The Old Theme Park Ain’t What It Used to Be – Joe Kennedy

Joe Kennedy
Joe Kennedy

A dog-bites-man award goes to The New York Times for its June 19 story headlined “Theme Parks Let in the V.I.P.s.”

It describes premium-priced programs at many parks, including Six Flags America and Universal Studios Hollywood, that offer “special perks and access for those willing to pay.”

The story states that theme parks traditionally have been melting pots, and makes reference to increasing “stratification” in air travel, Broadway show tickets and health care.

The gist?

Now more than ever, those who pay more than the ordinary ticket buyer are able to purchase preferential treatment that lets them avoid long waits in lines, the need to show themselves around, avoid the most gastronomically dubious meals and the extent of their contact with the hoi polloi.

What’s wrong with parks’ trying to boost revenue without making large capital expenditures? Not a thing. It’s supply and demand.

Just create exclusive restaurants, install personalized tour guides and institute line-skipping and you’re on your way to a caste system of the can spend-a-lots and the must-spend-less.

Your feelings about the matter may depend on where you stand, and for how long, while other people and their little darlings move easily onto the best rides.

People long have paid more for the best seats at ball games, rooms at beach hotels and amenities in air travel. Why not for first-dibs on the modern equivalent of the Tilt-a-Whirl?

Universal has a $299 per person ticket that brings valet parking, breakfast in a luxury lounge, expanded access to the back lot, line-skipping and kits that include hand sanitizers and other comforts.

“‘It creates haves and have-nots, which is disturbing,'” said one customer, a teacher who is a theme park buff.

“‘There’s this feeling of ‘Aren’t you a loser because you can’t afford to be a line-skipping V.I.P?”

But, said an executive on an outing, “If Universal didn’t have a V.I.P. option, I wouldn’t go. I just don’t have time to wait in line.”

A Universal spokeswoman told the New York newspaper the company expanded its V.I.P. program in response to customer requests, and the program has doubled in sales volume. No one has complained, she said.

If traveling to Hollywood is beyond your means, you can get preferred treatment at parks closer to Roanoke.

At Busch Gardens, you and your group can pay $325 per person for your guide, having all of your meals brought to you and for line-skipping, among other perks.

At Six Flags America, near Washington DC, $249 per person brings preferred parking and seating at shows, front-of-the-line ride privileges, park admission, reserved lunch and dinner in park restaurants, unlimited snacks and more.

At Kings Dominion near Richmond, for as low as $35 and $45 per person, there are the Fast Lane and Fast Lane Plus plans for line skipping on selected rides and there is a separately priced Meal Deal plan for dining in specific places at the time of your choice.

During July and August, Hershey Park, near Harrisburg PA, has a Sweet Access Pass for guests who stay in selected on-campus lodgings. It includes six-hour line-skipping and personal concierge service.

If all this seems alien to you, you may wish to crawl back into your crypt. Or you may take in the Salem Fair or the Virginia or West Virginia state fairs for an unmediated park experience.

Then you will be able to answer your children’s children when they ask, “What were amusement parks like when you were younger, Grandpa?”

The fairs may be the closest they’ll ever come to one.

 – Joe Kennedy