This past weekend, I traveled to Massachusetts to meet up with some of my family members because one of my sisters will be attending college in Springfield this fall. After a tour of her new home away from home (and a meeting with the folks in financial aid–fun!), we decided to head to Six Flags New England (SFNE) during their opening weekend.
I’d never visited the park before, although I’ve been to Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey many times. I used to go to amusement parks often as a kid. The Land of Make Believe, Sesame Place, Hershey Park, Dorney Park and Adventureland all played huge roles in my childhood. My family visited Disney World a few times, but not with any regularity. For our family of seven, it was easier and cheaper to visit parks close to home.
Since I started traveling to WDW more frequently, I haven’t visited very many ‘other’ amusement parks. In fact, this weekend was the first time I visited a non-Disney Park since 2009, when I visited Busch Gardens Williamsburg during a family vacation. Why ‘waste’ money visiting Darien Lake when I can save that money for my semi-annual pilgrimages to the Mouse House?
Turns out, my thinking was sound. As we entered SFNE, the Disney Difference was immediate and staggering. And it didn’t let up throughout the day. While there were a million little differences (Flash Pass, anyone?), there were seven key differences that really made me cringe:
1. Safety First
When we arrived at around 10 a.m. on Sunday morning, it had rained the night before and everything was still pretty wet. The “Main Street” section of SFNE is paved with cobblestones, which were incredibly slick, and there were puddles everywhere. I actually slipped and fell–landing right on my ass–in front of a park employee. He didn’t offer me a hand up or ask if I was okay. Instead, he said, “Careful. It’s wet.” Thanks for that, guy!
Something like this would NEVER happen at Disney World! There, someone would have swept the moisture away before the gates even opened. And a Cast Member would certainly never leave me sitting on the floor, stunned. Bad show, Six Flags! Also, ouch!
2. Inefficient and … Hey! Don’t Touch That!
Of course, it is possible to take the safety thing overboard. At SFNE, ride loading takes FOREVER. The ride operators must hand-check each and every person to make sure they’re 100% properly buckled. I can’t tell you the number of times someone got a little too close to me throughout the day. What’s wrong with the Disney way of asking everyone to pull the red tab? Cast Members can quickly see and assess the situation, and the loading process moves much more quickly.
Loading, it seems, it not high on the SFNE list of things to worry about, though. One of my favorite Disney World moments is getting to the head of the line at Big Thunder Mountain or Toy Story Midway Mania, when the Cast Member gives you your number: “Head down to number three, please.” At SFNE, the loading platform is a mess. As one park employee told me, “Just go wherever you want!” At one point, I started directing fellow guests to empty lines just to speed the process along.
3. Rules for a Reason
There are signs absolutely everywhere in SFNE warning guests that line jumping is punishable by immediate ejection from the park. While I agree that Line Cutters are the absolute lowest form of humanity, even I thought the amount of signage was excessive. Until, that is, a park employee allowed three people to cut in front of us in line. And then he turned to my sister and said, “Thanks for not making a big deal about that. If my bosses saw me doing that, I’d be fired.”
How do you respond to something like that? Part of me wanted to slap him upside the head. Another part of me wanted to pretend to be a fellow park employee about to bust him. But the largest part of me was too shocked to say anything at all. It’s times like these when I wish I was cleverer so I could throw out a witty response.
4. Cluttered and Confused
Speaking of the “line jumping” signs, there are SO MANY signs throughout the park that it’s hard to know where to focus and what’s truly important. I’m not going to pretend that SFNE has spot-on themeing, but even in places where the theme is remarkably cohesive, the effect is ruined with too much clutter. Here’s a great example of that complaint from Crack Axle Canyon, an ‘Old West’ themed area:
And, right around the corner …
Slurpees! Dippin Dots!! Sno-Cones!!! How hard would it be to take a page from Disney’s book and just get some old-timey-looking food carts and tone down the signage?
5. Malfunction Malfunction
Twice during our 6 hours in the park, we got stuck on a ride. Twice!
The first time was somewhat traumatizing: after riding Batman, The Dark Knight, none of the restraints on our row would unlock. Everyone else’s unlocked, but not ours. So we were in the supremely uncomfortable position of being stuck on a roller coaster and in the center of attention at the same time. Everyone was staring, giving us the stink eye, and–even more alarmingly–the park employees seemed to have absolutely NO training in how to handle the situation. After 16 minutes (we timed it) stuck in the restraints with no direct reassurance from a park employee, maintenance was able to set us free. No one apologized for the inconvenience.
The second time, we were strapped into and released from Catapult, a sky swat flat ride in the North End section of the park, three times before they finally admitted that the ride was broken and let us go. Again, no apology. If you’ve ever been on a sky swat, you know two things: first, it takes an incredibly long time to get everyone properly strapped into the ride, and second, the process is pretty painful. I actually have bruises! Which leads me to my next point …
The rides at SFNE are certainly … thrilling. It’s Tuesday evening as I’m writing this, and I’m still sore from my experiences on Sunday. I have bruises on my thighs, my shoulders and (inexplicably) my left breast. My neck has been through the wringer, my right elbow is aching, and my ears still feel a bit like I’ve been in a boxing match. Are we having fun yet?
I can ride Expedition Everest, Big Thunder Mountain or Tower of Terror over and over and over all day (and I have) without feeling any worse for wear. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster? Bring it on! Who doesn’t love Sum of All Thrills? I certainly love a good thrill ride, but I’m getting too old (and apparently too feeble) for the smash-bang amusements of my youth. Give me a nice, sedate ride through Edwardian London and over the Isle of Never Land any day. And pass the Bengay, please.
7. Ew. Ew. Ew.
Throughout the day, we were treated to a spiel over the loudspeaker assuring us that SFNE is a clean park and their employees take time out of every hour to clean their workspace. That would be wonderful if it were true, but honestly, SFNE is one of the dirtiest parks I’ve ever been to!
For starters, everything looks like it could use a good sweep and a fresh coat of paint (not quite what you expect to see during opening weekend), but if you take a closer look, it gets even worse. Here are a couple of shots I took while waiting in line at Bizarro:
Not only is the park itself dirty, but you have to leave your personal belongings, unattended, in their dirty park. Unlike in Disney World, you can’t bring your touring bag with you onto the vast majority of rides. Some have a fee-based locker system, but most require you to leave your bag and/or your souvenir mug either with a non-rider or on the loading platform so you can pick it up (and others can trip on it) after the ride is over.
Check this out:
Seriously, this mug holder is just all kinds of disgusting. And people actually use them. (I guess you really have no choice.) It grosses me out just thinking about it!
I’m not going to lie: I had a great day at SFNE with my family. We had fun, laughed and made memories. It’s just, instead of memories of meeting Mickey and Pluto or experiencing a spectacular fireworks display, we have memories of falling and getting stuck on roller coasters!
I do have to say, though, SFNW has one heck of an adorable Rope Drop Show. I really wish they’d bring those back at Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios.
Have you visited a non-Disney Park recently? What does the Disney Difference mean to you?