Fixing Fastpass at Walt Disney World

Written by Tim Grassey. Posted in Disney, Features, Walt Disney World

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Published on July 07, 2013 at 3:00 am with 60 Comments

Fastpass+ is coming whether we like it or not. There are those among us that have embraced our new Type A overlords. I am not one of them. I look at the current Fastpass system as flawed, but not fundamentally flawed. Yes, it certainly can be improved but an overhaul is unnecessary. It never needed this type of fix.

Fastpass+ is being sold as something that guests demanded. I find it hard to believe that the majority of guests want so many aspects of their vacations pre-determined. A more likely narrative is that Disney was looking for another way to keep guests on property and they developed a cruise line type vacation planner to meet this goal.

Under the current system, distribution of Fastpass is done day-of on a first come, first serve basis. Fastpasses for higher demand attractions run out earlier in the day with the lower demand attractions still available later. They will also “turn off” Fastpass for certain attractions if demand is too low on a given day. When a guest acquires a Fastpass they are given a time when they can get their next Fastpass and that is dictated largely by the level of demand of the Fastpass that was just acquired. For example, if a guest acquires a Fastpass for Maelstrom, they can usually ride the attraction and acquire a new Fastpass within 40-60 minutes. However, if they acquire a Fastpass for Soarin’, they typically have to wait 2 hours to acquire a new Fastpass and longer to ride the ride. This restriction on day-of demand helps make Fastpass availability equal for all guests and it reinforces the guest mentality that some attractions are better than others.

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While there are still some unknowns with Fastpass+, many components have been tested. Additionally, signage in the parks indicates what attractions will be equipped with Fastpass+ in the future. On the surface, the biggest change is that the Fastpasses themselves will become electronic. It will be integrated with the My Disney Experience mobile application and/or in park kiosks. At each attraction, the Fastpasses will be verified by either an RFID enabled ticket or the RFID enabled Magic Band. Personally, I have no objections to this change and see many positive components, most notably not having to crisscross the park to acquire a Fastpass.

However as mentioned in a previous article, the “+” components of Fastpass+ are not limited to the My Disney Experience integration. They fundamentally changed what Fastpass is, and it’s putting a huge black eye on the NextGen project. In addition to smart phone integration, Disney is planning on changing the distribution policies. At this point, resort guests, Disney Vacation Club owners, and annual pass holders will be able to select up to 3 Fastpass+ reservations up to 60 days in advance. While I’m sure that some guests will love the fact that they can guarantee their spot on a high demand attraction in advance, this will significantly hurt same day Fastpass availability. It is unknown if Disney will make all Fastpass+ reservations available 60 days in advance, or if some reservations will be held back for same day reservations.

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What is known is that the math simply “didn’t work” for Disney to guarantee 3 Fastpass+ reservations for every guest for every day when guests were limited to the current Fastpass attractions. To compensate for this, Disney has added Fastpass+ to attractions that previously didn’t need it. The biggest objection to this is that it’s woefully shortsighted. Once again, Disney is attempting to repackage what’s already in the parks as opposed to revitalizing the parks with innovative new attractions. I say this with the understanding that new attractions will likely be announced soon, but the Fastpass+ changes are also still imminent.

There is a belief among executives that guest satisfaction is a black and white argument; a guest is either satisfied or they’re not. However, like most subjective things there is a sliding scale. A first time rider on Soarin’ may leave 80% satisfied. It’s also conceivable that the same guest could have their first experience on Soarin’ right after the film had been cleaned making for a clearer picture. They may then leave the attraction at 90 or 100% satisfied. In this case, ignorance of “what could be” shows a sliding level of satisfaction regardless of whether the guest can pinpoint what leads to that satisfaction.

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This same satisfaction level can be applied to the Fastpass+ distribution. Since Fastpass+ has been added to attractions that previously had typical waits of 15 minutes or less, the time savings across guests will vary significantly. Some guests may get Fastpass+ reservations for Space Mountain, Enchanted Tales with Belle and Journey of the Little Mermaid, while others get Fastpass+ reservations for Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, and Mad Tea Party. The guest with reservations for the first grouping may wind up saving three hours of their day while the second grouping would likely only save one hour. Both groupings save time, but the extent of that time savings will effect that guest’s satisfaction. The current system accounts for this with delays in the next Fastpass acquisition on higher demand attractions. If Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, and Mad Tea Party were eligible for the current Fastpass system, it’s conceivable that a guest could acquire and ride all three Fastpass attractions in under three hours. However, it would take closer to six hours just to acquire all three Fastpasses for Space Mountain, Enchanted Tales with Belle and Journey of the Little Mermaid and possibly longer to actually ride the attractions. The system is self-governing and makes the distinction via each attraction’s popularity.

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The current Fastpass system discriminates against those who are ignorant of how it works. If a guest doesn’t know how to take advantage of it, they are unable to see as many marquee attractions. However, there is no deception under the current system. The rules are printed on the park map as well as the Fastpass itself, and signage at attractions clearly state wait times and Fastpass return times. The ignorance manifests itself through uninformed guests who are unaware of the system and/or what attractions benefit most from usage.

 

The changes under Fastpass+ increase this discrimination while also deceiving the uninformed guest in the process. A knowledgeable guest will understand which attractions should be prioritized for their 3 Fastpass+ reservations. An uninformed guest will still receive the 3 Fastpass+ reservations but they could be for lower demand attractions, and likely attractions that did not previously require Fastpass. Guests will have the option to have Disney select their 3 Fastpass choices, and it’s safe to assume that Disney will not prioritize the high demand attractions. The advanced bookings will limit same day availability for marquee attractions, and at that point it will be too late for the uninformed guests to change their selections. It’s possible that the uninformed guests may think they’ve benefited from an egalitarian system, and perhaps that perception is enough to prompt a return visit, however I feel that’s very unlikely.

 

The thought process that leads to the decisions and components related to Fastpass+ resembles an Animal Farm mentality.

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All guests are equal, but some guests are more equal than others.

Like in Animal Farm, concepts seem to be changing to fit the needs (and potentially wallets) of executives. In recent years, Disney has made significant strides to keep guests on property. Things that were initially advertised as free (Magical Express) or a cost savings (The Disney Dining Plan) changed into something different. The Disney Dining Plan devolved to the point where it’s no longer a cost savings, and now menu decisions are changing to fit the plan. The standard of quality has lowered to the point where menus have been simplified and quality of product has declined. These choices were made so that more restaurants can accommodate the Disney Dining Plan. What’s being sold as a convenience is really a decline in quality.

Similarly, Fastpass+ is also designed to keep guests on property. Guaranteeing attractions up to 60 days in advance further incentivizes visiting a particular park in favor of leaving property. However as mentioned previously, attraction capacity wasn’t available to fully accomplish this in the amounts that Disney wanted. Rather than truly add to the capacity of attractions that required Fastpass, they padded the numbers by adding Fastpass to attractions that didn’t need it. Other decisions, like shortening the Country Bear Jamboree, were done for capacity purposes as well. The manipulation of capacity is fueled by the flaw in the initial Fastpass+ concept, but rather than admit the mistake, Disney has chosen to lower the standards for what necessitates a Fastpass attraction.

Here in Florida, we have something special we never enjoyed at Disneyland: the blessing of size. There’s enough land here to hold all of the ideas and plans we can possibly imagine.

-Walt Disney 

This blessing of size isn’t a competitive advantage if it’s ignored. Fastpass+ is not a long term solution to attracting guests any more than deep discounts or the dining plan. In Disney’s case, they are willing to try absolutely anything to maintain or increase attendance, except build and maintain innovative new attractions.

But that’s just the way I see it. What are your opinions about FastPass+? Would you rather have a smart phone enabled FastPass reservation system or more attractions?

About Tim Grassey

Three months before being born, Tim enjoyed his first trip to Disney World. Ever since, frequent trips to Disney World and Disneyland have helped feed the obsession. After a three year run as a podcaster, Tim currently co-owns the Disney information site, WDWThemeParks.com. You can follow the site on twitter @wdwthemeparks or follow Tim directly @tgrassey

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60 Comments

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  1. [...] Fixing Fastpass at Walt Disney World Fastpass+ is coming whether we like it or not. There are those among us that have embraced our new Type A overlords. I am not one of them. I look at the current Fastpass system as flawed, but not fundamentally… [...]

  2. I’m not one to like a pre-planned Disney vacation, so Fastpass+ doesn’t appeal to me. However, I’ll have no choice but to pre-plan which attractions I want to see on what day and when.

    • I absolutely agree. Disney is forcing us to micromanage our own vacation. I’d prefer to see FastPass go away all together rather than implement FastPass+ on top of it. Frankly, I’d like to see restaurant reservation times shortened as well. 180 days is ridiculous. A week in advance should be plenty.

  3. I totally agree and am really disappointed in everything that I’ve heard about this Fastpass+ system. While there’s still a chance Disney will tweak it in a way that’s more positive, I still think it lessens the guest experience. Disney isn’t adding many new attractions, and they’re raising prices. The changes to Fastpass provide another way to restrict what the guest can do in a given day. Uninformed guests will think it’s a great bonus, but it’s really just another way for Disney to try and make money while not improving the experience. It makes the system overly complicated and doesn’t do what it promises. It also is unfair to day visitors and Florida residents and is a transparent way to draw people to the resorts.

  4. You are spot on. I don’t get what Disney is doing. The food has become horrible and attraction wise nothing exciting is happening. Take Animal Kingdom. Guests demand more rides. There is the safari, 3 shows, a 4D movie, some horrible carnival rides, a very short Dino (indy) ride and the very short Kali River Rapids. So lets build a ride, a ride that is amazing, that has people jump over to AK as soon as they come from the plane, a ride everyone can enjoy, has a high capacity. They build Disco Yeti coaster. Yep, that is something Disney has never done. Take a rollercoaster and build a mountain. Sure it looks nice but at least 70% of the guests can’t or don’t want to ride it. All that while on the other side of the world the Disney imagineers are building Mystic Point. Never used ride system, story and theming that could be enjoyed by many more guests and would be a perfect fit.
    Take Fantasy land, the most crowded part of MK. What is Disney doing, they take away the temporarily envisioned Mickey Toon town that was up until it was bulldozed very popular and put a Dumbo clown there and an air-conditioned kiddy play area and an outside kiddy water play area. The rest is filled with 2 new restaurants, 1 character meet and greet Belle thingy, a meet Ariel spot and a mediocre dark ride copy from California. The highlight is the last minute change from a Tinkelbell tree to a mini coaster in and around a bloody mountain. This ride will be cool but like the Goofy coaster has limited appeal and will have lines going around the park because of it’s low capacity. Costs will rival Potter land and it’s lacklustre received by guests is a testament of how Disney is not in sync with it’s guests anymore (at least at WDW). Lets hope George A. Kalogridis can do his magic on all WDW parks like he did at Disneyland resort. The re imaginering of California adventure, like Universal Orlando resort, show that if you build amazing experiences without cutting costs, your guests will come, stay and enjoy themselves. They’ll spend money and will return.

  5. Fastpass+ has nothing to do with the guest. It is simply a way of Disney rationing experiences so that they can reduce costs. Good article.

    Sam
    http://Www.samlanddisney.com

    • …”rationing experiences so that they can reduce costs”…

      I am not sure about the phrasing you used but I think that the major thing that Disney is doing with FastPass+ is prepping to get more income off the same rides. Not, as one would hope, by actually balancing load throughout the day but instead by setting the stage to offer up-charged experiences:

      “You say you cannot get a FP+ slot at 8am like you want? Well, we have just the thing for you! Try our new ‘Ride Hopper’ ticket add-on! By simply paying $16/day in addition to your ticket or annual pass price (per day-per park) you are guaranteed one of our ‘Executive Slots’ that no one else would get! Choose a time — any time during the day or night — and you can experience the attraction of your choice! (some exclusions apply — see really small print on the form on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’)”

      Sorry for seeming negative, but FP+ seems to me the point of a very sharp iceberg heading toward our favorite parks.

      • I can see them increasing the popularity of rides with customizable experiments but why does Fastpass have to be a factor? Rides like The Haunted Mansion, it’s a small world and Pirates of the Caribbean saw an uptick in attendance after refurbishments, why can’t the less popular rides simply be plussed instead of plussing Fastpass?

  6. Good article! New Fantasyland is a bit of a snore to most guests. Yes, some nice elements, but it is all chopped up and makes no sense. The Dumbo area seems completely out of place to me, I almost hate it. And the Tangled Toilet area (maybe my favorite part of the renovation) is all by itself, not even connected to the other new sections.

    The only thing I can say about reserving ride times in advance, is that many of us have an idea which park we are going to each day, because we HAVE to decide that, if we want to have lunch/dinner reservations. So, to choose 3 rides each day, is not that difficult. Another element though, is the crazy Florida weather, esp. in the busy summer months or during hurricane season.

    I wish they just had the wristbands used for passes, room keys, and charging, and left the FP system the way it was. Better yet, just used all the $$ on this project for new rides.

  7. I haven’t been to WDW in years, because everything they’ve been doing (or not doing) has reduced my desire to visit. It will be really upsetting if these bad ideas are actually transferred to DLR. WDW used to have amazing new attractions, wonderful restaurants, and brilliant shows. Now it just seems gimmicky and mass produced.

  8. So, some one plans 60 days out for the rides but on that day they go, the ride closes down for an unscheduled maintenance .What happens next? They lose. I personally would just “wing it”

    • That’s just one of many problems with this.

  9. The more I read and think about it, the more I wish they would do away with any kind of fastpass system. People who want to wait will wait, and people who don’t can go ride something else. It worked perfectly well before.

  10. What if all fast passes have been given out on these new cards and not used? You’ll get screwed, I visit 4-5 times per year and I like to wing it. With this new program my winging it will be done on a broken wing. It’s like with
    Starbucks, who clamoured for this, just change the coffee, now it takes forever because of all the idiotic latte’s and frappe’s, he’ll just give me regular
    Coffee. But this fast pass is gonna drive me
    Away.

  11. You only get 3 reservations a day? I’d say I get at least 5 or 6 FastPasses a day minimum.

    • In Disney’s defense, I think 3 per day is reasonable at all parks except the Magic Kingdom, but that’s only because none of the other parks have had a Fastpass worth attraction in 5+ years.

      • So true I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at your statement.

  12. As a previous skipper of the World Famous Jungle Cruise, which uses FP, I’ve loathed FP ever since it’s creation. I remember the days if you wanted to ride an attraction, you waited it out with everyone else. For example: I remember waiting in a posted 45 minute wait for Peter Pan before FP. Yes the line was long, and waited maybe 30 minutes or so, but it was constantly flowing. Now look at it today. The physical length of the standby line has shrunk drastically to what it used to be, but is usually at least one hour long. I went through the standby to see if it really was an hour as posted, and I ended up waiting an hour and a half instead. I swear we moved about 20 feet in 15 minute intervals, it was miserable. I finally get to the front of the line, and of course I get cut off right before me, so another 15 minutes goes by as I watch those with FP’s skip in front of me. I was trained to handle merge point where FP and standby merge together with a ratio of 80/20, where every 80 people in FP go in, you let 20 standby in. Besides, if you ended up getting lucky and grabbing a FP letting you in a shorter line, you still have to come back at a much later time, chances are when the line has died down already and thus making the value of that waiting in a shorter line not worth as much as it was when it was busier. I’ve been all on board for removing FP and going back to wait it out, and am dreading my next visit when now I have to figure out ways around all this nonsense, or how to use it to my advantage. Disney has lost it’s touch even more so now, and I don’t think they’ll ever get back to the quality that it was once known for. Call me crazy, but I believe that Universal has pretty much embodied the creative and innovative spirit that Walt had once pumped into his parks. Disney is just another theme park now.

  13. This is a great article. The whole issue of Fastpass really comes clear once you have waited in the lines. This last week, I was at Disneyland and over heard a family talking about getting a Fastpass for Splash Mountain. The mother insisted that they did not “have to go to the hassle” get a Fastpass and could get in line directly. She talked about avoiding the Fastpass as if it was a pain. Now I knew as a frequent visitor that getting a Fastpass saves as much as an hour in line. I supposed it might seem like an extra and unnecessary step to go to the attraction twice to ride it, but to someone who on a previous trip has already spent an hour in line, it is a great convenience. So the new visitor will always be less enthusiastic to Fastpasses because they are ignorant of the pain of the longer line.

  14. I agree! Fast Pass + is only marketed as a benefit for guests. In truth, the only one it really benefits is Disney who can electronically track and manipulate guests – with the goal of increased revenues. They don’t make money when guest are on rides – they make money when they keep people in shops or food service locations. I have the distinct impression that Disney is little by little sucking all the joy out of visits to their theme parks.

  15. I will have to be the dissenting voice in this article. It seems to me people are overreacting to this enhancement. Yes, I think it will be an enhancement. The one thing I am not clear about is if they will let you use the day of Fastpass system and the FastPass+ system. If the answer is yes that is a a big advantage to the resort guests. More incentive to be a resort guests, DVC member and APs. I think that is fine too. They paid for it and it is an incentive to be part of one of those categories. If the answer is no you can’t double dip then this is not going to be that big an issue for the day of fast pass users. And remember, you don’t have to use the FastPass+ system if you don’t want to. I like the additions of reserving your fastpass especially for the shows. I think once this system has been up and running for a few years it will be a nice benefit for guests just like the fast pass system is today.

    • The understanding is that day of Fastpasses will be available at the same 3 per guest limit. This does not mean that resort guests can “double dip” as I understand it. The concern here is that we’ve already seen this type of thing manifest itself with dining. You can’t get Be our Guest reservations now unless you’re staying on property and booking 180 days in advance. is the same going to be true of Fastpasses at marquee attractions?

      The declaration that “you don’t have to use the Fastpass+ system if you don’t want to” is a gigantic load of crap. Guests who don’t use any Fastpass system are at a disadvantage, but at least under the current system all guests have access to the same system. With this they’re essentially charging for preferred access to the system, they’re just not directly charging for it.

      • First off, to declare a contrary opinion “a gigantic load of crap” is bad form, especially coming from the original author of the article. Second, the statement about Fastpass + being optional IS accurate, you do have the choice, and like any decision you make, has pros and cons, and those will vary with each individual person. You obviously put huge value on ‘time’, and that seems to be your primary metric. Others, myself included, prize certainty over time. Most Disney visitors have to preplan airlines, hotels, airport transfers, etc. well in advance, so I find it humorous that so many think this pre-planning a day in the park will be too burdensome. Even one of the biggest sponsors on this site is Touring Plans, which is all about pre-planning your day well in advance. I personally like the idea of walking in knowing that I can tell my kids when we can hit their favorite rides.

        I also find some of the article’s logic flawed, as it suggests that that Fastpass+ will massively tie up Fastpasses at the popular attractions while simultaneously arguing that this will ‘limit’ you to three Fastpasses per day. As several comments have pointed out, most people usually grab 5-6 fastpasses a day and are obviously for the popular attractions. If you limit to 3 a day, many of these will now free up. I greatly suspect Disney knows those factors will balance themselves out.

        The bottomline is people who understand an existing system and have already maximized it to their own advantage, hate change. I am old enough to remember when Disney switched form the ticket books to the single entry fee. I remember all the teeth gnashing even then about how people would now never ride the Teacups because they would spend all day getting their fill of the E Ticket level rides. Now, if you took a poll here, I doubt anyone would vote to go back to the ticket book. So give this thing a chance first.

      • Aviator621,

        I can’t reply to your follow up post directly but hopefully you get notified of this response, if not I apologize although you won’t see it.

        As for my dismissal of your opinion as a “load of crap”, yeah that was harsh but I stand by it. I’m coming at this from a time savings standpoint as you have said. Yes, there are people that will like this because of the certainty, but I’m taking a different approach to my opposition. The choice being a load of crap is largely predicated on the time savings aspect.

        To your point about being limited to 3 Fastpass+ reservations per day. There is no doubt in my mind that the more popular Fastpasses will be booked first and the less popular attractions will still be lingering. That’s what popular means. What Disney did with this is they looked at the number of guests that visit the park on any given day and determined how many days can every one of those guests acquire 3 Fastpasses per day. To accomplish this they added Fastpass to more attractions that previously didn’t need it.

        I don’t think it’s fair that people will be able to reserve a shorter wait at Space Mountain at 60 days in advance if the same opportunity isn’t available to day guests as well. I also don’t think Fastpass should be added to attractions that never get waits in excess of 20 minutes. That is 100% deception, nothing more.

      • Wow and Wow!

        “I don’t think it’s fair that people will be able to reserve a shorter wait at Space Mountain at 60 days in advance if the same opportunity isn’t available to day guests as well.”

        So in your eyes and I would guess many who have posted here in agreement with your article, it is also unfair that Resort guests get the jump on crowds during Early morning/late night park hours or that they have to pay for parking at the parks because they aren’t staying on property.

        You approach this issue from a time saving standpoint and others from a preference one. Your article (and your opinion) is neither completely right or completely wrong. Neither is the poster who you summarily dismissed as having an opinion that is “a gigantic load of crap”.

        Again, wow.

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