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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 problem!

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 worthwhile when
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 Standby lines.

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 system.

Social Media

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 Twitter or you can simply find me on Facebook, 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!

Kevin Yee may be e-mailed at [email protected] - Please keep in mind he may not be able to respond to each note personally.

2009 Kevin Yee

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Kevin's Disney Books

Kevin is the author of many books on Disney theme parks, including:

  • Mouse Trap: Memoir of a Disneyland Cast Member provides the first authentic glimpse of what it's like to work at Disneyland.
  • The Walt Disney World Menu Book lists restaurants, their menus, and prices for entrees, all in one handy pocket-sized guide.
  • Tokyo Disney Made Easy is a travel guide to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySeas, written to make the entire trip stress-free for non-speakers of Japanese.
  • Magic Quizdom offers an exhaustive trivia quiz on Disneyland park, with expansive paragraph-length answers that flesh out the fuller story on this place rich with details.
  • 101 Things You Never Knew About Disneyland is a list-oriented book that covers ground left intentionally unexposed in the trivia book, namely the tributes and homages around Disneyland, especially to past rides and attractions.
  • 101 Things You Never Knew About Walt Disney World follows the example of the Disneyland book, detailing tributes and homages in the four Disney World parks.

More information on the above titles, along with ordering options are at this link. Kevin is currently working on other theme park related books, and expects the next one to be published soon.