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Published: Saturday, 8/6/2011

Cedar Fair trying out 1st-in-line access fees

$50 passes in use at Kings Island

Guests at Kings Island can pay $50 plus the $52.99 daily admission to cut to the front of the line on 10 rides. Guests at Kings Island can pay $50 plus the $52.99 daily admission to cut to the front of the line on 10 rides.

Would you pay $50 over the admission price to your favorite amusement park for the privilege of jumping to the front of the line for every popular ride?

Since early July, a sister park to Cedar Point has been testing that premise with a program known as “Fast Lane.” If it works well enough, it could be brought to the Sandusky park.

The program began July 12 at Kings Island park near Cincinnati, which, like Cedar Point, is owned by Cedar Fair LP in Sandusky. The company owns more than a dozen amusement parks nationwide.

“We’re following it as far as seeing how it works and how it is received,” Cedar Point spokesman Robin Innes said yesterday. “Right now, from what I gather, it’s been well-received.”

Kings Island has been surveying customers who use the new system. Park spokesman Don Helbig said, “We’ve asked, ‘Would you do it again?’ and they’ve said, ‘Absolutely.’ The most common response is, ‘We feel like we haven’t spent our whole day waiting in line.’”

Amusement industry consultant Dennis Speigel of International Theme Park Services Inc., based in Cincinnati, has been watching the program closely because it is a premium service.

“We thought it was a good test opportunity,” he said. “It really comes down to how are the people going to react who are in the line waiting. No one wants to be booed.”

Mr. Helbig declined to provide information for how many customers had used the program or how many of the special passes were allotted each day. He also did not disclose how much the park expects to make from the $50 pass.

The Diamondback roller coaster is one of Kings Island’s popular rides and one of 10 attractions open to Fast Lane privileges. The Diamondback roller coaster is one of Kings Island’s popular rides and one of 10 attractions open to Fast Lane privileges.
Park managers at Kings Island, he said, came up with the program in response to frequent requests from park-goers for a system to let users speed through long lines on certain rides. Other amusement park companies utilize some form of a cut-ahead system, with the Disney Co.’s Fast Pass system the most well-known.

At Disney parks, visitors can receive a pass to ride a popular ride during a specific time window later in the day. The system is free and open to all park visitors.

But the “Fast Lane”-system charges $50 for a wristband that lets riders zip to the front of the line all day long at Kings Island’s 10 most popular rides.

Mr. Helbig said his park priced Fast Lane passes at $50 — which is in addition to its $52.99 daily admission ticket — to make it attractive for those seeking a cut-ahead option but not so inexpensive that every visitor will opt for it. In addition, Kings Island limits the number of Fast Lane passes it sells daily.

“You don’t want to make it where you have it so everyone can do it,” Mr. Helbig said. But for customers who may be from out of town and wanting to maximize their day at the park, “it lets you make the most of your day,” he added.

Cedar Point, which had tried limited fast-access programs, now has an escorted VIP program, at $375 per person with a minimum of two people, that lets people access rides without waiting.

An advantage of Kings Island’s Fast Lane is the tickets, while limited, can be bought in advance online.

Mr. Innes said officials at Cedar Point are still evaluating the program at Kings Island, saying that it’s possible it would be implemented in Sandusky “even later this year.” Mr. Speigel, the industry consultant, said the Kings Island idea could be rolled out to other Cedar Fair parks.

“It’s all about earnings and how can parks make more money. If this makes money, they’ll keep it,” Mr. Speigel said.

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.

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