Less Waiting and More Playing: The Ultimate Guide to Skipping to the Front of the Line at Theme Parks
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When you start planning a trip to a theme park you probably look forward to the happy screams as you head on the rides together, but while rides might last 2 - 3 minutes at most, each line can easily be an hour, two hours or even five hours long. That's hardly the makings of a good time. But -- there's hope.
Most theme parks offer skip-the-line passes. The prospect of heading straight to the front of the line can be irresistible, but before you buy, be sure you understand the rules and assess the prices of each pass. The price varies from free, to included if you stay at the right hotel, to more than the cost of the theme park admission.
TPG has broken down the ins and outs of these passes what to consider if you want to skip to the front of the lines at America’s favorite theme parks.
Related: Best Credit Cards for Theme Parks
Things to Consider
Will it be busy? Peak season at theme parks usually carries a premium price, meaning that most parks will charge more for park admission and front-of-the-line passes on busier days. That said, more crowds means longer lines and more waiting -- making cut the line passes more important. Some theme parks, like Legoland Florida, aren't open everyday and crowds usually aren't terrible at most rides no matter when you visit. If there is no price advantage to buying the pass in advance or online, wait until you get to the park to judge the crowds before racking up more expenses.
How long will you be there? If you only have a day or two, spending hours in line is a bigger waste of precious time, so splurging on the fast-access pass makes more sense when time is in short supply.
Are the rides you want eligible? These passes don't allow you to skip the line for every ride. For example, the brand new Hagrid ride at Universal Orlando and the new Star Wars ride at Disneyland don't currently participate in any type of express passes. At some parks, you have to upgrade your pass so you can skip the line at the most popular rides, or ride rides more than once. Some express passes include mainly the high-adrenaline thrill rides that have height and weight restrictions. If you have little kids, who don’t meet the minimum requirements to ride, paying for those passes won't be quite as useful.
Can you use or earn points? Yes! Theme park tickets often code as "entertainment" on your credit card statement, so use the best credit cards for theme parks are often the same as the best credit cards for entertainment spending. If you are purchasing your express passes as part of a hotel package (or charging to the room), they will likely code as "travel". In that case, use one of the best credit cards for family travel. The Citi Premier® Card gives 3 points per dollar on hotels, making it a solid choice.
Here's the link to apply now for the Citi Premier® Card with a 80,000-point bonus after spending $4,000 in the first three months.
Sometimes you can use your points to cover the skip the line passes. For example, if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Freedom (No longer open to new applicants), make sure to look at the Ultimate Rewards portal before paying for your skip-the-line passes as you'll find some options, such as the Sea World example below.
Disneyland Resort FastPass and MaxPass
Disneyland Resort’s FastPass allows you to reserve a one-hour window when you can head to the front of the line. You don’t have to pay extra, but you must physically go to the ride to get your FastPass reservation, and you can only have one reservation at a time. So, if you have a FastPass for Radiator Springs Racers for 5–6pm, you cannot get another FastPass for any other ride until 5pm.
Disney’s MaxPass allows you to get a FastPass from your phone when you are in the park, as opposed to walking to each ride. You can also get your next MaxPass while in line for your current MaxPass ride. At just $15 per person per day, the MaxPass is relatively inexpensive, compared to other front-of-the-line options at other parks. It also includes a PhotoPass so you can take home professional pictures of your day. The MaxPass will cover you at both the Disneyland Resort and Disney California Adventure Park, which is handy for park-hopping.
Walt Disney World FastPass+
At Walt Disney World, you can reserve a FastPass+ on your computer or from your phone via the app up to 30 days in advance (60 days from the first day of your trip if you’re staying at a Walt Disney World Resort or select Disney Springs properties) for no extra charge. You get three FastPass+ advance selections per day, plus additional same-day FastPasses once you have used those three via the My Disney Experience app. These passes are loaded to your Magic Bands that you scan as you enter the FastPass line at various rides.
Usually all three of your advance selections must be in the same park and the reservation windows can’t overlap, though we have heard of some recent tests that allow advance FastPass+ in multiple parks. The FastPass+ rides at Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios are tiered; the most popular rides are Tier 1. You can only reserve one Tier 1 ride in advance per day. The rides at Magic Kingdom are not currently tiered.
Universal Studios Express Pass
In Hollywood: The Universal Express Pass is $179 - $279 per day and includes gate admission, one ride on each of the eligible attractions, plus priority seating at the shows. For $30 more, you can upgrade to the “unlimited” Universal Express Pass, meaning you can revisit your favorites as many times as you like.
In Florida: Similar to the Hollywood version, the Universal Express Pass prices for the Orlando parks vary, but there are even more choices. On the lowest demand dates, Express Pass prices start at about $65 (park ticket not included), but on peak dates for unlimited passes, prices go as high as $189 per person -- still plus the cost of a park ticket. Prices are more for two-park express passes and for the version that allows you to ride each ride more than once.
But -- the best deal if you know you want Express Passes at the Universal parks in Orlando, is to simply stay at a hotel that includes them. For a family of four, you may easily spend less booking a night at the right hotel than buying a couple days worth of Express Passes. This is especially true since they are valid the days you check-in and check-out.
Universal Orlando Resort has three Premier-class hotels that include Express Passes are: Universal Studios Loews Royal Pacific, The Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. Reservations at each of these hotels include Express Passes: Universal Orlando’s cut-the-line pass. Those with The Platinum Card® from American Express can even book a stay at the Loews Portofino Bay via the Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts collection and enjoy early check-in, late check-out, free daily breakfast for two and a $100 food and beverage credit -- in addition to the Express Passes.
Knott's Berry Farm Fast Lane Pass
At Knott’s Berry Farm, you can head to the front of the line for its most popular rides with the Fast Lane Pass. The Fast Lane Pass starts at $80 (same price for everyone, save $5 by ordering online) for unlimited rides all day long. It does not include gate admission, which is $84 for adults, $54 for kids and seniors. If you have small kids, you should know that most of the rides with Fast Lane access are thrill rides. None of the Camp Snoopy rides are included in the pass.
SeaWorld Quick Queue
San Diego: SeaWorld San Diego offers many options for the line-averse. The Quick Queue Premier pass starts at $20 (plus gate admission, save with online purchase) and grants unlimited head-of-the-line rides on Manta, Shipwreck Rapids and Wild Arctic. You can also get packages that include a single ride on the Electric Eel roller coaster and reserved seating at the shows. If you have your heart set on riding the Tidal Twister, an extra $15 on top of the gate admission will get you to the front of the line.
Orlando: The Quick Queue pass offers unlimited access to several of the most popular rides -- all but two of which have height restrictions -- making it a good bet for adrenaline seekers but not for the preschool set. The Quick Queue pass starts at $20 (plus gate admission, which starts at $104; kids under 3 are free, with savings for booking in advance). There is also a Quick Queue Jr. option that offers access to the rides for smaller riders. Optional upgrades include reserved seating at the shows and either one or unlimited rides on the wet and wild Infinity Falls attraction.
San Antonio: Unlimited Quick Queue, ($24.94 plus gate admission, starting at $74.99 for everyone over 3; babies free), Quick Queue Jr. ($13.94 plus gate admission) and the option to include reserved seating at the shows are all available at San Antonio SeaWorld, too.
Legoland Reserve n' Ride and Fastrack
Legoland California: Legoland out in California puts a twist on the theme with its Reserve n’ Ride system. Using either your phone or a rented mobile device, you are able to reserve a spot in line at any of the included rides, and receive a notification when your spot is ready. You may make one reservation at a time, from anywhere in the park. Choose from Express which cuts wait time by 25% from $35; Deluxe shortens the wait by 50% from $55, or Ultimate shaves the wait by 95% from $100. (Plus theme park admission). Passes must be purchased separately. Fans of Lego Ninjago the Ride, Knights' Tournament and Lego City: Deep Sea Adventure should know that you may only reserve those rides once with the Express pass or twice with the Deluxe pass. The Ultimate pass doesn't have a limit.
Legoland Florida: Legoland Florida sells a limited number of unlimited Fastrack bands each day. The passes cost $59 and up, depending on the date (gate admission is extra), and offers unlimited front-of-the-line access to many of the most popular rides, although you are not permitted to ride The Lego Movie Masters of Flight attraction more than once per hour. Alternatively, you can purchase the Fastrack 3-Pack to skip the line at The Great Lego Race, Coastersaurus and The Dragon once each, starting at $24.
Busch Gardens Quick Queue
In Tampa: Choose from Quick Queue for skip-the-line access once per included ride, starting at $25; Quick Queue Unlimited lets you ride over and over again for $40 and up; Quick Queue Unlimited with one front-of-the-line ride on Tigris (starting at $60) or Quick Queue Junior for the kid-friendly rides, which starts at $15. All the Quick Queue passes require separate purchase of a gate admission, which is $110, with discounts for tickets bought in advance online.
In Williamsburg: Busch Gardens Williamsburg keeps it relatively the same as the Tampa location. You can skip-the-line once per selected ride with the Quick Queue pass for a starting price of $30. Quick Queue Unlimited lets you ride repeatedly for $45 and up. Quick Queue Unlimited gives you unlimited priority access to a greater selection of rides, with one front-of-the-line ride on Finnegan’s Flyer, starting at $70. The Quick Queue Junior for the kid-friendly rides starts at $20 for two guests and is the only pass on this list that covers more than one rider. Gate admission is sold separately starting at $87, with discounts for tickets bought in advance online.
Cedar Point Fast Lane
Roller-coaster fans love Cedar Point, but they may not love the lines quite so much though. To skip the long waits, you have the option of purchasing a Fast Lane pass (starting at $65 plus gate admission) to ride again and again on select rides. If you are a real adrenaline junkie, you will want to spring for the Fast Lane Plus pass (starting at $85 plus admission), which gives you a priority spot at an even wider selection of thrill rides.
Six Flags Flash Pass
The Six Flags parks offer the Flash Pass to avoid lines on select rides. Reserve your pass ahead of time to guarantee you get it — only a limited number of passes are issued each day. Make your way to the Flash Pass kiosk in the park when you arrive, and you will be issued a Flash Pass device. From there you can reserve your spot in line for eligible rides, and the device will notify you when it is your turn to ride — no waiting in line.
With three levels of access, you pay more according to the percentage of time cut from your wait. The Regular pass reserves your spot in line but doesn’t shorten the length of the wait; Gold cuts wait times by up to 50%, and the Platinum pass cuts the wait by 90%. The cost of the Flash Pass is in addition to the price of admission and varies from park to park. Up to six people can use the same device (as long as each person has purchased the pass.) Expect to pay about $25 - $95 per person for this pass, depending on the pass selected and the day.
Hersheypark Fast Track
If you are heading to Hersheypark, you can add a Fast Track pass to your regular admission starting at $39, but prices vary by date. The Fast Track pass gets you one skip-the-line ride on each of 14 featured rides starting at $39. For unlimited priority access to the rides, you can buy the Fast Track Unlimited, starting at $49. If Whitecap Racer and Breakers Edge are on your must-ride list, you have the option to add them to either the regular or unlimited pass, or choose to have dedicated Fast Track access to those two rides for a price that starts at $30.
The TimeSaver pass at Dollywood puts the control in your hands. For $39 (plus the cost of admission), you can skip the line 10 times. How you do that is up to you -- 10 times on the same ride, or once each on 10 different rides. The Drop Line and Lightning Rod are limited to just one ride per person. If that seems like too much decision-making, opt for the TimeSaver Unlimited for $49, which lets you skip the line for an unlimited number of eligible rides. The TimeSaver passes also include reserved seating at Dollywood shows. TimeSaver passes are complimentary for resort guests with exclusive theme park tickets and season ticket holders.
Skip-the-line pass prices vary dramatically from free to hundreds of dollars, but the cost can be worth it on peak dates, with impatient travelers or when you are operating on a tight schedule. And of course, these options don't even scratch the surface of available VIP tours at many of these parks offer. Have you purchased line-cutting passes in the past? Was it worth it? Let us know.
Are you ready to get your theme park groove on? Here's some more advice:
- TPG’s Ultimate Guide to Walt Disney World Resort
- How to Use Points for Disney Tickets
- The 10 Best Disney Thrill Rides Around the World
- How to Save Money By Renting Disney Vacation Club Points
- How to Make a Reservation to Visit Disneyland’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
- 9 Things Families Should Know Before Visiting Disneyland
- Disneyland Introduces New Annual Pass: Is the Disney Flex Passport a Good Value?
- The Essential Guide to Legoland Florida
- Everything You Need to Know About Visiting Knott’s Berry Farm
- Southern California’s 10 Best Amusement Parks and Attractions