America’s biggest theme parks will pack in around 120 million people this year.
That’s a lot of standing in long lines for roller coasters, juggling show schedules and figuring out when and where to eat. But there’s a way to eliminate the stress of making the annual trek to Disney, Universal and the other Central Florida parks, as well as Six Flags and other popular parks in other states.
Many now have VIP tours with perks usually reserved for celebrities — private tour guides, no waits for the biggest attractions, reserved seating at shows and parades along with behind-the-scenes peeks at places normally off limits. They are popular enough that Legoland Florida, which caters to a niche crowd of 2- to 12-year-olds, added a VIP tour a few weeks ago after a successful pilot program.
All of this, of course, comes at a steep price.
The VIP tours at Six Flags parks in New Jersey and near Los Angeles come in at $299 per person. Cedar Point in Ohio charges $395 apiece for a full day of perks that include front of the line access to its 16 roller coasters. Disney World’s VIP tour starts at $315 per hour for up to 10 people.
The Legoland tour starts at $445 for kids, $495 adults, but unlike most VIP experiences, includes park admission, VIP parking and a digital photo package, as well as lunch, a guide, front-of-the-line access, a tour of the “secret” Model Shop, and a building experience with a Master Model builder — the people who create figures out of Lego bricks. For $100 a person more, the experience includes the adjacent water park and a private cabana with refreshments.
“Time is money and when you’re waiting in line, you’re wasting money,” said Joey Ray, of Sparks, Nev., whose vacations usually revolve around theme parks.
The ability to bypass the lines means he can see everything in a day instead of staying an extra night or two at a park. Ray said he’s gone on a few of the VIP tours, including at Universal Studios Hollywood where visitors get to see the studio’s costume and prop departments and walk through the courtyard in the back lot where Back to the Future was filmed.
Just seeing that was worth the splurge, he said.
Those in the theme park industry say there are two distinct types of visitors now — those who closely watch what they spend and those who are willing to shell out more but are limited by time.
Gone are the days when everyone pays the same price for a theme park ticket and waits in the same lines.
“Everyone is not equal anymore,” said Dennis Spiegel, a theme-park consultant and president of International Theme Park Services Inc. in Cincinnati.
His company found in a survey just completed that the money parks make from VIP tours is small, but growing. It also showed that VIP visitors are moving twice as fast through the parks with front-of-line access and that about 70 percent wouldn’t come back without it.
“It became very apparent that this is something that’s going to continue to grow in the future,” said Spiegel, who noted that parks recognize the potential for ill will when guests with high-priced tickets sidestep lines full of paying customers.
Their solution now is to design new rides so that people won’t notice when they are being bypassed.