Disney’s FastPass Plus: Perception Versus Reality

Recently, Chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts Tom Staggs announced the FastPass Plus system at Walt Disney World would soon be receiving a few upgrades. Most importantly, this will allow guests to have the ability to pick their three FastPasses per day in multiple parks if they plan on park-hopping. The ability to utilize the new system while park-hopping is something that many guests have been requesting since the system rolled out. In addition, guests will be able to book additional FastPasses the day of their visit to a park, after the first three they have reserved have been redeemed.

While this doesn’t completely squelch the concerns that many fans in the online community, as well as guests who visit Walt Disney World have had since even before FastPass Plus began testing, it is certainly a step in the right direction. Disney considers the program to still be in a test-and-adjust phase, thus we can expect to see a few more tweaks before it’s completely rolled out. However, even with what is currently in place, there are a fair amount of misconceptions about FastPass Plus and how it effects guests visiting Walt Disney World. Today we will examine a few.

Photo by Josh Young

Photo by Josh Young

Perception: If guests haven’t booked FastPasses in advance (or couldn’t due to not staying on property, not buying tickets in advance, not wanting to plan ride times in advance or simply not knowing about it), they have to wait in an extremely long line to get them assuming they want them. While a few guests have reported horror stories of waiting 45 minutes just to make FastPass Plus selections at the kiosks, those days are pretty much long gone.

Unfortunately, there is an actual queue set up in front of all of the FastPass Plus kiosk locations to make sure the walkways surrounding them don’t get too clogged up. Generally speaking, for anyone who sees a line for anything, anxiety kicks in. Originally, the Magic Kingdom had a FastPass Plus kiosk location near Tony’s Town Square restaurant that attracted some extremely long lines early in the morning. Many guests thought, since it was the first location they saw, that they had to get in line here or else they couldn’t get a FastPass elsewhere. That location has since been removed, leaving only kiosks in each land of the park and distributing the wait much better.

Photo by Josh Young

Photo by Josh Young

Reality: Even so, lines in the morning for FastPass Plus kiosks can look really long. However, in addition to the kiosks there are handheld tablets that FP+ trained cast members are using that can also book reservations, essentially doubling the amount of touch screens guests can use. Lines move fairly quickly, but there is a learning curve where you have to explain the new process which takes time. Sometimes getting a family to agree on choosing attractions from two different columns and then also making sure everyone is ok with the times the computer spits out can be a bit of a challenge. It’s a new way of strategizing your day that isn’t easy to wrap your head around if you aren’t prepared.

Photo by Josh Young

Photo by Josh Young

In addition, there are now MyMagic Plus service centers that can connect your MagicBands/ticket media to the My Disney Experience app for smartphones so you can make your own selections without having to ever visit a kiosk. Plus you can change them based on your needs for the day/availability. Not only is this the better way to go, as more guests start to use MagicBands and connect their tickets to the app, the less they will need to ever visit a kiosk again. Not everyone has a smart phone, nor wants to use the app, but it’s expected that most Disney guests will use the option as the system gets rolled out, thus the need for waiting in line for a kiosk will eventually be minimized. It may be hard to imagine now, but those kiosks will eventually shrink in number as more guests sync their tickets up with the My Disney Experience app. It’s already happening, slowly but surely.

Photo by Al D'Alfonso

Photo by Al D’Alfonso

Perception: FastPass Return Lines are extending far beyond the FastPass Return sign, thus Disney is handing out too many FastPasses and the wait to get on an attraction, even with a FastPass, is longer than it was under the old system.

Photo by Josh Young

Photo by Josh Young

Reality: There are certainly more people using FastPass than there were before, thanks to Disney heavily marketing the new system as well as when Walt Disney World Resort guests now make a hotel reservation, it prompts them to make FastPass Plus reservations then. More guests are aware of the service, thus more usage. However, the attractions that utilize FastPass Plus haven’t gained any additional capacity due to the change. Doom Buggies still accommodate 2 people, while a boat at Pirates of The Caribbean can still max out at 23 guests.

Every attraction has a magic number of riders that it can handle in an hour based on normal operation, dispatch times, etc. FastPass has always handed a certain number of tickets (now reservations) on a ratio of FastPass to Standby at around 80% FP to 20% Standby. That number has been tweaked at certain attractions to allow more FastPasses to come through, but not to the point where they can’t handle it.

Photo by Al D'Alfonso

Photo by Al D’Alfonso

The real issue here is simply time and a bit of a learning curve. With the old paper ticket system, the Cast Member could simply glance at tickets and guests could quickly flow into the FP return queue with ease. Now? Things are a bit different. With nothing printed to present the Cast Member, each guest must scan their wristband to the touch point and wait for it to turn green. Even when done quickly and correctly, the process can take double the amount of time a quick glance used to take.

That’s also assuming that the stars are aligned and everyone returning in the FastPass line is coming in at the appropriate time. You can now arrive for your FastPass 5 minutes early or 15 minutes late. However, some guests try to sneak in early or substantially late, sometimes due to being sneaky and other times because they just plain forgot what their return time was. Regardless, a conversation needs to happen after the party has scanned their bands as to why they aren’t allowed entrance, which then blocks the flow of the return line.

Disney World Tickets

In addition, if the Mickey on the Magic Band doesn’t line up exactly with the Mickey at the touch point? It won’t register properly. This generally happens the first few times some guests use the band at a touch point. Again, it’s a learning curve that will get better with time. The other issue is with guests who don’t have MagicBands and have the plastic park passes with the RFID embedded inside. When they arrive at the FastPass return line, they don’t have them out and ready to scan. This means everyone must dig through their pockets, purses or backpacks to find them. You can’t really blame them, of course you want to secure your tickets so they don’t fall out while you are on a ride. However, this definitely holds up the process. Also, many large groups (like cheerleaders or Brazilian tour groups) have one person hold the tickets for a group of 20-to-50 people. Then the person holding the tickets will stand at the touch point and either hand out the tickets to each member of the group to be collected later, or scans each one individually before the group moves forward to enter the queue.

Similarly, there are guests who enter a FastPass return line that simply want to know where to reserve one for that attraction. Again, this isn’t a quick explanation on how the new process works and where to direct them to get additional assistance. This will get better over time, but for now, it’s an operational reality.

Photo by Josh Young

Photo by Josh Young

Another issue is that many guests don’t realize that they need to keep those tickets out because they are scanned a second time at the attraction’s merge point where a second Cast Member verifies and actually redeems the FastPass. In particular, groups of guests still using the plastic cards are putting them back in pockets or purses only to have to take them back out again a second time. 

Perception: With all the changes to FastPass Plus it may seem like Disney is flailing around in the dark just trying random strategies and seeing what works best.

Reality: Nearly all of these changes have been in the pipeline for quite some time with more to come. The system is still in its test and adjust phase, however guests who have been using it this far aren’t paying for a test vacation. So because of all these hiccups, maybe they have lost customers. Time will tell.

Photo Courtesy Mousesteps.com

Photo Courtesy Mousesteps.com

While all of this may sound like it may only take a few seconds or minutes, for an attraction that can handle literally thousands of guests an hour, seconds always count. Since everyone is becoming accustomed to all of these changes, including Cast Members, there is a bit of a learning curve happening here. Rest assured, it will slowly get better. However, FastPass Plus isn’t perfect and it never will be, nor was the old version. Your thoughts?

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