I've just had my first visit to Six Flags over Georgia. It's a great
regional park, much better in its layout, design, feeling, theming, and
mixture of ride types than Six Flags Magic Mountain, which I had been highly
familiar with. SFOG has some amazing world-class coasters, and quite a few
of them, but it's not a "coaster" park. I recommend a visit to anyone.
When we researched our visit, we noticed quickly a lot of advice to
obtain the FlashPass, which is a paid ride-reservation system. Its older
name is Q-bot, and many Internet sites and fans still use that term, but
SFOG uses only "FlashPass", so I'll call it that too. FlashPass (FLP) is
like Disney's FastPass (FP) in a few respects: the main idea is that you can
get a reservation in be in two places at once. You can start a reservation
for Goliath, and that deposits a virtual clone of yourself in the Goliath
queue (more or less), and then you can use the time until your reservation
comes due for other things, like standing in line for the Georgia Cyclone.
Voila: you are in two places at once.
Want to ride Mindbender with no wait? Not a
But there are big differences from Disney's system. First, FLP is not a
ticket-based system. Instead, the tickets are themselves only virtual and
electronic. You are issued a plastic device that can talk to the system from
anywhere inside the park. You just clip it to your belt loop, courtesy of
the attached carabineer, and let it dangle from your waist all day.
You use the electronic interface of the FLP to make a reservation. Just
scroll around the list of rides with FLP available (there were some 18 rides
listed there), and select the one you want. To help you make up your mind,
the list includes right on the screen what time your reservation would be
for. Let's say it's 11:00 a.m. If you scroll to Goliath, you will see 12:34
p.m. next to it, or 11:42 p.m. for Georgia Cyclone. You can tell pretty
intuitively that some rides will have longer waits than others.
Unlike Disney's FP, the FLP at Six Flags is not free. You have to pay $31
per person for the "regular" FlashPass, and there are mild discounts as you
add per-person onto the same device.
It's easy to skip lines with the FlashPass.
But wait: there's a "gold" version of the FlashPass also. This one costs
a whopping $61/person (again, some discount if you get more than one person
per device), but it promises that your return times will be much, much, MUCH
quicker. They promise 75% or so cut off the wait time, which in practice
really means only 7 to 11 minutes after you make your reservation. And since
you can make your reservation from anywhere in the park, it usually takes
that long just to walk from one roller coaster to the next. The net result
is that you don't have ANY lines in the park. Just how much money is your
time worth? Would you pay $61/day extra to have no lines at all? (my answer:
yes, I would).
There were a couple of exceptions. The Batman ride (which appeared to be
a clone of the Magic Mountain one) had a long return line because of the way
its exit queue was structured, and the family raft ride had a long return
time (about 30 minutes) in the middle of the day, when the standby line was
about 110 minutes.
But apart from these exceptions, it really was a case of making a
reservation and walking over to the ride just in time to see ourselves
ushered into the exit walkway, and up to the ride.
Even older, less… "smooth" coasters seem more
you don't have to wait long to board them.
Over the course of an entire day, we probably cut our wait time at least
in half, and probably much more than that. Unlike a day at Walt Disney
World, which features sending a runner to an E-Ticket ride to get tickets a
few hours early, this time we literally just strolled from ride to ride, and
worked our way around the park in a leisurely fashion.
Like Disney's FP, the FLP did result in longer lines for those
unfortunate folks in Standby lines. In that respect, it's just like Disney.
But unlike Disney, the quantities of special tickets are limited. The
FlashPasses sell out, and apparently quite quickly in the morning. You have
to get there early. While that may seem unfair, in reality it "limits the
damage" of the front of line passes.
The raft ride had a total wait time of more
than 110 minutes,
but we breezed on in 25 minutes. Twice.
Another difference from Disney: the ignorant pay less of a price. With
Disney's system, many infrequent visitors may hear of the FP system and
think to themselves: "oh, it's just an option… I'll simply stand in line the
usual way instead." I've overheard many people saying just that. But with
FLP, the limited sales of the pre-paid line-skipping system means the impact
on the ‘regular' visitors is less significant, so if they choose to usual
the "normal" method, they don't pay a price for it. That's not true of
Disney's system, where ignorance leads to fewer rides overall for the day.
Of course, those who do no research for the day will still miss out on
the FLP opportunity, since it sells out so quickly, and that's a serious
drawback to the Six Flag's system. If Disney were ever to adopt something
similar, they'd want to put some manner of protecting in place to shield
those who don't do as much research.
But by and large, the FLP (especially the Gold FLP) was an absolute
godsend for us as out of town visitors. We only had one day to spend at Six
Flags Over Georgia, and the Gold FLP did everything we could have hoped. We
got on everything we wanted in just a single day, and without the pass, it
would have easily taken two days to see everything. Admission, hotel, and
vacation day do add up, so even though there was an extra cost for the Gold
FLP, for us it was definitely worth it. In fact, it was the best money we
spent on this vacation (the HoJo hotel near the Six Flags entrance, by
contrast, was a disaster).
The nature of the boarding area for Batman
led to long lines at the exit for FLP returnees.
I might even go farther and suggest that the Gold FLP was too cheap.
$61/day is too little a price to pay for what amounts to a VIP pass. The
trick with all of these ride-reservation systems is the proper balance.
Disney's FP allows far too many visitors to use it (it's free, and there are
a LOT of tickets sloshing in the system). Six Flag's system manages to
monetize the ride-reservations (something Disney is looking at), and does so
in a way that doesn't overly punish those in Standby lines. But there is
still punishment. As an out of town visitor, I can say that I would have
happily paid $100 for what I got on this visit, not just $60/ticket. If
higher prices would give Six Flags the same profit margin but with fewer
sales, that would be a win/win for everyone, including those stuck in the
The key to making any system work is scarcity, either induced
artificially via limited quantities, or encouraged more naturalistically by
market forces (i.e., pricing the front of line passes so high that only a
very few, highly motivated out of town visitors would want to pay the
price). At present, Disney's system generates a benefit for many visitors
because there are still numerous ignorant other visitors who think the
system is unnecessary. They don't realize their day is rendered less
effective by skipping FP, in part because explaining the deeper reasons is a
bit difficult. There is no simple soundbyte for them to understand the need
for FP, so they pass on it, and in the process create that scarcity which
enables everyone else to benefit.
Goliath, one of my favorite coasters in the
country, can get clogged up in the exit area,
since people sometimes rudely wait for their return time while blocking
everyone else's access.
It's not clear to me exactly what the lessons are for Disney as they look
to alter the FastPass system. I like Universal's plan for rewarding their
hotel visitors, and really think Disney could do something similar with
their hotel visitors. They just need to do it carefully. Balance is
everything. So long as they manage to find the right balance between keeping
the benefit scarce and not alienating everyone else, then everything could
still work out all right.
I tend to think the current FP system is not balanced; too much benefit
goes to visitors "in the know" who don't pay extra for the service. I just
hope Disney learns from Universal and Six Flags when they alter their own
I've recently joined the ranks of the iPhone owners, which enables me
finally to partake in the cell-phone-photo fun of the modern Internet.
Translation: on my weekend visits to parks, I'm starting to snap photos of
Disney details, trivia, and obscure spots, and I'm starting to play the
ever-popular "where in Walt Disney World am I?" game.
You can see those posts on
you can simply find me on
where the Twitter posts are also forwarded. You are all hereby invited to
"friend" me on Facebook and we can explore the parks together… so to speak.
I look forward to seeing you online!