The Confusion of Front of the Line Offerings In Theme Parks

Waiting in line sucks. No matter if you are at the grocery store, grabbing a bite to eat or at the DMV getting your driver’s license renewed, it seems that your life slips away as you trudge forward ever so slowly. No matter what theme park you visit on the planet, the number one complaint is the length of the queues. In a society where we can often get so much of what we want in an instant, an hour wait for an attraction can often seem worse than getting a root canal. FastPass Plus Ever since Disney introduced its FastPass system, one of the first services where guests could essentially “skip” the line for certain attractions, there is no turning back in this industry. Theme parks are now expected to offer these services. And even though Disney’s FastPass has seen some changes over the last year, it still remains a “free” service. Make no mistake about it; you’re paying for FastPasses when you buy a ticket to a Disney Park, as the cost is folded into the price of the ticket. Similarly, ketchup isn’t free when you order French fries at McDonald’s whether you use it or not. This is also taken into account when they set the price for fries just like Disney takes the cost of FastPass into account when they set ticket prices.

Copyright Walt Disney World

Copyright Walt Disney World

Disney is the only theme park in the industry at the moment offering a “free” service where you can skip attraction queues. Universal Studios offers their Express Pass service where you can pay for either a “once per attraction” or an “unlimited amount of line jumps” throughout the day. Far from free, the service can cost guests anywhere from $40 per person to a whopping $120 a day to skip those pesky lines.

Copyright Universal Orlando Resort

Copyright Universal Orlando Resort

The price is set daily based on how late the park is open and expected attendance level projections. The theory is that the higher the price, the less people will potentially buy it on busy days, making sure guests who don’t have Express Pass don’t get clogged in standby lines all day. It’s also worth mentioning that there are still several attractions that don’t offer an Express Pass currently, including Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.

Copyright Six Flags

Copyright Six Flags

Six Flags offers several options to skip queues and the options are even more complicated. Flash Pass Regular will let you wait the time of one attraction at a time and then be able to skip that line once the wait time us up – you just don’t have to wait in the actual queue. For example, if a roller coaster has a one hour wait and you reserve a Flash Pass Regular for it, you can return after an hour and board immediately. Flash Pass Gold will cut the wait times in half and let you return to board the attraction based on 50% of the current queuing time from when you reserve it. And for those with the means, Flash Pass Platinum offers a return time that shaves 90% of the wait time down for those who can afford the (I hope you’re sitting down) up to $140 per day depending on the particular park and time of year.

Copyright Cedar Fair

Copyright Cedar Fair

Cedar Fair’s FastLane service is fairly simple. You buy a wristband and shazam! You go to the front of the line for various rides. However, the price does vary depending on the time of year and, according to their own website, quantities are limited as to how many of these babies are sold. However, not so fast, the wristband doesn’t allow access to all the rides. For example, at Cedar Point, if you want that wristband on Gatekeeper, Maverick or Top Thrill Dragster, you’re going to have to shell out an extra $20 for Fast Lane Plus!

Sea World App

Sea World App

Busch Gardens and Sea World Parks offer their Quick Queue service which allows either a one time or unlimited queue skipping depending on the price you’re willing to pay and the time of year. However, there is a fairly new option being offered through their respective smart phone apps. Now, through a one-time payment and directly through the app, guests can pay for a one time only Quick Queue for one attraction. For example, if you walk up to Antarctica Empire of the Penguin and realize you don’t want to wait the 90 minutes posted time, you can simply log on to the app, tell it how many guests you have and for $10 per person you can enter the Quick Queue entrance right on the spot. The app will even take and process your credit card info right there on the spot.

Photo by Josh Young

Photo by Josh Young

Indeed there are other options out there in the industry that allow guests to bypass certain queues and some parks, like Kennywood, have shyed away from using any kind of system like this at all. However, waiting in line has been and probably always will be the number one complaint in a theme park. What’s wrong with the parks giving the guests what they want as well as generating a little revenue on the side? We will explore the ups and down of how it impacts the operation in future articles. However, for now, what do you think? Would you be willing to pay to skip all the queues in a park? How about just a one-time payment per attraction like Sea World is experimenting with? Let me know in the comments below.   Make sure to follow Theme Park University on Twitter and like our Facebook Page!

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  1. NevaHeaston
    Posted July 26, 2014 at 4:39 am | Permalink

    This is a really interesting article. Seems like everyone sees value in offering this type of service for guests. Personally, I hate waiting and I would pay for the service.

    My interest, however, is really in the systems used for capacity management. I’ve caught cast members at Disney measuring queue timing by handing RFID cards to random guests in the queue. Is this best practice? Do other parks have it down to a science or do they oversell? Any insights Josh?

    • Josh Young
      Posted July 27, 2014 at 12:13 am | Permalink

      Neva, The answer to your question is kind of long and complicated one, and one I will write an article on possibly this week. The short answer is, for the most part, charging for any sort of front of the line pass kind of regulates itself. These systems are pure profit for most parks and they rarely, if ever, cap the sales of them. Instead, some will increase the price as the day goes on if demand gets higher to try to deter as many people from buying it (and make more money in the process). The exception seems to be at Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando where they sell literally thousands of Express Passes a night. Those clog up the normal queues big time during the event.

      Disney is, to my knowledge, the only park in the industry using the RFID technology to calculate wait times. The software they use is fairly complicated and can accommodate for things like adding or removing vehicles from an attraction to increase or decrease capacity at certain times or due to maintenance. Most other parks don’t have the capital to do that. So while it certainly is a best practice, it’s not really a practical one considering how complicated it is to create and run the software, not to mention maintain the RFID readers at each attraction as well as have it all linked digitally to all the wait time signs, tip boards and apps that rely on that information.

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