Queue Up or Pay Up?
by Danny Miller
Over the last several years, the amusement park experience has evolved in several ways. New ride designs, new vehicles, new technologies, and new manufacturers have all come and gone since the turn of the millennium. One of the most controversial topics in the industry has been to topic of upcharge systems that allow you to cut or skip lines for some of the major attractions. Various parks have used a wide range of systems, including Disney’s FastPass and now FastPass+, Six Flags’s The Flash Pass, and Cedar Fair’s Fast Lane. Today, I want to discuss each of these systems a little bit, and what each of them has done, and may do in the future to the amusement industry.
WALT DISNEY WORLD/DISNEYLAND – Up until recently, the Disney parks had a very simple, easy way to skip lines. In a sense, you weren’t actually skipping the line. The original idea of the FastPass was to use it on the more popular attractions that built long lines. It allowed guests to use their park ticket to be given another ticket that allowed them to return to the ride later in the day and ride after a short wait in the FastPass line. It worked because only a certain number of tickets were given out each day, so the later you got your FastPass, the later your return time would be. The major drawback was some new attractions would “sell out” their FastPass tickets within a few minutes of the park opening on crowded days.
While Disneyland in California is using this system still (for now), the Florida parks have done away with the paper system, and have now implemented a new model in the form of FastPass+. Essentially, it is a similar system where guests can get an RFID (radio frequency identification) wristband (or simply build it into your park ticket card) that will allow them to make reservations on three of the most popular attractions. As of this morning, reports are that the three-ride limit is no longer. Various parks have different rides available. These passes must be obtained at the park unless guests are staying on site, or are a member of the Disney Vacation Club to the best of my knowledge. These guests have early access to the system, where they can reserve ride times up to 60 days in advance of their visit. Annual pass holders may do the same, and may hold as many as seven days of FastPass+ privileges at any time.
What this means, however, is that people like me, who might go to Disney for a day or two as part of a week-long Florida trip, are now put at a disadvantage because they are not staying on site or an annual pass holder. It has been reported that the system will eventually allow all guests to book ahead of time, but personally, I probably won’t be going to Disney in Florida until that happens. Folks like me are now faced with the option of getting leftover rides or ride times, or not having any option at all to skip lines. I’m not afraid to admit that at a popular place like Disney, being put into a less-privileged tier of guests is not what I like.
SIX FLAGS – Six Flags, in my mind, has a much similar system to the original FastPass method, but using a bit of technology to execute it. The system has not changed much with the exception of adding various levels of access. The Flash Pass system offers riders the opportunity to reserve one ride time at a time, waiting just as long as the current wait time (or shorter if you pay more), but without standing in line. It allows you to essentially wait in two lines at once, one with the Flash Pass, another with your person. Once you get off one ride, you go to your Flash Pass ride and ride without waiting in the regular line.
I’ve always enjoyed this system for the most part because it gives you options. You are not nailed down to riding certain rides at certain times because you make your schedule as you go. The new Disney system basically requires you to make a schedule, while Six Flags offers a bit more freedom with how you can do things. While it is pricey, I usually spend the money to be sure I have the best experience possible and ride all of the rides I want to ride as many times as I want during the day.
CEDAR FAIR – Probably the newest system with the exception of FastPass+ is the Cedar Fair Fast Lane system. Newly implemented across the chain for 2012, Fast Lane is comparable in price to Flash Pass, but is not a ride reservation system. Instead, you simply go to the Fast Lane entrance and flash your wristband, allowing you to join in a (hopefully) much smaller line. To appreciate the effect, one must purchase this pass at Cedar Point. The higher level (Fast Lane Plus), usually includes the rides that are newest or typically have the longest lines, which at Cedar Point are currently Top Thrill Dragster and Gatekeeper. As I mentioned, this system is my favorite because it is not a reservation system. You don’t make a schedule ahead of time, and you don’t have to return to a ride later that you reserved earlier in the day.
Fast Lane allows you to smell the roses and experience the park without pinning you down to do certain things at certain times, while also giving you access to the rides you wants with minimal waits. More popular rides at Cedar Point like Maverick and Millennium Force may still have roughly a 30 minute wait, but when the normal line is over two hours, I’m taking that shorter wait all day. The best thing about both Flash Pass and Fast Lane is that it is a choice. At Disney, right now, I couldn’t go for a day and get all the same options a pass holder could. At Cedar Point, I could by a Fast Lane pass (as long as they don’t sell out), and enjoy all the benefits of anyone else who has it, whether they got it that day, or two months ago.
We live in a world where many people are willing to pay extra to ensure that things happen the way they want them to, and I am one of those people. Amusement parks are very much about a ratio nowadays. It is a ratio of dollars spent to amount of fun had, and this day in age, I’m willing to spend money to have an excellent experience rather than not spend as much to have a not so great time. The parks are about having fun, and that’s what I plan on doing. Just about every time I have used one of these system, I’ve been happy with the decision, and I will keep doing it.
The industry is always evolving, and perhaps Disney is just taking the next step to show that they are different and unlike any other park in the world. The experiences are different, the atmosphere is different, and sure enough, the benefits of staying nearby are reaching an all-time high. Cedar Fair and Six Flags give all guests a chance to purchase their systems and take advantage of their perks. I’m not a Disney fanatic, but I do love Disney, I just don’t know that my next Florida trip will include a stop there if I can’t at least be given the chance to enjoy the luxuries other guests get to enjoy.