A few months ago, we discussed virtual queueing and Disney’s various forays into this realm. Along the way, we mentioned FastPass and its iterations. We’ll spare you the in-depth history, which you can read most of in the post linked above, and just give you the quick rundown on what FastPass is…
In 1999, Disney introduced FastPass, a method for reserving a place in line for certain attractions at a certain time. How it worked was you would put your admission ticket into a machine and receive a slip of paper with a return window. When you returned with your FastPass, you would be let into the attraction with little-to-no wait.
In 2013, Walt Disney World revamped the program, utilizing an online registration system as well as the new MagicBands and the My Disney Experience app for mobile phones. With FastPass+, guests could book their FastPasses days, weeks, and even months in advance.
In 2020, FastPass service was suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions and the already limited capacity of the parks…
And it has yet to return, in any form.
Over the years, FastPass and its various iterations and imitators (including Disneyland’s MaxPass and Universal’s Express Pass, both paid priority versus FastPass’ “included with the price of admission” method) have been heavily criticized by park-goers, from the demonstrably false belief that it makes standby wait times longer, to the inconvenience of acquisition, to the unfair advantage Disney Resort and repeat guests have when it comes to getting the best FastPasses for the best attractions before anyone else has a chance.
Ironically, the latter of these two complaints is a direct response to the former. Under FastPass+, guests staying in a Disney-branded resort are able to reserve FastPasses up to ninety days in advance. This is, of course, to reward them for staying on property and giving Disney more money. However, the result of this reward is that non-Disney resort guests, including locals, Annual Passholders, as well as cast members and their families, are punished by the new system.
The FastPass+ system was developed as a way to combat the wave of early-risers, who were known to arrive at the park in time for rope-drop, rush to the most popular attractions, and snatch up all the FastPasses before most guests had the chance to acclimate themselves. The entire intent of easing guests into the park with atmosphere and theming went right out the gate, with guests rushing into the park like shoppers at a Black Friday sale.
No time to relax and enjoy a trolly ride, Timmy! We’ve gotta get to Space Mountain and grab a FastPass before they run out!
— Every parent at Disney World from ~1999-2012
Having all of their FastPasses booked before they arrive allows them to enter the parks leisurely, like they’re supposed to.
While this often means FastPasses for the most popular attractions are booked before their date, that doesn’t mean you can never get a day-of FastPass. Many attractions that offer FastPass don’t usually run out, and there is always a chance that somebody has changed their plans and canceled their FastPass, allowing you to snatch it up at the last minute.
But that doesn’t happen regularly and requires luck and perseverance. While the lack of on-site paper FastPasses reduced the rush to the hottest attractions first thing in the morning, it also eliminated the spontaneity of not knowing what you’re going to do in the park — or even what park you’re going to go to — until you get there.
This is an inconvenience to repeat guests like you or me, but it’s a major hindrance to first-timers and guests who don’t visit often. Sitting at home on their phone or computer, they may not know what attractions for which they’ll want or need a FastPass. They may not even know which attractions they’ll want to visit. They may not realize that Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is a roller coaster and regret booking that FastPass when they arrive. They may think to themselves, Pirates of the Caribbean is a popular movie franchise, so the ride probably has a long wait, and Peter Pan is an old movie, so it’ll probably be a walk-on…
…only to realize that Pirates rarely has a wait longer than 20-30 minutes, while Peter Pan regularly reaches or exceeds an hour. These problems could be avoided with the former on-the-spot FastPasses, but those are no longer available. While you can still get FastPasses day-of, via the app or occasional kiosk, they’re usually for lesser attractions that don’t require a FastPass most of the time. Although a secret feature exists that after you’ve used all of your FastPasses for the day, you can schedule one more. But since this again requires that you’re in the park on the day, you’re most often stuck with the usual paltry selections.
One of my biggest gripes with FastPass+ is the tier system. FastPasses are divided into two tiers. Tier 1 are the big attractions: your mountains, coasters, simulators — pretty much anything that would have been considered a D or E ticket back in the day. Tier 2 are your dark rides, classic carnival-style rides, and non-moving attractions — B and C tickets. While in theory, this means that it should encourage guests to experience the lesser attractions like the ticket system used to, because of the limited quantity and selections of FastPass+, it really just restricts their options and leaves them with undesirable results.
So what would I do to fix it?
Well, first of all, I want to stress that I think FastPass+ is flawed, but not inherently broken. Likewise, the former FastPass ticket system left room for improvement but had good bones. I think a hybrid system would benefit everyone, and be adaptable.
So let’s start with what worked about FastPass 1.0…
Spontaneity — something that is severely lacking from the current iteration. While the rush to get the good FastPass times was obnoxious, it’s no worse than the rush to be first in line, and that happens anyway. Getting a secret fourth FastPass is nice, but by the time it’s available, there’s nothing worth getting.
I realize FastPasses are intentionally limited to avoid long waits, which is why I would set aside a percentage of FastPasses until the park is open, so guests who didn’t plan to ride, say, Splash Mountain three months ago might have a chance today. Moreover, I would space these out, releasing only so many new FastPasses 3-5 times a day, like the Rise of the Resistance boarding passes, so even at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, if a guest suddenly decides they want to try to get on the Jungle Cruise, they may be able to grab one from the next batch. This shouldn’t be enough FastPasses to significantly affect wait times, but it would offer more spur-of-the-moment options.
Next, I would revamp FastPass+’s tier system. Again, I like the resemblance to the ticket system, but there was one major advantage tickets had over FastPasses: you could buy three or four B tickets, or two C tickets, for almost the same price as an E ticket. You could get a B and a C ticket for the price of a D ticket. With the FastPass tiers, a T1 is a T1, and you either use it or lose it. Occasionally you can trade a T1 for two T2s, but you’re still either limited to either two T1s, or one T1 and two T2s. Also, what constitutes a tier 1 attraction is opaque and nebulous.
I would reinstitute the A-E system, designate a point value to each tier — one point for A, two points for B, etc. — and give guests a quota of something like ten points per day. If a guest wants to fill their day with A and B experiences, they could get 5-10 FastPasses in a day. Or they could cash in all their points for two mountains. This would also come with the benefit of being able to increase or decrease point quotas based on park hours. Is the Magic Kingdom open from 8ᴀᴍ-midnight? You get fifteen points instead of ten! Another added benefit to this method is that it would drive guests to smaller, oft-neglected attractions, and possibly reduce the rate at which FastPasses run out on bigger attractions.
Finally, it wouldn’t be Disney if they couldn’t monetize things people want. FastPass has always been included with the price of admission, but what about extra FastPasses for extra money? I would implement this in one (or both) of two forms. Either guests could pay a per-person, per-day additional fee to add points to their FastPass, or give guests the option to buy points piecemeal via the app. This would, of course, work like the A-E tickets again, where a bundle of points would cost a flat fee, or points could be purchased one apiece at a premium rate. This would allow Disney to not only sell more experiences to guests per day, but also guests could grab that one more FastPass for that one ride they missed out on last time.
This comes with yet another hidden benefit: The chance to pay more money per day, for fewer days, to see as many attractions as before, on a shorter trip, for the same overall price! Imagine booking a five-day trip instead of ten, paying for extra FastPass points, hitting all of your favorite attractions with one day in each park instead of two, and getting home with another week left in your vacation! (People still get two-week vacations, right?
FastPass was a great idea when it was introduced, and it still is, but it needs work to make it jibe with the times. At a time when instant gratification and digital convenience are everywhere, being locked into decisions you made three months ago seems completely unintuitive. The ability to plan out your vacation well ahead of time is welcome, but Disney should know as much as any of their guests that anything can change between booking your trip and walking up Main Street U.S.A. I can tell you from experience, even between breakfast and lunch, anything could happen that ruins the best-laid plans.
I know no one at Disney will ever read this (in some ways, I’m kind of glad of that), but I hope that someone at the company has the same ideas I have, or better ones, in time for whenever FastPass returns to The Most Magical Place on Earth.
(But I wouldn’t mind a little credit and some special thanks, if you know what I mean! 😉)