How to skip lines at theme parks

October 27, 2016, 10:12 AM · No one likes waiting in lines. Disney and occasionally Universal will try to distract you with elaborately decorates queues for their top attractions, but most of the time, waiting is wasted time in a theme park. And when you are paying up to (or even more than) $100 a day to visit, you should not be wasting any of your time.

So how do you skip the lines at Disney, Universal, Six Flags, and other theme parks? That's the question Natalie and I discuss in this week's Theme Park Insider episode:

You've got three basic options to get out of waiting for any theme park ride: pay, plan, or provoke.

Pay: You can pay for front-of-the-line access or ride reservations at almost all theme parks. What's the difference? A ride reservation system essentially holds your place in line so you don't have to wait in a queue. Once you activate it — either by making a reservation online in advance or by physically "checking in" at the attraction — you will get a return time when you can get on the ride without waiting in the regular queue. Think of this as a "virtual queue" — you still have to wait to go on, but you don't have to stand in the line.

Front-of-line access is just that. It allows you to immediately go to the front of the line to get on the ride, without waiting — in person or virtually. Here are the some of the paid line-skipping options at major theme parks:

Universal Orlando: Universal Express is a front-of-line pass that you can use one time per attraction. An Unlimited version also is available and is provided at no extra charge to people staying at one of three Universal Orlando hotels: The Portofino Bay, the Hard Rock, and the Royal Pacific.

Universal Studios Hollywood: Universal's original park offers a Front of Line ticket that offers one-time, no-wait access to the park's attractions. It also offers a VIP Experience that includes a guided tour of the park and its backlot, a catered lunch, and no-wait access to all attractions. Note that park admission is included in these tickets, unlike the other options listed here, which are upcharges.

SeaWorld/Busch Gardens: Quick Queue is another front-of-line upgrade that can be used once per attraction, with an Unlimited option also available.

Cedar Fair: Knott's Berry Farm, Cedar Point, Kings Island and the other Cedar Fair parks offer Fast Lane, an unlimited front-of-line upgrade.

Six Flags: Flash Pass is a virtual queue system available at all Six Flags parks. The Gold upgrade cuts in half the wait time before your scheduled return and the Platinum upgrade cuts 90 percent of the wait time.

Disney does not offer a paid ride reservation system — its Fastpass and Fastpass+ systems are free of charge. But it does offer VIP Tour Services at its theme parks, which include no-wait access to all available attractions. It's pricey — costing several hundred dollars an hour with a minimum tour time — but it can give a large group a convenient way to see a park's highlights with no waits or hassle.

Plan: Don't want to pay extra to get out of waiting in line? Then you will need to plan. First, be sure to buy your admission ticket in advance and arrive before the park opens. You'll want to get on as many popular rides as you can before lines build up later in the day.

The trick is to identify the rides that will have the longest wait in the middle of the day and do those first thing after the park opens, when they have little or no wait. Here are some of those rides, at the nation's most popular parks:

At the Walt Disney World theme parks, use the Fastpass+ to make advance reservations for up to three attractions for each day of your visit. Here is our advice for using Fastpass+ most effectively. In California, follow our plans for getting the most from Fastpass and visiting Disneyland and California Adventure. And if you are visiting Tokyo Disney, read our guide to using Fastpass at those always-crowded parks.

If you are visiting by yourself — of if you are willing to split up to save time — you can cut your wait times by using single rider lines at major attractions.

If you are visiting with children who are too short to get on certain rides, you and your partner don't each have to wait while the other watches the kids. All parks offer child swaps on their height-restricted attractions, where the first adult goes through the regular queue while the second waits with the child. After the first adult comes off the ride, the second can go on immediately, with no wait. Ask at a ride's entrance about child swap.

If you or a companion has a disability, ask at the park's guest relations office about their guess access system. At Disney and Universal, this operates as a parallel Fastpass/virtual queue system, where you will be given a return time for each attraction after you check in, freeing you from physically having to wait in line. The days of using a wheelchair to "backdoor" rides and skip the lines are long gone. Most modern queues are wheelchair accessible, and even if they are not, guests in wheelchairs almost always will have to wait their turn before boarding.

If you are wondering about when to visit, don't worry about it. The calendar is becoming less and less effective as a line-skipping strategy. Other than avoiding busiest weeks of the year, other strategies will save you more time than trying to find few remaining days with no crowds. The busiest weeks are Christmas to New Year's, Fourth of July week at the regional amusement parks, and spring break in Florida. At the Disneyland Resort, also try to avoid the the final week before summer blockouts for Southern California Select annual passholders and the first week after those blockouts lift. Check Disneyland's annual passholder blockout calendar for the specific dates.

But if you really must visit an empty park, go on a rainy day.

Provoke: Let's turn to the Dark Side for a moment. There are other ways to get out of waiting in a theme park, but you will risk provoking those around you if you pull any of these stunts. So don't.

You could pretend to rejoin your party up ahead and barrel through the queue. You could lie and get disabled guest access that you don't really need. You could just find the front of the line and jump in, with no excuse and zero ----s given as to what people think.

And all of us will pray for karma to bite you in the rear end.

Now if you are one of the good people who don't provoke people this way, don't take the bait when you encounter someone whom you believe to be cheating. Karma loves irony, and wouldn't you hate to be the one who busted the parent whose child really was about to have an accident in line, so they left to go to the bathroom? Or who assailed an autistic person and their family? Or who yelled at the family who actually heard the spiel to "fill in all available space" in a pre-show area that you thought was a linear queue? Be cool, don't provoke others by cutting, but don't provoke others by making accusations, either.

What do you do to avoid the lines at your favorite park?

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Replies (12)

October 27, 2016 at 10:49 AM · Stated in the article and obvious to at the park before it opens. Wait outside the gate at rope drop to avoid waiting for the first hour or two in attraction queues.
October 27, 2016 at 11:52 AM · Exactly as Robert said: get to the park early and hit the most popular rides first. My home park is Great Adventure and Kingda Ka is so much in demand that queues of 90 minutes + are common. Although there are far better coasters in the park, I try to hit that one as soon as the gates open and proceed to El Toro, on which I can enjoy a number of consecutive rides if I get there early enough. And yes, Robert's suggestion of going on a rainy day is a good one. I've done that on more than one occasion and can attest to the effectiveness of this strategy.

For visits to parks out of the immediate area with which one has minimal familiarity it's not always easy to make an accurate assessment of the wait times. At Six Flags Fiesta Texas the queue for Iron Rattler looked a lot longer than it actually was but not knowing that or how fast the lines move from point A to point B I bought a Flash Pass. For $35 (season pass holders get a $5 discount) it turned out to be a good investment b/c what I ended up doing was riding something with a negligible queue and by the time I got off that ride the Flash Pass was telling me that I could now ride Iron Rattler. I would immediately make a new reservation for Iron Rattler, go off to ride Roadrunner and get back on Iron Rattler fairly quickly.

The busiest times do tend to vary from park to park. On Labor Day 2 years ago Great Adventure was practically deserted whereas on Labor Day a year ago Lagoon was moderately populated. Last year I went to Hershey on the final Sunday of the season and almost everything was a walk-on.

As to Quick Queue or Fast Lane, one would do well to purchase these in advance online as quantities are limited. This past Saturday BGW was crazy busy and I attempted to get Quick Queue but they were sold out. The same thing happened recently at Hershey.

October 27, 2016 at 11:52 AM · So we should wait for an hour before gate opens so we won't have to wait an hour in line?
October 27, 2016 at 3:22 PM · When I was in Shanghai last week big groups would push their way through at Disney.
October 27, 2016 at 5:19 PM · I have it on good authority that Universal Orlando's VIP Tour, which can also include a private lunch buffet, might just be the ultimate offering for someone who wants to bypass the lines for things and even go behind and under the scenes of some attractions.
October 27, 2016 at 6:00 PM · I do like the Qbot system (I think you called it FlashPass). In an ideal park I think all guests would be issued one of these on entry.
October 27, 2016 at 9:43 PM · I made the mistake of going to Tokyo Disney Sea on a public holiday in Japan and the wait times were on average 4 hours per ride as it was the only Disney Park I had not been too I thought if I don't line up I'll miss out just as we got to the front of the line for Journey to the centre of the earth it broke down and the staff gave out fast passes for the return that had no time limit and could be used for any ride. I thanked the cast member and said I have travelled all the way from Australia and wanted to go on many more rides but would run out of time due to the crowds.. She handed me 12 of the passes and said now you will see all of the major attractions have a nice day!
It pays to be nice to Cast members when everyone else is being horrible to them. Pete from Oz
October 28, 2016 at 1:18 AM · No one would like to stand in line for a long time. But a 20 to 30 minute wait never bothered me. It gives me time to enjoy the queue, get excited about the ride and talk to my friends/family.
That said the tips are great. Most guests arrive at 11 or later so have a head start is always great.
On a side note, it baffles me that Disney is still building low capacity rides like 7DMT. It shows you don't care about the guest experience.
October 28, 2016 at 7:04 AM · The single rider lines are only faster if they're not clogged with groups of people trying to bypass the regular line.
October 29, 2016 at 10:48 AM · Great Adventure is my home park. Because of lines and not buying the $400 all year skip the line pass there are coasters I haven't even ridden this year. I haven't done Superman Ultimate Flight since December of last year. When I go I hit Kingda Ka and El Toro (my two favorite rides in the park) first and save people eating rides like Bizzaro, Skull Mountain, Batman and Nitro for later. Also I take advantage of the park's only singles line on Zumanjaro Drop of Doom. And sometimes I just ride flat rides that I haven't done before.
October 29, 2016 at 7:55 PM · "Now if you are one of the good people who don't provoke people this way, don't take the bait when you encounter someone whom you believe to be cheating."

So just allow people to cut in line?

October 29, 2016 at 10:37 PM · Weather is our biggest ally. Pick a day when it has rained until lunch time. The park will be a ghost town after that, even long after the rain has stopped. The less desirable weather you can endure the better!

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