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How to Avoid Long Lines (and Waits) at Your Favorite Amusement and Theme Parks

Updated on July 29, 2012

We, as people who flock to favorite amusement and theme parks every vacation or daycation, have rides that suit our fancy. From gentle rides that even the smallest of infants will love to big-budget roller coasters where we put up our arms, we all have personal favorites. But riding them comes with huge prices. No, I'm not talking about the meals, the parking fees, the admission tickets, or that on-ride souvenir photo you always wanted.

I'm talking about the long lines you have to face when anticipating for something fun as simulator rides that spin you around or boat rides with rather repetitive songs.

Hey, some of us can't stomach waiting for an hour, give or take a few minutes, for a few minutes' ride! So, here are some great tips to ease and eliminate a lot of the pain that comes with waiting in lines.

Note: here, I'm not just talking about the theme and amusement parks in the USA. Those tips and tricks also apply to others around the world as well!

Christmas is one of the high times for amusement and theme parks, should they be lucky to open on that day. I wrote this feature on Dad's Guide to WDW on why I had to ride only 2 rides on the actual date in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. The park was packed to the brim! And that's a few years before all the Disney Parks implemented FASTPASS.

Why Are the Lines Long?

Well, theme and amusement park wait times vary by crowds, and not just any crowds. The sizes of groups and where they come from are variable with them, as well as when they peak.

  • Peak Seasons/Holidays and Out-of-Towners
    The high season for both genres of parks is the summer (including Independence Day in the US). It's the ideal season when virtually all the kids are out of school and are eager to go on a vacation, typically to any park. People travel from a state that does not have an amusement or theme park to another one that has. If those parks are lucky to operate 365 days a year (or 366 a leap-year), they also add Christmas and Easter to the list of crowd-drawing holidays.
  • Foreign Groups
    Some foreign travel groups experience the parks as the normal people of their originating nations do. For example, the turismos fly from Latin America in the summer and winter to mingle with typical visitors of Central Florida theme parks. (I know what you're thinking, those who hate Argentinean youth herds, Brazilian tour groups, and the like. But they come twice a year to help fill up Florida's revenue reserves, OK?)
  • Student Groups
    Apart from the above groups from nations, domestic groups also come to have fun in the parks too. Some theme parks hold events for them as well. (The Pop Warner Little Scholars games at the Walt Disney World Resort are great examples.)

Knowing what types of groups and when crowds are likely going to peak are factors of knowing how long the lines are in the parks. Thus, there are handy tips to have more time having fun and less time complaining in a long line.

Try Doing Disney Dead on Christmas Day - Trust Me, You'll Regret It!

Avoid New Year's Eve if the park is year-round. It's when kids are off school and when lines are long!
Avoid New Year's Eve if the park is year-round. It's when kids are off school and when lines are long! | Source

Plan Ahead

I, travel agents, theme park experts, and other veteran parkgoers can't stress this enough: plan to come in a less crowded time. Your local park may open only from Memorial Day to Labor Day, so go on weekdays whenever school is in session, if the school year ends in early June. Avoid going on special holidays, like Independence Day in the US.

If you are lucky enough to live at most an hour from one that's open 365 days a year and 366 days a leap year, go off-season. Remember, the peak seasons for year-round parks are Spring Break and summer; and the peak holidays are Christmas, Easter, and a few national holidays depending on country. If your heart is set on those at Walt Disney World, for instance, refer time and time again to my guide, The Many Months of Walt Disney World Crowds.

Buy Your Tickets In Advance

One of the longest lines in the park happens outside the admission gates. Thus, save time (and money) by purchasing your tickets in advance. If you have internet access, don't be afraid to buy them in that manner. Muetti and I did that with regular and hard-ticket event (explained later) admission and saved big on everything before even setting foot in the park. Especially if you purchased seasonal or annual passes and/or a resident of the park's home region or state, you'll be likely to receive discounts.

Go on A Weekday

Especially when the kids are in school and it's low season, plan to go on a weekday. I exclude Fridays because those who are local to the park's region flock there as well. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are likely to be the least crowded days of the week. Again, plan to go on slower times of the year, if possible.

Arrive Early in the Morning or Before Closing

Whether you are in a season where you'll encounter turismos or in one where you'll probably fight through the least crowds, arrive to the park early. Conventionally, arrive at least 30 minutes before passing through the character-labeled gates. Going to the park hours before closing? That's also great - crowds are starting to gradually thin out when you arrive!

If Arriving in the Morning, Hit the Popular Rides in the Farthest End

In most amusement and theme parks, the most popular rides are located in the rear. Please take advantage of them by going there. By midday, you'll have finished riding them before long lines intimidate you.

Although you have to face riding slow rides like this one, head to the area of a park where it's less dense.
Although you have to face riding slow rides like this one, head to the area of a park where it's less dense.

Head to the Area of Low Concentration

Even though your family of thrill seekers has to ride the considerably (by some of you) most boring rides ever, you should head to where crowds are less dense. Typically, those rides are located on the left side of the park. (I know what you are thinking: those rides are older than the new coaster at one area, but please deal with it.) The same is also true if you happen to go during a season when turismos are in full force. When you see a flag sticking out, head the other way.

Take Advantage of Ride Reservation Systems

In world fairs of old, ushers hand out timed tickets for those who hate waiting in lines. Nowadays, theme and amusement parks are doing so likewise with their rides for those who can't tolerate waiting for 2-plus hours for that roller coaster. But ride reservation systems come with prices. You either have to pay for them, stay at a hotel in the same place as the park, or both.

Well, the best parks to get to a special line that's shorter than the normal one are the Disney Parks. They have what's called the FASTPASS system. Simply insert the ticket or pass in the slot, retrieve the stub, and com to the ride at the posted times. But do this when the kiosks are less crowded and arrive earlier, especially during turismo season.

Scout Out Rides With Single-Rider Queues

A growing number of theme and amusement parks add single rider queues to a handful of rides. If you are going to a park with one of them, feel free to take advantage of them. Be forewarned, though - you and your party will separate, one person at a time.

Disabled? Ask for Special Passes

Some disabilities, like Aspergers syndrome (a form of autism) and ADHD, make individuals (especially children) be more overwhelmed by hours-long waits for 3-minute rides than normal ones. Well, a growing number of theme parks have passes designed just for them. (The Guest Assistance Cards at the Disney Parks are excellent examples.) Go to the information centers or Guest Relations with a doctor's note to obtain them.

Hold Your Tongue, Complainers!

Although you have to deal with watching shows such as Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage!, you can stagger time between riding a few rides you want while shaving off wait times.
Although you have to deal with watching shows such as Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage!, you can stagger time between riding a few rides you want while shaving off wait times. | Source

Break the Day Up With Shows

I understand how you feel about it, people who love the high thrills of coasters, simulators, and the like. But there are times when your relatives have to drag whole parties, you included, to a (from some people's point of view) blech-worthy, Broadway-style show.

(This is mainly true at, say, Disney's Hollywood Studios, especially if your parties likely have little girls who love the Disney Princesses. For the most part, you have to cope with watching Beauty and the Beast: Live on Stage! before even setting foot on Rock 'n' Roller Coaster or The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.)

If you are one of those thrill-seekers who have to watch something that is really not a 3-D or exciting stunt show, rather a show where there's bound to be kitschy song-and-dance, deal with it. Most of the venues are air-conditioned, thus they give you the relief from the heat outside. But bear with the kicklines and jazz dance routines to decades-old music, OK? This is a great way to wait until the lines are bearable enough on the big rides.

I Love A Parade, But...

Not everybody loves a parade. If you are one of them and if your party doesn't mind you skipping it, by all means do it.
Not everybody loves a parade. If you are one of them and if your party doesn't mind you skipping it, by all means do it.

Speaking of Park Entertainment, Skip it if Possible

If your party doesn't really mind, skip the parades, outdoor shows, and firework displays to go to the rides. This is especially helpful if you find any of them lame as heck. The lines are much shorter than you think, plus if you ride when the fireworks go off, you'll get exciting views of them.

Of course, there are times when the head of your party wants the whole group to sit through a parade, firework display, or outdoor show, whether you like it or not. If that happens, deal with it - the rides can wait for you.

Take A Breather from the Parks, If Possible

If you are willing to pay extra for parking, exit the park at about lunchtime and stay for a few hours in your hotel room or other accommodation to rest. While there, you can do yoga, take a nap, or just read that romantic novel from print or electronic device. Then, head to the park a few hours prior to closing.

This is especially helpful if you are staying at the same resort as your park of choice (e. g., all the Disneyland resorts and Walt Disney World) and if you have children with autism. Speaking of the latter, not only they will need recovery from all the overstimulation, but most of them are mentally incapable of waiting as long as 45 minutes for any given ride.

Ride at Mealtimes

Another great timesaver is riding when people are eating lunch (and dinner, if the park closes at 9 PM or later). Not only you'll square away thrill rides on an empty stomach, but you'll deal with less lines at counter-service restaurants later on.

Be Cool!

Events that require separate admission, such as Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, are likely to have shorter lines, even on weekday nights.
Events that require separate admission, such as Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, are likely to have shorter lines, even on weekday nights.

Take Advantage of Hard-Ticket Events

Sure, you have to pay extra for an after-hours happening at your theme park, but hard-ticket events are incredible ways to save precious time waiting for your favorite rides. Not only do you have special privileges (like wearing costumes for Halloween events), but also you'll experience little to no wait times on select attractions.

Again, you can save time and money by purchasing separate admission ahead of time. If you had bought tickets to a Halloween event before the day you'd usually buy them when arriving at the gate, you'd save much more. Amp that up if you have a multi-day, year-round pass that allows discounts for such tickets!

How Long Are You Willing to Wait In Line for A Ride?

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What to Do If You Are in a Long Line

If you have no choice but to stand in an hours-wait line, here are some tips to pass away the time:

  • Take photos of interesting things in the queue.
  • Play handheld games.
  • Interview strangers if they haven't ridden the ride before.
  • Read a handheld electronic reading device.
  • Tell jokes to members of the party.
  • Play on-queue games. (Space Mountain in the Magic Kingdom is a stellar example!)
  • Record a podcast.
  • Just bear with the long line, OK?

Long lines are parts of life at your favorite amusement and theme parks. Not only they earn a lot of revenue due to large numbers of visitors, but they also those who will likely wear their patience down because the wait times for big rides are 1+ hours. If you hate the sight of 75-minute waits for inverted roller coasters, take those tips to heart. Great days at the parks require planning, and knowing how to minimize wait times on rides can save you some grief.

In Short...


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    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      6 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Great tips. When I went to Cedar Point, two years ago, they had the same FASTpass ticket system. You get it at the front desk and show it to the people to take a short cut to avoid long lines and go on the same ride again. I loved it!


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