experience for her.

    Additionally, the theater seats at El Capitan, their movie house in Hollywood, do not easily accomodate my friend from side to side. She has to sit with the seat up, balanced on the edge in order to fit. We get free movie tickets from our work every six months or so and she won’t go anymore and I don’t blame her.

    On a completely different vector, there are a couple of Disneyland rides that come close to decapitating me at 6’7″. I’m a little annoyed by that. Also, tram seating is bad on my knees.

    • Gah. I’d forgotten about those turnstile things. Nothing like feeling like you are holding up a line pf people behind you because your hips are too wide to leave the ride. Yes, Disneyland doesn’t always love me and my big rear, alas. *sad face*

    • I think there’s a big difference between being onboard with size acceptance (which I believe Disney Parks are) and having designed every ride and every seat to accommodate every size (which Disney Parks don’t). I believe fully that Disney Parks are accepting. I don’t expect or need them to design every single ride or experience to accommodate every single person in order to consider them accepting.

  34. I love the idea of a billboard! I agree with T that that particular slogan might not make sense unless the board was *right* next to one of the hideous ones, but I know there are a ton of great ideas about how to have a positive, size-accepting message.

    And I love the way that you handled the Universal situation. I was in Orlando earlier this year, and didn’t go to Universal because I figured I was likely to not fit into the rides, and didn’t want to deal with feeling like I was in a ‘not for you’ place all day long. I think this new policy is unfortunate (I’d last read about it when they were pulling lots of people from line to try the seats out – little kids, tall folks, larger ones, etc. Still not an ideal approach, but if they’re worried about singling fat people out, it addressed that part of things, and at least it didn’t give the false impression that larger folks would be OK, as your interaction in line did!

  35. we should all write letters to universal studios explain why we will not be spending our money there. if they hear it enough maybe they will realize that there is a large (pun intended) group of us they are missing out on. hit them where it hurts. and then go spend cash at Disney. at least they really care about the guest experience.

  36. Glad to hear you enjoyed your visit to my hometown, Ragen! (Hi from about 10 miles away from Disney.) My husband and I, both people of size, spent most of our weekend at Disneyworld celebrating his birthday. I’m sure you noticed the marathon going on; did you see how many of the runners were fat? There were a lot of proud large people sporting running tights,gold medals, and big grins all weekend. It really made my day, and it got me thinking that maybe I should start trading in some of my weight time for treadmill time. Disney Princess half-marathon next year, anyone?

    • Clarification: When I say “weight time” I mean strength training.

    • I was there! I did the Marathon Relay (the Chip n Dale event) with my husband. 🙂 It was my first half-marathon. I’m a big gal with short red hair, and I was proudly sporting my medal. Maybe you saw me? 😉 Long shot, I know…

      Disney’s running events are the most supportive and well-planned that I’ve ever done. They cheer you on constantly, end to end. I recommend Disney’s events to anyone doing a first, be it a 5K, 10K, half-marathon, or full marathon. I went from doing my first 5K there in 2010 to now doing my first half-marathon there. I’ll be at the Expedition Everest 5K adventure run in May, and my husband is going to do the Goofy in 2013. 🙂 So…if you decide to do an event, let me know and maybe we’ll meet up!

  37. I love the idea of having billboards with counterbalance comments. How about something like…

    It’s not enough to be scandalous and amoral, now the government is picking our kids

  38. Oh Yes Ragen,
    I love the idea of the “bullying” project.
    What can we or I do to help?

  39. I love roller coasters. So much so that they and sexy-fast cars are my biggest regrets for being fat. I ceased being able to ride most coasters in Cedar Point, my favorite park, years ago and haven’t been back. But damn, I wish I could.

    On one of my last visits to an amusement park, I was with some bigger friends, and after being turned away from a ride (or maybe it was just that we weren’t comfortable in the seats), we came up with the idea for “Tons ‘O Fun”, an amusement park for larger guests with restraints made for people of all sizes. I swear, if I won the lottery, I’d try to make just such a place.

    I look forward to seeing more about the billboard.

    • LOVE it! I look forward to visiting Tons O Fun someday! lol

  40. I would love to support your campaign against Georgia’s size discrimination. And I am very sad to hear that I probably won’t fit on the HP Experience, as I would LOVE to see it… I wonder what JK Rawlings thinks about this.

  41. I also had a great experience at Disney World about a year and a half ago. I wear a size 22, more belly than hips, and my husband is a little bit larger. The only ride we didn’t fit in was a design-your-own-roller-coaster simulator at Epcot. (An attendant did suggest we try the test seats “in case you’re claustrophobic”, but we didn’t realize that claustrophobia was a euphemism for fat, so we found out that the seats were too small when we got to the ride. At least there wasn’t much of a line for that one.) Other than that, we went to all 4 non-waterpark parks and fit in every ride we tried. I also appreciated that they were up front about costs – there are plenty of extra things to spend your money on, but you can have a great time for admission and lunch money.

    My experience at Six Flags in the Chicago area was the opposite. I went there with my dad this summer and never want to go again. I was just barely able to fit very uncomfortably in 3 rides over the course of the day. Like Jen W, I had the terrifying experience of screaming for help at the Batman ride because I was trapped in a seat that I couldn’t secure properly. (The attendant who eventually responded was able to shove the restraint closed so I did get to go on the ride.) Why only 3 rides, you may ask? Well, it turns out that unless you pay for a special pass that costs more than admission, you don’t get to do much besides wait in line. And while you’re standing there anyway, why not enjoy tons of tacky advertising? There were so many ads that the ads were interrupted by ads – I am not even exaggerating; it was ridiculous.

  42. I’m actually impressed they refunded your money in full. No theme parks here would do that for those reasons.

  43. LONG COMMENT WARNING…

    Harry Potter & the Forbidden Journey (the ride in question) was widely criticized for this flaw in Orlando park-going circles and Harry Potter fandoms. I’m a frequent WDW visitor (I live in Illinois and have an annual pass to WDW.), so I got the info about the ride from various podcasts and blogs related to Orlando parks news. Universal really screwed up the launch of Potter-land in many ways, and the HP&FJ ride design was just one of them.

    The ride itself is designed using a Kuka arm. The Kuka arm is also used at EPCOT in Disney World in the Sum of All Thrills ride (located in Innoventions). It is a design that is specifically difficult to manage different body types. Small kids are going to get jostled around in a way that can be painful. Larger people (height and depth being the most prominent factors) won’t fit or will be very uncomfortable. Kuka arms are the newest ride technology, and I suspect that in 2-3 years, we’ll see a second generation that has figured out a way to solve the problems. So, in fairness, there’s very little that anyone can do to accommodate a wide variety of people sizes once the decision has been made to use a Kuka arm design. However, Universal failed miserably at informing the public what to expect and at training their employees to use respect and subtlety. What Ragen experienced is really a far sight from what fat people ran into in the first few months. Ridicule was not uncommon from employees, and there was no test seat early on. The change to have some wider seats came later, too. And, even now, Universal doesn’t train their employees to handle the situation respectfully or consistently.

    As someone upthread mentioned, Disney not only has the test seat easily available for their Kuka arm ride, they also do a pretty decent job of directing people to it without being blatant or disrespectful in the process. What’s more, despite opportunity, Disney chose not to use the Kuka arm for their headliner attractions because of its flaws. They had first right of refusal on it, and they let Universal have it rather than pursue a contract with the company. (FWIW, Universal bought the exclusive rights to the Kuka for something like 2 years. Even if Disney wanted to do a Kuka ride at this point, they couldn’t. Sum of All Thrills was at Disney before Universal signed their contract.)

    As for me, being a Harry Potter fan, I went to HP-land having done all the research and knowing the limitations of the ride. I went to the test seat first thing, with my husband in tow. First, the test seat employee didn’t give me a chance to remove my cross-body purse before pushing the top part down…but even despite that, it gave me a yellow light in the test seat. A yellow light means that the person can fit the “special” wider seats (which are the end seats on each row), so the employee told me to make sure to ask for one of those seats. I happily did so, thrilled that I’d be able to ride. But, when I boarded the actual ride, a few things happened in the 1 minute or so of boarding time (it’s important to note that the ride has continuous loading…and it stops for NO ONE, unlike Disney rides which are designed to pause or slow down if needed):
    1) My feet didn’t touch the ground, so I couldn’t adjust myself in the seat or get good stability.
    2) I couldn’t reach the top part to pull it down myself, so I scooted forward to try to reach it. My husband also started trying to help me while buckled into his seat.
    3) At this point, an employee started barking at my husband to stop, but didn’t come over to help, so I called out that I couldn’t reach the top part to pull it down and needed some help.
    4) The employee ANGRILY came over and shoved the top part down, before I’d had a chance to scoot back into place. Then, she barked that I couldn’t fit and would have to leave. I tried to explain that I wasn’t sitting back yet, but there was really no time at this point to do anything but leave.
    And thus, I was relegated to the room of sad, fat, non-riders. And it pissed me and my husband off so much how the whole thing was handled that we both complained to guest relations.
    A) They should allow extra time for Riders of Unusual Size to board. They could do this by letting them, after standing in the normal line, go over to where people get off the ride and get on as soon as someone gets off rather than waiting for the chair to go farther on the track. (This makes more sense if you’ve seen the ride setup.)
    B) Once you announce yourself as a Rider of Unusual Size, they should have an employee go with you to the seat and help you get situated. (Really, they should be doing this anyways for every single ride car/row, because of the short “boarding time” and the unusual nature of the ride seat. Instead, they cheap out by having one employee monitoring multiple ride cars/seats simultaneously.)
    C) If a rider ends up getting rushed or discombobulated and wants to give it a second go, they should be given the opportunity to do so, without waiting in the line again.
    D) They should train employees to be respectful, generally, to their customers, particularly those with special needs, whatever those needs may be.

    I have 100% confidence that in the same situation, Disney would have done all of this already, before anyone had time to complain about it. I believe this because Disney does it already for Toy Story Midway Mania and quite a few others where certain guests are going to need extra time or special boarding. And that’s why I have an Annual Pass to Disney World and spend gobs of money there at the resorts and restaurants, whereas Universal got my money that one time for one visit to HP-land and that’s it.

    • Hear, hear!

      As an Orlando resident, I was employed at both parks.

      When I worked at WDW, I had classes in “soft skills” and was taught a set of “Basic Service Guidelines”. One of these was “I am courteous and respectful to all guests, including children.” and covered activities like “Make eye contact and smile”, “Engage in guest interaction”, “Treat guests as individuals”, “Greet and welcome each guest”, “Thank all guests and invite them back”.

      When I worked at Universal, we were told to upsell the Meal Deal with burgers and pizza, and that’s about it.

      Comparing Universal to Disney is, to me, like comparing watching an American football game to a concert at the Kennedy Center. Not the same ball game, not the same sport, not even the same type of possible experience.

      • How long ago did you work at Universal? Because I am a new hire (have been working there for about 6 weeks now) and our orientation was focused on guest relations and treating guests respectfully. The company changed ownership not to long ago and the main focus became on guest services. And once I got to my attraction and started training we were told to be proactive with test seating. We are to test seat anyone who may not get a green light. The theory being the more people of different sizes that we test seat the less people feel like you are singling them out. Protocol must have changed since TsuKata went to the park, because currently we will send them down the hallway back to the person separating people into groups and allow them to either try out the test seat again or just jump back in line to be regrouped.

  44. Reblogged this on mindfulconsideration and commented:
    At Disney World the rides don’t fit everyone. Unfortunately, they don’t make an effort to make obvious the size of the seats before customers pay and then wait in long lines only to be disappointed and humiliated when they don’t fit. Paying customers should wait an hour or more in a long line only to find out at the end that they are unable to participate in the fun. There are test seats available, but the purpose isn’t necessarily advertised and it’s in a public area where anyone could see, which some people might find embarassing, and may be blocked by the lines of people. The experience might simply be irritating to a person who is taller than average but many men and women who are larger than others are often humiliated. Because of the amount of fat hatred they receive they are unlikely to complain or ask for a refund so Disney World does not feel the need to more proactively helpful towards larger sized customers. I believe that one thing Disney World could easily do, if they cared, would be to provide a list of rides and the sizes of people they can safely accomodate when customers enter the park.

  45. Way to go, Ragen. I’m pretty sure in the same situation I would have curled up in a big bowl of nachos and wept while spicy cheese and anger burned up my insides.

  46. I recently visited Universal Studios and was treated the EXACT SAME WAY! In fact, I was pulled out of line a placed in this “test seat”. By the way, I would of been considered a member of the FGHA, however, I was asked to leave thorough the exit doors meanwhile passing through the giftshop. They pull you out of the line and place you in this “test seat” for all to see. I had no idea about what was about to take place. I saw the “test seats” at the entrance of the ride, but I had no clue they were meant to test your size. I thought they were there for people that may be claustrophobic. I am a very confident women and I was not disappointed because I could not ride the ride, but rather the way they went about the entire thing. The only thing that I was ashamed of, being a person that typically researching these things, was not researching before spending my money to get into the park. I am so sick of being discriminated against and it being acceptable. Fat people have no rights. I love your idea Ragen! I support you 100%

  47. wonderfully spoken. i wish i’d thought to go to guest relations. i’m a size 12, with a bra size of 38d. i had to go in the special seating, and my friends who are larger and i were separated because of our size, we had to do the ride in shifts. took all the fun out of it. i applaud disney for safely accomodating everyone. you’d think universal would at least look into their moneyhungry interests and realize fat people love rides too!

  48. I was at the ride in the fall with my family, with no thought that I wouldn’t fit on a brand new ride. When I got up to the front, I was pulled out, led through a crowded corridor, and tested in front of tons of people. The young thing who “tested” me acted slightly disgusted that she had to do that. I then waited with my grandson (parents doing a baby swap thing) in a room with loud videos with pretty violent stuff – certainly more than I wanted my 3 year old grandson to see. I shook it off, but I was disappointed. Never thought about a refund, though! Good for you.

  49. Hiding out in my hotel room right now after not being able to fit in forbidden journey for the first time. I’ve ridden many times before but now it Im told that crew members aren’t allowed to push the restraint down to latch with any more force than can be delivered with two fingers. I was crushed until I found this blog. Thank you

  50. I to have had similar experience I tried the test seat prior to getting on and was even told by a employee to try the larger test seat but could not fit. I was very upset. I to could ride anything I wanted to at Disney I may have been a little squished but still enjoyed the rides. I also wanted to ride rip saw falls but have knee problems and the employee standing outside that ride told me they had special cars for people that were in wheelchairs with more room so that is what I asked for and enjoyed the ride, why can’t all be like this, I along with 6 other family members had season passes but did not use them any more due to not being able to ride the thrill rides.I also tried the test seat for the Mummy and fit when I got on the ride the lap bar actually clicked twice and locked in place but was told I had to get off because it would not lock a third time. I now wonder and am scared to go back to Disney World witch was my mom’s favorite place(R.I.P)because of what happened at Universal

  51. I was just at Universal Hollywood. There are NO modified seats on the Harry Potter ride and and a few of us were pulled out of line to get in the test seat. One in my party did not fit so we left without any of us riding it. I was not aware before hand that seat size was an issue. I wrote to Universal Hollywood and told them that they should be ashamed of themselves. I did not think to go to Guest Relations. I am anxious to see if I get a response.

  52. I am so glad to have found your blog! I have been wanting to go to Universal for the Harry Potter experience in a few months. My husband is a 5X, however, and given the experiences of others with a lesser girth, we are NOT going to Universal after all. We have done Disney twice and he has NEVER had an issue riding any ride. Thanks for helping us make up our minds!


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