After reading over a dozen fan-based websites and hundreds of nauseating message board posts, there seems to be a lot of confusion on Disney’s new FastPass Plus system. As part of my research, I went back to messages posted on sites like MiceAge and Jim Hill Media that simply speculated what the final roll out would be.
Overwhelmingly, the vast majority of Disneyphiles sneered at the idea of being able to book a FastPass in advance. Many think that having to plan your entire day out months in advance takes all the fun out of a Disney vacation and called Mickey’s top brass morons for not understanding what it’s actually like to visit Walt Disney World as a guest. Some went as far as to say they were never going to visit WDW again simply because Mickey was taking all the fun out of their vacation. No seriously, click on any of the hyperlinks provided in this paragraph and you’ll see what I mean. I needed a bottle of Advil after reading this.
Now that FastPass Plus is the only option available for guests and legacy FastPass (paper) tickets are now extinct, there have been many blogs that have “reviewed” the new system. Unfortunately, you need to keep in mind that most Disney or theme park bloggers live at the parks. The way they visit Walt Disney World is not even remotely close to how an average family arranges their day.
Most likely, if you are reading this, you fall under the category of information/theme park/Disney nerd. Me too, it’s why I do this! However, we are in the minority. Most guests who visit theme parks and attractions don’t sit on their computer for hours on end reading sites like Screamscape, MiceAge and Jim Hill to get the latest news on the latest bathroom refurbishments in Animal Kingdom and scour the internet looking at pictures of construction fences.
Today, I will take a look at why FastPass Plus was revamped in the first place. It’s only a small part of the total MyMagic Plus project, which we talk more about in a future article.
Go to any theme park in the world and take an exit survey asking what guests liked the most about their day and you’ll get a smattering of answers from roller coasters to entertainment to food. However, ask what they disliked most and I guarantee the #1 response by a landslide will be: the lines were too long. As lovers of theme parks, we know it comes with the territory. More importantly, we know how to avoid them: go during the slower season, arrive early, stay late and utilize FastPass to get as many as you can during the day.
While you may think those handy tips are common knowledge amongst you and your theme park buddies, to the average guests who visit WDW, they are not. The reality is that most repeat visitors who come to Orlando make the trek down roughly once every five years. This doesn’t mean they study park maps and strategize on what rides to hit and when. Generally speaking, guests start making those kinds of decisions once they get to their hotel, the morning of their park visit or once they arrive at a park.
However, what if there was a way to reach out to those guests coming down in advance and simply say “Hey, you know that one necessary evil that everyone hates about theme parks? What if we told you that every day you come to a park, you didn’t have to wait in three lines? All we need in return is to know what day you are going to be in what park.”
Before you say, “Josh, you’re an idiot, the old FastPass system already allowed people to do that!” You would be correct. However, less than a quarter of the guests who came to Walt Disney World utilized FastPass. Now add that to the fact that on those exit surveys where you ask guests how their day went, those who did utilize at FastPass for at least one attraction? Overwhelmingly said they were more likely to return. This easy to understand piece of undeniable data was the driver for the entire project. To create a system that would encourage/allow more guests to use FastPass, therefore give them a chance to skip three lines a day, thus giving them more of a reason to return.
If there is one thing the internet has proven: nothing is perfect. Not Kim Kardashian, United States Congress and certainly not FastPass Plus. We will now examine the pros and cons of the system from an objective point of view, not from someone who visits the parks every day of the week.
Pros of FastPass Plus
You can book three FastPass+ a day. Sorry theme park nerds, but this is actually a benefit for everyone. In the old system it was far too easy for someone to know how to work the system and ride Space Mountain four times a day without ever waiting in a line. Which certainly was their right, but it also causes them to run out quicker for everyone else.
Knowing how to work the system is just a perk of being a theme park nerd or a planner or just really crafty, right? Yup. And that was a major flaw in the old system. By limiting the amount of FastPass+ each guest can obtain in one day, in combination with allowing limited access to the most popular rides makes the system fairer to everyone.
There are many more FastPass+ experiences to choose from. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone’s priority is to ride Test Track or Expedition Everest. Many families with smaller children would rather skip the line for a character or have reserved viewing areas for parades or Fantasmic. Those lines are some of the longest in the parks and they can be torture to wait in. They move at a snail’s pace and if your child’s priority is autographs and pictures? It’s a load off your mind to know you can skip at least a few of them. Plus, this means that family’s FastPass+ options aren’t gobbling up more seemingly valuable ones for rides like Soarin’, right?
You don’t have to choose ride times before you get to the park. It’s a myth to that if you don’t book a FastPass+ for popular/low capacity rides like Soarin’ or Toy Story Mania months or weeks in advance, you just won’t get a FP+ for those attractions. A reserved amount of FP+ is set aside for every single experience in all the parks just for guests who don’t want to decide until the day of. So if you’re a planner who likes to plan your days out weeks in advance? Have at it; the option is there where it was not before.
“Again, Josh, you’re an idiot! If there are limited amounts of FP+ for Soarin’ on the day I go to Epcot, that means I gotta snag one for my family early in the morning!! See? Disney has ruined my vacation!” Calm down. If you didn’t get to Soarin’ before noon on most days under the old system, you weren’t getting a FastPass then either. It’s no different. Which leads me to….
Criss-crossing the park is no longer necessary to obtain a FastPass. In the old days, if Splash Mountain was your jam and you wanted a FastPass, you would venture underneath the Frontierland Train Station to grab a few and then head out to Haunted Mansion, Pirates or the Jungle Cruise for a few hours and then come back. Now you either know your hour window either before you even arrive at the park or you’ll know when you reserve your spot via a FP+ kiosk or when you use the app on your smart phone. That’s time saved that you can use doing other things and more importantly? Less walking because you don’t need to make that initial trip to obtain the FastPass.
FastPass+ can be changed based on availability. With the old system, if you picked up a FastPass for Maelstrom and decided it wasn’t worth the trek back to Norway at 5 pm after you’ve already made a lap around World Showcase in the afternoon, you just didn’t use it and threw it away. Now you can go to a kiosk or simply use the app to see if there is availability later in the evening so you can enjoy that extra glass of wine at Chefs De France if you so choose.
You don’t have to use FastPass+ if you don’t want to! If you go back and read those blogs from 2012 and see the comments from people who vowed never to come to Walt Disney World ever again because of this system, you’ll see that just because of silly message board rumors, Disney lost hundreds of loyal customers they merely got a whiff of this new system. (If you can’t pinpoint that new scent wafting your way as sarcasm, congratulations!)
Indeed, if you choose not to utilize FastPass+ on your visit to a Disney theme park you are not required, and will never be required to do so. If you never utilized it in the past and wanted to roam the park like the free spirit that you are not be held down by return times? Then you can continue on doing what you have always done. Also, why the hell are you even reading this?
Having to use FP+ Kiosks. This con is only a temporary one for most people. Eventually, nearly everyone will have access to utilize the My Magic Plus app on their smart phones to reserve and change FP+ times. Including people who buy a multi-day ticket in advance, annual passholders and even Cast Members. However, at the time of writing this article, the benefit of the app is only available to multi-day ticket holders staying on Disney property. Don’t panic, the benefit will come to everyone else. These things take time.
In reality, the kiosks will always be handy because as many people who use their smartphone 24 hours a day as if it were required to sustain life as we know it (much like oxygen). It’s a nice perk to be able to pull up/change your FP+ reservations without utilizing your smart phone, because battery life is a precious commodity. Also, there is a segment of the population who don’t have smart phones. Unlike unicorns, dragons and yetis – those people do exist.
You can’t obtain FP+ for all the E-Ticket attractions in one day. The old system allowed you to hop from Splash to Space to Big Thunder and get FastPasses for all three of them with ease in the course of one day. Now, there is a tier system that limits the amount of extremely popular rides lines you can skip during a day.
In reality, this spreads out the wealth. You can’t expect more people to utilize the system and not hog up all the good FP+ reservations if given the option. By limiting the major attractions, the system is optimized to accommodate more people into getting at least one FP+ for an E-ticket. Like it or not, the system is more fair than the old one. More people have access to skip one major long line, as opposed to getting table scraps the day of only getting reservations for attractions like The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, which on most days will save you a few minutes at best.
You can’t use FP+ for multiple parks in one day. So let’s say you have breakfast at the Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom, want to take a spin on the Teacups, take a nap in The Hall of Presidents, and then want to park hop over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios to ride Toy Story Mania and want to obtain a FP+ for it. Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, this is not an option. You can only obtain FP+ for one park per day.
Because of the tier system, it becomes too complicated to figure out which “bucket” of FP+ each guest can choose from each park. Never say never! However, for the time being, this will not change.
Coordinating FP+ for larger groups is a hassle. If you have multiple room reservations on Disney property or have more than 10 people traveling in your group, FP+ is a hassle. The system, at present, can’t juggle matching FP+ return times for three experiences a day in larger groups. Instead, the groups have to try and coordinate everything on their own and get experiences and return times to match up – or at least as close as possible. This takes a lot of time on behalf of several people in the group and can sometimes not even be worth the hassle. Hopefully, Disney will come up with a solution eventually.
So there you have it. Disney’s FastPass Plus as it currently stands in a nutshell. This doesn’t mean that anything or everything I said won’t eventually change – this still is in a phase of testing and as such, we theme park nerds always have to keep up with the latest changes, don’t we? In the future, hopefully more of us can approach change with an open mind and embrace it, rather than run from it vowing to never return again.