Nothing will sour a park experience like spending 90% of your day waiting in lines. Time at the park should be spent enjoying the attractions, shows, and food – not standing around for eons regretting lost hours.
Many factors influence crowds and queue lengths, especially for any given park’s most popular rides. Still, some of those factors are within your control as a park-goer. To give yourself the best chance to beat the lines at amusement parks, follow these 10 tried and tested tips:
1. Arrive at the park before opening
If the park opens at, say, 10am, aim to be in the parking lot by 9:30. Your early arrival will give you plenty of time to park, walk to the main gate, and get your ticket scanned for entry.
Many parks even let guests slightly past the main gate before the officially-posted opening time, but keep them from going too far into the park with a barrier that is removed at the opening time. Those already in the park are, then, the first to the rides.
Arriving at, or after opening means that ride queues are filling up before you even get inside the park. You’ll be ahead of the crowds for at least the first couple hours of the day by arriving early.
And, while on the topic of park arrival and entry…
2. Buy tickets prior to your visit
Not only are pre-purchased tickets almost always less expensive than the gate price, but buying your tickets before you arrive means you’ll avoid waiting in an extra (often slow-moving) line before even getting to the entrance gate.
Instead, bypass that ticket line and save money by purchasing your tickets before you visit. Parks in the Six Flags and Cedar Fair chains, for example, often promote savings between $10 – $25 (per ticket) when purchasing online.
3. Pick out your top rides
No single park-goer, or group, will need to hit every ride in the park. Thrill-seekers will head for the coasters, while young kids will be drawn into the kiddie sections and families might gravitate more towards more classic attractions.
Whatever your preference, spend 10 minutes online browsing the park’s attractions prior to your visit. You’ll then know exactly which rides you want to hit, and you’ll easily bypass the throngs of guests staring blankly at their maps, wondering, “the Cyclone? What kind of ride is that?”
Of course, you’ll need some help navigating your list of rides. For that…
4. Design a plan of attack
Picking out rides is only your first step. Next, familiarize yourself with the park layout before your visit. (This is particularly important if you’re visiting a park for the first time.)
Most parks offer digital versions of their maps online. Often, you’ll be looking for a link on the park’s website which reads “Plan Your Visit,” or similar.
Find the rides you listed from step 3, and circle them on your map. Which rides are close to each other? Which might require you to travel across the park by train, sky ride, etc?
Think of this as a road map for your visit. Sure, it’s a little extra work, but your familiarity with the park and the attractions you want to visit will help avoid aimless wandering as you hope to stumble upon something to ride.
5. Start at the back
Many guests approach amusement park maps in a linear fashion. They’ll enter, then follow the natural path of the midway as it leads them towards attractions.
Don’t follow this crowd! Often, they are the ones struggling to make sense of the park map, or don’t know which rides they’re looking for. (Hence tips 3 and 4.)
To avoid this crowd, go to the rides that interest you towards the back of the park first. Chances are many other guests are lingering in the front earlier in the day, and will not make it deeper into the park until an hour or two later. (This strategy relies, of course, on you arriving at or before park opening.)
Like anything else, this is not a foolproof method. Some park layouts are such that there isn’t a clear “back” of the park. Still, rides furthest from the park entrance will usually take longer to fill their queues in the morning.
6. Eat during off hours
Around peak lunch and dinner times (usually 12 – 2pm and 5 – 7pm, respectively), the masses will head to park eateries. If you avoid these windows, you may be able to take advantage of shorter lines while other guests are having meals.
As a bonus, you’ll also save some time that you might have spent waiting in long lines for food. At major parks, it isn’t uncommon to find 15 – 20 minute lines (sometimes even longer) in cafeteria-styles settings as you pick and pay for food. Between eating and waiting, that could be more than an hour of lost ride time.
By contrast, off-hours – especially the middle of the afternoon – are typically slower periods for park cafes and restaurants. Wait times for food will usually be much shorter then, if non-existent.
7. Take (smart) risks with the weather
Nothing keeps people away from outdoor activities like the threat of rain. At amusement parks, many outdoor must temporarily shut down during periods of rain, and especially when thunderstorms are nearby.
Summer storms, however, are often spotty and quick-moving. 45 minutes of ride downtime will be a relatively small price to pay, for example, if thousands of would-be guests decided to not even visit that day due to the threat of bad weather.
Weighing the advantages and disadvantages of weather forecasts requires good planning. If the day is expected to be a total washout, then visiting the park definitely won’t be a good idea. But if the forecast calls for, say, a 30 – 40% chance of rain in the afternoon, it’s likely the precipitation will be isolated.
Modern weather apps are extremely helpful here. First, they can offer continually-updated predictions of when precipitation may arrive. Second, many offer real-time rain alerts. If you’re in the park and receive one of those alerts, beat the rush to somewhere indoors and consider using the downtime for a meal.
8. Keep your bags at home
Necessities aside, it’s better to enter the park carrying as little extra baggage as possible. This is particularly the case at parks that do not allow riders to carry bags with them to the loading stations on larger rides, like roller coasters. Parks in the Six Flags chain are notorious for this, and typically charge $1 per locker rental.
Having to stow bags is more a nuisance than anything else, but having to stop, pay for a locker (and sometimes wait in line to do so) and grab a locker key or code could allow dozens of extra people to queue up before you. Whenever possible, leave bags with a non-rider who is not planning to wait in line, or avoid bringing them into the park altogether.
9. Use the single rider line, when it’s available
The single rider line is a thing of beauty.
If you’ve spent any time watching a roller coaster, you’ve likely noticed that it’s rare for a train to leave the station 100% full. People ride in groups of all sizes, and their numbers might not match with the available seats in the row they’re waiting for. The result is empty seats which, ultimately, slow down the entire line.
A single rider line allows guests who are either alone or don’t mind splitting up to bypass a portion of the line. In most cases, the wait for single riders will be considerably shorter than for the rest of the guests waiting to ride. The trade off here is that ride attendants will place single riders wherever an empty seat is available; single riders have little-to-no say in where they sit.
So, if you’re itching for a front row ride, the single rider line isn’t for you. But, if you prefer to get through the queue more quickly, it’s a no-brainer.
Unfortunately, single rider lines aren’t utilized in many parks. That’s a shame, as they really do expedite the wait for everyone in line. When they’re available, though, single rider lines will be clearly marked.
10. Avoid the weekends
Unsurprisingly, weekends bring the most crowds. If you want to beat the lines at amusement parks, Mondays through Thursdays, when most of the world is at work, are your best bet.
If you can, try to hit the parks early and late in the season, too, when students are still in school. You may run into field trip groups, but overall the crowds tend to be lighter during these times compared to the peak of the summer, when it’s easier for families to travel.
These tips aren’t foolproof, and wait times are influenced by many factors, but smart planning and a bit of park savvy will usually help you beat the worst of the crowds.
Keep in mind, also, that new attractions will throw the queue length equation out of whack. For example, a brand new and highly advertised roller coaster will attract a disproportionate mass of people, so completing your rides early in the day on those types of attractions is usually beneficial. Also of benefit is the fact that, as they steal mounds of guests, new rides will likely also decrease the wait times for other nearby attractions.
‘Skip the line’ passes (Fast Pass, Flash Pass, etc.) have been omitted here, as they require a significant extra expense, especially if purchased for multiple people. In many cases, a combination of the strategies listed in this post will negate the need for such a pass. In the most crowded of park settings, though, the extra expense may be worth it.
Do you have other strategies that have helped you beat the lines at amusement parks?