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Need some clarification from some 'ole timers; venting...

Share your memories of working at Marriott's GREAT AMERICA in Gurnee

Need some clarification from some 'ole timers; venting...

Postby EagleMom » Sat Aug 09, 2008 5:53 pm

Hey Guys- It's that time of the season when I'm ready to scream and I need some validation/clarification about whether this is normal or not.
First of all, the "honeymoon" phase of Six Flags is over with and has been for at least a month. By "honeymoon", I mean when people were coming in with Season Pass vouchers, in a half-way decent mood, and when the park wasn't jammed with people.
Since it's almost the end of summer for the school kids and the Read to Succeed program, we're in the 30,000+ zone and it's rough.
Is it normal for the park to start going down the tubes at this point? I remember that people were upset last summer, but it was more like September, not late July, that people were ready to write us off forever.
First, from what I personally notice- the park isn't clean like it was last year. Guests are cramming Guest Relations with complaints about teenagers (foods, ride ops) that roll their eyes, don't follow the rules consistently, and operate like turtles. Unfortunately, the ride lines are super-long and many Guests take offense to people being able to purchase Flash Passes and jump ahead of others in line.
I am so stressed out from work right now that I need some advice on how to move on with the rest of the season.
P.S. Does anybody like Hurricane Harbor? Does anybody think it has added to the park in a positive way?
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Postby Papas » Sat Aug 09, 2008 6:32 pm

2008 brought higher prices around the board, massive entertainment cuts, opening the back half of the park late, a ride which obviousley is not quite what people were expecting, 2 ride removals, 1 ride being idled, all the new policies including not being able to bring items in line and having to pay to store them, random horrible songs playing on the parks BGM over and over again, closing rides at periods of low attendance, etc.

People are very displeased with the park, I really enjoyed visiting Great Adventure and New England which have really improved since my visit a few years ago and Great America seems to be going the opposite way.

In terms of lines moving slow theres just way too many rules to enforce now that make no sense, its very flawed, if an operator is doing their job the line just moves way slower normally. For example, not allowing anything in the riders hands. The ride op walks up to them, tells them they cant hold onto their hat or glasses, so they try to place it on the side of the platform. Obviousley they're not allowed to place it there anymore so its like what now. They end up having to wear their hat or glasses and loosing them, then the ride ops cant get them because its in the ride area. The whole thing is poorly planned and rediculous and absolutely sucks dealing with.
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Postby MGA1 » Sat Aug 09, 2008 8:26 pm

Hi EagleMom! Wow, sorry to hear about your recent experiences. From an old-timer (Marriott-era) Guest Relations host, I'd have to say yes and no to your concerns. Yes, the number of guest complaints did go up later in the summer as the heat/humidity rises and the park was more crowded. And no, the park was never noticeably dirty or littered during the Marriott years. There were times when there weren't enough Area Hosts to keep everything spotless so full-time and seasonal managers/supervisors from all areas (foods, merchandise, rides, etc) were required to pitch in and all carry brooms & pans and help sweep the park (hint, hint, hint!!!). The rides employees (queue line greeters) also helped out as much as they could in keeping their queue lines and the areas adjacent to their rides as clean as possible.

Having 30,000+ attendance days were pretty normal back then and there weren't really that many complaints considering the attendance levels. I remember that it was definitely tougher from early August through Labor Day. This was partly due to guests feeling cranky because of the hot humid weather and also partly due to reduced staffing levels in the park (resulting in longer lines). Guests definitely notice when locations are closed or when only one window/register is open at food & merchandise locations while multiple windows/registers are left closed and unstaffed.

Toward the end of the summer season, a number of employees either get fired or just get burned out and quit since they're looking for some down time before they head back to school. It's not so easy to rehire and train replacement staff at this time since the park will soon be moving to weekend only operation. However, Marriott would supplement the on-stage staff by bringing some of the back-stage staff (clerks, auditors, marketing reps, accountants, managers, etc) into the park to ensure all the rides and most food/merchandise locations were fully staffed...the back stage paperwork had to wait to ensure the on-stage operations kept operating efficiently.

As far as teenage staff members not demonstrating really aggressive positive customer service skills, that is pretty much every employers frustration these days. It's a very different attitude since the Marriott years. I've recently worked with hundreds of college students and there certainly are many exceptions to this generalized observation. Think of a few of the absolutely exceptional young staff members you've encountered....well, that type of attitude comprised 95% of what the Marriott employees were like. The remaining 5% were slackers who usually ended up quitting quickly because they didn't "fit-in" with the rest of the employees.

As prices go up ($25 for parking, OMG) and customer service levels decline, guests are more inclined to voice their complaints...and unfortunately, Guest Relations is pretty much the Complaint Department for the park. Here's the best advice I can give you to deal with your current frustrations:

1) Listen to the guest's concerns
2) Realize the guest is genuinely upset with the situation (even if their concern seems entirely irrational to a sane rational person...the problem is very real to that guest).
3) Stay collected, offer empathy, and remember that they are voicing their complaint to you and looking for resolution. They are not complaining about you (hopefully).
4) Do whatever you can (within your scope of authority) to assist the guest. If the guest is not satisfied with your explanation/proposed resolution, you might consider asking the guest what/how you could make things better for them (ie, you can't stop it from raining but you could replace the cotton candy that got wet and melted on their shirt...or maybe they don't care about the cotton candy but they'd appreciate a new clean t-shirt)
5) In extending empathy to the guest, explain that you are an hourly Guest Relations staff member and not a member of the senior park management team (many guests seem to think Guest Relations manages the whole park or makes up the unpopular park policies). However, you should be able to give a rational explanation to the guest for why the park has implemented certainly policies. If you don't know the full reason, ask your managers for clarification (i.e. certain ride height restrictions may have changed because the new height restriction is recommended by the ride manufacturer for guest safety and the park needs to enforce it to comply with insurance requirements.)
6) Strongly encourage the guest to file a written complaint...explaining that this is the only way the park's General Manager will see the actual concerns the guest is experiencing...and they may get a more satisfying written response than you can provide (authorized to provide). If the guest is really upset and doesn't appear to be entirely literate or willing to fill out the form, it is appropriate for you to offer to write out their concern including whatever details you can gather from the guest and then have the guest sign the form.

Hang in there, the summer season will be over soon! After Labor Day weekend, things usually slow down a lot. Soon you'll be closing the park for the year and by the holidays, you'll be looking forward to the park opening again next Spring.
Last edited by MGA1 on Sat Aug 09, 2008 8:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"...and enjoy the rest of your day here at Marriott's GRRRREAT America"
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Postby Glorfindel7 » Sat Aug 09, 2008 8:29 pm

While I didn't go to Six Flags my sister did and here's her thoughts


She was able to get in with a lower admission, which is good.

She was extremely upset with the prices for the food (6.00 for a "hot dog"? ... 4.00 for a Coke?) (I'm thinking in terms of economics, Six Flags lowered the price of admission but RAISED the price of food.)

She waited 2.5 hours to ride Dark Knight and was very disappointed with it. (Wild Mouse in the Dark)

Also I've heard a rumor that Hurricane Harbor may NOT be included with regular admission (which for me would be okay as long as I didn't have to pay regular admission if all I wanted was the waterpark)

Time to realize one thing... The park is definitely NOT what it used to be... The people going and the people working just don't really care anymore :(

(Off my soapbox now.... carry on with the discussion :) )
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Postby EagleMom » Sat Aug 09, 2008 9:58 pm

To All (so far)- thank you so much for your contributions! It was a relief to read about the Marriott days. Of course, when it was owned by Marriott, the park was new, and times were different. I have a friend who worked at Burgers on the Run in '76 and she said they had to clean continuously during their shifts, even when it was clean! There were different standards back then.
I am so frustrated by so many things, and perhaps the thing that is bothering me the most is that the vast majority of the complaints from Guests is completely accurate! To MGA1- I enjoyed your outline of how staff should treat Guests. To be honest with you, I follow those guidelines, and I won Service Superstar this season. The problem is- when I am nice and turn a poor situation into a positive one, I am made fun of by fellow co-workers who tell me I'm too "nice" and "gullible"- which is fine- I follow my heart and gut as my job is to assist Guests, not make situations into a battle or power struggle, as some of my co-workers choose to do (which is yet another sign of changed times, isn't it?) I always put myself into a Guest's situation, and being a parent myself, I can definitely appreciate what it takes for a family to attend the park these days!
Today I went outside the unit, before we even opened the parking lot. There were so many cigarette butts and trash littered outside of our building and in the bushes that it took me over 1/2 hour just to pick up superficial garbage. When Guests started arriving, I had to stop. It was like Park Services had never scoured the area- and this happens daily!
I don't want to focus on the negative and it is difficult not to when we're bombarded with concerns all day long. We still occasionally receive some compliments, which is wonderful.
One last thing- as far as attendance is concerned, I agree with you 100%- when I was young, it was not uncommon whatsoever for the park to have 30,000+ Guests every day. It was not uncommon to have to wait 2-3 hours for a ride, but we just dealt with it and still had a good time. When did all of this change? I remember when I first attended the park, I was just so thrilled to be there that it didn't matter if I had to wait for the Triple Play- I was at Great America and it was magical. Guests have little patience for waiting. Did people complain back in the day about having to wait, or was that pretty much accepted?
Thanks again to all for the support- I love working at the park. I'm just discouraged when we're showered with complaints all day long, and many are legitimate.
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Postby PGA ROCKS » Sun Aug 10, 2008 8:51 am

Well EagleMom, I work at the Santa Clara GA, in rides. As you've said, I also receive a lot of complaints from guests, for different reasons. And most of them are legitimate complaints. I do empathize with you, guest relations is defenitely not an easy job. Just hang in there, and soon enough, the season will be over!

To everyone's comments about the park's bad policies, here at CGA, we have different policies. First, loose articles are not allowed on rides, but they can be placed in cubbies located in the ride's station. And when height requirements for rides are changed, it is routine for parents to give us hell ("Why can't little Johnny get on the ride? He was tall enough last year!). I just try to stay strong in the face of adversity, but it isn't easy.

My best advice is: be kind to the guests. Make sure that you make them feel welcome. Sometimes the little things, like saying "Have a nice day" can make a big difference.
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Postby MGA1 » Sun Aug 10, 2008 1:33 pm

Hi again Eagle Mom,

I completely agree that times have changed. I commend your efforts to ensure guests' enjoyment...you truly understand what "Guest Relations" is all about. As for your more critical co-workers, I think they probably don't quite "get it." From my personal experience, I know some guests will attempt to take advantage of you and "make up" all sorts of situations and look for some type of compensation. My thinking was that unless I was 100% sure the guest was lying to my face, I'd attempt to provide a reasonable accommodation to the guest. Just ask a lot of questions (how, when, where) to see if any of the information they provide is known to be false (no, they can't been pushed by the ride operator at the Sky Whirl since that ride no longer exists). Yes, I fully expect that I was being scammed maybe 30% of the time, but so what if I truly succeeded in turning a bad day into a good day for the other 70% of the guests. What did it really cost me or the park? Maybe a free meal or stuffed animal or at most a complimentary admission ticket to return for another day later that year (and they'd still have to pay for parking and food when they did return)...so the park actually made some extra money in the process. Even when I knew they were lying to me, I'd still have them fill out a written comment form...mostly so we'd be able to keep track of their name/address/phone. Usually, we'd find out that the scammers were often seasons' pass holders and they'd be back later in the season with some other bogus complaint.

Yes, there were very long lines for most rides in the early years. When I worked on Logger's Run, a very typical wait time was 75 minutes....even Barney Oldfield and Traffique Jam would have 60 minute wait times. There were a few complaints about the crowds but not many. We often had problems with line jumpers though in 76-78. In fact, Marriott later added extra staff positions to the larger queue lines called "Line Savers". These were life guard-type tower seats that was placed in the queue lines where an employee sat and watched for line jumpers. If guests were caught line jumping, they were escorted out of the park by security...no refunds.

In today's fast-paced Internet age, people definitely have less patience to wait for anything....when they want something, they want it NOW! The lack of basic good manners and civility is appalling in today's culture....and it's not just with the teenagers but with the grown adults as well. I don't think there is much that Six Flags can do to change guests' attitudes so the best you can do is listen to the guests concerns, agree the lines are long, and explain that the wait times are typical for Great America as well as most other major theme parks. BTW, 90 minutes is considered a SHORT wait time for Space Mountain at Walt Disney World...and that's one of Disney's older attractions.

As far as the issues you mentioned with park cleanliness and litter, well, that is completely under Six Flags' control. I'm sure that park services and area host staffing levels have been reduced over the years. I know it's frustrating to you, but all the senior managers at the park walk around the park every day and they must see the same litter problems that you've notice...and they choose to accept it. This will eventually come back to hurt the park in the future. Chicago's defunct Riverview Park went out of business years before Great America ever opened and the downfall of that park was based on three things: The park was 1) showing it's age and in poor repair, 2) dirty and full of litter, 3) became a hang out for rowdy unaccompanied teenagers that were harassing other guests. Families stopped coming to the park and the park eventually closed.

Six Flags' needs to really demonstrate commitment to keeping the park clean...not just talk about it in training. One thing I remember from my Marriott park orientation training was that Cleanliness was every employees' responsibility from the General Manager all the way down to every front-line employee. It was really stressed when I went through supervisor training. It was a company cultural thing that when you saw a piece of paper or a cup laying on the ground, you were expected to bend over, pick it up, and put it in a trash can....and everybody did it.
"...and enjoy the rest of your day here at Marriott's GRRRREAT America"
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Postby Papas » Sun Aug 10, 2008 2:28 pm

That was one of the things Shapiro got very worked up about when he came to speak at management training over the winter, "I cant stand the litter, if you are too good to bend over and pick up garbage you dont need to work here." The problem I dont think is with employees picking up the litter they dont staff enough of it anymore.

Whats very strange is I remember in 2007 the park was extremely clean, there were always tons of people walking the midways sweeping. Also in 07 they re-made a whole bunch of signs around the park and put really heavy emphasis on landscaping and the park looked great, it was the best ive ever seen it.

2008 it seemed they cut corners wherever possible, theres not nearly as many people walking the midways sweeping. Not only did they cut down on spending on the parks apperance, they cut the fireworks out of the nighttime show to save money as well as (obviousley not having a show in Theater Royale) people are mad because the park offered a lot of entertainment last year and doesnt offer much this year (that whole video show thing didnt go over so well :)).
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Postby EagleMom » Sun Aug 10, 2008 10:12 pm

Papas, I totally agree with you 100%. The park was in fantastic shape last summer- I was amazed by how quickly things turned around in one season! I would walk to my unit last summer and be amazed by how the park was literally transformed overnight and I was pleased to see how clean it was.

This year is totally different. Before the park opens (like I mentioned)- there is litter leftover from the night before, and I'm talking about in the main areas such as Hometown Square and Carousel Plaza!

I agree that Guests are upset from the lack of entertainment this season as well. I miss having the nightly fireworks- people enjoyed it so much!

I will address the other posts in a couple of days- my computer is down and I'm using my son's at the moment.

On a positive note, I went to the park as a Guest tonight for three hours. Arrived around 7 p.m. and stayed until close. I took two of my children, and we had a BALL! My son has autism so he is issued a red Ride Accessibility Pass. I don't like to take advantage of that, but it is necessary in his case. Anyway, we spent most of our time in Yankee Harbor and County Fair. We rode the East River Crawler and laughed and thoroughly enjoyed it. Rode Yankee Clipper three times in a row and had a ball. Rode the Whirligig and loved it as usual. Rode the blue side of American Eagle, as is was getting dark, which is one of my favorite times to ride it. Went over to the Whizzer and of course loved it as always. Went back to the American Eagle and rode it four times before the park closed. So- it was so nice to be a Guest myself and enjoy the park this way. I don't have to ride the the major thrills to have a good time. I used the loose lockers twice and actually found them to be convenient- not having to carry our souvenir cup in the queue.

Once again, thank you everybody for "helping" me come to terms with how to deal with difficult situations. I will add more to your responses in a couple of days.
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Postby geostevphen » Fri Mar 13, 2009 6:44 pm

[quote="EagleMom"]To All (so far)- thank you so much for your contributions! It was a relief to read about ...

Amen, Eaglemom! Yall, in my boredom, I watch a lot of YouTube and love to put my 2cents in anyplace someone is gutsy enough to allow a place to stick my foot. There is this back n forth going on about an "Incident involving a youth and a fence near Atlanta; a fatality resulted". Everyone was either "Dumb Kid" or "Bad Six Flags". I love the park, I said, it's a bit of both. I was told I was wrong and favor (racial slur). I considered it was from Georgia and told them they were wrong. It's partially SF responsibility. How? Why is it Six Flags is 'them' when in reality, it's the person out in the park, costumed, sweeping, selling, loading, grouping, hosting (the jobs we all did, i'm no VP) that can make or break the parks reputation? And now it's late season, staffing is at an all time low times tough, "we" easily remove ourselves from SF and it's back to Six Flags is now this floating head with no arms, legs, fingers, toes? I'll make my point. People come into that park in exchange for $40 dollars, do you know what $40 buys today? (And I've closed Fiddlers Fling, single operator, in 100 degree heat, OC, Three breaks.all day I know what a crappy day is all about). For that money, I hypothesize they expect minimally two things: First and most importantly that SF will keep an eye to safety and assure that while doing the crazy gravity defying things one does at a them park, they will be assured saftey, Even in the absense of thinking about it. They trust SF will watch for them. If you don't think so, ouch, you're in the wrong summer job. Secondly the employees will assure they have an unusually fun and exciting day. Worth $40/head. This is what its all about. They do not think 'the best', they are excited, they come with expectations of a great day. When they are let down, they are disappointed. Can you imagine planning a day at SF and having someone you love, maybe your little bro/sis who was so excited, just couldn't think about what was safest and best. And they COME HOME IN A COFFIN? Sincerely, if you hit a fifth day in August, O/C and are at the end of your rope...tell your seasonal supervisor 'you're there' and most likely, they'll get the pic and get you some time off. Sometimes, some folks, that's the only way to relieve that pressure. And others can go on, and on and on and on, smiling, killing em with kindness because that's how they're built. Take care of the guest; give them a reason to see that being nasty to you is unwarranted: you'll do what you need to help them, sincerely. To do this, take care of your self, first. That's the only way you can do your job correctly. And HR knows this, your supervisor knows this, your manager knows this....we're all human. And above all, enjoy these days, there are few jobs like this...and if you have a good experience, you'll miss those days all the rest of your career.
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reply to geostevphen

Postby EagleMom » Thu Mar 19, 2009 8:52 pm

I think you bring up an excellent point- even when people have moved on in their careers and adult lives- working at an amusement park is like no other. I think that's why several people are still employed at the park since it's inception in 1976!
I started back at the call center in Guest Relations the first week of March. It's amazing for as burned out as I am at the end of Fright Fest, how having 3-4 months off really makes me excited for a new season!
I'm excited for the goals of the park this year- making Great America the cleanest park in the world. Whether we will obtain that title or not is not important- to me- it seems as if the full-time staff is really taking this seriously and all I care about is making a huge improvement over the '08 season. I would be perfectly satisfied with ANY positive change this year- that's how bad '08 was. I attended a lead/sup training two weeks ago (Guest Relations people were invited) and cleanliness will be a MAJOR goal this year, along with service. The park is in need of improved service SO badly.
I think the economy is going to provide opportunities for some positive changes. I think people in general will be taking their jobs more seriously, because we're lucky to even have one. I have noticed an immediate change in the phone calls we are receiving- and I hope it's the mood of 2009. I have yet to receive one single phone call of "entitlement" or any other issues associated with ridiculous negativity and expectations. I keep waiting for that call and it will come, but hopefully, not for awhile. Another AWESOME change up in our unit (Guest Relations) is that the park is going to be far more consistent with policies, which will eliminate a lot of problems from the beginning. There will be no refunds of tickets, and that will save us an immense amount of time- I cannot tell you how many people last year purchased tickets from the wrong park online and how much time was spent refunding those tickets. If we make it clear from the beginning that we have rules in place and that they are going to be adhered to- I think Guests will be less likely to have major entitlement issues. I say that for the second time because it is unbelievable how that attitude prevailed last year. It was almost demoralizing! If we step up to the plate as employees and provide the best service, cleanliness, etc. to the Guests, we are going to have fewer problems this year.
Ask me about this in 2-3 months... (ha ha!)
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Postby dpxtreme » Thu Mar 19, 2009 9:03 pm

^When you mention people buying tickets for the wrong park, do a lot of people buy tickets for the Santa Clara park thinking it's for the Six Flags park? I have a friend in Admissions in Santa Clara and she says they have had people trying to get in with a Six Flags Great America ticket.
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Postby EagleMom » Thu Mar 19, 2009 9:13 pm

There aren't too many people trying to get into Great America with Paramount tickets (I know that's the former owner and I'm not sure who the current owner is)- maybe one or two a season that's I've dealt with. A lot of people make the mistake of buying tickets for Six Flag America instead of Great America or buy Season Pass vouchers from another location that is less expensive than Gurnee and don't realize that we cannot honor that. A lot of people have mentioned that the website is difficult to haviate and there is a different format this year which seems more user-friendly. Also, all of the blackout dates are listed on the website instead of saying "closed" so when people arrive for a private party and cannot be let in because of a buyout, we can at least say it was advertised on the website.
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Postby EagleMom » Thu Mar 19, 2009 9:14 pm

navigate, not haviate- is that even a word?
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Postby dpxtreme » Thu Mar 19, 2009 9:29 pm

Cedar Fair currently owns the Santa Clara park.
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