I grew up on Six Flags. So to speak. The original one. The one that was built because Angus Wynne went to Disneyland and thought he would also build an amusement park, one that didn't require you to go all the way to the west coast, and, so, he built Six Flags near Dallas, kind of a halfway point in the U.S.
I only, actually, went to Six Flags a few times as a kid, but I went a lot as a teenager. A few times a year. It was only about two hours away, so, when we wanted a bigger trip, that's where we went. Not my family, my youth group. My family never went. See the "only a few times as a kid" (and that may be stretching it, as I can actually only remember going twice prior to being 15).
At any rate, I loved it. I thought Six Flags was great and the epitome of amusement parks. At this point in my life, I've been to several of the Six Flags parks, and, until last summer, I didn't think it could get better than that. Seriously. See, I'd never been to a Disney park, and, really, the only reason I even wanted to go to one was because of Star Tours. I mean, seriously, Disneyland couldn't really be that much better than Six Flags, right? Right? Well... how wrong I was, and you can read all about the trip to Disneyland starting here, if you're so inclined.
Still, at the point I went to Disneyland, it had been a good 10 years since I'd been to a Six Flags, so, although I knew Disney was better, it was kind of an abstract thing, because it had been so long since I'd been to a Six Flags, the memory wasn't really fresh enough to know why Disney was better.
My younger son received for his birthday, this year, a season pass to Six Flags: Discovery Kingdom. Actually, for his birthday, the entire family received season passes. This is, of course, a mixed blessing, because, on the one hand: yea! season passes!, but, on the other hand: oh, season passes; now, we have to go enough to make them worthwhile. This past weekend was our first trip (because we had to go by the end of the first week of April to activate our parking pass, which would have become void if we didn't (and can I just say, "What the heck?" I mean, it's paid for. It's not quite fair to put a time limit on when it can be activated especially since the park only opened for the season two weeks ago).
So what did I learn about why Disney is better after our first trip of the season to Six Flags?
1. Everything at Disneyland is designed to make the experience better for the user. For instance, when we went to Disneyland, everything we needed was mailed to us ahead of time, and we had it all when we got there, so getting into Disneyland was smooth and hassle free. However, when we got to Six Flags, we had to go get IDs made for our passes, and that was the longest line we had of the day, nearly two hours just to get IDs, not to mention that the parking pass is specific to me, so, if my wife wanted to take the kids to Six Flags on a day that I couldn't go (which won't happen, but still...), she would have to pay for parking.
2. Disneyland is SO clean. It's clean for two reasons: If you have some piece of trash in your hand (like, you just finished a beverage), and you want to throw it away, there is a trash can right there for you. They make disposing of trash so convenient, it's almost more trouble to drop it on the ground. But, if you do, there are people walking around with brooms constantly cleaning up. It's not only the "happiest place on Earth," I would bet it's the cleanest. On the other hand, Six Flags makes it extremely difficult to get rid of trash. There are no trash cans at all in the ride lines, so, if you get in a line with a beverage and want to throw your trash away before you get on the ride, you CAN'T, because there are NO trash cans. But, yet, they have signs up everywhere saying "Please Keep Our Park Clean." I just want to know how they expect that to happen when the trash cans are hidden. And they have no people walking around on clean up duty.
3. There are ads all over Six Flags for EVERYTHING, the most annoying of which are the ads to upgrade. Upgrade your daily ticket to a season pass, upgrade your season pass to a gold pass, upgrade to a Flash pass so that you can get on the rides more quickly. Upgrade to a season pass for meals. Buy a souvenir cup that you can refill for cheap. Everything aimed and designed to get the customer to spend more and more money. There's none of this stuff at Disneyland. Maybe, Disneyland is enough of an ad in and of itself, I don't know, but there are not banners and ads all over the place trying to get you to spend more and more money. Okay, so they have gift shops everywhere, but so does Six Flags, and those aren't as obtrusive as all the banner ads.
4. Water. We all know that staying hydrated is important. I mean, really important. To help you with this issue, Disneyland does two things: 1. Water is pretty cheap, not more than $2.00 a bottle, and some of the places you can eat let you have free cups of water, rather like a lot of restaurants do. 2. You can bring things in with you, so, if you choose, you can bring in water or snacks or whatever rather than being forced to buy it in the park. Six Flags, however, charges $4.00 for a bottle of water, which is beyond ridiculous. AND they don't allow you to bring in anything from outside the park. Not even water. This just seems wrong to me.
5. Six Flags (all of them) is mostly a park of roller coasters. That's cool. I mean, you know, roller coasters are cool. They are the biggest attractions at Six Flag parks. There's not a lot there beyond the roller coasters, though. Not overall. Discovery Kingdom does have some animal shows and stuff, because it was a Marine World before Six Flags bought it, so there is still a dolphin show (which we missed because an employee WORKING AT THE DOLPHIN SHOW told me the incorrect time for the next show) and a tiger show, and you can (pay more money to) ride elephants (I guess that's the "elephant upgrade"), and stuff like that, but the main things, the big attractions, are the roller coasters (and let me just add that 2/3 of my children do not like roller coasters). I compare this to an action movie where the focus is on the explosions with just enough story to tie them together. Disneyland, on the other hand, has a well developed plot with plenty of action to keep it exciting, but it also has character development and cool settings and all the things you'd expect from a really good book. Although there are roller coasters, it's not about the roller coasters.
6. The lines. Disney knows that waiting in line is a dreary experience, and they do everything they can to make the experience better. There are things to look, environments to experience, all sorts of things to ease the pain of waiting in line, including being able to get "fast passes" to get onto some rides more quickly, and that fast pass thing is just an extra they offer to you. For free. None of that Six Flags. Six Flags is like the Soviet Union of amusement parks. Just drudging through the lines for hours. Nothing to see. Nothing to do. Only ads. And no trash cans. Oh, and their version of the fast pass, the "Flash Pass" (after the The Flash comic book character), costs extra money (see point 3).
And that's why, as a writer, I'd rather be Disney. Sure, roller coasters may be exciting, eye catching and all of that, and they may be fun (they are), but, at the end of the day, I was ready to leave Six Flags. And, you know, we'll have a good time when we go back, but it's really light fair. Surface. I was never ready to leave Disneyland. It was only with reluctance that we left each night because we were too tired to go on, but we were never just ready to leave. And we couldn't wait to get back the next morning. Of course, my kids can't wait to go back to Six Flags, even the ones that don't like roller coasters, and that's okay. They're kids. They're not quite able to differentiate yet. Which is not to say that they don't think Disneyland is better, because they do, but they still approach both experiences with approximately the same level of enthusiasm. Right now, the roller coasters work for them (or the butterfly habitat), mostly because they're young, but there will come a day when just the roller coasters won't be enough.
And that's okay. There are books I read when I was young, books that I enjoyed, that I can't go back to now. They were good for me at the time. However, when you continue to expand and deepen your reading, you find you can't go back to those other books with the same kind of enjoyment, just like I will never again be able to enjoy Six Flags in the way I did before I went to Disneyland. Disneyland is just better. And that's the kind of books I want to write, too.