How Six Flags lost our custom
We live half an hour away from Six Flags Great Adventure amusement park in Jackson, NJ. Every year, we would buy a family season pass to the place. The economics are pretty straight-forward: A single visit to the park is so expensive that even if you go just twice during the year, you already save on your investment into the season pass. Plus, a family premium pass comes with free parking, so even if someone like me only goes once during the season, the bottom line still benefits in the end.
In addition to the amusement park proper, the Six Flags complex has a water park and a safari, all covered by the same season pass. Or, rather, had a safari, which is the main point of this post.
Safari has always been our favorite part. We enjoy occasional rides or waterpark splashes, but we much less enjoy navigating crowds and waiting in long lines. With the safari, though, we could be riding the attraction literally within half an hour of leaving the house. There were no constraints of how much time we could stay (on multiple occasions we literally turned off the engine and remained in one spot for 15-20 minutes, while Emily observed bears or giraffes or whichever animal struck her fancy at that particular moment). Best of all, if we did not feel like going to the park that day, we could enjoy just the safari for an hour or so and be back home within two hours of leaving. Fun, convenient, painless.
Starting this year, the safari has been converted into a ride within the Six Flags park itself. The decision was apparently mainly based on the fact that many of the driving-thru patrons, in complete disregard of rules, were feeding whatever junk food they had with them to the animals, causing sicknesses and deaths among the population. So the animals had to be protected. Air pollution from passing cars might also have been playing a role.
The problem is, the new ride – which is very similar to what you can experience at the Animal Planet park in Disney World, Florida, for those who need a frame of reference – is entirely not worth the time you have to invest in it.
The park opens at 10am, but the “Off Road Adventure” ride – or, rather, the entire section of the park where it resides – is off bounds for the general public until 11. You have to walk at some length to get there, but if you show up around 11, you already will be behind several hundred people waiting to enter. Even those who manage to be the first trough the park gates and find themselves at the front of the line still end up waiting for an hour. We joined the line at 10:40 and got on the ride about 11:40. And that one-hour wait remains the best-case scenario. If you walk up to the entrance of the ride in mid-day, the wait-time sign will invariably show 120 minutes or more.
When riding on the truck, your view is obstructed by the driver cabin and the fellow riders, who constantly angle to snap pictures with their smart-phones. A 3-year-old child can hardly see anything even when on an adult’s lap. And the truck stops only in front of the gates that separate different areas but practically never while close to the animals. There is never a chance to get a good look at anything; glimpses is all you get. Emily, who enjoys seeing animals up close tremendously, kept asking us “Where? I don’t see” as we were trying to point her in specific directions in short seconds of unobstructed view.
During the ride, the guides provide some commentary and even make a point of what an improvement a guided tour is over the drive-thru set-up. Right! There were some interesting bits in their commentary, but nothing that a little child can appreciate or an adult cannot look up online if curious. Most of it was along the lines of either cheer-leading or common trivia or flat jokes. And in many cases, the animal in question was no longer in the line of sight.
The only nice touch was the midpoint of the tour, where we could get off the truck to wander around a mini-zoo/outpost area, which allowed us finally to see a small selection of animals in close proximity. Giraffes and giant tortoises were the highlights, but also some farm animals, reptiles, birds. We then got back on the next available vehicle without any delay, but I can imagine another line forming here at peak times.
Overall, entirely not worth it. At least half an hour to get from the parking lot, through the security checkpoint and ticketing turnstiles, then through half the park, to the ride itself. One hour at the best of times – but upwards of two during the peak – of the wait to get on the ride. The reward: 45 minutes of sitting next to two dozen other park-goers, interspersed with fleeting semi-obscured glimpses of roaming or sleeping animals.
I’d rather take Emily to a zoo next time.
And with no desire to ever go on this ride again, there is no good reason for us to buy season passes to Six Flags anymore. The economics might remain the same, but the entertainment quotient has taken a nosedive. Pity.