Sunday, August 16, 2015

On Amusement Parks and the GP

Jaiman and I recently went on amazing road trip around the country, primarily visiting amusement parks to ride the best roller coasters the country has to offer.  The trip was inspired by the amazing deal I got on annual passes for Six Flags, which I happened to know were good at all the parks.  In fact, the deal that I got also included free parking at the other parks, which normally is not included.  Jaiman is the roller coaster enthusiast, and I enjoy a good ride, and I know he is thankful that I indulge his passion as much as I do.  I made sure to also build in some things for me on the trip, including four life list activities, a couple extravagant hotel rooms, visits with friends, amazing food and a visit to a favorite brewery.  By the end of the trip, we had visited five Six Flags parks, (two of which I had previously visited, Jaiman had previously visited one other one, and two were completely new for both of us), Hersheypark which was new for both of us and Busch Gardens which I had visited only when I was very young.  We bypassed Cedar Point, since we had done a thorough job of visiting the year prior, and Carowinds was a late possible addition that never made it into the final itinerary.  We also avoided going to Florida because we felt the number of parks there merits its own trip. 

On the GP

So we hit 7 amusement parks, and at pretty much every single one of them, we had to witness and endure the utter painfulness that is the general public.  GP, as we call them, are people who act up and throw fits or make a scene about things like rules that are clearly stated.  If you can't fit into the seat and be secured, you can't ride, things like that.  It got so bad, even early on, we would recognize when we were being held up by some idiot guest arguing with the ride operators about something, and we'd say things like, "Are we getting GP'd again?"  To be GP'd is to be severely delayed because somebody wants to take their phone on the ride with them, holding it in their hands, for example. 

We saw a group of what one might describe as gangstas give all their loose articles to one member of the group who put it in his bag.  These guys were already loud and obnoxious, so it was easy to judge them right off the bat.  I knew, because I had been stopped at the ride line entrance, that bags were not allowed, and that they had to be placed in a locker prior to getting in line or left with a non-rider.  My bag was in a locker.  I don't know how this guy got up to the front of the line with a bag; my only guess is that he said he wasn't going to ride, and so the attendant probably would have let him through.  So here he was, close to the front of the line, when an attendant pointed out that he could not ride with the bag and the bag could not be left on the dock.  He argued for a few moments, then seemed to understand that he wasn't going to get his way, and exited back through the line as if he was going to comply.  When his friends were boarding, they kept calling for him, "Ti-dooooo!"  So already, Jaiman and I know we're being GP'd because these guys are moving much slower than one should when boarding a roller coaster.  They're dragging their feet and taking their sweet time.  Out of nowhere, Tido appears from behind us, bag still in hand, jumps the restricted area gate and approaches the train.  The attendant stays calm, but firm, and shoves the restraining device closed on the seat that Tido was aiming to get into.  Now the scene really ensues, with him arguing and of course, because he's on the platform, they cannot proceed until he is gone.  A young lady next to me doesn't quite grasp the situation, but was trying to move this whole thing along, and offered to hold the bag for him.  The attendant points out that that young lady, who has also probably been waiting for over an hour, would then not be permitted to ride because the next train would be a different one.  So she backs down on her offer.  More arguing ensues and the attendant finally coaxed him off the platform.  Security is called and has a chat with him while the ride operations continue.  To my dismay, he was allowed to stay in the park.  This is despite the signage everywhere that clearly states line jumping alone is cause for dismal from the park with no refund, and of course, violating rules or disobeying ride operators is also in that category.  This guy broke the rules, jumped into an unrestricted area, argued with the ride operator, slowed operations down, delayed the ride of everyone waiting; any one of those offenses should be enough to eject him, but he was allowed to stay. 

We saw other similar incidents throughout the trip: people arguing about leaving a hat or a being allowed to ride with unsecured sunglasses on, carrying bags, etc.  My favorite was the guy who threw a fit because the ride operators wouldn't let him board with AN ICE CREAM CONE.  Are you kidding me?  One young girl tried to wear a Go Pro on a ride, which would be okay if she had gotten a pass to do so, but she did not, and so the operator had to coax her into taking it off before riding.  There are also parents putting their kids in boots to try to make them fit the height requirements, and then making a scene because their kids can't ride.  Then there were also the oversized people who didn't fit in the restraints and clearly were surprised by this fact.  At every ride entrance, there is a test seat.  If you have doubts about your large belly, your ba-donk-a-donk, or curvy chest, it is probably a good idea to check if the restraints can be locked before waiting in line for hours.  It is not the fault of the ride operators if you are too big to ride.  Having a large chest myself, I've learned that there is a technique to fitting into some restraints; I've been ejected from one ride but it was before I had perfected the technique, and I didn't want to make a scene at the time.  So I include myself in this category, if you are unsure, figure it out beforehand, not when the ride operators are loading a train and trying to get it moving. 
The irony of the test seats at the front of the line was that the only people we EVER saw using it were people that were skinny and average height.  Jaiman commented in aggravation, "This ride was designed for YOU!"  I had to laugh because I knew from human factors that he was probably right.  There are standard measurements used in ergonomics for average adult female and average adult male, and the roller coasters are probably designed around these averages with some flexibility either way to allow the most people on as possible without making the ride unsafe.  Just another brilliant GP move. 

Some rides required a two-step process for securing restraints, and the GP, without fail, would miss the first step on every train.  The ride operator would even announce things like, "Please listen carefully.  Before you pull down your lap bar, make sure you buckle your seat belt first.  If you pull down your lap bar first, then we have to unlock the entire train and re-check it just for you.  So buckle your seat belt first, then pull your lap bar down.  DO NOT PULL YOUR LAP BAR DOWN UNTIL YOUR SEAT BELT IS FASTENED."  And then GP would get in, pull the lap bar down, wait idly for someone to check her, and then be SHOCKED that she was supposed to put her seat belt on first.  Then they have to unlock the whole train, buckle her in, then re-check every single passenger.  Because of one GP. 

Based on the GP ridiculousness we saw, I've devised a set of guidelines that I wish the GP would adhere to.
Dear GP,

Welcome to the amusement park.  This park has a lot of fun attractions, including games, rides, shows and food.  I am sure you can find a way to have fun here.  However, this park is not built solely for your amusement at the expense of other guests.  Your $60 admission doesn't even come close to paying for the hourly wage of all the park operators, janitors, mechanics, food servers and other staff here to keep you safe while enjoying yourself.  Your $60 admission is even further from being able to cover the cost of building even one of these awesome roller coasters which you will undoubtedly want to ride.  Therefore, it is not a given right for you to ride those rides, and you are not entitled to do whatever you think you can.  You are not the engineer who designed these rides, and you probably don't know enough about the ride to make any scientific judgment about what is safe.  Luckily, the engineers and park staff have determined for you what parameters and activities are deemed safe.  They have codified these parameters into rules, which include signs saying where you should not enter, and signs about what is and is not allowed on rides.  You are on their property, and while they want you to have a good time, there is no reason you should ever disobey these rules.  These are not optional guidelines; if you disrespect a staff member, break any rules or argue with a staff member, expect to be thrown out immediately and arrested if necessary.  As demonstrated by recent news events, your life actually depends on you following these rules.  In addition to strictly adhering to the rules of the park, we would remind you of a few guidelines of common decency that will also allow you to have a stress-free enjoyable time.

  • Read the ride rules before entering the line.  This means if it says no bags, then leave your bags in a locker or with a non-rider.  Seriously. 
  • If you are larger than average on any dimension, try the test seat at the front of the line before entering the line. Make sure you can fit in the seat, that you know how to secure the restraints quickly and easily, and that the restraints are actually secured. 
    • If your child is too short to ride a ride, or you think he is almost tall enough, don't enter the line. 
  • If there is a bin or holding place for your things, make a plan for what you are going to do with your things as you get close to the entrance.  If the person holding the bag is going to run it to the other side of the platform, let him or her enter first.  Take off your unsecured glasses and hats, remove your wallets and cell phones, and put them in the bag or in the bin quickly before boarding.  Figure out what it is you're doing before its your turn to enter onto the platform. 
  • Pay attention to instructions the ride operators are giving prior to your turn to board.  Watch how the restraints operate to avoid making mistakes and causing delays. 
  • Get in your seat quickly and secure all restraints quickly, then put your hands up so that you can be checked quickly. 
  • Get out of your seat quickly when the ride is over, grab your things and exit the station quickly.  If you need to put your hat or fanny pack back on, wait until you have cleared the restricted platform to do so. 
  • Do not attempt to bring absurd things on roller coasters.  You may be able to get away with taking a selfie on a child's ride, but holding your phone in your hand on a real roller coaster is a bad idea.  Don't do it.  Also, don't bother trying to bring ice cream, food or drinks on coasters.  And if you have a Go-Pro you'd like to wear while riding, make sure its okay with the park first. 

Thank you and enjoy your day!

All Other Guests Who Can Read and Obey Rules

On Amusement Parks

Parks, I would say, also share some blame.  Not only did I see them be very lenient with belligerent guests, but their signs were not even 100% accurate.  For example, many rides said that no bags or loose articles were allowed on the ride or left at the station, and yet we'd get up there and there would be drink
holders for the souvenir bottles.  While I figured this out relatively quickly and appreciated that they were there, the uncertainty of entering a line with a souvenir cup that said no loose articles always had me slightly nervous.  It is good to be able to have the drinks in line, so we could stay hydrated while in line.  But, I would argue that if the sign says no loose articles can be left at the station, and then you allow bottles to be left at the station, you are being a hypocrite and allowing room for GP to interpret the signs with whatever works for them.  For example, I saw glasses tucked into the souvenir bottles in the holders - if you can leave a bottle, you can leave your glasses tucked into your bottle, right?  And why not add hats on top of the bottle, and small purses and cell phones wedged against the bottle?  All of a sudden, any and all loose articles are okay, despite what the sign says.  If the ride station has a bottle holder, state that on the sign.  No loose articles can be left at the station except for souvenir bottles.  Done.  That's all you have to do. 

It was also very annoying to have such inconsistency from park to park (even Six Flags to Six Flags) about bag policy.  Some parks had bins at every ride, some parks had bins at some rides but not others, and some parks had no bins and always required a locker.  I don't feel they do a good job of warning you, even if you go to their website to try to figure it out, about which parks have bins at the rides and which don't.  

While we didn't visit Cedar Point on this most recent trip, they are the worst when it comes to this inconsistency, in my opinion.  Some rides had bins and some didn't, and sometimes we weren't told until we were almost at the front of the line that the bag wasn't allowed.  Sometimes the rides would have bins that were plenty big but they only allowed sunglasses and hats, no bags.  Seriously?  Each locker also was very expensive, so it was a little ridiculous.  There was one ride we wanted to board, and no lockers anywhere because the water park was right by there and the lockers were 8 times as expensive there... so I guess they didn't want anyone using a convenient locker for $6 if they could charge them $35.  As a result, we were terribly inconvenienced, having to go all the way back to the other side of the park in order to put the stupid bag in a stupid locker and then go back to the ride.  My lesson was not to bring anything into the park, but that meant no phone, and no sunblock which is technically dangerous with my pale skin.  

I think there are things that people need to carry with them, and we want to enjoy the park without having to run back to the car every two hours to lather up the sunscreen again.  I think parks should just move to a policy of having bins at every ride.  They can still have lockers and the disclaimer that they are not responsible for things left on the platform.  Just do away with the no loose articles on the platform thing, and just allow it.  Get over it.  You may lose some locker income, but the customer satisfaction is probably worth it.  I literally refused to buy anything extra at Cedar Point, for example, because we had shelled out so much money on lockers.  It has been well over a year and you can tell I'm still a little bitter about it. 

For this reason and a few others, Six Flags Great America was by far the best park we've visited in the last several years (which pretty much covers every park I've ever been to).  It has some great rides, and amazing food, too.  It is also a very clean park, with efficient ride operations.  But part of that is the fact that they didn't have to argue with the GP because we/they were all allowed to leave loose articles / bags at the station in bins.  I think every park owner and operator should visit Great America as a guest, and then compare that to their own parks.  It is just a stellar, world-class park with no equal.  There are great rides at other parks, sure, but Great America has a full guest experience. 

A few other things I will direct at Six Flags as a whole - I heard only twice about something called a photo pass?  You apparently get unlimited digital copies of the ride pictures.  It was never clear to me if this was for just one park or for all parks.  We got a souvenir bottle that worked for free drinks at all parks, which was pretty sweet, not sure if you meant to do that or not.  But I would have definitely shelled out the money for digital copies of our ride photos at all the parks - if the pass covered all the parks.  So first of all, I'd say provide more messaging around this pass, it sounds like a pretty awesome thing and I saw no information about it.  We've had our photos taken 64 times on your rides this year, and only heard mention of this pass twice.  Second, make it good at all parks (even if there was a small premium) for the crazies like us that went to so many of your parks.  Third, not many people understand that the annual passes are good at other parks.  This may be a big missed opportunity in your advertising; if somebody knows they will be traveling to a different part of the country, they may be more likely to get the annual pass if they realized it would be good in that other part of the country.  Just saying. 

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