For years, millennials have endured an endless barrage of worthless budgeting apps, phony money diaries and toxic hustle porn. But in truth, there is only one realistic path for us to overcome our debilitating financial burdens. And Dylan, a 33-year-old electrical engineer in Santa Clarita, California, is the one who figured it out. “You can pay around $150 for unlimited, year-round access to Six Flags, which includes parking and two meals a day,” he tells me. “If you time it right, you could eat both lunch and dinner there every day.”
Maybe that sounds outlandish, but after just seven years of daily meals at the theme park, Dylan paid down his student loans, got married and bought a house.
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It all started on the first day of his internship in 2014, when Dylan noticed the rollicking coasters of Six Flags Magic Mountain from the windows of his new office. Fresh out of college and something of a coaster-fanatic already, Dylan was perusing the options for Six Flags’ annual pass when he stumbled upon what might be the deal of his lifetime — for a one-time fee of $150, he could eat two meals a day, every day at the park for an entire year. Since his office was just a five-minute drive away, it was a no-brainer.
“That entire first year, I don’t think I ever went to the grocery store,” he says. “I timed it so I was able to go there during my lunch break, go back to work, then stop back for dinner on my way home.”
Where others saw glorified carnival food, Dylan saw the world’s thriftiest food court. “It was crazy — I was saving money, paying off student loans,” he explains. “One of my coworkers said she spent $1,500 a month on eating out, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m not going down that road!’”
To be sure, the Six Flags diet isn’t for the faint of heart (or really, anyone’s heart). “The first year, the menu was kind of lame — all you could get was a burger and fries, or a pizza and breadsticks, or this pathetic sandwich and a refillable soda cup,” Dylan recalls. “It wasn’t healthy at all, which was rough.”
As such, over the next six years, Dylan pulled back to his current frequency — three or four lunches a week at the theme park. “My wife moved in and I stopped doing dinners — and weekends, too, since she’s not as big into roller coasters as I am,” he tells me. But Dylan is still there often enough that he’s well-recognized. “It’s not quite at the level of Cheers, but all the park employees, they’ll say hi,” he says.
Thankfully, the menu has evolved beyond pizza, burgers and sandwiches. “They’ve got decent options now,” Dylan tells me. “Still a lot of bad food, I mean it’s theme-park food so you can’t expect too much from them. But you find the options that aren’t terrible — stuff like tri-tip sandwiches and vegan options like blackbean burgers and meatless meatball subs.”
To say nothing of the seasonal specialties. Dylan’s first bite into a turkey hotdog called the “Thanksgiving Dog” felt nothing short of life-changing. “It was amazing,” he says. “It’s a turkey dog topped with cranberry sauce, stuffing and a slathering of mayonnaise, which I know sounds awful, but it was so good. I ended up eating way too many of them, and now I can’t even smell turkey dogs without gagging.”
Eventually, the dining pass expanded to include a snack along with the two daily meals. “But that’s where it got dangerous,” Dylan warns. “Separate from the meal, you could get Dippin’ Dots, sundaes, churros, pretzels — all that type of stuff. That’s when I started adding weight.”
These days then, he says, “I stay away from the snacks and stick to healthier options — there’s a pretty decent carne asada salad, so I usually do that now. They also have a chipotle chicken salad that’s pretty good, too.”
The only problem is, the chipotle chicken salad is on the opposite side of the park, which means it doesn’t always fit into his Six Flags daily meal calculus. “From where I park my car, to the places at the back of the park, to then back to my car, it’s usually about 5,000 steps — and I’m hustlin’,” he explains. “I could go to Hurricane Harbor [the waterpark area], but it seems weird being the only guy dressed business casual while everyone else is walking around in swim trunks and bikinis.”
That said, during the offseason, getting to any corner of the park is easy — he’ll even stop for a ride before going back to the office. But when the park is full or if he has a busy day at work, Dylan is forced to settle for something toward the front of the park, like the much-dreaded “chicken balls.” “I got so sick of those chicken balls,” he says. “I’d estimate I got them around 150 times, and at five per meal, that’s around 750 balls. I don’t know that I could ever eat them again.”
Speaking of numbers, though he says he’s never kept an official tally of how many meals he’s eaten at Six Flags, Dylan ventures to guess it’s more than 2,000, making his overall price-per-meal around 50 cents. So chicken balls be damned, he sees no reason to stop taking advantage of the Six Flags dining pass loophole anytime soon.
“We just bought a house here, so I’m not really going anywhere,” he says. “As long as they keep changing the menu, I’m happy.”