20 Secrets Amusement Parks Won’t Tell You About Saving Money and Avoiding Crowds

From how to beat the crowds to the real reasons rides get shut down, former and current amusement park employees dish their biggest secrets.

The best way to beat lines

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Get there an hour early, walk in the minute it opens, and hit the coasters and other popular rides first. At Disney's Magic Kingdom Park, every minute you arrive after the park opens is two extra minutes of waiting in line.

Grab an umbrella

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Many people skip a visit on those days, so we have some of our shortest lines.

Here’s a trick to significantly cut your wait

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Most big attractions have one (although they’re not always well marked), and if you don’t mind not sitting together, your wait will be 20 or 30 percent of the regular line wait, so 15 to 20 minutes instead of an hour. You and your friends can still hang out in line, and you’ll be off the ride within a few minutes of each other.

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Don't rule out a busy month

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Contrary to what most people believe, wait times aren’t always shorter early or late in the season at regional theme parks. While lines tend to be long in summer, that's also when staff levels are highest, and a fully staffed coaster runs extremely efficiently. Your best bet is weekdays in early June, when there are plenty of college students already at work, but K-12 schools are still in session.

Weekdays are always better than weekends, and school holidays are always the worst

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If you’re heading to a Disney or Universal park, check the crowd calendar at touringplans.com. Once you’re in the park, hit big rides during parades and fireworks shows, go to lunch early or late, and take a break in the afternoon, when crowds are worst, before coming back in the evening.

Never, ever buy your ticket at the gate

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Nearly every theme park has an online discount.

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Choose your vacation days wisely

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You can cut the cost of your hotel stay by moving your summer vacation by just a few days. Every theme park has different seasons that roughly correspond to school schedules and holidays, and they charge more when school’s out. But the season generally ends the first or second week of August. So if you can move your five-night summer trip to mid- or late-August instead of early August, you can save hundreds of dollars.

Ready to try to win one of those big stuffed animals at our games?

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Watch other customers play first, ideally until you see a few wins. And remember, our prizes are very low quality. Economically speaking, you’re always better off saving your money and buying your own stuffed animal in a store. Here's how to win the trickiest carnival games.

Don't fall for the fancy hotel room

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Disney’s more expensive, “preferred” hotel rooms aren’t always better. They’re a few minutes' walk closer to restaurants and buses, but many of them face the pools, with noise from kids splashing around late at night. And because they're closer to the lobby, you may hear people walking by in the morning on their way to breakfast and buses. Check out these secrets hotel receptionists won't tell you.

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Should you pay for the express pass?

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At most parks, prices change based on demand. The cheaper they are, the more likely it is that you won’t need them. So if you’re going to a theme park on the Fourth of July or over spring break and you don’t want to spend two or three hours in line, get the pass.

No one really knows whether theme park rides are getting safer or more dangerous

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This is because no single federal agency is responsible for collecting data or enforcing standards. A 2013 study revealed that more than 93,000 children were treated in ERs for amusement park-related injuries between 1990 and 2010 (about 20 kids a day during the summer months).

You don't have privacy in a dark ride

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Every inch of every ride is monitored by security cameras (including infrared ones that work in the dark). If you decide to get busy with your honey, not only will the person in the control tower see it, but he'll call over all his buddies to watch.

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Here's how we pass the time on long shifts

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To win, we have to find specific types of guests: a family dressed alike, someone wearing a cowboy hat, or someone in a swimsuit he or she should not be wearing.

A single spider can shut down an entire ride

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Of course we close rides for safety checks and when the weather is stormy, but every so often, a big bug runs across a ride's sensors and triggers a shutdown too.

Even though some of the character costumes have fans, it can get very hot in there

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That's why each mascot is available for only short time periods. So when our handlers say it's time for us to go, please don't ask us to take one more picture with little Johnny. It's a safety issue.

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Stuck on the tracks? Chances are it's a scared child

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We're not allowed to let a train leave the station with a crying child inside, because of the risk that he or she may try to hop out at the last minute.

Our music changes during the day

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In the morning, when we want to get you deep into the park, we play fast marching band music. But at the end of the day, we play slower waltz music to encourage you to linger and shop before you leave. Here's how stores use music to get you to buy more.

Before you enter the park, snap a picture of your parked car

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You have no idea how much time we spend helping guests find their vehicles.

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Every night, after the crowds are gone, more than 100 feral cats make themselves at home in Disneyland

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They're quietly fed, vaccinated, and neutered by Disney because they perform an important job: They help control the rodent population.

Want to stay out of the first aid station?

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Drink plenty of water, wear sunscreen, and take breaks in the shade when it's hot. Sun and heat cause more injuries at theme parks than all other causes combined.

Sources: Former Walt Disney World cast member Robert Niles, editor of themeparkinsider.com; Len Testa, programmer for touringplans.com and coauthor of the Unofficial Guides theme park series; and former and current employees of Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio; Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California; and Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida

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