In November and December, Disney is changing the way FASTPASS+ (FP+) is being distributed at Epcot. Previously, those staying at Disney hotels could make three reservations–any three for a given park (no parkhopping concept is baked in, at least not yet). But now they are being told they can only book ONE reservation for the tier 1 rides at Epcot, and the other two reservations must be tier 2 rides. Translation: the E-Ticket rides are being limited.

Tier one: (Choose ONE):

  •     Illuminations:  Reflections of Earth (Only select dates available)
  •     Maelstrom
  •     Meet the Disney Pals at the Epcot Character Spot
  •     Soarin’
  •     Test Track presented by Chevrolet

Tier two:  (Choose TWO):

  •     Captain EO
  •     Journey into Imagination with Figment
  •     Living with the Land
  •     Mission Space
  •     Spaceship Earth
  •     The Seas with Nemo and Friends
  •     Turtle Talk with Crush

I’m not surprised. Anyone could see that visitors would never spend their three reservations on Captain EO, Turtle Talk, and Living with the Land when there was also Soarin’, Test Track, and Maelstrom available. If Disney wanted to spread out the crowds to the smaller attractions, this was inevitable. By hook or by crook, the crowds WILL be dispersed.

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I’m more convinced than ever that unlike Limited Time Magic, they are working with a master plan here for FP+ and not just making it up as they go. There’s too much money at stake. And events are unfolding just like many have predicted from the beginning, just by looking at what infrastructure is being built and using logic to figure out how Disney will make money from the whole thing.

Make no mistake. It’s about money and always has been. You don’t invest $1 billion on a whim. It has to be explained and justified to the Board of Directors (those folks who can fire the CEO), and with this much money being dumped in, you can bet there was one heck of a PowerPoint justification for the spending. There has to be return on investment (ROI) for anything in a modern publicly-traded company, and a big deal like will have definite ROI built in and expected.

I’ve still not seen those numbers or that presentation, but I bet we can inch our way toward some tentative numbers (with the big caveat that we are in the land of invention here, so please take with a grain of salt and chime in to suggest improvements in the comments).

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Let’s start with the cost. Some rumors suggest the true cost of the entire MyMagic+ program is closer to $1.2 billion (note: I previously wrote an article that used a $3 billion price tag, which I have been told was an incorrect rumored cost, so we’re returning to $1.2 billion). It’s an intangible asset, so we can bet Disney will amortize the cost of the program; let’s say they do so over ten years. Simplifying from the amortization tables (depreciation, inflation, etc) just for convenience, let’s simply pretend they want to pay $1.2 billion over ten years, meaning each year must earn an extra $120 million for the system to pay for itself. Dividing by 365 days, that means every day must bring an additional $329,000 in profit, on top of what they already make. Let’s see if we can’t come up with that money:

  1. Increased spending from more “free” time away from lines. Rasulo said something about this to institutional investors in 2013, but this logic was also applied to the original FastPass program in the mid-1990s, and anecdotally (as well as logically) it doesn’t seem like they really harvest much money from this strategy. It’s certainly possible that they can tweak this new system to make it EVEN MORE scheduled from home (what if they gave you ten reservations per day?) so it’s always conceivable that they WILL create a system whereby you browse shops and eat food between reservations, and do nothing else. But for now, I’m keeping this profit per day at a minimum level: $1,000.
  2. Sales from MagicBand merchandise. They sell “BandIts” and “CoverBands” and all sort of stuff to tack onto your MagicBand. I doubt I’ll buy any of this myself, but let’s assume there is SOME profit per day from this: $1,000.
  3. Guest Recovery cost savings and full utilization of E-Tickets at night. In the present world, even the world of paper FastPasses, many of the big rides have empty lines at the end of the night. This under-utilized capacity means opportunity cost. If some of the crowds during the peak hours could be convinced to visit Space Mountain late at night instead. that shortens the line for everyone during the day and everyone wins. FP+ provides that enticement. Unlike the free and readily available paper FP reservations, FP+ reservations are limited and precious, and a late-night Space Mtn reservation is unlikely to be ignored. So Disney will finally have spread out the crowds across the day, even more than the paper FP system did (and it went a big way toward doing that already). The resultant lowered lines during the day means fewer angry visitors and thus fewer giveaways of food, merchandise, and other goodies to make them happy (the aforementioned “Guest Recovery”) and also happier customers. Happier customers come back next year, tell their neighbors to come to WDW also, and in general bring additional money to the resort simply by being happy and coming back more often. Disney can quantify this, but lacking their data I’m just guessing. Additional daily profit: $2,000.
  4. Additional marginal sales from the Big Data elements of MM+ Don’t underestimate Big Data. Because their new system will integrate guest attendance patterns, spending patterns, ride reservation patterns, character meeting patterns, and so on, they will essentially be able to customize special offers just for you. In the era of print-on-demand books, just-in-time inventory, and 3D printing, it’s not hard to imagine ever more niche-oriented merchandising. So if their Big Data identifies 10,000 families who love the Haunted Mansion more than anything else and visit Chip and Dale more than all other characters, I wonder if those families will get an email offer for some custom-produced Doom Buggy figures with Chip and Dale in them? There are few limits to what they will know and what they will be able to offer us. A tour of the HM graveyard for $300/person, after hours? Sure! More Test Track merchandise, with a special offer mailed just to you for a discount? Sure! $2 off on the carved turkey sandwich at Be Our Guest? Don’t mind if I do! It’s hard to estimate the daily boost in profit, but it won’t be negligible. Let’s go with $3,000.
  5. Beating Universal. This is a squishy category and not directly a money-maker, but Disney knows that Uni is now a major competitor and must be beaten. If Disney can get the journalists talking about their innovations (a stress-free fully reserved theme park day) rather than talking about Uni’s new rides, Disney will win in multiple ways. They want to be seen in the popular consciousness as the place to go, not Universal, so they also need the new system to impress the visitors directly, who will tell their neighbors when they get back from vacation. More people will go to Disney than Universal (or at least the current outflow will be staunched) and that means more spending on hotels, more food sales, more merch sales, and more ticket sales. If we assume they divert 500 people per day from Universal to Disney, that’s probably $100/per person per day, yielding additional daily profit of $50,000
  6. Upcharge FP+ reservations. Disney has never breathed a word about this, but I will be shocked if they don’t eventually offer to sell you more reservations (probably open to day-visitors, off-site hotel visitors, and Disney hotel guests). Want five reservations per day instead of three? Pay $10/person and you can have it! We frequent visitors might scoff, but imagine you were visiting from far away. Like when you someday visit Shanghai Disneyland, and you’ve only got one day. The online system lets you reserve 3 E-Tickets (because you’re staying at their hotel) but you want to buy two more. Time is more important than money (to some extent), so $10/person doesn’t seem too much to swallow to give you a really great day. Could they sell a single upcharge reservation to 1/10 of the families/parties visiting? Let’s assume there are 20,000 people per park (this is VERY conservative), so one-tenth of the population is 2,000 persons per park, or 8,000 persons per day at WDW. If we guess $5/reservation, the additional daily profit is $40,000. If they allow triple that amount of people to buy more reservations, it still wouldn’t be a big dent in the in-park attendance, but would move you to $120,000 per day. And if each of those people was buying TWO additional reservations, as in our Shanghai example above, we’re up to $240,000/day. But let’s stay with the more-conservative $40,000 for now.
  7. Reduce operating costs. The big perk of staying at a Disney hotel right now is extra magic hours (EMH). With the creation of FP+ (so far just showing up at Disney hotels), there is a new perk for sleeping in the mouse’s rooms. That means they are possibly going to look at removing EMH as a perk (wouldn’t you, if you were in their shoes?) If they did that, they would save a lot of money, which could be shoved around the accounting tables to function essentially the same as additional daily profit. They have EMH essentially one hour per day, all week long. I don’t know what it takes to run the Magic Kingdom, but let’s guess 3,500 workers at a time. Each hour of labor costs the company more than just wages to the worker; they have to factor in health insurance, perks and all that other stuff. The “loaded rate” ten years ago was $15/hour, which I’m sure has gone up, but let’s just use $15/hour for now. 3,500 workers costing $15 for a single EMH hour gives the company a daily savings of $52,000.
  8. Fully book the Disney hotels. Most hotel operators would kill for Disney’s current occupancy rate, but Disney would obviously like to be at 100% all the time. Let’s say Disney hotels are currently at 90% occupancy when viewed across the whole year (I think it’s in the high 80s, but we’ll estimate conservatively as always). If they keep FP+ to just Disney hotels, as they have done so far, that will drive more people to stay with Disney. Or they could give MORE reservations to Disney hotels than to people who stay offsite. Or they could play with the Tier allotments–could Grand Floridian visitors someday get three Tier1 reservations and two Tier2 reservations, versus a different mixture for Disney budget hotels and a third mixture for off-site hotel visitors? This holiday season, the Swan and Dolphin hotels are joining the FP+ rollout, the first non-Disney hotels to do so (they are, however, on property). We should not underestimate the power of full occupancy. There are 30,400 hotel rooms on property at WDW. If Disney can go from 90% occupancy (27,360 rooms) to 100% occupancy (30,400 rooms), that’s an additional 3,000 rooms sold every day. Guessing wildly at the overall average profit of each hotel room (let’s use $125/room), this is $375,000 each and every day additional profit, just by filling the last vacant rooms.

The hotel rooms alone make enough money to offset the cost of MM+ and FP+, which surprised me. Everything else was just gravy. The total additional profit of all my estimates is $524,000 per day, and we only needed $329,000 per day to pay for the amortized cost of FP+. Keep in mind, I tried to use conservation estimates in the categories above, so if my guessing was wrong, Disney could easily yield multiples of the dollar values discussed here. My numbers are essentially “worst case scenario” results for FP+ marginal profit, and the best-case could be a runaway success, profit-wise. No wonder the Board approved it.

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Do you know the term “freemium”? It refers to products that are free to try and even free to use in limited ways, but then you pay a premium if you want to unlock all the features. A great many smartphone and tablet apps work this way. It occurs to me that some of the ideas discussed above share commonalities with the freemium model. You get the “base” experience of WDW for free (well, not for free, but with your gate admission ticket). If you want more, you pay for more, by staying at a Disney hotel, or by buying additional per-day reservations (remember: both of those are speculation right now).

What’s really going on is a process of mimicking the Disney Cruise Line (DCL)  model. The DCL experience has been universally cheered at an optimal vacation experience, and with good reason. What’s a DCL trip look like? First, it’s all-inclusive. You pay one (inflated) price at the beginning, but then you get a ton of things for free: unlimited buffets, evening shows, kids’ programming, and so on. Even sodas are free on a Disney ship.

But is it really all-inclusive? You pay extra if you want to rent a cabana on the beach. You pay for alcoholic beverages. You have to pay if you want a shore excursion to Mayan ruins. There’s an upcharge if you want to eat at the premium restaurant on board. The more you think about it, the more you’ll agree it’s really NOT all-inclusive… but it does a great job of MASQUERADING as an all-inclusive experience.

The theme parks have had the appearance of being all-inclusive since the early 1980s, when they switched from the ticket book system to an all-day passport. With that switch, the rich people couldn’t ride the E-Ticket experiences any more than the working-class visitors. Everyone got the same chance to ride the rides as much as they want. But here, too, there are cracks. Are the theme parks of 1992 or 2013 truly populist, egalitarian places? People with more money can eat at better restaurants and buy better souvenirs. They can purchase VIP tours that use FastPass queues without reservations or tickets, so it’s essentially backdoor treatment.

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The modern Disney theme park has already been inching toward a DCL-type vacation where many elements are fixed in place before you show up. You’ve long been able to make restaurant reservations. There are length of stay free soda refills, and paid-up-front meal plans so the planning is done before your vacation and now you can just relax while on your trip. And the addition of ride reservations will only enhance that comparison to DCL and the appearance of all-inclusiveness. The rides will be akin to the ship activities and entertainment (included in the cost) and only the reservations as applied to the E-ticket rides will be like the shore excursions, available for additional cost. The move to a freemium model, if it comes, will bring the theme parks closer to the DCL system of “masqueraded equality.” Everyone gets the same base experience, but if you want to pay more, you can.

As always, I’m interested in your opinions, corrections, and additions to my list of ROI streams of revenue. Feel free to let us know as well your reaction to the idea of a “freemium” Walt Disney World.

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WDW Clicks

WDW Clicks is my new video podcast, a slideshow of images from the parks narrated to provide additional detail and context.

In this week’s episode (direct link), we look at several things:

  • new Brown Derby Lounge (quick service at the Brown Derby, with the full menu available)
  • new soda flavors at Club Cool
  • meet and greet for the Frozen characters
  • new costumes for the France pavilion
  • revised meet-and-greet room for Pooh and friends at UK pavilion, themed to Christopher Robin’s room (opened last month)
  • Construction on the final hydroponics room at Living with the Land
  • even more tree-clearing at the entrance to the Land
  • Disney Springs construction
  • Starbucks at Downtown Disney construction
  • Marketplace Snacks new menu
  • Osborne Lights installation progress
  • Glow with the Show ears display on Sunset Blvd
  • new props in queue of Backlot Tram Tour
  • merch updates

 Anna and Elsa debut in Norway

After an initial test in DHS, the characters from Frozen have started appearances in the shop in Norway (the former “final” shop on your way out from the ride). You will find more photos of this meet-and-greet in the WDW Clicks video, but I wanted to spend some time here in print pondering the throughput of this experience.

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We got in line at 2:20 and were told that we were joining the 3:00 line. The switchbacks set up in the general Norway walkway was the entire queue (all outdoors), and I then saw there was a cutoff point. Those at the front of the line inched forward as they were admitted to the meet-and-greet, but those of us at the back were held by a rope, so that’s how they knew who belonged to which group. It made sense; this way, the characters could get a break once per hour.

But it left me wondering: is this a typical through-put for a meet and greet? I estimated that perhaps 35 (maybe 50 at most) people were able to see the Frozen princesses (well: princess and queen) per hour. 35 per hour seems like incredibly low capacity to me, especially given the 7 Cast Members working this experience. But I don’t have a lot of experience with tracking this. I do recall Merida having very long lines next to the castle (also in the hot sun) so maybe this is typical. We heard a lot from folks who were unhappy about the long lines for Merida.

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And it’s certainly possible that processes here are still being worked out. Maybe they’ll move to a system where they have two sets of princesses and can just walk the current set offstage, to be replaced by a new set with no waiting. Then they wouldn’t have to cut the line “by hour” any more; that would probably help.

That said, I’m glad I got to see this now, before the movie comes out and the crowds descend. It’s only slated to be here until January from what I hear, which may make the crowds decide to prioritize this experience even more.

Let us know in the comments what you think–will they have a situation on their hands like they did with Merida?

  • FerretAfros

    Didn’t they do a similar Group 1/Group 2 concept with the very first FP+ tests? I wonder why they decided to get rid of that, only to eventually return to it

    And as for the hourly throughput of the Frozen meet & greet, that sounds about right. Those lines move incredibly slowly, since it takes each group about 60-90 seconds to do their thing. I’ve often wondered why Disney always makes such a big deal out of meet & greets in all of their advertising and branding, when they are very low capacity by their most basic nature

  • Karl

    Where in the World WAS that – is it the statue in the lobby of the Contemporary Hotel?

  • tigerlaw

    Couple Quick Comments – how FP+ will impact me on future trips – in the past, stayed at BCV as a DVC member (will still do so)

    1. At open, get a FP for soarin first, then ride in stand by
    2. see if can do again, if not ride LwtL
    3. Get new set of FPs, and use first set
    4. head over to TT, do single rider couple times
    5. then ride soarin for 3rd or 4th time.

    Compare that with how the new policy will work. – Declining by more than degrees indeed!

    And this doesn’t even address what I think is the most under discussed part of all of this – the impact on day/night park hopping – what will the FP situation look like the night I go to MK say after having spent the morning at Epcot? For all the infrastructure investment, are they not at the same time weakening their future park hopper sales?!?

    • daveyjones

      that’s a lot of soarin’! as a DL passholder, it’s one of DCA’s most skippable rides. maybe i’ll ride it again when they update it to a global film.

  • tigerlaw

    Comment #2 – compare what kevin is reporting to what universal offers its hotel guests – Above, no matter if I stay at beach club or the all stars, I got ONE fastpass for an e-ticket ride at epcot. At say Hard Rock – its an ALL DAY FASTPASS IN TWO PARKS – PARKS WITH NEW AND EXCITING RIDES!

    So who should get my vacation $ again?!?

    • ZRocker

      It would be impossible to get on any attraction if Disney offered an “ALL DAY FASTPASS” to even just Deluxe Resort guests (not including DVC). I love staying at the Royal Pacific Resort and getting to the front of almost every line, but I just can’t see that system working on the sheer scale of WDW.

      • tigerlaw

        Zrocker, totally agree that Universal’s system can’t translate over at WDW. THe point I was trying to make is that as FP+ actually hurts WDW guests who were knowledgeable in the ways of the FP and to compare that to UO, where it would not even be an issue, b/c resort guests have FOTL there.

    • CaptainAction

      tigerlaw

      It’s even better than you stated at Universal. We always check in to our Universal resort at Royal Pacific or Portofino before the early morning hours at the park. This gives us the all day fastpass card for the whole day we check in and the entire day we check out as well.

      So, you actually get TWO FULL days of skipping 95% of all the lines by spending one night in a beautiful resort.

      We have been able to stay at these resorts a few times and we joined the Loew’s First Club too, which is free. Now everytime we check in to the 4-5 star Portofino. with our AP discount, we get a $100 credit for the resort restaurants and a free upgrade to a suite. The suite is 900 sq ft and has two giant full baths! Great for a family of 5 like ours.

      These rooms run under $200 per night on weekdays and just over $200 on weekends. At WDW a suite like this would be around $750-$1000 per night at a moderate resort with NO FRILLS.

      Plus we get to ride a beautiful boat through the wonderful grounds to the front of the parks instead of standing up on a stinky bus.

      Kids aren’t even excited by the same old museum attractions at WDW any more so this is all a giant no brainer unless your some “WDW can do no wrong” guest that WDW can treat like a sucker.

  • chesirecat

    Good article Kevin, glad somebody realizes that Disney is making money of this project.

    Some WDW fans were saying months ago that MyMagic+ was $2-3 billion for all of WDW, but I think they wanted to (in a bizarro way) shame Disney for not spending on the new attractions they want.

    Now the “rumored” pricetage is back to $1.2 billion, well . . . I think Wall Street analysts have pegged the price of the whole MyMaigc+ at about $900 million . . . for the entire roll-out to parks worldwide. WDW has more infrastructure, and RFID is cheap technology, so the total cost at WDW is probably around $200 million, when you consider all the hotels.

    Great Wolf Water parks launched RFID in . . . . 2006! And their guests can upload photos to Facebook and stuff with them.

    http://www.rfidjournal.com/articles/view?2211

    So . . . the tech ain’t new, it ain’t expensive at all in terms of hardware.

  • chesirecat

    I’d also add that, as with Great Wolf Water parks’ experience, RFID bracelets facilitate the purchasing of merchandise. WDW is making much, much more than $1,000 per day in extra purchases. MyMagic enables impulsive buying, and shortens lines, if guests see a long line, too long, they put off the purchase for later, and might not make said purchase. If you’ve got 30 million guests visiting each year, and if MyMagic boosts spending $10 dollars, of which $5 is profit, then that’s $150 million per year, so MyMagic will pay for itself at WDW within two years, not counting intangibles such as improved guest experience.

    • CaptainAction

      Shorter lines? Happier guests? Fast passes for Mexico Boatride? France film? Swiss family treehouse? Muppet movie? Meal reservations 180 days ahead?

      Who is happy? WDW execs?

      WDW needs new infrastrucure not a Master Armband!

      Fastpass reservations at the themed restrooms next?

  • BC_DisneyGeek

    So we will basically be able to get ONE fastpass at Epcot per day that I would consider to be necesscary and/or useful – Soarin or Test Track. Hmm, it’s almost as if they want to encourage you to spend multiple days at Epcot, so as to experience each E-ticket attraction without having to wait stand-by.

    Three fastpasses per day will be okay for Epcot, Studios, and Animal Kingdom. At Magic Kingdom however, this limit will be a definite negative.

    • CaptainAction

      Master Bands are about as popular as Obamacare. Lot’s of promises broken and a similar future.

  • StevenW

    The MyMagic+ and Fastpass+ is not complete if it isn’t integrated with the Disney Dining Plan and Dining Reservations. It is just too complicated to keep track of all your reservations with all these separate systems and they still have no answer to making dining reservations easy. The Dining Plan should have a separate reservations system with its own allocation so other non-MyMagic+ customers can make reservations without much impact. They should make it clear that Dining Plan and regular reservations can not be intermixed by not honoring allocations or the customer will be assessed a penalty equivalent to a cancellation.

    You said the Disney Cruise Line is the model. Since I visited Disney Wonder a few months ago, the Disney cruise model does work, but you have to realize that all the dining (with few exceptions), the shows, the meet and greets, and other on-board activities are all available for the passengers on an all-you-can-eat package. The exceptions are making the adult dining reservations as Palo, the spa, and the excursions, which is purely optional. The evening dinner is already scheduled. The breakfast and lunch is on your own. Funny thing is there is no fastpass guarantee for any of the shows or activities. It is first come first served. So I did the smart thing by waiting at least 30 minutes before the popular evening shows and the character meet and greets. You must arrive early for the Princess meet and greets by at least 45 minutes or you will be in the back of the line and the wait could be 2 hours.

    Thus waiting is still a major problem on the boat.

  • Dan Heaton

    Nice job. I agree that this has always been about money and never about the “guest experience” as they try to sell it. There’s no way to make it a worry-free vacation, but this actually does the opposite and makes for more frustrations and waiting for headliners. I just don’t see a scenario where Disney gets people to grab FPs for Journey to Imagination, Captain EO, and others that never have a wait. Even casual guests will realize they’re getting manipulated.

    I believe it’s clear what Disney’s trying to do. The big question is whether it will actually work. We’ve seen it in the past with FPs offered at Stitch, Maelstrom, and Philharmagic. Those attractions don’t ever get use for those FPs, and that’s when the number wasn’t limited. I also expect that a certain percentage of guests will revolt after a bad experience. With Disney barely offering any new attractions, they’re just playing into Universal’s hands.

    I’m a huge Disney fan, but I think the executives are missing the boat in terms of what really drives profits. Long-term reputation is what made Disney’s parks so successful. New attractions can completely change a park (i.e. California Adventure) and lead to long-term profits. They’re hoping to grab short-term gain with FP+ but will hurt themselves in the long run. Focusing on “experiences” over cool rides only gets you so far.

    • Country Bear

      Couldn’t agree more Dan.

  • trebor13

    I’m confused by the math for #5: isn’t $100 per person for 500 people $50,000?

    • Kevin Yee

      Oh, embarrassing! I fixed that (and the resulting daily total). Good catch. Thanks!

  • Instidude

    I see the FP+ working much as the old ticket booths did before to keep crowds spread more evenly amongst the rides. In the past, you bought a book, so you didn’t want to leave your A, B, & C tickets unused. Now with FP+, you use your E ticket, then you get a couple B, C, & D’s to use. This may actually decrease some of the lines for the major rides by forcing people on to some of the less popular attractions. Some of which can be real gems, but don’t have the “wow” factor that will line people up at the entrance.

  • lionheartkc

    Here is my experience with FP+ and MM+ from my trip a few weeks ago.

    1. It slows EVERYTHING down. The readers are touchy and the whole system is confusing to people. I’ve been to Disney World 16 times and I’ve never seen a FP line extend past the FP entrance. This trip, EVERY FP line that utilized the new readers extended well past the entrance. In fact, most of the FP lines extended farther past the entrance than the stand-by lines. The same was true with getting into the park. It was MUCH slower than the old ticket turn-styles.

    2. It kills the standby lines. I had a great experience to sum up it’s effects on standby. We walked up to Toy Story Mania and it was down for service. There was a small line (maybe 50 people) outside, but the building was empty. Sure enough, just as we walked up they gave the all clear so we walked in. We were on the ride in about 10 minutes. After riding we hopped off and went back around again. The line was still only half full on the inside, but they started letting fast passes in again. It took an hour and a half to get through a half-full stand by line.

    3. It does disperse the crowds, but that just makes every line long. When was the last time you saw a 90 minute wait for the Haunted Mansion? I saw one the last day I was in the parks. I can’t think of any other explanation, considering that I go every year at the same time, and in previous years, the Haunted Mansion had no line at all.

    • jcruise86

      Thanks for sharing your actual experience, Lionheartkc!

      Kevin wrote: “If we assume they divert 500 people per day from Universal to Disney. . . ”
      But Kevin failed to think about Universal investing even more money on new magnificent & imaginative attractions and areas, which is why their attendance has been steadily and dramatically increasing while WDW’s hasn’t been and probably won’t.

    • BrerJon

      I can back all this up completely. I’ve been to MK many times over the years and never seen such long lines for Haunted Mansion or to get into the park. It sure makes the parks look busier for the suits, but doesn’t in any way improve the experience of any guest, MagicCuffed or not.

      • jcruise86

        ^And there’s the quote the L.A. Times and a dozen other papers were waiting for.

      • CaptainAction

        Master Band isn’;t about what the guest wants. Just give WDW the money and the WDW execs will tell you suckers what you, and your wife, and your kids want to do today.
        Reminds me of The Outer Limits tv show, “We now control your television, we control what you will see”.
        Only this is, “We now own your money and we control your vacation and where you are going and what you will do. We control which park you spend your day in regardless of the weather or if your kids are tired today.”
        “Your family will stand in the fast pass plus lines for Spaceship Earth, Imagination, Hall of Presidents, Stitches Escape, Little Mermaid, The Riverboat, People Mover, Mexican Boat Ride, France Film, Canada Film, Ellen’s Energy Ride, Muppet Movie, China Film, Swiss Family Treehouse, Magic Carpets, Shooting Arcade, etc.”
        “Master Band will make you visit areas of the park you would never go to under your own free will. You will eat burgers today even though you aren’t in the mood for burgers.”
        “You will not consider going to Universal because new attractions and lands are not for you. Our buses and armbands are our gift to you and you will appreciate them rather than new attractions, new lands, better deals on better resort hotels, and the freedom to choose what you want to do today. Choosing which park, which ride, which restaurant, what time to get up, is all a burden to your family which we have releaved you of.”

    • nikalseyn

      We had similar experiences last month. They were letting all the fast passes in and those of us in the standby line had interminable wait times. We finally left after one hour(at Toy Story). We came to the conclusion that they are really destroying the whole concept of Disney and came to despise the whole new fast pass system. We have been going to WDW twice a year for a week at a time from Michigan but now are seriously re-considering our vacation plans to omit WDW. It is no longer the same.

  • Quentin

    FP+ Scares me. I hope it ever makes it out to Disneyland. FP+ is a significant downgrade from the current FP system. If I visited WDW I would do everything in my power to avoid it and use the current FP’s as long as I can. With FP+ you only get 3 E-Tickets per day? If that is the case it is significantly lower than what you get with current FP’s. In August I will be going to Universal Orlando, not to Disney World. I don’t think I will visit Disney world again. The FP+ system seriously cramps my style.

  • Tanthus

    Your forgetting something in your equasion. You don’t have to account for $1.2 billion. Every year there is an R&D budget. That is used to maintain profit. This is “part” of that R&D. So part of the cost is that.

  • Tanthus

    Oh, I should add. You have to do stuff to “Keep” people buying your product. This is partially one of those things, like a new ride or some new promo. This is one way to get people to come back not necessarily get “More” money out of them, although that is always good.

    • jcruise86

      ^”Good” unless you are people, and you avoid blowing money.

  • Country Bear

    Kevin, thank you for this very enlightening article.

    I had not done the math on how Disney would make very much money on this but you clearly understand their thinking. After reading your article I can see why Disney implemented this system; the cash will come rolling in (theoretically). It may also help them with crowd control by spreading crowds around (though the few people who have commented on being involved in these tests indicate it just makes all lines longer). Now that you indicate they are dictating WHICH rides you can have your 3 Fastpass+’s for, the full concept of what they are doing is clear:

    Guest Manipulation.

    Initially I thought it was just crowd control but it appears to go much deeper than that. I don’t want to vacation that way and certainly not at a theme park that has proven in the past to bring such great joy to my sole. I am trying to find the sympathetic voice inside me for poor Disney having to deal with all those tourists coming to visit every year, but I can’t find it. If this initiative had any semblance of improving a guests experience at their parks, I would at least support trying it. But it doesn’t show any of that. All of the testing to this point has been about crowd management and restrictive controls and not one single person who’s tested this so far has spoken about enhancements or “special experiences” that were unique to them. Isn’t this what Disney was selling as the great “win” for their guests? What can we expect once all 90,000+ guests in WDW hotels are on this thing? Whether you are staying on property or not, the experience will be anything but “enhanced” I suspect.

    I know from past experience that you want to avoid the parks that feature the Extra Magic Hours on those days because those are the parks that have the ENTIRE Disney hotel guest roster visiting them at the same time. Extra Magic means Extra Long Lines. This program sounds like it will extend this “Extra Magic” to every park, every day for every guest. If there is one thing I know WDW doesn’t need any more of it’s LONGER LINES.

    I’m trying to keep an open mind about this program to allow it to show its true colors. However, the initial comments and observations don’t look good. I don’t mind paying extra to get extra benefits, but from the sounds of things, even extra money at Disney doesn’t sound like you’re going to get an improved vacation. At least at Universal you get benefits that are measurable when you stay at their hotels. Or you can spend the extra money to have “front of line” passes that are not watered down with an additional 90,000 people on resort getting the same thing. And the obvious elephant in the room is that Universal is building multiple new attractions every year for the foreseeable future and WDW is not. Disney used to be about Guest Experience (which made money), now it appears to be only about financial rape.

    I believe Disney has lost their way. Now all I can think about is how to visit WDW in as few days as needed and by spending as little money as possible in their facility. That is a complete turnaround for me. I can’t imagine that was what Disney hoped to achieve with this program. I believe the term is “backfire”.

    • AaroniusPolonius

      Rape is clearly the wrong analogy, as nobody is forcing you to go to Disney and spend money, and nobody is walking away physically violated or possibly preggo.

    • CaptainAction

      Guest manipulation…perfect description.

  • chesirecat

    Disney is betting that Magic Bands will make the park going experience better, they say that guests hate turnstiles and “double dipping” into their wallet to get cash, tickets, fast pass . . . they don’t talk about the compulsive buying aspect, as well as letting teens go off and buy tons of foods/merch (albeit with parents’ consent).

    Something people haven’t talked about much is the opportunity for interactive games using the RFID technology, Kevin has written about the various games in the parks, Magic Bands will probably up this experience, make it more personal, or at the very least allow the introduction of a game which is easier to play and keep track of player info, yes? Wolf water parks is already doing this, about time Disney catch up.

    Anyway, in 20 years we’ll all probably be using smart phones/Google glass to buy stuff, so by that time, this type of technology will be everywhere.

  • hopemax

    This is only one side of the equation though. I’m trying to figure out how Disney maintains current attendance and therefore spending numbers from “off-site” guests. Disney doesn’t have enough hotel rooms to transition everyone from off-site to on-site. And even if they did, that would “break” the system, considering that apparently Epcot already needs tweaking from just the result of handling the current load of resort guests. What happens when they start trying to bring “everyone else” into the mix? How much more does the current system break? Not all off-site guests will be willing to transition. My parents, who live 20 minutes away certainly aren’t going to start staying on-site, nor me when I come to FL to visit THEM. My loyalty to Disney does not extend so far as to ditching family time just to secure a ride on an attraction.

    It’s becoming increasingly clear, that if you aren’t a Resort guest you will have to choose which ONE E-ticket level attraction you want to experience that day. Unless you want to subject yourself to very slow, long wait stand-by lines. I don’t see how local and off-site people will continue to spend hundreds of dollars on tickets (and then any in-park spending) when they can’t ride their favorite rides. Not when the situation really becomes known to people. Right now, it hasn’t reached critical because not everyone is clued in, not everyone is on the system, people think they can “beat” it by learning new tricks and so are still coming. So I don’t think that any dropoff from off-site people has happened yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t.

    Can WDW reach its profit expectations from Resort Guests and a smaller percentage of off-site guests? You predict a new profit of $524,000 per day. But if 250 families of 4 stop visiting each of the 4 parks (1000 families – or hotel rooms or 4000 people total. It’s only about 3% of Disney’s hotel rooms, not sure what the inventory of off-site lodging is compared to Disney) and each of those was spending assume $93 per day on a ticket (3 day base ticket/3) + say $20 in additional spending (parking, food, souvenirs) that would be $452,000 of your profit to subtract.

  • Haven

    Ha, just had to say that I recently was dumbfounded to discover that Merida at WDW is played by the younger sister of one of my co-workers here in Las Vegas. I work for a very large and popular Vegas resort in their “imagineering” division and let me say that Disney does give it’s employees much better perks than we get. My friends sister got them a great package rate and they were able to fly down to Florida to see her and visit WDW for the very first time. Her boys are in their pre-teens and loved it. We don’t even get discounts on our own rooms!

  • jcruise86

    “Hey ‘guests’–no, NOT YOU! ‘Guests’ means our HOTEL guests! Let’s kill this ‘everyone is a VIP’ nonsense!”

    Although in the long run the system will probably be adjusted to fit the desires of “guests,” in the short and even medium run, this might be seen as the equivalent of 3 or 4 John Carter-scale box office bombs combined and shorten the Disney careers of Eisner’s RISC crew. (Rasulo, Iger, Staggs, and Crofton.)

    Help us Steve Burke, you’re our only hope!
    (Though I’d settle for Lasseter, or Jeffrey Katzenberg–who learned how to better nurture employees at his Dreamworks campus, and could return to Disney after selling Dreamworks Animation to, say, Universal.)

  • solarnole

    As a Millennial to me this system’s utter wastefulness ticks me off. The band has a built in battery that cannot be replaced. No recycling programs are set up or encouraged. The bands are shipped over night in a big cardboard box. The CO2 emissions of the new system have to be a lot worse then the old one. They could have just made the app and had fastpass bar codes scanned from the phone.

    I respect Universal Orlando a lot more for their green practices. All their machinery uses bio diesel, they don’t run dirty buses, everything is within walking distance, and they let you refill any mug (harry potter etc) you buy at the park with soda for 99 cents.

    • Kurtoon

      It makes my brain hurt to think of the tons of debris WDW put in the landfill just so we can hold on to our hats and glasses …and sing like the birdie sings.
      We need to volunteer to recycle….or the government will impose a trash tax.

  • CaptainAction

    My family and I just got our new armbands in the mail yesterday. WDW wants us to request the themed bathrooms for our bowel movements! I’m starting to think this armband stuff is getting out of control. We all have pretty different habits but WDW says it will make life easier for them.
    My 6 year old wants to know what the penalty will be if he can’t “go” at the time we guess 180 days ahead of his bathroom scheduled time. I don’t know what to tell him.

    • HauntedPirate

      Comment of the Year!!!

    • Kurtoon

      This gives a whole new meaning to Fastpass.

    • Kurtoon

      Do you only get to schedule 3 bowel movements…then the other are stand by.
      Limited time magic.

    • The Lost Boy

      Well, this six-year-old is in a family that seems to be fixated on bathrooms. I think we’re dealing with a real life CrappinAction here.

      • CaptainAction

        Lost Boy,

        Here. I’ll hand you your rear. Again.

      • CaptainAction

        Lost Boy,

        Here, I’ll hand you your rear. Again.

  • toonaspie

    What really floors me about the new Epcot tier plan is how many people would EVER reserve a ride on Journey Into Imagination (in its current form I mean).

    How are they gonna get the tier plan to work at DHS and DAK which has even less high demand attractions?

  • AaroniusPolonius

    Kevin, thanks for that great article. I’ve suspected that they’d be paying off this system in about 10 years, but it was nice to see the estimated numbers laid out.

    I think my largest issue with the new Fastpass+/MyMagic+ systems is that it feels very much like the cart before the horse. It would be one thing if the parks at WDW were filled with new, updated and dynamic attractions that set the world on fire, and Disney was looking to maximize their massive investment in the rides and attractions, but that’s not the case here.

    Using the Epcot example above, I can totally see Test Track and Soarin’ being Top Tier/Choose One attractions…but Maelstrom, arguably the most camp ride Disney has ever created? That has never been corrected? (Norwegian history ends after trolls and picks up again in early 80s oil platforms.) You’re seriously at the ‘Cuban people maintaining 1950s American cars through the embargo’ phase of your theme park development and infrastructural investment when a second tier…at BEST…attraction is taking a first place space.

    More than anything, more than crowd control, more than diversity of merchandise, more than effective trip planning tech, more than food choices, more than themed Starbucks locations, more than RFID bands that track visitors, more than better marketing (‘Find Your Disney Side,’ seriously?)

    More than all of that, Walt Disney World needs massive, focused and thematically brilliant rides and attractions.

    I mean, 1.2 billion dollars!

    Using New Fantasyland as a baseline, that’s a New Tomorrowland, New Frontierland/Liberty Square, New Adventureland and New DinoLand USA over at DAK!

    Using Mission: SPACE or Test Track as a baseline, that’s new Energy, Life and Imagination pavilions, new Spaceship Earth and Innoventions, and new rides/attraction/expansions on the premium level at SIX Epcot pavilions, or six premium (with rides) NEW country pavilions at Epcot!

    Using DCA 2.0 as a baseline, that’s a rework of 2/3 of DHS, if not more, because they wouldn’t have to rethink the entrance!

    Using Africa at DAK as a baseline, that’s like four new animal safari experiences in that park!

    Cart before horse; they spent a lot of money for more control over the guest visits on rides that, for the most part are desperately outmoded and outdated. Booking a Fastpass for Spaceship Earth is like signing up to test drive a 1984 Dodge Caravan.

    • AaroniusPolonius

      I’m really trying to maintain a balanced view of Disney and Disney World, and I’m really trying to not fall into the “haters gonna hate” category of Disney Critic (you know who you are,) but 1.2 billion dollars is a LOT of money that could have gone into new rides and attractions.

      Here’s a thought: instead of artificially inflating wait and demand times for Spaceship Earth, why not remake/rework/reinvent Spaceship Earth so that it features less grease stench and teeth-rattling movement over the tracks?

      Instead of pretending that anyone has waiting on a line for anything over at Imagination for years (decades even,) why not use your damned imaginations and create a new experience?

      Make there be a valid choice here, Disney. Do I Fastpass the really cool ride here or the really cool ride there? Who knows? With enough cool rides and experiences, maybe waiting in a line for something great wouldn’t be all that bad…but c’mon. If this system results in actual lines over at Imagination, for attractions dating back to the Clinton presidency? That’s just pathetic.

      • CaptainAction

        Our family still thinks Disneyland is really cool and fun. They are using all their space about as well as they can. Problem at Disneyland is that staying on property there is so dang expensive. The California taxes are around 20% now too I think.

        WDW is the fat, lazy, greedy Disney park. Everything is getting old, stale, and tired.
        WDW has the attitude of the DMV. Good enough for the guests in 1990, good enough for guests in 2014.

        You guests want a new attraction? Ok, here’s The Little Mermaid ride we threw together without a thought. That will teach the guests to ask for new attractions. Let ’em go back to Peter Pan and Winnie. They will learn their lesson. “New stuff is no good” is the theme at WDW.

      • AaroniusPolonius

        @CaptainAction, Three things. The first is that one can’t really separate out one Disney park and resort from the next: they are all under the same corporate entity, with the same corporate interests. It’s like blaming one spouse for a couple’s bad behavior, when both are responsible in a larger way. I understand that they have both different management teams and different demographics they are catering to, but they both answer to the same masters in Glendale. (And not too long ago, DCA and Anaheim’s Downtown Disney were the poster children of Disney Sucking. Team Anaheim may “get it” now, but that’s only after a harsh rebuke from the public, something which has yet to happen at WDW.)

        Second, it’s plainly obvious that Disneyland is slowly but surely attempting to transform itself into a resort experience along the lines of the WDW model, with multiple parks and resorts, so I suspect that MyMagic+ and FastPass+ will make it over to the Anaheim side of the world as well (there’s far too much money invested in the technology for it not to.) There’s also a steady stream of attempts and plans designed to change the visitor demographics at Anaheim from the casual guests and the APholders to a more ‘destination vacation’ guest, so I expect that some of the “focus” issues at WDW will begin to surface at Disneyland Resort.

        Disneyland Resort, however, gets off the hook for two reasons presently. The first is Disneyland Park itself, where, in lieu of the WDW model of spreading the ride wealth around to now four parks, they just crammed every space with rides, so even if the rides and attractions are dated, it’s a full day there. One can complain about a lack of recent innovation in Disneyland Park’s experiences, but one can’t complain about having plenty to do while you’re there, which is in sharp, dramatic contrast to what’s going on at WDW. You can easily complain about the lack of recent innovation and pair it with a lack of rides themselves at at least three of their parks.

        The second is the massive overhaul of DCA. DCA 2.0 bought a whole lot of goodwill, renewed belief and increased visitation to the Disneyland Resort, so much so that advocates tend to look beyond the aspects that still reek of DCA 1.0 (notably, some cheapo theme elements sprinkled around Paradise Pier, the outlet mall ambience that is Condor Flats, an ongoing lack of attractions in general, etc.) Yes, CarsLand is just that good. Yes, the half-measure retheme of Paradise Pier is a phenomenal improvement. And yes, the entryway rethink and redesign is above and beyond Disney great. So the conglomerate gets massive points for effort and execution. But…in order for that to happen, people had to vote with their dollars in California. And because people coming to Florida aren’t doing so (possibly because of the Catskills model there,) Disney-as-corporation has no incentive to improve anything.

        Look, I’m glad that Disney has made some executive changes at WDW recently, implying that they are starting to “get it,” and that perhaps this band tracking program is “too big to fail” and too far along to not implement from an older dictum. But, it still sucks, and it sucks that not enough of a critical mass of vacationers are realizing that it sucks.

  • TodAZ1

    Um………………Captain EO has FastPass at TMK????? WHAT the H?????

    • CaptainAction

      AaroniuPolonius,

      Yes, I get they are under the same execs. We just still appreciate Disneyland and the recent changes to CA.
      WDW is in the rear view mirror for my family now. We have lost interest and respect for the way they treat the guests.
      If Disneyland continues down the road of WDW then they will lose us too.
      Epcot, AK, and Disney Studios are all behind CA now to us because they are so old. We all enjoy Disneyland’s Magic Kingdom more than WDW’s MK. We wont bother again with new fantasyland. We all just kept looking at each other and shaking our heads as we wandered around new fantasyland. Just a lot of rocks, stores, rock, restaurants, rocks, and snack stands.

    • imecoli

      ..and Maelstrom is a tier one ride…

  • solarnole

    Captain EO needs fastpass because it will soon be replaced with an even older film “Magic Jorneys” then years later in 2030 it will be updated to “Honey I Shrunk the Audience.”

    Limited Time Magic / Limited Invested Money

    • solarnole

      misspelled Journey whoops this typewriter is so unforgiving

  • daveyk

    Kevin – a topic I’ve been thinking about a fair amount as well. I have a suspicion that Disney has much bigger plans than theme park admission….I recorded a podcast to capture all my thoughts at http://disneyview.blogspot.com/2013/11/episodes-156-157-details-and-thoughts.html

    Dave

    • Country Bear

      Holly crow Dave, what a detailed analysis of this program from yet another perspective. I was quite impressed with your review and I think it really compliments Kevin’s article and what he has observed. I recommend anyone interested in the nuts and bolts of this program (especially technical) have a listen.

      Thanks for sharing!

  • CaptainAction

    Epcot used to be so cool 10-20 years ago. We have gotten tired of Soarin’.
    There’s a 50-50 chance we would walk right passed Spaceship Earth if there wasn’t a single person in line.
    We pass by Imagination.
    We skip Ellen’s Energy Ride.
    The kids will do Mission Space once and the wife and I skip it.
    We could easily walk passed Living Seas.
    Our kids will do Testrack once because there is nothing else which is at least fast at Epcot but the wife and I drive so the thing is nothing to us.
    We can all pretty much skip the entire Future World area except we like Club Cool and the kids would like to do Mission Space one time.
    The countries don’t change but we will look in the stores and eat someplace and we are ready to leave.
    Epcot just isn’t special any more.
    WDW is begining to feel like a museum of old theme park “has been” attractions.
    Studios is full of “has been” attractions too. Tower of Terror and Rockin’ Rollercoaster are ok once but aren’t worth a trip to the park anymore. Toy Story has turned into a shrug of the shoulders when we ask if anyone wants to ride. Star Tours is still sort of fun to the kids because they haven’t gotten sick of the combinations yet.
    Animal Kingdom never held our interest. With the broken Yetti and nothing new, we just can’t get excited about this.
    WDW is turning into a shrug of the shoulders vacation for our family. That is a very expensive shrug of a vacation.
    Universal has earned our attention and we are all excited to do all the new lands and attractions. So many new things in the last few years at Universal but WDW has become an expensive boring place.

  • Klutch

    I’m wondering if Disney is attempting to recapture some advantages they once enjoyed with the old, lettered ticket system. For those not familiar with that system:

    – Every ride required a ticket which a letter category. As most people know, the “E-Ticket” was the for the most elaborate and popular attractions. The less elaborate attractions used a D-Ticket, then C-Ticket and, finally, a D-Ticket

    – Most park visitors bought combination ticket books. There were several tickets of each letter in each ticket book

    – By limiting the number of E-Tickets in each ticket book, and including all the other ticket types, these ticket books prevented everyone from crowding the E-Ticket attractions and encouraged people to visit the lower-grade attractions.

    Of course, when Disney did away with the tickets, lots of people crowded the E-Tickets to ride them over and over again. And many people didn’t bother with the lower-end attractions.

    Now we have Fastpass+. Let’s take a look the attractions Kevin listed. They are obivously trying to encourage guests to visit Captain EO, Journey into Imagination with Figment and Living with the Land. Otherwise, most people wouldn’t bother. That pulls people away from other attractions and shortens the lines. But, more importantly, it directs people to older, less popular attractions and, this is critical, it allows Disney to reduce investment in new attractions!

    As it is now, if an attraction is older, and anything less than amazing, a large number of guests will completely ignore it. They’d rather spend their time at the “E-Tickets”. But if they have a FP+ reservation for a lackluster attraction, why not visit it? They won’t expect to stand in a long line. This not only keeps the crowds more dispersed, it also keep crowds at the lower-end, less expensive and older attractions; just like the old tickets.