Monday 16 September 2013

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Six Flags Magic Mountain: Is the Flash Pass Worth It?

I'm sure this might come as a bit of a shock to some of you (it did to me) but apparently I don't make all the decisions in this family anymore. It used to be that I would unilaterally select and book all of our family travel arrangements, and never would I be questioned about any of the plans that I made. If there were any shortcomings or flaws in my chosen itineraries they weren't noticed, or at least they didn't get pointed out to me until well after the trip. It was a silent, traveling dictatorship, and it was wonderful.

Dining Room in the Rio players suite Las Vegas
"Sit down Dad. We need to talk to you about these travel plans...."

Nowadays things are a little different. My kids are beginning to identify and champion the cause of their favorite destinations, pushing for the things that they want in a family vacation. Take our recent trip to Southern California for example. I had decided that we would spend one day at Six Flags Magic Mountain followed by two days at Universal Studios. My older two children, thrill ride addicts that they are, insisted that our time would be better spent in reverse with two days at Six Flags and only one at Universal. Years ago this wouldn't have been an issue as I could have swayed the voting members to my way of thinking with promises of candy. Unfortunately these days my kids have far more disposable income than I do and are perfectly capable of buying their own candy. If I wanted my itinerary to stand I was going to have to negotiate something far more creative than "1 day at Six Flags and five Aero bars for each of you!"

Character pictures at Six Flags Magic Mountain
One day of posing with characters should be plenty for anyone...

Enter the Flash Pass. Six Flags' version of Disney's Fastpass is an electronic ride reservation system that allows you to book a time to ride an attraction from anywhere in the park. You simply scroll up or down to the ride you want to go on and the Flash Pass will tell you what time you can make a reservation for. Press "Reserve", then show up at your appointed time to be allowed to cut in at the front of the line for your chosen attraction. The time you'll have to wait for your reservation depends on which of the three versions of the Flash Pass you buy. The basic Flash Pass figures out the current wait time for an attraction and makes you a reservation for the normal time you would have spent standing in line, so if it was 10 am and you wanted to reserve a ride on Tatsu which had a wait time of 1 hour at that point, you'd be reserving a spot for 11 am. The gold Flash Pass cuts the wait time in half, so your reservation would be for 10:30 am, and the platinum Flash Pass cuts the wait by 90% so you'd be able to ride Tatsu at 10:06 am, which most likely doesn't leave you enough time to walk to the ride as it is.

Flash Pass sign Six Flags Magic Mountain

My kids' objection to only having one day in Six Flags was that the lines can get quite long and it's hard to get on all the great roller coasters in one day if you're there during a busy season. My offer to help them make the most of their one day by buying them the Flash Passes was briefly debated and then accepted, probably with the realization that getting anything out of Dad before he uses his veto power (Otherwise known as the "We can't afford it" card.) is a victory to be proud of. 

It's also possible that they were counting on Dad's inability to resist upgrades. The deal I made with my kids was that I would buy the two who wanted to spend all day on the rides the Gold Flash Pass and they would accomplish as much as they could with only half the wait times. Somewhere along the line I got caught up in the excitement of it all, and when I got to the counter to purchase the Flash Passes I heard the word "Platinum" leave my mouth. Needless to say my kids were very happy and I was somewhat confused as to what just happened. Fortunately, it's a normal state of being for me.

Platinum Flash Pass Six Flags Magic Mountain

So with their Platinum Flash Passes in hand, my kids set out to plan their conquest of the Magic Mountain roller coaster kingdom. Now it's important to note that not all rides are included in the Flash Pass program. X2, the most insane ride in the park, is only available as an add on to either the Gold or Platinum passes for $15 per ride. The newest roller coaster, Full Throttle, is only available with the Platinum passes, again at a $15 per ride surcharge. Neither of these were happening, so my kids decided to start their day at Batman the Ride, which to their delight was available instantly.

Wait times on Platinum Flash Pass at Six Flags Magic Mountain

Well kind of instantly. I mean, it took 15 minutes to get across the park to where the ride was located. Then, when they got there, my kids found that there was no line for Batman and they just walked on. It was kind of anti-climatic and I had a moment of wondering if I'd just wasted a bunch of money in an attempt to skip non-existent lines. Fortunately for us (and unfortunately for everybody without Flash Passes) the lines got a fair bit longer as the day went on. 

Wait time for Superman at Six Flags Magic Mountain

There were definitely some rides where the Flash Pass worked beautifully. Goliath, one of the biggest, fastest roller coasters in the park was a perfect example. Although the posted wait time was almost an hour, my kids went from making a reservation while standing in front of the ride to actually riding in under five minutes. There were some rides where the Flash Pass didn't work all that well though. Superman, one of my children's favorite rides, was a horrible experience. Even with a reservation, the point where they allow the Flash Passes to cut is still about 20 minutes from the front of the line. Combine that with the fact that Superman has perhaps the worst line organization of any ride in the history of theme parks and it quickly became apparent that the Flash Pass wasn't going to be of any use to us on this ride.

Flash Pass entrance sign at Six Flags Magic Mountain

In the end though, our experience with the Flash Passes was a fairly good one. Despite deciding to visit Magic Mountain on a Saturday in the summer and arriving a little late (just after noon), we managed to ride everything in the park as often as we wanted and still finished about an hour before park closing. In the past our visits to Six Flags have ended in three of us wanting to go back to the hotel room while the older two kids wanted to stay right until the last minute to try out "just a few more rides". Being able to leave the park with everybody happy and still beat the closing traffic out of the parking lot was a really nice treat.

You can ride now Platinum Flash Pass Six Flags Magic MountainSi

So it was convenient, but was it worth it? Flash Passes are a lot of fun, but they're also a bit pricey. A basic Flash Pass costs about $40 per person. Gold will run you $60 per person, and if you're one of those people who get caught up in the excitement like me, a Platinum Pass will set you back $90 per person. There are some small discounts as you add people to the Flash Pass, but you'll still be at least doubling the price of admission. Is that kind of investment a good idea for your group? It was for ours because it kept us from having to buy admission for our family for a second day, but you may be in a different situation. Maybe everybody in your family likes to ride thrill rides. Maybe you've got far more time than you do money. Or in the best case scenario, maybe you can still bribe your kids with candy. As much as I felt the Flash Pass was a good buy for our family, five Aero bars would have been a much cheaper investment.

Written by Steve Pratt