A ride breaks down while you’re in line. What should you do?

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Worlds of Fun Mamba stuck on lift hill
Photo of Mamba at Worlds of Fun (Kansas City, Missouri) stuck on its lift hill by Michael Cornelius on Flickr.


If you’ve visited a number of amusement parks, this scenario has almost inevitably happened to you.

You’re waiting in line – often, for a big coaster or thrill ride, one with a fairly long wait – and you notice a coaster train or ride vehicle hasn’t been dispatched in several minutes. The line isn’t moving anymore, either. Suddenly, it becomes clear: the ride has broken down.

It’s a situation that’s always frustrating, but especially if you’ve been waiting for a while. Really, there’s nothing more disappointing at an amusement park than spending time in line if you can’t even enjoy the ride!

Temporary ride shutdowns due to mechanical issues are beyond anyone’s control. The important question is: when they happen, what should you do? Do you continue to hold your spot in line, hoping that others will abandon the queue and the ride will resume operation quickly? Do you get out of line but linger in a nearby area of the park, so that when the ride does reopen, you’ll at least be the first back in line? Or, do you simply move on with your day, opting for rides that are, you know, actually working?

While there’s no crystal ball answer for every situation, these give factors will help you make your decision:


Does the park offer exit passes?

It might require some research to answer this question, but the work could be worth it.

Take Disney World, for example. Once, while waiting in line for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster at the Magic Kingdom, operators announced to guests waiting in line that the ride closed due to mechanical issues. Almost immediately, guests exited the line en masse, leaving a relatively empty queue. A ride operator showed up five minutes later to ask those of us who had continued to wait to kindly exit the queue. As we did, he handed out exit passes, which would allow us to skip the line for that ride or a different attraction later in the day.

Not every park will follow this same protocol. But, when visiting those that do, it’s worth lingering for a few minutes in line after a ride breaks down so you don’t miss out on a free skip-the-line pass!


Are guests still on the ride, or has it been evacuated?

There are varying degrees of mechanical error on amusement park rides. Some may require a simple reboot of the ride system, while more serious problems usually need more extensive mechanical repairs.

Wicked Twister at Cedar Point
Sometimes, a ride shutdown requires a quick fix. But, roller coasters sometimes require more extensive maintenance when they break down.

In the more serious of these scenarios, riders waiting to depart the ride station or who are on-board a ride vehicle will be removed from the ride by maintenance crews. If this is happening, it’s a strong signal that the work to get the ride running again will take more than just a few minutes. On the contrary, ride operators won’t necessarily remove people from a ride if the system needs a simple reset before it can start running again.


Are people stuck somewhere on the ride?

This most commonly happens when a roller coaster train gets stuck on the first lift hill. Though TV news likes to make a big deal about it when it happens, riders are in no danger. But, due to the ride shutdown, they need to be evacuated from the train and use a catwalk along the lift hill to exit the train and travel back to solid ground.

If you see this – or if a train or ride vehicle is truly stuck somewhere – you can safely assume that whatever has gone awry will take a significant amount of time to fix. Plus, in these situations, extensive testing is needed before the ride can be safely reopened. Exit the queue. (Though, remember, try to get an exit pass if your park offers them!)


Are maintenance staff members visibly working?

Is one staff member pressing some buttons, or is an entire maintenance crew hammering away? It’s probably obvious that the latter suggests a more significant mechanical issue, one that will prevent the ride from reopening shortly. Use your best judgment based on what you can see. If it’s clear there’s some extensive work happening, the ride probably will be shut down for a while.


What do the ride operators say?

Don’t necessarily bank on useful information here. Usually, park employees and ride operators will say they’re unsure when the ride in question will resume operation. They’re not lying! The time it takes for maintenance to get a ride working again is influenced by many factors.

However, in the case of a very significant malfunction (something like a snapped ride cable or broken sensor), it is well within a ride operator’s purview to tell guests that extensive repairs are in order and that it’s unlikely the ride would reopen soon, if even the same day. So, if you can, it doesn’t hurt to try getting some information out of park employees. Just ask nicely!