Great Escape hit a whole new low for me Saturday, and I say that as a longtime season pass-holder who has seen an awful lot of bad opening days.
For those who don't want to read the whole saga: It took us 2 hours and three lines (one of them twice) to get into the park.
This year, at the entrance, the gatekeeper swiftly and expertly scanned my ticket on my phone. Then she took pictures of us both and attached them to our online profiles — all in seconds. Great! Only one step left: Get our actual season pass cards.
And this is where the train left the tracks.
She said she had no idea how we could get physical cards and told me to “ask somebody.”
OK. I asked the next somebody in a managerial shirt and she could not understand why I would need a card.
“But you have your phone,” she said.
I explained that I had purchased, as a group, four tickets. (You would think this would not be news to Great Escape, since it has for years aggressively marketed special deals that are only available to those who buy at least four passes.)
I explained that I might not want to go to Great Escape every time anyone in my group went.
Still no comprehension.
I further explained that my phone has a bad battery and will die midday, and then I won’t be able to scan my ticket for my meal plan.
Finally, the light dawned and she pointed to a line stretching alllll the way back to the entrance from a small hut.
“You have to go in there.”
Right. My 4-year-old had been waiting in lines (at security and the entrance) in the direct sun for 45 minutes at this point. We had no drinks with us since you can’t bring drinks in. But no worries — my meal plan includes free drinks! I could get her a drink and then stand in line!
But no. Since I was “redeeming a free drink bottle,” I had to go to one of the restaurants — they couldn’t just give me one at the counter where they sell drinks near the entrance.
OK. We marched down to the restaurants. Each one had a line longer than the one at the little hut I was doomed to wait in. Meanwhile, my phone battery ticked down to 5 percent.
So we gave up on the drink and I hauled my sad child back to the hut. She protested at first, thinking it was a line to the bathroom (“I don’t have to go!”) and then began to whine (“I want to ride on the rides!”).
When I explained that the only way we were going to get to eat or drink in the park was if we stood in the line, she gave in to the inevitable and entertained herself quietly ... for an hour. Yes, we stood in that line for twice as long as we had waited to get into the park itself.
Once I got to the front of the line and explained the situation, the clerk was stunned.
“They didn’t give you a card?!” he asked. He gave me cards in about 30 seconds flat.
Minutes later, my friend arrived, and I was able to set our 4-year-olds loose at the rides while she ... waited in the same line I’d just enjoyed.
To give Great Escape its due, it has solved one persistent problem from opening day in previous years. My friend’s electronic ticket wouldn’t scan (along with hundreds of others, to judge by the people I saw). The clerk in the little hut gave her a physical card, but of course it had not been scanned at the entrance. In the past, those unscanned cards wouldn’t work at restaurants. This time, the Market Skillet clerk calmly said, “This card didn’t get scanned. But you can get your food.” He overrode the error message immediately.
Two years ago, in that situation, I had to wait for an hour for a supervisor to arrive.
In other news, I’ve been asked about this year’s food because I reviewed some of the offerings last year. I’m glad to report that on Saturday, my quesadillas and fajitas were cooked to perfection — nothing burned at all! That adds a huge resource for those trying to find non-fried food in the park. I’ll report back on whether quality is consistent.