When we polled the readers, the most frequent pain or problem at amusement parks is waiting in long lines. There are ways to avoid long lines. If you only visit the park on weekends or holidays then you’re probably used to waiting in long lines.
Keep in mind, these hacks involve behavior change. To get different results, you have to do the park differently than the masses do. Attempting to visit when everyone else goes is the first problem!
Go when it is not crowded
When the Park First Opens
If you get to the lot before the park opens, you’re going to have a head start on the crowd. It is during the first hour or two you can often walk the clean, quiet park enjoying nearly no waits.
If your park is seasonal, there are a few weeks that serve as a soft-opening. This gives the time for the new employees and park operations to get running smoothly. New associates learn their jobs while the pressure of the crowds is lighter. Heavy days definitely occur when parks first open after the winter months.
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 special Halloween, Fall, or Winter events, they can be very popular. There are still occasional days of light crowds as the weather cools. Bring a jacket and breeze through the shorter queues!
Cold, or Rainy Days
Any day that starts out with a rainy prediction causes people to change their plans. Rainy mornings or a mid-day storm can produce some of the best days to visit the park. If the afternoon and evening dry up, you can discover a park with the crowds washed away.
Holidays often bring the heaviest crowds when a large number of people are off work. A rainy forecast, an odd calendar year, or any number of random factors can cause people to shift their plans. It isn’t always predictable, but the weather usually had the greatest influence. 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. I felt the need to help people like the unhappy people I saw on that hot, crowded day. I left as soon as I could, appreciating the day I had enjoyed previously.
Any day during the Summer can be heavy, but weekdays are almost universally better than the weekend crowds. Of the weekdays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are usually better. More people choose to extend a weekend to either a Monday or a Friday.
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, you can find ways to 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. This tip also reverses at the end of the day when fewer people are in the front. Unfortunately, EPCOT has shifted its hours for the two halves, nearly eliminating this opportunity.
Ride during parades, fireworks and shows
When people are gawking at parade floats, fireworks, and shows, you can get time riding with reduced crowds. Make sure you check if the ride shuts down during the fireworks. It is also possible your path will be blocked by a parade. That can be just as frustrating. If you commit near a favorite ride, you can often repeat it a couple of times while crowds are distracted.
Be there when a ride reopens
This one is tricky. When a ride shuts down because of a storm or a mechanical problem, the crowd bails and goes elsewhere. If you happen to be nearby when it reopens, you can be one of the first to jump back on. Standing around waiting is the same thing you’re trying to avoid. This is hack is if you spot the opportunity. Be watchful for these special moments to appear! When you see the ride start to cycle empty, it can be a clue.
Ride While Others Eat. 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. These can move much faster.
Just Don’t Go
This definitely falls under the counterintuitive. 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 in the parking lot, to just drive right on through and return another day. If you decide to go in, you’re taking the decision to deal with the crowds. Which isn’t always bad
Having the mindset that it is ok to go and not ride can save a lot of frustration. The park’s atmosphere, themed music, evening lights, fireworks, and the crowd itself are entertaining features too. Riding rides is a big deal, but it is only one of the many activities the park offers. You can make it a special goal to enjoy the park without getting into any lines! You may still have to wait in places. The main gate, security checkpoints, food lines, and even a drinking fountain could have a queue on crowded days. 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. Some days the lot is full, but for some reason, the lines in an area of the park aren’t bad. Maybe the people are all over at the water park, packed into the wave pool. This has happened to me. I kept wondering, “where is everybody?” A full parking lot can be deceptive.
The park can help
Use the App to Track Ride Times
(where available) Many park apps offer the ability to check ride wait times. Some app functions have strange limitations. You may have to be in the park, with GPS turned on and using the park’s wi-fi. I don’t understand this. Remember, the park is tracking you every bit as much as you are getting data from the app. The app may help you spot that a ride’s wait is short. That can be a big help in deciding where to go next!
Be a VIP
Celebrities get special treatment. A host employee can guide VIPs through back doors and along paths that skip the lines. I’m not sure how realistic this is for regular people reading this. It is a way some people skip the line.
Special Events, Season Pass Holders, Extended Hours
Occasionally there are special nights or mornings where pass holders get special access to ride. If you take advantage of this, you may have an extra hour or two to ride a favorite. This can boost overall crowds. But the general ticket-holding crowd will be held back during these special times.
Many parks have the policy to allow families with infants, 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 separate and wait in line twice.
Sometimes, an older sibling may get to join with the parent for a bonus ride!
Fast Passes like those at Disney
I’m not a fan of Disney’s Fast Pass system. It is less a way to skip the lines. Instead, it becomes a game and complication to the park. At least it is free and fairly applied.
The Fast Pass allows you to prioritize attractions, scheduling a window of time when you can skip 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. It gives the appearance that you are jumping to the front of the line. However, your total rides for the day end up reduced. It also takes a lot of attention watching the clock and killing time. Thus it creates a virtual line when you can be shopping or eating, a win for the park!
Get a Job at the Park
there are occasionally events offered after public hours for the park’s associates to enjoy the rides. These are great bonding opportunities for associates. Certain areas are open and it is like a private party.
The one last option I will mention but don’t agree with. The park allows an add-on pass to be purchased that allows the holder to cut in line. This is different than Disney-style Fast Passes which anyone can pick up.
>> Got more ideas? Other Park Hackers wouldn’t object to making this list better. We’d all love to benefit from your experience! Use the comments below.
Photo credit: People, Crowd, Munich by Pexels CC0 Public Domain