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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.

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SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 9, 2018: People walk on the midway at Belmont Park, an amusement park built in 1925 on the Mission Beach boardwalk with the iconic Giant Dipper roller coaster.
Sherry V Smith/Shutterstock

The best way to beat lines

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. Check out some more insider tips to help you make the most of your Disney vacation.

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Back Umbrella in the rain in vintage tone

Grab an umbrella

Come when the forecast is iffy. Many people skip a visit on those days, so we have some of our shortest lines.

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Here’s a trick to significantly cut your wait

Get in the single rider line. 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

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. These abandoned amusement parks will give you the creeps.

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Family Holiday Vacation Amusement Park Togetherness

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

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.

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Ticket booth at county fair
Mag Carr/Shutterstock

Never, ever buy your ticket at the gate

Buy tickets in advance. Nearly every theme park has an online discount, even the oldest amusement parks in the world. 

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Choose your vacation days wisely

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. Here are some fun family vacations you can take that won’t break the bank.

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

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.

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Vacancy sign
StacieStauffSmith Photos/Shutterstock

Don’t fall for the fancy hotel room

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 secret tips to save money on your next Disney vacation.

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NEW YORK,USA - AUGUST 18,2016 : Ferris wheel and carrousel at the Luna Park amusement park at Coney Island

Should you pay for the express pass?

At most parks, prices change based on demand. The cheaper they are, the more likely it is that you won’t need them. But for busy times, they might just be worth it. 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.

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Rollercoaster ride with sky at theme park

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

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).

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Sweet couple piggyback ride togetherness

You don’t have privacy in a dark ride

Every inch of every ride is monitored by security cameras (including infrared ones that work in the dark). If you decide to get frisky 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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NEW YORK CITY - AUGUST 15, 2017: A worker stands in a balloon-popping booth at the Coney Island boardwalk amusement park.

Here’s how we pass the time on long shifts

We play “guest bingo.” 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.

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Nephila Pilipes Spider are rare in Thailand. The body has a large human face.
SIM ONE/Shutterstock

A single spider can shut down an entire ride

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.

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AUCKLAND - JUN 18 2017:Olaf snowman, fictional character from the 2013 animated film Frozen, produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios.

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

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. Learn which Disney characters you can’t meet in the parks anymore.

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The asian boy crying. Chinese boy is sad.

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

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. These are the things you should probably consider before taking your toddler to an amusement park.

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We trick you with music

Our music changes during the day. 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.

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Cars in the parking lot in row

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

Don’t forget where you parked! You have no idea how much time we spend helping guests find their vehicles.

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Feral cat
Holly Zynda/Shutterstock

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

They’re quietly fed, vaccinated, and neutered by Disney because they perform an important job: They help control the rodent population. Here are some more surprising secrets Disney employees won’t tell you.

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Pretty young woman drinking a bottle of ice cold water
Deborah Kolb/Shutterstock

Want to stay out of the first aid station?

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. Here are some other common summer dangers you may not be aware of.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest