6 Theme Parks Weigh in On Wait Times: The Ultimate FastPass Showdown!

Aug 16, 2018

Theme Parks Wait Times | Best Theme Parks for FastPasses | Westgate Resorts
By Rich Weidman

6 Theme Parks Weigh in On Wait Times: The Ultimate FastPass Showdown!

“Waiting in line is a great opportunity to meet people, daydream or play.” – Patch Adams

Not many theme park goers can share the above enthusiasm after waiting in line for 90 minutes in the sweltering heat for the chance to experience a five-minute thrill ride. Believe it or not, the opening of the Avatar Flight of Passage ride at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park in 2017 drew lines as long as five hours! In fact, long queues are still the No. 1 complaint among theme park guests, according to Merlin Entertainments CEO Nick Varney in his keynote speech at last year’s IAAPA Attractions Expo. However, recent technological innovations have helped significantly limit wait times at theme parks. Therefore, let’s explore the data driving the science of wait times and see which theme parks are really doing the best job of managing waits from a guest’s perspective. We will also explore what is the best theme park for fastpasses, as well as offer helpful tips on how you can beat the lines at your favorite theme park.

New Theme Parks Technologies Transform Guest Experience

Over the past few years, theme parks have come up with various solutions to try to reduce (and in some cases totally eliminate) long queues from theme park attractions or at least improve the queue experience by making it much more entertaining than the generic single file line march through a chained lane. In fact, designing better queues and managing the flow of guests at theme parks has turned into a true artform (the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) even offers a Themed Entertainment Design program that includes a course on the art of creating queues!). In addition, most theme parks currently offer mobile apps that help guests plan their visits better by posting attraction wait times throughout the day. Here’s the tale of the tape among how major theme parks are attempting to tackle wait time issues:

1 | Walt Disney World Resort | First introduced in 1999, Disney’s FastPass, a virtual queueing system that assigns a specific window for ride-goers to show up for rides without waiting in line, has gone through various modifications over the years to continually improve queues. In fact, 75 percent of Disney guests now use FastPass. Disney has taken FastPass one step further with the implementation of FastPass+, which allows guests to reserve FastPasses online as early as 30 days in advance of their visit. Many Disney guests now purchase MagicBands, all-in-one devices that allow them to check-in at FastPass entrances and perform other convenient functions at Disney theme parks. Other recent innovations include providing guests with restaurant-style pagers at Dumbo the Flying Elephant so they can take their kids to an air-conditioned circus tent with a playground during their wait instead of melting in the Florida heat. In addition, some of Disney’s queues make it worth the wait with such intriguing attractions as the animatronic representations of C-3PO and R2-D2 at Star Tours – The Adventures Continue and the authentic-looking Nepalese village full of interesting artifacts at Expedition Everest. In fact, Disney truly set the bar high when it comes to entertaining queue experiences way back in 1973 when they opened Pirates of the Caribbean and allowed guests to journey through a meticulously created Spanish fortress before embarking on the dark water ride adventure. Other notable interactive queue experiences at Disney can be found at Space Mountain, Soarin’ Around the World, Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid, Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Frozen Ever After and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

According to The Park Database (12/27/2017), social media has proven to be a valuable insight as to what people are actually saying about the parks in order to gauge customer perception. Their sources for the following data collected were Facebook, Tripadvisor, and Twitter, with at least 100 reviews per brand taken into consideration. So for Walt Disney World, we know the following:

MOST MENTIONED THEME PARK ELEMENTS

  • Dark Rides - 36%

  • Parades/Shows - 24%

  • Character Greetings - 9%

  • Coasters - 9%

  • Water Rides - 5%

  • Exploring - 5%

  • Gift Shops - 4%

  • Flyers - 2%

  • Others (Combined) Make Up The Rest

MOST COMPLIMENTED THEME PARK ELEMENTS

  • Entertainment - 17%

  • Theming/Environment - 13%

  • Food - 13%

  • Service - 12%

  • Fast passes - 10%

  • Discounts - 6%

  • Events - 6%

  • Prices - 4%

  • Cleanliness - 4%

  • Queues - 4%

  • Organization - 3%

  • Transport - 2%

  • Size - 2%

  • Others (Combined) Make Up The Rest

AREAS FOR IMPROVMENT

  • Queues - 25%

  • Crowded - 16%

  • Prices - 9%

  • Schedule - 8%

  • Service - 7%

  • Organization - 6%

  • Entertainment - 6%

  • Food - 5%

  • Fast Pass - 4%

  • Language - 3%

  • Cleanliness - 2%

  • Maintenance - 2%

  • Tech issues - 2%

  • Size - 2%

  • Shows and Characters - 2%

  • Others (Combined) Make Up The Rest

So we see, right off the bat, we see that Fast passes and queue engineering are (simultaneously) some of Disney's most beloved facets and also, some admittedly prominent area where requests to continually keep improving them seem to be a strong showing, probably because this park is one of the busiest in the world!

2 | Universal Orlando Resort | Similar to Disney’s FastPass, Universal’s Express Pass allows ride-goers to return at designated times to avoid lines. However, guests must either pay for Express Pass or stay at one of the resort’s hotels to enjoy this service. In response to long wait times, Universal has also embarked on several new initiatives, including “queue-less” waits at the new Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon ride, where guests secure a “Virtual Line Pass” through the free Universal Orlando Resort App. At Universal’s new water park, Volcano Bay, guests wear “TapuTapu” wristbands that alert them when it’s their turn to ride. Just like Disney, Universal has also created elaborate queues that keep guests entertained during their wait, most notably the elaborately detailed Hogwarts Castle (where even paintings spring to life!) that is home to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

Again we turn to our friends at The Park Database and their (12/27/2017) data set to see just how Universal fares in these areas:

MOST MENTIONED THEME PARK ELEMENTS

  • Dark Rides - 29%

  • Parades/Shows - 15%

  • Coasters - 15%

  • Water Rides - 12%

  • Exploring - 9%

  • Gift Shop - 6%

  • Character Greetings - 3%

  • Kids Rides - 3%

  • Transport - 2%

  • Tower - 2%

  • Others (Combined) Make Up The Rest

MOST COMPLIMENTED THEME PARK ELEMENTS

  • Entertainment - 25%

  • Theming/Environment - 16%

  • Fast passes - 11%

  • Food - 9%

  • Queues - 8%

  • Events - 7%

  • Discounts - 5%

  • Not Crowded - 5%

  • Service - 4%

  • Organization - 3%

  • Prices - 2%

  • Others (Combined) Make Up The Rest

AREAS FOR IMPROVMENT

  • Queues - 19%

  • Prices - 15%

  • Crowded - 13%

  • Entertainment - 9%

  • Schedule - 8%

  • Service - 8%

  • Size - 7%

  • Fast Pass - 6%

  • Organization - 5%

  • Food - 5%

  • Others (Combined) Make Up The Rest

So again, Fast passes and queues make up roughly 19% of the good sentiment displayed towards this park, BUT... also constitute almost 24% of (what people believe) should probably be improved. Time will tell if this data set is altered by the introduction of the new, super-snazzy Tapu Tapu technology at Volcano Bay,... time will tell!

3 | SeaWorld Orlando | With numerous wildlife and marine animal exhibits, shows and a mix of roller coasters, SeaWorld has initiated several perks (at an additional cost) to help guests beat the lines such as Express Park Entry, Signature Show Seating and Quick Queue Unlimited (unlimited front-of-the-line access to the theme park’s most popular rides and attractions). Quick Queue Unlimited covers Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, Mako, Manta, Journey to Atlantis, TurtleTrek and Wild Arctic. If you want to really splurge at SeaWorld, check out the theme park’s Private VIP Tour, which offers immediate access to all rides and attractions, as well as reserved seating for live shows and a meal at Sharks Underwater Grill.

Drawing from the data-well again, The Park Database's (12/27/2017) data set is able to give us these insights:

MOST MENTIONED THEME PARK ELEMENTS

  • Parades/Shows - 43%

  • Coasters - 15%

  • Exhibit - 14%

  • Character Greetings - 5%

  • Water Riders - 4%

  • Exploring - 3%

  • Gift Shop - 3%

  • Transport - 2%

  • Kids Rides - 2%

  • Tower - 2%

  • Kids Areas - 2%

  • River - 2%

  • Others (Combined) Make Up The Rest

MOST COMPLIMENTED THEME PARK ELEMENTS

  • Entertainment - 18%

  • Discounts - 10%

  • Theming/Environment - 8%

  • Service - 8%

  • Cleanliness - 8%

  • Food - 8%

  • Events - 7%

  • Queues - 6%

  • Not Crowded - 5%

  • Animal Welfare - 4%

  • Fast Pass - 3%

  • Educational - 3%

  • Maintenance - 2%

  • Location - 2%

  • Prices - 2%

  • Relax - 2%

  • Restaurant - 2%

  • Others (Combined) Make Up The Rest

AREAS FOR IMPROVMENT

  • Prices - 19%

  • Queues - 13%

  • Entertainment - 10%

  • Schedule - 9%

  • Food - 8%

  • Service - 7%

  • Crowded - 6%

  • Organization - 5%

  • Cleanliness - 3%

  • Theming/Environment - 3%

  • Discounts - 2%

  • Maintenance - 2%

  • Other Visitors - 2%

  • Animals as Shows - 2%

  • Fast Pass - 2%

  • Others (Combined) Make Up The Rest

Here, fast passes and queues seem to have a 9% positivity rating versus a 15% area of improvement rating, though the recent introduction of new technology may help these numbers to change a bit over time.

4 | LEGOLAND Florida | Built on the former site of Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven and opened in 2011, LEGOLAND Florida features a balanced mix of explore/play areas, exhibits and kiddie rides/coasters. The theme park does offer a Premium Play Band for purchase that allows guests unlimited front of the line privileges at LEGOLAND Florida attractions.

The Park Database's (12/27/2017) data set yields us this information:

MOST MENTIONED THEME PARK ELEMENTS

  • Exhibit - 17%

  • Exploring - 17%

  • Parades/Shows - 17%

  • Other Rides - 13%

  • Coasters - 11%

  • Character Greetings - 5%

  • Gift Shop - 4%

  • Water Rides - 4%

  • Activities - 4%

  • Dark Rides - 2%

  • Others (Combined) Make Up The Rest

MOST COMPLIMENTED THEME PARK ELEMENTS

  • Theming/Environment - 18%

  • Entertaining - 14%

  • Service - 10%

  • Discounts - 9%

  • Queues - 8%

  • Hotel - 7%

  • Food - 7%

  • Cleanliness - 6%

  • Not Crowded - 4%

  • Events - 3%

  • Organization - 3%

  • Fast Pass - 2%

  • Food Allowed - 2%

  • Others (Combined) Make Up The Rest

AREAS FOR IMPROVMENT

  • Entertaining - 32%

  • Schedule - 8%

  • Service - 8%

  • Queues - 7%

  • Maintenance - 7%

  • Food - 6%

  • Organization - 6%

  • Cleanliness - 4%

  • Crowded - 3%

  • Theming/Environment - 3%

  • Size - 3%

  • Gift Shop - 2%

  • Parking - 2%

  • Others (Combined) Make Up The Rest

Interestingly, Fast passess and queues only make up 10% of the complimentary list here for LEGOLAND, but queues don't seem to be such a prominent factor in the areas of improvement, which is refreshing. This may be due to this park's relative newcomer status (again, speaking relative to some of the other, older, more established theme parks). One thing is for sure LEGOLAND really is striving for a unique environment, and perhaps their need for queueing tech hasn't quite caught up to the demand for their experience yet. Either way though, I'm sure we're all looking forward to the day when we can get our LEGO Premium Play Band stamped with the rank of 'Master Builder'!

5 | Six Flags Over Georgia | Known for its classic roller coasters, including BATMAN: The Ride, Blue Hawk, Dare Devil Dive, Georgia Scorcher, Goliath and Great American Scream Machine, Six Flags Over Georgia near Atlanta offers a FLASH Pass for purchase to allow guests to skip lines on its most popular rides and attractions (a FLASH Pass Gold and FLASH Pass Platinum are available as well). Just like Disney and Universal, Six Flags also keeps guests entertained while waiting in line with an assortment of animatronic characters, games and videos in its queues.

The Park Database's (12/27/2017) data set again provides us with some key info here:

MOST MENTIONED THEME PARK ELEMENTS

  • Coasters - 53%

  • Parades/Shows - 15%

  • Water Rides - 6%

  • Kids Rides - 5%

  • Haunted House - 4%

  • Pool - 3%

  • Gift Shop - 2%

  • Others (Combined) Make Up The Rest

MOST COMPLIMENTED THEME PARK ELEMENTS

  • Entertainment - 15%

  • Discounts - 14%

  • Queues - 10%

  • Events - 9%

  • Size - 9%

  • Cleanliness - 6%

  • Fast Pass - 6%

  • Service - 6%

  • Not Crowded - 5%

  • Food - 4%

  • Theming/Environment - 3%

  • Prices - 3%

  • Maintenance - 2%

  • Security - 2%

  • Transport - 2%

  • Locations - 2%

  • Others (Combined) Make Up The Rest

AREAS FOR IMPROVMENT

  • Queues - 27%

  • Prices - 17%

  • Events - 8%

  • Cleanliness - 7%

  • Entertainment - 7%

  • Organization - 6%

  • Crowded - 5%

  • Events - 3%

  • Maintenance - 3%

  • Food - 3%

  • Fast Pass - 3%

  • Theming/Environment - 2%

  • Other Visitors - 2%

  • Size - 2%

  • Others (Combined) Make Up The Rest

Queues and Fast Passes make up roughly 16% of the positive mention sentiment here, but on the other side of the fence, it seems like they also comprise a whopping 30% in the negative sentiment column. In the big picture, there are all types of theme parks out there, and Six Flags definitely knows where its 'bread is buttered' in terms of attractions, tending to keep things focused on its roller coasters above all else.

6 | Cedar Point | Billed as “The Roller Coaster Capital of the World” Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, is known for its thrill rides such as Steel Vengeance, Wicked Twister, Valravn, Top Thrill Dragster, Millennium Force, Raptor, Rougarou, Pipe Scream, Gemini, Iron Dragon, Corkscrew, Maverick, Magnum XL-200 and GateKeeper, among others. Cedar Point offers Fast Lane wristbands for purchase that allow guests to bypass the regular lines on more than 20 of the theme park’s most popular rides and attractions (a special Fast Lane Plus is also available that allows all Fast Lane attractions plus unlimited rides on GateKeeper, Top Thrill Dragster, Maverick, Valravn and Steel Vengeance).

MOST MENTIONED THEME PARK ELEMENTS

  • Coasters - 51%

  • Parades/Shows - 6%

  • Kids Rides - 6%

  • Haunted House - 6%

  • Exploring - 5%

  • Water Rides - 4%

  • Gift Shop - 4%

  • Character Greetings - 3%

  • Dark Rides - 3%

  • Tower - 3%

  • Pool - 2%

  • Swing - 2%

  • Other Rides - 2%

  • Others (Combined) Make Up The Rest

MOST COMPLIMENTED THEME PARK ELEMENTS

  • Entertainment - 17%

  • Discounts - 13%

  • Service - 10%

  • Events - 10%

  • Cleanliness - 9%

  • Queues - 8%

  • Food - 7%

  • Theming/Environment - 5%

  • Not Crowded - 4%

  • Prices - 3%

  • Fast Passes - 3%

  • Security - 2%

  • Location - 2%

  • Others (Combined) Make Up The Rest

AREAS FOR IMPROVMENT

  • Prices - 16%

  • Queues - 13%

  • Service - 9%

  • Schedule - 9%

  • Crowded - 7%

  • Entertainment - 6%

  • Organization - 6%

  • Food - 5%

  • Signage - 4%

  • Events - 4%

  • Security - 3%

  • Other Visitors - 3%

  • Cleanliness - 2%

  • Fast Pass - 2%

  • Maintenance - 2%

  • Others (Combined) Make Up The Rest

The complimentary mentions about fast passes and queues here seem to fall short to the areas of opportunity talked about by guests in a tight 11% versus 15% ratio. Again, the Cedar Fair (Cedar Point) brand is very 'coaster-centric' so this traffic-tech investment might ot make sense, but one thing is for sure, people are still going to ride those coasters!

5 Ways to Reduce Theme Park Wait Lines

According to Dennis Speigel of International Theme Park Services in “How Theme Parks are Looking to Eliminate Lines,” a 2017 Chicago Tribune article, “Nobody wants to stand in line. We want to be first … It’s just the way society is evolving.” Someday queues will go the way of the dinosaurs, but until that day here are some tried and true tips to reduce your wait time at the theme parks:

  • Know when to go! Typically, the least busy times to visit theme parks are after Labor Day weekend and during the winter months (except around Christmas and New Year’s Day). In addition, weekdays are usually less crowded than weekends.

  • Arrive at the theme park before it opens to enjoy fewer crowds for a couple of hours. Work your way from the back of the theme park to the front.

  • Save time by using the Single Riders Line if available for the most popular thrill rides (At Disney World, single rider lines are available for Test Track, Expedition Everest and Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster).

  • Visit the most popular thrill rides and attractions first thing in the morning, at dinnertime or during parades and live shows.

  • Take a break from the lines and visit theme park attractions with little or no wait times. For example, at Disney’s Magic Kingdom Theme Park, check out such low-key gems as the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress, Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, Enchanted Tiki Room and Tom Sawyer Island.

So What's My Line Again?

The truth is, conquering the lines is just one aspect of maximizing your theme park visit. The reality for most of us, as avid theme park fans is that we're going to seek out the attractions we want to see, regardless of wait time. All that remains is to make sure we can do it affordably. That's where the need for vacation packages and getaways specials comes in. Make sure to seek out the best vacation deals before you arrive at your destination. For example, Westgate Resorts offers amazing specials in premier destinations near world-famous theme parks – including eight full-services resorts throughout Central Florida that provide easy access to Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando and LEGOLAND Florida. With a little planning, you and your family can enjoy a great (and totally stress-free) trip!