Joshua Joshua writes about a variety of topics, including video games and even Aldi. He's also a science fiction novelist: his debut novel, Edge of Oblivion, released in April 2016. You can find him at

When I was an adolescent, my parents got us season passes to Six Flags in St. Louis, Missouri. In those days we went early and often; during one unusual summer I personally made fourteen different trips with various family members and friends. My siblings and I knew that park so well we could have walked through it blindfolded.

This year, because of various circumstances, my mom decided to gift four season passes (including a bonus season parking pass) to my own family: myself, my wife, and my two daughters. Except for a single day trip to the park’s water area — Hurricane Harbor — in 2001, it was the first time I’d been to Six Flags in over two decades. It was also my first time at Six Flags as a husband and parent.

As a teacher married to a stay-at-home mom, we tend to make a lot of small, inexpensive day trips during the summer, such as to our local zoo or other free area attractions. Because of the season passes, my wife and I decided to clear those things out this summer, focusing on trying to maximize the value of our Six Flags passes.

Along the way, I discovered that the park was noticeably different than my childhood memories, both because of changes made during the interim and because of my different vantage point from that of a kid.


Traveling back in time to Six Flags

Changes to the Park

Coming back to the main part of an amusement park after twenty-plus years is something like that sensation of visiting a hometown you haven’t been to in a long time: some things are very familiar and some are very much not.

The park’s walkways were (almost) exactly like I remembered, and for the most part the mental map in my head didn’t let me down. Old rides were exactly where I remembered them, right next to other buildings that were mostly familiar; a right turn at the entrance, for example, took me straight to the Ninja, a short but spectacular steel coaster that was, in its heyday, called the black belt of roller coasters.

At the same time, there were new buildings interspersed among the old, giving certain places a feeling of nostalgia on top of discovery. One of the most surprising of those discoveries was the installation of a few chain restaurants on the park property: Panda Express and Cold Stone Creamery were notable examples.

The march of change was most evident at the edges of the park, where new rides had been built since my last trip. A massive new wooden roller coaster (appropriately called The Boss) now dominated the back left of the park; a collection of new rides now loomed on the back right. Even the middle of the park was not unchanged; one jarring development was the wholesale relocation of the young children’s rides from the left corner of the park to the back center, and a new wooden roller coaster in the old space.

One thing that pulled on my nostalgia was the apparent disparity in crowds between the older and newer rides. The Boomerang, a metal roller coaster that goes in two directions, almost always drew long lines, as did a brand-new 3D indoor arcade ride themed around the DC Comics universe. By contrast, the Ninja drew almost no lines during our many visits this summer; it is a once-proud coaster now seemingly neglected in favor of newer fare. The Screaming Eagle, a venerable wooden coaster known for its straightline runs, was a shorter wait than the The Boss with its towering drops.

Changes in my Perspective

One of the biggest revelations for me, as an adult, is the way amusement parks sell in ways beyond the price of the ticket. Six Flags has, in my view, mastered the art of the soft sell. Unlike some businesses that subject customers to high-pressure sales tactics, Six Flags is largely content to let the sights and smells do the talking. This preserves the low-pressure nature of the park (which I personally appreciate) while providing advertising about the park’s upsell options everywhere. As a kid, I never realized just how clever Six Flags was to carefully space the enticing aromas of restaurants all around the park property.

It’s all part of the park’s larger business model; Six Flags sells season passes at pretty reasonable prices, calculating that repeat visitors will eventually pay more for the park’s extra perks. And I saw ample evidence during our trips that it worked, and not just from other families; on our third trip we broke down and bought a pair of superhero capes for the daughters and one funnel cake with ice cream, whipped cream, and strawberries. (Yes, it was as amazing as it sounds.) For the most part, though, we joined the subculture of people who brought their own food and pulled coolers over to the shaded medians in the Six Flags parking lot.

There were many more things we saw among the crowds that we didn’t buy. The Preferred Parking (an extra $10 a day over a regular parking pass) was usually full. Refillable drink cups ($20 for a full season of free refills) were everywhere. Many visitors stood in line to requisition food from the park’s deluxe dining plan ($85 per person for a full season of meals and snacks). Over in the water park, Hurricane Harbor, premium yellow rental tubes ($30 for the season) were all over the place, and the lockers (starting at $13 a day) saw a constant flow of traffic. In a few of the roller coasters, I watched people hop to the front of the lines using the park’s Flash Pass (starting at about $37 a day).

I have no beef with any of this, since it was all perfectly optional to the park experience, but I nevertheless marveled at how effectively Six Flags had marketed them. In my youth, it all would have gone over my head.

Aside from the salesmanship, the adult me also had appreciation for all of the little things the park did to make the experience memorable. Some of it was relatively trivial — the sublime engineering of a specific roller coaster, the intuitive layout of the park walkways — but I also appreciated the general atmosphere of the park, from the upbeat workers to the ambient music. (I also loved being able to fly through a shorter entrance line using my Discover Card.) I have been to Disney World and have seen its gold standard of atmosphere, but I thought Six Flags (this one, at least), paid some attention to those things, too.

As for the Kids …

As much as this summer was obviously an adventure for me, it was an absolutely mind-bending experience for my daughters. My 3-year-old practically camped out at the children’s area, frolicking in the large playground and taking her turn on the pint-sized rides. My 7-year-old, just barely over the all-important 48” threshold, dragged me onto every roller coaster she could, sometimes multiple times. The girls came home exhausted every time (to say nothing of us parents), but each time they asked to go back, and each time we found plenty for them to do, whether it was on the coasters, in the shows, or in the water park. We also managed to keep the costs very reasonable, most of the time only paying for the price of gas.

With summer winding down, our window of visits is fast closing. At the time of this post, I’d been to the park four times and my wife and daughters five times. On our most recent trip home, my wife said, with a tired look in her eyes, that she felt like we’d done it quite a lot this summer.

That might not stop us from squeezing in a trip to Six Flags Fright Fest in the fall.


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Category: Family Free Time

Tags: amusement park