Why I don't do on-board video of Universal's coasters

Since I started making my 360° and roller coaster “on-board” videos, I’m figuring there will be the inevitable request to put up videos of the rides that I enjoy at Universal Orlando Resort’s theme parks (Universal Studios Orlando and Universal’s Islands of Adventure).

This is post is to explain why I can’t do them, at least not without jumping through significant (and potentially expensive) hoops.

“No Loose Articles”

Every theme park has rules about “loose items” being brought on board their rides, whether handheld or stuffed into a pocket. The primary reason is safety, and also to forestall a lawsuit by a patron who loses a hat or a wallet that falls out of his or her pocket on a ride, because the signs are present clearly stating the warning.

The other major coaster parks here in Central Florida—Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, SeaWorld Orlando—while they have a “no loose items” policy that is more stricly enforced than, say, Walt Disney World, do allow use of mounted action cameras like GoPrps (and my obsolete Rylo 360°), as long as they are securely mounted with an approved system like a properly fitted chest or hand/wrist mount (the latter is what I use personally). For example, Busch Gardens’ web site has a well-defined policy:

Please note that Selfie Sticks or any hand-held extension poles for mobile devices are not permitted on any ride.

The following conditions must be met for any hands free cameras/camera harnesses to be permitted on a ride:..

  • Chest-mounted and wrist-mounted harnesses are allowed.
  • Camera must be secured by a 3-point or more harness, over the riders shoulders and around the torso, that is snapped or buckled closed and cannot be detached by bumping.
  • Cameras with a case must be tightly snapped closed and the case must be securely attached to the harness with a screw-type pin or similar device. Similarly, an uncased camera can be directly and securely attached to the harness with a screw-type pin or similar device.
  • Please see ride attendant for ride-specific procedures.

Outside of this allowance, clearly and visibly “loose” items will get you blocked from getting in line until you either rent a locker or leave them with someone else who isn’t riding (although hats and glasses are allowed with a warning, the former out of deference to the heat and humidity that is Florida weather). Busch Gardens and SeaWorld both provide “amnesty nooks” for lack of a better word, at the boarding area to temporarily store items you don’t want to bring on board, although Busch has recently ended and covered up theirs.

Universal’s Policy—Loose Articles, Cameras, and Dark Spaces

Unlike the other local theme parks, Universal Orlando enforces the “no loose items” policy much more strictly, most likely due to a couple of very public accidents that occurred on board “Dueling Dragons” where passengers were struck by flying objects that likely came out of somebody’s pocket (one incident resulted in permanent blindness). This ban on loose items includes GoPros and similar cameras, regardless of how they are mounted.

Universal’s policy is in fact so strict, that their two most popular coasters—“The Incredible Hulk” at Universal’s Islands of Adventure and the “Hollywood Rip Ride Rock-It” at Universal Studios Orlando—have metal detectors installed and incoming riders are searched for loose items before being allowed to proceed, and are removed from the line and sent to the ride lockers if they have anything on their person. (Fortunately, Universal’s ride lockers are free while riding.)

Another preventive to making ride videos at Universal is that photography and video recording are banned on nearly all of their rides. There are likely multiple reasons, including safety, but there is also the consideration that most of their rides (especially in Islands of Adventure) use properties that are licensed from other companies they do not own, including…

  • Marvel, now owned by Disney (Marvel Super Hero Island)

  • Warner Bros. (“The Grinch” films, the “Harry Potter” film series)

  • King Features (Toon Lagoon)

  • Dr. Seuss Enterprises (Seuss Landing)

  • Sony/Columbia (Men in Black)

  • 20th Century Fox, now owned by Disney (The Simpsons)

  • Amblin Entertainment (Men in Black and E.T.)

Such arrangements aren’t unusual in the theme park world (SeaWorld Parks uses Sesame Street properties, Six Flags uses DC properties, Cedar Fair uses Peanuts characters), but none seem to have nearly as many licensing arrangements as Universal’s theme parks. Essentially, not only would I need the permission and assistance of Universal’s management, I’d also likely need the permission of the individual rights-holders. Last I checked, intellectual property holders don’t typically license their property for free.

Lastly, there’s a practical issue relating to how cameras like GoPros and my Rylo do their video stabilization that is critical to producing good results. Most of Universal’s rides are indoor “dark” rides, with very low lightning. Action cameras need sufficient light to perform stablization, or else you have an image that may be smooth mathematically but the minimal lights that are available are still dancing around in place and the video is unusable. Many of those rides also feature the use of 3-D video or film, which for obvious reasons aren’t amenable to being recorded without special filtering depending on the 3-D projection technique used (special screens, alternating polarizations, differing video sync rates, &c.).

TL;DR

In short, the ability to create on-board ride videos of attractions at Universal would require at a minimum the permission and assistance of Universal’s management, and possibly others, potentially at great expense.