In our latest article asking for your opinions on current theme park topics, this week we're asking for your views on the future of Disney's FASTPASS queue-jumping system. Should the world's largest theme park operator follow the lead of rival Universal and introduce an "unlimited", paid-for variant of the scheme?
Most Disney fans will be very familiar with the concept of FASTPASS. Guests can head to a popular attraction at any of Disney's parks, insert their park ticket into a machine and receive a shiny FASTPASS stamped with a time window. When their time comes up, they can return to the attraction and bypass the regular ("standby") line. By restricting the number of FASTPASSes given for a particular time slot, Disney ensures that guests using the system can have a short wait for even the most popular attractions.
The system was pioneered by Disney's arch-rival Universal, and in the early 2000s free queue-jumping systems proliferated at theme parks around the world. However, the race for profits has seen the vast majority of these replaced by expensive "VIP" systems, with Universal once again leading the way with its Express Plus Passes.
Disney has experimented with premium versions of FASTPASS before, and a recent survey of Walt Disney World and Disneyland guests suggests that the idea is back on the agenda. The "VIP Attraction Add-on" would be available to a limited number of guests at $150 each, providing unlimited use of FASTPASS for a single day.
So should Disney follow other parks and replace (or supplement) FASTPASS with a VIP option? Let's look at the arguments for and against.
The "Yes" argument
- Guests are used to it - the idea of an optional queue-jumping pass available at an extra cost is well understood by most theme parks guests, thanks to rival operators' use of such schemes. Arguably, it is easier to understand for the average visitor than the concept of FASTPASS (which has a number of rules attached, such as guests only being able to hold one FASTPASS at a time).
- The money could be invested elsewhere - for instance, Disney could reduce overall ticket prices (which are higher than at many rival parks) for the majority of guests, subsidising them with the sales of the VIP passes. Of course, the cynical among us may expect the company to use the money to grow profits for its shareholders instead.
- Enhanced FASTPASS could be a killer perk for hotel guests - whereas guests at Universal Orlando's hotels receive unlimited queue-jumping privileges and early entry to the resort's theme parks, those staying at Walt Disney World merely receive Extra Magic Hours (early or late entry to selected parks). Of course, extending unlimited FASTPASS to all guests at Walt Disney World's many hotels would be infeasible, but a more limited system (perhaps providing one or two extra FASTPASSes per day) could still be a valuable perk.
The "No" argument
- It would create an "elite" class of guests - the current FASTPASS system is available to all guests, if they want to use it. Even if everyone could afford a $150 upgrade option, the number of VIP passes would be limited. Inevitably, as at Universal parks, this would create an "elite" group of guests - leaving those in the standby line feeling like pondlife.
- Disney would be profiting from its own attractions' limitations - although Disney does its best to design attractions that can process a large number of guests per hour, there are serious capacity bottlenecks at all of its parks (Toy Story Mania at Disney's Hollywood Studios, for example). Why should guests pay extra to skip queues that were caused by Disney's own design choices?
- It could be less efficient than the current system - we've lost count of the number of times we've seen a huge pile of guests holding "unlimited" passes pitch up at an attraction, resulting in a long wait for them (despite the extra cash outlay) and an even longer one for regular guests. The temptation to oversell VIP passes could see the same situation occur at Disney parks.
- It's against the Disney philosophy - OK, so corporate Disney is pretty adept at fleecing customers for cash. But Walt Disney wanted guests to leave Disneyland with money left in their pockets - not feeling forced into paying extra just to avoid the lines.
Our view is pretty straightforward on this - introducing an unlimited FASTPASS would be a disastrous choice by Disney. We've previously described Universal's scheme as an Express Pass to hell, after experiencing the pain of being reduced to a "peasant" while the Express Pass-toting aristocracy marched pass.
FASTPASS is one of the best things about Disney parks, giving everyone a fair chance to avoid the long lines that are inevitable on a busy day. Profiteering from those capacity limitations is a sure way to turn loyal guests away from Disney, and to turn the company's back on its founder's principles. Keep FASTPASS free, forever.
What do you think?
Would you pay extra for an unlimited FASTPASS? Or would you like to see the current system stay in place? Let us know through the comments section below.