I hate to complain. Especially when it is something I have a deep connection with. I grew up going to Hersheypark. I spent many, many summer days there in the 90s. My family had season passes and frequently stayed at their campground. I loved it. For the past five years I have gone for the Hershey Half Marathon, and while the race is one of my favorites, something has gone wrong in the park.
Twenty-some years ago, Hersheypark was much smaller than today. There was ample room to grow, and grow it did, adding an entire new section known as Midway America in mid 90s. This also began the coaster boom for the park. The first time I went it had three, now it has 11. They also added a water park which they were sorely lacking for a long time. But this rapid expansion has come at a cost. The park has become very congested, and at times unsightly. Some rides such as Skyrush have been so badly shoehorned into their space that the actual flow of people on and off has suffered. It can also be difficult to navigate unless, like me, you have been there enough to know every path.
I have only been to the water park once and it was a disappointment. Never mind that it replaced one of the best river rapids rides anywhere, but it is too small, too crowded, and really confusing to navigate. Maybe it has improved since my first visit a few years ago, but I don’t feel any need to go back yet.
The biggest problem I have with the park though is that it has become one of the slowest operationally I have yet experienced. Everything there, everything, seems to take longer than it should. There are likely several reasons for this, but there is one in particular that I absolutely loathe and will call out specifically here. And that is Fast Track.
Let’s go back to 1999 a second, when Disney first began adding Fastpass to its attractions. It irritates me greatly that everyone now refers to all of these systems generically as Fastpass. Although I bet it annoys Disney more. Mainly because Disney’s is a unique system, while all the imitators have had a major difference that sets Fastpass apart; Fastpass is free. Disney did not institute Fastpass as a revenue source. For Disney it was, as is so often the case, all about crowd control. Disney knows that the biggest complaint about visiting, especially during peak times, is the lines. People hate waiting in long lines. Fastpass was designed to give everyone the chance to reserve times on certain attractions, thus spreading out the crowds and, hopefully, lowering the wait times for everyone. And it more or less worked. The key here is that everyone can use the system at no additional charge. If you bought a ticket to the park, Fastpass is available to you.
Not so for the rest. The other parks quickly jumped on the feature with one very notable change, they charged for it. Often a lot. Six Flags has Flash Pass, Cedar Fair has Fast Lane, etc. Purchasing one of these passes can nearly double the cost of visiting the park, sometimes more. And they do nothing for crowd control, because the people who pay are essentially removed from the regular line, but are given preference whenever they decide to ride. It is a cynical money grab that has unfortunately taken over nearly the entire industry.
But Hersheypark manages to make it even worse. Most parks have determined that the best way to institute this kind of system is to have a second line that merges into the main line near the front. Even Disney does it this way. It allows the loading process to be undisturbed by the logistics of handling the second queue. But Hershey, for whatever reason, instead has the Fast Track riders come up the exit and load first onto the coasters. Two rows per train on each coaster are reserved for these riders, whether they are there or not.
This creates two issues. First, loading time is now doubled as the employees first must allow the Fast Track people to enter and be seated, then do the same thing for everyone else in the line. It doubles the loading process. Hershey has a lot of shorter coasters to begin with, so loading usually takes longer than the ride itself. And consider all the people who are trying to exit past the Fast Track riders trying to enter. It all gets very congested very quickly.
Even worse though are the reserved rows. Particularly on coasters like Fahrenheit which have only 6 rows to begin with, a whole third of the train is reserved for Fast Track riders. But what if there are no Fast Track riders to load? One of two things happens, and both suck. The first is that the seats simply aren’t filled, wasting capacity on the train. The second is that the employees will wave through people lined up for other rows. But how often are people trying to ride with someone else? Often enough that some people decline to take the early ride, so now we have to offer it to other people. Then they do take it, screwing up the riders behind them, which causes a whole second shuffle. And repeat. This all takes way too long. And it’s rather infuriating to watch.
This system has got to go, or at least be replaced with something that does not so badly slow down the park’s operation. It manages to not just be a poor money grab version of Disney’s Fastpass, it actually manages to achieve exactly the opposite effect.
And I am not the only one who feels this way. But I pretty much grew up at this park and it used to be my favorite. It pains me to write all this because I love Hersheypark and want everyone to love it as well. But I can see how people who don’t have my decades of experience there could walk away feeling less than pleased about the whole thing. Hershey, I implore you, fix this. The extra $50 per person from Fast Track cannot be worth the bad marketing the system is causing among the vast majority who do not opt to pay extra to use it. I do not feel the same level of quality that the park so skillfully accomplished in the 90s. Hersheypark is hurting, and I don’t know if anyone cares to fix it.
- Not counting the new kiddie coaster. ↩
- It’s the Q-Tip of virtual queues. ↩
- I guess you can argue that indirectly that was the point, to convince more people to come and spend money there. But this is very different than just charging for the feature. ↩
- Thank you Knoebels for yet again resisting the urge to make a quick buck at the expense of the experience. If you are in PA, it is worth visiting this wonderful, old school, family owned park. It’s one of my favorites. ↩
- A single rider line is sorely needed at this park. They almost never attempt to load more people to empty seats. I rode Skyrush, a four person across coaster, alone last week. No group of three or less joined me, and the staff didn’t try to find anyone. It was an enormous waste. ↩