That means this is the opinion of one person, not a trip report or news article. Please keep that in mind as you are reading.
RD is back with another of his award winning (someday) columns. If you missed his first column about EPCOT at Walt Disney World be sure to click the link.
This week RD is talking about Six Flags. A look back at some of the good and bad they've done over the past 2 decades, a look at some of the good and bad they are doing for 2015 and some thoughts on how they can fix what is broken and improve on for the future. - Gregg
Over the past 20 years, we've seen Six Flags go from boom to bust to boom to bust. It is their nature. We watched the development of the Batman: The Clone coasters, the advent of the modern era thrills via several manufacturers, the realization of a lot of potential in many parks. Yet others began their decline - a lack of love & care; a lack of attention to detail, a lack of passion for being what they are. And in other cases, true neglect has set in at several of the parks under the Six Flags name. While bigger rides have come to a handful of the parks, many have suffered at the hands OF those parks, with a few getting hand-me-downs for decades now.
Where did they go wrong? This is more of a question that has no answers, but here's a few ideas I've seen during the past decade.
As a rule, only four parks in the chain have been getting A-list rides. Others have made due with smaller attractions, and yet others have gotten used rides - or nothing at all. While I'm all for relocation of older rides & using them to their full potential, I'm afraid that these aren't the right way to keep a park running with a full potential.
Some parks have been getting more attention than others, despite the overall need for ALL the parks to get good attention.
Six Flags America comes to mind here. The park itself has gone from being a great park with some good chances for success to being the bastard stepchild at the family reunion. From 2002 to 2013, not a single new coaster was added. 11 years, folks. And then they got two coasters from Six Flags Great America back to back - both used, both older rides. And they were LONG overdue for these 'new' attractions. The same can be said for The Great Escape - having received an Arrow Mine train (also used) from a defunct park in Tennessee.
Park repair & maintenance: Of all the Six Flags parks I've visited in the past decade, only one seemed to be keeping up with this - Six Flags Over Georgia.
Parks like SFMM & SFoT were all looking a bit run down. Rides were fading badly. Buildings had peeling paint, some showing signs of rot & decay. Coasters were looking run down, with torn seats, worn out lap/grab bars; some rides looked 50 years old when in reality they were only 5 or 6 years old.
A lack of sense of the family: While some parks have maintained a sense of the family in their parks, others have completely flushed this down the drain. Older rides do need replacing on a regular basis - don't get me wrong. New does have to replace old. However, gutting one of the more popular attractions at a park to be replaced by a gimmick attraction isn't the way to do it. Adding more high-intensity thrills without adding a balance of smaller & more family friendly rides? Yuuup. They did that too.
Is it all gloom & doom? No - not at all.
Some Six Flags parks have done an excellent job at running under these conditions. Six Flags Over Georgia & Six Flags Discovery Kingdom have done very well in operating with constraints the other parks do not have to face - primarily height issues - and still being able to upgrade themselves, and in a lot of ways clean up their image.
A trip to SFDK in 2003 was an eye opening experience - complete with a disgust with how the park was being run, as well as the staff & the cleanliness of the park. When I returned in 2014, I was surprised with not only the upgrades to the park done in a decade, but also in how clean, well-dressed & well run the park was. A very different experience, and a more pleasing one overall. The same can be said for SFoG - a park that consistently makes me wonder why the rest of the SF chain cannot do what they do, and do it on the same level.
And now Six Flags goes CARNIVAL! Adding Ball Of Fire/Super Loops to four parks, and calling it a 'coaster'. Nope. Nope. Nope.
And while these parks will get theirs this upcoming season, I'd count on the rest of the chain getting theirs in 2016; repetition implies pattern, pattern implies theme. Look at the other repetition attractions that have come in the past 20 years: Batman The Clone, StarFlyers... now Super Loops.
I don't object to ANY park getting a new attraction at all. Parks need this. But a SUPER LOOP? Let's face it: Oops, they did it again. Two parks are getting new E-ticket rides, in the form of refitted existing coasters. While important, hardly groundbreaking in any way. Two parks are getting dark rides refitted into older attraction space. Good recycling, I reckon.
EDITORS NOTE: Even though the two new dark rides are replacing existing dark rides, if the Animatronics and Ride Vehicles we've seen at IAAPA this week are any indication, we are in for a treat with these two new rides. - Gregg
So where does Six Flags go from here?
Only the people at the very top know for sure. We have lots of rumor & conjecture - you're on your own for what you choose to believe or distrust; personally, I don't buy into rumors myself. However, there has to be some serious changes in the near future, especially in their smaller market & older parks. The focus has been lost on their top brass, and they have lost their way...again. How they choose to move forward is the question.
A good view on how to run the chain can be seen in Austell, GA at SFoG.
In the early to mid 90s, SFoG was the black eye on the chain - neglected rides, poor operations, bad crime & overall a bad feel. A change at the top to install a GM who truly cared about the park turned the park around - cleaned up the image, the park & the rides, added attractions that fit the park beautifully, and restored & rebuilt existing attractions to make their image better. This in turn drew more people in, and from further away no less. The park looks good, runs great, is clean & operated at a better standard than many of the other parks in the chain do. It is a gold standard to be looked at as the model for the future. If Six Flags wants to make themselves into a better model, start there. Look at what makes SFoG a success, and adapt that to other parks as needed.
And hopefully they will learn from themselves.