I was going to give a detailed, blow-by-blow account of my trip to Six Flags with my roommate Harley on Monday. But then I realized that, since I have very few pictures (and the ones I do have are crappy cell phone pics), that would be pretty boring. So, I'll sum things up.
Now, I'm not really a Six Flags basher. I remember going to Magic Mountain when I was a kid and loving it. I went to Elitch Gardens with my sister a couple of years ago and had a great time. Sure, it doesn't have the theming or attention to detail of a Disney park, but I loves me some roller coasters, and Six Flags delivers the goods.
Right? ... Right?
So I couldn't really tell why I didn't really enjoy myself this time. I used to really love rides like Colossus and Ninja when I was a kid, but Monday, I found them... well, pretty boring. Are my standards really that different now that I'm older? Or is it just that I work for Disney now, and have different expectations about the way a theme park should work? Certainly some of the more horrifying moments of the day would have gone by unnoticed if I didn't work at Disneyland.
First, I have to establish that the park was deserted. And I don't mean DCA deserted, where the lines are all really short and you're not getting crushed in the walkways. Harley called it "zombie movie deserted." There were no fewer than three rides where we were the only ones on. For the vast majority of the rides, we would simply walk directly into the station. In fact, the only rides that had any line to speak of were Deja Vu and X. It wasn't so much cool as a little creepy. But, we did get to do pretty much everything.
So, the good stuff first. I was pleased to discover that I still like Goliath and Riddler's Revenge as much as I ever did, even if some of my other old favorites had lost their charm. We also thoroughly enjoyed Tatsu. It was terrifying at first (though how much of that was residual anger and nervousness from X, which we had done immediately before, was hard to tell), but both Harley and I had a moment where our brains switched over from being afraid to really enjoying it. It's definitely a ride I'd love to do again. One of our favorite bits of the day was riding Log Jammer, where we amused ourselves (not that there was anything else there to amuse us) by singing "it's a small world." We got some very strange looks from the attendants at the top of the drops. We repeated our antics on Jet Stream, where we got strange looks not only from the attendant, but from the people riding Ninja as well.
The other highlight of our day was Guest Relations. We stopped by early in the afternoon to find out if Scream was open, and to get directions to X, which we'd spent about 10 minutes wandering around trying to find. The guy out front, Alfred, answered our questions and gave us some pretty incomprehensible directions. Apparently seeing our blank looks, he said, "I'm sorry, I give really bad directions. Here, let me show you." And he walked us up the hill and around the corner, pointing out the bridge we needed to cross and how we'd get there. After some of the encounters we'd had with employees, we were both thoroughly impressed by such great service. As we headed out of the park, we stopped into Guest Relations to give him a formal compliment (and to tell him that he should be working for Disney). We ended up chatting for about 10 minutes with him and the other two people there, Monique and a guy whose name I unfortunately didn't catch. They were nice and friendly, and appropriately horrified at some of the transgressions we mentioned, even taking notes. I do plan to write a letter to Six Flags about my visit, and I'm definitely going to mention those three.
I'm also going to mention in my letter all the really appalling incidents, and they were legion.
-On Colossus, we were right behind a boy who was clearly about an inch too short to ride. The attendant pulled him off to height-check him. Harley and I watched in horror as the kid stood up on his tiptoes, and the attendant let him get back on. Thankfully, the other attendant protested, standing up on her tiptoes so she didn't have to say anything to embarrass the kid, and made him check again. The kid wasn't allowed to ride.
-On Gold Rusher, some kids about halfway up the train kept grabbing at tree branches and whipping them behind them. One particularly big branch just barely missed us in the last row, and had there been anyone in the two rows in front of us, they would have been injured. The big branch in question was in easy reach of the train. When we pulled back into the station, there was no one in line, so they were going to send us again. Harley and I surprised everyone by demanding to be let off the ride, and I commented bitterly as we left about having to ride behind the ******* stepchild of Poison Ivy.
-On Superman, we saw a guest actually get hit with a door. I chalk this up more to a design flaw; the doors open the wrong direction, so the attendant at the controls can't see if someone is in the way. But knowing that the only way to get a safety violation at the Opera House is to hit someone with a door, it was still pretty appalling to watch.
-On Deja Vu, Harley still had her purse on while they were doing safety checks. It's a mid-sized purse with a long strap, so it was on her lap and stuck pretty securely under the harness. The attendant, who was apparently a trainee, told her she had to take it off. She tried to get it out, but it was stuck. The trainee insisted, but Harley maintained that she couldn't get it out without the harnesses being released, which the trainee said they couldn't do. (Harley works Indy and Thunder. She called BS on that one.) Finally, the trainee moved on, with a snide "We're not responsible." We'd seen some pretty apathetic employees, but that was the first open rudeness we encountered.
-Speaking of open rudeness, when we got down to the bottom of Samurai Summit, we discovered that Tatsu was down. Or at least, it seemed like it. There was a security guy and another employee hanging out out front, but the line wasn't closed off. We went up and asked if the ride was down, and were told that it was. We inquired if they knew when it would be back up. (Now, I know that this usually doesn't get an answer at Disneyland unless I know the CM, but we figured it was worth a shot.) The guy's only response was to look at me like I was an idiot.
-Having lunch at the Panda Express by Viper, we watched an employee get in line, order her food, and take it to one of the front tables to eat it. It was like a car crash; we couldn't stop staring. Buying food onstage (I'm sure they don't call it that at Six Flags, but I use the language I know) is bad enough, but if that's what you're going to do, at least be a little discreet. Seeing someone actually eating onstage was just appalling. After a brief time, she got up and left. We like to think we shamed her into finding a break room.
-On X... well, where to begin? First off, the ride itself was terrifying. And not terrifying in the "whee, this is exciting" sense, terrifying in the "I think I'm going to die, tell my family I love them" sense. But, I think it's a ride I could grow to enjoy, if I didn't have to go through the nightmare of having to wait to board X. Spending a full half-hour in the station, we had plenty of time to realize exactly what a failure of a ride X is.
See, one of the main things Disney concerns itself with is efficiency. If you're cramming as many people through your line, whatever line it is, as you can possibly manage, you'll be able to accommodate more people with shorter wait times. In Attractions, that means keeping your dispatch interval (the time the vehicle is in the station) as short as possible.
X is an efficiency nightmare. Each train can hold 28 people. At first we thought that there could only be one train on the track, though when we talked to Guest Relations about it, they asked how many trains were running, so I'm guessing they're capable of multiple trains. Nevertheless, there was only one train going. The duration of the ride is listed at 3 minutes (the ride didn't feel nearly that long to me, but it's entirely possible that I blacked out). We timed the ride cycle, from the moment the gates open to let one group of guests on to the moment the gates open to let the next group of guests on, to be 5:51. That's right, that means that the train is in the station for almost three minutes. If that's a standard ride cycle, we calculated the hourly capacity of X to be 280.
280. Remember how Al's been talking about the low capacity of the subs and the sort of problems it's going to cause? The subs can carry about 1,300 guests an hour. The hourly capacity of the Tiki Room is well over 600. I'm not sure the entire Disneyland Resort even has an attraction with a capacity that low, certainly not on one of our marquee attractions. Harley and I just kept repeating the number in numb disbelief. No wonder the line's always so long.
Part of it is bad design. At first we were pleased to see separate load and unload areas, which we thought would help increase efficiency. As we watched the ride cycle through, we realized that this isn't the case. See, the seats on X have to recline in order for the vehicle to move, but the seats have to be upright in order to load guests. Once guest are clear in the unload area, the seats must recline, the safety gates must lower, the vehicle must move into the load area, the safety gates must be raised, and the seats must return to an upright position. This takes over a minute. If guests were loaded and unloaded in the same area, the vehicle wouldn't have to move at all, and that interval could be cut down to 15-30 seconds, depending on how quickly the attendants can get people on and off. That doesn't seem like a lot, but it would mean an extra 30-50 people wouild get to ride every hour.
Of course, the attendants didn't seem to be in any hurry as they wandered aimlessly through our safety checks. We were grateful that the restraints were checked twice, but the meandering pace of the operators easily added another full minute to the ride cycle.
It was also at X that we witnessed two particularly egregious employee behaviors. The lesser of the two evils was the attendant who was sucking down her soda WHILE doing her safety check. This wasn't a quick, discreet drink of water. We couldn't believe it. But the other one was a guy who we called "the anti-Disney Look." He had floppy, overgelled hair that kept getting into his face, mirrored sunglasses (there's no direct sunlight in the station, which is enclosed), an ostentatious and ugly watch, an untucked shirt, and blue Converse shoes that appeared to have no backs and revealed the grey heels of his white socks. We couldn't really report him, because he didn't have a nametag. (When we described this guy to Guest Relations, we were gratified to see that they were utterly horrified, and said that it was "a major violation.")
In retrospect, we were pretty glad that X was so hard to get to. Seriously, it's completly out of the way, and the signage to get you there is pretty much absent. The one sign that clearly points to X (as opposed to both X and Viper, which don't board anywhere near each other) is located in such a place that you'd pretty much have to know it was there to be able to see it.
So that was our day. Had we not ridden X, we would have felt that the park was clearly inferior to Disneyland, but still enjoyable. X kind of put a damper on the whole thing. Harley wants to check out Hurricane Harbor, at which point we very well may stop into Magic Mountain to get a couple of rides on Tatsu. But other than that, I think we could pretty happily give Magic Mountain a pass for a really, really long time.