Fast Pass. Blast Pass. Fast Track. Express Pass. Fast Lane Pass. Paris Museum Pass. Flash Pass. Skip The Line Pass. New York Pass. TimeSaver Pass. Priority Lane. Quick Queue. *Ahem* TSA PreCheck. The rules and processes for each may be different, but they’re virtually all the same – you pay extra for entry to something, thereby bypassing the long line of people who don’t have that pass.
History of “skip the line” passes
There’s little written about the history of “skip the line” passes. The earliest version I can find is the classic Fast Pass from Disney parks, which was introduced in the very late 20th century.
In 1999, a virtual queue was invented by Disney. Using your ticket media so the park could keep track, you could get Fast Passes, for free, for certain rides. The Fast Pass kiosks, which were located outside the ride in question, would tell you to come back during a certain time period. Say, between 2:30 and 3:30pm. When you arrived at 2:45pm, you would go on the “Fast Pass queue,” which was only a few people long. You’d bypass all the people standing on the regular queue, and get on the ride within a few minutes, instead of however long the standby queue was.
Of course, being Disney, they marketed this as a way to make your vacation more “magical.” But, of course, they weren’t offering you free Fast Passes to be altruistic. Their original goal was for you to enjoy shopping and dining (read: spend more money) at the parks while you waited for it to be “your time.” Except that didn’t really go as planned – most people just stood on line for another ride while waiting for “their time”. The Fast Pass system changed several times since its inception, including offering them as a perk of staying at a WDW-owned property (again, if you stayed on site, Disney got the money you paid for hotel).
Disney’s Fast Pass system quickly got the notice of a lot of other theme parks. But instead of giving you the pass for free and hoping you’d go shopping while you waited,, they charged you for your “go to the head of the line” pass. That’s how nearly all “skip the line” passes work nowadays – including Disney’s (which, to their credit, stayed free, albeit in different forms, for over 2 decades. But since late 2021, they’ve introduced a different system, and you pay $7 to $15 (+/-) for “skip the line” privileges per ride).
It wasn’t just theme parks though – it’s virtually any tourist attraction that tends to get large crowds. The Colosseum. The Vatican. The Musee d’Orsay. The Space Needle. The Tower of London. They all have some sort of “skip the line” pass.
Are they worth it?
Unfortunately, there’s no way for one person to tell another person if these passes are actually “worth it” or not. Why? Because the “worth” of anything is a value judgement.
noun: value judgement
an assessment of something as good or bad in terms of one’s standards or priorities.
So yeah, a value judgement is based on an individual’s standards and priorities.
So let’s say you’re going somewhere and are considering getting one of these “skip the line” passes. These are some of the things to consider:
What’s more important to you? Time or money?
“Skip the line” passes may or may not vary in price, depending on where you are and sometimes what season it is (the more crowded it is, the more expensive the passes might be).
- Whether or not paying $189 per person (on top of admission price) for the 6 people in your party to skip all the lines at Universal Hollywood for one day is “worth it” is probably going to be different for an investment banker vs. someone who’s making minimum wage.
- How long you’re going to be somewhere also comes into play. If you’re only going to spend 2 days in Paris and the Musee d’Orsay, the Louvre, the top of the Eiffel Tower and a trip to Versailles are all on your bucket list, then getting “skip the line” passes could save you hours of precious time.
- Someone who travels once every 3 years and whose home airport tends to be quiet/slow will have a different opinion about investing in TSA PreCheck than someone who travels in and out of MIA every other week.
Will you have (or have you had) other opportunities?
- Joe and I were Disney fans for decades and have lived about 9 miles from Walt Disney World property for almost 20 years. We had annual passes for decades and have gone to the parks literally hundreds of times. When their Fast Pass system went to a “pay” system, we agreed we would probably rarely, if ever take part for stuff we’ve already been on. I mean, why should we pay $15 per person for their (now called) Genie+ add-on, so we have the privilege of spending $7 to $15 to get on Haunted Mansion faster, when we’ve been on the ride dozens upon dozens of times in our lives?
- That being said, we don’t have Disney APs anymore (It was a conscious decision. The parks had become much too crowded for our tastes, and, as locals, having to make reservations for certain parks on certain days just didn’t fit in with the spontaneity we usually used when deciding to go to Disney). But if friends or family are visiting, we buy day passes, and everyone wants to go on the new Guardians of the Galaxy or (when it opens) Tron ride, will we pay the total of $30 per person to not stand in 2-3 hour lines for one of those new attractions? Maaaaaybe? (which is more positive than a resounding, “No.”)
- Or take our favorite water park in the world, Schlitterbahn, in New Braunfels, TX. They offer something called a Blast Pass. We tend to get one for at least 1 day of our visit. But…waits for some of the more popular rides can be upwards of 2-3 hours. We only go twice a year, for 2 or 3 days. We can’t go “another time,” maybe after work, because it’s rainy out so it might not be so crowded. So for us, the time saved with the Blast Passes are “worth it.”
What’s your patience level?
Some people just don’t have the patience to stand in a line for X amount of time. I don’t mean someone with special needs (who may be able to get a special pass so they don’t have to stand in line); I just mean anyone who just hates standing in long lines. Getting a “skip the line” pass can be helpful in those types of situations.
The only one who can say if “skip the line” passes are “worth it” to you, is you
So again, whether or not those “skip the line” passes are “worth it” is about as much of a Your Mileage May Vary situation as one can get. It will vary from person to person, based on their own value judgements.
Do your research. Make your decision. Ask others what they experienced. Ask them what they liked and didn’t like. But really, don’t bother asking if it was “worth it.” As closed-ended of a question as it appears, it’s really as open-ended as could be.
Feature Photo (cropped): Ben Sutherland / flickr / CC BY 2.0 attribution
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