Amusement Park Hacks

18 Strategies To Avoid Long Ride Lines

by Mike | June 10, 2017 | 11 Minute Read

When we polled the readers, the most frequent pain or problem that they mentioned about amusement parks is the waiting in long lines. If you are one of the people who only visit the park on weekends or holidays, like Memorial Day weekend, then you’re probably used to waiting hours in line.

Keep in mind, these hacks involve behavior change. To get different results, you have to do the park differently than the masses do. Deciding to go when everyone else goes, that’s the first problem!

Go when it is not crowded

When the park first opens - If you get into the parking lot before the park opens and are standing at the start of the day, you’re going to have a head start on the crowd. It is during this time that you can often walk the clean, quiet park enjoying nearly no wait time.

Early season - If your park is seasonal, there are a few weeks that serve as a soft-opening. This gives the time for the park operations to get up and running. New employees can learn their jobs while the pressure of the crowds is a little lighter. You might still hit a heavy day with the excitement in the community who has missed the park for the winter months.

Late Season - Same idea with the early season. As students return to school and college, the crowd thins out. The general population may not even realize that the park is still operating this late in the season. If your park has a special Halloween, Fall or Winter event, there may be popular times, but there will also be days of light crowds and sometimes cool weather. So bring a jacket as you breeze through the short queues!

On cold, or rainy days - Any day that starts out with a rainy prediction, and actually rainy morning or a mid-day storm causes people to change their plans. If the afternoon and evening dries up, you can discover a park with the crowds washed away.

Some holidays - I say some holidays, because typically holidays will bring in the heaviest crowds when a large number of people are off work. But a fluke, like a rainy forecast, a holiday that is in an odd position within the days of the week, or anything that can cause people to shift their plans to another day, could leave the park incredibly empty. Check the park webcam, you may be surprised!

This phenomenon is part of the Park Hacks origin story. July 4th 2016 was rainy in our region. I expected the park to be packed, but it was empty. Everyone shifted their plans to the following day, July 5th which was hot and sunny. The place was packed. That was the inspiration for me to start sharing these tips for people like the unhappy people I saw in lines on that hot, crowded day. I left as soon as I could, appreciating the day I had previously.

Mid-week - Weekdays during the Summer can be heavy, but they are almost universally better than the weekend crowds. Tuesdays, Wednesday, and Thursdays are usually better because the majority of people choose to extend a weekend to a Monday or a Friday.

Counterintuitive tactics

That first set of park hacks were more logical. They help you select optimum days on the calendar, or based on the predicted weather conditions. These next Park Hack are more in the category of being a little weird. If you “do” the park differently than the majority of people, you can find ways to beat or avoid the crowd.

Start at the back - When the park opens, everyone selects the rides that they see and start walking toward them. Only a few people break this pattern of human nature and walk to the far end of the park. This buys you some time to enjoy an empty park until the crowd spreads more evenly through.

Some parks, like EPCOT Center figured this out and staggered the opening of the back areas. The World Showcase used to be completely empty for the first two hours. It was fabulous! But now the back half opens later. The tips still works at the end of the day when few people are in the front and the majority is in the back.

Ride during parades, fireworks and shows - When the normal people are gawking at parade floats, fireworks and shows, you can get some time riding with reduced crowds. Make sure you check if the ride shuts down during the fireworks or if your path will be blocked by a parade. That can be just as frustrating. But if you hunker down, near a favorite ride, you can often repeat it a couple times while others are looking the other way.

Be there when a ride re-opens - This one is tricky. When a ride shuts down because of a storm or a mechanical problem, the crowd typically bails and goes elsewhere. If you are near when it re-opens, you can be one of the first to jump back on. But standing around waiting for a ride to reopen, is essentially the same thing you’re trying to avoid. This is a Park Hack of opportunity. Be watchful for these special moments to appear!

Ride while others are eating, eat while they ride - This tip also helps you reduce the time spent in food lines. Shift your meal schedule. Have a big brunch or a snack to get off the normal eating schedule.

Single rider lines (where available) - If you don’t mind breaking up the group or going it alone, watch for rides that offer single-rider lanes. The operators can squeeze a few more people through when the group sizes don’t match up with the size of the trains or ride vehicles.

Don’t go - This definitely falls under the counterintuitive, you realize that you don’t have to go. If you’re reading this, then you probably really want to go to the park. But you can decide, even if you’ve gone so far as to be in the parking lot, to just drive right back out to return another day. If you decide to go in on a day that is clearly crowded, you’re deciding there that you will be dealing with the crowds.

Another option relating to abstaining, would be to go but not ride anything. The park’s atmosphere, themed music, evening lights, fireworks and the crowd are entertaining features of any park. Riding rides is only one thing the park offers. The rides may be the most prominent, but they are also the things that have the lines. You can choose to enjoy the park without getting into any lines! Of course you will have to wait at the gate to get in, at security checkpoints, in food lines, and maybe even at a drinking fountain. Just remember, you only have to wait in the lines that you decide are worth it.

Sometimes, going in with full knowledge of heavy crowds, keeping your expectations set very low, can yield surprises. There are days when the lot is full, but for some reason the lines aren’t too bad. Maybe they are all over at the adjoining water park, packed into the wave pool. This happened to me the other day. I kept wondering, “where is everybody?”

The park can help

Use the app to watch ride times (where available) - Many park apps offer the ability to check ride wait times. Some have strange limitations, like you have to be in the park, with GPS turned on and using the park’s wifi to work. I don’t understand this at all, besides that the park is tracking you every bit as much as you are getting data from the app. So if you are able to see a ride’s wait is short, an app can help you decide where to go next!

Be a VIP - Sometimes a celebrity gets special treatment. A host employee can guide these VIPs through back doors and along paths that skip the lines. I’m not sure how realistic this is for any of us reading this, but it is a a way to skip the line.

Special events, season pass holders, extended hours - Occasionally there are special nights or mornings where passholders get special access to ride. If you take advantage of this, you may have an extra hour or two to ride a favorite. There are often other enthusiastic people who fit the category that gets you this access, but the main crowd, at least, will be held back during these special times.

Baby switch/swap - Many parks have a policy to allow families with a mix of big and small kids, or parents with a small infant, to wait in line together. The first parent rides while the other cares for the child. When the first rider returns, they take over with the kid and the other parent gets to ride. The way this helps, is that you don’t have to wait in line twice.

Sometimes, if you have another rider with you, like an older sibling to the infant, they may get to ride twice!

Fast Passes like at Disney - I’m not a big fan of Disney’s Fast Pass system. I see it less as a way to skip the rides, and more of a level of gamification and complication to the park. At least it is free and fairly universally applied.

The Fast Pass allows you to choose a few favorite high-priority attractions and schedules a window of time when you can pass the regular line. The Fast Pass line is shorter, but still a few minutes to wait.

The consequence is that it makes the standard line far longer for those who have not selected, or were not able to select this ride as their priority. It gives the appearance that you are jumping to the front of the line, but your total rides for the day are reduced and a lot of your attention during your visit is spent watching the clock and killing time before you reach the window on your pass.

Fast Lane - The one last option. My view on this may not be popular for some, but I found this other post presenting a view in agreement with mine on many points.

If you have used or plan to use the Fast Lane or similar option, I’m not mad at you. It is an option that the park has officially offered. So it is within the park’s rules. I consider the park offering it to be immoral. If you are frustrated by class divisions often identified in our culture, the ability to buy your way to the front of the line should be abhorrent. The cost of the ticket or season pass, should provide everyone equal access and a consistent experience. One price to cut in front of everyone else, all day, is not fair. It reduces the experience of those who do not buy, in proportion to the number of these special passes that are sold. If half the people bought them, then the two lines would be the same length, and then there would also be no advantage.

You may disagree with my view, or not see a problem teaching your kids that it is OK to pay a little extra for the privilege to cut in front of the common folk. This is another option available at the moment in many parks that helps you avoid the lines.

>> Got any more? Other Park Hackers wouldn't object to making this list better. We'd all love to benefit from your experience! Use the comments below or the Share-a-Hack form.

Photo credit: People, Crowd, Munich by Pexels CC0 Public Domain