My Amusement Park Survival Guide

I had my childhood dream come true last year when the husband and I spent a day at Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida whilst on our honeymoon. We spent the next day covering Universal Studios Orlando and Islands of Adventure (Yaay, Harry Potter!) bringing my adolescent dreams alive. Managing to successfully cover three huge theme parks in two consecutive days, without skipping out on any of the important rides has been a feat I pride myself on. I’ve been an amusement park junkie all my life, so I decided to compile everything I have learnt along the way to make your next theme park visit seamless and enjoyable. Read on!

Islands of Adventure
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Immensely crowded but equally exciting

Buy Tickets in Advance

I cannot stress this enough. Not only do you save an enormous amount of time not queuing up at the ticket counter, you also end up saving tons of money. Tickets booked in advance are much cheaper, and there are plenty coupon codes available on different websites that may slash your ticket prices even further. It is safest however to buy Walt Disney World tickets and Universal Studios tickets from their official sites here and here respectively.

You can read all about my Singapore holiday including my first Universal Studios experience here.

Fast Track Tickets

Most amusement parks offer an additional ‘fast track’ or ‘skip the line’ ticket that enables you to move right ahead of the line for most rides. These tickets however are a bit expensive and may not work for those traveling on a budget. They are available for purchase online and can be bought at the park as well.

Download the App in Advance and Research

A must do is to install the app of the amusement park in question on your phone. Here you can see a list of the various rides along with their description & age limits, and waiting time at each ride. Start observing the wait times for your favorite rides a few days in advance. This will help you understand at what time of the day the ride is comparatively less crowded.

My Experience – After carefully studying the Universal Studios app for a week I realized that the crowd at Harry Potter rides is least in the morning and only increases throughout the course of the day. Therefore we made a dash for those rides first thing in the morning.

Study the Park Map

You can find this beforehand on the amusement park app or website. Make a mental plan of the rides you want to see and the route you’re going to take to tick them off your list. No point running from one end of the huge park to the other and tiring yourself out. Find a cluster of rides you want to see in one section and stick to that area before moving on ahead.

Magic Kingdom
Magic Kingdom

List Down Your Must-Do Rides

Or favourite the rides you absolutely must ride on the amusement park app. In all likelihood these will be the popular rides that everyone else would want to go on as well. You’re going to have to strategize in order to complete them all. The following few points will help you achieve that.

Start Early

This goes without saying. Be there at the amusement park the moment they open their gates to public. A lot of the family crowd only filters in post a late breakfast and here’s your chance to be ahead of them all. If you’re staying at an affiliated Disney World hotel then you may get extended hours of park time as well.

Start From the Back

Make a dash for the rides towards the end of the park, farthest from the gates. Most people start off with the attractions that are closest to the entrance and slowly make their way inwards. I advice you to work the other way around.

My Experience – My husband and I made a dash towards the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to be first in the line for the rides. The minute we got done, we boarded the Hogwarts Express and crossed over to Island of Adventure immediately. Very few people board the Hogwarts Express that allows you to ride between the two Universal Studio theme parks that early on in the day. Starting off early and starting from the back really helped us in this case.

Opt for Single Rider Lines

This is a line reserved for people who are riding by themselves, or don’t mind doing so. By choosing the single rider line we ended up saving 50% of our time – the only drawback is that we were seated separately.

Disney World Orlando
Dreams Do Come True <3

Child Swap Facility for Families

Most major amusement parks have special facilities for families with young infants who are unable to get onto the rides. It enables one family member to wait out with the child while the others go on the attraction. Once they’re back, the first family member can ride without having to wait in line again. Don’t forget to inquire about the respective amusement park’s child swap facility beforehand.

Carry your Own Snacks and Water

Not only is it expensive to buy bottled water and snacks at the park, it will also slow you down considerably. I usually carry a small reusable bottle that I can refill at any water fountain along with plenty energy bars and nuts.

What to wear to a theme park?

Comfort is key. I strongly recommend wearing the most comfortable pair of sneakers you own because of all the running around you’re going to be doing. Apart from that, the most important tip is to carry your own waterproof poncho. You may get wet on a few of the rides and you don’t want to spend the entire day in clothing that is soaked. Nor do you want to purchase a poncho at the park for five times the price.

Avoid the Souvenir Shops

The exits of most attractions and rides are strategically placed through souvenir shops. Not only is everything exorbitantly priced, you’ll also end up wasting a lot of time browsing through the stores. Unless it is your favourite attraction, I recommend you save shopping for later.

Eat During Non Meal Hours

I know this is a cruel thing to say but don’t have lunch during lunch hours. All restaurants and eateries inside the park get immensely crowded, service gets slow and you’ll be clamoring to get a seat. While everyone else is busy getting lunch, attack your favourite ride. Grab a bite later once everyone is done with lunch ensuring you’ll be done with your meal quickly.

My Experience – We were keen on getting a beer and relaxing at Moe’s Tavern, Universal Studios Hollywood but the place was packed to the brim at lunch time. We ended up completing a few rides around the vicinity, dropped by an hour later and were treated to a chilled beer right at the bar.

The Leaky Cauldron packed with diners
Finally received that letter from Hogwarts after all these years!

Ride during Show Times

Every amusement park will have shows and parades happening at specific times during the day. This is a great time to queue up at your favourite ride while everyone else is busy watching the show.

My Experience – The Magic Kingdom Parade is a major crowd puller and everyone throngs to Fantasyland to view their favourite Disney characters come alive. The attractions and rides are relatively empty at that time.

Avoid Meet and Greets

Disney World has plenty of meet and greets scattered throughout the day where you get to meet your favorite Disney character and get to click a picture with them. The queues to these things are enormous and are usually filled with excited children and their harrowed parents.

My Experience – We ended up standing in a queue for 30 minutes to meet Ariel. (I don’t know why I did that. I don’t even like her much.) All I got was a blurry picture with her in return.

The Little Mermaid
Stood half an hour in a line with wailing children for this blurry picture
Universal Studios Orlando
Escape from Gringotts at Universal Studios

Souvenir Shopping at the End

The last one hour before any theme park closes is utter chaos. Wait times at most major rides cross the 30 minute mark, and people are running around trying to cram in as many last minute activities as possible. This is the right time to hit those overpriced souvenir stores. Generally, most theme parks will have a huge store right at the entrance with a collection of memorabilia from all rides. A few theme parks keep their stores and restaurants open an hour extra after the rides shut down for the day, so it may be a great idea to check on that.

Any other hacks you can think of? If you think I’ve missed out on anything, leave your suggestions in the comments below.

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