Over the Memorial Day weekend, I took a trip down to Kings Dominion. For those who are not aware, KD was owned by Paramount, but 3 years ago, Cedar Fair (CF), the parent company of the famous Cedar Point park bought KD and a number of other properties. The next closest Cedar Fair owned park around here is Dorney Park up in Allentown, PA.
For the last two summers, I have been in touch with my love of roller coasters. The first summer, I had a pass to Six Flags (SF) here in MD, and last summer, I had a season pass to both the Six Flags and Kings Dominion Parks, and I have to say that I am beginning to see a large difference in how each of the parks operate. It has started to give me a preference as to which type of park I would rather go to. Simply put, I get what I pay for.
I pay more for my pass to KD than SFA ($150 vs $95) with what looks like the same benefits on paper. I get unlimited admission to my home park, and several other parks owned by the same company, free parking, and various discounts. Of course, if I was at a different SF, I would actually pay more for my pass because I have seen that other SF locations charge more for their season passes. That's not entirely the point.
I find that I get a much higher quality of a visit from visiting a Cedar Fair owned park than a Six Flags owned park. Both of them do have plenty of roller coasters and other thrill rides and such, along with your usual restaurants and shops, so that part is pretty much the same. However, it's a wildly different experience as to how I am treated as a patron at times.
First and foremost, there is a huge difference in attitudes among the workers at the parks. At SF, most of the folks look like they're bored, they don't want to be there, and their work reflects it. Hell, I felt at KD that they wanted me to be there, which is not a feeling I have gotten at any SF park. I experienced more breakdowns of coasters at SF parks last year; not that there wasn't the occasional mishap at a CF owned park, but it seems that they moved really fast to get things going again and to keep the folks happy.
One other thing I noticed was more often than not, it would be at an SF owned park that the coaster would run one car at a time when they have the capacity to run 2-3 cars, and the line is approaching an hour. Very annoying. At KD I rode Dominator, which is a very popular ride, but the most I waited was about an hour, and that was with the line being all the way back to the entrance, yet because it seems their workers understand that it's important to keep things moving, I had no issue with standing in line. In fact, at Cedar Point, I don't remember waiting an obscene amount of time to ride their coaster, they kept the line moving.
Also, while SF has the cheaper season pass, they make up for it by nickel and diming you with fees. They have taken away the bins next to the rides for people to leave their stuff. Now you have to pay for a "ride locker" before you can even get in line for a ride. It's typically $1 for 2 hours, and it's a one-time use locker; once you open it again, it's done. It makes bringing a backpack very inconvenient, they likely do it so that you don't carry around water bottles and such and instead buy food at the park. Personally, I'd rather keep my Camelbak with me so I can just drink water as I stand in line and drop it in the bin when I actually ride. One way I have been able to get around it on occasion is to rent a locker for a flat fee at an SF attached water park since those you can typically get in and out all day. Any CF owned park I have been to does not have a ride locker, they still have their bins next to the ride itself that you drop your stuff in, and I hope they will keep it that way. At least I can be happy to report that KD has them this year.
Hell, now that I think about it, CF owned parks don't have to utilize a "fast pass" type of system because they tend to keep their lines moving. A few times I actually paid extra money at an SF park to be allowed the privilege to line jump using their "flash pass" system, and that was because the lines would get way too long for their own good. Then again, if their workers actually cared about their job, they might actually move people through the line efficiently. Of course, if that were to happen, fewer people would buy flash passes, the park wouldn't make as much money off of fees for extras like that, and those workers would probably get fired.
So ultimately, even though I pay a bit more money up front for a season pass to a CF owned park, the quality of my visits make it worth every penny of the extra fee. Considering how many extra "fees" I would have to pay at an SF park, I probably end up paying for that pass in the end. This is why I find if I have a choice, I'd rather go to a CF owned park. It's only the proximity and slightly lower cost of the SF season pass that keeps me buying, but if they ever raise their rates, I wouldn't be as upset to drop buying a pass from them.
Perhaps I am not the only one that thinks this way about the parks, and perhaps that is why Six Flags is in trouble financially while Cedar Fair is doing just fine for the most part.