Theme parks in busy seasons

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Navigating the crowds at your favorite theme park

Do your family vacation plans include a theme-park visit this season? From making family memories at Disneyland® Resort, to seeking thrill rides at Six Flags, theme-park vacations are a rite of passage for many families. And like many families, this means you will be traveling to theme parks during the peak seasons of summer, spring, and holiday school breaks. One of the most common questions I get from families is, “When should we go to avoid the big crowds?” Whether your plan involves a trip to Orange County, Orlando, or anywhere in between, here are a few survival tips to help you navigate theme parks in busy seasons.

Buy park tickets in advance 

Let’s face it. You will be spending a lot of time standing in line at a theme park during a busy season. Save yourself some time and skip the long lines at the front gate by purchasing your park tickets in advance, preferably by bundling them with your theme-park hotel, or purchasing online at the theme park’s website. Many hotels near theme parks also offer park tickets, so check with your hotel’s concierge or front desk to find out what options you have to purchase tickets in advance and skip the lines at the front gate.

Viewfinder Tip: Print your tickets and download apps you need before you go.

Book a hotel with early park admission 

Some theme parks, like Disneyland and Walt Disney World®, have hotels that offer early entrance to the park before the general public. At Disneyland Resort for example, a three-day park hopper pass and a stay at one of the three Disney properties (the Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, or Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel), buys you access to a “Magic Morning,” early access to select rides before the main gates open. This option is available on Tuesdays, Thursdays, or Saturdays.  

Download wait-time apps

Today, thanks to modern technology and our smartphones, we can instantly access information with a quick tap of an app from our phones. Good news for theme-park lovers—there are now official wait-time apps for rides and attractions, so you can cut down on waiting and save time. We love the MouseWait Disneyland app, and we use it religiously when we visit Disneyland. It tells you what current wait times are for rides in both Disneyland and California Adventure, and even has a crowd-index feature that tells you how full the park is with crowds so you can plan your day accordingly.  

Download wait-time apps

Use fast passes and single-rider perks

One of our favorite ways to skip the long lines and crowds on the more popular rides is to use fast passes and ride as a single rider. At Disney resorts, the Disney FASTPASS® has been a lifesaver for our family, and we’ve used it to skip the long lines at rides like Radiator Springs Racers and Splash Mountain. To use the Disney FASTPASS, look for a FASTPASS distribution sign near the entrance to the ride, insert your park admission ticket into the FASTPASS machine, and it generates a time for you to return to the ride. This service moves you to the front of the line at your designated time for a faster wait experience. FASTPASS is subject to availability and is good for day-of use only.

Are you visiting a theme park with smaller kids? Many parks such as Disney and Six Flags allow parents to “child swap” and head to the front of the line to ride as a single rider. Check with the park you are visiting to see which rides are available for a single rider.

While it would be ideal to travel to a theme park during slower periods when everyone is in school, for most families this is not an option. The good news is using these expert tips can help maximize your time for more family fun. 

Do you have any tried-and-true tips for visiting busy attractions?

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This author has either a relationship with, or received other compensation (which may include monetary or in-kind compensation) from, the product or service providers that are the subject of this post.

Hip Travel Mama

Anne Taylor Hartzell, a.k.a. Hip Travel Mama, ended her time as an Expedia Viewfinder blogger at the close of 2015. Anne is a nationally recognized family travel expert, inspiring families to share travel experiences and explore the world
 together. Hip Travel Mama is a frequent broadcast media expert, has appeared on the TODAY Show, USA Today,, Conde’ Nast Traveler, and more than 30 broadcast TV outlets across the country. With more than 16 years experience as a brand ambassador for companies such as Expedia, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Disney, Kimpton Hotels, Bing, Farecast, and others, Hip Travel Mama helps brands inspire and engage influential travelers via broadcast media, social media and the blogosphere. Her blog,, provides inspiration, travel tips, hotel and destination reviews for families. Connect with Anne on Twitter @HipTravelMama

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