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Universal’s newest thriller VelociCoaster has just a lap bar. How safe is that?

We rode the Orlando roller coaster that goes 70 miles per hour on nearly a mile of track. And the only thing holding us in our seat was a lap bar.
Riders Ian Suarez, 41, left, and Adeta Gayah, 35, pull down the locking mechanism as they prepare to ride the new VelociCoaster during a media preview Wednesday at Universal Orlando.
Riders Ian Suarez, 41, left, and Adeta Gayah, 35, pull down the locking mechanism as they prepare to ride the new VelociCoaster during a media preview Wednesday at Universal Orlando. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Jun. 9
Updated Jun. 14

Hurling through the air as fast as 70 miles per hour, secured in your seat by nothing more than a bar across your lap: It’s something thrill-seeking roller coaster fans live for, and the new VelociCoaster gives riders that experience with nearly a mile of track that spirals through the Orlando sky.

The roller coaster is Universal Orlando’s newest attraction, modeled after the Jurassic World movie series. As enthralling as the twists and turns of the high-speed ride are, we noticed something was missing when we rode the coaster this week: an over-the-shoulder harness.

Riders wait as a coaster returns to the station at the new VelociCoaster ride.
Riders wait as a coaster returns to the station at the new VelociCoaster ride. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

Sound daunting? The reality is that lap bars do everything necessary to keep you glued to your seat on these kind of rides. And without the over-the-shoulder harness, roller coaster lovers like Chris Kraftchick, region director of the American Coaster Enthusiasts, get a higher-quality experience.

“(Only having a lap bar is) not unique on coasters anymore. A lot of coasters have them now, but it makes the experience better because you don’t feel like you’re stapled into your seat,” Kraftchick said.

Related: Universal Orlando opens VelociCoaster, the first new post-pandemic attraction in Florida

The real magic (a.k.a. physics) is all in that bar. An over-the-shoulder harness only adds “perceived safety,” according to Scott Smith, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies for the Master of International Hospitality and Tourism Management program at the University of South Carolina.

“There’s a lot of testing that goes into it, prior to any actual person being put into the seat, so those factors are all taken into account before anybody is ever in the attraction,” said Andrew Schaffer, Busch Gardens Tampa’s Director of Design and Engineering. He also added that water and sand dummies are used in test trials to make sure guests are safe by the time rides like this open.

There might not be an over-the-shoulder harness equipped with handle bars by your ear lobes to grip on the new VelociCoaster, but the handles on the lap bar work just as well for white-knuckling, especially when you free-fall plummet from the ride’s 155-foot drop or dangle upside-down over the water.

An additional perk of only using a lap bar on thrill rides is that it makes them more accessible for people of all shapes and sizes. The midpoint of peoples’ bodies are all very similar, regardless of height and weight, so a much higher percentage of the population will be able to comfortably ride roller coasters that only have a lap bar, Smith said. Much like Kraftchick said, there certainly is more freedom and mobility on rides like VelociCoaster that opt to only use the bar.

Universal Studios' VelociCoaster reaches a top speed of 70 miles per hour.
Universal Studios' VelociCoaster reaches a top speed of 70 miles per hour. [ KEVIN KOLCZYNSKI | Cortesía Kolczynski/Universal ]

Other roller coasters like Busch Gardens’ Tigris still have the over-the-shoulder harness, but they serve merely as “comfort collars” instead of providing any extra physical safety, said Schaffer.

“Specifically for Tigris, technically the lap harness is the actual harness for the attraction,” he said. “The comfort collars were something that SeaWorld Parks had added on to that attraction as just a secondary comfort for the guests just because the ride goes upside-down.”

VelociCoaster does in fact live up to its intimidating name. Kraftchick summed up the roller coaster perfectly: “intense, aggressive and relentless.”

If you’re looking for a thrill this summer as post-pandemic rituals resume, VelociCoaster and its single lap belt will deliver — and keep you safely in your seat.