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

Comments for Fixing Fastpass at Walt Disney World are now closed.

  1. Here’s a counter-article pointing out so gaping logic flaws in the article. This article is under researched and presents a very biased opinion as fact. The link below is for an article that specifically counters point by point this article.

    http://orlandohipster.blogspot.com/2013/07/my-magic-busting-misconceptions-and-hate.html

  2. Well I am apparently in the minority here, but I love the concept of the new Fastpass+ system. We can only travel once every one to two years to WDW and it has been YEARS since we’ve been able to rid the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad or Peter Pan’s Flight. My children have never experienced them as I did when I was growing up and it saddens me. The thing is, what one person considers “top attractions” that merit a guest getting a FP for is not necessarily what another person considers a “must-ride” attraction. If we could schedule FP riding times for BTMR, Peter Pan’s Flight and Toy Story in Tomorrowland, our trip to the MK would be successful IN OUR EYES. I would consider getting a FP to Pirates of the Caribbean or The Haunted Mansion way more important than scoring one for Space Mountain or Journey of the Little Mermaid (which we wasted a FP on during our last vacation and shook our heads collectively when we exited wondering “That was it? I didn’t get to ride Peter Pan’s Flight FOR THIS?”. As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and so is a happy and satisfying Disney World vacation. I for one am thrilled they are finally allowing guests to schedule FP times (I’ve been praying for this FOR YEARS). Just knowing we will be able to ride what WE want to ride without having to criss-cross the park, wasting time, with the small kids in tow is a HUGE stress reliever. Believe it or not folks, there are many of us out here who are happy about Fastpass+.

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