Universal Studios Islands of Adventure (Photo: Kamira/Shutterstock.com)
Ask around Orlando, and everybody’s got a system for beating the crowds at our famous attractions. Amazingly, most of them work — just not all the time. Below, we’ve ranked the eight best long line hacks according to effectiveness.
Show When it’s Slow. This is every local’s trick because it’s the most obvious, but not everyone has the luxury of using an annual pass on a Tuesday after a rainstorm. Folks from out of town can consult a crowd calendar (like this over-explained one, but there are dozens more online) before booking a trip.
Throw Money at the Problem. At Universal, the answer is simply to buy an Express Pass, which starts at about $50 on top of a regular ticket. If you’re staying on-site or have booked a package at a high-end hotel, an Express Pass will be built in (though check which days it applies). Walt Disney World has “imagineered” a more complicated solution called MyMagic+, which offers the ability to reserve rides, meals and character greets. It’s most effective for advance bookings on property, but parts of it (the new FastPass+ system) apply to even single-day tickets. A long-read explanation of how it works — and what its future will look like — was recently published in this Wired article.
Stay on Site. There are obvious advantages to being just steps (or a mere water taxi ride away) from the action. Chief among them is getting to the gate without enduring theme park traffic purgatory. Another big perk is bonus time. If you’re staying in a Disney property, you’ll get complementary Extra Magic Hours — an hour before or two hours after regular opening time at one of the parks. At Universal, staying in luxury lodging gets you into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter an hour early. And considering the crowds there, that’s some potent magic.
Take Advantage of a Distraction If you don’t have Disney’s Extra Magic Hours, realize that everyone else staying on-site will be taking advantage of them, and they’ll all be at that day’s special park. That’s your cue to be in one of the other attractions. Big Mardi Gras parade and concert at Universal Studios? Then crank on The Hulk coaster on the Islands of Adventure side. It’s the same with International Food & Wine Festival at EPCOT; When everyone else is sippin’ in the World Showcase, you can be Soarin’ in Future World. (Note: This correspondent thinks this is a bad trade, but maybe you really like simulated hang glider rides.)
Go Early (or Stay Late). At Disney’s kid-centric parks, things tend to clear out as ice cream and toddlers melt in the afternoon heat. Late in the day, you’ll find the streets less crowded and the lines shorter. This does not apply on weekends, when adult passholders are out on date nights and long-weekend warriors attempt to squeeze in every moment of Happiness. Likewise, the more adult Universal parks tends to keep its crowds until well after the sun goes down.
Go Single. Universal offers single-rider lines for eight of its rides, with three more occasionally opening a single lane. Hop in one of these, and you may be able to reduce an hour-long wait to ten minutes. You won’t be able to enjoy the companionship of your friends for the 2:32 the ride takes, but 2:32 after you’re done, you’ll be reunited to tell tales of the sweaty and motion-sick screamer you sat next to. At Disney, you’ll only be able to take advantage of single rider lines on EPCOT’s Test Track and Animal Kingdom’s Expedition Everest. Note: If the park is full of big groups, then they’ll fill the rides to capacity turn after turn, and you’ll find yourself waiting awkwardly to join a family of three (who will later talk about the sweaty, motion-sick screamer who joined them).
App to It. Sea World, Universal, and Disney all have official smartphone apps that list wait times, show times and closures. Use them. But update them the night before your first day; some of these apps may update or download information when they are opened — which can take a while in the park, where free WiFi is available but can be spotty.
Try the Tried-and-True. Age-old amusement adages hold true. Get there early and run to the furthest popular ride. A sprint to Space Mountain can save you hours of wait time later in the day. Eat lunch at off hours, either early (preferred) or late (beware the accompanying poor decision making). That way, you’re waiting in a shorter ride line while everyone else is in line for Bumblebee Man Taco Truck.