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Vote of the week: How much would you pay to skip a line?

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Published: April 10, 2009 at 10:03 AM

SeaWorld San Diego this week announced a new ride reservation system, Quick Queue. For $19.95, you get one pass to the front of the queue on the park's three rides, Journey To Atlantis, Shipwreck Rapids and Wild Arctic, a second pass through the line on your choice of one of those three, plus one free ride on both the park's SkyTower and Bayside SkyRide.

The combo ticket for the SkyTower and SkyRide costs $5, so you basically are looking at $14.95 for skipping four queues here. That works out to about $3.75 per queue.

SeaWorld says that the price for Quick Queue is seasonal, so it might go up or down based upon demand. Which makes sense, I guess. The more people in the park, the longer the lines are, which makes skipping those lines more valuable.

Which brings me to this week's vote. How much would it be worth, to you, to skip a queue at a theme park? Let's price this per hour of wait time skipped.

So if you'd be willing to spend $10 to skip a two-hour queue, vote for $5 in the poll below. (That $5 per hour of line skipped.) Round to the nearest dollar, please.

Let's do some math here. If you are spending $60 on a theme park ticket for the day, and getting on 10 rides, you're spending $6 per ride. If you spend an extra $20 to get on four more rides that you wouldn't have been able to fit in otherwise, then you've spent $80 for 14 rides, which works out to about $5.70 a ride, a better price per ride.

You'll have to work the numbers based on the parks you attend and how many rides you typically work in during a visit. But I'd be interested in seeing what you decide. (And, I bet, some theme parks would love to see these results, too.)

Talk about your calculations, in the comments, please. And have a great weekend in the parks!

Readers' Opinions

From Deidre Dennis on April 10, 2009 at 10:11 AM
We are buying the Express Plus Pass to Universal Orlando as we are not staying on site. We did this last time and we were done with both parks easily before 6pm. For us it was definitely worth the price. I found out BGA has a Quick Queue ticket for unlimited entry to their attractions and shows, and so does Sea World Orlando. I believe the BGA Quick Queue ticket is like $26.95 per person and the Sea World Orlando one is about the same, depending on seasons. We will probably do it for BGA but we are deciding if it's worth it for Sea World. There are not quite as many attractions and we've never had a hard time getting into any of the shows, AND the lines for their rides are nothing compared to Disney. I imagine Manta will be PACKED but I understand their queue will be an attraction in and of itself.

All that to say I don't know what I'd be willing to pay per attraction. I suppose if the park has enough attractions and it will save you time, it's worth it.

From Robert Niles on April 10, 2009 at 10:13 AM
Another way to look at this would be, how much more would you be willing to pay per night to stay at a Universal Orlando hotel, versus a similar quality hotel, knowing that staying at UO gets you a free pass on all UO's rides? Then divide that by the amount of additional time you would have spent waiting in line that day.
From M. Ryan Traylor on April 10, 2009 at 10:14 AM
The only time I paid for something like that was at Magic Mountain for the flash pass and it was not worth it. The long wait rides did not have a flash pass access and the ones that did have flash pass did not have long enough line to justify skipping.

Also, I think that wait in line is part of the ride, especially at a well theme parked like Disney. Just a few weeks ago, I was at Disneyland for a friend's birthday. She and her husband are big Indiana Jones fans and have been on the ride several times, but I found them some decoders for her birthday and we spent an hour in line, letting people pass us, decoding all the puzzles.

From M. Ryan Traylor on April 10, 2009 at 10:17 AM
Robert, I must add that at Disney World I would choose to stay on site to be a part of the magic hours. Technically not skipping the lines, but it does allow access to the park for only certain guests.
From 71.52.108.251 on April 10, 2009 at 10:35 AM
Instead of (or in addition to) a pass that worked all day at different attractions, how about a Fastpass-type machine that took credit/debit cards for an instant pass, with the price fluctuating automatically according to what the waiting time was.

For example, it would be 16 cents per minute, so if the posted wait time was 60 minutes, it would cost $9.60 to skip the line. To make this system work, the pass would be good for immediate-use only, say 5 minutes before it expired.

From Michael Owen on April 10, 2009 at 10:39 AM
Personally I don't see the real need to pay for front-of-the-line access. If you get to the park for opening time and ride the attractions which are prone to lengthy lines before mosts guest arrive you don't really need to fork out the cash.

If you're with friends and family who don't want to get the the park that early then maybe it might be worth it, but I wouldn't be willing to pay too much.

From Emily G on April 10, 2009 at 1:41 PM
I think I would probably pay $4 max. I have paid around $25 in the past for an express pass at Universal Studios Florida and IOA, which I think was worth it. We used the pass on 9 rides at IOA and 8 rides at the studios I think. It enabled us to ride all the rides we wanted on a pretty busy day at each park and we mostly avoided waiting over an hour in queues.

We got there early in both cases and managed to ride about 3 of the attractions without much of a queue before the parks filled up then we rode them again later in the day with our passes.

I think it is a good idea to offer these passes for purchase, however the number available should be limited and I'm not sure if it is for the one I purchased.

From W McDougal on April 10, 2009 at 10:51 AM
I'd be willing to pay quite a bit to skip any and all lines. The parks need to institute a flexible system of payment and cost based on that day's park attendance. It's a big pot of gold that the parks need to start looking at more seriously, especially Disney which seems intent on packing their SoCal resort with cheap AP passes.
From Anthony Murphy on April 10, 2009 at 11:02 AM
$30, which I believe is the price of a flashpass at SFGA
From Mark Hollamon on April 10, 2009 at 11:22 AM
It really depends on teh time of the year and what you have more of on your trip: Time or Money. I have commented on this topic several times. Weigh your options.

If I only have a weekend for fun the last thing I am going to do is stand in line for anything if I don't have to. I actually budget that option in my trip.

If I am on a 10 day trip or if we are in off season I will stand in line because they are all very short.

From Tom Faraci on April 10, 2009 at 11:35 AM
I've never paid for anything like that and probably never will. I think they're unfair to other park guests who have to wait in line, for one thing. Generally though, I've never gone to a park and not ridden everything I had intended to ride in one day, unless of course a ride was closed or something like that.
From Amanda Jenkins on April 10, 2009 at 11:37 AM
When going to a theme park, you have to expect to stand in some sort of line. Personally, I don't mind the lines. You get to meet people from all over the world. When I was in line for Soarin' in Feb., my son and I met a very sweet family from Australia. We found out they were doing the Grand Gathering experiences, it was their first time at WDW, etc. So to me, I'm not going to pay for something that isn't really that bad. My mom has always had the best attitude about waiting in long lines and she did her best to pass it on to me, thus I am trying to pass it onto my sons. I'm not going to pay for a special ticket to get to the front of the line. I'll need that extra money for souvenirs and of course the five dollar bottle of water :-)
From Derek Potter on April 10, 2009 at 11:40 AM
I try to avoid lines by going during certain times of the year. Usually I'm successful in doing so. I might pay a little to cut for a certain ride if the line is ridiculous, but I think that a lot of people would have that idea...thus raising the price of the passes. It's a good way to take advantage of people's desire for instant gratification, but all it does for the rest of us is make the line longer.

I miss the Cedar Point freeway system. They used to give out so many free passes per hour for the big line rides. It was a one time pass, good for an hour. It seemed to work great, because they limited the number of passes. I'm not sure why they decided to stop doing that.

From Mike West on April 10, 2009 at 11:54 AM
For us there is no other way to go to Magic Mountain as a 1 nighter/1.5 day attraction. We'd either Sacrifice some, or have no repeats. And heaven forbid a Coaster goes down part of the day & you'd wasted 2 of your calculated hours.
I don't understand the comment about them not putting their top coasters.
Kudos to Magic Mountain for being the ONLY park that puts top new hot coasters on this list(like TATSU the very year it opened) rather than that cut throat logic that if you want to ride the new beast bad enough you'll wait. The only coaster they dont use on it is Superman(needs retirement badly & there isn't much line), & Vekomas Giant Boomerang Coaster Deja Vu which pushes that concept too close to the stresses that ride can take,(I don't ride coasters that don't feel safe), they even utilize the front of the line for the most wasted low capacity long line(but most neccessary ride in summer) the rafts.(Many parks exclude that attraction from this option). They raised the bar by doing that. I can't even imagine a day at a park where we had to wait in line for all attractions all the time.
Over the years The number of rides has just outdistanced the amount of time any park is opened.
And Magic Mountain has raised the bar by running it how they do.
I've visited 6 flags around the country, and the bracelets are a good way but you have to buy for each person, the pagers don't work & are cumbersom, the ticket option is good(but I always give some away when we're done) I think the suggestion of a device that lets you pay per ride is the right way to go, its the most fair, and you can judge right then & there if you need the option.(Always walk the park a little before buying fastpass, if the day is deserted & you can walk on any ride, you'll feel badly).
From 70.106.7.158 on April 10, 2009 at 11:57 AM
I think it is very telling about our society that there is a market for indulging peoples' impatience. While I may long for a world where I'm the only person at the park who happens to wanna ride Millenium Force that day such a thing just doesn't exist.

Having said that I an a proponent of any creative ways a park may wish to allow all guests (not just the ones who can afford to fork out a few extra dollars) to maximize the number of attractions that can be experienced in a day. Several years back when I was at Disneyland they had a free line jumping system with two criteria:
1) You got a time window that started after the posted wait time. (If you got the ticket at 3:00 and the wait time was 30 minutes your window would start at 3:30 effectively putting you on the ride at the same time)
2) You could only skip one line at a time.

The end result was that you could be virtually waiting for one ride while actually riding another, having lunch, shopping, etc.

From Joshua Counsil on April 10, 2009 at 1:31 PM
I agree that this indulges people's impatience. Why I like FastPass is that while I am not lazy, I am restless. I'd rather be walking or running than standing. With FastPass, I end up doing more walking and less standing.

As for a per ride basis, it really depends on the ride.

From 71.52.108.251 on April 10, 2009 at 2:32 PM
One thing we may not be taking into account is that paying for a line-skipping pass is not only about people being impatient -- it may actually be cost-effective. Because some people can't do everything they want to do at a particular park (and at a pace that is enjoyable to them) in one day, they sometimes decide to spend two days at that park.

So, to add a corollary to Robert's initial formula: If the Fastpass enables a person to spend one less day in a park, then it has value if it is priced less than the cost of coming a second day.

From big bell on April 10, 2009 at 3:00 PM
The problem of the whole concept is that charging for 'skipping the line' actually makes the lines longer for the rest of the park guests who didn't pony up the ransom.

Universal started this crap and I haven't been back there since they did nearly 10 years ago (and won't go back...they lost my business).

Disney on the other hand does everything in it's power to shorten ALL guests wait times in queues and make the queues as entertaing as possible besides.

One has a 'free' fast pass system that works great, the other has a pay extra for the privilege mentality (whether buying there ticket or staying in their over priced hotels). One is very profitable and the model for all other parks to follow, the other has decreasing attendence every year for the past several years and decreasing profits (or perhaps losses).

Which way do I think is better (and which way do the numbers prove is better)....take a guess.

And sorry, you have to actually do the real math. Not per person (unless you aren't paying or your a loner), what does it cost extra for MY FAMILY of 4-5 people to pay for this on a daily basis? Short term gain, long term pain....ala the Universal system -vs- thinking long term and treating 'all guests' as equals ala Disneys policy. Easy call in my book.

I'll never pay the ransom....I just won't go to that park or on that ride. I have actual money to spend....they aren't going to get it, someone else will.

From 86.25.177.12 on April 10, 2009 at 3:45 PM
Big Bell, Disney's model works well, at least giving guests the perception that they're getting on more rides.
I'd say there are two things to think about.

Parks usually devote between 10% and 20% of a ride's capacity - the number of people getting on every hour - to a fast pass system. Disney parks are fortunate in having a consistently high attendance and can therefore sensibly invest in lots and lots of very high capacity rides. So they can therefore reserve lots of passes for their fast pass system.

Sea World only has a few high capacity rides relative to it's attendance and has a much lower total potential ride capacity then Disney. This in turn means the number of passes available is a lot lower as well.

If you were to turn up to Sea World as the park opens and grab a free fast pass, it would work great. But turn up with the family an hour later and you'd find all the tickets had sold out, simply because there are so few available. And, bringing me onto my second point, you'd find the main ride queues would be slower because 10% to 20% fewer people would be getting on every hour.

So, make sure you turn up at park opening, and you're sorted right? Not even Disney could cope with their entire attendance turning up at park opening - the line would simply be at the admissions gate and turnstiles instead.

Is a very complex process. For most of these parks, charging for the system is obviously a way of boosting discretionary spend. But, it is also more importantly a way of fairly distributing the passes available.

Some parks are now using the Q-Bot system. It's supposed to be fairer because, from the time you book, the wait is the same amount of time as the normal queue. So you queue, but not in the queue. Guests who don't fork out for the system don't feel like guests who have are cutting the line...

One final point. Neither Universal or Disney parks are in great shape at the moment. Disney might give out their passes for free, but they charge a higher admission price and guests usually spend a lot more, as they are encouraged to stay for days at resorts. Job losses and attendance drops show that they are already feeling the pinch of the current economic situaiton.

If anyone is profitable this year, it will be the regional theme parks like Sea World and Six Flags - and probably, all the ones that choose to charge for fast passes.

From Robert Niles on April 10, 2009 at 7:10 PM
FWIW, SeaWorld is selling 500 Quick Queue passes per day, and it hasn't sold out any days yet. That's a negligible amount, which should have no effect on the regular ("stand by") queue.

At Disney, I've heard that FastPass can be 50 percent, or more, of the admissions to a ride in a given hour. That does make the stand-by line much longer than it would have been without the reservation system.

From James Rao on April 10, 2009 at 8:56 PM
The only free fastpass system I know of is Disney's. Everyone else charges something for the privilege. I like Disney's system, because it lends itself to making a touring plan quite easily, and without the extra expense, seems to be the fairest version. Although, since it is the most accessible of the fastpass systems, it also causes the longest waits when you are in the regular standby line. There is nothing worse than almost making it to the ride when a huge group of fastpass users hit the queue and delay your departure by another 10 minutes!

As for the pay systems, the one time in recent memory I went to a Six Flags park was SF St. Louis last October, and the place was jammed. I waited a hour for one coaster, then said "screw it" and blew $100 for the Flash Pass for the whole group. It was worth it. But SFSTL did such a poor job of line mgmt (open seats, half filled cars) that the Flash Pass was mandatory. And since our admission to the park was free, I didn't feel too slighted.

As for Universal, I love staying at the Royal Pacific resort and taking advantage of on-property Universal Express. Heck, you have to stay somewhere, so it might as well be a resort that is a) close to the action, b) nicely appointed, and c) relaxing, and with the Universal Express pass built into your room key, it is definitely relaxing. Basically an unlimited fastpass, on-property Universal Express means you can tour the parks when you want for as long as you want and NEVER have to worry about waiting in a long line. Unless you have utilized this perk, you cannot imagine just how relaxing your vacation becomes when the crowd factor is eliminated. It actually feels like a vacation!

And for the person who said the Universal resorts are over priced, you are definitely not comparing them to Disney, as all three Universal resorts are on par with and less expensive than comparable Disney resorts. Furthermore, from a convenience standpoint, Universal's Royal Pacific Resort beats almost anything Disney has to offer unless you stay at a monorail resort or an Epcot resort (which is about $325 to $425 per night for a "cheap" room, compared to about $150 to $200 for the Royal Pacific). Once you park your car at the Royal Pacific, you will not need to return to it until your trip is over - everything is within easy walking distance. Citywalk is 5 minutes from your room, and the parks are maybe 6 minutes away. Everywhere you go you and are surrounded by lush vegetation, fun activities, delicious restaurants, and immersive theming. Plus the Universal Express pass built into your room key is a perk that cannot be beat. In fact, I will not go to Universal without on-property reservations. Once you experience Universal's perks it is almost impossible to tour without them, imho.

I am not sure how to calculate the cost, Robert. Currently, I can book a standard room at the Royal Pacific for $150 a night, for a 5 night stay in September. That reservation would include six days of park touring with Universal Express (your room keys are still valid on the day you check out). I guess if I booked a moderate Disney resort for $160 a night, I am actually saving money by going Universal, so my cost for Universal Express is $0. Hard to beat that price! ;)

From Raul Araoz on April 11, 2009 at 11:32 AM
I am a bit torn on this. I would never pay more for the privilege of skipping lines. Theme parks already cost enough as it is with tickets, food, etc. However, when they are included as a perk of staying on-site, like Universal does, it is hard to pass up.

The Universal system works great and in actuality costs nothing. The resorts are just as nice as the one's at Disney and you get just as many benefits including the Universal Express.

I realize Disney can't do something similar at their resort simply because they have so many hotels. I am aware of their desire to give resort guests first dibs at Fastpasses, but perhaps they could segment their hotels into sections and give each one(Epcot resorts, Animal Kingdom, etc.) a specific day for front-of-the-line access. At the very least, Disney could implement the idea in California where they have only three hotels just like Universal in Florida.

However, I don't want to see theme parks turn into a caste system where the wealthier have far more privileges than average folks. Going to a park should be as egalitarian as going to the movies. I remember reading in the old Disney Magazine that factions in Imagineering were thinking of turning the parks into sporting events or theater shows where people who paid more could experience more of the rides. This was a terrible idea that thankfully appears to have died. People shouldn't have to pay more to enjoy themselves at the parks. The parks should make the experience as enjoyable as possible by designing efficient attractions and running rides to capacity.

From Eric Malone on April 11, 2009 at 2:23 PM
Personally, I don't prefer to pay to skip in line. I mean, the Express Passes, as I've not yet been to Disney to experience Fast Passes (which I assume aren't much better), only allow you to skip the majority of the line, not really to the very end of the line, so my skepticism is palpable.

I honestly don't think that any amount higher than $5 is worth any kind of line-cutting privilege.

From 97.103.84.173 on April 12, 2009 at 8:54 PM
If you're a passholder to ANY park, there shouldn't be any reason to pay to skip lines. You have the ability to go back to the park again-- so GO! (when it's not that busy)

If this is your one and only day to visit a park (and it happens to be very busy), it's worth it buying those passes.

That being said, these Fast Passes (and all its forms) are pure profit for parks and are forces not to mess around with. I've heard crazy stories of two moms fighting over the last of some free Fast Passes at Disney.

And Deidre? Busch Gardens Africa only sells about 700 tops of their Quick Queue daily (and it's good for 10 uses, not unlimited). I've worked there when the QQ sells out and guests get FIERCE when they can't buy it. I've seen them demand explanations from managers.

Personally, if you can only visit a park once and you don't have the money for these passes AND it's a busy day, then the first 2 hours and the last hour are always the shortest wait times. Between then, look at the animals, the shows, or take pics of the scenery.

From Chris Danger on April 13, 2009 at 6:55 AM
This is one of those "slippery slope" issues when it comes to park operations. Personally, if I was going to an out of town big name park (DLR,WDW) who offered a free queueing system, Id use it. When it comes to a SF/SW-esque park w/ a paid system, I wouldnt use it. I already pay enough to visit their property, why should I pay more to cut in line..
From Eli Mak on April 13, 2009 at 9:02 AM
The good thing about something like this at WDW is that most of the themed rides with fast pass entrances skip the unthemed part of the queue and place you into the beginning of the themed queue. I would no doubt pay max dollars to be able to walk into nothing more than 15 minute waits on every major attraction each day. The only thing is will something like this be available per day or for length of stay? and if so, pricing structure would be an issue, I would think to make it attractive enough to buy into it, but still cost/people-flow effective for the parks; making it an issue for the companies.

If its for length of stay, it really doesn't pay for the passive theme park goer who is pinching pennies and trying to cut cost corners for their trip. If you are going to be there for 3 or more days and be able to park hop, you may not need it depending on what you want to see. In those cases, you will be able to hit all the major attractions over the course of your stay with extended hours, regardless of wait time, but it does free up the vacation from running you ragged to hit every attraction in that time.

I would most likely pay for it either way considering much of my WDW vacations are split by staying at WDW, doing day trips to USO, other orlando attractions, and on-property attractions that are not in the parks. I am all for paying out to make things easier, and I know that to others in the park who can not afford it, it may not be fair....seriously though, with the amounts of money that is spent to get down there in the first place and to survive in the parks, whats another X amount a day to make the nuisance of the unthemed part of the queues go away? As it stands, other places besides WDW, the themed part of the queue is still traversed even with your line-jumping passes in your own row that walks past everyone else and you still get to see the themed queue, just walking fast through it...sounds like alot of plus signs in the "let me have this, please" column to me, but it does include yet another plus sign on the price tag of an already expensive vacation.

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