Updated in 2021: I originally wrote this post in February of 2018. It was about my experience at Universal Studios Hollywood. They have since changed their policies, to greatly increase accessibility for leg amputees. However, Universal Studios Orlando still has very restrictive policies.
My Experience in 2018
I have one leg. In 2018, I was 50 years old, and had been an above the knee amputee for 35 years. I don’t wear a prosthesis – I use crutches. Our family loves theme parks, and I have ridden on countless rides in countless theme parks over the past few decades, including several fun trips to Universal Studios Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood. Each time, I rode all the rides there with no problems at all. Then we visited US Hollywood in February of 2018, and I discovered that suddenly I was banned from most of the rides there.
No one told me this when I arrived at the park. After waiting in a 60 minute line for a Harry Potter ride, I was told I could not ride. (No one told me when I got into the line.) I asked if there were any other rides that had the same restriction. They said they didn’t know, but thought maybe the mummy ride might. Then, over and over that day, at multiple rides, I was told that I could not ride the ride, but no one could tell me which rides would be OK for me and which weren’t.
While my family was on one ride without me, I used the magic of the internet to discover that Universal has full guides listing all the restrictions on rides for people with various disabilities. (Current version of the guide is linked at the bottom of this post.) I’m not sure why not a single employee seemed to know about the guides.
After perusing the guide, I got very familiar with the phrase “When seated, both legs (natural or prosthetic) must extend to edge of seat or terminate below the knee.” It appeared MANY times in the guide. By reading the guide, I discovered there were very few rides I was actually allowed on. I couldn’t even go on some of the kiddie rides!
Here’s the list of what I couldn’t ride that day in 2018 at Universal Studios Hollywood –
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
- Flight of the Hippogriff
- Harry Potter Forbidden Journey
- Jurassic Park the Ride
- Revenge of the Mummy
- Transformers the Ride
The short answer was – I was banned from pretty much all the rides and mostly spent the day sitting on benches waiting for my family. My family would have skipped the rides for my sake, but I would have felt worse about that than I felt about sitting alone.
In most of my life, I don’t really feel handicapped. There are very few things that my amputation has prevented me from doing. Due to these policies, I felt more disabled at that day at Universal Studios than anywhere else I’ve ever been in my decades as an amputee.
Why Amputees Could Be At Risk on SOME Rides
While my family was on another ride without me, I researched why the policy had changed so drastically since our last visit. It turns out that in 2011, a double amputee fell from a roller coaster and was killed. This man had no residual limb on one side, and a short stump on the other, and rode a roller coaster with only a lap bar and seat belt belt for restraints.
“once it was rolling, Luffred said, he realized the belt and lap bar in the coaster might not hold his uncle, who had no lap. The coaster quickly climbs to an incredible height, sending cars on a 70-mph plunge. It then torpedoes through two circular loops and crests another hill — where, his nephew said, Hackemer was ejected. “The last time I saw him was when he was flying out,” he said. “He didn’t have anything holding him down.”
Certainly that was a tragedy, and I get that it made sense for every theme park to evaluate their safety mechanisms to prevent future tragedies. It makes sense for ride designers to take these situations into account so they can make the rides safer for amputees and everyone else in the future. And if I ever was getting ready to get on a ride and saw that the safety restraints were not suited to keeping my body safe, I would not ride. (For example, I personally would not ride on a looping roller coaster with only lap restraints. With “half a lap”, I don’t feel this would be safe for me.)
But, I think Universal had gone too far. Their restrictions affect too many of their attractions. And many of the rides I was barred from at Universal are not high risk for me. Not only do I THINK they would be safe for me, I KNOW they are, because I have ridden most of them in the past!
Universal Studios Hollywood Now
US Hollywood has significantly improved their policies since 2018. According to the newest guides (linked at the bottom of the post), a single AK amputee like me is now able to ride all the rides there EXCEPT Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Jurassic world the Ride, and Revenge of the Mummy. So, this map shows with red circles what I can’t do there, but you’ll see there are many options are left that I could enjoy with my family.
Universal Studios Orlando Now
Unfortunately, the restrictions are still in place in Orlando. According to the most recent guide (linked below), here’s what I’m banned from, as an above the knee amputee. I’ll star the ones I’ve gone on safely in the past.
- Incredible Hulk coaster*
- Storm Force Accelatron*
- Dr. Doom’s Fearfall
- Bilge Rat Barges*
- Pteranadon Flyers*
- Jurassic Park River Adventure*
- Jurassic World VelociCoaster
- Harry Potter Forbidden Journey
- Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure
- High in the Sky Trolley*
- Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
- Revenge of the Mummy
- HP Escape from Gringotts
These other rides luckily only require one leg, so I can actually ride these: Amazing Adventures of Spiderman, Ripsaw Falls, Reign of Kong, Flight of the Hippogriff, Cat in the Hat, One Fish Two Fish. Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Transformers, Race through New York, Fast and Furious Supercharged, Men in Black Alien Attack, Simpsons Ride, Twirl and Hurl, Woody Woodpecker’s Coaster, ET Adventure. And, Hogswarts Express doesn’t have any requirements for specific body configurations.
So, here’s what my day in Orlando would look like… the red X’es show rides I’m banned from. The green circles are what I can actually ride.
My family has loved going to Islands of Adventure for years. And we’re huge Harry Potter fans, so we would love to spend more time at the Wizarding World. But I’m questioning whether I want to return Universal Studios Orlando when it would mean a day spent mostly sitting around by myself while my family waited in lines and rode rides without me.
At Disney theme parks, I can do every single thing in the park! It is definitely possible to make theme parks more accessible. I wish Universal Studios was doing a better job of it.
Do you want to give feedback to Universal? Here’s how:
- Call Customer Care on 1 (407) 363-8000
- Call Headquarters on (818) 777-1000
- Tweet Universal Studios Orlando
You can find the 2021 version of “RIDER’S GUIDE For Rider Safety and Guests with Disabilities” for Universal Orlando Resort here: www.universalorlando.com/web/en/us/files/Documents/universal-orlando-riders-guide.pdf, and the “Rider’s Guide for Rider Safety and Guests with Disabilities” for Universal Hollywood is here – I believe it’s late 2020. https://www.universalstudioshollywood.com/tridiondata/ush/en/us/files/documents/universal_riders_guide.pdf