Amusement parks are magical places full of joy and revelation…unless you work there. Then they’re exhausting horror shows full of near-misses, belligerent parents, and obnoxious children.
It’s like some sort of thermodynamics of joy are at play. For every thrilled scream on a roller coaster, an employee emits a groan of despair. For every first taste of cotton candy, a worker passes out from heat exhaustion. We’re not saying you shouldn’t enjoy a day at the local theme park. Just be aware that all that happiness comes at a cost, and some teenager on minimum wage is probably paying it.
Too negative? Well, let’s ask the people who work at these places. A bunch of them got together on Reddit to commiserate with their worst-ever stories of amusement-park employment. We edited them a bit for grammar and readability, but other than that, we left them untouched to give you a behind-the-scenes glance at the darkness that pools between the carnival lights.
Somebody has to run the controls of that Ferris wheel, and it’s not as easy as it looks.
“[This is] not really a horror story, but it was scary to me,” wrote anitabelle. Editor’s note: This definitely counts as a horror story.
“I worked at a children’s amusement park, and they had me operating the Ferris wheel, which is a rough ride to operate,” the Reddit user wrote. “You have to balance it and put people on of similar weights on opposite cars, so it’s a lot of stopping and loading before letting it go around a few times.”
“As you can imagine, it’s difficult for a teenager to explain to an overweight couple why they can’t get on the ride when the only other person on the ride is a skinny kid. I was supposed to only be on the ride for two hours. They left me there for four hours in direct sunlight with no breaks.”
“After four hours on a busy day with no water and no break—and getting sick of having fat people yell at me for not being able to get on immediately—I lost track of whether it was balanced.”
“I wound up making it go backwards, and people freaked the f*** out. That’s happened before, but I was usually able to stop it before it went all the way around. Not this time. I physically didn’t have the strength.”
“Luckily, the owner was around and stopped it. People were p***ed. When my supervisor came to see what happened, I said, ‘That’s what happens when you leave someone on this ride for four hours!’ [I have] no idea how I didn’t get fired. No one was hurt, but they sure as f*** were terrified.”
Injuries…do happen on roller coasters.
According to CNN, U.S. emergency departments responded to more than 30,000 injuries associated with amusement park attractions in 2016. That sounds like a lot, but to put that in context, the chance of getting hurt badly enough to spend a night in the hospital is just one in 16 million, CNN reported.
That’s no consolation if you’re that unfortunate one, of course. Just ask the unfortunate guy in this story.
“I worked on the Dueling Dragons at Universal [Studios in] Orlando when in college,” wrote boooort. “For those who don’t know, the Dueling Dragons were two separate coasters that ‘dueled’ and had several near misses with each other. They were pretty unique at the time and were super fun.”
“As you can imagine, Universal told people to empty their pockets before they rode so that their phones and s*** wouldn’t fly out and smack somebody on the other coaster at 60 miles per hour. Of course, many times people would ignore this because they’re lazy and stupid.”
“I was working one day when the ride shut down completely. Change had flown out of someone’s pocket and hit a guy in the eye, leaving him blind in that eye. The tragic part: The guy was already blind in his other eye. Now the guy is 100 percent blind.”
“[The roller coasters] didn’t duel anymore after that, and the ride was left permanently much lamer. I still feel for the poor blind guy, but the irony is comedic in a dark sort of way.”
“Edit: Since a lot of people are asking, this happened in 2011.”
It sure did, reported The Orlando Centinel. After two incidents in the summer of 2011 “in which riders were apparently struck by loose objects while aboard the attraction,” Universal Orlando told the press that the dragons would never duel again. While the park was sparse on the details of the incidents, the paper reported that one incident involved a 52-year-old man losing his eye due to injury.
Even when roller coaster accidents don’t lead to serious injuries, they can make life difficult for staff.
“I was working security at a theme park when I was 18,” wrote wired89. “One evening, one of the roller coasters that was stopped in the station got rear-ended by another.”
“There were some injuries, nothing severe thankfully. I did, however, end up staying up all night, after the park had closed, sitting on the coaster to ensure no lookie-loos or news media tried to get access to the cars. It was dark. Creepy. I was 18 in a closed, deserted amusement park.”
Unfortunately, there’s more than one type of “accident”…
“I operated a few different roller coasters during my fun-filled summers at this amusement park, but most of my horror stories come from one ride in particular,” wrote brittkneebear. “The train was one of the ones that you had to step into, with a lap bar restraint.”
“On one particular day, it was over 100 degrees, and the ride had been running as usual for most of the morning. As we were loading the train, a guest came up to me to say that there was an awful smell coming from the front car, and my stomach immediately dropped.”
“Usually with these types of complaints, we’d find that the previous rider had one too many slushies before riding and had lost their lunch. Gross, but we were used to cleaning that kind of stuff.”
“I started approaching the front car and immediately called for my coworker to direct everyone out of the train and back into the line, and to call our supervisor to close the ride.”
“Instead of a normal puke situation, I found a greenish-brown liquid spread all throughout the front car, from the seat down to the floor. Whoever was the last person to ride the ride had s*** all over themselves and hadn’t bothered to tell anyone about it.”
“Cleaning human feces is one thing. It’s absolutely disgusting, but it can be done. But trying to clean up human diarrhea in 100-plus-degree weather, off of the floor of a car where you had to kneel down and stick your head into the car to reach the very front, is a situation that I never would have imagined, even in my worst nightmares.”
“The ride was down for the rest of the day, and it took over an hour to clean everything out of the car before we could start really sanitizing it.”
Even when everything’s going smoothly on the rides, park visitors themselves can quickly ruin a shift.
“I was a caricature artist for Six Flags, and one day a dad and his son came up and wanted a drawing of the two of them,” wrote Lemmegeta20piece.
“Now, the way caricature pricing worked was we would charge per person in the drawing. The father and son wanted a simple black-and-white headshot of the two of them, and a black-and-white headshot was $10, so for the two of them it would be $20 before tax.”
“I very clearly explained this to them, asking several times, ‘Are you ok with the ending price?’ They excitedly accepted.”
“Fast forward to me ringing them up at the register, and I tell them the total: [something like] $24. The father’s happy and friendly demeanor quickly dissipates, and he begins arguing with me about pricing.”
“I calmly explain the situation with pricing and apologize if I wasn’t clear enough, and gently remind him that he understood and agreed, otherwise I wouldn’t have done the drawing. Big mistake.”
“He gets angrier and starts yelling at me, cursing me out for lying and overcharging them ‘to put a few more coins in my pocket.’ He accuses me of preying on parents and their children, thinking I can take advantage of them because ‘they’re stupid f***ers.’”
“He tries to take the drawing without paying, and when I hold it back and tell him he can’t, he throws a $10 bill at me and snarls that that’s all he’s going to pay. [He says] that I’m worthless and my drawing isn’t even good and doesn’t deserve any more than that.”
“I’m really upset at this point, and hand him the drawing, wishing him a good day. ‘F*** you!’ he yells in response. The whole time his son is standing there, looking embarrassed and terrified.”
“The dad proceeds to pace back and forth in front of my stand, alternating between coming back to the counter and yelling at me and chasing customers away, screaming at them about how I’m ‘stealing money’ and how the stand is ‘a huge f***in’ rip off.’”
“Thankfully his charade lasted all of 20 minutes, and police finally got him out of there. [The experience] left me pretty shaken, though. I had to take my break early and cried over my lunch.”
Water parks run into the same problems as land-based attractions, but with a little extra element of danger.
“I worked the slides at a water park for a summer, and once had to holler at a couple for trying to go down the raft slide in a double raft with their infant sitting on the hump in the middle,” wrote raikumori. “And they’re weren’t small people, easily 250-plus pounds each.”
“If they had gone down that slide, they very easily could have crushed their baby to death if the raft flipped over (which they did a lot), or lost hold of it and had it go flying off the side of the slide.”
“They were so p***ed at me because I made one of them walk back down the five flights of stairs with their baby. It’s like, ‘So sorry. I’m trying to not have to deal with dead infants today.’”
You’ll see a surprising amount of bad behavior at the water park.
“Lifeguarding at this lazy river tube pool, [I] basically just tell kids to get back in their tubes all day,” wrote Freshaccount7368.
“These two guys, like 30 years old, are arguing in Polish or something, floating all around the lazy river. They are on lap two or three of arguing and really going at it.”
“One of them pulls a knife out of his trunks and stabs the other guy’s tube. [The second guy] walks around to the end with his popped tube, while guy with the knife proceeds to just hop all the different fences to get outside the park, and is not seen again.”
It’s easy to forget while you’re having a blast, but bodies of water can turn dangerous in an instant.
“I worked at a water park when I was in high school, not the sort of amusement park most people think of, but still an amusement park,” wrote Mr2-1782Man. “The park had lots of large pools with a shallow section and a deep section, separated by rope.”
“For some reason, parents thought that their kid splashing around in the shallow end qualified them to swim in the deep end. When you’re a lifeguard, you’re supposed to scan the pool every 30 seconds to check on everyone.”
“Thirty seconds is a long f***ing time. On more than one occasion, a kid would wander over into the deep end. They would be okay for a few seconds, but would panic and start drowning.”
“Unlike what you see in the movies, someone drowning is a fast, silent affair. Splashing is the exception, not the rule.”
“Usually it didn’t take too long to spot someone drowning. The problem was that when a guard blew the whistle and jumped in the water, people would start flailing like chickens with their heads cut off.”
“Unless the pool was nearly empty, this significantly slowed things down. And then there are the people who tried to ‘help.’ Unless you’re a qualified guard, stay out of the way. On more than one occasion kids got pulled from the water pretty damn near death.”
“Giving a kid CPR is not a pretty sight. One kid did die during the time I worked there, [but] thankfully it was on a day off.”
Artificial bodies of water can be even more treacherous than natural ones, as this surfer explains.
“I’m a former lifeguard, former squad swimmer, and surf beach fanatic,” wrote tenthousandkitties. “But the only time I have been truly terrified in the water was getting stuck under tubes.”
“[This happened] once while trying to save a kid whose … parents still didn’t understand [that] the rules are universal, and once because a group of teenagers tied [their tubes] together, big enough to cover the entire no-tubes area…and threw it on top of me. And then sat on it.”
“Our tubes, FYI, only had holes big enough for feet, not bodies. I can’t imagine a little kid would have survived it.”
There are also characteristics of a constructed water park pool that make them dangerous for lifeguards to navigate, tenthousandkitties wrote.
“If you’ve ever talked to a surfer, they’ll tell you the waves are rarely the dangerous part,” the Reddit user continued. “It’s the undertow and rock below that will kill you. And a lazy river is all undertow and concrete.”
“If the undertow pulls you under a tube, especially when there are several [more tubes] in a row, finding a way to get out from underneath while the current keeps pulling you down is incredibly hard.”
“The chances of a lifeguard seeing you go under, one, and then finding you once you’re down—[the chances are] extremely slim. Plus, if the river has sharp corners, it’s extra dangerous. Without a tube, you risk being slammed into them and breaking something, or becoming concussed.”
“Many [pools] have high walls, too, so when you’re already injured, half-drowned, and concussed, staying on the wall long enough and far enough to find a ladder is extremely difficult—and then you [still] need to have the strength to pull yourself out.”
“Often, it’s perfectly safe and survivable for an adult. But a child will not have that strength, and we all know if a kid sees an adult or teenager swimming without a tube, the kid will want to do it, too. So it’s easier to make the rule universal.”
“If the river is shallow, [around] waist height, it’s safer. If the walls are low, it’s even safer. If it’s wide enough to swim beside the tube, but not so wide as to fit two tubes beside one another, that’s even safer.”
“If there are ‘break spots’ (still pools/exits into pools), that’s ideal. So that’s when most pools/parks will allow you to go without a tube, though I personally would make my kids use one regardless.”
“There are, of course, some pools and parks that just don’t give a s*** either way, though.”
“TL,DR: Moving water is deadly, and kids are idiots.”
Words to live by.