Yesterday the family and I went to Six Flags Great America, an amusement park in Gurnee Illinois. I’ve been there a handful of times throughout my life, but I can say for a fact that yesterday I did not have a good time. Amusement parks might be one of those things that sours with age (or maybe it’s my perpetually shitty mood) where most adults suffer through a near hell for the pleasure of their kids/family because that’s what it was: a near-hellish environment of starvation, sunburn, dehydration, walking, price-gouging, and perpetual line-standing. Sure the rides — when you actually found yourself on one –were fun enough but everything else you had to deal with outweighed any small amount of fun you found yourself having. And, oh God, the people. You can’t forget the people…
Tickets? Membership? Season Passes? Flash Pass? What?
With amusement parks the bullshit begins well before you arrive: purchasing tickets. It’s not so much purchasing the tickets that is bad, it’s trying to navigate through the maze of pricing options to find what is actually the cheapest. Take a look at their website for yourself. This is obviously done on purpose to confuse you into “the best deal” where you inevitably pay more than you probably should. They have tickets at the gate ($79.99), tickets you buy in advance for a specific day (Advance Purchase Ticket: “as low as $59.99”) and tickets where you can go on any day you want (Any Day Ticket: a lone “Buy Now” button with no price listed). There are season passes (Standard and Gold), and memberships (Gold Plus, Platinum, Diamond, Diamond Elite), and parking tickets/passes, and there is even a fucking food pass where you supposedly get a free meal each day you’re at the park. I’m sure the food pass also has tiers for some reason.
It’s not so much the options but finding what option is best for you with the confusing and convoluted marketing terms tossed at you. (For example prices given in “per month” terms, or the banners stating “BEST DEAL!!”/”BEST VALUE!!”, “prices as low as…”, etc. I’ve even seen something that stated “As low as $7.99 per month” which alternatively stated means “the cheapest version is $100 and lasts for a season.”) If you’re going for a single day, the single day ticket is the best, but this is cheaper if you preorder online! The season passes are only slightly more pricey (on purpose) to entice you into buying one of those. Making this even more confusing is the fact that a season pass actually makes sense if you go to the park more than once. It’s simply exhausting trying to figure out the cheapest way to do what you want to do as you’re continually being tempted by other offers. And the cheapest offers are somehow well-hidden on the website.
Expensive Everything Actually
An expected trait for any amusement park/theme park/carnival/movie theater/anything is that everything is expensive as fuck. Like everything: food, drinks, merchandise tickets, and anything else they can find to charge you for. This begins with the park entrance/parking fees and continues through everything else. A fucking order of nachos is over $10. A 20oz bottle of water is $5. Some of the stupid carny games and go-karts actually cost extra besides the park entrance fee! A drink with free refills (seasonal or daily because I guess there are multiple tiers of fucking drinks. “Pay a little extra for a better deal!”) costs like $15-25. Souvenirs and all the other shit you can buy naturally apply here, but I can’t give any prices. I didn’t buy anything because I knew it would be ridiculously expensive. Oh yeah, Dippin’ Dots (ice cream of the future since 1988) are only $10!!!
This technique works — especially for food — because of the park’s policy of not allowing “any outside food or drinks” into the park. I’m sure if you asked someone about this they’d give a very PR answer referring to “safety reasons” but the cynic in me believes this policy exists to price-gouge you as much as possible regarding food. Instead of toting in a few 2-liters of soda and peanut butter and jelly sammiches you’re forced to buy a $20 chicken sandwich with a $15 Coke. The truth is after 8 hours of walking around you simply don’t care about saving $40 because you’re fucking starving and about to die of dehydration.
Lines, Queues, and Other Forms of Waiting
When I think back to previous trips to amusement parks I only remember the walking and the rides. At the end of the day my fucking legs killed me but other than that I remember the rides. This was some hindsight bias or some glitch in my memory because most of my actual time at the park, besides walking, was waiting in a fucking line. As a kid I never recalled that experience much. For research purposes I totaled up my time in lines: 155 minutes. This is almost three hours. Making this even worse was that I rode five roller coasters. Estimating that each ride lasted one minute you get a ratio of 1:30; for each 30 minutes I waited I got to enjoy one minute on a coaster. Fuck.
This isn’t even that bad either! Some rides had wait times around 70-80 minutes. We only rode rides that had estimated wait times of 45 minutes or less. If I can say one positive thing about the park it is that the estimated wait times were actually pretty accurate and if anything they erred on the side of caution. Usually an estimated wait time of 45 minutes ended up being only a 35 minute wait. I do appreciate that although I’m sure there is an ulterior motive to the park making money or keeping people happy or something. While they’re not doing this for our benefit it is nice seeing accurate wait times.
But wait! There is a way to not wait in line! The park sells “Flash Passes” that allow you to skip the line almost entirely, but you know this huge benefit isn’t without a cost. Once again I don’t know the exact number but I would guess a Flash Pass is around $100 per
person two people (I checked). Whether you want to spend another $100 on top of the initial $100 to get into the park/park your car is up to you. At the very least its another great example of Six Flags stealing your money as efficiently as possible. Think about it: they’re charging people to not wait in line. It’s genius really.
So I spent a total of three hours
being on roller coasters and waiting in lines, but what was the rest of the time spent doing? We were there for about seven hours so there are still four unaccounted hours. What happened during those? Walking happened. Even if it wasn’t necessarily walking it was what I’d call “navigating the park.” Traveling to rides. Checking the map. Pissing. Finding a water fountain. Trying to navigate the crowds of people. Shit like that.
The park layout isn’t exactly intuitive either. There’s a handful of main paths that kinda meander around as the park isn’t meant to be a fucking efficient interstate highway for people. No, it’s meant to be laid out in a way that slows you down and gets you into shops, food stands, and whatever other places can steal your money. While a roller coaster may literally be close enough to hit one of its occupants with a rock you’d need to take a half mile path around the park to find the entrance to the ride. Considering the numbers above, I’d say about 45 minutes of walking is required, on average, to stand in line for 30 minutes, to ride a ride that is one minute long. That is brutal.
After about 6 hours there I started to get that old people feeling of needing to sit down on a fucking bench. At that point I didn’t give a shit about riding rides, eating food, or anything. My legs were dead and I just wanted to sit and “rest up for just a bit.” I almost didn’t want to make the near-mile trek to the car because it was so far away. But given that was my way to safety, freedom, and comfort I summoned the remainder of my energy to get it over with as quickly as possible.
This is my own fault, but I didn’t want to eat food or buy any drinks while I was at the park. They’re just too damn expensive and I didn’t want to piss away $50 on a soda and nachos especially after pissing away $400 for everyone just to get into the park. No, I’d rather starve and deal with being miserable than to be price gouged some more. I already mentioned how much walking you must do and how you must stand out in the sun and with all of that physical activity you start to get hungry, tired, and feel all-around shitty.
A big loophole in the “no outside food or drink” policy is that they don’t say a damn thing about “drink containers.” Me being not that much of a dumbass I brought in a water bottle that I could fill up: you either hydrate or diedrate bro. So while I was hydrated I was still starving and getting baked by the fucking sun.
I am blessed with DNA that gives me -25 points to sun damage but for everyone else there? Fuck. There were handfuls of people that were both pasty white and seemingly not fond of sunscreen: they were basically walking lobsters by the end of the day. I don’t know what they were thinking but I’m sure they’re regretting it today. Even me with my classic farmers tan going on still garnered some mild sunburn around my neck and I can only feel bad for those pale lobster people and their burgeoning skin cancer.
All of this isn’t too bad on it’s own but mixed together you have a whole pot of shit that makes you feel awful. You can’t (or won’t) eat because the food is too pricey, you drink water when you can find a fountain, and you’re standing/walking in glaring sunlight all day in the middle of the summer. Luckily the humidity wasn’t an issue yesterday but consider that as well: heat, humidity, sunshine, constant walking, starvation, and you have a situation that I’d imagine is similar to survival after an airplane crash. But really, people need to bring sunscreen to amusement parks.
And holy fuck let’s not forget the people! People individually seem to be pretty cool, friendly, and “good” but in large groups (like you find in an amusement park) are fucking animals. There are no rules for walking or managing right-of-way so you get groups of people/kids/whoever just darting out in front of you, almost running into you, or randomly stopping in the middle of a path. Kids were bratty and cranky especially as the day became late. People didn’t seem to be outright rude, but they were like you’d expect them to be: animalistic.
There’s also a special kind of anxiety you get when you’re standing in line surrounded by and with strangers. Queues have this characteristic zigzagging motion to pack as many people into the smallest area as possible while remaining in a line. When you move forwards you get to see the people behind you and in front of you and it’s hard not to make awkward eye contact with them every time the line moves. Making this even worse is that fact that you see the same people over and over as you zig and zag towards the ride itself. I have a mild form of social anxiety where I’m scared of people but not dysfunctional and I found myself getting rather jittery over the whole ordeal. Sunglasses work great as you know that people can’t see you and you can act like you don’t see them either.
I suppose it isn’t that I didn’t have fun it’s that the amount of fun I had didn’t justify the massive cost to get into the park, the hassle of driving to the park, the amount of walking/line waiting required to obtain the fun, and the masses of people you must deal with. It’s like a 1% fun to 99% pain-in-the-ass/boring ratio which isn’t great. I think my age might have something to do with my lack of fun as well. As a kid/teenager you’re excited and eager to ride some scary-looking coasters while now I just know they’re not scary or dangerous; part of the fun is overcoming the danger and fear you have (real or perceived). Since this fear is mostly absent, they’re not something I feel the need to “conquer” or whatever and it’s hard to justify the line-waiting with that mindset.
Riding roller coasters is one of those things that would be really amazing to do if you didn’t have to deal with people. Given the opportunity to endlessly ride whatever coasters I want without the lines of people and the near hours waiting I’m sure I’d have a fun time. But then you’d probably have too much fun and the coasters would be boring! As much as I hate people and waiting in line I think this is part of the “amusement park” experience and I can’t help but think that a large portion of the people at Six Flags actually enjoy all the shit that I hated about the place. The same is true with county fairs and parades and people who like the 4th of July. Are there some people that like the large crowds, the expensive food (just splurge a bit and have fun!), and the hassle of it all? If there are, I certainly am not one of them and the thought of going to an amusement park anytime soon gives me an immense sense of dread. I’ll stay at home thank you. Amusement parks suck.