Squirreling Gone Wild #28: Amusement Park Shenanigans

Amusement parks can be fun for kids and families! What a classic way to spend a summer day. Of course, a day at the park can be expensive for the family as well.

This edition of the Squirreling Gone Wild series will share a story of a friend of mine who discovered a way to maximize the return on his investment of time and money at the park. Just keep this in mind: don’t shoot the messenger who’s sharing this story, this wasn’t me:)

Anyway, first of all, let’s talk about the friend. He’s someone who likes to save a buck or two. I’ve known him a long time, but don’t see him as often in recent years since we’re both busier. Anyway, he’s a good guy – let’s establish that up front.

We were on the phone the recently catching up, and he started to tell me about his visit to a major amusement park earlier this year. I haven’t been there since I was a kid, but would like to take my own kids sometime in the future. So, I asked him what it costs to visit these days. He proceeded to tell me how expensive the park is, counting tickets, food, etc. Plus, they stayed multiple days as they made a  vacation out of it. Needless to say, he shelled out a fair amount of money for this trip.

Then, he started laughing as he told me that he found a workaround for visiting the park that could save time and money, if someone had the guts to do it. The idea is to complain to customer service in order to board rides immediately.

The Problem

Here’s how he figured this out. First, they had arranged for something called a fastpass, which apparently allows you to “reserve” a time window during the day in which you can visit a certain ride and stand in an express line. The way he described it, you could get fastpass at say, 11:00am for a certain ride. The fastpass will have a window of 1 hour later in the day, say 2:00pm to 3:00pm, where you could go back and have a shorter wait. For comparison, he indicated that if a ride’s normal line might be 45 minutes, the fastpass line might be 15 minutes. So, you end up saving time by scheduling your ride ahead of time.

So, they went to that ride at their allotted time, and got into the fastpass lane. They were excited to have a relatively short wait in this express line! Well, unfortunately as they got in line the ride wasn’t working. They didn’t get to go on that ride, even though they had planned around it with their fastpass scheduled time. Bummer, right?

The Customer Service Response

Well, he wasn’t happy about it. His next move was to go to see customer service and complain about it. Not something I would have even thought about, actually, but he went and did it. Lo and behold, they gave him some kind of special pass for immediate boarding on one other ride! So he got something for his family’s inconvenience, after all.

He went to another ride and bypassed the long line and boarded immediately with his new, special pass. He mentioned that it was great walking right on, bypassing not only the massive wait in the regular line, but also the shorter wait in the fastpass line. Essentially, he didn’t wait at all!

The Scheme

Then, he had a thought come immediately to his mind. Apparently, he liked the convnenience of immediate boarding so much that he went to complain to customer service again, saying that he was unable to board a ride. Now, this wasn’t exactly the case. He just wanted to board another ride without waiting.

So, he got the special immediate boarding pass and went to another ride. Later in the day, he did it again. Complain to customer service, then get immediate boarding on your next ride – that was his formula.

Then, the money saving aspect came into the conversation. He assessed that yes, one could cut out an extra day of visiting by compressing more rides into one day. Then, there’s no need to stay an extra day because you’ve experienced all the rides. You just have to complain a bunch of times, get immediate boarding passes, and get it all done in less time. That means one day less in the park, which means less money spent overall – including hotel, food, etc.

Savings by complaining: Hundreds of dollars and a day of your life!

The Post-Mortem

So, would he do it again? No. The reality is that he only complained those few times I had mentioned above, and that’s it. He felt guilty about it, and didn’t think it set the best example for anyone. Plus, seeing everyone standing in the other two lines (regular long line and fastpass line) while he boarded immediately made him feel bad. He just got carried away in his enthusiasm. He just had the lightbulb go off in his head, got fired up, and took advantage. But he has a conscience and won’t do it again. Like I said, good guy.

That didn’t stop us from laughing about it though, and talking about the money savings opportunity that it presented:)

Two takeaways I had from this story:

  1. It seems like the park’s customer service might be pretty good. Kudos to them.
  2. Don’t actually do this. Rather, be honest.

My Questions for You:

Have you (or anyone you know) ever schemed to save money at some kind of entertainment venue, be it a theme park, concert, sporting event, movie, etc?

Ever do something along these lines that seemed funny at the time, but you might not do again?


    • Squirrelers says

      Moneycone – a family pass at some parks can help…especially if along the lines of being an “annual” pass as well. Sometimes those can be remarkable deals. I recall one park offering an annual pass for maybe 1.5 times the cost of a single day pass.

  1. says

    The only thing I did that came close to this…and my husband laughs about it still is that I save extra carnival and zoo ride tickets. It’s often a lot cheaper to buy the 50 pack pass of tickets for the carnival than it is to get the 20 pack. Well, last year, I didn’t use them all and I saved them in my little coupon book until the carnival rolled back into town a year later.

    My husband was amazed that I would hold onto ride tickets for a whole year just to save a a couple of bucks. He also didn’t think they’d take old tickets, but they didn’t have dates on them. They just had the name of the carnival written on the ticket stub. I did it with the zoo tickets too (our zoo has rides there for an additional charge).

    • Squirrelers says

      First Gen – Ha! That’s a squirreler type move there:) Actually, what I like about your move is that you held on for an entire year, which shows commitment! Really it seems ok to me in that you’re not really hurting them. It’s the same carnival and the same zoo, and you’ve already paid them. What’s the big deal about using them the following year, right? Nice one.

  2. says

    Funny story but I find it hard to believe that customer service didn’t recognize this guy that kept on coming in and complaining of broken rides that probably weren’t even broken later in the day. You would think they might figure it out.

    • Squirrelers says

      cashflowmantra – I asked him the same exact thing but he said they didn’t recognize him and there were different people he was dealing with anyway.

  3. says

    I’ve never done this for a park, but when I was 10, I wrote a complaint letter for a school project to Nike because the stiching in my shoes fell apart after about 3 months (of course I was a crazy kid and really put some miles on those shoes).

    Anyway, Nike sent me a brand new pair of shoes in the same style/size. So what did I do? Every three months I sent them a new letter and got a new pair of shoes for about 2 years. Now the stiching really did fall apart each time, but they were essentially replacing the free pair again and again….do I feel a little guilty? Yeah, but I was 10!

    • Squirrelers says

      Geoff – that’s clever for 10 years old! That’s also some pretty good customer service. I wonder if they knew you were a kid, and if that played a part in it.

  4. says

    Slick move, but I’m glad he listened to his conscience. This reminded me of a movie where one of the characters brought a plastic mouse or roach and put it in the food so he could eat for free! One move that backfired on me, I bought a five pack of a giant ferris wheel rides. My wife and I rode twice and lost the three other tickets. I thought I had a deal, but looks like the joke was on me!

  5. says

    I just have to think that going back and forth to customer service must have taken him a lot of time as well?

    I love fastpass–greatest thing invented. In 2008 my husband and I went to Disneyworld (I lived just 2.5 hours away by car), and we somehow had timed it perfectly that we did not wait for a single ride for Universal or for Magic Kingdom. All of the people who worked there said we were super lucky and that the next week it would explode (we went June 7th-8th in case anyone is looking for a good time to go).

    • Squirrelers says

      Amanda – yeah, you would think that it would take a lot of time going back and forth. Apparently it wasn’t enough time to change it’s value to him! Though he stopped anyway, of course. Also, one would think that they would recognize people making multiple complaints, but apparently not in this case.

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