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There's Something About Six Flags

John Deiner

Mr. Snyder, open up those rides . . .

I like theme parks as much as the next person, unless the next persons are those seated around me, who generally detest them. But even I've had an aversion to our very own Six Flags America, part of the chain controlled by our very own Dan "Washington Redskins" Snyder. I gave up on the place a few years ago when I tried to have fun during its nighttime Halloween-themed celebration and was disgusted by the long lines, high prices and gangs of unuly thuggish patrons.

But when you have a 12-year-old nephew in town and the temperature hits 100 degrees, Six Flags America and its waterpark look very appealing. So last week my wife, my nephew and I headed to the Bowie attraction, lured in part by corporate claims that the park was cleaning up its act.

The good news first: Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the ridiculous prices or maybe it was just because it was a Tuesday, but the place seemed deserted. Even at midday we were able to park near the entrance. The crowd was great -- no packs of teens prowling around creeping us out, and parents generally kept the kids under control. Most guests were good-natured and friendly. And when the temperature nears the century mark, it's nice to be near a pool.

Otherwise, the park disappointed. It seemed more rides were closed than open. Batwing, Joker's Jinx, Two-Face, Skull Mountain, Shipwreck Falls . . . all of them were closed for part or all of the day. The rides that were open featured slow-moving lines, considering the sparse crowd. Understandably, only one train was in operation on the coasters, but on Superman, several seats were broken, extending the wait even more.

Surly, apathetic teens seemed to be running the place, from a grouchy kid yelling at patrons on the Tornado water ride (amazing attraction, though) to one girl who was checking her cell phone when she should have been helping folks on the Mind Eraser. Ride operators and food service folks were more interested in chatting with each other than actually doing their jobs. (One major exception was the remarkable team of lifeguards in the wave pool, all of whom diligently kept the crowd under control. If my nephew hadn't spotted the remains of what appeared to be a diaper float by, it would have been a park highlight.) I understand that it's near the end of the season and minds may have been elsewhere, but it's still a business.

About that business: Six Flags offers great deals on season passes and one-day discounts, but we still ended up paying $35 each to get in, plus $15 to park (which is crazy; even budget-unfriendly Disney -- which recently raised its one-day park fee to $71 --charges 10 bucks). A small Coke goes for almost $4, and we paid more than $6 for a funnel cake. (Yes, I know: We should have brought our own chow.)

And while TV commercials for the park push its cleanliness, that's not really what we found. Food remnants littered the vast sitting area around the wave pool, which in turn attracted packs of bees. We checked periodically on a dish of overturned, abandoned french fries a few feet from the water's edge; they remained in place until the waterpark's closing at 7 p.m.

So, gee. I wasn't knocked out by Six Flags America, and I probably won't be going back anytime soon -- and that's not the way I feel about such spots as Disney, Universal Studios, Legoland, Hersheypark, etc. Anyone out there have their own reports on Six Flags? Was I just there on a bad day?

By John Deiner |  August 17, 2007; 12:29 PM ET  | Category:  John Deiner , Mid-Atlantic Destinations , Tourist Traps
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I haven't been there since it was Wild World (only once, btw)...and have no intention of EVER going again.

I don't go to 'Skins games (though an avid fan)...I don't eat at Johnny Rockets....and I won't listen to "Redskins Radio on the new TripleXESPN" waveband, either.

"Mr" Snyder is not getting my money! I miss JKC (a man with class)....oh and I miss "The Zog" too. Boo, Larry Michael!

Posted by: A true local... | August 17, 2007 12:49 PM

Ah, here's a secret about visiting any seasonal amusement park the last two weeks of August: it's the last two weeks of August.

Which seems obvious when you say it, but here's what it actually means regarding staffing: seasonal amusement parks are largely staffed by high school and college students. The college students head back to school the last two weeks of August. High school students often don't (it depends on the region), but -- it's the end of August. It's their last couple weeks of freedom before *they* head back to school, and they want to have some fun before then, so a bunch of them quit. Of the ones that don't quit, some of their families have been putting off their vacations over the summer and suddenly realise they need to take it before the kids go back to school, so some of them head off with their families.

The result is that the parks are understaffed. They draft staff from other areas of the park to fill in doing things like checking seat belts, cooking food, collecting parking tolls, etc, but the folks who are drafted are people who usually work in air-conditioned offices doing finance, or data processing, or sales. They're not used to being on their feet all day, and they're not used to being in the heat all day. They tend to wilt.

The kids who have ended up in charge of running the rides and the cookeries have been working the place all summer long and they know their jobs intimately. They're tired of the work, but they're going to hang on the last couple weeks for the money, the friends they have there, the employee olympics, or whatever. But they're not ecstatic about being there, they're not happy that half their friends who have been around all summer have gone, and they're not happy that the staff drafted from other areas are older, less competent, less agile, and have less stamina than the staff they've replaced.

The flip side of it being the last two weeks of August are all the families who've promised their kids they'd go to the park during the summer suddenly wake up and are realise they need to visit *now*. So, despite the heat, there's usually a surge of visitors at the end of August, which places additional stresses on the kids who've just ended up in charge and the office workers drafted to work out in the park. More visitors and less staff mean longer lines, means less breaks for the workers and more irritation for the visitors, and the whole thing can get pretty awful.

Going on a Tuesday and during a heat wave was a good way to minimise the crowding, but you had lower staff levels, and at least some of the staff was pulled from their regular cushy jobs to labor in the park.

Not sure how much that information helps you now, but at least I've explained the staffing levels and attitudes. Thank you for riding the Great American Scream Machine, and we hope you enjoy the rest of your day here at [insert name of amusement park].

Posted by: a former seasonal amusement park office worker | August 17, 2007 2:22 PM

Six Flags is just plain Nasty. It's dirty, overpriced, and full of hoodlums that cut-line with impunity and ruin things for everyone. Add all that to the fact that the best rides are frequently closed/broken or have ridiculously long lines and it all adds up to a rotten, overpriced day in hell.

That is the reputation they have earned and will have to work very, very, hard to clean it up. A few stupid commercials (what happened to the dancing old man?) will not be enough. Positive word of mouth that comes from people actually having an enjoyable experience is all that will save it now.

Posted by: Nasty Park | August 17, 2007 2:38 PM

I've only been to one Six Flags - last summer as part of a family vacation we spent the day at the one in San Antonio Texas. Our experience was the exact opposite. It was incredibly clean. The staff was friendly and helpful, all but one ride was operational, the lines were reasonable, in short it was great.

I'm planning to go to the one in Atlanta next month (as part of a baseball trip with my 8 year old). I hope ATL is more like San Antonio than DC.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 17, 2007 2:45 PM

I was referring to the one in DC, I have no opinion on others, but I would only imagine that they have to be better than the DC one.

Posted by: Nasty Park | August 17, 2007 2:50 PM

We went to 6 Flags last month and had a blast! My husband and I and our 12 year olds were more focused on each other than we were the employees because it was such a treat for us to get to go. Yes, most are teen-agers which in itself is kinda scary considering you're trusting these inattentive teenagers with your life is blazing hot (only 94 the day we went)! I did notice a lot of older people in some kind of uniform who I'm guessing were monitors...? Our only "run-in" was with a group of basketballers who EACH HAD A BASKETBALL THAT THEY BOUNCED THE ENTIRE TIME WE WAITED IN LINE! With that being said, our park here in Texas was a pretty pleasant affair.

Posted by: momof3boys | August 17, 2007 2:57 PM

Oh yeah I forgot to say that we went on a Wednesday and the longest wait was 30 minutes! We'd ridden all the "big rides" by the time we broke for lunch at 1p.

Posted by: momof3boys | August 17, 2007 2:58 PM

I'm a regular patron of Six Flags and amusement parks in general. Season's passes, yadda yadda yadda. The biggest issue at Six Flags America (SFA) is the work crews. Most of them are kids who were force by their parents to get a summer job and it shows. The park is essentially stuck with them because they can not offer wages right now that are hig henough to attract the more responsible kids who go to work at the Verizon stores andstay in the a/c all day.

Quite frankly, Six Flags corporate hasn't cared much for the park in years and was very close to selling it off for more houses before it turned a decent profit last year. Hopefully the higher-ups will take a long, hard look at house they have been running the park and change some things for the future. Thje ydid make some decent capital expeditures to beef up the park services, but it is going to need quite a bit, like over 20 million worth, to really be able to step up and deliver like a Six Flags park should. It's also going to take finding better staff. I say thye should try and get the overseas students like Six Flags Great Adventure. They're always so much nicer than most of the current park staff.

Posted by: EricS | August 17, 2007 5:04 PM

I don't know if this is legal around here, but I spent a summer working at an amusement park in high school.....for less than minimum wage. Because it was "seasonal" employment and I was only 15, they paid me $4.25/hr while everyone else made $4.75/hr.

You can bet I was a disgruntled employee, and I probably took it out on some of my customers. Too bad it was one of the few places that would hire a 15 year old.

Posted by: liz | August 17, 2007 6:46 PM

Went there last week with my daughter on Thursday. We were disappointed and frustrated as well. Especially with the numerous closed rides, ridiculous prices charged, could-care-less teenage staff and overflowing trash cans everywhere. Seemed like the Park had to "put up" with us being there -- oh well, we won't bother them again soon...Probably why they appeared deserted when we both went...

Posted by: MUHerd | August 17, 2007 8:39 PM

We went to Six Flags last Saturday... last weekend before classes begin... and was so disappointed at the way six-flags is managed and the very poor customer service they offer! In fact, I call it a rip-off! Half of the water park is closed so just imagine the frustrated little kids that left with broken hearts that day ... Thanks SIX-FLAGS... you broke their hearts with your pathetic response to our inquiries... NO LIFEGUARD!!! If you can not hire enough lifeguards for a water park... close it down!!! dont charge your patrons for service they never get!!!

Posted by: Bingo | August 21, 2007 10:50 AM

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