Six Flags Hell

Don’t get me wrong – Miles and I had a great day at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom today. Father and son time, gorgeous day, a blast on the rides and quality time spent with elephants, sting rays, and walruses. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a mixed bag. Running through the experience is an undercurrent – or is it a main current? – of being either completely ripped off or force-fed Velveeta. Kind of like coming down from a Sex Pistols concert:

Lydon closed the final Sid Vicious-era Sex Pistols concert in San Francisco’s Winterland in January 1978 with a rhetorical question to the audience: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”

Sorry if this sounds like cynical sour grapes, but couldn’t help but make mental notes of every sheister angle on the experience:

  • Start with last night’s ticket ordering process. The Six Flags web site is clearly a multi-million dollar extravaganza… but one that’s both ill-executed and simultaneously designed to start digging spare change from the depths of your pockets right from the get-go. $5 “processing fee” to have tickets mailed to you I can understand. But if you choose to print the tickets at home yourself? You pay the exact same $5 “processing fee.” Zero cost to them, no choice for the consumer. A fin for the privilege of using your own printer and saving them the postage. And check out the quality of the tickets their site generates (click image at left)hacker Same when generated via all modern browsers I tested. So lame I had to call tech support because I wasn’t sure they’d actually accept it at the gate. Tech support said they’d never heard of this problem, though ticket takers later said they see it all the time.
  • How long should it take to discover something as simple as hours of operation on a web site for a theme park of this caliber? Give yourself a test and try to dig up this info from their site. How long did it take you? Lame.
  • $15 for parking. Multiplied by, what, 5,000 cars? Day in, day out? Unadulterated extraction.
  • Sign at entrance: “NO outside food or drinks allowed.” You’ll find out why in a minute. That means NO you cannot bring your own PBJs for the kids. NO you may not bring water from home.
  • Yes, I know that resorts, airports, and recreation areas of all kinds charge exorbitant amounts for food. But check this out: $4 for water. $6 for small scoop of ice cream. $8 for a hot dog. And so on. What I don’t understand about this kind of pricing is that I thought that’s what anti-competitive / monopoly regulations were all about – ensuring that a free market can do its job. When there is NO possibility of competition in an area and when that area PREVENTS you from bringing your own food, WHY is this legal?
  • Watching the killer whale show, a Jumbotron is used to give people in the crappy seats a better view. Nice, but abused. MC talks up the show, gives you a tease, then says, no lie, “We’ll start Celebrating Shouka after this brief message.” The message? A 60-second ad for the Six Flags credit card. Captive audience already payed $50 a head for the privilege of attending and they’re going to use the opportunity to upsell us on other products and services. Obscene. To add insult to injury, they followed that up with a smarmy “tribute” to the “men and women of our armed services who protect our freedoms.” How is that relevant to a whale show, or to Six Flags in any way? The whole thing felt cheeseball and insincere.
  • Standing in line for rides, a nice opportunity to talk with your family. But no, Six Flags assumes we’d rather be watching TV during that time, so they hang LCD displays in the lines, on which they broadcast Jonas Brothers videos (please just kill me) and, yes, more ads for their products and services. Gag factor: 10.
  • Remember those expensive beverages? It gets worse. Most concession stands offer a $12.99 (not a typo) soft drink cup — in hideous day-glo orange — that can be refilled with 5 cents worth of corn syrup and sugar at any other concession stand throughout the day for 99 cents. For $13 they better be refilling it free for a year! What really blew my mind was seeing how many people took them up on the preposterous offer. One giant goblet of sugar isn’t enough for one day – we’re going to need this thing full all day! Not sure what bothers me more – that Six Flags has the gall to make an offer like this, or that the math works out to a “good deal” in so many people’s minds. Ugh.

All that said, it was still a great outing. But they make it so bittersweet, shoving just enough rip-off culture down your throat to keep the whole experience teetering on the brink of “completely not worth it, no matter how fun the rides are.”

Sometimes capitalism – and the culture that laps it up – makes me want to cry.

12 Replies to “Six Flags Hell”

  1. Great review Scot, but here’s where capitalism rules! By reading your review, I’m never going to this place! And if I did, I’m sneaking in my own water and flask of bourbon to maximize my fun! I wonder if Disneyland is even this expensive?

  2. So much fail, so many levels. sigh.

    My wife and I had the immensely stupid idea (realized after the fact) to go to SeaWorld recently in San Diego. Big Mistake… take all what you say above (or most of it, not sure about their site usability) but then remove the freakin’ rides!!!

    I don’t remember how I had anything close to a good time at these places when I was young… and they wonder why they’re going out of business. My wife has asked to go to Six Flags for her birthday… I don’t think I can do it. I’d frankly rather be stuck in the Newark airport (our airport; it sucks) because at least then I’d know I’d have a decent book (probably).

  3. In my experience, the way to “enjoy” six flags DK is to get a season pass, a season parking past, to show up early enough to be at the gate when the park opens in the morning and to leave the part by lunchtime (and to do that a couple of times during the season) – plus, there’s an evening every year of rides after dark, open to season pass holders only, which is by far the best way to enjoy the roller coasters.

  4. We have a tradition of going to waterword out in Concord. It took a while to figure it out, but you can bring your lunch and eat it out in the parking lot (they allow re-entry), leave all your valuables in the car (just bring a credit card and put it in your swim trunks) so you don’t need a locker. the tix are still expensive but the rides are great and fun for all ages. Also the santa cruz beach boardwalk is fun and can be done cheap, especially on mondays and tuesdays, 75 cents a ride!

  5. Joe, I feel your pain. These parks are like textbook models of the final result of unchecked greed, stretching the tolerance of the consumer to the breaking point. Ugh.

    JBQ – Good tips. Hard to see wanting to go often enough that a season pass would be worth it, but yeah it would be way better to do early days, nights, and park free!

  6. The rare time that Corinna and I go to Six Flags New England (nee Riverside) we have a very simple strategy which increases our enjoyment:

    Go on days where it is somewhat misty/rainy (yet not thunder/lightning-y). You still get gouged financially, but it doesn’t sting as much because you basically have your run of the park. Want to ride the awesome Rollercoaster there 8 times in a row? You can do so without waiting, or at most waiting for one car.

  7. Good tip Sean. Like going skiing/snowboarding on a weekend. Having the run of the place makes a huge difference in the fun factor.

  8. Growing up in Ohio, I have lots of fond memories of going to Sea World (Aurora, OH), and Geauga Lake (regional amusement park). Even Cedar Point.

    But I realize now, that was in the 70s and early 80s. Before things like “pouring rights”, “naming rights”, and monetization. The last time I went to an amusement park (2001) I saw what you mentioned – advertising to captive audiences in lines, theme rides where the exit emptied into the gift shop for that ride’s theme.

    It’s… not worth it. Not anymore.

  9. Best day of the year for skiing: Superbowl Sunday ™. And if the Broncos (my local franchise) are playing, double bonus.

  10. From Dakar, Senegal,

    We have a park here called “Magicland”…in English. Nothing French sounds amusing. The rides are all of the old parking lot carnival style…the kind we remember from county fairs, and drug addled nights with carny chicks (maybe that’s just me). Most are retired machines from Russia and Spain…according to the inspection stickers on the control boxes…all of which pre date 2000! Yikes. I’ll assume that Russians and Spaniards consider carnivals adult affairs; most of the air-brushed artwork on the rides consists of monster-breasted women painted to align the nipples with the flashing lights running along some bit of the structure. Here I must add that the Russian use of metal flake paint is far superior to the Spanish attempts…but the Spanish nudity is far more…”stirring”. You don’t know how sexy a crotch can be when purposefully and teasingly obscured by a greasy u-joint bearing….attached to an arm…holding a fiberglass box….flinging your six-year old son at 4g’s. Booty takes one’s mind off impending disaster.
    The snacks can’t be beat….lamb/mutton (pronounced moo-ton) kabob, one buck (500 CFA or Cefa). A 1.5 liter bottle of fresh ginger, kiwi, or bisap juice (a super sweet concoction made from hibiscus flowers) – three bucks…get the ginger and bisap and mix them….it’s worth the entire evening. Flag or Castel beer (local, good, cheap) – buck a bottle….whole fish, grilled (they get greedy here) eight bucks (3500 cfa)….big bowl of rice with hot-sauce – two bucks…free if you get two fish.
    The park sits at the end of a breakwater outside a small fishing bay…and one of the city’s (pop 3 million) sewer outlets…but the wind is usually favorable. The sea has rusted 30% of the rides, rendering them unusable…but park management keeps the nudie paintings up-to-snuff…even in this moderately conservative Muslim climate….light bulb nips and greasy u-joint poon-tang are just too funny to let deteriorate. And from what I’ve seen in my travels…Allah loves funny and ironic.
    Its 15 minutes from my house and a haven for truck drivers (whathuhfuh?????)…must be the artwork – or all the teenaged girls on dates.
    Silly, dangerous, funky, innocent, completely out of place, and wonderful….it’s Magicland!

  11. Marvelous magical seedy seamy description Paul. I’d give anything for the chance to do a night at a carnival like that over sterilized and pricey Six Flags mumbo jumbo. America is rapidly losing its underbelly (ironic given the rise in obesity). From playgrounds to amusement parks it’s spic-and-span everywhere. Gone are the diving boards, merry go rounds, freak shows, and airbrushed boobs. There’s no more grit. It’s all been legislated away. The hibiscus drink and mutton sound fantastic.

  12. Dude, you want a tip. Next time you go to a theme park just say that you have to bring your own food because you have allergies to the food inside and need a special diet. Always works.

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