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Is the Six Flags Season Dining Pass a deal worth buying?

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Published: August 21, 2013 at 8:12 PM

In 2012, Six Flags tested an intriguing concept in a few of their parks around the country. This season, that concept was launched in all Six Flags parks nationwide. The Six Flags Season Dining Pass is an interesting premise, and can be quite valuable if guests work to make it worth the initial investment. However, it's really just another way for Six Flags to guarantee profit at the beginning of the season with the hope that most guests won't have the time or discipline to get their money's worth.

On the surface, it's pretty simple. The Season Dining Pass can be purchased for $69.99 at most parks (it's $99.99 at Magic Mountain), which has been advertised at a $30 discount from $99.99 for the entire season with the threat that at some point the price would go back to the original price, but as of this writing, it's still being sold at the discounted rate. The purchase of the Season Dining Pass allows guests to get one "lunch" and one "dinner" each day they're in the park up until the beginning of Fright Fest (for an extra $10, you can keep the plan through the end of the season). Six Flags provides brochures outlining all of the food that guests can get with their pass, including a number of additional items that guests can get with their Season Dining Pass if they're willing to pony up an extra $1 when they order. "Lunch," at least at Six Flags America, is defined as any time between 11:00 AM and 3:30 PM, while "dinner" is between 4:30 PM to 7:00 PM.

Most entrees cost $8-$12, meaning that guests would need to redeem at least seven meals to break even on their initial investment. With the limit of two meals per day, guests purchasing the Season Dining Plan need to plan on visiting Six Flags at least four times to recoup the cost of the plan.

I was a little skeptical about the plan when I added it to my Six Flags America season pass in April, but went ahead with it anyway. In previous years I would rarely eat at Six Flags, but with a 3 year old, I thought it might be nice to be able to not have to pay the outrageous Six Flags food prices to get hot food in the park or waste time leaving the park to get food outside and come back into the park. While the Season Dining Pass has been convenient and relatively free of glitches, we've had to change our typical park routine and have had some hits and misses among the eligible meal items.

The best dish I've had over the course of the season has been the beef brisket sandwich at the Coyote Creek Restaurant. This is the only dining plan location in Six Flags America that allows guests to get something other than French fries with their meal, and the beef brisket served on a hearty Kaiser roll is pretty good. Now, I would never actually pay the posted $11.99 for this meal, but of all of the items available to Season Dining Plan holders at Six Flags America, this was my favorite.

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Also on the good side have been the popcorn shrimp and fries, and the western hot dog platter complete with chili, cheese, and bacon (and fries).

However, there have been some misses as well. The cheeseburger platter, served with fries of course, is not terrible, but also nothing special. It's a bland slab of meat topped with greasy cheese, lettuce, and tomato on a non-descript bun. I wouldn't even pay half of the listed price of $10.99 for this meal, and there are probably quite a few fast food restaurants that would be ashamed if this burger appeared on their menu at over $5. Also, while I appreciated the portion size of the make your own pasta (stretches pretty far between two adults and a 3-year old), the chicken alfredo was far less desirable than the meatball marinara.

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Another big miss was the footlong hot dog platter from one of the Hurricane Harbor eateries that was served to me with about a teaspoon of chili and not a single drop of the advertised cheese (the stand was out, but did not indicate it prior to scanning my card). I was also not terrible impressed with the spicy chicken sandwich, which was a generic dried out chicken patty served with lettuce and tomato on a plain bun with a side of, you guessed it, fries.

I can't say that I haven't gotten my money's worth out of the 2013 Six Flags Dining Plan, because over the course of the season, I've consumed well over $130 worth of food. However, I can say that we've changed our typical visiting habits to maximize our meals. Before this year, we typically would arrive at the park at or slightly before park opening and leave before 3 PM, but this year, we have been getting to the park around 2 PM and leaving around 5 PM in order to get two meals out of a single visit. Also, while we haven't had to pay for food in the park, it hasn't always been the best food, and the Season Pass Dining Plan does not include beverages. Guests with the Dining Plan can purchase a reusable cup for $9.99 that offers unlimited refills, but only on the day it was purchased, with refills on subsequent visits costing $0.99.

For the Six Flags target audience (teenagers and young thrill seekers), the Season Dining Pass might be a worthwhile investment assuming you know that you will have to visit more than your average season passholder, and are okay eating mostly generic food (pizza, chicken strips, and cheeseburgers are the most common dining pass menu items).

While the Season Dining Plan seems like a decent concept, it might not be a valuable choice for all guests. Even though I feel like I have been able to more than recoup my investment, I wonder if the changes to my typical park touring plan and acceptance of generic food were worth the tradeoff. However, with some subtle changes, I think Six Flags might be able to get me to sign up for a second season.

Some of those recommendations would include:

More variety of entrees — Not only did I feel that the menu was rather limited, but the fact that just about every single item was served with fries was extremely frustrating. I appreciated the beans that were an option in the Coyote Creek Restaurant, but everywhere else, it is fries or nothing. Perhaps a side salad, cole slaw, or even a piece of fruit would be a welcome addition in lieu of fries. Also, Six Flags eateries have a lot of other items that did not qualify for the Season Pass Dining Pass but were less expensive than items that are. If a guest wants to blow their meal on a funnel cake or nachos for the sake of variety, why should they be limited? I can see not allowing guests to get more expensive items, but less expensive items should be fair game. Allowing guests to get any single food item off any menu below $11 would nearly double the number of items currently available to guests, and could potentially increase profits.

Introduce more healthy items — I'm by no means a healthy food advocate, but it seemed that if you didn't want a plain salad, there were absolutely no other healthy options available. There aren't a huge number of healthy options in most Six Flags parks, but it should be something that could be a selling point for the dining plan.

Incentivize the plan for families — Six Flags does it with their season passes and even advertises family meals, so why not sell a season dining plan for a couple or family? I initially thought that sharing single entrees with my wife and son would work out, but it typically just left us all more hungry and unsatisfied. There's no way we would have gotten value paying for even two Season Dining Passes (I went to the park 3 times by myself) paying full price for both, but if we could have gotten a pair of passes for $100, it would have been very tantalizing.

The Six Flags Dining Pass certainly has some advantages for both the passholder and the park. By encouraging us to stay a little bit longer in the park and perhaps visiting one or two more times than we would have if we had not had the dining pass, Six Flags also increased the chances of us spending more money during our visit on souvenirs, games, drinks and upcharge attractions. It also gave us an opportunity to sample and explore some of Six Flags' food options. While not all of them were great, there are a few items that I wouldn't mind revisiting if I really didn't want to leave the park in the middle of a day for a meal. I hope that Six Flags will take a look at the results of the first year implementing the Season Dining Pass nation-wide, and take the opportunity to make improvements. While it's unlikely that I would sign up again next year at its current price of $69.99, the minor tweaks I suggested might convince me to try it again.

Readers' Opinions

From Mike Gallagher on August 22, 2013 at 7:05 AM
It hasn't been a good deal for me. Due to the heat and some surgery, I haven't gone to GrAdv nearly as often as I usually do. When I get chicken strips and fries or burger and fries, the portion is too much for me to eat. The pizza was actually good, and I'm glad they added Nathans (although the hot dog counts as a meal with no extras, valued at less than most meals.) I gotta try a sausage sandwich when I'm there on 9/7 for the Riding Of The Bull event..although it appears likely there will be no Riding Of The Bull :(

Incidentally, is anyone here attending that A.C.E.-sponsored event? I'm not an A.C.E. member, but will attend as a guest of my friend Jennifer. There was to be ERT on Toro, but that needs to be adjusted. Early ERT on Nitro and Batman.

From Anthony Murphy on August 22, 2013 at 4:22 PM
As another Six Flags writer on here, I commend you for a very good and overlooked deal at the Six Flags Parks.

I think the difference has to do with which park we are discussing. Is a good deal at SFGA in Illinois? Sure, but I really can't think of a time where I ate twice in the park. SFGA, for better or worse, is in Gurnee which is a very popular rest stop full of higher end chain resturants (think right outside of WDW in the Crossroads). Its also less than a mile away from the largest mall in Illinois (along with multiple food options). In the long run, this does save tons of money, but SFGA's problem is that it is not a two meal park!

From Russell Meyer on August 23, 2013 at 7:19 AM
I see where you're coming from Anthony. Six Flags America isn't a 2-meal park either, which is why we adjusted our typical arrival and departure times to the park to make sure we could get 2 meals from each visit. This strategy is probably useless at the more popular Six Flags parks where getting there at rope drop is practically a necessity (SFGA, STOT, SFGAdv, SFOG, SFMM, and SFNE). While we weren't getting the first rides of the day at 2:00 PM, the lines were not that bad most of the days we were in the park, and were still able to get to everything we wanted in less than 4 hours, including eating 2 meals.

Six Flags America has some restuarants close by, but it's still nearly a 60 minute round trip from the time you walk out of the front gate until you're back in the park for a simple fast food meal. SFGAdv SFMM, and SFNE are practically on an island, and you'd probably be looking at 90 minutes or more to leave the park for a meal (just walking to your car at SFMM could take 10-15 minutes).

My biggest probalem with the meal plan has been variety, which does appear to vary from park to park (SFGAdv seemed to have a much more robust menu selection, but you're still getting fries with just about every entree).

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