Friday, May 17, 2024

Facing (and Overcoming) Fears at Disney World


I'll admit it - I'm kind of a ride wimp.  Whenever we go to a "normal" amusement park, I always balk at roller coasters.  I don't love anything that goes really high, especially when my legs are free (more on this later!).  I won't go on any ride that goes upside down.  Even at a theme park like Universal, I avoid some of the "better" rides in the park (like Velocicoaster or Incredible Hulk) because they're just not my speed.

But Disney World is different.  Right?  It's supposed to be a family friendly complex, with rides for children of all ages.  What could possibly be scary about the rides there?  Well, I'll admit that I have been afraid of a few things.  But on this last trip, I decided to face my fears.  And since I'm here writing this, I lived to tell the tale.  We're going to talk about this here, but know that if you're hesitant about certain rides, you are not alone.

Going into this most recent trip, there were a few rides that we had not done.  Two of those were because they were new to us since our last trip.  But there were others that we avoided for any number of reasons.  We don't do Kali River Rapids in Animal Kingdom because we don't want to get soaked.  We skip Mission: Space in Epcot because of the combination of claustrophobia and motion sickness that I hear is prominent there.  And I have avoided Rock N Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios because there are inversions - sorry/not sorry, that one isn't likely to change.

On our prior trip, I had conquered Splash Mountain for the first (and ultimately last) time.  It turns out that I really enjoyed it!  I can't wait to ride Tiana's Bayou Adventure for the first time (of hopefully many).  That ride has a large drop and the possibility of getting soaked, so I wasn't sure what to think, but after having done it, I know I won't have any issue with it in the future.  As is often the case, fear of the unknown is the bigger fear.

To that end, I had some concerns about the two newest thrill rides at Disney, Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind and Tron Lightcycle Run.  I prefer when a new attraction is a cutting edge, animatronic-heavy dark ride (let's say Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway).  But Disney had leaned into the thrill ride and I wasn't about to pass them up because I was nervous.

For Guardians, my biggest fear was how I'd feel coming off of the ride.  I had heard a lot of horror stories about motion sickness on this one in particular, and I have had my battles with that in the past.  Since it's such an individual thing, the only way to find out was to actually do it.  I'm happy to report that I had no such issues on this attraction, so that was at least one fear behind me.

In terms of the ride itself, I actually probably should have been more nervous than I was, because it was pretty intense.  The most intense ride at Disney (that I do, anyway) is probably Expedition Everest, but Guardians is right up there.  Fortunately (at least for me), so much of it happens in the dark and while other stuff is going on via the screens around you, so I didn't have a lot of time to worry about how my body was being thrown around (read my full review here).  

My concern about Tron was much more about the actual experience (well, and my glasses falling off, but I needn't really have been worried about that one in retrospect).  The opening part of Tron is outdoors, and the track is visible as you're walking into and out of the canopy which hangs over the attraction.  As such, I had seen plenty of videos of what it looked like, and it is even more intimidating in person.

It doesn't go upside down, but it does tilt a lot and the ride vehicle is like a motorcycle (lightcycle, if you will) that reminds me a lot of Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure at Universal Orlando.  That one was particularly fast as well, so combined with seeing my fate up close, I wasn't sure how I'd do on Tron.

But I'm happy to report that I loved this one as well.  For me personally, I found that the opening sequence outside is so fast that it doesn't give you a lot of time to really even think about your fears. And once it goes inside, the darkness again works to my advantage, as you don't get a good look at the track itself, a la Space Mountain.  It's wall to wall action, and before you can think about what's happening, it's over (this is a positive, if you couldn't tell).

One thing I've learned about myself is that what I DON'T like most about coasters is more often the climbing parts rather than the drops.  I mean, sure, the drops can be scary but the slow ascent where you can look out and see how high you're getting is what really does me in.  If a ride vehicle ever got stuck right before hitting the apex and I had to sit there leaning backwards, feeling like I'm going to fall out of the car, I don't know how I'd avoid a panic attack.  My point is that for both Tron and Guardians, this is off the table.  Everything happens quickly!

My biggest fear to overcome on this trip was not one of the new additions, though.  It was an old classic that had been around for years but that I had always avoided - the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.  I mentioned earlier that I don't like heights - this still remains true.  But much like my self analysis of coasters, I think I figured out what my real issue was.

Let me set the scene for you - do you know those rides at amusement parks where you sit in a gondola-like vehicle and it gently and slowly takes you from one side of the park to another?  At Hersehypark, for example, it's called the Skyview.  I don't like rides like this.  The lap bar never seems very secure to me and my legs dangle freely out into the sky.  It's especially frightening when the ride stops in the middle, inevitably over a working roller coaster, so the vehicle rocks a bit from the coaster going by beneath you.

I do those rides, because my family wants to do them and no one else seems to have this issue.  But any kind of drop tower and such is out for me.  I think it's the dangling legs part - it just doesn't feel secure enough for me.  I've gone on other high rides, but if I was fully indoors, I never really had a problem with them.

All of this background is to say that I finally worked up the courage to ride Tower of Terror, because I was able to justify and compartmentalize my fear - I'm inside, my legs aren't hanging over the side, little kids ride this thing all the time.  Whatever it took, I was ready to give it a shot this time.

And once again, I'm truly glad I did.  I now understand why this ride is so iconic.  It drops you from heights that I never thought I wanted to deal with.  But due to the fact that I was fully indoors, on a seated bench, I didn't really have any issues while it was happening.  I actually had a harder time staying in my seat due to the force of the drop than I did in being afraid.

This isn't to say that anyone else would have the same reaction, or be able to overcome their own fears on whatever rides scare them.  My daughter in particular is not a fan of coasters in any form - she doesn't like the "stomach drop" feeling.  She doesn't even like the initial drop in Pirates of the Caribbean, which I consider to be a non-entity.  My point is that each person is different, and me writing this post won't automatically get you to overcome your fears.

Mostly I wanted to write this just to get you thinking about the topic and maybe, just maybe, give some rides that you considered "off limits" a second chance.  I've found a bunch of my favorite rides that I probably would have written off a few years ago.  While a Disney trip is about having fun, I've mostly allowed myself to get outside of my comfort zone a little bit, and almost always had positive results.  Besides, if you try something and realize that you still hate it, you never have to do it again - just ask my daughter, who is now old enough to skip rides without rider swap, and enjoys hanging out around the exits while the rest of us ride.  

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