If you’re not a coaster fan or thrill seeker, you might be among the large group of park-goers with a fine line between fun and frightening. One roller coaster could be a blast, while a similar ride might be a puke-inducing nightmare.
Ride signs posted at queue entrances aren’t always helpful in making ride decisions. They usually warn expectant mothers, those prone to motion sensitivity or sickness, and those with heart, blood pressure, head, neck, or back issues to avoid riding. They don’t, however, measure the degree to which, for example, one ride might induce motion sickness over another. Neither do they effectively distinguish between rides blanket labeled with the “high thrill” term.
Take this example. Hersheypark and Busch Gardens Williamsburg both have indoor “dark ride” attractions (Reese’s Xtreme Cup Challenge and The Curse of Darkastle, respectively), and both claim that the rides may bother those with motion sensitivity. Yet, their differences are many and nuanced.
Hersheypark’s Reese’s Xtreme Cup Challenge is a laser tag-esque indoor shooter where riders blast targets through a series of rooms. Busch Gardens’ Darkastle employs a more advanced ride system, with more frequent and greater movement in the ride vehicles. The ride also features many large, 3D projection screens, and riders wear 3D glasses. Overall, The Curse of Darkastle is more likely to induce motion sickness.
But without this kind of road map of nuances for park attractions, ride decisions for those on the cusp of sensitivity or extreme thrill aversion can be difficult. So, the following five principles can guide ride decisions in almost every circumstance. The knowledge to apply some of these factors might require extra research (for example, visiting Roller Coaster Database to get a sense of speed and forces on a ride), but the knowledge will be worth it if you avoid headaches – literally!
1. G Forces
One “G,” or “gravitational force,” is the normal pressure that gravity exerts on your body when sitting or standing. When accelerating, such as in your car or a roller coaster train, you likely feel pushed into your seat as the vehicle tugs you forward. Even when tossing yourself onto a couch, the decelerating force of landing can create a momentary feeling of increased body weight. This is G force, and it measures changes in force due to acceleration.
Your standard experience of one G is your body weight under the normal conditions of gravity. Two Gs suggests that an acceleration force is producing an experience of twice the weight of gravity, causing, for example, a 150 pound person to momentarily feel the weight of gravity at 300 pounds. Perhaps you feel pushed into your seat at the bottom of a roller coaster drop; this is an experience of G force, likely 2 or 3 Gs, but sometimes even more.
The greater the Gs, the more pressure the body feels. Amusement park rides generally sustain higher G forces for brief periods of time (as opposed to, say, a space shuttle launch, during which astronauts experience high positive G forces for the whole duration of the launch). Still, some are more sensitive to these fluctuations than others.
Significant G force fluctuations are most likely on roller coasters (though you’ll encounter them on some other thrill rides, too). If you’re concerned, visit Roller Coaster Database and search for the coaster in question. Many entries have a listing of maximum G force on the ride. Anything above 2.5 – 3 G’s is likely too high for those very prone to motion sickness.
Unfortunately, there are also plenty of entries without G force listings. If other online research does not yield an answer, ask park employees and ride operators what the forces are like on the ride. They probably won’t be able to give you exact numbers, but should definitely be able to tell you how extreme the forces are at various parts of the ride.
Inversions – any element that sends riders upside-down – are inextricably linked to G forces. Usually, positive G forces (a feeling of being pushed into one’s seat) are created during inversions, especially standard vertical loops and derivatives of loops, like Immelmans and dive loops.
Other elements, like a zero-g-roll, aim to provide the exact sensation their name describes. While they don’t necessarily produce positive Gs, which are more often than not related to motion sickness, some riders are simply sensitive to flips, corkscrews, or other inverting elements. If you know this is you, avoid coasters or thrill rides that turn the world upside-down.
While speed alone usually is not cause for significant motion sickness, rides that achieve greater maximum velocities tend to ramp up the thrill factor. Often, that means they produce great forces.
There’s also the visual perception of motion. Faster speeds will have objects and landscapes flying by more rapidly, and for some, that visual doesn’t sit well.
Ride height is more associated with fear factor than nausea, but it’s not impossible for motion sensitivity to be influenced by height. More extreme changes in elevation, as a coaster crests repeated camelback hills, for example, can send riders’ stomachs into their throats, back down, and back again.
If bumps, hills, and frequent elevation changes on the highway make you uneasy, a roller coaster of significant height might not be the best choice. Plus, greater height means greater maximum speeds.
5. Spin Factor
It isn’t all that uncommon for coaster enthusiasts to conquer the most terrifying thrill rides, yet shy away from the teacups. Any ride with repetitive spinning motions will likely be nausea-inducing for riders even slightly sensitive to motion.
By talking to friends or park employees, determine if a ride spins just a few times (such as in the case of Hersheypark’s Reese’s Extreme Cup Challenge and Busch Gardens’ Curse of Darkastle, mentioned earlier), or if the core of the ride is constant spinning. In the former case, many riders will be fine. But, attractions with a high and/or constant spin factor are a no-go for motion sensitive guests.
The correct ride decision sometimes must come from trial and error. Some people will be fine on a relatively twisted wooden coaster, but won’t fare well on a steel coaster of similar height and speed due to the more daring elements associated with steel track.
To that end, if you’re still really unsure after considering these five factors, it may be worthwhile to ask a friend for an opinion. If s/he has ridden previously, and they understand your limits, they should be able to offer you a good sense of the attraction’s intensity. If not, and if the line is short, let them ride first and report back.
One more tip: If possible, watch the ride in action, but don’t focus on the ride vehicle. Instead, watch riders’ faces and heads. Are they glued to their headrests? Are their heads bumping around through coaster elements? If yes, those are definitely rides for those prone to motion sickness to avoid.