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Do Universal Parks Discriminate Against Overweight People?

Recently Universal Studios Hollywood released some incredible photos of their new attractions: The Secret Life of Pets: Off The Leash. While the sets and figures look incredible, something sticks out to me. I’m sure it will come up again yet again after this attraction opens. Do Universal Parks discriminate against overweight people?

The ride looks spectacular. It’s great to see a family dark ride at a Universal Park again. One of the features that I love about the ride are the cardboard box ride vehicles. Each one has a different design and I can’t wait to find various easter eggs hidden on each one.

By now I’m sure you’ve noticed that this is an omnimover-style ride system. Basically this is same type of ride as Disney’s Haunted Mansion or Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin. A continuous chain of vehicles that rotate through a show building and only stop to let guests with disabilities on. Yet this particular omnimover has something that is unique.

Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash! Ride at Universal Studios Hollywood

As you can see, each cardboard box ride vehicle has individual lap bars. To my knowledge, this is a first for this type of attraction. Unlike a typical omnimover ride vehicle where you could squeeze two adults and a small child across one row, this ride will not allow that.

Even more curious is a test seat in front of Secret Life of Pets: Off The Leash at Universal Studios Hollywood. That’s right, there is a test seat for an extremely tame family attraction to make sure your lap bar can lock into place. Without question, we will see headlines after this ride opens from people who are overweight saying they are disappointed they cannot ride.

There have been several major stories making the headlines over the years about this. From lawsuits to a quest to lose weight just to be able to ride certain Universal attractions. The question is: Do Universal Parks discriminate against people who are overweight? The answer is a little complicated.

For about the last 10 years, Universal parks have internally made a mandate that all guests on Universal attractions are 100% contained. This means there is zero possibility of someone getting out of a ride vehicle unless a door and/or lap bar is opened by an operator.

Keep in mind this isn’t a product of Universal Creative going and buying ride vehicles with restraints that can meet this mandate. To the contrary, Universal buys ride systems from known manufacturers and has them heavily modified to adhere to this “100% containment” rule.

Think of it this way. Imagine you want to buy a new Toyota Corolla. You go to the dealership and they have the standard seatbelts to keep you and your loved ones safe. They tell you this is what everyone else has and has proven to work for years. However, you want to add lap bars. Despite Toyota telling you that it’s unnecessary, you go ahead and do it anyway.

Now you have several options to do this. You can either pay Toyota a ton of money to engineer this for you. Or you can go to a company after you receive the car who will modify it to your specifications. Universal has done both over the years.

Does this mean Universal is intentionally discriminating against heavier people from riding their attractions? Not at all. It happens to be a bi-product of the 100% containment policy. Is it totally necessary? That remains to be seen. As Disney has more omni-mover attractions without lap bars that have been operating for decades than any other theme park, it’s fair to say they’ve been ok (yet there have been incidents).

This also means Universal is limited on what kinds of attractions it can build. Boat rides like Pirates of The Caribbean or it’s a small world can’t exist in a Universal Park under this mandate. Adding lap bars for 23 people (the capacity of the boats for those attractions) would weigh the boat down so much that it couldn’t realistically be pushed through the flume.

What are your thoughts? Is Universal’s 100% containment policy over the top? Or should Disney and other parks follow their lead and ensure no one ever gets out of their ride vehicles under any circumstance?

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