Disney ride founders under weight of obese passengers

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The Independent US

For 43 years, the happy smiley people at Disneyland have been telling us it's a small world after all. But now, finally, reality has set in.

In January, Southern California's signature theme park will be closing its most famous ride – the one where visitors pile into flat-bottomed boats and go on a shiny plastic water tour of Planet Earth to the strains of that supremely irritating song. The ride has to undergo some renovation.

The reason? Disneyland's visitors have been getting not smaller but bigger, wider and fatter, and the boats on the "It's a Small World" ride have developed an annoying habit of running aground under all the extra weight.

The company itself denies that obesity has anything to do with it: it says the renovation is necessary because a series of fibreglass patches on the bottom of the waterway have created obstacles that need to be cleared.

But visitors, former employees and self-appointed Disney watchers all attest to the frequent occasions on which the boats on "It's a Small World" back up because a vessel carrying more pounds per square inch than anyone could have reasonably envisaged back in 1964 has ground to a halt.

"The Cast Members [Disney employees] operating the ride try their very best to eyeball the girth and size of the riders coming down the line and purposely leave a row or two empty on many boats," an assiduous Disney watcher called Al Lutz reported on his website this week. "Even those discreet tactics don't always work with today's riders."

And so Disney will be digging a deeper fibreglass channel and replacing the old fleet of boats with new, more buoyant upgrades. The two biggest trouble spots, according to those in the know, come at the exhibition of Mounties, representing Canada, and along the S-curve representing Scandinavia. Because much of the ride is indoors and invisible to its operators, it can take up to 10 minutes to realise that a boat is stuck, at which point the backup resembles gridlock on one of the many crowded freeways leading to the theme park's front gates in Anaheim, about 45 minutes' drive south of Los Angeles.

Mr Lutz reports that overweight visitors are a problem at other rides too, among them the Pirates of the Caribbean, Pinocchio and Alice in Wonderland.

Disney is not completely without responsibility for the obesity trend in America. For a decade, it had a joint marketing agreement with McDonald's. At Disneyland and other theme parks, there is a plentiful supply of giant sodas, churros and ice cream.

Sometimes, fat customers escorted off the "Small World" ride get quite nasty with the Cast Members about the problems of the ride. The staff's reaction? To offer them a free food ticket by way of apology.