Halloweekends: How to fix the poor guest experience.

Monday, October 10, 2011 10:43 PM

So after reading about 40 comments of nearly 300 on the Cedar Point Facebook page about Columbus Day Weekend, I stopped because my frustration level of the poor decision making by management needs to be addressed. Since the good folks at Cedar Point/Cedar Fair read this web site, I want to start a thread on how to address the issue of fixing the poor guest experience going foward.

1. Flawless guest experience. I just want to begin by saying that in any business dealing with the public, the golden rule is creating a positive and rewarding guest experience, from day one to the very last day. No excuses. The fiasco that happens every year on Columbus Day Weekend and other Saturdays when there is great weather is inexcusable from a management team that is equal to the talents of Disney or Universal. I understand that Dick Kinzel rules with an iron fist and a lot is out of your control, going forward I hope that we see everyone, from the new CEO to the line level employees, really challenge themselves to be the best of the best. The capability is there given the right leadership.

2. Season Pass holder "Black Out" dates: I hate to say it but this really is a no-brainer and is done by Disney and Universal. Of all the negative comments about the insanity of the weekend on Facebook, a lot were from season pass holders at the park on Saturday. A basic Cedar Point pass holder should NOT have access to the park on Saturdays during Halloweekends, period! If someone is that desperate to visit Cedar Point every day of the year, let it be part of the Platinum Pass rewards experience. We all know that attendance has shifted at Cedar Point with Fall now being the busiest season, it is time to address the white elephant in the room.

3.Capacity, capacity, capacity. If one were to ask anyone with the minimalist knowledge about amusement parks the first thing they say about Cedar Point/Cedar Fair is the parks are known for their operations and capacity. What the hell has happened?! Temporary mechanical issues aside, I can't fathom why ride capacity every year is being whittled away. You can't tell me that part of the issue isn't about "budgeting" and trying to save money; yet it is at the expense of flawless guest experience. Why is it that every ride that goes through a "safety upgrade" is forced to lose vital capacity (ie Mine Ride, Corkscrew, etc.) Why are there not 3 trains on Iron Dragon this season? Why is Mean Streak closed "for seasonal maintenance reasons" at the BUSIEST time of year? If you want to save money on maintenance, staffing, etc. do it in May and June, not August, September and October which is your peak money making period and highest attendance period!

4. Staffing. There is ZERO reason that there should be trouble staffing the park with highly skilled employees when we are in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression and unemployment rates are 9% and higher. We all know the reasons why this happens, the time has come to address this white elephant in the room and evolve your HR policies and benefits. It is 2011 folks.

5. Food service. I won't beat a dead horse, re-read #1 and #4.

6. Resort guests. Again, re-read #1 and #4. Resort guests are a HUGE profit margin, take care of them properly and watch the financial benefits roll in.

I'll stop here and let others chime in. My post is done with some sarcasm, but in all seriousness it is sad to sit on the sidelines and watch the same issues and problems happen year after year after year. Let's hope 2012 will be the beginning of something bold and new to tackle what are serious guest experience issues that have solutions which will financially benefit Cedar Fair in the future.

Monday, October 10, 2011 11:10 PM
TheHSBR's avatar

Let me start by saying two things. 1. I havent read a single post on Facebook because usually its very difficult to determine how sincere criticism or praise is because it takes next to zero effort to actually post. 2. I was part of the craziness that was Columbus Day Weeekend.

In response to this, I think "Where does customer responsibility come in?" Its no secret that this weekend is the busiest of the season. Add to this that the weather was pretty perfect, the NFL stars aligned with Detroit playing Monday and Cleveland on a bye, and it quickly becomes pretty obvious that the park will be jammed pack. Should Cedar Point just have closed the doors? Would that not irritate many more people who have allready planned days or booked trips? In all honesty, if I was in the position of having sub par attendance or even average attendance and I had the opportunity to make up for all of that in one day, I would do the same. If people choose to come knowing the situation, then it on them just as it was on me when I chose to attend.

I agree with your first point that customer service should always be #1 but ultimately that too cant please everyone. CP cant help that Dragon and Magnum were broken for most if not all of Sat/Sun. As for Mean Streak, CP cant dictate an entire work schedule around one day that has a ton of people and if they did they would be foolish.

I could not agree less with the concept of blackout dates. As a platinum passholder, I want the ability to attend CP whenever I choose. I live in Chicago and this weekend is the only weekend in which I could attend Halloweekends. Even if passholders were not allowed in, it would not have significantly affected any of the lines or crowds that I witnessed. On Saturday, every food stand was open and lines were still long. There was a 15 minute wait to get into the men's bathroom which Ive never seen in 20 years of going to CP.

My main complaints actually occured on Friday, where I thought the haunted areas were understaffed and with the lack of fog being pumped into those same areas. I dont know if this was a safety issue with expected crowds but I thought both were far inferior to years past.

In conclusion, I had a great time this weekend watching people and being a part of the madness. People who didnt have such a great time should really take some time and think about even attending in the first place. Even with just the weather forecast in hand and the knowledge of the holiday weekend should have been enough to tell anyone with common sense that the park was going to be crazy.

Monday, October 10, 2011 11:23 PM
Your mom is to fat to ride TTD.'s avatar

Obviously they are doing something right to have that many people there, complaining or not. They are still rolling in the money and that is all they care about.

Let's Get Weird.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 12:16 AM

As soon as you enter the park you got what you paid for. There is no garantee for anything. I was just as upset a few years ago when me and my wife took her 3 kids. Stayed @ the breakers, 2 days in May. Rained both days only stopping long enough to test the rides. But it was not a loss at all. We still took our family there and had fun. Got the park to ourselves late the last night for an hour when it finally stopped. You can't control the weather or attendance to the park. Cedar Point is only selling tickets through the gate. That is what you purchase. The rides are free and you can leave as soon as you get there if you want. If you don't want to be stuck in traffic, leave an hour earlier than everyone else. They are open all summer long you didn't have to pick this weekend to go. If you went last weekend and aren't happy about it, well...... You chose to do it!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 12:27 AM

Yeah let's not let pass holders come in on saturdays during halloweekends.... Sounds fair...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 1:38 AM

Just this past weekend we were talking about whether or not Cedar Point would ever consider having black-out dates like the Disney Parks. Has a seasonal park ever done this? Obviously this wouldn't go over all that well with most season pass holders, but I suppose Cedar Point could offer a premium-priced pass like Disney to include the black-out dates.

"Thank the Phoenicians!"

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 3:49 AM
Ralph Wiggum's avatar

Aside from season pass blackout dates, which may or may not have much of an impact, I don't know how anyone expects the park to just stop people from coming.

And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 5:04 AM

I was there on friday and sunday. On sunday i was aggravated by the crowds. it is good to see the park busy because it shows that they are doing well. the problem that got to me is the staff and management seemed surprised at how busy they actually were. it did not seem like they were ready. they were only operating one train. there were guests waiting outside of the station. we were only there for a few hours on sunday and did not ride much. i think they just need to be better prepared.

2008 visits = 38, 2009 = 19, 2010 = 11, 2011 = 14, 2012 = 10, 2013 = 14, 2014 = 14, 2015= 13, 2016 = 11, 2017 = 5, 2018 = 3

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 7:09 AM

Speaking as someone who spent a couple years taking guest complaints during Halloweekends, I can definitely attest to the frustration people feel when they come to the park and there's barely room to turn around. Trying to assign blame isn't really productive. The park is caught between a rock and a hard place: let everyone in and it's a zoo, turn people away and the complaints they're seeing now are NOTHING compared to what would be getting sent their way by would-be guests who ventured through all that traffic only to be told,"Well, see ya." Remember, CP is not a multi-gate facility like Disney World. If Magic Kingdom has to close due to capacity (which seems to happen MAYBE 2 days a year), their guests have 3 other parks to absorb the overflow. Cedar Point does not. If you go and the park is closed, what else is there to do in Sandusky?

On the other hand, Halloweekends aren't a new concept, and the fact that they will be crowded on a nice Saturday should surprise literally NO ONE, fan or not, with any amount of common sense, let alone a bare minimum of research. But some people's travel arrangements aren't flexible, and if their money is taken by the park, their should be at least some basic level of service provided. From most of what I have read, even taking the appropriate grain of salt, the park didn't really deliver on that this past weekend.

So the question becomes (or at least should become): what, if anything, can and should be done to prevent or minimize this phenomenon going forward? Obviously the capacity issues are troubling, but even if the park was operating at full, mid-summer, "everything is going perfectly" capacity, how much of a difference would that make when weighed against the magnitude of the crowd? I'm not saying the park shouldn't be doing better in this regard. They are well aware of what to expect for these weekends and have been steadily chipping away at capacity for years. But I'd argue that the capacity issues that are being raised are, in this case, almost a marginal issue. For 97% of their operating calendar, their overall capacity is adequate, if not downright impressive, even after the recent "erosion."

So if closing the gates and turning people away isn't a viable option, and increased capacity (ie, supply) will have only a marginal impact (one of my favorite comments from the Facebook page implied that Cedar Point was essentially at fault for having "too much to do" at the park and thus enticing too many people to come), the other side of the equation is to try and manipulate demand. To an extent, the park is already doing that. The gate price has been raised slowly but steadily in the last couple years, usually just before the start of Halloweekends. The deep discounting is offered for May and June to try and divert some of that crowd to those dates. I don't have any idea if that push has been successful, but I've seen enough anecdotal accounts of the earlier months "feeling busier," so maybe it is working to an extent.

The problem is that Halloweekends are becoming almost an entity unto themselves. We always comment about how the park seems transformed with all the decoration, and that more accurate than I think is fully realized. The fact is that the park is really an entirely different attraction when Halloweekends are on versus its regular operating days. Demand for that event can probably not be pushed off to earlier operating months as effectively as the July and August "regular" crowds can be. The park needs to realize this, and start treating the Halloweekends accordingly. With that in mind, I've had a couple of ideas, roughly in order of what I believe ease of implementation should be:

1) Make any tickets purchased for Halloweekends valid for a set period of time the next year. One of the big complaints I saw on Facebook was that guests were approaching the park and saw the traffic snarl, but felt they were trapped into going because their tickets would expire in a few weeks and they couldn't arrange travel for another of the few weekends remaining. Make Halloweekends tickets valid for next year under certain circumstances (must be used before Labor Day, before the 4th of July, before Memorial Day, etc.). I'm not sure how valid the whole "feeling trapped" complaint is, but if people are making it, and these people are willing to shift their visit to traditionally under-utilized times, LET THEM. The park loses nothing. In fact, both sides gain.

2) Rather than raising the whole-year gate price for Halloweekends, have a separate, higher Halloweekends ticket price. I've never understood why the park, which charges a separate gate for its merely adequate waterpark, then turns around and charges its flat gate price for an event of the size and caliber Halloweekends has become. If a higher price is what's necessary to address staffing and capacity issues (whatever their source) during Halloweekends, then they NEED to go that route. In terms of price paid vs. attractions offered, Halloweekends as they stand are a steal.

3) Somewhat along the lines of #2: I'm a passholder, and I love my cheap, all-inclusive Platinum Pass. But if Halloweekends are to be treated as its own event, then that needs to be factored into pass costs appropriately. Many of the complaints appeared to be from season and Platinum passholders. If Columbus Day is traditionally the "hell weekend," make it a blackout day for all passes. This could extend other weekends which look, in advance, to be high demand (ie, football teams are away or on a bye week, heavy group sales/hotel reservations, etc). If, as that weekend approaches, demand appears to be falling off or the weather looks bad, it can always be "opened back up," if appropriate. Or, better yet, make Halloweekends an optional premium add-on to passes. Note that Holiday World is doing exactly that with the new Halloween event that they're beginning next year.

4) Go to advance-only ticketing for Halloweekends. Set a certain number of tickets for each weekend, and once they're gone, they're gone. Set staffing accordingly. Adjust prices for high-demand weekends like Columbus Day. Then this makes the offer I listed in #1 even better in the event of unforeseen circumstances (weather, plans that change, etc.) If the park is serious about controlling demand, this is how to do it. It would obviously take a fair amount of marketing muscle to get the word out about this policy shift, but it can be done. But it means the park would have to give up a certain level of attendance in favor of protecting and improving guest experience, and I'm not sure that current management will ever be willing to do that. I'll be very curious to see how the new guy handles this situation, though.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 7:57 AM
Kevinj's avatar

All this about one weekend? The Columbus Day weekend is really the only stretch where the crowds seem to get this crazy, and even that is unpredictable.

I get your complaints, and I do not necessarily disagree with what you are saying, but let's pretend the park does all this extra prep for these two days of the year (sat and sun of Columbus Day...really beyond that it's no different than a busy summer day). And then it rains, and the crowds are thin.

To some degree, the C-Day weekend is predictable, but in other ways it is not. I think where I mostly agree is capacity. That certainly would be the day(s) to have every train of every coaster going (as possible).

Promoter of fog.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 8:09 AM
TheHSBR's avatar

To me it seemed on Saturday, nobody was taken by surprise. Every food stand was open which is a rare occurrance for CP now a days. The overflow walkway was set up going to Screamworks with the tunnel being used as one way traffic and caution tape set up to separate the overflow walkway. There was also plenty of other things to do besides rides. I went to the Halloween show at the Good Time Theatre and there were sill about 1/4 of the seats open. I also went to the Jack Aldrich Threatre and there too had plenty of open seats. Just because all the coasters had massive lines doesnt mean there wasnt stuff still available.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 8:46 AM
djDaemon's avatar

I think the idea of separating HW into a separate gate is a no-brainer. While I would personally hate to see my Platinum Pass lose some value, I also recognize that even without the ability to use it for HW, the pass is still an incredible value. Those who argue that the pass is only worth it with HW included, I think you're being wildly over dramatic.

That said, I'm not convinced this is remotely a big deal. That people are actually referencing Facebook comments as some indicator of guest satisfaction is flat-out hilarious.

The Columbus Day weekend has been busy for the last few years, and every year, it's still crowded. Meaning, people keep showing up anyway, so it must not be as big a deal as the FB suggest. How shocking.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011 8:57 AM
JW Addington's avatar

I agree with the point of MS being closed a month or so early with as busy as saturdays can be. Why not just have MS open on coastermania weekend in june instead of closing at the end of september?

I had to laugh at the comments about the park being busy and thats good to see because that means the park is doing good and making money......yet we get Dino"sowers" at almost every park next year. Stupid decisions across the board!

When you visit CP, visit my Mill, est. 1835

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 9:07 AM
Walt's avatar

Columbus Day Weekend is the park's biggest weekend of the year. I'm sure that park can find plenty of things to improve, but you have to take into consideration that the perfect storm that descended on Sandusky last weekend does not happen every year.

Walt Schmidt - Co-Publisher, PointBuzz
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Home to the Biggest Fans of the World's Best Amusement Park

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 9:30 AM
JuggaLotus's avatar

What percentage of guests on any given day are pass holders?

Would it really make a difference if there were only 54,000 people in the park instead of 60,000?

Goodbye MrScott


Tuesday, October 11, 2011 10:49 AM

My wife and I took our kids to pick apples on Sunday afternoon. The place had a kids' fun fest and was totally mobbed. Long lines for everything. My guess is that any outdoor activity had higher than normal crowds this weekend. Past 2 weekends were cold and rainy and a lot of people are taking advantage of every opportunity they get to be outside before they hibernate for the winter.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 10:59 AM

Walt said it best this Saturday (entire weekend) was a perfect storm. Columbus Day weekend with perfect weather all 3 days following a terrible weather weekend.

If the weather this weekend was cold and rainy like the previous one the crowds would have been cut in drastically Columbus Day or not.

As a pass holder I don't want to see any changes as to admission to the park.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 12:10 PM
djDaemon's avatar

I doubt many of us want to pay more to get in the park, but I think it's pretty clear CP is leaving some money on the table. They'd be well-served to snatch that money and do something about their employee situation.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011 12:17 PM
JuggaLotus's avatar

What was the halloweekends price increase?

Because I'm pretty sure they could double or triple that without significantly hurting sales.

Goodbye MrScott


Tuesday, October 11, 2011 12:17 PM

This is the first year we have not gone on Columbus Day Weekend.

Clevelandkid said:

If the weather this weekend was cold and rainy like the previous one the crowds would have been cut in drastically Columbus Day or not.

This is very true, a few years ago we went on Sunday of Columbus Day Weekend and it was freezing cold and only got worse as the day went on. Crowds were very light compared to the years before and after on the same weekend when it was warm during the day and the perfect fall night.

To those who went and are mad do they also go on the 4th of July and wonder why the park is so darn packed? Common sense goes a long way people!


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