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Theme park apps: Maps, line waits, and more

Everyone loves a theme park. If you're one of the few who claims not to, chances are it's not the theme park you're shunning, it's the crowds. And with crowds come the bane of every theme park: lines.

The past few years have seen improvements and experiments on decreasing wait times -- or at least making them more enjoyable. First came the Fast Pass; now Disney has run tests on "queue-less" lines for some of its attractions, including Dumbo. But until these tests pan out, park visitors have a tool that can at least help alleviate the wait: the app.

Theme park apps for cell phones vary in levels of functionality, from three-dimensional maps to lists of attractions and their hours of operation. But the one feature common to most of the big-ticket parks is the UGC wait-time list.

Rather than rely on parks to post accurate wait times, many apps, including MouseWait for Disneyland and California Adventure and RideWatch for coaster mecca Cedar Point, look to park guests for info. And who better than those on line to provide data?

With easy-to-use interfaces, these apps make it a snap for anyone to help out their fellow coast aficionado by posting the time it took them to get to the front of the line for Mulholland Madness or the Raptor -- which is then shared with anyone else in the park using the app.

On recent visits to both Cedar Point and California Adventure, I found the wait times listed on the third-party apps to be even more reliable than those posted at the attractions' entrances. For a small fee (usually around $.99 to $3.99), guests can maximize their park visit by planning which ride to hit next before they trek across the park, only to discover, say, a 90-minute wait for the Indiana Jones ride.

My best estimate is that both apps allowed us to go on at least three more rides throughout the day, simply by checking the app before we boarded one ride and deciding where to head to as soon as we were off. We did more than 12 rides at Cedar Point, that comes out to less that $4 per ride -- an even better rate than a county fair. And considering Cedar Point is considered by many to be the "roller coast capital of the world" (although that title may soon be claimed by SoCal's Magic Mountain), you're getting quite the bang for your buck.

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