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Single riders used to cut the line at theme parks. But the travel hack can’t survive social distancing.


Before the pandemic, the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster at Universal Studios Florida was one of many rides that offered an expedited line for single riders. (Universal Orlando Resort)

One epic February day in 2018, Louis Davidson went to Disney’s Animal Kingdom as soon as it opened and hopped onto Expedition Everest. Then — thanks in large part to a theme park hack called the single-rider line — the Cleveland, Tenn., computer programmer rode the roller coaster again, 57 more times, until the park closed.

“I just started riding and kept riding the entire day,” said Davidson, 52, who runs the Disney Pic a Day Twitter account and blog. “Stopped for lunch.”

For theme park fans who just want to cut to the action without fuss (and don’t mind joining a group of strangers), the single-rider line has been a favorite hack for years. While not available on every ride — or guaranteed to be shorter, or even operating all the time — the lines are a go-to shortcut for frequent visitors in the know.

Or, at least, they were.

“Pour one out for the single-rider line, which is done,” says Robert Niles, editor of Theme Park Insider. “No one’s keeping them.”

When Universal Orlando Resort — home to roller coasters and Harry Potter-themed attractions that offered solo riders expedited entry — presented its reopening plans to county officials last month, the operator explicitly singled out the lines for elimination. Its two theme parks opened this month with lower capacity, social distancing rules and mandated masks.

“We are not permitting single riders at this time in order to accommodate our new social distancing procedures at our attractions,” spokeswoman Alyson Lundell said in an email. “No further discussion has been had on if/when single rider lines could return.”

SeaWorld Orlando, which also opened again this month, told officials it was removing the lines. A spokeswoman for regional operator Six Flags Entertainment confirmed its parks would not be using them.

The Walt Disney Co., which is planning for a phased reopening of its Florida and California parks in July, has not specified how it will handle solo riders. But Shanghai Disneyland, which has served as a sort of reopening test case since bringing guests back in May, is not operating the lines.

Len Testa, owner of TouringPlans — which helps people avoid theme park lines with computer-optimized itineraries — said the lines have traditionally allowed operators to fill in the gaps when a group doesn’t take up all the seats on their ride. If one ride holds four people, for example, and only three are in a group, the most efficient thing to do is snag one extra person to fill that seat. That’s where the solo riders, in their own queue, come in.

“Single riders get shorter waits, the ride runs at 100% capacity, and everyone waits a little less than they would otherwise,” Testa said in an email. “It’s a win for everyone.”

And, sometimes, a fun social experience. Jessica Sanders, founder of Disneyland planning site the Happiest Blog on Earth, said it’s always a laugh to end up as the odd person out in another group’s ride photo. She remembers one trip when she sat in the back on Matterhorn Bobsleds as a single rider.

“The family that was on the ride with me, they didn’t realize I was on until I screamed,” said Sanders, who lives in the Salt Lake City area. “And then I really scared them.”

As theme parks slowly reopen with coronavirus precautions in mind, Niles said, getting people through rides efficiently isn’t the goal anymore. Theme parks need empty seats to keep people a safe distance apart and can’t operate rides at full capacity.

“There’s no reason for a single-rider line anymore; in fact, it’s completely counterproductive to what they’re trying to do,” he said.

The loss of single-rider lines is just one change that park visitors will have to adjust to in the new reality. Theme parks have said they will operate at lower capacity, change their reservation systems, require guests to wear masks, cancel character interaction, and, in some cases, eliminate parades and fireworks shows.

Nikida Metellus, who writes the ThemeParkHipster blog with tips for solo theme park visitors, said many fans have been saddened to lose the FastPass+ reservation system that lets people reserve slots on rides in advance.

“I am curious to see how the new ride reservation system that is now being required at major vacation destinations like Walt Disney World Resort and Universal Orlando Resort will work on a long-term basis,” she said in an email. “Or if this is a temporary addition to the parks until the social distancing requirements are removed.”

Testa predicted the demise of the single-rider line may be temporary.

“I think the single rider lines will return when the social distancing rules can be relaxed,” Testa said. “Until then, there’s no way for the parks to run rides at 100% capacity, and they’ve got other things to think about besides the occasional empty seat.”

Read more:

The ‘Happiest Place on Earth’ returns: Disney plans to reopen its California theme parks July 17

These photos provide a glimpse into how restaurants are reopening around the world

The new rules of visiting a pool this summer with coronavirus in mind

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