An differing point of view based on my recent SFMM trip.

Six Flags Magic Mountain: Roller coaster die hards- go. Anyone else, think twice.

From Archibald Talbot
Posted July 16, 2009 at 9:14 PM
I recently took the plunge and headed to Valencia in hopes of a fun-filled day at Six Flags Magic Mountain. I say "plunge" because I had a miserable experience there roughly 4 years ago and vowed to never go again. However, by now I had convinced myself that maybe it was just one poor experience and that the park had made significant improvements since I last stepped foot inside.

For reference, I spend plenty of disposable income on theme parks every year. In this past year alone I have been to: Universal Studios (regular), Universal Studios (Halloween Horror Nights), Disneyland (twice), Disney Adventure Park (twice), Knotts Berry Farm, Knotts Soak City, Hurricane Harbor, and the Queen Mary's Shipwreck. I'm in my late 20's and would seem to be an ideal candidate for the type of goer a theme park would want. I spend a lot of money and generally spread the word about my adventures to interested friends. And moreover, clearly I am close to having my own kids which would only continue my/their theme park experiences.

I say all this because I think my opinion is sound and rooted in experience and compassion for what "can" go wrong. Things out of the park's grasp.

Okay- so I went to the park on a Wednesday around 11:30. Being that it was the summer, I expected some long lines and chalked that up to part of going at a poor time of the year.

The first ride we hit was X2. The last time I was there we waited over 2 hours only to have it shut down. Surely things have changed?

Sigh.... my girlfriend and I waited an hour and a half only to have it do what? Yes, you guessed it. Shut down. That means I have spent close to four hours of my existance trying to get on the ride and still have yet to experience it. At this point, I have given up on it indefinitely.

Okay, the day was starting off poorly. I looked at my girlfriend and said, no problem... it will get better. We rounded the bend to Tatsu: 90 minute wait. Again, I take fault for this. I know the good times to go to a park and middle of the summer is obviously not. We decided to bypass it and move onto Roaring Rapids, which is basically next to it.


Yes, despite the near 100 degree temperatures... it was down.

Okay. Terminator Salvation. I don't have anything bad to say about this ride. We got on in about 30 minutes and I was surprised to see an actual theme to go with the ride. (not exactly a Six Flags specialty). The ride was pleasant and a nice small woodie. It's a good ride for beginner coasters: short, sweet, nothing terrifying. My final note is that I simply cannot blame Six Flags for the atrocious acting Common displays in the pre-ride videos. LOL.

At this point, we have been at the park for 3 hours and ridden 1 ride. It was at this point that I started considering the FLASH PASS so many readers had mentioned. So I started inquiring to employees how much the Flash Pass was... We got a variety of answers that included 17 a person to 100 dollars a person. Sweet, guess I should have looked into it more online before I came as clearly the employees have no idea how much one of their most popular promotions is.

A note for people carrying small bags, etc. You will have to pay 1.00 for locker rental on select rides. Yes, this is annoying. But it's not just for bags... anything that can't fit in your pockets. I bring this up because those giant Orange refillable souvenir cups they relentlessly promote at food stands? Yeah, need to go in a locker. I point this out because many people would read this and say "well, just get one locker for the day". Yes, that would seem to make sense. But again, if you have ever been to Magic Mountain... you know that getting around isn't exactly a brisk jaunt, and therefore not having your refillable cup at all times in 100 degree heat is next to impossible. Sigh... it doesn't make sense.

At this point . we were hungry and decided to eat at the Papa John's Waterfront area (a large food area by Ridddler's Revenge). Okay, this is where things really get irritating. First off- no cold water. The employee at Papa John's told us the cooler was down. How about pizza? "I can give you pepperoni now or you can wait for cheese or cheese and sausage". Inquiring as to why, he said the now common line "most of our ovens are broken... we're down to one". Excellent.

We finally got our food and looked out at the sea of people baking in the heat. Of the 50-60 (maybe more) tables for eating... only 10 had umbrellas in them, thus providing MUCH NEEDED shade for theme park goers. Not all of them have the ability to utilize umbrellas, but more than half that did were not using any. I saw pregnant women, young children, and the elderly sitting on curbs and ducked around trees trying to get some shade. This is where I at least need to write one sentence in all caps like a maniac: NO MATTER HOW CHEAP YOU ARE.... NO MATTER HOW MUCH PROFIT YOU ARE TRYING TO MAKE, THERE IS NO REASON NOT TO HAVE UMBRELLAS IN THE PERFECTLY SUITABLE UMBRELLA STATION ON A DAY WITH NEAR 100 DEGREE HEAT. It is pathetic on every level, and no excuse will suffice.

There, moving on. The rest of the day went pleasant as far as rides go.

We hit Scream, Colossus, and Goliath all within a short amount of time. The day was looking up! I will say that I still love most everything about Goliath. Yes, my girlfriend and I did almost black out from the sharp turns at the end, but ultimately left the ride feeling just fine.

We decided to go on Tatsu, hoping the line was shorter. It was. Roughly 25 minutes after entering the que we rode this incredible ride. I can't really describe it as I have never ridden a roller coaster quite like this. You hang there, almost like an inverted bat.... and just glide at first. It was amazing and toward the end there was no way to accurately assess how you were going to feel or where your body was headed as there was no precedent for it. When you ride a stand-up, or leg-dangler, or classic... you kinda know what and how you're going to feel when hitting drops, loops, and corkscrews. Not with Tatsu. I think it's an amazing first time experience. Wonder how it holds up over successive runs? I would imagine still amazing.

Roaring rapids was back up and it was okay. Not as good as similar rides at other parks. Again, themeing was non-existent.

At this point, we called it a day. But I would like to point out the poor experiences we had with other employees throughout the day:

1. A young boy asked a worker on Colossus if he could throw away a soda can for him. The worker took it, and in full view of everyone on the track loading space... threw it into the grassy area. Nice. All while wearing a shirt that talks of the importance of caring for the park and keeping it clean.
2. We went to buy a water from a small kiosk. The worker behind the counter said she couldn't sell it to us because the "normal guy" is on break. Well... fair enough... but then why are you standing there filling in? What's the point?
3. We bought some food from Johnny Rockets. 22 bucks for a milkshake, a powerade, and a trio of samplers that included fries, chicken strips, and onion rings. I asked for some ranch. Another buck. Okay.... I normally wouldn't get upset.... except that 3 of the worker's friends came running up (they were theme park goers)... bum rushed the line and yelled out for the worker that they needed soda. This was in front of myself and others. 3 free sodas appeared seconds later. When you're overpaying for food.... being charged another buck for ranch....well, seeing free sodas distributed at ease definitely grates on you.
4. We went to play some traditional games. I'm a sucker for them. We decided to play the plate breaking game. Well, there was no one there. I asked the worker next to the game if this particular game was closed. He said "no, the guy is right there" and pointed to a worker in the street, dancing to another worker's self-created beat emanating from the microphone. I am certainly not against fun, but then a few workers yelled out to the boy that we wanted to play the game he was in charge of... only he smiled and kept going. They told him 5 times... and still instead someone else came over because he wouldn't.
5. When asking at guest relations who I should address a letter to in regards to my experience...The young man asked if it was a complaint or compliment. I mentioned that it was a complaint. He said "they don't give out names then" and to just mail a letter to the park address. I asked, to who? He said to just address it to Magic Mountain. Wow. Awesome.

Look- the rides are great. If you're a coaster fanatic, then by all means go. But- if you care about guest relations, food, live entertainment, or any other reasonably expected theme park amenity? There's no way I can recommend going to Six Flags Magic Mountain. My primary issues come down to management on every level. You may counter the employees behavior with the fact that it's a low paying job.... but sorry to use the "D" word... I Have never had anything even remotely like these experiences at Disney. They simply are unbelievable. Six Flags needs to find out who is in charge of training at Disney, then hire him for more money. Forget putting in... ahem, state of the art coasters (I'm looking at you X2) that don't work enough of the time and utilize your financial resources to improve other areas.

My girlfriend and I were discussing how poorly Magic Mountain is run and how much more effective and exciting it could be. It seems they are intent on only bringing in coaster die hards. I know I've read about their intent to bring in more families and people my age... but I don't see it. They just added Terminator... another roller coaster. Actions speak louder than words. It's so frustrating because I do love roller coasters, but not enough for it to bypass the other obvious deficiencies throughout the park.

And the nickel and diming is preposterous. I'm not cheap.I don't mind spending money. But charging for the Flash pass is hilarious. I have never had a problem with Disney's fast pass ever. Here's what Six Flags needs to know... when I spend 300-400 dollars on one visit to Disneyland? I NEVER feel cheated or ripped off. I never even think about it. Conversely, I spent 150 at Six Flags and felt totally taken advantage of in a park full of employees that told us over and over they loathed their jobs. Who needs that?

I can't see going back. Just my opinion.

Oh, and not that I care that much.... but, Mr. Six? Really? Really?! This is the official mascot of Six Flags now? You have the great classic characters of the Looney Tunes... not to mention the Justice League who are ON TV and have been for a decade... and the guy you're going with is Mr. Six? Maybe there are some licensing issues where they can't us the aforementioned characters... but you know a large number of people had to be sitting around and agree on going with Mr. Six as their new mascot. Sorry, he's creepy. And I can't believe this is the best marketing can come up with. Hilarious.

From James Rao
Posted July 17, 2009 at 4:22 AM
There's a reason most people refer to the company as Sux Flags. Great coasters, lofty goals, unbelievably poor execution. That should be their slogan.

The only way to have fun at a Six Flags park is to use the LEVEL-UP method:

LOWER your Disney-centric expectations significantly
EXPECT at least two of the attractions you want to visit will be down at some point during the day
VISIT on an off day, never a weekend or holiday
EXPECT every trash can to be filled with garbage
LEAVE for a food run cause the choices in the park are lousy and overly expensive
UNDERSTAND that the employees will only help you at their convenience
PLAN on wasting $100 on Flash Pass.

I've had a similar experiences at Six Flags Saint Louis. I feel your pain.

Six Flags is trying to improve, but like a bad sports team, it is difficult to change a culture of losing. You can build new rides, set lofty goals, and lower admission prices, but changing a culture that has existed for over a decade, that takes time.

If the current mgmt team stays in place at Six Flags after the bankruptcy proceedings are over, I think eventually the level of service will improve on a consistent basis. It is just going to take a long time to right all the wrongs of Six Flags' checkered past.

Thanks for sharing/venting, now go out to Disneyland and appreciate that much ballyhooed Disney Experience all the more! ;)

From Anthony Murphy
Posted July 17, 2009 at 8:42 AM
Your expectations were too high (really!)

However, I must say I have had the same experiences at SFGA, but just not the same trip. There are probably many more things that they could have done that you probably don't even think of including effective crowd control and ride capacity per hour.

I went to SFGA yesterday in the evening to meet some friends. I have a season pass with parking so no big deal for me, a free trip really (except gas). We waited a long time for the Viper and we had flashpass. Why? because they only had two cars going out and my friends and I were in the rows that were "closed" because they were broken. Thus a group of us got on in another row and the other group didn't come off the ride until 15 minutes later.

Just don't expect Disney next time, but good job in your description. I have had every single expereince you just had, but instead, just replace the name of said ride.

From Nick Markham
Posted July 17, 2009 at 8:56 AM
Next time, I think you should definitely go out of your way to get Flash Passes and first thing too. You will truely have a way better experience. I guess I was lucky to get a very good experience last week when I went for my first time. The Flash Passes differ in price depending on what you want. Regular or Gold. Regular gives you a Q-Bot where you can reserve any ride in the park from anywhere but have to wait the same length of the line or more before you can use the Pass for the ride. The Gold, which I got, is twice as much, but saves you over twice the time on everything. The longest wait I had seen on my Q-Bot was 11 minutes instead of the 2 hour long wait. Most rides averaged a 2 minute wait. And, although it may frustrate you to find X2 and Terminator Salvation cost $10 per person, per ride, per reservation, I found it great as I walked on to X2! Though it is not really necessary for Terminator.

Tatsu was also closed for a while when I was there, but it opened up after a crane had seemed to put a piece of the track baack in, and was running great! And although many rides would close throughout the day, they would reopen in a matter of minutes.

And lastly, the free drink people where not just recieve the drinks free. We did what they did and paid for a $13 dollar cup which you can refill anywhere throughout the park for free for the rest of the day, and bring the cup back for the rest of the season and pay only 99 cents each day from there on for the same thing!

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