The Bandit Bomber 77
The Bandit Bomber, the interactive water rollercoaster ride, in Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi in Yas Island. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

DUBAI: Two siblings, ages 15 and 13, who have just been on a roller coaster at a theme park in the UAE, can barely hide their sense of accomplishment. “I have to go up again,” says the younger of the two boys, his heart still racing, his face flush with excitement.

“There’s nothing to beat the thrill of being hurtled towards the sky at such a high speed,” says the other, the earlier screams of joy still ringing in his ears.

At another attraction, a resident who is with a visiting family is at a loss on how to deal with one of its members, a 50-year-old, who is completely disoriented after a drop tower ride. Visibly shaken, the man complains of nausea and dizziness and lies down on a bench, refusing to get up for the next 40 minutes. “I want to go home now,” he tells his host when he rises.

Thrills associated with theme parks have raised concerns about safety. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

As different people react differently to theme park attractions, the thrills and chills associated with them have raised concerns about safety.

It’s not just about accidents that result from technical snags or adverse weather conditions — they are few and far between in the UAE.

Suitability of rides

The more common questions pertain to the suitability of rides for people of different age groups, mental dispositions, physical health and abilities; equally pertinent is the basis on which specific criteria are spelt out, whether they are complied with and who is responsible should something go wrong.

Speaking to Gulf News on the sidelines of the just concluded Leisure, Entertainment and Attractions Conference in Dubai, Markus Mack-Even, Chief Project Officer and General Manager of IMG Worlds of Adventure and chairman of the conference safety committee, said, “For very young and young kids two major criteria are considered when setting ride limitations: the human body of a child and the forces which get introduced by a ride system on the body, e.g. how many Gs are being experienced by the body?

The Lost Valley at IMG Worlds of Adventure, Dubai. Image Credit: Supplied

Secondly, we consider the restrain system of the ride vehicle and the seating capability of a child. If a child can’t sit by himself and would need to be held by an adult or sit on an adult’s lap, then he is not suitable to experience the ride.”

Examples for such rides include thrill rides, flat rides with a lot of spin and motion, rollercoasters with high G-forces and inversions.

Medical conditions and theme park rides

Dr Suha Al Hetary, General Practitioner, Medcare Medical Centre — Al Barsha, said: “Amusement parks notify people having serious medical conditions not to take some rides as these can lead to increase in blood pressure and vasoconstriction (constriction 
of blood vessels).

“The thrill of a roller-coaster ride with its climbs, loops and dives can speed up the heart, sparking off an irregular heartbeat that could put individuals with heart disease at risk of having a cardiovascular event like myocardial infarction.”

She said common complaints post high-speed rides which include nausea and dizziness are caused by conflicting signals in the inner ear, eyes and sensory receptors. “Motion sickness is a symptom complex that usually includes nausea, often accompanied by vague abdominal discomfort, vomiting, dizziness, pallor etc. It is induced by specific forms of motion, particularly repetitive angular and linear acceleration and deceleration, or as a result of conflicting vestibular (inner ear balance) or visual inputs.”

Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

She said the feeling of being disoriented is often related to existing problems like a migraine. It could happen if people are on certain medications. “It can also be caused by a problem in the inner ear, where balance is regulated. Disorientation can be a result of vertigo as well.”

Anxieties and phobias

From a psychological point of view, thrill rides and roller coasters present what experts call a “paradox”. While those with such conditions don’t usually get on to such rides, Dubai-based clinical psychologist Dr Rogy Maccarthy said, “Roller coasters and high speed rides can actually help people overcome anxieties and phobias about speed and heights as the principle of flooding kicks in.”

She said the fear of riding a roller coaster is often conquered when the person is exposed to the pure thrill of it. Ferrari World Abu Dhabi also talks of the baffling paradox.

Who is responsible for safety and health?

Mack-Even said although theme parks have facility-wide terms and conditions which are agreed upon when purchasing a ticket and specific regulations and instructions posted at each ride, health safety is largely a matter of self-control on the part of the guests.

“Theme parks do introduce warning signs and remind them of the danger of experiencing certain rides given certain conditions. Cast members along the attraction, from the entrance to the queue till the point of loading and checking lapbars, are trained to scan guests entering the ride and if there are any concerns, they are meant to approach the guest, similar to flight attendants when passengers enter an aeroplane,” he said.

What happens when a health problem is sighted?

The scenarios are different from ride to ride during a medical emergency. “While a round or flat ride needs to be stopped instantly, a coaster or a dark ride might need a different course of action.

“The fastest and easiest way to evacuate a coaster is by bringing the coaster vehicle back to the station rather than stopping it midway and using emergency evacuation procedures. Bringing a coaster back to the station normally doesn’t take more than 90 seconds while initiating an emergency procedure will take several minutes,” Mack-Even said.

Amusement arcades

Mack-Even said, “The content in arcade games is very different from what you would see in say console and online games. Therefore, inappropriate content is avoided.”

He said in some markets, they have to categorise or rate a game if the content is inappropriate for a younger age group or has violent content. This sort of rating has not been implemented in MENA region,” he added.

Silvio Liedtke, CEO of Landmark Leisure which runs Fun City, Fun World, Fun Block and other amusement attractions, said, “Our responsibility as operators of machines is to minimise any risk to lives, whether it is the staff or customers. We have certified operating procedures and our staff are trained to manage different scenarios. We also abide by manufacturer recommendations and adopt preventive maintenance.”

Going for a ride?

Avoid carrying loose articles for your safety and that of others. An expert explains why:

Loose articles, or items that people carry in their pockets or hands such as coins, keys or a mobile phone, are deemed the biggest hazards because they can fall out, get stuck, injure someone or cause some kind of damage during the ride.

Theme park signs clearly state that no loose articles should be taken on a ride and cast members try and enforce the rule.

Says Mack-Even, “If an article gets lost during the ride, the hassle of retrieving it is one part of the operations. The other is dealing with the safety aspect. For example, a roller coaster crosses a guest pathway below the coaster. Considering the risk, the operator often introduces a netting system below the track to catch loose articles as an additional safety measure.

Ride operators constantly have to educate guests and mitigate the risk of their carrying loose articles on the ride which leads us to a key concern: guest behaviour. While most of the general risks can be mitigated during the design phase, the biggest unknown will always be guests and their behaviour.”

Tripping is another major hazard: When getting off a ride, loss of footing may lead to a fall. Visitors need to watch their step at all times.

The psychology of thrill: How it works

According to an analysis by Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi, which has the world’s fastest roller coaster, Formula Rossa, roller coasters remain the major attraction for any theme park around the world.

People travel extensively to ride roller coasters, to be rattled to their cores and submit their bodies to self-inflicted fear, while others stand back and watch in awe, as a collection of strangers scream and laugh in harmony, as they loop, twist and spin.

Quoting psychologist Margee Kerr, the theme park said activating the feeling of fear is something humans desire, in the same way they desire happiness. “Incredibly, the euphoria felt during a moment of fear is akin to the euphoria felt by total cheerfulness,” says Kerr. “This is because the adrenalin of a roller coaster activates our fight or flight response, which immediately suspends our rational mind, and prepares us for something that requires great attention in order to survive.

In this state, we are gifted with enough energy to see ourselves through the initial fear or threat, and our sensitivity to pain is significantly reduced. The resulting sensation leaves us in a feeling of total bliss.

An environment of controlled fear is essentially pure energy, and not much else.”

According to the theme park, “Processing the fearful information during a roller-coaster ride can be so intense on your emotional core, it’s instantly stored in your Hippocampus (the part of your brain that looks after emotional memories). Once we understand we are threat-free, the lust for loops stays with us forever.”

UAE top spots

■ Atlantis Aquaventure Waterpark in Dubai
■ Wild Wadi Waterpark in Dubai
■ IMG Worlds of Adventure in Dubai
■ Dubai Park and Resorts in Dubai
■ Yas Waterworld in Abu Dhabi
■ Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi
■ La Mer Waterpark in Dubai
■ Warner Bros World in Abu Dhabi
■ Dreamland Aqua Park in Umm Al Quwain
■ Iceland Waterpark in Ras Al Khaimah
■ Hili Fun City in Al Ain