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FastPass+

Disney's recently updated FastPass+ system is still a work in progress. Theme Park Tourist evaluates the problems.

This column involves a first person account of a Walt Disney World visitor’s experiences with FastPass+. For those of you not familiar with FastPass+, it replaces a well behaved earlier iteration that required physical visits to the various rides. Customers were provided a ticket and allowed to come back later to enjoy the ride with little to no standing in line. The modified version of FastPass+ enables people to pre-book their ride experiences as early as two months prior to a visit to the themepark. As with anything nascent technology, however, the initial phase of implementation is a bit…tricky.

Let me start by validating something long time Disney visitors may have suspected for a while now. Unlike the prior system, FastPass+ is not your friend. If anything, it is your frenemy. There is a basic intention to help, at least on some level, yet the overall behavior is unmistakable. FastPass+ wants to drink your tears early and often. Perhaps this statement sounds hyperbolic on the surface. Please allow me to recount five different ways FastPass+ as currently implemented is a love/hate system leaning strongly toward hate.

1. The tiered system is a harsh mistress

Maleficent must be the person in charge of the mercurial FastPass+ system. Image © Disney

Anyone who has ever traversed the entirety of Walt Disney World realizes that a poorly planned day at the park easily evolves into an unscheduled half-marathon. I am not exaggerating on the point, either. On my most recent trip to Orlando, I utilized my Fitbit, a device that tracks steps taken during the course of a day. On three of the first four days I visited the parks, I walked at least 13.1 miles, the accepted distance for a half-marathon. My “slow” day required only 12 miles of crisscrossing the various parks. Why did I pick my family vacation as the perfect opportunity to get in shape? Well, that was not a conscious decision on my part.

The current FastPass+ system is much different from previous iterations in that the user may only select one prime ride. The other two FastPass+ options are for lesser rides, presumably ranked according to popularity and wait time. Those who have a working knowledge of the geography of various parks would have no issues selecting navigational options. For people such as me who have not been to Disney in a while, the FastPass+ is Loki, the trickster deity of Norse mythology.

Consider that I was analytical about my three selections. In evaluating the various wait times of rides at Hollywood Studios, I determined that the venues with the longest waits are Toy Story Mania and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. What I failed to research was locality. Please learn from my mistake.

If you are planning a trip to Walt Disney World, look at a map of the various ride positions before choosing your FastPass+ options. Otherwise, you will wind up in a situation such as mine wherein my party walked right past the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith multiple times in order to visit the other predetermined rides, thereby adding approximately a mile to our step count. Conversely, if you want to work off a few more calories in order to cancel out a decadent Disney dessert, follow my illogical plan and you will walk aimlessly for the body of your day. Florida has lovely summer temperatures, little rain and virtually no humidity, right?

2. The fourth FastPass+ is largely a myth

Image © Disney

I am only partially joking. The brain trust at Disney recently reconsidered the inflexible nature of the three FastPass rule. Eventually, they relented with an announcement that people who utilize all three will be allowed to acquire additional FastPass selections. This places the new system in line with the old one, whose rules were effectively “use as many FastPass selections as you want”.

As some of the first people to visit under the new system, we were the guinea pigs for this grand experiment. My party visited Walt Disney World for eight days; ergo, we requested 24 passes ahead of time. Once we arrived, the part of the system that proved to be the sticking point was accessing the recently introduced fourth FastPass.

In order to acquire additional selections, the user must first utilize their MagicBand by touching it to an access point at the designated rides. That sounds simple enough in theory. In execution, the issues are myriad. Some rides, especially the most popular ones, have multiple MagicBand access points. If the user only successfully navigates one of the two, the system will indicate that they have not utilized all of their FastPass requests for the day and thus deny further selections. And the issue is even more convoluted than this surface problem. Occasionally, the access points glitch. When this occurs, the system requires a reboot via system software. During the course of such a scenario, the helpful Disney employees wave consumers through the line, past the access points. That is fantastic news, right? Good lord, no.

By being manually signaled past the FastPass gate, the user never has the ability to utilize their FastPass as demanded by the system. As such, they will be unable to gain additional ones because the software overseeing FastPass+ believes that the user has not met their quota for the day yet.

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Comments

I have been to Disney four times since they began the rollout of MyMagic+ and like every new project there are pros and cons. On the pro side when you book a package through Disney you can book your fastpasses 60 days in advance. I went over Fourth of July last year and still got the fastpasses I wanted at the times I wanted by booming them 60 days in advance. The other side of the coin here is that if you did not book a package through Disney, are an annual pass holder or do not plan ahead you probably won't get all of the fastpasses you want. However this is similar to the old way in that if you are always early to the park and utized your fastpasses efficiently you could get more than 3 a day per person and to whichever extremely popular ride you wanted whereas if you got to the park around 10am there would be no toy story mania fastpasses left to be had anyways. So case in point there is always going to be someone who doesn't get the fastpasses they want. They don't say the early bird catches the worm for nothing! Additionally after your initial three fastpasses are used or the return time for them has passed you can hop to another park and go to an in park kiosk to book more fastpasses. Similar to the old way in that you have to go to a physical machine at the park you are in and can only use one at a time. You may keep returning to the machine to obtain more fastpasses as you use them. Moreover you will have an increasingly limited selection as the day presses on just as you would with the old system. Now I admit I have seen other peoe have technical issues with the bands, but the new system is very similar to the old one. Now the technology is just more sophisticated. As for having to criscross back and forth across the parks using the old system it was the same way someone was always running with the parties tickets once the return time had past to go and get more fastpasses. Now instead of running you can walk to each fastpass attraction and in between hit up some smaller attractions with a shorter wait time. I think the new system is for the better and the technical problems are being resolved more and more efficiently or are being eliminated completely with each visit.

We were there last weekend and we were able to ride every ride in the park with fast passes. If you book your 3 for first thing and all back to back or overlapping you then add one at a time for that current time and keep going back to the kiosk to add. It's easy . We do this every time we're there. It seems to me your not utilizing the system to its fullest capacity . It took us a few visits to work it out but since we did its been great !

We went the week of spring Break and FastPass+ worked great for us. However, I must say that I spent a LOT, and I do mean a LOT of time looking at maps, park opening times, show times, dining times, etc... So it was not easy. But it worked wonderfully for our family. I can't complain.

I wrote a slightly negative comment about the Fast Passes but I want to be clear. I was dreading going on our Disney trip because of all the negative comments on the Magic Bands/Fast Passes. We found the band to be wonderfully convenient. We also enjoyed being able to get on the things we most wanted to do because we had chosen our Fast Passes ahead of time. The only difficulty was having to criss cross the park so often because our Fast Passes were often at opposite ends of the park. Also, it took the ability to be spontaneous out of our hands. Although we paid a fortune for the Park Hopper option, we were unable to use it because of the Fast Pass times. All in all, the Magic Bands were a positive experience. Disney just has to tweak this a bit. Wish they could just go back to the old Fast Pass system but have people load the Fast Pass on their Magic Band at the Kiosk, instead of getting the paper pass.

Our Magic Bands worked just fine and we never had a problem with them. I feel we got totally ripped on paying for the park hopper option though, because the Fast Passes confined us to one park most of the time. We are a family who used to almost always go to two, sometimes three, parks in a day. Now that's almost impossible, especially at Christmas time, because our Fast Passes were all in the late afternoon and we couldn't get Fast Passes at another park. I realize this might not be a problem if the parks aren't crowded, but my daughter is a teacher, so we can't only go at Christmas or Spring Break (I can't tolerate the summer heat and humidity.) This is a big flaw. Love the magic bands but think Disney should go back to the way the Fast Pass used to be handled. They Magic Bands could just be used instead of the paper Fast Pass. This system puts the control in Disney's hands, not ours. Sometimes, because of the Fast Pass times, we'd have to walk clear across the park, and then do it again, because our Fast Passes were on opposite ends of the park. We couldn't do, for instance, Fantasy Land, then Tomorrow Land, then Adventure Land. We had to run from one to the other. Disney is not the most relaxing of vacations, but this one completely wore me out because of this. It felt frantic. Figure this out, Disney!

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