The BLOGFlume—Into the Fray

Six Flags' new policy, new coaster, and the future of Fastpass

Written by Russell Meyer
Published: May 22, 2005 at 9:20 PM

Not in My Park!
Washington Post 5/20/05

The Six Flags Corporation has recently added new verbiage to the back of its tickets and passes that reserves them the right to refuse entry to convicted sex offenders. This is the first time such a disclaimer has been associated with a theme park. With the increase of child molestation and kidnappings, Six Flags is sending a message to parents that they can feel safe about sending them to their local theme park without fear. Six Flags will not be conducting background checks on every single person the goes through the turnstiles, but if a person is seen exhibiting unusual behavior, a comprehensive check will be done, and if they are found to be a convicted sex offender, that person will be forever denied permission to enter the Six Flags family of parks. This sounds like a pretty sound rule to me, and while it will not necessarily prevent people from coming into the parks and stalking children, it does add some sort of deterrent to those who may have other interests at theme parks. However, it seems all are not happy with this decision. The story in the Washington Post seems to take the side of convicted sex offenders who committed their crimes long ago, have families now, and feel that they have the same rights as anyone else. Who are we kidding here? Equality is something that every American strives for, and something that every citizen of the United States expects, but when you commit a felony, you must face the consequences of that decision. Six Flags has made a very aggressive and pro-active stance here, and should be applauded, not criticized. Every other theme park company in the country should take notice here, and create similar rules, especially Disney.

Record Broken Officially
PR Newswire 5/19/05

Despite nearly a month delay, Cedar Point fans can finally shed a tear, since Top Thrill Dragster is no longer the tallest, fastest roller coaster on earth. The new king of the giants is now Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ. The coaster made its media debut on Thursday, sans yours truly, and made its official public debut this weekend. While the operation was not flawless, according to a number of first hand accounts, it did seem to perform better than Dragster did during its first weekend. Lines stretched for a reported 5 ½ hours because of some minor breakdowns and some inclement weather. However, those who have had their first taste of roller coaster speed over 128 MPH seemed to be pleased with their experience. Like Cedar Point, Six Flags will not let guests ride this rocket coaster with any loose articles. However, Six Flags has extended that policy to include glasses, even if you have a strap. It seems that Six Flags thinks it can make more money in locker rentals than it can by selling straps for glasses. I will have to wait a couple of weeks to grab a ride on this extreme thrill machine, but it appears that the patience exhibited by Six Flags may have actually paid off. By waiting the extra month, and allowing for additional testing, they were able to run the coaster relatively consistently throughout the weekend, making a number of guests extremely happy.

New Fastpasses?
Jim Hill Media 5/17/05

I know there are people out there who would love to see Fastpass disappear forever, but I, for one, love the system, and actually enjoy the challenge of trying to work it to my advantage. However, rumors are brewing that Disney may be cooking up something new with their Fastpass system that may make me wish it never existed. The system we have now allows people to walk up to a ride, and reserve a spot in that line. Based on the number of people who are in front of them in the “virtual” line, they are given a time to return so that they can ride. While guests are waiting for their time, they can go to another attraction, and stand in the line to ride that. In essence, you can stand in line for two lines at the same time. Sounds great right? However, purists feel that by skipping the line, you miss out on the experience of waiting in line. You don’t have the same anticipation of waiting an hour or two to get on an attraction, and by just hopping from one ride to another, guests miss out on the experience, and some would say the “magic” of that attraction. I don’t mind the system too much, especially if it’s something I’ve already been on a number of times. Disney’s new proposed Fastpass system, however, will rock the theme park world. This new system will set up a hierarchy of guests based on how much you spend at the Walt Disney World Resort. The proposal, which is mostly based on patent applications, not actual plans or company documents, will provide better access to attraction to those who stay at the more expensive properties at WDW. The concept is simple. If you can afford to spend the money to stay on a concierge level at one of the premier resorts like Animal Kingdom Lodge, Grand Floridian, or Wilderness Lodge, you would have “walk-on” access to every attraction. Those who cannot afford to stay on site, or at one of the “value” resorts like Pop Century would not have the same Fastpass access. It’s a little fuzzy exactly how Disney would limit Fastpass access, since a number of the patents cover acquiring Fastpasses through your cell phone and internet, but it’s pretty clear that those who are staying on concierge level would be given a jump on the rest of us who still value our hard-earned dollar. Other theme parks have a “pay to play” system (Six Flags and Universal), but Disney has always held a philosophy that everyone would be treated the same inside the parks. It’s true that guests are given preferential treatment at the more expensive resorts, and in the more expensive rooms, but once in the park, it’s every Mickey-head for themselves. Is Disney trying to establish a “class-system” in its parks, or just trying force us to stay on-site? It’s difficult to say whether this rumored change to the Fastpass system is going to be implemented, but if it is, expect an uproar from those of us who cannot afford five nights on concierge level so we can experience our favorite rides. Why doesn’t Disney just close the parks one day a week for “Millionaires Day?”

Readers' Opinions

From RANDY TAYLOR on May 23, 2005 at 5:07 AM
I feel that the Six Flags stance is right on point. They will only act if there is cause to act. Anyone convicted of a sex crime who behaves him or herself has nothing to worry about. It lets the public know that at least Six Flags is making an effort to keep them safe.
From Melinda Webster on May 23, 2005 at 7:46 AM
As someone who goes to Disney about 15 times a year, I will find it hard to renew my annual pass if this happens with the fast passes. We always stay at the value resorts on property due to the great discount Florida residents receive. Wow, I really hope this idea gets tossed into the 86 file!
From TH Creative on May 23, 2005 at 1:07 PM
While I can understand why some would applaud Six Flags' policy, I tend to think that defense attorney Arthur Aidala made a a rather poignant comment on Fox News: "All this is really is a publicity stunt. (And) they succeeded. We're on the number one cable talk show, talking about this right now. Six Flags is getting a tremendous plug as we speak."

In the same news segment Mr. Aidala noted that Six Flags has admitted there is no way to enforce the policy and he also wondered why they didn't ban arsonists, people charged with assault or people who have tampered with rides.

If Six Flags has formulated a feasible program that makes their parks safer, then bravo! But if they are simply exploiting a terrible national problem to get some free press, they should be ashamed.

From Jake Countiss on May 23, 2005 at 5:35 PM
I am not a big fan of Kingda Ka because, it is basically a green version of Top Thrill Dragster. Top Thrill Dragster is cool but Six Flags copied Ceader Point with the design and make it a bit taller and faster, whoa. I just hope next that Six Flags won't copy a ride like the Adventures Of Spider Man at Islands of Adventure or Sheikra.
From Robert OGrosky on May 24, 2005 at 11:36 AM
I think it is good for SF to put in writing a policy to kick out sexual deviants. And now if someone makes them aware of a sexual predator who has a season pass they will likely have to take action on it because if they dont and that person commits some type of crime on there property they have put them selves in a bad civil situation .
From Arthur Cashin on May 25, 2005 at 8:28 AM
Regarding FastPass changes, Universal has allowed people who stay on property to use the express lines for ANY ride without having to get a ticket first. Hopefully, someone will cite this as "prior art" to prevent Disney from getting this patent! The last thing that Disney needs is to start instituting a Las Vegas style Comps system.
From Russell Meyer on May 25, 2005 at 9:26 AM
The problem is that Disney's propsed system would be an expansion of their Fastpass technology, and not anything like Universal's. Universal merely requires you to flash a room key to get into the Universal Express line. The Disney system would actually give guests different Fastpass options based on the room they're staying in.

If you're staying on the Concierge Level at Grand Floridian, you could be given "walk-on" Fastpasses to every attraction that would be scheduled by the concierge. Other rooms would be able to acquire Fastpass times through wi-fi internet nodes in their hotels, or on machines in the lobby. These patent applications are more for the protection of the technology expansion, not the idea itself. Disney wants to create a hierarchy of guests, and give extra perks to those who can shell out the dough to stay in the most expensive hotel rooms. It makes those rooms much more attractive to those who can afford them, and gives those guests a level of service they cannot get on other properties.

I think the idea stinks, but if it keeps the most expensive rooms booked without having to offer discounts, than it's good for Disney. Disney's most expensive rooms can go vacant through the off-months. Not only that, those guests who feel that the extra Fastpass perks are worth it will shell out the extra money to get into those rooms just to get them. Disney really wants to fill these rooms, and if these Fastpass changes do the trick, than more power to them. I know if I were going in the middle of the summer (which I probably would never do), and there was a $50 a night difference between the room I would normally stay in and a Fastpass perk room, I would pay the extra $50/night to assure that my family would be able to experience all of the parks without having to deal with the lines. Granted it would depend greatly on how the normal Fastpass system will be affected by the proposed changes, which is still very unclear right now.

From Kevin Baxter on May 25, 2005 at 6:44 PM
Still, Disney needs to realize that most of their guests do not stay in Disney hotels. During the summer the parks can see about 200,000 guests. With about 33,000 rooms, that means there are less than 100,000 people who will benefit from this system. Meaning more than 100,000 people WON'T! If the average wait for a ride climbs for 50% of WDW's visitors, will those visitors feel like returning next year? It's moronic how Disney built the gargantuan Pop Century to lure tourists unwilling to spend outrageous sums for a hotel, and is now trying to come up with something that will drive them away.

I have no problems with Disney rewarding people who stay in their ridiculously priced rooms, but you can't reward guests, and in return, hurt THE MAJORITY of your guests. That's incompetent. If Disney wants guests in their over-priced hotels, they need to come up with other benefits for those people. Like immediate seating at their hotel restaurants. Or have the characters come in and tuck in your brats personally. Or make their Magic Hour a Magic Ninety Minutes. Or special character breakfasts in the parks before the Magic Hour begins. I could come up with a MILLION things better than creating Bushlike class warfare!

From Arthur Cashin on May 25, 2005 at 7:23 PM
Russell, is Disney going to give you a piece of paper for every possible ride in the park? What guest is going to want that? It will probably be printed on the room key and therefore be exactly the same process which Universal does today. This is why the patent should not be granted.

Even if it was a booklet of passes for the day, Universal already sells these or gives them away if you agree to look at a condo. More prior art.

The only option would be to have the guest put their special key into a pass machine at the ride and have it print an instant ticket with the current time on it. This would mean that some dispensers would need to stay open long after the regular pass distribution was done for that ride. That would cause a lot of confusion and possible envy.

From Kevin Baxter on May 25, 2005 at 10:59 PM
Researching the web, I have found that this idea is getting MAJOR hatred from almost all the regular theme park fans and quite a bit from even the Disney Dorks, many of whom threaten to boycott (which I will also do). Still, there are some Disney Dorks who think it's a smart idea, most likely because they already stay in the highest-level resorts and would benefit from the plan. Let's hope Disney does THEIR research and finds out all our reactions before going through with this disastrous idea.

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