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Will you pay to skip the lines at a theme park this year?

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Published: May 4, 2012 at 2:26 PM

We've been talking a lot about theme park's ride reservation systems lately. Disney's testing its new, NextGen "xPass" system this week, and Jim Hill's got a great description of how that system's working. At the same time, Universal Orlando is testing a new Q-Bot system for ride reservations, and chains such as Cedar Fair are expanding their reservation systems.

Toy Story Midway Mania
It might be free of charge, but Toy Story Midway Mania is likely Disney's toughest FastPass to get.

Disney remains unique in the industry in offering its ride reservation service, Fastpass, for free to daily visitors. (You do have to be staying at a Disney Hotel to be considered for inclusion in the xPass trial.) Universal Orlando offers its Universal Express access to on-site hotel guests at no additional charge, as well. But at all the other chains, if you want to skip a line, you have to pay first.

Will you consider buying one of these skip-the-line tickets this year? That's our vote of the week. Let's review what the ride-skipping options are at the major theme park chains:

Universal Orlando: Universal Express Plus allows one time to skip the line at each attraction. (Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Pteranodon Flyers, and Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit are not included). Price ranges from $19.99 - $69.99, based on the day and number of parks you visit.

Universal Studios Hollywood: The Front of Line pass gets you access to the priority boarding lane or reserved seating area at all attractions, as well as access to behind-the-scenes presentations at Waterworld, Terminator2: 3D, and Animal Actors. The price is $149, but that also includes park admission, which is $77 at the gate.

SeaWorld and Busch Gardens: Quick Queue offers two options, one that allows a single time skipping the line, and another that allows unlimited skips. Prices range from $15 - $55, based on the option you select, as well as the day and park you visit.

Cedar Fair parks (including Knott's Berry Farm, Kings Island and Cedar Point): Fast Lane gives you unlimited skips to selected attractions. Prices range from $30 - $55, based on when and which park you visit. Discounts are available if you buy multiple passes.

Six Flags parks: Flash Pass offers three levels: On the Regular level, you don't get to skip any waits, but don't have to stay in the actual line. The Gold level offers you sharply reduced wait times, and the Platinum level allows you to ride twice after the shorter Gold-level waits. Prices are $45 for the Regular option, $60 for Gold and $105 for Platinum. Discounts are available for buying multiple passes at once.


Please tell us in the comments what you think about these various plans, especially if you think one or more of them is a better buy than the others.

Thanks for reading Theme Park Insider, and have a great weekend!

Readers' Opinions

From Jorge Arnoldson on May 4, 2012 at 2:50 PM
I'm planning on staying at the Royal Pacific in June. I can't wait for the free Express pass perk!
From Tom Rigg on May 4, 2012 at 2:52 PM
Generally I only buy these for special events. This year I will be buying priority boarding at Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Tampa for Howloscream and Universal Studios Orlando for Halloween Horror Nights. That said, I couldn't see buying it on a regular day of operation.
From Caroline Davis on May 4, 2012 at 2:56 PM
It depends on the amount of time you have to spend in a park. When I know I have limited time and I might miss out, I will buy one. I'm planning on not buying one at PortAventura because I have time to do a few hours a day for each day of my vacation this year.

When I went to Six Flags Magic Mountain, I only had a day to do all of it, so I bought a Flash Pass. I would not have enjoyed my day without it.

From Melanie Howe on May 4, 2012 at 3:25 PM
I voted "no" because we always stay onsite at Universal. But like Tom R., we absolutely, positively, always buy the express pass for Halloween Horror Nights. Having the chance to actually enjoy all the houses in one night is worth the extra money to us :-)

Last year, they had a great package that combined multiple-night tickets with the express. We went more nights, had express every night, and paid less than we had in previous years. Hope they bring that option back this year!

Did want to add one thing about SeaWorld's quick queue option.... I don't know how much it costs, but unless you're going at a horribly busy time of year, I couldn't see the point in ever buying it. I was just there last week -- walked right on to Manta in the single rider line and only waited about 20 minutes for Atlantis with my mom.... Guess it would depend on your situation.

From Mike Gallagher on May 4, 2012 at 3:42 PM
Don't expect to...unless a companion wants to and will spring for most of the cost if not all, or..to a much lesser extent..circumstances dictate. Since I've never paid for one, I'm unsure what those "circumstances" would be.
From Eric Malone on May 4, 2012 at 3:46 PM
They're just way too expensive. I make decent money doing what I do, but doubling the price of my ticket just to get on the rides once for minimal wait just isn't really my deal. I'm a pretty patient guy and, sure, front of the line access is pretty sweet, but it's in no way worth $70 on the worst of days.

I've had this opinion on this sort of thing for years, especially since Universal introduced it. I recall going up to the cart, being like, 'Oh, well, twenty, thirty bucks might be worth it to guarantee going front of the line on everything.'. Then I saw the price was something in the range of $60, and I laughed and walked off.

From AJ Hummel on May 4, 2012 at 4:30 PM
I won't be purchasing one directly, but since it is included at Canada's Wonderland as part of the cost of a tour I'm doing I still voted yes. I've used these at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Dollywood, and several Six Flags parks, and in my opinion they are worth it at any park you're not local to. For example, I'd never buy a Flash Pass at SFMM since I visit several times a year, but if I went back to SFGAdv I'd definitely purchase one because I'd want to make sure i did everything and wouldn't know when I'd be returning. Also, if you want to get everything done, it is almost always cheaper to spend one day at the park with a skip the line pass than it is to spend two days there when you factor in lodging.
From Charles Reichley on May 4, 2012 at 4:47 PM
I said no, but realized that I did use these passes for halloween, first at our local park because I'm a haunt monster so we only had one night free to do everything.

At Busch Gardens they had a deal where you could pay $5 to skip the line at any time. So when we were running late, we put down the $5 and skipped one of the bigger lines. I would not have paid $25 for a pass, but if things were more crowded, I could see making 5 individual $5 decisions to skip lines.

From Doug Jenkins on May 4, 2012 at 6:04 PM
No, because I only stay onsite at Universal Orlando, (annual pass holder). Disny and I are done for a few years. When you figure the extra cost, (one night gives you unlimited front of line for 2 days), against standing in 45 to 1.5 hour lines for all the big rides during peak season. Being able to do both parks in a shorter amount of time and ride each ride several times, it is well worth it. If staying overnight, it is a "no brainer"
From James Rao on May 4, 2012 at 6:59 PM
I never plan to buy any express pass tickets, but as Mike wrote in his post, I would do so (and have done so) when it is required in order to have a good day at the park. But honestly, I try very hard to plan my trips around days when crowds are at an absolute minimum.
From Dominick D on May 4, 2012 at 7:35 PM
No, but I go during non-peak times anyways, plus I don't feel like paying. FASTPASS is the way to skip lines IMO.
From Beth Olliges on May 4, 2012 at 9:17 PM
According to the park's web site, Dollywood offers a line-skipping system, as well. Theirs is called Q2Q and involves an electronic device called a Q-bot. It seems much more reasonably priced, at $15 per guest ($12 for season passholders), but I still doubt we'll spring for one on our trip there unless the lines are horribly long.
From N B on May 5, 2012 at 1:04 AM
Fastpass doesn't really let you skip lines on your terms and you can't just walk on whenever you feel like it. All other paid versions let you get on a ride almost instantly.

You also have to wait until you used your first one to collect another. Basically, you spend a whole day at the park.

I voted yes because I am sure we will hit SFGA at the end of Summer and Busch Gardens on our vacation, I will purchase them at both parks.

From Dionne Oliver on May 5, 2012 at 2:35 AM
I voted yes. I got a one day/2park universal for $25.99. Worth every penny,i don't mind queueing. But with my 6 yr old niece with us (who liked to moan) it was great.
From Mark Hollamon on May 5, 2012 at 5:54 AM
I initially voted no, but it would really depend on my situation.

My wife and I live in Orlando, so we don't wait in long lines, period. If the park is too busy we take a lap around the park, get a treat and have lunch, then go home.

We have been Premier Passholders at USF and I really love the after 4 Express Pass feature on the pass, but honestly after 4PM most days of the year (not including summer months) you can walk right up to the front of the queue on almost every ride at USF or IOA, so the price of the pass is a little steep for that feature.

If we were travelling on vacation, I would probably purchase express passes IF we were limited on time. We have helped many people plan their vacations here and the first thing we always ask (in a PC way) is "what do you have more of: Time or Money?". That kind of dictates how to plan. BTW if you answer "neither" to that question our advice is to stay at home and save until you have one or the other!

From James Gerber on May 5, 2012 at 6:04 AM
I will never go to a park that charges extra to go to the front of the line.

I had a miserable time at Universal Studios in Florida because of this "feature". Lines were atrocious because rich folks could afford to go right in.

From O T on May 5, 2012 at 6:20 AM
Thankfully I can visit the parks when they are almost empty. In Feb you can walk on Harry Potter of Splash Mountain and there is no waiting involved. So no, I´ll never pay for it. You also always miss a part of the line and at a lot of attractions it´s part of the story and the ride and I wouldn´t want to miss it.

What the parks are trying (I think) is try to have people stand in line as less as possible. Thats good for the guests (but I´m sure they couldn´t care less) but it´s even better for them because guests will have more time to shop and eat crappy overpriced food.
When a park is turning into a class system where the hard working client who has to save his money all year to get a few days to an already very expensive themepark to get a lesser experiance to the high roller who can smak down a lot of money to skip the lines I would feel not very happy and I would never come again. If I could pay it would I do it, no, I would go when the crowds are thin, like I do now.

From Mike Gallagher on May 5, 2012 at 8:23 AM
J. Gerber said: "I will never go to a park that charges extra to go to the front of the line."

That's a pretty limiting statement. I admire your resolve, and I'm doing my best so far to stick with my aversion to these plans. Before too long that statement will mean the only parks you'll go to will be tiny, local, family parks. Even places like Kennywood and Dollywod...which are not part of the Disney/Cedar Fair/Universal/Six Flags spectrum..have introduced some form of paid line cutting.

From Larry Zimmerman on May 5, 2012 at 6:45 AM
I'm a bit leery of this pay-to-play perk.

This removes any incentive for the park operator to bring up extra ride capacity on busy days. They now have a financial incentive to keep the regular lines moving as slowly as possible -- because some riders will pay extra to skip that slow-moving line.

I've heard it said that IQ's drop about 10 to 20 points when people get into an amusement park or theme park -- this is confirmation of that observation.

From Mike Gallagher on May 5, 2012 at 8:25 AM
^But the IQ's of the people who count the money are going in the other direction in many cases.
From Charles Reichley on May 5, 2012 at 8:43 AM
BTW, I forgot to add my agreement with those who feel cheated when you pay $70 for a ticket, you wait in line because that's the universal rule of humankind, and then people who have more money get to pay extra and jump to the front, making your wait even longer (note: I wouldn't mind a bit if they got quicker and it didn't impact the rest of us).

The absolute worst though in my mind was how Universal Orlando does "Rip Ride Rocket". It's bad enough that we wait for 45 minutes while others get 2-minute fast-path to the ride, but then the only way you get to ride the front is if you paid extra. That sucks. If I want to wait an extra 20 minutes for the front, I should be allowed to do so. Restricting front-of-the-ride to extra-paying guests really pissed me off.

And I don't think parks want their guests being upset or feeling mistreated.

I'm not a fan of Busch Garden's method of handling the fast pass -- they have a reserved seat, it's not the front, but it means a row often goes off without anybody sitting in it -- unless the 3rd-row people get smart, and sneak over into it (I often choose the 3rd row for that reason, because it will move faster).

From Melanie Howe on May 5, 2012 at 10:31 AM
I understand your frustration, Charles, but it might be misdirected in the case of Rip Ride Rockit.... To my knowledge, Universal does not currently allow use of the express pass on this coaster. (Correct me if I'm wrong, but I was just there last week and didn't notice an express pass option....Not that it mattered as the park was pretty dead that day...)

I think in this case you're thinking of the single-rider line, which is open to anyone. And from what I've observed, the Rockit staff are very good about filling the cars from the main line and only sitting single riders when there is a legitimate hole. I've done single-rider on that coaster twice and, honestly, the first time I did it I think it would have been quicker to just wait in the regular line.

From Dominick D on May 5, 2012 at 12:30 PM
HRRR has a singler rider line.
From Stevo B on May 5, 2012 at 3:41 PM
Waiting in line gives me a chance to people watch.
From James Rao on May 5, 2012 at 5:00 PM
@Larry

You wrote: "This [paid access] removes any incentive for the park operator to bring up extra ride capacity on busy days. They now have a financial incentive to keep the regular lines moving as slowly as possible..."

Amen. I have already seen this lousy business practice in use at Worlds of Fun. It is one reason I likely will not be back to my local park this summer (the other reason is that, frankly, three good coasters do not a good park make - can you say, "stationary carnival?").

Anyway, I am fine with parks rewarding those who want to pay more, but they should not punish the rest of us.

From 98.155.253.35 on May 6, 2012 at 1:27 PM
I used the VIP upgrade to tour Universal Orlando once. I traveled over 4,000 miles and had limited time. Although it was a time saver (done by 2 pm), I missed the theming of the ques. It also felt odd waiting in a room looking over the other park goers streaming into the park. I grew uneasy sitting on the comfy sofa, watching ET on the enormous screen, and hearing the running and commotion outside as the minutes ticked by. We got underway about 45 minutes after park opening. I still remember the angry looks and comments from people waiting in line. Our tour guide got chewed out by a woman staying at the Portofino Hotel. Our group was hardly rich. It was my friend and I, a stereotypical hillbilly looking couple on their honeymoon, and a unshaven guy with three teenage kids. We cut in front of her group for the Hulk Coaster. She went off on how she was assured that by staying on property and at the most expensive hotel, that her group would not have to wait. Our guide calmly explained that we paid for VIP privileges. It was surreal watching the regular crowd fuming and rallying for someone that paid to cut in front of them as well. I don't know if a manager intervened, but rules were rules and VIPs went first. We got ushered on the ride and we left the scene. After that experience, I'd say that I won't pay to skip lines.
From 82.25.222.250 on May 6, 2012 at 1:47 PM
I think if all the parks want to make their customers happy and hope that they keep returning they should reduce the prices of express tickets after all we are in a recession
From Tracy Bates on May 6, 2012 at 5:07 PM
I always stay at the Royal Pacific to for the convenience and very much love the skipping the lines perk.

I do plan on going on the behind the scenes coaster tour at Busch Gardens Williamsburg on my next visit, which comes with passes to bypass the line on all their big coasters. I'm more interested in the tour, but am more than willing to suffer through skipping the lines on the others.

From TH Creative on May 7, 2012 at 4:35 PM
I voted "No."

I also would have voted "no" if the question had been: "Would you stay at a theme park resort hotel that charged you a daily fee to park?"

From N B on May 7, 2012 at 8:15 PM
I would have voted no to "Would you pay premium prices to stay on-site where the only benefit is free parking at the hotel / theme parks and you can stay later to feel like you got your moneys worth".
From Jake Johnson on May 9, 2012 at 1:38 PM
NO is my final answer..

We usually go during off time of the year, march april, or sept oct so the wait is min at best.. least year in sept at harry potter ride we walked almost all the way to the castle before we got to the "line". It was nice to slow down in the castle to see all the stuff that is going on so it worked out nice.. now during the summer HELL NO... would not go as its way to busy.

my kids are on a different school schedule than most other school in the east coast so we have little wait at most places.. longest was like 15 min at forbidden journey ride. sign out front was saying 45 min.

we do tend to see more UK students on holiday during that time so we are talking with them in line which is neat.. one time i ask a couple on their first trip to the states how they like the colonies,, after a pause they gushed WONDERFUL...

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