Cedar Point Day 1 08/05/13: Not Even Fastlane Will Save You

Tuesday, August 6, 2013 12:11 AM

I finally decided to make the trek back out to Sandusky to the trip report capital of the world. I had played with the dates a bit, settling on today and tomorrow in hopes that crowds would be light.

I obviously don't know what tomorrow will bring, but I was WAY off in my crowd predictions for today.

Seriously, it was wall-to-wall people. I kicked off the day with a WindSeeker lap that came at the end of a brief fifteen minute wait. I wouldn't see that again until the end of the night.

I back-tracked to GateKeeper, saw a line of over an hour and a half, and decided to follow the advice of Tyler and check back later. I proceeded to do a lap of the whole park, checking just on the rides I wanted to ride. Wicked Twister: out of the entrance. Top Thrill Dragster: 90 minutes. Magnum: closed. Maverick: 105 minutes. The rest were in that category save for Mantis at an hour on the dot. Not wanting Mantis to kick of my coastering, I opted for my opener to be Top Thrill Dragster.

Top Thrill Dragster is as it has always been: a spectacle, and a darn good one at that. It fits in so well at the park, and I doubt they could have executed it any better than they did. It's like the spectator sport of coasters, and it's such an unbelievable rush. It still impresses me every time.

I went back to GateKeeper and saw what looked like a short wait, so I uttered a telepathic thank-you to Tyler and everyone who said to save this for the middle of the day. Into the line I went...

...and then I realized that the over-90-minute wait posted up front wasn't a mistake. Four sets of switchbacks were completely full of people. By the time I jumped into my train, it had been just shy of two hours since I entered the queue.

GateKeeper itself was exceptional. I was very much impressed with the ride and I think that it's the perfect complement to Raptor and Mantis. It also birthed the amazing new entrance area, which was also absolutely fantastic.

I asked the Ride Op who was the crowd-control worker on the right side (where I obviously rode) if today was unusually crowded. She misunderstood what I asked, but apparently the two-train operation was to blame for the atrocious line. Considering how there didn't appear to be much downtime between dispatches despite the relative lack of stacking, I'm not sure how a third train would have made much difference, but whatever.

Anyway, I grabbed lunch at Famous Dave's, then headed to Maverick to try and knock out one of the always-long waits. It was down and they were predicting it to be a lengthy breakdown, so after waiting it out for about twenty minutes just in case, I opted to bail. I swung by Magnum first, but at a wait of over an hour, I decided to knock out Millennium Force and its grueling two-hour wait instead.

Millennium Force blew me away in a manner it hasn't done since I first rode it eleven years ago. I got off of the ride elated at how fantastically enjoyable it was. I feel like Millennium Force really delivered an experience befitting a gigacoaster better than the other two American gigas. Intimidator 305 and Leviathan are no slouches, and depending on when you ask me might even be better, but Millennium Force feels the most complete. It's like a supercoaster, if you will.

I went for one more walk-around to check on Maverick as well as Magnum and GateKeeper, but as it was getting late, I skipped all three and worked my way up to Raptor which had been rocking a nearly two-hour line of its own earlier. In this case, the forecast was forty-five minutes, but I was on in twenty.

This lap made me feel bad for everything negative I ever said about the ride. My appreciation for it had returned. It's such a solid ride and a rare example of a B&M that has a second half worth mentioning.

As I had a short bit before closing, I darted over to Blue Streak for my first-ever night ride on it. It was an airtime delight, and considering I can't even remember the last time I rode it, it was great to get back on it.

That concluded my day. A scant six rides made up my whole day, so I wasn't particularly amused, but at least the rides were great.

Now, as for my comment about Fastlane not even being able to save you, here's what I meant. Millennium Force had a forty-five minute Fastlane line. Maverick seemed to have a pretty substantial wait as well. Top Thrill Dragster and GateKeeper required an upcharge. I'm sorry, but I'm not going to drop that kind of money on something that's still going to leave me with pretty hefty waits. It's not worth the money. You may remember past TRs on Canada's Wonderland and KI where I used Fastlane with great success, but with the tiers being implemented and the still- impressive wait times, I question the system.

Ultimately, though, today left me questioning a lot of things. Cedar Point consistently nails it when it comes to ride capacity, having people-eating rides and staffing them with exceptional Ride Ops. How, then, on a weekday in August, does the park pack in lines well over an hour for NEARLY EVERY MAJOR COASTER (apparently Mean Streak broke an hour as well, though Wicked Twister seemed to stay below an hour) and have Fastlane waits approaching an hour themselves? I think that a low gate price with an upcharge for even a modest amount of riding allows you to get more people in the park buying stuff while offering the option to ride a bit with the Fastlane program makes sense, but then I think about the Orlando parks and their enormous ticket prices for what little each offers ride-wise compared to Cedar Point and then I think that Cedar Point has hopelessly devalued themselves.

I'm not trying to rehash a tired argument. I just feel like my admission should not necessarily allow me to power-ride, but at least prevent a situation where not one, not two, but EIGHT roller coasters have lines of an hour or more. I think if you find yourself in that situation any time other than. Saturday in July or October (and I'm not sure I excuse it at the level it was at even at those times), it's time to re-think your pricing model, because that seems like de-valuing the experience, either in terms of how much it costs or how much value I feel like I got for the money.

Last edited by sirloindude, Tuesday, August 6, 2013 12:23 AM
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Tuesday, August 6, 2013 2:09 AM

sirloindude said:

...decided to follow the advice of Tyler...

...so I uttered a telepathic thank-you to Tyler

Ok, that does it. You're no longer allowed to sit at the same lunch table with the cool kids. Here's your retainer and pocket-protector back. Now move along before you end up getting a wedgie.

Maybe I'm getting too old, but I don't have the patience to stand in lines all day only to have the opportunity to enjoy 6 rides. I'm with Gonch on that one. That's not my idea of fun. It's a matter of return on investment. As far as I'm concerned, time can be a more valuable commodity than cash in these circumstances. And if I would have come all the way from Baltimore for this, I'd have been very disappointed and would have needed to drown my sorrows in some brownies.

It seems like we are hearing repeatedly about problems with Cedar Point's fast lane system. I am obviously not smart enough to figure out the solution on that one.

With crowds like you described, Cedar Fair has to be ecstatic about the return on investment they are getting this year from GateKeeper. It will be interesting to see the attendance numbers, although Cedar Fair doesn't generally make specific park numbers easily apparent.

Hope you have better luck on Day 2.

Last edited by sws, Tuesday, August 6, 2013 2:10 AM
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Tuesday, August 6, 2013 4:16 AM

From what I've heard, those crowds have been more or less the norm all season except for bad weather days. Gatekeeper sure seems like it's been a huge draw, which is good for the park, not so good for lines.

I do agree that the Fastlane system needs some serious tweaking. Either something more akin to a Qbot style reservation system, or something that limits or puts a cash value on the number of rides you can take on the more in demand attractions.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013 8:24 AM

Sws, my cool kid ID card has been mailed back and you should be receiving it shortly. ;)

To be fair, this isn't nearly my most elaborate or expensive trip of the year, so I won't be terribly bent out of shape if I don't get much riding in today. However, it would make me think twice about future trips, and that's a shame, because I really do enjoy Cedar Point.

Like I mentioned earlier, it just feels like it's getting to a point where maybe they've outgrown themselves. In these situations, my first instinct would be to proclaim the need for higher-capacity attractions, but honestly, they're probably the only major coaster capital that goes for high capacity every time. The other tough part is that every coaster they build anymore is amazing, so instead of siphoning off guests from other rides, it seems like they wind up bringing in a whole new batch of people to add on to the already impressive crowds.

As such, I don't know what the solution is. Part of me thinks they should ratchet the gate price up to $80 or something like that for every summer day and hopefully get lower crowds with no impact to the bottom line, but I could just as easily see that hurting them. However, what you have now is a situation where you pretty much have to pick a couple of rides you really want and accept that your other favorites will have to wait until your next visit (which may be the following year). I have a pass and Cedar Point is one of the easier places for me to get to, and I also worked there, so it's not as much of an issue as it would be for that family of four who gets one visit a year and can't devote the entire day to coasters anyway. If I were in that boat, I don't know that I'd come back the following year. I could save the money and spring on Fastlane, but again, even the effectiveness of that program is limited at Cedar Point on at least two of the rides (and two others require even more money on top of the standard program). You eventually get to a point where you just decide that there are better places for your money to go. My New England trip was more expensive, but at least I accomplished what I wanted to (on a Friday and Saturday in July, no less), and because of that I pretty much locked in an encore visit up there for next year the moment the trip was over.

It just seems that for any of the mega-parks, there are fewer and fewer times to go if you want even remotely manageable crowds. The frustration of trying to nail down those times (I honestly thought I had in this case going into it) is just going to make it less likely that I'll come back often. I'm not the average guest or even the average enthusiast and I get that, but I just don't like how it's essentially a gamble to come out this way. I'd rather devote the resources to going somewhere else where I stand a reasonable shot of getting even a respectable amount of riding accomplished during the day.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013 8:37 AM

I suspect that there is a higher demand for Fastlane this year, simply because more people know about it. Most of the people who show up would figure out what it is half way through the day, and think "I should get that next time." This year is when there are a lot of "next times," so more people are getting it.

I figure that Fastlane wait should be no more than about 15 minutes for every hour of regular waiting. From what you said, Millennium was a 45 minute Fastlane for a 2 hour wait. While that is a bit longer that I think it should be, it isn't too bad. I just don't see how you can expect Fastlane to have a 10 minute wait when the regular line is 120.

The only tweak that I have seen that needs to be made is Maverick, and even then all the need to do it put it in Fastlane+ / raise the price. I'm not sure a QBot is the best approach, but perhaps making the most popular coasters a pay once/cut once would work too.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013 8:50 AM

...it's getting to a point where maybe they've outgrown themselves.

I don't really see how a park can outgrow itself. If people are willing to show up then they will show up. There could be some equalizing effect where if lines get so long then people will stop coming, but that seems like an extreme case.

The other tough part is that every coaster they build anymore is amazing, so instead of siphoning off guests from other rides, it seems like they wind up bringing in a whole new batch of people to add on to the already impressive crowds.

Isn't that the goal? We enthusiasts like to think that the same people will keep coming back year after, and the larger the park gets, the more spread out that common crowd will be. But the company doesn't want that. They want increased attendance and new customers every year, or at least every time they add a major attraction.

As such, I don't know what the solution is.

What problem needs a solution? Large crowds and long lines are a problem for you, not the park. If you and many other people stop going because it's just too damn crowded all the time, then it becomes a problem for the park. It has not reached that point and probably won't.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013 8:58 AM

I'm not sure Maverick's line was as long as Millennium Force's, though, but that's my thing as well. Say you toss Millennium Force and Maverick into the plus package. What point is there in the regular one, then? Raptor, Mantis, and Magnum (which I think also had a lengthy Fastlane wait)?

It's the whole devaluation thing again. You spend money on top of money and still don't get your money's worth out of it. Like I said, Fastlane worked for me pretty well last year at KI and Canada's Wonderland (though I had a bit of a wait for Firehawk, but that at least made sense), but had I spent it and faced what I did yesterday, I'd have gone through a ceiling. No way am I dropping that kind of money and still getting stuck in lines.

The park must be making money hand-over-fist off of the program, and I know that profit drives businesses, but still, I feel like parks have an obligation to make sure you at least get to experience what they have to offer within a reasonable level of accommodation. I'm not saying they owe me forty laps in a day on Millennium Force, but six rides in eleven hours tells me you aren't charging enough up front.

I know times have changed and I totally support pay-more-to-get-more setups, but you have to consider that you have a substantial portion of your customer base who get told one year that their admission is good enough to ride everything and then told the next that it isn't even though the admission price is, if anything, even more expensive that second year. I think jacking up the gate price is the most honorable way of solving the problem.

Last edited by sirloindude, Tuesday, August 6, 2013 8:58 AM
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Tuesday, August 6, 2013 9:24 AM

The more I read about Fastlane, the more I appreciate Six Flag's FlashPass system. Both systems make you wait. With Fastlane, you still have to que in a line, with FlashPass, you don't have to wait in line. You get assigned a time to come back. So you are still waiting, but the perception is you are not. So you can go ride something else or more importantly spend money somewhere else instead of standing in line.

Cedar Fair & Fastlane. You are doing it wrong.

~Rob

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013 9:35 AM

I think this business of dealing with/avoiding crowded days is all in the timing. Remember, folks, the outdoor amusement industry is largely, if not solely, dependent on the weather.

I just came off of 12 days at the Ohio State Fair, where I cook and work for an indoor restaurant. Attendance at the fair this year hit an all time record and it was because of glorious weather we're having in Ohio these days. Our numbers were down, however, and it was because fair goers remained outside on the midway for their lunches and dinners. No need to escape the heat or the rain by ducking into our air conditioned building to eat.

I would expect CP to be just as busy as well. There was a stretch a while back where Ohio suffered 21 straight days of rain. I'm sure there were days during that time when you could roll a bowling ball up the midway and not hit a soul. Remember, too, the weather wreaked havoc on CP in the spring with cooler temperatures and high winds. Throw in the fact that school starts for many in a couple of weeks and it all adds up. Simply, folks here are realizing its finally a good time to hit the park, when some of this might've been spread out to earlier days under different circumstances.

I'm slightly nervous myself for our three day trip to CP next week. Mike Gallagher, Jeph, Mike Roberts and I have already decided FastLane will be the way to go when we all get together on Tuesday for a day of riding, but this talk of huge crowds is disheartening. Three of us are Ohio boys, but Mike G will have come all the way from N.J. and I sure don't want his time to be spoiled by long lines. I know the hotels are full next week, so, I guess we just make the best of it. Hope for rain?

As for CP, I'm sure they're tickled pink with the late summer crowds, and they're not thinking of ways to lower attendance right now. Busy is good.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013 9:45 AM

I was at the park yesterday as well, treating a couple of nieces for their birthdays.

Driving around to the soak city parking lot, there were already more people in the Millennium queue before 9:30 than I would have expected.

We walked thru the resort/soak city gate at 9:35ish, with 3 people having normal tickets and nothing to suggest they could do early entry. They were just let in. Seriously, just seemed like it was a free-for-all, devaluing one of the key perks Cedar Point touts for the passes and resort stays.

I was at the park a couple of weeks ago and witnessed the 2 hour wait and 1 hour FastPass line for Maverick and decided if we didn't do it first we would never get on it. We were on and off in maybe 30 minutes.

By 1 pm, a ride-op on one of the rides (can't remember now if it was Iron Dragon or Corkscrew), with the headset on and going, looked into the queue and said "What are all of these people doing here on a Monday" over the speakers. Attendance may be up for the year, but it seemed even the employees were shocked how many people were there yesterday.

We did the antique cars, which had a FastPass line. I had missed that in all the earlier discussions that you need a FastPass to get thru the antique/cadillac cars, dodgem, and Troika in a reasonable time frame as well.

I did witness the start of some outrage over how busy the park was. It was mostly small incidents, but the wait times for everything is starting to rub customers the wrong way.

The most embarrassing behavior I saw was over by Gatekeeper. We got corn dogs for the nieces before getting into the line for Gatekeeper, and while waiting for them, a guy went up to the window and started harassing the cashier about how long it was taking, even yelling "chop chop" at the kid.

If that kind of frustration continues, then the park does have a problem.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013 10:05 AM

Its been a strange summer for weather in Ohio. A lot of rain all summer long (including the 2+ weeks of rain every day). Then a stretch of 90+ degrees and high humidity. It wouldn't surprise me if there were a lot of day ticket visitors who postponed trips to later in the summer because of weather. And at this point, there is 2 weeks until many kids in Ohio are back to school so there is something of a "now or never" view. Would be interesting to see attendance totals for each week/month. Maybe the weather didn't concentrate visitors in the narrow window of good weather days but it would make sense that it did to at least a degree.

Last edited by GoBucks89, Tuesday, August 6, 2013 10:06 AM
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Tuesday, August 6, 2013 2:11 PM

The correct answer to all these problems is to increase the price. Higher price of admission will result in lower crowds (with higher corresponding guest happiness) for the same revenue.

But what if the crowds were unexpected, you ask? Dynamic pricing.

Edit: This also applies to FastLane.

Last edited by ApolloAndy, Tuesday, August 6, 2013 2:33 PM
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Tuesday, August 6, 2013 2:19 PM

Cedar Point is probably the best park I've ever visited but because of the crowds I will probably never go there again. Three times is sufficient. Despite what someone else said, even the weather doesn't seem to deter people from going there. The last time I went, it was overcast and cold and that didn't keep anyone away. OK, so it was also Coaster Mania day but that doesn't explain why so many uninvolved with this event went rushing out to the park on such a lousy day. It's an unfortunate situation and I will be very sorry to have ridden Millennium Force or Maverick for the last time but I just can't deal with the ride queues.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013 2:26 PM

As Yogi said "No one goes to Cedar Point anymore. Its too crowded."

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013 2:40 PM

ApolloAndy said:

The correct answer to all these problems is to increase the price. Higher price of admission will result in lower crowds (with higher corresponding guest happiness) for the same revenue.

But what if the crowds were unexpected, you ask? Dynamic pricing.

Edit: This also applies to FastLane.

I would say raise the price to $80 on Saturdays, and I'd like to have FastLane $150 normally, and I want it $200 on Saturdays. Yeah, I want that big of a spike.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013 2:42 PM

How I wish that were true! I was going to say that the problem of unmanageable crowds is specific to parks owned by Cedar Fair - at least I find this to be the case with Kings Dominion and Kings Island - but of course Cedar Fair also owns Dorney and Michigan's Adventure, where I didn't have to face long ride queues.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013 3:33 PM

Kings Island's FastLane system works great, though. I mean, if it was truly busy there, FastLane might be worth it. FoF can have nightmare lines for regulars, but it has about 5-15 minutes for FastLaners. I've never gotten FastLane, but unlike Cedar Point, Kings Island's system actually does something.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013 4:26 PM

The day I went to KD was a beautiful Monday (sun, low 80s) in July but was d-e-a-d dead. The longest wait was for the water rides. I dont know if there was something else going on in the area (BGW was equally dead that entire week, but it was hotter and everyone was at WCUSA) but there was no one there. The only bad thing about that day was that I305 was down for a chain break.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013 4:36 PM

ApolloAndy said:

The correct answer to all these problems is to increase the price. Higher price of admission will result in lower crowds (with higher corresponding guest happiness) for the same revenue.

At about 100 bucks, the crowds would be less to begin with...and those paying 100/pp for admission are more likely to be the same folks who will either: A) wait in the now-shorter lines since attendance is lower, or B) shell out the big bucks for the ultra-premium VQ packages.

Bottom line: For CP at least (and KI too I think) - the everyday low rate is just too low.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013 6:25 PM

Why on earth would you want to raise the price just to reduce the number of people who visit? That is a bad idea from a business perspective. You need to find the optimal point on the supply / demand curve. A significant rise in admission will miss that optimal point, and mean far less money for the park, and less money for the next coaster.

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