Disney is set to follow in the footsteps of its inferior rivals next year and introduce a paid-for version of its FASTPASS queue-jumping system. This is a move that I've campaigned against for a number of years, and I feel obliged to once again point out why this is a bad move for the company.
Rumors of the "XPass" system, which would enable guests to pre-book queue-jumping slots for the entirety of their vacation at Walt Disney World, have been flying around for some months. They were lent credence by statements earlier this year from Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, who revealed that company was working on a "version of FASTPASS for (visitors') entire Disney vacations". Most recently, Jim Hill Media claimed that the new system will be introduced next year and will be offered only to guests staying at Walt Disney World's Deluxe Resorts.
To be fair to Disney, it doesn't appear to be following in Universal's footsteps and offering blanket queue-jumping privileges (without any time window restrictions) to all of its high-paying guests. Instead, it will blend XPass in with the existing FASTPASS system, which enables guests to return to an attraction during a specified time window and skip the regular line. The new system would work alongside this, with the key difference being that XPass users could pre-book their time windows months in advance (at a price).
Nevertheless, the introduction of XPass would mark the latest in a series of moves towards a two-tier system by Disney - and here are 5 reasons why it should rethink its plans.
1. It will create an "underclass" of guests
It's impossible not to feel a little irked when you're waiting in a lengthy standby line at a Disney park, and a rush of FASTPASS-holders race past you and skip straight to the front of the line. However, at the back of your mind you always know that you too could have taken the FASTPASS option, and probably opted to use it for a different attraction instead.
With XPass, that's suddenly no longer the case. As with Universal's Express Pass, other guests are suddenly skipping by you simply by virtue of the fact that they've paid more money than you. Ordinary families that have scraped together enough cash for an already-expensive Walt Disney World trip will be made to feel like "peasants", even if it's difficult to tell an XPass user from an ordinary FASTPASS holder.
2. It will be seen as profiteering
Disney will try and sell XPass as the next level of convenience - a way to pre-plan your entire vacation so that you can relax when you get there. No more dealing with hours and hours of standing in line - just follow your itinerary and you'll waltz onto all of your favorite rides.
Except, um, those lengthy lines are a direct result of the capacity limitations of Disney's rides. I'm not suggesting that any theme park can realistically eliminate those lines completely (although many could do a better job), but charging guests extra for the privilege of avoiding them leaves a sour taste in the mouth. This is not the case for FASTPASS, which has the opposite effect of making guests feel grateful to Disney for attempting to limit their time spent waiting in line.
3. It will hurt the existing FASTPASS system
Inevitably, to accommodate the XPass system, Disney will have reduce the number of standard FASTPASSes that it distributes at each attraction. I haven't done the maths yet on what impact this will have (although I intend to), but given that XPass presumably won't have the same "1 pass at a time" restrictions as FASTPASS, it will inevitably go down significantly.
Again, this reduces the quality of experience for regular Disney guests. They'll be spending more time waiting in line - and resenting Disney for having raised the financial bar for those who don't want to burn in the Florida sun for hours on end.
4. It limits spontaneity
OK, so I'm not the most spontaneous Disney guest. I tend to follow one of Len Testa's brilliant touring plans in order to minimize my time spent waiting in line. But I always have the option of diverting from the plan on a whim, and quite often do (particularly if it's the first time I've visited a park, or there's a new ride on offer).
For anyone who has pre-booked all of their ride time-slots, there's going to be a real sense of obligation to stick with their original plan (particularly as they'll have paid dearly for it). This might suit some guests - but for others, some of the magic of exploration may be lost.
5. It's against the "Disney philosophy"
This is a less tangible argument than the other four, all of which directly impact on the guest experience at Disney parks. It could be even more significant, though, if it damages Disney's brand - arguably, the company's most valuable asset of all.
Walt Disney's original philosophy for Disneyland was that guests should leave the park with money left in their pockets, creating long-term brand loyalty. That has long since gone out of the window - but the company has managed to avoid some of the more obvious money-grabbing schemes that its rivals have adopted. XPass is straight from the book of Universal or Six Flags, and in my eyes it makes the company just that little bit less special.
Share your thoughts
Am I alone in thinking that FASTPASS is one of Disney's greatest differentiators, in a world where almost every other theme park chain has introduced a paid-for queue-jumping scheme? Would you feel like a second-class citizen if you couldn't afford to use XPass? Let me know through the comments section below!