In the early days of FP+ and MagicBands, there was a lot of speculation (and more than a little hand wringing) because we didn’t know a lot of details. Now that the tests are several months old and have spread to all Disney Resorts, it’s time to dip our toes back into the water of evaluation. Is this system making things better, or worse? It turns out to not be the disaster that some feared. In some ways, things are roughly the same. Granted, power users of the legacy FP system will have to expect some changes on their next visit, perhaps even big ones, but to my mind the managers in charge of this rollout have done a surprisingly good job at keeping things fair.

We’ll structure today’s article as a listing of fears about the system (given voice by many online when it was first proposed and then initially rolled out), followed by a discussion of what actually seems to be happening in the parks.

Fear #1 – the reservations will be snapped up online by vacationers paying to stay at Disney hotels, leaving nothing available on the “day of”.

These fears seem overblown. Below is a screencapture of your available day-of choices as recorded at 9am on December 31, 2013 (the very busiest day of the year):

oct-31-9am

What I notice about this picture is how reasonable this seems. 9:00am is early, all right, but it’s not like all the rides were sold out weeks ago.

By noon that same day, there were STILL reservations available for most (not all) attractions, though the return times were up to 8pm or 9pm in some cases.

Crowds on Dec. 30, but still there were reservations available.
Crowds on Dec. 30, but still there were reservations available.

And this is WITH the MagicBands (MB) being used at many Disney resorts. People staying at these hotels were sent emails letting them know they could do early reservations. They call it a “test” but I’m not sure how limited the test pool is; lately it’s looked like everyone at a Disney hotel could have a MB and make advance reservations. Apparently the phase out of Keys to the World cards is on track to be done by the end of January. (You can still request a non-band option if preferred).

Assuming many on property has the bands, this *is* the system operating near full capacity, at least as far as advance reservations go. And still, there are same-day reservations available, so the fear about not having same-day reservations seems to be have mitigated, perhaps due to limits placed on how many slots are given over to advance reservations.

That last point – limits on advance reservations – is key. It’s an easy exercise in logic to deduce that the reason there are day-of FASTPASSES and FP+ reservations is that they have restricted the total amount of online reservations (otherwise they would be sold out). I think they’ve done something smart here. They recognized they had a once in a lifetime opportunity to reset expectations about what ride reservations are, how they work, how many you are entitled to, and so on, and have wisely chosen a track that will spread out the benefits. It’s not ONLY those who plan months in advance who will get benefit; there is still benefit available for those who arrive that day. This was done by keeping the number of online reservations to just three in total for the park, but ALSO by limiting how many of a specific attraction (say: Space Mountain) are held for online only. The online reservations for Space Mountain would sell out long before the ACTUAL slots are filled, because they are keeping some (many?) in reserve for day-of reservations. Smart.

MyMagic+ kiosks have replaced paper FP at Stitch
MyMagic+ kiosks have replaced paper FP at Stitch

Of course, there are some big caveats: some (but not all) the parks have “tiers” (basically, you can only get one E-Ticket ride at those parks by advance reservation), only DAK has the “legacy” (paper) FASTPASS machines turned off, and offsite visitors (including annual passholders not staying at a Disney hotel) don’t have a way to make advance reservations, only same-day reservations. So it’s not quite FULL capacity yet after all.

Fear #2 – “power” users of the older FASTPASS system will now have to stand in more lines compared to a year ago.

This one, I think, is going to be true. You can’t get blood from a stone, and you can’t create additional ride capacity just from reservations. If the benefit of ride reservations are to be spread out evenly over the whole population (ie, make EVERYONE a power user), then yes, there needed to have a been a redistribution of benefits. I would argue that those who previously got on 25 rides in a day were able to achieve that much FASTPASS success because there were rubes in the park who didn’t know about the system, or thought it was optional and not really of much benefit, or thought it was for payment only. In other words, they benefited from the ignorance of others. Over the years that ignorance has gone down, and the advance reservations – with multiple emails going out encouraging them to try it – is likely to mean less ignorance going forward.

Not long for the world: Meet Mickey FastPass
Not long for the world: Meet Mickey paper FastPass

Fear #3 – Standby lines will move SLOWER than they did in the legacy FP era, since there are so many reservations now.

The jury is out, of course, because we don’t know yet if they will add tiers to all parks, whether off-site visitors will get advance reservations, or what will happen once they turn off paper FASTPASSES, but on balance I think this fear will not come true.

The pace of the Standby line is a function of many moving parts. How high is the throughput for the attraction in the first place? A people eater will move lines faster, of course. What is the merge-point Cast Member aiming to get as an intermix ratio? 70% reservations and 30% Standby, or 80/20? How good is that CM at actually hitting her target numbers?

The big elephant in the room, though, is total number of reservations sloshing around in the system. If this were Wall Street and we were talking about stocks, I’d use the term “float”–how many shares are out there? If there are a LOT of them, that decreases the value of each one–again, for Wall Street. For FastPass+, the float does something different: it affects the speed of the Standby queue. If there are FEWER total reservations for Space Mountain in 2015 versus 2009, then the Standby line will go FASTER in the new order. If there are MORE, the line will go slower. This is a number Disney can control, which also means it’s a number they can adjust as they continue to roll out FP+ and tweak things. I certainly hope they consider making the float smaller than the legacy FP days. It would mean faster-moving Standby lines. Yes, it would mean fewer people got all the reservations they wanted, but that’s part and parcel of this change. If they are re-defining what park ride reservations mean and what they look like, why not redefine it in a way that means you get SOME of your favorites locked in, but not EVERYTHING? It spreads the benefits around to everyone.

Fear #4 – newbies will be confused and clog up the system.

A little of this seems to be true. There are delays as people try to scan their MBs “Mickey to Mickey” (which is harder than you’d think). There are the usual folks trying to return early and clog up the entrance. And the combination of those two clogs means a line forms outside the FP+ entrance, effectively creating a line to skip the line. On December 30, the Space Mtn Return line began next to the elevators for Astro-Orbitor–all the way across Tomorrowland. Routinely, Big Thunder must now use queue poles outside the FP return area since the line is so long.

I suspect some of this will work itself out. The introduction of paper FASTPASS in 1999 resulted in similar confusion and delays. Inch by inch, they will work out the kinks.

Carousel of Progress was a "freebie" paper FP
Carousel of Progress was a “freebie” paper FP

Fear #5 – Locals without MagicBands will be shut out.

The status on this one is unknown. So far, nothing has been sent to annual passholders about FP+ that I’m aware of. It’s possible we are already where Disney wants us to be: if you stay at a Disney hotel, you get the band and can make advance reservations. Otherwise, you can show up that morning and make your own reservations. Of course, locals could always stay at a Disney hotel (despite living 15 minutes away, say) and still get a MB that way.

I do hope they find a way to grant advance reservations to annual passholders, even those not staying on property. Something would be off on the fairness meter if this group of highly dedicated individuals was left completely in the cold in favor of the hotel visitors. I can see the logic of rewarding and incentivizing the hotels MORE, but hopefully that doesn’t mean giving no rewards at all to annual passholders.

Things are about to get more interesting. I’m hearing whispers online that the legacy (paper) FASTPASS machines are about to get ripped out of the parks entirely. Some say late January will be the purge, but certainly by summer at latest we will see a full ramp-up to electronic reservations only.

As I’ve been claiming for a few weeks now, by hook or by crook, MyMagic+ will be seen as a success. Disney has lots of levers and lots of leverage to get people to use the system, with incentives lurking in all sorts of places. Discontinuing the paper FP system is only one part of that larger machinery to guarantee a return on investment on this billion-dollar program.

Earbook 2013 is now available!

I publish an annual “yearbook” of Walt Disney World changes – completely unofficial and told from one fan’s collection of pictures. This year’s volume is now ready and for sale! It costs $12.99 (often discounted by Amazon) and is 66 pages of full-color images.

There was a lot added to Walt Disney World in 2013, including Princess Fairytale Hall, A Pirate’s Adventure: Treasures of the Seven Seas, Villas at Grand Floridian, Limited Time Magic, Jingle Cruise, Long Lost Friends, MagicBands, Wilderness Explorers, Norsk Kultur, Princesse Plass, Rapunzel Bathrooms, Prince Eric’s Village Market, L’artisan des Glaces, Lava Lounge, and several Starbucks shops. We bade goodbye to Apricot Lane, Bamboo, Beastly Bazaar, Cap’n Jack Restaurant, Club 626, Countdown to Fun, Disney Channel Rocks, Fuego, Haagen Dazs, National Treasures at the American Heritage Gallery, Sid Cahuenga’s, SmarterPlanet, Sound Stage, SpectroMagic (officially), Stave Church Gallery, and Wetzel’s Pretzels. Re-live the special events, additions, removals, and alterations with this yearbook-style volume designed to show, using hundreds of pictures, how rapidly the portrait of life at Walt Disney World changes. An index at the back will make finding information even years from now a breeze.

The Kindle version isn’t ready yet, but hopefully soon.

You can also find older editions on Amazon: 2012 print, 2011 print (or Kindle), and 2010 print (or Kindle).

Top Tips for Visiting Disneyland Paris – Now in Print Also!

My quick-and-dirty guide to visiting DLP – with emphasis on traveling considerations, navigating the country and streets without speaking French, and making good decisions before your vacation – has long been on sale on Kindle. Until this week, however, there was no option to buy it as a paperback. I’ve finally fixed that. The print version retails for $5.99 and is 62 pages long. Unlike the ‘Earbook, this one is not a picture book primarily, so the photos are fewer in number and come in black and white, to keep the book price down.

WDW Clicks #9 – Holiday crowds, minor construction at WDW, Fun Spot additions

 

Updates this week include:

  • Comedy Warehouse Holiday Special at DHS
  • small improvements to Backlot Tram Tour
  • Downtown Disney parking garage update
  • Magic Mirror at World of Disney
  • 2014 logo merchandise
  • Tortuga Tavern buffet
  • Incredibles Super Dance Party in Tomorrowland
  • Diamond Horseshoe holiday meals
  • Mission Space postshow area screens
  • RFID readers in shops
  • Cast Member gingerbread houses in the Land pavilion
  • updates to Living with the Land
  • new ornaments in France pavilion
  • Spice Road Table signage
  • Hogwarts Express construction update (IOA side)
  • new coasters at Fun Spot America on International Drive

Direct link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qh4W0xHQx8M&feature=youtu.be

And, because I didn’t have a video last week, there is a SECOND video update this time:

WDW Clicks #10 – Farewell to MK Parade, Heritage House, Seven Dwarfs Mine shop

 

We say goodbye in pictures to three things this week: Celebrate a Dream Come True Parade, Heritage House (exit to Hall of Presidents), and Seven Dwarfs Mine shop near the Princess exit in Fantasyland. Plus, we peek at ongoing mine coaster construction and see what’s new at Fun Spot.

Direct link: http://youtu.be/KK3qnaLJaqE