Private and Public Policy Reviews for the Disabled

Home of the $12.99 Soda

A Review of Six Flags Discovery Kingdom

By Stephen Rex Goode, BSW

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom lies north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Vallejo, California. It is a theme park based mostly on marine life, including Shouka the Orca, Merlin the Dolphin, who are each other’s best friends. More about the Saga of the Soda later.We were there with our daughter and her young family. They have season passes. We went there as their guests.

I just want to start by saying that there’s no other influence that could make me not enjoy a place if my grandchildren are present and having fun. The park was definitely fun. It was also very clean. The attractions and food options were of high quality and entertaining. The shows we saw were well-done.

Of course, here on this web site, the focus is on how well an establishment like Six Flags Discovery Kingdom does when it comes to accommodating people with disabilities. If I were giving a grade, it would have been a D.

So, here comes the nits I have to pick. If you’re waiting still for the Saga of the Soda, it’s still later.

We arrived in the early afternoon. Across the street from the park is the county fairgrounds. The fairgrounds parking lot also serves as overflow for the park. By the time we arrived, the regular parking lot was full. Coming from the north along Fairgrounds Drive was a traffic jam, complete with an injury accident. It was caused by people trying to get into the park’s parking lot. They were being diverted across the street to the fairgrounds.

We happened to know that thanks to cell phones and our son-in-law who was guaranteed a spot at the park because of his season pass. We went directly to the fairgrounds lot and saved ourselves some time.

As we waited in a long line to the front, I asked the person directing traffic if there were spots reserved for disabled people. She didn’t know. I asked the person taking my money. He didn’t know. I asked the person along the route to the parking area. He didn’t know.

So, we parked where they directed us, even with my parking tag hanging from my mirror in plain site. My wife wiggled it at him so he could see it. He just kept waving us into a spot.

Of course, using it was risking a ticket. See California Travel Advice.

So, we walked down the long aisle towards the park and saw a row of cars parked against the fence. My wife said, “Gee. We could have parked there.”

The man guarding the spots curtly said, “You have to have a disabled tag.”

“We do,” I said, annoyed.

Did I mention it was a gravel parking lot and my cane sometimes slipped on rock?

The path from the fairground parking lot to the front entrance is probably a good half-mile. Once you cross Fairgrounds Drive, it is asphalt. The troubling thing was that all along this path you could see faded paint on the asphalt surface where disabled parking once once. It had been replaced by the path to the front gate.

Why is it that establishments consider the disabled parking spaces the most expendable when things change? See Piles of Shame.

Inside the gate are some lockers. I had been carrying a backpack with medications and other stuff I might need but didn’t want to carry around. The locks are all electronic. You pay for a locker. The computer opens it for you and prints out a receipt with a code. When you want to open it, you go back to the computer console, put in your code, and it unlocks your locker. I made the mistake of putting the receipt in my wallet and then putting my wallet in the locker. That was my fault.

I went, hobbling with my cane, back to the main entrance area looking for a human being to help me. There were ticket-takers and photographers. I interrupted a ticket-taker and asked for help. They called someone to come help me.

Once we got that out of the way, we had a very enjoyable time with our family. My daughter and son-in-law wanted to ride on the whitewater ride, so we took the kids to watch Shouka. We got there late and had to sit in the back. My son-in-law helped.

We had to leave the stroller down below. When the show was over, which was great, we had to wait for our son-in-law to come help us with the kids. Before he got there, a security person told us we had to leave.

There we were with three kids under five, including an infant less than one year old. I had my cane, a backpack, and a hefty diaper bag. The nearest exit was down a flight of stairs. My wife and I had to get all of that down the stairs without any help. It was touch and go.

While our grandchildren rode a little elephant ride, I waited by a souvenir shop. In the shade of the shop was a nice woman in a skooter. I asked her about her experience there. She said that they got to park in a disabled space but that the shuttles that came to pick them up couldn’t accommodate her skooter. Finally a shuttle came that could. I gave her this web site’s address. I hope she will visit.

So, now what you’ve been waiting for:

The Saga of the Soda

I noticed people wearing a wrist band that said they were entitled to All-You-Can-Drink soda. I found a place that offered them. You pay $12.99 and get a green cup and one of the wrist bands.

I showed my wrist to the cashier. There was no way the band was going to fit around my wrist. My wrist is not just big because I am overweight. It has always been big, even when I was skinny. The last time I bought a wristband for unlimited something-or-other, it popped right off.

The cashier attached my wrist band to the handle of the soda. I assumed this was standard procedure when someone’s wrist is large like mine.

I planned on drinking a lot. I’m not accustomed to California weather and I like to keep hydrated.

When I was ready for a refill, I went into an area with a lot of food stands. Remember that I have difficulty walking and use a cane. Even more difficult for me is standing. So, I looked for a stand that had a small line.

I handed my cup with the orange band on the handle. The man said, “I can’t refill that unless you wear it on your wrist.”

I showed him my wrist and explained to him why I wasn’t wearing the band. He stepped back and put his hands in the air like I had a gun aimed at him. “I can’t refill it!” he said adamantly. It seemed clear to me that he’d call security and have me arrested if I pressed it any further. I was scaring the poor guy, though I was calm throughout.

I went to find another food place that had a short line. It was around dinner time and there wasn’t any that I could have managed to stand in.

While looking around, I noticed a small booth with a security officer behind it. I went to him and explained it, asking if there was anything he could do. He acted as if he were sympathetic, but all he could offer was that I go all the way back to the front entrance and explain it at the Guest Relations counter. I pointed out that I was disabled and that walking that far and walking back to my family was going to be difficult. I asked if there was someone he could call. He couldn’t.

I thought about going back to the corn dog shack where I had been refused and asking them to call someone, but considering how the man there reacted, I didn’t want to scare him anymore. Am I really that scary?

So, I walked around for the rest of my visit with my worthless green cup. When my family left, I told them I was going to Guest Relations to complain. Of course, Guest Relations wasn’t really near to the front of the park.

You see, when you have to get somewhere with the aid of a cane or a walker, what seems close to others is not close to you. I was determined to at least have my say, even if nothing came of it.

I arrived at a small counter with one woman, Theresa. Guess what? There was a line and nowhere to sit without losing my place in line. So, I leaned on my cane and waited.

When my turn finally came, I explained what happened. Theresa couldn’t do anything about it either. Theresa tried to reach the person who sold me the drink but she wasn’t available. I showed her my receipt.

She made a phone call and said that a food supervisor was going to come and escort me to a food place that would refill my drink for me. When the food supervisor arrived, I was in a great deal of pain from standing in line and waiting for her. My family was outside the front gate waiting for me.

I told her that escorting me to a place to get a drink would have resulted in me getting exactly two drinks for my $12.99 and that I already had to walk back the half mile to my car with my backpack, cane, and drink. She offered to carry the drink with me to my car.

At this point, let me say that I wish I had gotten the name of this food supervisor. She really did a good job of listening and empathizing with me. She was the highlight of the entire incident.

I believe she was sincere about the offer. To my objection that I would get only two drinks, she offered to get me a second cup and carry them both back to the fairgrounds parking lot for me. I declined. My family was waiting and I just wanted to leave.

She took my name and address and promised to send me some complimentary coupons for things to make up for my trouble. As of this writing, I haven’t received them, but there is still time.

Recommendations for Six Flags Discovery Kingdom

  • Either restore nearby parking places for the disabled or equip all of your shuttles with the ability to accommodate disabled people.
  • Have more benches in the shade. I had to stand a lot because there was a shortage of shaded places to sit. The shortage seemed the worse in the kiddy play area. Do they think that only older people whose kids are grown are disabled and may need to sit? What about grandparents? What about young disabled people with children?
  • Better yet, have seating around that is specifically reserved for elderly and disabled people. Buses do it. Parks can too. There was a dolphin encounter pool. It would have been easy enough to have about three benches facing the pool and a sign saying, “Please give preference for these seats to the elderly and people with disabilities.”
  • I tried to ride a ride but couldn’t stand in the line. I couldn’t see if they would accommodate me because of my disability. They don’t even say what their policy is on their website. Instead, it says to contact Guest Relations. Poor lone Theresa will no doubt get to you when she can. Put the policy on the web site.
  • Is it really running a guest relations department to have one person at the Guest Relations counter on a day that is so busy that parking overflows into the fairgrounds? Have more than one person at the counter.
  • Have a roving guest relations person. I should have been able to expect that the security guard I spoke to could have made a call and someone could have come to me to help me with my problem.
  • There were several food places that had one window operating. If a worker sees a person with a cane or walker standing in line to get food, someone should come out, take the person’s order, and let the person go sit down. I saw a lot of people standing around behind closed off counters.
  • This one is for the fairgrounds parking staff, which I assume is not part of Six Flags. Train your people about where the disabled spaces are and have them keep in touch as to availability.
  • To be truly disabled-friendly, have a roving disability ombudsman type of person.
  • Get longer wrist bands for your all-you-can-drinks.
  • Give the food supervisor who helped me a raise.
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