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Z-Tickets: The Top Ten Worst Things about Theme Parks

An About Theme Parks Guide Rant!

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The worst of theme parks
©Arthur Levine. Licensed to About.com.
In the early days of Disneyland and Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, the theme parks used an alphabet-coded ticketing system instead of today's pay-one-price policy. An "E-Ticket" was the most coveted because it allowed entry into the parks' very best attractions. I'm coining the term "Z-Tickets" to highlight what I think are among the worst that theme parks have to offer. Not individual attractions per se. Think of Z-Tickets as the citations that fans like you would write if you could issue a citizen's arrest to theme park, water park, and amusement park officials.

Is something bugging you? Driving you crazy? Are you mad as hell and not going to take it anymore? Well, put on your dark shades, sidle up to the guest relations window at the offending theme park, ask the rep for his license and registration, and get out your sharpest pencil. It's time to give 'em a Z-Ticket. Here are my top ten Z-Ticket rants (in no particular order):

1. Food

Most parks offer the same old bland junk. For shame! There is a rich and grand tradition of delicious treats at classic amusement parks. I'm not talking about gourmet cuisine (although the Disney and Universal parks prove that it is possible). Think of Nathan's hot dogs at Coney Island, frozen custard at the boardwalk piers, or the fresh-cut Potato Patch fries at Kennywood and Lake Compounce. The food is almost as much of a reason to visit the parks as the coasters. It's an indelible part of the amusement park experience. Today, parks get a frozen slab of chemically enhanced dough, tasteless tomato sauce, and cheese that is indistinguishable from the wax paper on which it is served. Then they warm it up and have the nerve to call it pizza--and the audacity to charge up to $6.49 a slice for it (Yeah, I'm talking about you, Six Flags Great Adventure). Even worse, they forbid us to bring food into their parks (and rifle through our bags in the name of security to make sure we don't), so they hold us hostage with their overpriced, gastrointestinal excuses for dining. Far too many parks seem to consider food an afterthought. And that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

2. Parking Fees

On top of the $50 or so per person we pay to get into a park, we have to keep reaching for our wallets to pay for food (see above), games, t-shirts, and other doodads. These days, however, the bloodletting starts before we even get out of the car. When parks charged a couple of bucks for the privilege of parking at their lots so that we could go to their parks and spend more of our money, it was a minor annoyance. With places like Six Flags Great America now squeezing us for $22 JUST TO PARK THE CAR, I'm getting ticked off before I even get in the gate--and that's not a good way to set the tone for a fun-filled day at a park.

3. Mandatory Locker Policies

Prohibiting loose articles on rides such as roller coasters makes a lot of sense. (The eyeglasses I had stuffed into my shirt pocket during a ride on Universal Studio Florida's Revenge of the Mummy years ago are probably still strewn among the archeological ruins of the coaster's building.) But the mandatory locker policies that some parks, Six Flags chief among them, are enforcing for some of their rides make little sense.

In most coaster loading stations, guests can leave their backpacks, hats, stuffed animal prizes, and other articles in bins while they ride. Six Flags has removed the bins at many of its most popular coasters and is requiring guests, before they even get into line, to stow loose items in lockers located at the ride--for a fee. That plush animal you won at a Six Flags game booth will cost you an additional $1 locker charge each time you board a coaster, since the lockers at the head of the ride queues expire after a two-hour limit.

The park chain says that the locker policy helps speed up the loading and unloading process and cuts down on property theft. I say that it's mostly a money grab for Six Flags. Guests can make the decision, and assume the responsibility, whether to risk leaving anything valuable in the loading station. And if Six Flags' policy was focused solely on guests, the parks could offer complimentary lockers (as Universal Orlando does for some of its attractions). Instead it is nickel and dimeing its patrons and sacrificing customer goodwill in the process.

More Z-Tickets: Dueling discounts and other rants!

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