A News page for the Orlando’s areas other Minor Attractions and Resort properties
---- THE LATEST BUZZ ----
(11/26/2022) Orlando Freefall Operator Receives Huge Fine (MORE...)
(11/19/22) Kennedy Space Center Adding Peanuts Themed Attraction in 2023 (MORE...)
(11/15/2022) Orlando Freefall Tower Activity Update (MORE...)
(10/27/22) Unicorp Revives Plans For New Sand Lake Resort Complex (MORE...)
(10/23/22) The Kennedy Space Center Is Now A Must See Attraction Again (MORE...)
You can find our review of the I-Drive 360 attractions (Orlando Eye, Madame Tussauds and SeaLife Aquarium here.
Central Florida News - (11/9/22) Buckle up Orlando, cause here we go again. Tropical Storm Nicole is sitting just off the East Coaster of Florida, poised to build up into full Hurricane strength by Wednesday afternoon and make a run straight for Florida Atlantic beaches, crossing through central Florida once again (Sorry Tampa and Orlando…) where it will start to wind back down into Tropical Storm strength level as it turns North-Eastward to run up the rest of the Atlantic coastal states between Friday and Sunday.
If you are in the area or were planning on visiting any theme parks or attractions this week, please check in with the various websites and social media to check on their status beforehand.
Orlando International Airport (MCO) says they will “cease commercial operations” at 4pm on Wednesday afternoon until the weather conditions will allow them to safely reopen.
Currently Disney is already reported to have scheduled their outdoor smaller attractions (waterparks, mini-golf courses) to be closed on Thursday, and the Magic Kingdom’s “extended evening hours” event on Wednesday night has also been cancelled.
Universal Orlando has also already announced that Volcano Bay will be closed on Wednesday, while Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure are still scheduled for normal operations at this point, but it is all subject to change as they monitor the weather conditions.
To all our readers, friends and family members in Florida, stay safe!
(10/27/22) Remember years ago when Unicorp kept talking about how they were going to redevelop their Wyndham Orlandoi property that sits along Sand Lake drive between I-Drive and Universal Blvd? While they never could seem to get that project off the ground then, they are apparently back at it once again, claiming they want to transform the property to feature a new 600-room hotel tower, some “apartments” as well as up to 50,000 sqft of retail space along the highly trafficked tourist corridor. If they do manage to move forward with it this time around, look for construction to start sometime in early 2024.
(9/28/22) A quick update for anyone who happens to be in the Florida area this week. You have obviously been made aware of the approaching Hurricane Ian by now. According to updates from all the major theme parks in the area, they are all planning on being closed on both Wednesday and Thursday this week, and will update their schedules to reflect what will happen on Friday as soon as they are able to determine their status.
The list of closed theme parks include all the parks at Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens Tampa and Legoland Florida. Stay safe everyone, hunker down and stay safe!
(8/18/22) The Gaylord Palms has announced that ICE! will return to the resort this winter, after being absent for the two two years. The theme of this year’s return is also awesome, with the ice sculptures being themed to Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!. Check out the announcement video about everything coming to ice starting this November.
(6/4/22) Our friends at Orlando Experience stopped by to check out the new Walt Disney World Store on International Drive in Orlando. In addition to Walt Disney World merchandise, the store also serves as a place where guests can buy their theme park tickets, experience a Disney Vacation Club “Virtual Discovery Station” and more.
Kennedy Space Center - (11/19/22) The Kennedy Space Center will open a new attraction in Spring 2023 called “All Systems Are Go”. The attraction will actually feature the Peanuts characters who will narrate a story telling the history of NASA leading up to the Artemis missions. The new show attraction will take place in the KSC’s current “Universe Theater” which is getting a lot of technical upgrades to accommodate the new production.
(10/23/22) Back in June I was able to take a special visit to the Kennedy Space Center to take a preview peek inside their newest addition: Gateway: The Deep Space Launch Complex. I meant to post some information on this a little sooner, but then tried to time it out with the launch of the new Artemis rocket. If you’ve followed the progress of Artemis, you know it has suffered more than a few delays, but with a new launch window on the horizon, the timing is more than right to take a serious look inside the Kennedy Space Center once again in my latest article posted over at Blooloop, so please follow the link for that.
In additional to all the official media and release information the the Gateway attraction posted in the Blooloop piece, I’ve added a big assortment of personal photos I’ve taken myself showing off what I saw inside Gateway as well as a good look at other major attractions at the Kennedy Space Center. In all honestly, visiting the KSC was a fantastic experience, as I think my last visit there was about 30 years ago in the early ‘90s, and things have changed so much since then.
The old experience was highlighted by a bus tour out past the massive VAB building and if you were lucky, you might be allowed to get close to one of the launch pads and crawlers if they were not in use at the time. There wasn’t much to the main complex back in the day other than an assorted display of old rockets, but the experience now is more akin to the feeling you might have enjoyed when visiting Epcoit’s Future World back in the 90s. You know, back when the message was about a bright future ahead through technology advancements, and when everyone’s favorite ride there was Horizons.
The Kennedy Space Center of today now has that look at feel, with an assortment of large attraction buildings that combine displays of the actual hardware that went into space with interactive areas, theatrical re-creations of historical moments, an IMAX theater and even a couple of motion simulator rides. Plus you can see the acutal Space Shuttle Atlantis now on display… and I have to admit, it made me tear up a bit when I saw it.
Coming off a cruise, my family and I stopped in and really enjoyed the our experience there, from the larger than life attractions to the lunch we ate in the afternoon where even the food was quite tasty. (We also noted that it wasn’t as crazy overpriced as the food is at the nearby Orlando theme parks as well, which was nice.)
My family has a small bit of a connection here as well, as my wife’s grandfather was in the Air Force and was assigned the duty of flying the Apollo 13 astronauts to various locations around the world on a press tour upon their return to Earth. Meanwhile my oldest son is in college studying aerospace engineering and my other son just started college to become a professional pilot. So we left the Kennedy Space Center more than a little inspired, and definitely will make plan to return again on a future trip to try out the four different flight rides inside the new Gateway attraction.
(12/13/21) Kennedy Space Center is working on a new attraction to open in 2022 called the Gateway: The Deep Space Launch Complex. The idea is for this new complex to bit a bit flexible and able to be changed as needed, while having a focus on ‘forward-looking’ space exploration issues.
Placed inside is a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster rocket used in two mission (including the one that shot a Tesla Roadster into space) and it is being presented just as it looked upon final entry with all the burn scoring and all. Other items included will be an Orion crew vehicle, a moon habitat concept, a Boeing CST-1000 Starliner crew vehicle, and a two-story 4D flying theater attraction where guests can choose one of four different possible space missions.
2022 - Icon Park / New Attractions - (9/24/22) A new attraction will soon open at ICON Park in Orlando, in the shadow of the wheel. It is called Max Action Arena, which is said to feature over 8,000 sqft of Virtual Reality attractions, adventure rooms, ax-throwing, escape games and more.
(7/17/22) Attractions Magazine has confirmed with Icon Park that the planned launch of the Bullseye Blast shooting game on the wheel has been “paused”. As many have suggested, they are seeking to “redesign the shooting devices” before attempting to re-launching the game. Many suggestions have been posted online about how they could have themed the devices as binoculars, spyglasses or even cameras with a telephoto lens instead of guns with sniper scopes.
Attractions has a good write up about it all, along with video footage of their tes run of the Bullseye Blast concept as originally designed. So I look forward to seeing how Icon Park works with the vendor of the technology to evolve the concept into something new.
(7/16/22) It is safe to say that ICON Park in Orlando is still technically reeling from the bad press surrounding the accidental death of a rider on the Orlando Freefall tower ride earlier this year (which was not owned or run by ICON Park, but was owned and operated by Orlando Slingshot who leased the property). Unfortunately, I don’t think ICON Park just did themselves any favors this week after announcing a new “attraction” being added to the giant observation wheel that is somewhat questionable in taste.
They are calling it Bullseye Blast, which essentially gives riders the option to take fake laser-tag style guns, complete with target scopes, up into the sky to shoot at 50 targets placed around the area that can be seen from the air from the comfort of the wheel’s air conditioned cabins. The backlash online was immediate, and I have to say that I agreed myself when I posted my own comment about the concept. Between the press image and reading about the concept, it immediately gave me “Las Vegas Sniper” vibes in the worst possible way, and just because of that, you know there is no way you would ever see such an attraction added to the High Roller wheel in Las Vegas.
Meanwhile we also know that the citizens of Orlando still have some deep scars from the mass-shooting that took place in 2016 at the Pulse nightclub that rocked the community to the core. When 49 people were killed and 53 others wounded in the space of minutes at a local club, the Orlando community clearly has the right to feel that the addition of Bullseye Blast may be more than a little insensitive.
To be clear, I’m not against rides or attractions that feature an interactive “shooting” element to them. I really love rides like Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin and Men In Black Alien Attack and believe that a combat story element can definitely be used on an attraction in the right concept and where thematically appropriate. On the flip-side of the coin, the idea of adding sniper-scope weapons to a normally peaceful observation wheel attraction may be a bit too far “out of the box”.
I know by the feedback on social media that I’m not alone in my thoughts on this, especially as the technology used for this very attraction could still be used and just packaged in a very different way than what ICON Park selected. A long-time industry friend of ours, Dave Cobb, perhaps most well known as the Creative Director of Universal’s Men In Black attraction, had lots to say online about this new attraction from someone who had the task of opening the MIB attraction in 2000, with their project literally under construction when the Columbine High School shooting took place in April 1999.
I know I was thinking myself that they could have themed the devices as telescopes rather than guns right about the same time that Dave tweeted out a similar concept that they could have themed them as “Magic Spyglasses” instead. “It can become a seek-and-find game with the exact same mechanic.” “So many options to make it ANYTHING but shooting.”
2023 - Brightline Service To Orlando International Airport and Beyond -
(9/24/22) Good news for the future of transit from the Orlando Airport to the main tourist corridor via rail. The OBJ has confirmed that SunRail has signed off on a plan to share the train corridor with Brightline that will take riders from the airport down to a stop near Universal’s new Epic Universe theme park (opening in 2025) and the Convention Center. In a huge win for this new rail transportation plans, the SunRail commission voted unanimously in favor to support the “Sunshine Corridor” project that will continue past the I-Drive area stops mentioned above and then on to another stop just outside the Walt Disney World resort. From here, long term plans are also in place from Brightline to eventually extend the line all the way to Tampa eventually that would complete the rail line’s run all the way from Miami. It was also mentioned that the united effort of support for the Sunshine Corridor, not just from the rail groups, but also all the local tourist attractions would only benefit the program’s efforts to secure Federal Funding for the expansion. So far the only group to turn their nose up at the plan was the Walt Disney Company who refused to allow a station to be built on their property if the line made stops anywhere other than the airports. On the other side of the coin, Universal Orlando has agreed to donate land for the proposed station that will be located near their Epic Universe theme park project.
(7/3/22) Walt Disney World repeats history playing the “train game” with Florida once again. How so? Earlier this week a Disney spokesperson came out to say that Walt Disney World is no longer supporting the proposed Brightline train project, and the once proposed station for the line at Disney Springs has been canceled. At the time that Disney agreed to work with Brightline on the project, the layout of the expansion line that would run from the Orlando Airport to Tampa was looking to run down the SR-417 tollway from the airport directly to Disney property before heading off towards Tampa.
So what changed? Well Brightline was always looking into various property options to move the line through Orlando to Tampa, and of course as Brightline will travel from the coast down SR-528 to get to the airport, it only makes sense to continue that alignment to try and continue the run down SR-528 to Orlando, which would also allow for an additional stop by the Orange County Convention Center in the heart of the tourist district.
On June 1st it was reported that a new Federal Grant was being given to Brightlight for exactly this purpose to help secure the funding needed to proceed with this alternate route the line would take before turning towards Disney. Not only would the new alignment allow for easier flow to and from the airport for more visitors to Orlando, but provide easy access from the Convention Center area, which is also just down the street from SeaWorld Orlando and virtually right next door to where Universal is building their newest theme park, Universal’s Epic Universe. And there-in lies the problem… because Disney is once again taking their ball and going home because they can’t play nice.
This new alignment not only better serves the needs of the area, but serves the community because the plan was also to have Sun Rail expand their service to make runs down this same track from the Convention Center to the Airport every 15 minutes, removing the need for thousands of vehicles per day to travel down SR-518 to the airport. With stops at the Convention Center and Disney Springs and then moving on to Tampa (which would remove more cars from I-4 coming from the Tampa area) the project seems like it should be a win-win for everyone.
As I’ve alluded to, Disney has done all this before. Lets jump back about 20 years and local residents will recall a little something called the Florida High Speed Rail project. In November of 2000 the resident of Florida voted to approve an amendment to the states constitution that asked for the government to proceed with the design and installation of a High Speed Rail system, with the initial leg designed to connect the Tampa and Orlando airports, running mostly down the I-4 corridor. To help ensure there were enough passengers along the line, the state asked Disney to get involved and allow a station to be built on Disney Property which would deliver countless tourists right from the airports onto Disney’s doorstep. Around 2002 everything fell apart because Disney refused to allow a station at Walt Disney World if the line stopped anywhere else between Disney and the Orlando Airport. Even then the government knew they needed to have an additional stop at the Convention Center, and Disney refused to play ball if that requirement stayed. As this essentially meant that the taxpayers of Florida (especially in the Orlando area) would be building a transportation system that would only benefit Disney and not the people, that was never going to stick, so in 2004 the Florida voters then removed the High Speed Rail amendment from the state constitution. The project was essentially dead.
There is still a “Brightline” to this story… because the new alignment now being established as the “Sunshine Corridor” still plans to move ahead. The plan will expand the run from the Orlando Airport to the Convention Center and then on to a second station “near Disney Springs, although not on Disney property.” for the next phase before proceeds on towards Tampa. The location of this new station near Disney has not been revealed, but I’ve got a hunch it may involve a new large piece of property that the state took control of right next to Disney that is currently being cleared out. I’m talking about the Crossroads retail property right at the end of Disney’s Hotel Plaza Blvd entrance. The site is being cleared out to allow for better off-ramp access from the I-4 freeway directly into this very road, and will leave a lot of empty undeveloped property in the aftermath that could easily accommodate a new rail station right just outside Disney’s doorstep. (Again, just speculation on my part, as I have no insight as to the actual alignment of how they plan to provide rail service down I-4 from the Convention Center to Tampa, but the purchase of this property by the State was not something that had been done the last time rail service through here was being considered.
(6/3/22) For a few years now everyone has watched Florida’s Brightline rail service proceed with their planned expansion from the Ft. Lauderdale / West Palm Beach area to link up with the Orlando International Airport (MCO). According to the latest word, the project is 80% complete and is expected to open at MCO in early 2023. Just a couple weeks ago Brightline celebrated the arrival of their first test-train into the MCO station.
Once this phase is complete, work is expected to begin on expansions to both ends of the line, moving it towards Port Miami to the south, and on the Orlando side the line is expected to stop at Walt Disney World and then move on eventually to Tampa. But the journey through Orlando was just aided by a new federal grant that will also see Brightline service follow SR-528 and create another stop to service the Orlando Convention Center (and Universal Orlando’s new planned Epic Universe theme park) before moving on to another station by Disney Springs.
Previously Brightline was planing on taking a more direct southern route to Disney from the airport along SR-417, but the federal grant has given them the needed funds to take the more northern route that will actually connect travelers from the airport directly to popular destinations, which should also give some relief to traffic along the current roads once finished.
(1/20/20) According to the latest update an official from Virgin Trains stated that talks with Disney to put a station on or near the Walt Disney World property have reached a “rather advanced state now”. With the rail line pathway seemingly already set to run down the 417 from the Airport on a direct run towards Disney, it would only make sense that a station get build on the mouse’s doorstep at some point in the future. Of course Virgin Trains has to finish the expansion of their line from West Palm Beach to the Orlando Airport first.
(12/31/19) Discussions between Virgin Trains USA and the state of Florida have been extended for another 90 days to attempt to finalize the land-lease location of a high-speed rail route that would travel about 80 miles from the Orlando airport, down SR-417 to connect to I-4 where it would lead to a new station in the Tampa area.
As previously reported, Virgin is also in talks with Disney about locating a station on or near Disney property as they pass through the area, but a route along the SR-417 from the airport would remove any possibility of putting a station near the Orange County Convention Center, which became a major obstacle in getting Disney on-board with plans a decade ago for a similar project.
(12/18/19) While the Orlando airport is preparing for the arrival of the Virgin Trains USA line (formerly Brightline) to bring in riders from the southern Florida area starting in 2022, they are also apparently in talks about an expansion of the line from the Orlando airport that could eventually reach Tampa, that could include a stop at Walt Disney World.
Now stop me if you think you’ve heard this story before… because if you are local to central Florida, or a longtime reader, you are probably having a bit of deja-vu from 2009. Ten years ago the state of Florida began making plans to build a bullet train that would run from the Orlando to Tampa airports with a few stops along the way. This included a wanted stop at Orlando’s Orange County Convention center on I-Drive as well as one at Walt Disney World before running off towards Tampa. Unfortunately, while Disney was willing and wanted to have a grand-sized station on property, they also set an ultimatum demanding that the train would not stop anywhere in Orlando after leaving the airport before it arrived at Walt Disney World property. Since this would turn the state funded project into a direct funnel that would only benefit Walt Disney World, the rail project proposal soon died a quick death.
While at first one might think that this posturing was another mis-step from the Eisner era at Disney, this is not so as Michael Eisner was replaced by Bob Iger in 2005, so all this happened under Iger’s watch and it makes me wonder if it could play out the same way once again.
(8/9/19) Awhile ago you may remember reading a report here about how the Brightline high-speed train service that runs from Miami through Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach was planning to expand the service all the way to Orlando International Airport. That plan is still said to be on and now Virgin has come on board as a partner as well, that will see the service rebranded as Virgin Trains USA. The construction of the extension to Orlando is expected to take 3 years and be completed sometime in 2022.
There is more to come however, as Universal Orlando has now teamed up with Orange County to push as hard as they can to get the line extended a little bit more to create another stop that would be able to service the Orange County Convention Center as well as Universal’s new Epic Universe theme park resort property.
Meanwhile Virgin Trains says they are already plans to expand the system even more, with a stop at Walt Disney World and then a run down to Tampa… but obviously this expansion would cut out the rest of the Orlando market completely, which is why they are lobbying for the important extra stop at the Convention Center, which could service the entire Orlando tourist corridor along I-Drive and not just Walt Disney World.
This all sounds extremely familiar to me, and if you are local to Orlando, it might sound familiar to you as well, as a similar situation played out years ago over another proposed high-speed rail project that would have run from the Orlando airport to the Tampa airport, with a single stop at Walt Disney World. Disney at the time set the demand that they would only allow it to stop on their property as long as it did not stop anywhere else along the way and the project was soon abandoned as being entirely self serving to Walt Disney World, who wasn't paying for it, and not at all to anyone else.
???? - AREA 15 - (3/11/22) If you’re a reader of our Las Vegas news page, then the name “Area 15” is already familiar to you. If not, then prepare yourself to let things get a little “weird” and out there, as Area 15 has unexpectedly and quite literally planted their flag in Orlando, right off I-4 just north of Disney property. According to a FB post by Area 15, the unique attraction made famous in Las Vegas over the past 18 months brought in a giant robot planting a flag and left it next to the freeway at the future site for the second Area 15 attraction, just north of the Orlando Premium Outlets mall and south of the Cheesecake Factory.
According to the post the Area 15 Orlando site will feature about 300,000 square-feet of space on a 17-acre site, with over half of that space available for lease. Area 15 is really a crazy collection of unique experiences and attractions, but the most well known of them all is the Meow Wolf “Omega Mart” immersive art installation.
So the million dollar question for Area 15 right now is all about if another Meow Wolf location is planned for the Orlando location or not. Of course there are other similar concepts that could also fit right in if Meow Wolf wasn’t ready to expand again, such as Other Worlds (Ohio) or Arcadia Earth (New York & Las Vegas).
ORLANDO FREEFALL ACCIDENT NEWS - (11/26/2022) According to various news reports the operator of the Orlando Freefall tower ride where Tyre Sampson fell to his death from earlier this year has now been issued a fine of $250,000 from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The fine is said to be one of the largest ever issued by the department, and issued as the accident investigation had “concluded that Tyre fell from the drop tower due to changes made by the ride operators”. “He was sitting in one of two seats where the proximity sensor was manually repositioned to allow a larger restraint opening than the ride’s other seats, and because his seat’s harness proximity sensor had been improperly adjusted the ride was allowed to commence even though it was unsafe and led directly to his fall.”
(11/15/22) According to a local area reader, they were near Icon Park and noticed that the rider/seats on the Orlando Freefall tower appear to have been moved up to the top of the tower, rather than resting at the bottom where they’ve been since the ride’s closure. Perhaps this is a step towards the expected disassembly, or perhaps the systems were being run and tested ahead of a potential sale to a new owner. Either way, according to our source, they believe it may have been the first time it has moved in months.
(10/6/22) In a piece of breaking news Screamscape has been told that the Orlando Freefall ride involved in the fatal accident earlier this year will be taken down at Icon Park. I can’t say I’m surprised by this move at all, but as new as the ride hardware is, my gut feeling is that it will be taken down, refurbished privately and sold to potential new owner, likely one located somewhere in an international market far from North America. (China would work...)
While accidents have happened on other thrill rides in the past and have remained, you must remember a few things make this particular case stand out from any other incident. This was not a simple “accident”, this was a case involving the deliberate altering of the ride’s restraint and safety systems that then resulted in the death of Tyre Sampson. I would think this alone would be enough to elevate any pending legal case to also come with a criminal investigation to determine who ordered these changes to be made to the safety systems. From there this could turn into a potential verdict of Involuntary Manslaughter against those who were involved.
You also have to remember that Icon Park, where the ride is located, is not the owner, nor are they they operator of this ride. The site was leased out to a 3rd party, just like any other retail, restaurant or small attraction site on the property, where the ride was owned and operated by this 3rd party company. As such, it doesn't do Icon Park any good to let the Orlando Freefall tower remain on site as a constant reminder of what took place, so it make perfect sense that Icon Park would also want this ride to disappear as soon as possible.
(4/18/22) In a statement from the Florida Agriculture Commissioner regarding the accident on the Orlando FreeFall ride, new information from a third party they hired to investigate the accident have revealed that they believe that the owner/operator of the ride “made manual adjustments to the ride resulting in it being unsafe”.
According to the report from Quest Engineering and Failure Analysis, Tyre Sampson was riding in “Seat 1”, which has been confirmed by photos and videos, including footage of how the restraint system looked once he was loaded and cleared to ride. While “The physical and mechanical components of the ride did not reveal any evidence of physical or mechanical failure”, Seat 1 did show “accident-related evidence in the form of longitudinal striations on the seat base.” This is consistent with the video evidence of the accident, where Tyre Sampson was seen to have slid out of the seat base, by sliding forward and over the seat “horn” located at the front edge of the seat. During their investigation, they have determined that the gap between the harness and the seat horn (referred to as the “restraint opening”, was more than 6 inches, but less than 7 inches.
When the harness on the seats are lowered to what was supposed to be an acceptable ride-monitored height, lights are illuminated on each side of the actual seat, as well as a light on the ride’s main control panel. During their investigation they tested the restraint position to determine when these lights would illuminate.
Seat 1, which was occupied by Tyre Sampson did light up when tested. However, while testing all 30 of the seats on the Orlando FreeFall, setting them at the maximum width that the safety light would come on, variances were discovered. One of the 30 seats was already “decommissioned” and not in use, but looking over the remaining seats there were two seats that would illuminate with a visibly larger opening in the restraint gap than the remaining 27 seats.
The measurement of the other 27 seats revealed an average opening gap of 3.33 inches, but the ranges varied from 2.65” to 4.28”. This apparently falls within what is determined as a “normal” restraint opening gap. During the testing of Seat 1, the allowable restraint gap was 7.19 inches and on Seat 2 the allowable gap was 6.51 inches, far greater than the average gap of 3.33 inches determined on the other 27 seats.
According to further study, the proximity sensors for these lights are secured to the harness with a slotted plate “that is adjustable and positioned by two socket head cap screws. The adjustment of the proximity sensor locations has a direct effect on the restraint opening gap. Inspection of the plates for Seats 1 and 2 revealed evidence that adjustments were made to their proximity sensor locations AFTER the sensors were initially secured in place. On Seats 1 and 2, clear clamping marks from screw tightening exist on the plate that record the initial securement location of the proximity sensors.”
Geometric calculations of these markings have been determined that before the adjustment was made the restraint gap on Seat 1 would have been “near 3 inches”, falling in line with the average location of the other unadjusted 27 seats. They were only able to find these style adjustment markings on the sensor plates of Seats 1 and 2.
Further testing of the restraints and harness padding were performed while under load to simulate the weight of a rider. “The restraint opening could be expanded by approximately 3 inches when tested up to about 250 lbs. of opening force. In other words, the effective restraint opening will expand by several inches when forced.”
So during the accident, the restraint gap on Tyre Sampson was determined to be over 6 inches, which could have grown to as much as 10 inches at the time the accident took place as the riders hit the brakes and experience 4 G’s of decceleration. During further testing, individuals sized at 6’3” and 6’5”, weighing between 200 and 300 pounds, were positioned in a seat and given an opening gap of 6 to 10 inches. “Both individuals were able to successfully slip through the restraint opening without any assistance.”
This is serious news for sure, and please let it be known that the ride ops working that night did nothing wrong. They followed the training they were given, and the ride’s safety system said that everything was operating normally and just the way it should be. The ride ops had no way to know that “someone” had made some unsafe adjustments to the safety system, and now the focus of the investigation needs to be set on how, when and why these adjustments were made. Because the way things were set up on Seats 1 and 2, it now does seem that it was only a matter of time before an accident like this was going to take place.
If it wasn’t Tyre Sampson, then it was going to eventually happen to someone else.
(If the FB link below doesn’t work, try this one)
(4/9/22) According to an update posted by ClickOrlando, an attorney representing the family of the 14-year old who fell from the ride has issued a statement to reports that some of the seats on the Orlando FreeFall tower may have been “adjusted to fit larger patrons”. It isn’t known when the seats may have been adjusted, but it was indicated that the ride’s staff knew to send larger riders to these special seats.
While having seats for larger riders is certainly not a new thing in the industry, where either the seats may be slightly more accommodating or the restrains modified in some way to allow for a bigger fit (such as the double-belt seats found on B&M coasters), the released operations manual from the manufacture that mentions a 286-pound weight limit apparently does not mention anything at all about modified seats or restraints for larger riders. So the question has now being asked about who was behind these reported modifications and when these modifications may have taken place.
Keep in mind that this is simply a claim being made right now by the family attorney, and not something that been confirmed as being factual at this time. Clearly this is an issue worth looking into however to determine if it has merit or not.
(4/2/22) While the investigation is still taking place regarding the death of a rider on the Orlando FreeFall tower, there has been one common thread we’ve seen so far in the various reports thus far. In most of the various reports from the news agencies, they’ve reached out to various ‘ride safety experts’ around the nation, none of which are involved in the actual on-site investigation, but virtually all of them point out that the rider did not seem to be properly loaded into the ride’s restraint system.
In this article, Brian Avery describes the problem he saw fairly accurately, “In my opinion, it was not on correctly… it was resting on his stomach is what it appears in the videos that I've reviewed, and that it was not touching or close to the seat pan and/or in-between his crotch, which should have been the proper positioning of that to ensure that there was no gap between the base of the harness and/or the seat pan itself”.
Yet for some reason the ride’s safety system reported to the ride operators that the restraint was down far enough, and reported to the ride’s computer that all seats were down and locked, allowing the ride to start the cycle. Operating manuals for the ride have also been released stating that the maximum weight for a rider was 286 pounds, though scales are rarely put to use on theme park attractions so I’m not sure how this would have been determined. The 286 pound limit could have been more of a guideline of the approximate weight the restraints were designed to hold, or perhaps a simplification of the total weight allowed in each-seat that the entire carriage was capable of lifting at once. To my knowledge, Funtime has not addressed this particular item note to the public or media at this time, or how a 6’5” teenager that was reported to weigh between 320-340 pounds could have fit.
While I have not been on the Orlando FreeFall I do have one personal observation to make that has been bothering me. Since the accident, Dollywood has closed their own DropLine tower ride that came from the same manufacturer. While I have personally been on DropLine within the past year, I was not able to ride DropLine prior to this because my own weight prevented me from fitting into the DropLine’s restraint system.
In addition to the Orlando FreeFall tower’s seats being able to tilt forward, I thought it was also worth pointing out that the actual restraint bar is entirely different on the two ride systems. The Dollywood version (DropLine) can be seen here, mainly consisting of two metal bars that go down to a form-fitted lap-bar that meshes quite well with the seat which features a raised knob in the crotch area to hold riders in place.
While the seat-itself on the Orlando Freefall looks similar enough, the entire upper-body restraint of the Orlando Freefall is different, as you can see in this picture. While I don’t know this for a fact, the restraint looks as if may have been something outsourced from Gerstlauer. In fact, using Dollywood as an example, they system looks to be the same style restraint that Dollywood uses on the Mystery Mine roller coaster made by Gerstlauer, which you can see here. Again… I’ve had my battle’s with fitting into this particular restraint system as well over the years. During my last visit to Dollywood, while I did fit into DropLine’s restraint, I did not get the green light that I would fit into Mystery Mine.
Considering I’m about 7 inches shorter than the teen who died and less than the 286 pound weight limit set by the Orlando FreeFall, something about all this just had not been setting well with me. While the addition of a extra belt to hold the restraint down to the seat would have made sense here, Funtime’s documentation to the ride’s owner (Slingshot Group) says there is “no need for an extra safety or seat belt.” Even if the restraint was outsourced from Gerstlauer, they also do not use an extra belt when they use that restraint system on their roller coasters or their SkyFly rides. But as I mentioned, those restraints need to be latched down much tighter than what we saw take place in Orlando.
Like many of you, I’m more than a bit anxious to find out what the official investigation determines, as very little about how this accident happened is making any sense to me right now.
(3/29/22) While I was away for the weekend, it didn’t stop the chatter online on our social media about a major accident that took place at Iron Park in Orlando on Thursday night. If you haven’t seen the reports yet, a 14-year old boy died after he fell from the Orlando FreeFall tower ride that opened a few months ago.
What took place is horrifying and there are several photos and even a video out there of the incident, but trust me, you really don’t want to see that video. It is beyond disturbing. I will also say that really no one should be pointing fingers at this point while the investigation is taking place. With that in mind, I’ll break down what I think you should know.
You will hear that size played a factor here, and there is no denying that this was an unusual case, as the 14-year old was said to be 6 ft 5 inches tall and weighed 340 pounds. He was said to be an honor-student and played football, and at the time of the accident I read that he was on a trip with his team, away from his family.
As anyone of “size” will tell you, a visit to Orlando is full of moments where you can be barred from riding various attractions, and being unable to fit into the various restraint systems. The restraint used on the Orlando Freefall is the typical over-the-shoulder restraint system you will find variants of on a number of attractions, though a key difference here is that there is no additional “belt” that latches between your legs to the bottom of the restraint bar.
Unfortunately, it does seem that if the ride did have this back-up belt, the accident would likely not have taken place, but a large number of rides throughout the area with a similar restraint system also do not use any kind of extra belt. This is true of rides like Disney’s Rock ‘n Roller Coaster, Universal’s Doctor Doom FearFall and even the new VelociCoaster. This does not mean that those restraints are without backup redundancies built into their restraint design. All restraint systems have redundancies built in in various ways, so often the belts are felt to be more for ‘show’ than serve a practical purpose.
Many restraints on modern ride designs also usually feature sensors and lights to show when the restraint has been lowered enough to be sufficiently locked in. Again, riders of ‘size’ will know this well, as the test-seats for various attractions in the area often come with a green light that must light-up, and the attractions themselves also often have similar lights that the ride-ops used when they check that the restraints are good for dispatch. In many cases, if a restraint is not pushed down enough to trigger the green light, then the ride itself will refuse to run.
According to a representative for the Slingshot Group who operates the attraction, the workers are responsible for checking the lights on the restraint system, which is to ensure riders are properly secured in place. According to John Stine (Slingshot Group) “The ride will not ascend unless the harnesses are locked in. There were no indications there was anything different”.
One key difference between riding the Orlando Freefall and other drop tower rides out there is that the seats here will tilt forward near the top of the tower, and stay tilted forward until the riders reach the bottom of the tower at the end. So what happened during the incident is that the riders large sized left the restraint in a very high position. Again… According to what we know, the light indicated it was locked in place, though the images of just how high the restraint was are enough to make most people a little uncomfortable with that. During the drop from the tower with the seat tilted forward, combined with the high restraint and lack of a ‘crotch’ belt, it appeared in the video that the rider slipped out between the bottom of the restraint and the seat as the ride entered into the braking zone on the lower part of the tower. Again, I say that is how it “appeared” to happen in the video clip, and the investigation is ongoing, so we have to wait for the official results to confirm that is actually what happened. Immediately following the accident, emergency crews were called in and the rider taken in to the Arnold Palmer hospital who announced that he had died.
The accident is horrific and terrible… but please don’t try to blame the ride ops, as they are trained to rely on the ride’s built in safety system and the lights that will say if a rider is safely locked in or not. This wasn’t a matter of hearing something “click’ a number of times and maybe not locking in place, the restraint clearly gave off the light indicating it was locked down far enough and the ride was successfully dispatched. Without the light, the ride would not have dispatched into the ride cycle.
So what happens now? Obviously the attraction is closed for the investigation, and if I had to guess, it will be closed for even longer to address any findings of the investigation to make sure that this kind of accident never happens again. I’m no safety expert, nor an investigator, but I wouldn’t be surprised if additional belts are added to each seat from below the crotch up to the bottom of the restraint before the ride is allowed to reopen in addition to any other changes put into place from the manufacturer.