Can wait times for theme park rides be too short?

February 18, 2019, 6:16 PM · Can wait times for theme park rides be too short?

That might seem an absurd question. Who wants to waste hours of their day waiting in line? But sometimes rushing from ride to ride in an empty theme park can end up leaving you feeling frustrated, too.

How on Earth could a no-wait day in a theme park cause that? Well, several Theme Park Insider readers detailed some of those ways in a recent Discussion Forum thread, Coaster Parks When You're Older. In short, if you're of the age or a physical condition where you can't handle extreme roller coaster rides in quick succession, having to wait in line can keep you from making yourself sick.

That time in between rides gives you enough rest to recover and recharge for your next adventure. But even on attractions that don't test you physically, a little space between rides can be welcomed.

Pacing remains an essential element of great storytelling. You can tell a book or movie has gone off the rails when it rushes from one plot point to the next, never taking a moment to allow you to breathe and build anticipation for what might come next. Yes, great stories include moments that take your breath away. But what fun is a coaster that just drops, and drops, and drops in a straight line, without rising up to lead into air time or turning to make your body twist?

When your day in the park becomes a blur of indistinguishable moments, you're going too fast. You need those moments in between that will make the highlights stand out.

An empty Cedar Point
The dream — a nearly empty theme park

Now, that doesn't mean we're in favor of standing in line — especially when those queues are boring old switchbacks, with nothing but billboards or ad-spewing TV screens to see. A line-skipping pass or system remains a good investment on days when wait times exceed an hour.

But whether the park is empty or you are using a line-skipping pass, find ways to pace yourself to create that epic day in the parks you will want — and be able — to relive in your memory. Plan a variety of experiences beyond popular thrill rides. Sit down for a show. Meet a character. Linger over a signature snack. Induce jealousy by posting photos for your friends who aren't there. Heck, even go ahead and wait in the queues that tell a story along the way. High ride counts never should come at the expense of enjoying yourself.

Don't be that kid who gorges on ice cream at the birthday party, then never wants a frozen treat again. Sure, a no-wait day in a park is one of those First World problems. But should you be fortunate enough to encounter one, pace yourself. Don't waste that golden opportunity for a wonderful day.

Replies (12)

February 18, 2019 at 7:02 PM

I love the picture you chose...somehow it looks familiar. Hey, wait a minute- I was there with you! Media Day for Steel Vengeance- had a great time that day, and we got to ride it before they added the handholds (and before the brakes failed). I'm not so sure about this coming season at Cedar Point. Hopefully I'll be there for the Media preview of "Forbidden Frontier on Adventure Island." Sounds rather strange, but maybe I'll be surprised. Can't wait for May, if for no other reason then that the freezing rain might stop by then.

February 18, 2019 at 9:37 PM

Robert I think you should write an article how to tackle theme parks from mid forties to late 50's. I've been lucky to experience many great rides and from my 20s and 30s can hang with the best of them. However I'm 44 years old and on my last two trips to six flags, I ended up in the ER with vertigo. It seems my coaster days were coming to end. However, on my recent trip I only went on a few coasters and had no issues. As some as said, it seems like you have to pick your battles as to which coaster to want to ride and give time in between by drinking plenty of water and giving your bearings a rest. I think an article on which rides to avoid, food to avoid, how much to drink etc....would be really cool.

February 18, 2019 at 9:52 PM

I started to type a response, then realized as it was getting longer and longer that, you're right, that should be another blog post.

So look for it sometime later this week. Thanks!

February 18, 2019 at 9:55 PM

During the off season Knotts Berry Farm can be like this. It’s a wonderful experience to be able to take your time, browse the shops, look for the little details (Knotts has A LOT) and experience the park at a leisurely pace. No hopping from ride to ride, just soak everything in and have a great relaxing day

February 19, 2019 at 1:24 AM

There's no such thing as wait times being too short (well, unless they are consistently so short that the park is operating at a loss). There is, however, such a thing as ride intervals being too small. Particularly when it comes to high intensity thrill rides, doing them back to back to back with little time in between is not a good idea, and even though I can ride almost anything without an issue after 40+ coaster rides in 6-8 hours I start to really feel it. On a quiet day (no waits over 10 minutes or so), I usually use what I call a 3:30 rule...after three high-intensity rides, I'll spend 30 minutes doing other things (calm rides, browsing, photography, food, etc.) before stepping onto the next coaster. It can be tempting to have an ERT session and just keep going around and around, but unless that one ride is your only reason for visiting it may wind up ending your visit prematurely.

February 19, 2019 at 1:55 AM

Agreed, interval between rides matters more- everyone wants as short a wait time as feasible. I'm in my mid-fifties and still enjoy all the attractions at theme parks and amusement parks- though the experience of each theme park destination should be about more than just rides and attractions. I enjoy the atmosphere, the shows, the spectacles and, yes, since I am a themed entertainment professional, I do tend to spend time analyzing details- including the guests and the staff. Mostly, I enjoy being a guest when I can and love being in fan-mode- it's the best part of having a Peter Pan syndrome! :)

February 19, 2019 at 7:11 AM

The only time I find too-short wait times an issue, is when the the park has done such a great job making the queue entertaining, and I want to experience it. Last time I rushed through the line for Star Tours on a quiet Disney Studios day, I found myself missing some of the excitement as you go through the line, listening to the droids do their schtick. Same with a lot of the newer, big, E-Ticket attractions in major parks. I want to see what they've done to make it entertaining. And sometimes the line is a better experience than the ride itself (looking at you King Kong). They can be those moments in Robert's book/movie analogy, where the characters and story builds.
Now, I hate standing in line as much as the next line...but I also like to see all the detail possible in a good queue design. (Just keep the line moving - I despise when I get stuck standing still when the ride system breaks down).

February 19, 2019 at 7:51 AM

I think from the hard-core thrill junkie's perspective, lines can never be too short. However, I think from a park's perspective, they can. I think back to Hard Rock Park, and in particular the Led Zeppelin coaster. The way the queue was setup, guests were supposed to listen to the entirety of "Whole Lotta Love". In fact, designers explained during the media day for the park that the band's representatives requested that riders listen to the song from beginning to end. The way the park accomplished this (with a ride length of just under 2 minutes yet a song length of nearly 5 minutes with a somewhat lengthy drum solo) was to place riders into a pre-show theater (already in queues for each designated row of the train) to experience the first half of the song. Once the song reached the drum solo section, the track loops as riders are led to the trains (the sound system on the train was looping the same section in time with the speakers from the station and pre-show theater). Once the train was dispatched, the on-board sound system resumed the track leading to the wailing Robert Plant queue as the train descended the first drop.

The perfection of the sound design and logistics on the ride were incredible, but it required a line to form. For season pass holders and guests just wanting to re-ride the best roller coaster in the park, it became frustrating to be placed in that pre-show theater when they knew there were a dozen or more empty seats on the train that was loading. The park got a lot of complaints about the queuing so much so that they eventually paid the band extra money to be allowed to dump the pre-show and play the beginning of the song throughout the queue (instead of archival footage of other Led Zeppelin songs and performances).

Busch Gardens Williamsburg had a similar problem with Curse of DarKastle. Lines stretched for 45-60 minutes on average throughout the ride's first couple of seasons. However, after the attraction's popularity settled down, more and more guests didn't want to wait in the pre-show room prior to boarding the Golden Sleighs. Eventually, BGW turned the pre-show room that was separately queued into a walk-through, meaning that if the line was moving quickly or if you were too busy playing with your cell phone, you never got a chance to watch the pre-show video that explains the story of the ride and the characters that you will meet (honestly the pre-show wasn't helped by the poor acoustics of the pre-show room even before the switched the queuing. For a well known IP like Harry Potter, Avatar, or Star Wars, you probably don't need a pre-show video to introduce the story and characters, but for a unique, in-house IP, it's really important to the success of an attraction for guests to know what's going on during the ride.

I can think of dozens of other rides where the queue is an integral part of the ride, and simply blazing through the line right up to the load platform can dramatically lessen the experience. Whether it be humorous ride instruction videos (like Men in Black), elaborate backstories (like Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye or Escape from Gringott's), or just overall scene setters (like Forbidden Journey, Flight of Passage, or Spiderman), whizzing up to the front of the line is not always the best.

It's actually quite counter-intuitive, because the most popular rides with the best queues are the ones that guests are always trying to find ways to shorten the lines. I admit, I have a strong disdain for lines, and am often guilty of doing whatever is possible to ensure that I'm on the ride in the shortest possible time. In some respect it's like watching a movie by starting somewhere after the middle - you can usually figure out what's going on, but perhaps fail to recognize the genius of the entire work because you've only seen the climax or iconic scenes.

It is a tough balance, because the longer guests wait in line, the less time they have to spend money and more frustrated they become by the number of attractions they can experience in a single day. However, there is something to be said for walking through the line to understand the heart and soul of an attraction. What Universal did with Forbidden Journey with their "Castle Tour" was brilliant, allowing guests to walk through the queue without having to wait in the line (though if you wanted to actually ride, you still had to either stand in the regular line or use UE or the single rider line - which skipped most of the queue). I'm surprised Disney didn't do a similar thing with FoP (I never actually walked through the interior queue because we only went through the FP queue, which leads guests up to the grouping zone), and hope that they offer a FJ-like tour for the Galaxy's Edge attractions so guests can see the level of detail in the queues if they only ride the rides with FP.

February 19, 2019 at 3:36 PM

I like AJ's 3-30 rule. I'm going to try it out at BGT this week if I can wrap up my work early and slip off to the park one afternoon. But at BGT it's easy to find something to entertain yourself with for 30 minutes while you're centering yourself for the next intense ride. They've got the animal exhibits and some pretty decent shows and landscaping.

Finding something to look at for 30 minutes at a Six Flags park is a bit more challenging. Six Flags has improved over the past few years, and I want to be more positive about it, so I've stopped counting the wads of chewing gum stuck on the walls in the Batman: The Ride queue or trying to find the person in the park with the most visible body piercings. I'll have to start checking out the landscaping and theming a little more closely to see if they're doing better. On my visit to SFMM a few weeks ago, the park actually had a pretty decent ambiance.

February 19, 2019 at 7:48 PM

At Universal Studios Hollywood last week, my first ride on Harry Potter had a line that was too short. It was my first time ever and a wanted to look at everything. But, my ride partner wanted to race thru. Thankfully my second ride queue was about 20 minutes so, I could look around.

February 20, 2019 at 10:13 AM

Relating to both articles, we once had a couple of days at universal Orlando with express passes, yet it was very quiet and we were literally on everything in less than 5 mins, even rides without the express. Both days we were there at 10 and finished by 3. I agree with others that a bit of a queue to slow you down and take in the atmosphere is much better. For me a 10 min wait is ideal - enough to build anticipation without getting bored.

I’m 50 in 6 weeks :-( (I must change my avatar pic I think it’s about 5 years old lol) and I have noticed my tolerance of fast spinning or heavy coaster rides dwindling over recent years - is this normal? :-O

February 20, 2019 at 12:21 PM

With line-skipping passes there is a strong temptation to get the absolute maximum value out of them by getting as many rides as possible in the shortest time possible when it would actually make more sense to exercise moderation, knowing that you have all the time in the world because you don't have to wait in that hour-long queue. I yielded to temptation at SeaWorld on Monday by choosing to ride Mako 4 times in a row because 1) I could; 2) I have no plans to go back to Orlando anytime soon; and 3) I was determined to get my money's worth out of Quick Queue although it cost me only $30, lol. There was no other compelling reason to do this and in fact it was becoming wearisome, especially for a 67-year-old and especially considering that that brought the total number of coaster rides since entering the park to 8. So I watched an orca show and hung out with the dolphins, languishing in the Florida heat. My energy level was really low at this point and I had to get it back up b/c I was meeting a friend later to ride more coasters at another park. Two rides on Manta gave me the shot of adrenaline I needed but I definitely could have paced myself better.

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