That Blink 182 title pretty much sums it up. We headed out to Anaheim, CA over the last week to attend BlizzCon. Since we already made the trek out there, we figured we would take advantage of being in the area to see some sights. We were going to be across the street from Disneyland, so that was a no-brainer. We’ve been there before so, while we could spend two days there, we looked into new places for our other free day in town. Lego Land, Universal Studios, and Magic Mountain were among the contenders.
So, I commenced research. I thought maybe Lego Land, like Disneyland, was geared toward the young and the young-at-heart. Unfortunately, a quick perusal of their website showed that the park is really geared toward kids. Not kids, like when I refer to college age kids, or kids like high school kids, but children. While we are pretty youthful, we don’t have children and prefer our entertainment to at least be adult friendly. So, Lego Land was crossed off the list.
We’ve been to Universal Studios in Florida a couple of times, and outside of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, it was a pretty disappointing experience. However, we were open to going to Universal Studios in California. I asked around to see if any friends could offer a comparison to tell us if the California park was a better experience. Unfortunately, no one seemed to have any info. Plus, when I looked at the location via Google maps, it was enough of a drive to be somewhat inconvenient. So, Universal Studios was crossed off the list.
Then there was Magic Mountain. It would be a bit of a drive, but G and I love amusement parks. Especially roller coasters. Give us some interesting coaster action and we are happy campers. It was a contender. Until I noticed that Knott’s Berry Farm was much closer. Plus, Knott’s was part of CedarFair. I have always been a huge fan of their park, Cedar Point. Once I was able to introduce G to it, he was also a huge fan. They regularly build rides, especially roller coasters, that break records. Height, speed, descent, drops, you name it, they come up with it. It’s epic. They also own ValleyFair, which is local to us. ValleyFair doesn’t have quite the same level of thrills as it’s sister park, but it is a fun time. So, we figured that Knott’s would provide us at least a similar experience with a variety of rides, and an efficiently run park. We procured tickets in advance as well as a parking voucher, looked at park schedules to plot out maximum amusement, and scheduled our day.
Now, I know that not everything is going to be a Disney experience. Disney is a well-oiled machine like no other. They have the money to spend, and want to insure that the money will keep rolling in. While every ride might not be a thrill-a-minute, the wait is interesting and thematic, the exit through the gift shop makes you want to buy things you never knew you needed, and all the cast members are trained to keep things moving at optimal efficiency. There might be a queue, it might be long, but they will make sure that it is not a longer wait than it absolutely has to be and that you will enjoy your wait.
Now, much like I said a bit ago on a Fabulous Friday post, “Fuck Hemingway.” Or, in this case, Disney. No one else can out-Disney Disneyland. Or World. So, instead of trying to do so, just do what you do and do it better than anyone else can do. Both Cedar Point and ValleyFair do just that. You know that you are going to ride some rides, and both parks make them interesting. They offer professional quality shows to watch during your down time, and food that takes a minimal amount of time to eat so you can get on more rides. The parks are clean and tidy, the staff is competent, and when you leave at the end of the day you know that you got in all the fun you possibly could into one day.
So, when we made our Knott’s Berry Farm plans, we knew that we were not getting a Disney experience. We were fine with that. However, we at least thought we were going to get the same quality of experience that we would get at any other CedarFair park. Sunday, our last day in Anaheim, we drove to Knott’s. We parked, and headed into the park. As you make your way to the park, you walk through a weird collection of gift shops that are sort of half-haphazardly made to look like they are old-timey. I assumed this was a nod to the days when the area was a ghost town, and pretty much ignored it. We entered the park, and I thought it seemed charming. One thing I will give California is that they hang on to the bits of their past. I enjoy seeing hotels and shops and restaurants that maintain their mid-century appearance. In fact, that’s part of what I love about Disneyland. It has much of the park’s original mid-century charm. So, when we walked in, I figured that was a bonus that Knott’s had to offer over their other parks. Some of that cute midcentury nostalgia. I was excited for a new experience.
That excitement quickly faded as we got in line for our first ride, the Sierra Sidewinder. It took us a bit to figure out it was the line, since that part of the line was just a group of people along a fence. Fine, whatever. Maybe it was just an especially crazy line. We get in line, and the line does not move. We are standing in exactly the same spot for several minutes, despite seeing the coaster run a few times. Finally, we see some people get out of line, which allows the line to move forward a bit. This doesn’t seem like a good omen. We get to the entrance of the line, the sort of gate with the big sign, and the height requirements, and see that there is no wait estimate.
Now, Disney has the extreme version of the wait estimate. They have everything computerized, and can update the wait estimate in real time. They have receivers, which they will periodically give to a guest entering the line, often a child since kids get all excited to be “helping” someone at the park. The guest is instructed to give the receiver to the cast member letting them on the ride, and BAM, wait estimate update. To the minute. Which they add five minutes to for cushion. Cedar Point and ValleyFair have slightly less sophisticated systems, relying on a painted wooden sign (which may have vinyl graphics these days), with an opening where they place a placard with the current wait estimate. I don’t know exactly how they arrive at their estimates, probably by how much of the serpentine guiding the line is full, but they are always pretty accurate. Also, at Cedar Point and Valley Fair, there is almost always an employee at the entrance to answer questions, double check height/size requirements so you don’t waste a wait if you can’t ride, what have you. There was definitely no employee at the gate here. We had no way of knowing how long we would be waiting, or if we should try to ride other things and come back. We were at their mercy.
So far, this was not boding well for our day at Knott’s. As the line very slowly moved forward, people would periodically push their way through the line. I was guessing that they knew someone in line and went to the restroom or something, but as we waiting long enough, if these people were in line at all they were gone a lot longer than a pee or soda break. Regardless, they were line-jumping. At the other CedarFair parks, I have seen security haul people out for it. However at Knott’s, despite what their printed policies said, they didn’t seem to care. The other people in line didn’t seem to care either. In our wait, at least 10, maybe 15, people jumped the line. Um, not cool. We also noticed that the coaster was only running one train. Super inefficient. Most parks have at least two trains on the tracks, one loading/unloading while the other is running. We figured maybe it was due to the age of the ride or something, but it turned out that was how they operated most of their coasters. We finally got up to the platform, and realized that the line was not so long. It was a really short serpentine, one that at any other park would have meant a 15-20 minute wait. However, we waited for an hour. Once we did get to the platform, there was no one directing people to get them into lanes to board. Thus, people just sort of stopped once they got through the turnstyle and created a cluster-you-know-what. You might think that they were short staffed or something, but we could see three employees hanging out by the operator booth, chatting and drinking soda. Not doing so much with the working or crowd control, though. Really??? Plus, the trains would regularly go out with empty seats. Not just one, but several. Apparently, it was too much for the person operating the ride/checking seat belts to call out for people to take the empty seats, and we sure couldn’t count on the three on the side to queue people up. With one train running, it seems like the *least* they could do was run a full train. The best part was their Fast Lane system. Instead of a Fast Pass, like Disney offers, where you can get a voucher to come back to a ride without a wait, you buy a wristband at an exorbitant rate on top of your ticket that guarantees you step on to a ride without the regular line. At both Cedar Point and ValleyFair, the applicable rides have a lane adjacent to the regular line so that the Fast Lane holders can be worked in to the line. At Knott’s, those folks come in through the exit. So, you get to the front of the line, think you are going to step on, and instead a family of four snipes you. This is especially nice when they have the whole train to choose from and they plop down in your car. Everyone else gets on, but you get to wait. Sometimes there is a staff member that will at least tell you that’s happening, but usually someone just sits down and you realize that you both can’t occupy the same space.
The rest of our day went on like this. A couple of favorite moments of complete incompetence were when we were going to get on one ride, and the whole time the people in front of us were trying to make sure that they would all wind up in cars on the same train. It seemed like they figured it out. They go to load and the gates close. Except that not all of them were riding. Apparently, one was just collecting all of their loose articles and heading out the exit. This left two seats open in the car we were waiting for. The operator just locked the seat belts, and they sent the train on its way. At another point, three siblings were trying to make sure they were in the same car. Two were in front of us, the other was in the next lane. There was one guy in front of the two. Instead of the single getting in the seat next to him, and the two going behind, they didn’t get on. The operator didn’t attempt to fill the car. One guy went in a car for four. Now, this might seem small, but when the shortest waits are over an hour, and if every train is going out with at least two seats open, that adds up.
Also, remember how I mentioned that the park seemed “charming.” My opinion quickly changed. I realized that it wasn’t so much “charming” as it was “filthy” and “poorly maintained.” I didn’t want to touch anything while waiting in line because of how visibly gross everything was. One ride, that I think was supposed to make you feel like you were in some sort of Mayan or Incan temple, was claustrophobic. There was no air flow, and the walls were gross. Not pleasant to be packed in with a bunch of people on a warm day in a space that not only has no air flow, but is actually dirty. The rides were all dirty. I’m not expecting that things are going to be spic-n-span. People are dirty and gross. I would at least expect that things get wiped down periodically so that I’m not looking at dirt that has clearly been building up for years. The rides were dirty. Now, I’ve seen the rides at Cedar Point and ValleyFair, and they look like they must be sterilized compared to the rides at Knott’s. I wanted to take some Clorox wipes to the visible surfaces. Heaven forbid anyone get near that place with a black light. Gross, gross, gross.
The thing is, the actual rides were fine. They have some fun roller coasters. Unfortunately, it’s all the details they are forgetting about. The coaster lasts only a few moments. The waits for everything are so long. So many small details that would change a miserable day into a delightful one are missed. They manage to do it at their other parks, yet drop the ball at Knott’s. In the grand scheme of things, it would not cost them any extra to properly train their employees to run the rides and actually throw out line jumpers. Placing signs and making one of the lanes (basically changing one of the serpentines into a lane) for the Fast Lane would be a minimal cost (I actually do know how much graphics run, and how the lanes would be adjusted, so I’m not talking out my ass). Hosing down the equipment at night might be the most complicated thing, but it would be worth it to not feel like one should decontaminate after leaving the park.
However, all the small things instead added up to a really disappointing day. At least we know for next time to do something else. Anything else. Just NOT Knott’s Berry Farm.