I’m a ‘Fat Guy’ Who Loves Theme Parks, This Was My Experience at Disney

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Every so often, Yahoo! or one of the aggregators picks up a fat-person-in-a-theme-park article. They’re good – it seems – for clicks and drawing a significant amount of commentary. As a result, the comments run the gamut from thoughtful and empathetic to heartless and cruel. It always seems to draw a considerable number of people who don’t read past the headlines. I’m a fat guy who loves theme parks and has been lucky enough to get to write about them professionally a little bit. I love them but they don’t always love me. And that’s ok. Despite what some of the angrier commentators have to say, I don’t expect the world to conform to my size. But I do appreciate being included in the thought process and accommodated when it’s possible. That’s why, when it comes to picking theme parks to visit, I’m team Disney. 

As a fat guy who loves theme parks, finding rides that can accommodate my size can be difficult. It is refreshing to visit a place like Walt Disney World where most of the rides are easily accessible even for a guy like me.

Man in Hat in Sunglasses at Disney World
While Disney is more accessible than other area parks – like Sea World or Universal – there have been times when I’ve been singled out regarding fitting on rides (photo by John Gullion/HeyOrlando.com)

Is Disney “Fat-Friendly”?

Disney World – in my experience – is the most accessible park for the obese. In addition to several classic rides that just seem to have been built with a lot of space, Disney has shown over the years that it will accommodate guests of unusual size as much as possible. 

For instance? Tron Lightcycle Run is a pretty intense ride with a unique vehicle that has opened in the Magic Kingdom. At the back of some of the trains is a more traditional roller coaster car with individual lap bars. When I was there, there was a short line of people who preferred or requested the special cars. I had to wait a little longer but nothing excessive. I appreciated that Disney had put a little thought into accommodating my needs. 

Is Disney perfect? If you mean that can I ride every ride at Disney? The answer is no. But I wouldn’t expect to. But it is better than places like Universal, Sea World or even Dollywood.

john gullion at smugglers run at hollywood studios
Smuggler’s Run, in my experience, has been hit or miss. Sometimes I am able to ride, sometimes I am flagged (photo by John Gullion/HeyOrlando.com)

What happens if you can’t fit? 

Ideally, you know before you get on. Many of the more adventurous rides – no matter the park – have a ride vehicle tester outside where you can find out if you fit before going through the queue. But not all of them. A lot of how your experience goes depends on the cast members. I’ve found the Disney cast members more empathetic or better trained but it’s not perfect. Sometimes there’s nothing even the most empathetic cast member can do to ease the embarrassment, the shame or the self-loathing that comes with being a fat person in a space that doesn’t quite fit. 

On our most recent trip, we boarded Rise of the Resistance, a ride I’d ridden before without incident. I’m a Star Wars guy. I loved everything Star Wars since I was three years old in 1977. Rise and Smuggler’s Run are two of my favorite rides on Earth. We went through the pre-show queue, past the stormtroopers and onto the ride vehicle. I’m an old hand at quickly boarding, grabbing the seat belt and sliding it up over my very large belly to the buckle. And I did it. Just as I have on the ride in the past. 

But this time, a cast member flagged me. She came and explained that she wasn’t sure if having the belt across the top of my stomach holding me down was sufficient for the ride. She would prefer it if it was lower around what would be considered closer to my waist. I explained I’d ridden that way before and, on this trip, had ridden Tron, Big Thunder Mountain and Dinosaur among many others, all far more intense rides than Rise which only has a small drop. She understood but didn’t feel comfortable approving my ride. 

She didn’t ask me to get off but said she could call someone to ask. So I had to decide whether to delay the other riders’ experience or just get off. I had her ask and apologized as much as I could to the very nice family who were sharing a car. When I’m out in a theme park, I want to blend in as much as possible. I don’t want any attention to my size and would prefer not to inconvenience others in any way. The answer came back that the belt, as I had it, was unacceptable. 

Now, there is not a ride at any park in the world that fits me in a way that the restraint is across my waist. For me to ride, it must be across the top of the belly, holding me down from there. If it works for the coasters I rode – including Slinky Dog Dash – it should be sufficient for Rise. But I also understand that I put cast members in an awkward position. Luckily, I was able to adjust the belt in such a way that I could remain comfortable and address the cast members’ concerns. 

john stands with pooh bear at disney world
Despite the predictable internet backlash this article will receive, our expectations for accessibility are reasonable (photo courtesy of John Gullion/HeyOrlando.com)

Addressing the internet trolls

Invariably when a story like this arises, people of varying degrees of aggrievement weigh in. The comments range from “eat a salad” to chastising us for being the way we are. They think we are entitled to demand an entire theme park refit its rides to accommodate our unhealthy lifestyles. We are lectured about safety and physics and hubris. They condescend about tall people or short people or the one time they were on crutches and couldn’t ride but we never heard THEM complain. I’m sure some people do demand more accessibility – after all, our tickets aren’t discounted even though we can’t ride and aren’t mucking up the queues. But by and large, I simply see people like me asking for some consideration that goes into planning. 

Let’s take Universal, for example. I can’t ride most of the rides at Universal and while I’m hoping for better accommodation at Epic Universe, I’m not expecting much. When Super Mario World opened in California, there were several complaints about the ride vehicles. I remember one article in which the writer expressed her frustration and disappointment that she couldn’t fit only to receive dozens of comments explaining physics and safety. Now, the Mario ride at Universal is slow. The only danger in it would be to stand up in the seat and try to surf your way through. There are dozens of rides at Disney of similar intensity or with significantly more intensity that I can ride safely.

A Family Enjoys a Disney World Parade
Our family enjoys Disney World and appreciates getting to riding together (photo by John Gullion/HeyOrlando.com)

Are our expectations unreasonable?

There’s no reason Universal couldn’t have designed the ride vehicles in a way that more people of size could ride. But they didn’t. Universal made the decision not to accommodate larger riders. You can come up with a dozen reasons why but ultimately it comes down to caring to do it. If Disney can make it so I – who must be in the 99th percentile of large riders – can ride Tron safely, there’s no way Universal couldn’t have done it for Mario. 

Look, we understand there must be limits. After all, practicality and safety dictate who can ride certain rides and who can’t. And so, I understand that while I can ride many of the coasters at Disney, I won’t be riding the thrill rides at Universal. And that’s OK. I’m not sure – even with a specially fitted seat – that I should be on Hulk or the VelociCoaster. In fact, after riding Tron, I’m sure that I shouldn’t. But there are so many times that rides – which I could ride safely – are designed with a ride vehicle that makes it next to impossible. The Escape From Gringotts ride – for example – had a plastic piece on the side that prevented me from getting in. I’m sure if I could have accessed the seat, I’d have been fine, but the decoration kept it from happening. 

A theme park trip – especially a theme park vacation – is an expensive endeavor. One that’s not made cheaper even when many or most of the rides can’t accommodate you. There are a lot of reasons that I prefer a Disney vacation, but accessibility is certainly one of them. While I can’t ride every ride over the four theme parks, I can ride the vast majority, most of the time without having to worry about whether I’ll fit. Which is a great relief. If you’re a person of size and trying to decide where to spend your vacation dollars, I’d pick Disney every time. 

Have you had a similar accessibility experience at Disney World? Let us know in the comments below.

Photo of author


John Gullion

John Gullion, Managing Editor at the Citizen Tribune, is a freelance contributor for TheSmokies.com LLC – the parent company of TheSmokies.com and HeyOrlando.com.

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