While in Florida for Spring Break, we took our amusement park junkie kids to two of central Florida's best known destinations for major roller coasters: Busch Gardens in Tampa and Universal's theme park in Orlando. (Disney's coasters are generally quite lame.)
It was no surprise to encounter large crowds at both parks; after all, it was the peak week of Spring Break.
We also encountered something else new: premium passes that let a small percentage of patrons leap to the front of the long lines for rides and attractions. These have various names such as the "Quick Pass" at Universal (hey, what about a "Quickie Pass"?) and the "VIP Pass" at Busch Gardens.
At Disney, they have the "Fast Pass," but you don't pay extra for it; instead, you get to pick 2-3 attractions you're really interested in and elect to use a fast pass option at those attractions. In other words, everyone at Disney can cut in line, but only a couple times.
In contrast, the Universal and Busch Gardens premium passes cost, well, a premium. So at those amusement parks there are two classes of patrons: first class and everyone else. And you better believe that the everyone else class is standing in LONGER lines because of all those first class patrons cutting in front. We think the premium passes should be called the Jerk Pass (our teenage son had another name, but this is a family blog, so we won't print it).
Now, of course, having stood in long lines one day while the Jerk Pass holders breezed by, we decided (ok, Mrs. Curmudgeon decided) to join the Jerk Pass crowd at Universal. Universal is a particularly galling rip-off of an amusement park. They have divided their property into "two" parks, each requiring separate admission. Neither is really big enough for a full day of activities, at least not by experienced park death marchers like us. So you end up buying the "bargain" two-park pass. When you add the two-park Jerk Pass to all this, you're in for $150 FOR ONE DAY. Per person. (After parking, etc.) [We highly advise you to avoid Universal; it's just not worth it.]
Alright, so having made the trek over to Universal (we had to spend an hour in Disney traffic to get there) and having spent a small fortune to get in and be jerks, we were bound and determined to make the kids ride EVERYTHING. And that we did. The Jerk Pass does work. In just eight hours we were able to do everything worth doing at Universal, plus quite a number of things not worth doing. [Shrek 4-D, anyone?]
The next day, we were determined to get a Jerk Pass at Busch Gardens (which we'd already been to two days earlier--there, they had a special deal where if you bought a one-day pass, it was good for the rest of the year; of course, the one-day pass cost double what it would cost at a nice family park like Hershey, but that's a different story). Only problem was that they sold out of Jerk Passes right before we got to the front of the Jerk Pass line (we needed Jerk Pass Line Jerk Pass). Obviously, if you sell too many Jerk Passes, they lose their cachet, so there has to be a limit on them.
Without the Jerk Pass, life was miserable. We rode three rides in four hours. We saw a lot of stressed out families, getting little enjoyment out of their massive investment, standing in long lines while the jerks breezed past them. We left early, retreating to the modest pleasures of our hotel, for which there was no line!
Fundamentally, we don't like the Jerk Passes. We don't think someone who paid $70 to get into an amusement park should have to wait longer because a select group was able to pay $100. When you take an airplane flight, it doesn't take any longer because of the folks in first class. The Disney system is better--it allows you to prioritize and use your Jerk Pass selectively; but everyone gets the same opportunity.
Here's what we'd really like to see, especially at Universal: a riot, in which the regular folks chase out all the Jerk Pass holders. Now that would be worth having a special pass to see!