On Saturday, May 19, I ended up at Elitch Gardens in the early afternoon. Throngs of adolescents surrounded me as I made my way through the security line, only to hold it up [clueless tourist/obnoxious coaster enthusiast] style (take your pick) with that must-have fashion accessory, the fanny pack. Apparently gravy isn't a "necessary medical item" (I beg to differ).
While expecting to enjoy myself, I had heard mostly bad-to-neutral reviews of the park, which supposedly lost all its charm (and all but one of its existing coasters) after its 1995 move to downtown Denver, Colorado from a location further out in the city. It's also easy to see that the coaster collection is fairly generic, and very modest for what could be called a "major" park. How did my day turn out?
A little-publicized (even on TPR!) benefit available at Elitch Gardens is Rapid Ride, a skip-the-line system that is probably closest in practice to Cedar Fair's Fast Lane, The Great Escape's Go Fast Pass, and SeaWorld's Quick Queue. The unlimited version, VIP Rapid Ride, costs a reasonable $29.99 plus a few sneaky dollars' tax, and the basic (one lap per ride) version boasts a base price of only $14.99. All coasters except Sidewinder are available, plus Ghost Blasters, Tower of Doom, Shake Rattle and Roll, and a couple water rides. Unfortunately, I discovered that Half Pipe and Tower of Doom also offer a single rider queue, which of course decreases the value per ride of the paid system.
Overall, I was impressed with the VIP Rapid Ride experience. Guest service was average to very good, rider response was not harsh or intimidating, and I consistently rode within one to three trains of arriving. Seating choice varied, and I'm not sure if the differences were due to crowd levels, individual ride policies, or operator discretion. On Boomerang, a third row seat was always assigned (after a short wait); on Twister II I always had free choice; and on Mind Eraser I was assigned toward the front once and once specifically told I could ride any seat, including front or back. Time saved varied, but overall worked out to make this a cost-effective and convenient choice.
A major problem with Rapid Ride is signage. I only noticed a few signs with specific, accurate instructions. Generally, you board through the exit, but in many cases there were Rapid Ride signs or painted instructions that lead "nowhere," but no signage on or pointing towards the actual exit path. At Ghost Blasters, the Rapid Ride queue was chained off even when open for business (and clearly warranted based on the main queue).