Monday, August 5, 2013

Disney Owes Six Flags a Thank You

Go Faster - Black Crowes (mp3)
Take A Ride - The Dirty Guv'nahs (mp3)
Bugs Bunny is smiling because
he's fictional. And because
he's running away from the park,
not toward it.
Six Flags Over Georgia is the best advertising DisneyWorld never had to pay for.

On Saturday, August 3, thanks to some free tickets from work, I took my two tween daughters and one of their friends to Six Flags, a Last Days of Summer surprise road trip. The trip was intended to be the kind of experience that, when I’m 70 with a pickled liver and massive mental and physical health issues, my daughters would remember.

“I know he’s an awful person now,” they’d say, “but remember when we were in middle school, and he took us to Six Flags Over Georgia, and we had the absolute best day in the history of our lives? Don’t we owe him now?”

Now, after our experience, I’m mostly hoping they don’t pull the plug on me. I’m exaggerating, of course. I have a DNR clause in my will.

For the price of entry -- which is to say free -- SFOG was worth the trip. I’m not sure I would have paid much more than that, and we’ll be in no rush to go back.

Mater Gets Hosed
Your car can go to Six Flags for $20.
But it can't ride anything or enter the park.
It just gets to sit and wait for you.
Parking for Six Flags Over Georgia was $20. Most reasonable people don’t care, but I care. The way I figure it, SFOG charges your car half the admission price simply to sit in the parking lot and wait for you. No rides. No fun. Do you think Lightning McQueen would stand for this?

Flash Pass My A$$Thanks to odd notions of what “good capitalism” means, Six Flags has created Flash Pass. It’s basically a super-sized egg timer on a carabiner, and it serves the same purpose as Disney’s “Fast Pass.” For the lowest rate of $35, the device works precisely like Disney’s. You get in an imaginary line for a ride, and the timer lets you know when your wait is up. Then, ta-da, you jump to the front. You can pay more to get more advanced versions.

If you pay for a Flash Pass, you have officially paid as much for SFOG as you would for a day at Disney World. But you still will be lucky to ride more than 12 good rides in a day. At least that's what the guys who Flash Passed in front of us at 10 p.m. to get on Superman told us.

Singles and Empties
Even the girls noticed. Every ride was drowning in inefficiency. We’d watch coasters go up with empty seats. Not just one or two. Every run had empties. On one MindBender run, we counted seven empty seats including two completely empty 2-person rows. And we’d been in line 80 minutes.

Six Flags doesn’t have a “singles” line. It’s not a complicated concept. I’d rather see a bunch of singles fill spots than see empties on rides while we wait. And by wait, I mean Vladimir and Estregon hardly waited longer. In the 12 hours we were at SFOG, we rode six rides and stopped just under an hour for lunch. Do the math on that average wait time.

Don't believe these signs.
What they mean is "2 Hours...
plus or minus another hour."
Waiting in Hell
Disney was most missed in the wait lines. First off, none of the SFOG “estimates” on time were accurate. On Goliath and Superman, we entered and passed the “90 Minutes Wait from Here” by several rows only two end up waiting close to 2 1/2 hours for both. The only time our wait time was overestimated was Thunder River.

They make you "rent" lockers for your backpacks and purses. For $4, you can use any locker near the ride you're on. On your ticket, it says if you don't get your bag by a certain time, it will charge you an additional fee, which I guess didn't apply to the "all day" rental. And thank God, because four of the six times we were late getting back due solely to the length of the lines.

In line, we never once encountered air conditioning. Unless you count "a nice breeze." In line for Batman The Ride, we entered two “sewer tunnels” and one abandoned warehouse. All three were akin to sweatshops. Several people had to excuse themselves from the line from fear of passing out in the thick air.

L astly, the only ride with anything approaching a distraction was Superman: Ultimate Flight. While waiting, you could read some signs detailing Superman’s most famous villains and allies. Some damn signs. That was it, and it was the best in the park. At Disney, almost every long-wait ride has themed entertainment. As you get close to the ride, they even have high-end videos to go with the event. Disney has made its mission to minimize the misery of waiting, and it was never more obvious than standing for 11 hours to ride six rides at SFOG.

If this comes across as a grouchy bitch-fest, I prefer to see it as an apology to Disney. Although I’ve never really complained about much at Disney World, I clearly failed to understand just how good you have it there. Semi-entertaining waits. Free “fast pass” options. Mostly happy employees. Clean parks. Stunningly efficient ride loading and unloading.

I’m sorry, Disney. I underestimated you. You the Mufasa of Adventure Parks, and Six Flags isn’t even decent enough to be Scar. Six Flags Over Georgia is more like Pumbaa. Or one of the fleas on Pumbaa's smelly butt. Part of me hopes they go bankrupt again, except I'm sure we'd bail them out as being "Too Big (Rollercoasters) To Fail."

Goliath was pretty awesome, though. So I'll give you that.


troutking said...

Hilarious post, Billy. You aren't grouchy, you're just being accurate. I always say if I had to I'd pay the admission price of Six Flags to NOT have to go there!

Gregg said...

If you got free tickets why didn't you spring for the Flash Pass? The guys who only rode 12 rides were obviously using it wrong.
If you had done some research on some roller coaster sites or facebook pages my guess is it would have made your day much more enjoyable. You wouldn't go to Disney without doing research right?
This is not to excuse poor operations as seems to be plaguing most Six Flags parks this summer.

rodle said...

The biggest difference for me was the attitude of the employees. I went to Six Flags the previous two summers, and only on a couple of rides did we wait more than 35 minutes. However, seldom did any staff member act happy to be there. Even the employees at the children's rides barely cracked a smile. The happiest group were the game attendants, but that was probably just to encourage me to pay $10 so my kids could pop a balloon with a dart. Disney trains its "Cast Members" to put on a show for its "Guests". That makes a difference.

Billy said...

@trout - It wasn't that bad for us, but only because I was enjoying family time. Sort of. While standing in hot lines.

@Gregg - Thanks for stopping by with the comment. Actually, yeah, I'm sort of anti-research on this stuff. The words "research" and "vacation" or "enjoyment" don't go together for me. But I'm sure you're right that a little extra pre-prep effort could have paid off, at least a little, on my part.

@rodle - Yeah, I edited my rant on employees out, because I want my blame aimed at the people running the place. You know, the people who can afford the $95 Premium Flash Passes and not the ones who have to spend three hours' wages just to eat lunch. But the difference in employee attitude b/w SFOG and DW was flabbergasting.

stowstepp said...

I'm headed to Hershey Park this week with my 13 yr old. I guess I should do some 'research'.