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) 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.