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MagicBand

Remember the days when Disney's rides were labelled as E-Tickets, D-Tickets, C-Tickets and so on? Guess what? They're back.

Walt Disney World has spent much of the past year testing and finally rolling out its FastPass+ system. In a nutshell, this allows guests at Disney resorts to pre-book time slots during which they can ride popular attractions without having to join the regular standby queue. It works a lot like the original FastPass system, with the key difference being that - rather than make them on the day - guests can make reservations months in advance.

Theme Park Tourist's editors and writers have tried out FastPass+, as well as the MagicBand wristbands that Disney is dishing out that are used to "check in" at attractions (you can find our detailed impressions here). In short: MagicBands are great fun, and have many, many uses beyond FastPass+. And when it works smoothly (and during the off-season, when you don't need to reserve timeslots months in advance), FastPass+ can be really neat. It certainly beats paying extra for Universal Express, for example.

But FastPass+ is evolving, and it's evolving in ways that we think many Disney guests are going to be very unhappy with. Firstly, it's no longer additional to the existing FastPass system. Whereas we enjoyed the best of both worlds during our trips, future Walt Disney World resort guests are going to find that they can't use the on-the-day FastPass system at all. In fact, that's already happening.

MagicBand reader
MagicBands are completely replacing the old Key to the World cards.

This takes a lot of the spontaneity out of a Disney visit. Previously, if you really enjoyed an attraction, you could grab a FastPass for later in the day and return and ride it again without a long wait. No longer an option - and remember, not everybody has been to Walt Disney World before, so they may not know in advance what their favorites will be.

The other change is an even bigger one: Disney has introduced tiers of attractions. At Epcot, for example, Test Track is a Tier 1 attraction, while Captain EO is a Tier 2 attraction. Whereas guests could previously make three FastPass+ reservations for any three attractions, now they can reserve a ride on one Tier 1 attraction, and two Tier 2 attractions.

This change was inevitable: there's simply not enough capacity on some rides (hello, Toy Story Midway Mania) to cope with the number of FastPass+ reservations that will be made during the peak season. But it almost amounts to a return to the old E-Ticket system, back in the days when some Disneyland and Magic Kingdom attractions cost more to ride than others. I mean, who values a viewing of Captain EO as much as they do a trip on Soarin' or Test Track? (OK, I see you die-hard Michael Jackson fans raising your hands!)

Of course, there was limited capacity on the original FASTPASS+ system. But it was "fair" in the sense that everybody had the same chance of grabbing one on the day. Now, if you don't book well in advance (and not everybody's job or health situation enables them to do that), you're effectively locked out of FastPass for the most popular attractions.

Toy Story Midway Mania

Toy Story Midway Mania may require a tier all of its own...

Disney has been quite open about why it's introduced FastPass+: it believes that guests who have pre-booked ride slots will stay on its property, rather than nipping out to Universal or SeaWorld. Who's going to risk missing their reservation for Toy Story Midway Mania, knowing that they'll face a 180-minute queue otherwise? As a business strategy, it's probably sound. But let's not kid ourselves that this is about improving the guest experience.

Anyone familiar with making restaurant reservations at Walt Disney World will know what to expect here: the most popular rides are going to book out almost as soon as timeslots become available, many months in advance. You're either going to be sat there, on that magical day when reservations become available, with your finger hovering over your mouse button like it's the trigger of a gun, ready to pounce. Or you're going to be there several months later, tearing your hair out trying to find a decent timeslot that doesn't clash with little Janie's feeding time.

I'm not going to sit on the fence here. I loved the old FastPass system - it was one of the major differentiators between Universal and Disney. I'm happy that Disney is still offering some sort of queue-jumping system for free, and I love MagicBands. But while Walt Disney World has spent many millions of dollars implementing a queue-jumping system that is inferior to the old one, Universal Orlando has spent that money on groundbreaking new attractions. I think I know which resort's visitors will benefit the most.

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