Cedar Point closes roads for first time in history as the park reaches capacity

Posted Sunday, October 20, 2019 10:06 AM | Contributed by Jeff

For the first time in its history, Cedar Point turned away visitors Saturday afternoon because the park got so crowded. Just before 4 p.m., the park announced that the two roads leading into Cedar Point — Cedar Point Road and Cedar Point Drive — were temporarily closed due to standstill traffic.

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Sunday, October 20, 2019 10:06 AM

And social media goes insane.

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Sunday, October 20, 2019 10:09 AM

Right? I keep reading about how all Cedar Point cares about is the money and they're greedy and whatever. This scenario, where they underpriced admission, is not good for the bottom line at all, let alone setting a high bar for customer satisfaction. Perhaps the cheap pass was a tactical error, but I'm reasonably certain that this is not the scenario they wanted.

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Sunday, October 20, 2019 11:36 AM

That's kind of what I'm saying as well. They're a business and they're trying to maximize revenues for their shareholders. That's not a bad thing. Yes I'm concerned about the impact it may have on my personal visits and the level of enjoyment I get from them, but it's also wondering how this plays out when they go to sell passes next year and they either 1) raise the price due to overcrowding or 2) lose a bunch of longtime passholders because the experience has been made so much worse. I don't think there's any way that their short term numbers aren't going to be bangin' in terms of attendance and revenue, but how does it shake out long term? Is this an admission that the "A Place Like No Other" strategy of more expensive stuff along with a beefed up, higher end experience was not working at Cedar Point? Or is this just a pricing mistake they made to try to promote 150 years and get people in there even though they're not building a marquee attraction next year? I hope it's the latter, but exiting out of an error like this might be tricky and hit their bottom line beyond the short term.

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Sunday, October 20, 2019 11:47 AM

It seems to me that they should take a page from Disney and offer a higher priced "special event" ticket...maybe for the Halloweekend Friday nights...and cap the attendance that evening to give a more exclusive experience. They would probably make more money and with less headaches.

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Sunday, October 20, 2019 12:00 PM

You mean like they do for Knotts Scary Farm?

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Sunday, October 20, 2019 12:54 PM

Agreed, I think all this shows is the popularity of the Halloween events has hit saturation point for the infrastructure of their property. It's been trending that way industry wide for years paired this year with the perfect (non) storm of October weekend weather. Hildebrandt discusses this in his book.

Maybe its about time to evaluate and tinker with the ticketing type, hours event process for October to balance potential revenue and guest experience. If worthwhile only to avoid this nasty press.

And maybe its as easy as future gold pass type deals not valid for October witjout an add on? (But the base pass is still good for late Aug and bonus weekends).

Then again does the quasi-local-Gold pass-October weekend crowd even really care? If the point of October is fall atmosphere, hanging out in pleasant weather, a little Halloween stuff.... Only the people that are foolish enough to plan October as their single trip for rides really get burned.

Last edited by Kstr 737, Sunday, October 20, 2019 12:57 PM
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Sunday, October 20, 2019 1:21 PM

I wonder if there is something psychological about the gold pass being under $100. Kings Island is selling their gold pass for $105, and I don’t hear about these issues from there, although Kings Island has had a gold pass option for a few years now.

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Sunday, October 20, 2019 1:24 PM

I've visited the park yearly for Halloweekends for the better part of a decade and have been a platinum passholder for the last three years. My regular trip with my friends is to go the first or second weekend of the event in September and stay for the entire weekend. Regardless of the weather, the crowds had been consistent -- Friday was a great ride night, Saturday was very busy (but manageable for doing flats and outdoor haunts), and Sunday was somewhat busy but still good for getting rides in.

This year, the entire weekend was a **** show. The wait for the major coasters ranged from 60 minutes to 2 hours on Friday; last year they were walk ons. Saturday was an absolute disaster, to the degree that it was nearly impossible to walk down Frontier Trail after dark. At 8:00 at night we waited 25 minutes to get food at the new BBQ place. We left early and went back to the hotel. Sunday was also significantly busier than usual; our free Fast Lane from renewing our pass went from a joke (because Sundays used to be empty) to a necessity.

All of the members in our group (including two first-time passholders) were extremely disappointed by the weekend and are questioning whether we should bother coming back for Halloweekends next year. Yes, it's a popular event, but we did everything right -- we visited extremely early in the season and planned to do most of our riding on Friday and Sunday. Now there is absolutely no good time to visit the park in the fall, and like most people I point my finger at the Gold Passes. It's also kind of insulting to be waiting in huge lines and seeing their Gold Pass advertisements plastered absolutely everywhere.

On a side note, they were doing a horrible job managing early entry as well. In all three days I saw zero attempts being made to keep gold passholders from entering the park until 30 minutes after platinum passholders. In years past we were able to get a ride on SV within the first 30 minutes of early entry; this year we couldn't get near it even when we were at the gates 20 minutes before open.

They done goofed big time.

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Sunday, October 20, 2019 6:47 PM

Well it wasn't just CP, KI was parking people in the grass by 5 yesterday and the place was a total zoo. Probably about 50k peak. I've been there on days like that, and then cringe when I remember their max capacity is *60k* which I can't even imagine.

Cedar Fair never did the "buy a pass now and it's good for the rest of this year too" but KI started doing that again last year for the first time since Paramount.

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Sunday, October 20, 2019 9:34 PM

This weekend was a perfect storm of good weather, Gold passes, Ohio State and Michigan not having Saturday afternoon games, and the Browns having a bye week. People were looking for something to do.

I also feel like this is the first Haunt season in a while where every weekend has had good weather. Many years one (if not more) weekend is generally a total bust with cold, rainy weather. Heck, some years I feel like Haunt season is almost a total weather bust. Closing weekend still has that potential, but at this point I’d say the park would almost welcome that to just get out of the season and start brainstorming crowd control for 2020 and beyond.

I’ve long thought that Saturday Halloweekends should be limited to Platinum Pass and single day tickets only. In the past this would have been a block out of the blue pass, now gold. It’s too late to do that for 2020 likely, but I think it’s a good idea. It’s hard enough to pack the park full like this, but then to do it on the fringe season where operations aren’t 100% and you can’t put anyone in the waterpark or the beach makes it even worse. I’m not saying this many people would be good in July or August - but at least the beach and CP Shores could be used to spread the crowds a bit.

Is the Gold Pass to blame here? Probably a little. But I think the growing popularity of Fall/Halloween themed events both in amusement parks and in general and the perfect fall weather every weekend has been just as big of an incentive. If yesterday had been a high of 45 degrees with a steady rain (not at all uncommon for a second to last Halloweekend) I guarantee they would not have had the issues they did.

As for all the social media complaining - I have to laugh. It all comes down to “How DARE all these people show up and how DARE the park let them in. I mean, they should let ME in and give ME the experience I wanted to have. But how DARE all these other people have the same idea?”

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Monday, October 21, 2019 12:35 AM

Its not only the cheap season passes that are driving these crowds. It's the cheap season pass dining and drinks and payment plans as well. A family of 4 can pay for their entire season at the park including dining and drinks for about $80ish/month over 12 months for a one park pass.

I still don't understand why the drink and dining plans are prices so low, when the food and drinks alone are so expensive. The model used to be that they sold cheap season passes and made money off their (horrible) food.

Maybe the philosophy is to sell so many and make the lines so long, it limits the times they can actually be used.....OR maybe thats the reason they have such BAD food lol. So people won't use their season dining too much.

I know i quit going to Disney years ago because it is so miserably crowded along with their change to fast passes that forces too much advance scheduling.

But at least for the most part, Disney fast pass system is available to everyone when parks are crowded and you can go on attractions without waiting in painful lines. Cedar Fair doesn't even have that since they sell line cut passes, and now people are having to wait in line with their Fast Lane passes on crowded days.

Cedar Fair parks are a good experience when they aren't overcrowded, but they are a miserable experience when they are crowded. The parks become dirtier, the limited restroom facilities become dirty, the ride lines move slowly because of the Fast Lane, and the food lines for the bad food are just as slow. It's just doesn't leave a good feeling when one leaves the park in those circumstances.

Cedar Fair has done an overall but not perfect job with their parks recently. Cleaning up infrasctructure, adding themed experiences to the themed parks, adding special events like Winterfest and Carnivale, maintaining landscaping, etc. But the Six Flags sell as many passes as you can approach is going to end up with trashy parks like Six Flags......

Last edited by super7*, Monday, October 21, 2019 12:38 AM
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Monday, October 21, 2019 6:35 AM

The plural of anecdote isn't data, but...

I don't drink sugared soda, and I will rarely have a diet something or other. At home, I drink carbonated water, maybe with a splash of pomegranate or cranberry in it. So, I almost never bought a drink at CP, and would just two-fist the (very small) water cups.

With the season drink plan, plus the freestyle machines that do sparkling water, that changed. So, it is possible that their overall revenue went up.

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Monday, October 21, 2019 7:02 AM

Cheap season passes? Expensive food? Season dining and drink packages? Sounds like Cedar Fair is more like Six Flags than people are saying.

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Monday, October 21, 2019 8:56 AM

I woke up and found my personal anecdote still hanging here. I guess I fell asleep without mashing the send button. But here it is.

I just got back from a long drive home from Cedar Point. My intention was to go, re-up my Platinum Pass and see what I could get done with my complementary FL+. Turns out I got quite a bit done, eventually. (I was there from opening bell to the last.) But that’s a trip report for another day.
I made it there in time for early entry. When 10:00 came there was a stampede from the resort gate to Frontier Town. By the time my old ass got to Steel Vengeance many had passed me by. And the ride was down. So I went over to Maverick which would’ve been a two train wait if it hadn’t also gone down when I was next to board. It didn’t take that long to fix and I got to ride, but when I went back to SV the wait was posted at 2 hours, and the park wasn’t even open yet. There was also a huge line of people waiting to use their FL+ when 11 roles around.
I smoke, and frequently make conversation with others in the designated areas. (We’re a friendly group) Today’s conversation around the ashtrays concerned the huge crowd (everyone I talked to had endured Saturday) and the Gold Pass. They were all convinced that the new, low priced pass caused it all, and more than one person said that it was their last year for passes of any kind.

You wanna talk affordable? Take the customer’s ticket price, anywhere between let’s say 48 bucks and 74 (full gate price) and subtract it from 99. That’s what people are “paying” for their pass. I noticed signage everywhere in the park encouraging people to do this, and frankly, who wouldn’t?

I’m not entirely convinced the pass is causing an upsurge in attendance. I looked back through my photos to find Oct
14, 2017, My Worst Cedar Point Day Ever. The parking lot was full, you dared not leave, and there was nothing to do unless you wanted to wait 3 hours- same for food and drinks. This kind of thing happens at least once every single year.
I remember a CF report where they said they’re thinking of ways to spread attendance out over the season. This particular stunt may have come along at the wrong time for those that were expecting a relaxed, doable day, and I guess we’ll see how things go next year. If Gold Passers show up on slow days in the spring and early summer then good for them. I hope they have something in place in regard to staffing. Doubt it. It’s a tough business these days.

One more thing. I plunked down north of 190 bucks for Platinum Pass and drink plan. I travel, and I’m halfway between CP and KI. (I left the meal plan behind starting in 2019 because I wasn’t really taking advantage.) But I was dismayed to know they’ve dropped the senior/junior pass discount. This little senior paid full price just for the sole benefit of entering the gate at other parks. It’s what I need and want, but... c’mon.

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Monday, October 21, 2019 9:07 AM

The economics of the gold pass at a high level aren't complicated. There are a lot of armchair CEOs who "know for sure" the pricing is a mistake. Crowds for the weekends since the passes went on sale are the evidence. I don't think its that easy. The economics are not very complicated. Park/chain management understands them. But they made the decision (with a lot more info than any of us) anyway. I think the passes were aimed more at the regular season if you will (and that they gave you the rest of this season--during what has become in recent years extremely popular part of the year--is very interesting in terms of their analysis). There have been no doubt some perfect storm issues this year in large part based on weather that made the Halloweekend crowds worse. Rainy/cold weather (not unusual for this time of year) and the crowds are very much different.

Look at what they did with the platinum pass and the gold pass this year in terms of renewals. By including the fast lane plus and a bring a friend ticket, the cost of the platinum pass for the following year was dirt cheap and the gold pass actually was free (or close to it). Why are you doing that? What info do you have on renewals or pass usage which indicates that is needed or beneficial?

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Monday, October 21, 2019 9:50 AM

The economics are only uncomplicated if you ignore the long-term impact on customer attitudes. Ouimet used to talk a lot about "vacation DNA," that you have to establish a pattern of good times throughout the family so that it creates traditions and routine. You can get a ton of people to spend money once or twice by way of a good deal, but getting them back requires a new good deal. That's what Six Flags has had to do now for years. Is it an inferior approach? I don't know, Six Flags manages to keep margins similar to Cedar Fair. As fickle as consumers can be about entertainment, I don't think it's the right call. I think Iger is right that you're better off charging more, thinning the crowd and offering a better experience to fewer people at a higher cost.

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Monday, October 21, 2019 11:45 AM

Jeff said:

I think Iger is right that you're better off charging more, thinning the crowd and offering a better experience to fewer people at a higher cost.

I remember when this was a controversial idea on the forums and referred to as Gonch's Business Model™

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Monday, October 21, 2019 12:32 PM

Jeff- I miss Oiumet... I really liked the direction of CF under his watch.

Gonch- It still is called Gonch’s Business Model. You should’ve trademarked it.

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Monday, October 21, 2019 12:33 PM

Jeff said:

Ouimet used to talk a lot about "vacation DNA," that you have to establish a pattern of good times throughout the family so that it creates traditions and routine.

And in that respect I think Oumet did a spectacular job. My friends and I were so impressed with the rebuilt Breakers and boardwalk that we went from day trips to long weekends at the park, spending a small fortune to enjoy the hotel, its amenities, and the beach atmosphere that they've created. Clearly this approach was working because Breakers is often sold out during peak season.

Despite being passholders, we're still giving added value to the company by spending $150+ a night at their hotels every time we visit. Surely we're the kind of visitors they want, right?

The problem is that this is not compatible with giving away the gate. If the park is packed to the gills with locals who paid $99 once, then I'm less inclined to come and stay at their resort. It's not worth spending an arm and a leg for a hotel when the park experience is sub-par.

My experience with this year's Halloweekends illustrates my point. Like I said in my previous post, the park was way more packed than I've ever seen early in September. However, despite all the added people, they were having trouble filling their hotels. Just a week before my stay they sent out an e-blast with a last-minute season pass discount for hotels, going as far as doubling the discount to stay at Breakers Express. This tells me that their attendance gains are at the expense of more profitable on-site vacations, and as Jeff alluded to that's a dangerous cycle to get into.

Edit: they're advertising double discount for Breakers Express for the remaining weekends of the season. If the park is at capacity but they can't get people into their hotels then they definitely have a problem. (That, and if you stay at Express and physically can't get into the park because the causeway is closed...)

Edit 2: The other thing that drives me crazy about this whole thing is how tone-deaf the park has been. Whether it's a contributing factor or not, it's clear that people are blaming the gold passes for the glut of visitors. What do you see when you go to their Facebook to complain? A giant banner advertising the gold pass and its unlimited free entry for 2019. Also, I know that they can't respond to everyone who has a complaint about the park, but I saw legitimate concerns from people that fell to deaf ears by their social team. For example, someone said that they bought date-specific ticket, Fastlane passes, and meal plans but couldn't get into the park. Companies that are good with social try to get ahead of these things and publicly respond to concerns, but Cedar Fair's approach seems to be ignore them and hope they go away.

Last edited by PhantomTails, Monday, October 21, 2019 12:46 PM
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