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(This arti­cle may or may not con­tain affil­i­ate links. What does that mean?)

 

We’ve all told our kids a thou­sand times not to cut the line because it’s rude and self­ish. But what if there was a way to cut a line that was nei­ther rude nor self­ish? Intrigu­ing, right?

One of the biggest – and most con­sis­tent – com­plaints from theme park guests is long wait­ing time in lines, and while the parks obvi­ous­ly try to make queue expe­ri­ences as enter­tain­ing and immer­sive as pos­si­ble, there’s no way to elim­i­nate them. Or is there?

Uni­ver­sal Parks

Universal Orlando Resort introduced the virtual line system when the Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon attraction opened in 2017 - Photo courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort

Uni­ver­sal Orlan­do Resort intro­duced the vir­tu­al line sys­tem when the Race Through New York Star­ring Jim­my Fal­lon attrac­tion opened in 2017 — Pho­to cour­tesy of Uni­ver­sal Orlan­do Resort

When the Race Through New York Star­ring Jim­my Fal­lon attrac­tion opened in 2017, Uni­ver­sal Orlan­do Resort intro­duced a rev­o­lu­tion­ary new idea: a vir­tu­al line. With this new sys­tem, guests can sign up for spot in the Race Through New York vir­tu­al line and elim­i­nate the dread­ed “end­less switch­back” wait­ing expe­ri­ence. By using the Uni­ver­sal Orlan­do app from any­where in the park, you can sim­ply select the time you would like to ride and show up. It’s hon­est­ly as sim­ple as that. No smart phone? No prob­lem! Kiosks at the attrac­tion work equal­ly well to choose a return time (it just might be a tad less con­ve­nient to have to walk over to the ride).

The Virtual Line technology at Universal Orlando Resort can be accessed through the Universal app - Photo Credit Samantha Davis-Friedman

The Vir­tu­al Line tech­nol­o­gy at Uni­ver­sal Orlan­do Resort can be accessed through the Uni­ver­sal app — Pho­to Cred­it Saman­tha Davis-Friedman

But that’s not all! Once guests are inside the attrac­tion, they still don’t have to wait on a long line. Instead, they are hand­ed a col­ored tick­et and are then free to explore on their own – and there’s a lot of cool Tonight Show mem­o­ra­bil­ia to see – until the col­or of the light sig­nals, then it’s their turn to move upstairs. Here, there’s still no line. Guests can relax in the Tonight Show “Green Room” and even enjoy per­for­mances by Tonight Show reg­u­lars, the Rag Time Gals and Hash­tag the Panda.

While waiting for their turn to ride Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, guests are entertained by the Rag Time Gals - Photo Credit Samantha Davis-Friedman

While wait­ing for their turn to ride Race Through New York Star­ring Jim­my Fal­lon, guests are enter­tained by the Rag Time Gals — Pho­to Cred­it Saman­tha Davis-Friedman

When the lights change col­or again, it’s time to ride – I admit there is a short line this time, but it real­ly is short!

At the entrance to Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, riders are handed a colored ticket and are then free to explore on their own until it's their turn to ride - Photo Credit Samantha Davis-Friedman

At the entrance to Race Through New York Star­ring Jim­my Fal­lon, rid­ers are hand­ed a col­ored tick­et and are then free to explore on their own until it’s their turn to ride — Pho­to Cred­it Saman­tha Davis-Friedman

Fol­low­ing the suc­cess of the vir­tu­al line for Race Through New York with Jim­my Fal­lon, the Fast & Furi­ous – a super­charged attrac­tion that opened at Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios Flori­da this year — also offered a vir­tu­al line sys­tem, but with a slight twist. When it’s time to ride, guests get to enter Dom’s garage through a sep­a­rate entrance and not only explore the garage, but also get up close and per­son­al with many of the cool cars from the movie. Again, there is a very short line at the vehi­cle load­ing area, but com­pared to typ­i­cal wait times for pop­u­lar attrac­tions, it’s bare­ly noticeable.

The virtual queue entrance for Fast & Furious Supercharged at Universal Studios Florida takes riders through Dom's garage where there are many of the cool cars from the Fast & Furious movies - Photo courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort

The vir­tu­al queue entrance for Fast & Furi­ous Super­charged at Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios Flori­da takes rid­ers through Dom’s garage where there are many of the cool cars from the Fast & Furi­ous movies — Pho­to cour­tesy of Uni­ver­sal Orlan­do Resort

But, you may ask, what about the rest of the attrac­tions at Uni­ver­sal Orlan­do Resort and Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios Hol­ly­wood? For that, I turn your atten­tion to the Uni­ver­sal Express Pass (or as it’s called in Hol­ly­wood, Uni­ver­sal Express). This sep­a­rate­ly pur­chased perk allows guests to enter through expe­dit­ed lines – so, just to be clear, this is not a “front of the line” pass, but it can cut wait times by about a third.

On busy days (like week­ends and hol­i­days), the Express pass does cut down the wait time, but if the park is not exces­sive­ly busy and wait times are not out­ra­geous­ly long, that’s hon­est­ly when each fam­i­ly needs to deter­mine if the added expense is worth it for them. If your fam­i­ly includes impa­tient tod­dlers (and/or teens) or if you have peo­ple in your group who have trou­ble stand­ing in line for a long time, the Express line could be a real life­saver. After all, if you’re going to invest in tak­ing every­one to a theme park (which we all know is pret­ty expen­sive nowa­days), you cer­tain­ly don’t want the day ruined by grumpy line wait­ers. Anoth­er thing to con­sid­er is whether to choose the stan­dard Express pass, which only allows one use of the Express queue per attrac­tion per day ver­sus Unlim­it­ed Express, which lets you use the Express queue as many times as you want. Of course, unlim­it­ed access comes at a high­er cost.

Pro Tip: At Uni­ver­sal Orlan­do, sev­er­al of the resort’s on-site hotels offer free Unlim­it­ed Express Pass­es, so if you weren’t plan­ning to stay at a Uni­ver­sal hotel for your entire vaca­tion, con­sid­er stay­ing at least one night for the Express pass­es (plus the added perk of ear­ly admis­sion into the parks).

“I love that Express Pass is includ­ed at the Hard Rock, Portofi­no, and Roy­al Pacif­ic,” says Mered­ith Wal­lace, a Dis­ney trav­el spe­cial­ist and moth­er of three. “The val­ue of stay­ing at one of these resorts real­ly adds so much enjoy­ment (who likes to wait in line?) that it’s absolute­ly worth the slight increase in price. My fam­i­ly always stays at one of these prop­er­ties so we can max­i­mize our visit.”

Dis­ney Parks

Fast­Pass. It’s the mag­ic word that any­one who has vis­it­ed a Dis­ney theme park knows well. At one time, it was the valu­able lit­tle white tick­ets that pro­vid­ed access to short­er wait times. And that’s still the case, but now instead of lit­tle tick­ets, elec­tron­ic Fast­Pass­es can be accessed through the Dis­ney park apps.

At Dis­ney­land, there are two Fast­Pass options: The tra­di­tion­al Fast Pass where you walk to each attrac­tion, insert your park tick­et into a machine, and reserve a time to ride. The lit­tle tick­ets are now mere­ly reminders as the actu­al Fast­Pass is linked elec­tron­i­cal­ly to your park tick­et, which you scan when it’s time to ride. Pret­ty fan­cy, huh? The oth­er option – and the one I rec­om­mend – is Dis­ney MaxPass.

Once Disneyland guests purchase Disney MaxPass, they can make FastPass selections for their entire group through the Disneyland app - Photo Credit Samantha Davis-Friedman

Once Dis­ney­land guests pur­chase Dis­ney Max­Pass, they can make Fast­Pass selec­tions for their entire group through the Dis­ney­land app — Pho­to Cred­it Saman­tha Davis-Friedman

“We were always able to nav­i­gate Dis­ney­land well with tra­di­tion­al Fast­Pass,” says Greg Konkoff, a father of one. “But last sum­mer, we tried Max­Pass because we only had one day with some out-of-town guests who had nev­er been to the park before, and we felt like VIPs.”

Although the Max­Pass sys­tem car­ries an addi­tion­al $15 fee per per­son per day, it pro­vides access the Fast­Pass sys­tem through the Dis­ney­land app (and one per­son can make Fast­Pass reser­va­tions for their entire group – or “Fast­Pass par­ty” – at once). My favorite part of Max­Pass is that once a Fast­Pass is redeemed – like lit­er­al­ly the sec­ond after you scan at the ride entrance – you can already get a new one. So, for exam­ple, instead of scan­ning a Fast­Pass at it’s a Small World, rid­ing the attrac­tion (and singing along, of course), and then walk­ing across the park to Pirates of the Caribbean to get a new Fast­Pass, you can have your Pirates return time before you’ve even heard the first note of that catchy Small World tune. Plus, once Max­Pass is acti­vat­ed upon enter­ing the first park of the day, Fast­Pass­es can be reserved through the app for either Dis­ney­land or Cal­i­for­nia Adven­ture from either park. As an added bonus, Max­Pass also gives guests free dig­i­tal pho­tos from the attrac­tions or tak­en by Dis­ney­land pho­tog­ra­phers; with­out Max­Pass, there is a fee to pur­chase photos.

“I like any­thing that cuts down the time you have to wait in line,” says Abby Smith, a moth­er of three. “The orig­i­nal Fast­Pass sys­tem was great at Dis­ney­land, but Max­Pass is a game chang­er. I love that I can be wait­ing in line for one ride and get a fast pass for anoth­er ride. Plus, the Max­Pass is so rea­son­ably priced, I would not go to the park with­out using it.”

Walt Dis­ney World has a dif­fer­ent Fast­Pass sys­tem – called Fast­Pass+ – that allows guests to hold up to three Fast­Pass­es at once. Once they use all three, they can get one addi­tion­al Fast­Pass at a time after that. Like Dis­ney­land, Walt Dis­ney World guests can access the Fast­Pass+ sys­tem on their smart phones with the My Dis­ney Expe­ri­ence app, though there is no addi­tion­al charge to use it.

Walt Disney World Resort guests can use MagicBands for FastPass+ access to attractions - Photo Credit Matt Stroshane/Walt Disney World Resort

Walt Dis­ney World Resort guests can use Mag­icBands for Fast­Pass+ access to attrac­tions — Pho­to Cred­it Matt Stroshane/Walt Dis­ney World Resort

Pro Tip: Unlike Dis­ney­land, where Fast­Pass­es can only be reserved after you’ve entered the park, an impor­tant fac­tor to con­sid­er at Walt Dis­ney World is that guests who are stay­ing at on-site hotels have the abil­i­ty to reserve Fast­Pass­es weeks ahead of time, so any­one who is only going for the day may – and is like­ly to – have trou­ble get­ting Fast­Pass­es for the more pop­u­lar attrac­tions. Again, like at Uni­ver­sal Orlan­do, it may be worth stay­ing on-site for at least one night to be able to take advan­tage of this perk. On-site guests also get mag­ic bands that they can use to scan at attrac­tion entrances (sin­gle day guests can pur­chase bands if they’d like).

Sin­gle Rider 

Sin­gle Rid­er is a bit of a well-kept theme park secret, and in my opin­ion, is per­haps the most under­uti­lized way to avoid long theme park lines – espe­cial­ly for families.

Cer­tain attrac­tions offer peo­ple rid­ing alone the abil­i­ty to “fill in” sin­gle seats in a ride vehi­cle. For exam­ple, if there is a par­ty of five in a vehi­cle that seats six, a sin­gle rid­er will fill that extra spot. Every park has dif­fer­ent rules, but once kids are old enough and/or tall enough to ride alone – and, of course are will­ing to – Sin­gle Rid­er lines are a great option because they’re fre­quent­ly much short­er and/or faster than even Fast­Pass or Express lines (though not always). Plus, at Dis­ney parks, there’s real­ly no rea­son to “waste” a Fast­Pass on a ride with a Sin­gle Rid­er line.

There have been plen­ty of times when my sons and I have wait­ed in Sin­gle Rid­er lines and have still been able to ride togeth­er, but you do have to be will­ing to be sep­a­rat­ed if you choose to use that line because most of the time, you will be.

One caveat is that, on cer­tain attrac­tions, like Har­ry Pot­ter and the Escape From Gringotts at Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios Flori­da, the sin­gle rid­er queue bypass­es most of the super cool mag­i­cal wiz­ardy stuff in the stand­by and Express lines, so it should def­i­nite­ly not be used the first time you expe­ri­ence the attrac­tion, but for sub­se­quent times, it can be a huge time saver. On oth­er attrac­tions, like Radi­a­tor Springs Rac­ers at Dis­ney Cal­i­for­nia Adven­ture, the sin­gle rid­er queue runs right along­side the stand­by queue, so you’re not miss­ing any­thing important.

The Single Rider line for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando bypasses the iconic Gringotts Bank lobby - Photo courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort.

The Sin­gle Rid­er line for Har­ry Pot­ter and the Escape from Gringotts in The Wiz­ard­ing World of Har­ry Pot­ter – Diagon Alley at Uni­ver­sal Orlan­do bypass­es the icon­ic Gringotts Bank lob­by — Pho­to cour­tesy of Uni­ver­sal Orlan­do Resort.

VIP Tours

There’s one last way to skip the lines (and this one real­ly does allow you to skip the lines), and that’s a VIP Tour.

VIP Tours at Disney parks are the best way to make sure you'll have no wait times - Photo courtesy of Disney Parks

VIP Tours at Dis­ney parks are the best way to make sure you’ll have no wait times — Pho­to cour­tesy of Dis­ney Parks

Both Uni­ver­sal and Dis­ney parks offer VIP tours, which pro­vide a per­son­al guide who will act as your “human Fast­Pass” and escort you right to the front of the line. For fam­i­lies who are will­ing to spend the mon­ey, this is a guar­an­tee that you will be able to ride every attrac­tion in the park – even more than once if you want – with­out waiting.

The Universal Orlando VIP Experience is the best way to maximize a day in the parks - Photo Credit Samantha Davis-Friedman

The Uni­ver­sal Orlan­do VIP Expe­ri­ence is the best way to max­i­mize a day in the parks — Pho­to Cred­it Saman­tha Davis-Friedman

“If mon­ey were no object, I would do a Walt Dis­ney World VIP Tour every vis­it,” Wal­lace says. “The pri­vate tour that is just my fam­i­ly makes it easy to do all the high­lights at all four theme parks and still not start at the crack of dawn, it tru­ly is amazing!”

I’ve been for­tu­nate to have expe­ri­enced VIP Tours at Dis­ney­land and at Uni­ver­sal Orlan­do Resort and there’s some­thing to be said for sashay­ing past all the oth­er peo­ple in line and right to the front – because, real­ly, who does­n’t like to sashay? But, unless it’s a super spe­cial occa­sion or this is the one and only time your fam­i­ly will ever be vis­it­ing that theme park, it may not be worth the expense. Though the sashay­ing part is def­i­nite­ly fun, not gonna lie.