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
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
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.