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Toy Story Midway Mania

As crowds thin out in the fall “off” season Walt Disney World has decided to run another FastPass+ test at a popular attraction known for commanding high wait times: Toy Story Midway Mania at Disney's Hollywood Studios. However, unlike tests that Disney has run at Soarin’ and the Princess Fairytale Hall (which allowed guests to visit the attraction for “return tickets” - essentially, legacy FastPasses) this test is a little different. 

This time around, Disney is requiring users to make FastPass+ reservations either via the My Disney Experience app or with the FastPass+ kiosks. If you can’t make a FastPass reservation, then you can’t ride. This latest test has proved to be quite unpopular with guests, and raises some important questions, not only about the future of FastPass+, but also the ongoing guest experience at Disney parks around the world. 

1. How valuable is your time in line?

FastPass

When Disney first announced the Magic Band and FastPass+ project, the consensus was that Disney wanted to get guests out of lines, and into merchandise and dining locations. It seemed like a decent enough plan, and most guests didn’t mind having the option to see some of their favorite attractions faster, even if the ultimate goal was to get a little bit more of their hard-earned cash. 

However, with this mandatory FastPass+ test, Disney isn’t just asking you to spend less time in line, they are demanding it. Which begs the question, how far are they willing to go to get guests into these shops and dining locations? By making FastPass+ mandatory, Disney is asserting that your time in line is enough of a threat to their bottom line that they want to get rid of it altogether. If Disney is willing to employ a vastly unpopular program like mandatory FastPass+, there must be a sizable estimate of lost revenue that Disney is hoping to recapture by eliminating line time.  We’ll probably never know what that number is, but considering the extreme lengths Disney seems to be going to, it must be a truly astronomical figure.

2. How much control should Disney have over your vacation?

FastPass+

When you enter Disney property, you agree to several things. You agree to be photographed. You agree that Disney can track your movements through your Magic Bands. You even agree that Disney can eject you from the park if you engage in disorderly or offensive behavior. 

Though most of these seem fairly reasonable, would you consent to Disney deciding what attractions you experience?  Or when? By requiring FastPass+ at Toy Story Midway Mania, Disney is essentially holding the guest experience hostage and telling guests that the only way they can experience this attraction is on Disney’s own terms. If you prefer leisurely strolling through Disney’s Hollywood Studios and then deciding what attractions to experience on the fly, Disney is essentially telling you that you are not welcome to ride the most popular attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Though this “test” may be starting small, who knows how much control Disney will end up trying to exert in an effort to stamp out what it considers to be “undesirable” guest behavior. 

3. Should special accommodations be made for children? 

FastPass

Though there are plenty of adults that love Disney World (present company included!) there is something truly amazing about being a kid at Walt Disney World. Those of us who were lucky enough to visit the parks as kids have fond memories of visiting favorite attractions, exploring the parks, and seeing familiar characters. However, what if the next generation of children can’t experience Disney World this way?  

Currently, Toy Story Midway Mania is the only family-friendly ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and is a favorite among young toddlers and preschoolers. As you may already know, the under-5 crowd is very visually driven, and often decide they want to experience an attraction moments after seeing it. Can you imagine saying no to a two year old, who wants to ride Toy Story Midway Mania with a parent or family member, but doesn’t have a FastPass+? This very idea is against everything that Disney World is supposed to represent. Serving children is supposed to be a big part of what makes Disney World “The Happiest Place on Earth”, but if Disney can’t even get a toddler on a ride in a park that already under-serves this demographic, its fair to say that they are failing in their mission.  

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Disney is trying to create the Theme Park 2.0 experience by eliminating the most frequently complained about aspect of theme parks: lines and crowds. Fastpass+ encourages people to spend less time waiting in lines and the tracking of guests' movements allows them to even more accurately identify bottlenecks and heat zones, and to study the routes most trafficked. Nevertheless, it is the queues that it takes most direct aim at. Ditching the standby line altogether represents an inadequate way of taking this one step further, but perhaps that is because as a temporary measure imposed after the fact, it couldn't be optimised as fully as one might like.

This no standby queue experiment combined with the other experiments, which essentially duplicate the legacy Fastpass system, hint at where the optimal future lies: no PHYSICAL standby queues. Instead of a distinction between a Fastpass/+ queue and a standby queue, each attraction has one (short) line, a boarding queue. Fastpass+ reservations get in that line, and so does everyone else...Once they've cleared the virtual queue (Which I assume Disney would call Disney's Magic Queue).

Under this system, Fastpass+ reservations would work as they do now. But standby queues would work (superficially) the same way as the old Fastpass system. You go to the ride, bump your Magicband/smartphone (That has to become an option) against the reader (Or swipe your ticket I guess) and the system gives you a return time. You're now in the Magic queue. All you have to do is come after the return time to get into the boarding queue. This could also be represented by a Guest Number, but I expect Disney will prefer the existing time based system. You can use the MyMagic+ app to keep track of your place in the virtual queue, and get notifications of delays. If you don't have it, boards throughout the park include the same updates, so just check as you pass (Disney could also offer iPod touches dedicated to this purpose for a small daily fee).

Because this is all calculated on the back end, it can one-up the legacy Fastpass system and the even older physical standby queues in this way: you can queue for a theoretically unlimted number of attractions at once. The limit ceases to be a predetermined arbitrary one or a physical restriction, and instead becomes a calculation from the system as to whether you will be able to join that boarding queue before the close time. This calculation factors in ride times, existing boarding times from both Magic Queue and Fastpass+ and journey times (so if it takes too long to walk from your last attraction to the new one, you are presented with an alert allowing you to choose which queue you want to stay in.

This system still allows you to walk on to rides whose capacity is outstripping their demand, because all it essentially does is put you in more than one queue at once. So you bump the reader at Walt Disney's The Jungle Cruise after already hopping in the Magic Queue for Splash Mountain. Splash Mountain has a return time in about forty minutes, but the traffic to Jungle Cruise is light at the moment. You get an immediate return time and just proceed into the boarding queue because the Magic Queue is essentially empty. But say it had a ten minute queue? Just grab a Dole Whip and then come back. You're in both queues the whole time. You could even use those ten minutes to also jump in the queue for another attraction for after Splash Mountain.

This, to me, is pretty obviously where Disney is headed. I think it's a great idea. Your whole visit can be optimised for you automagically and you spend less time standing around, which means more time to explore and enjoy other attractions, shows and environments. Properly implemented, this system would also make optimal use of capacity at all times, allowing smaller rides near large ones to accept more guests who would previously have been sponged by the E Ticket queues.

In reply to by Paul Douglas (not verified)

Your idea sounds so simple, but in reality is unlikely to work. Have you been to WDW in, say the last 20 years? Most of the year the parks are very busy to jam-packed. Most everyone wants to go on the "E ticket rides". Lets play a little numbers game for a moment. I have no factual information on daily park attendance numbers and base my numbers according to my 10 visits to the parks since May of this year. My observation of attendance range from "very busy" to "have they locked the gates yet?".
I have been trying to get Fastpasses for the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train since May and have been unsuccessful to date. During our visits the wait times for the standby line varied from 30 mins. to over 2 hours. This is with all Fastpasses for the ride allocated. One would assume, accurately I believe, that the number of Fastpasses allocated for each ride is not just an arbitrary number they pulled out of the air, but one they decided upon after taking into account factors such as length of time needed for boarding, duration of ride and deboarding time and historical numbers of riders per operating hour day.

Lets assume for a moment that on a very busy day, during peak hours, there are 40,000 visitors in the Magic Kingdom. Let us then consider that 60% (24,000) of those folks want to ride Space Mountain. Taking into consideration the factors listed above, it is unlikely that all 24k visitors will get to ride. However, their chances would diminish drastically if they didn't have standby lines. As for your idea of a "short line, a boarding queue" is something that will never be seen at WDW. Due to the small number of E-Ticket rides at the parks, even IF your theory was workable, the line would be longer than the standby lines are now. Personally, I think your theory is way off of what Disney is considering. As I said before, it seems you have rarely, if ever been to WDW. I live in Florida and we are annual passholders. We go there at least once a month. Thirty years ago, most of the winter was considered the "off-season". Now there really is no off-season. It is busy year round. BTW, a majority of those 60% will not want to ride Peter Pan's Flight or the Carousel. You also didn't take into consideration travel times and distances between rides. Traversing the parks can be a daunting task in the "busy" season, especially for families with small children in strollers and disabled folks in wheelchairs or riding ECVs.

In reply to by Norm Blackhall (not verified)

I think you might not be imagining the same thing I am. You seem to be working under the assumption that the system I'm describing is just Fastpass replacing all standby queues. It's not. Fastpass+ would continue as a second way of getting into an attraction with the same "arrive at designated time window" system as now. The system I'm describing is eliminating the act of standing in the physical standby queue and replacing it with a metered access system, a virtual queue. The positions aren't completely fixed because (and I forgot to mention this) the more queues you're in the less priority you get on any new one you join. This mathematically duplicates the capacity spread of the one at a time system, but in a much more precise way.

All this accounts for capacity. In fact it's all about managing capacity, but doing it mathematically to try and do so more efficiently for both the guest and the park. Your MagicQueue bookings and Fastpass+ bookings would collectively form a dynamic MyMagic+ Itinerary, creating the optimal distribution of your time based on distances, bookings (and their priority), capacity, your actual ride times and so on. To account for people abandoning rides, your spots would expire in the same way Fastpass windows close, but the window would be more dynamic - there would be a minimum window length, but it could fluctuate up from and down to that length from either opening or closing (acounting for an unexpected increase in available capacity for example) and (less commonly - for example in the event of a temporary shutdown) move based on what's going on with the attraction. Except for the ability to move the window to allow for closures, this is exactly what happens with a standby queue anyway - sometimes it just moves faster or slower, sometimes people just abandon the queue. And moving it to allow for closures is much less disruptive to guests than re-queuing, but has the same basic effect.

This isn't something you would need to implement on every attraction either, the numbers Disney already has would dictate which attractions wouldn't need virtual queues. The most efficient boarding attractions with lower demand for example.

"However, their chances would diminish drastically if they didn't have standby lines. "

But that's just the point, there would be standby lines, you just don't stand in them. Your place is held in line by the backend systems. It's exactly the same as if you were standing in a line behind other people (except you can be elsewhere and instead of immediately boarding once your turn comes up, you simply become eligible to board) including the potential for parabolic changes in wait time, as opposed to the linear change in wait time of the sequentially distributed legacy Fastpasses. In other words, this system would allow late arrivers to potentially board faster than people arriving in peak time - just like a standby queue, but unlike a Fastpass.

The return time you are granted is an estimate based on capacity over time, boarding speed, travel times, priority and the length of the "queue" ahead of you. It is not fixed, it's just a more user-friendly way than assigning each position a number like a supermarket food counter - which would be confusing since if it's a booking you've made while still in several other MagicQueues, your "position" in the line could be moved back by higher priority guests joining.

And again, your window would have an expiry on it to allow capacity to be redistributed to guests behind you in the MagicQueue or arriving later in the day. And if there are no people in the MagicQueue but there is space in the physical queue, the sign outside the physical queue just switches to indicate you are able to just walk in.

"...the line would be longer than the standby lines are now."

That'd be impossible, the idea is the system would not allow people into the physical queue beyond a certain point, which accounts for capacity over time & boarding speed, the number of people in the physical queue and the number of people in the virtual queue ahead of them. That's why the smartphone App/website or (for guests without access to a mobile device) terminals in the park would keep the data updated for you - a virtual equivalent of what happens when you join a standby queue and the RPH reduces because of some hold up with boarding or other issue. The initial time given by the system is an estimate at that time. It's entirely possible for it to fluctuate. It's a Queue, not a Fastpass. It's just a queue that can be dynamically adjusted for maximum efficiency. Cast members at the ride entrances would turn people away from standing around waiting for the queue - though over time people would get used to it and not do that anyway.

The only bottleneck is the readers to join the virtual queue. but you'd free up a fair chunk of space eliminating most of the standby queue area so you could have an array of readers each with individual, fast-moving queues. You could also allow (presumably a limited number of) remote MagicQueue bookings. This is possible because of the way the system would dynamically generate a MyMagic+ Itinerary, accounting for things like capacity, travel times and progressively decreasing boarding priority as you join more MagicQueues.

"You also didn't take into account travel times and distances"

I did account for that. For example, I noted that the system would flag up when you were getting into a queue you would be unable to reach on time from your previous attraction before the window to board closed. Any such warning would account for worst case scenarios, meaning it wouldn't necessarily be simply impossible just that it is a scenario in which you could well fail to make it in time. The MyMagic+ Itinerary would, as noted above, dynamically account for travel time during the rest of the day.

Even with that said, that's merely the ideal. Because the parks have already been built, a MagicQueue would still - at least at first - likely operate side by side with a regular stand by queue anyway, making use of the Fastpass+ queue for its boarders. A SmartFastpass if you want - in practice, merely a more dynamic version of the legacy system. It wouldn't be nearly as expedient or game changing because the capacity for such boarders would be limited in the manner of the Fastpass and the data avialble to the dynamic interary more limited, but it would still offer a way of "impulse queuing" without the tedious standing around.

I also don't have all the data that Disney does. I'm sure there are restrictions and processes they'd know to implement which are impossible to discern without the numbers. That's a crucial point in all this, there's a deep undercurrent in all the skepticism about the MyMagic+/Theme Park 2.0 project that Disney are just throwing random ideas against the wall to see what sticks. They have the data, they wouldn't do things unless they had a reason. Their experiments make it clear that they are trying to implement a way of managing capacity that is more efficient than a standby queue. Making it Fastpass+ exclusive does that, but the numbers will likely show it also has significant negative impact on guest satisfaction. A more flexible version of that combined with the variant of the legacy Fastpass they've also been testing is what I'm desribing because those experiments hint at it and it would resolve some of the issues with this Fastpass+ only approach. Sure, Disney's implementtion may wind up being more limited for practical and historical reasons, but this is the area they are looking at. I'm just thought experimenting a whole park implemtation that would be a long ways off even if ever implemented.

In reply to by Paul Douglas (not verified)

I understand the theory you have whereby you are assuming this is Disney's plan. However, I think you are also assuming the guests are open to having Disney micro-manage their vacations. If you read other people's comments here, they are already unhappy with having to preplan each day of their vacation. I, myself am not too fond of the idea. My wife and I spend thousands of dollars less than someone who travels from out of state and is spending perhaps their entire years vacation time at WDW. I can certainly understand their frustration with even the current system. They are spending several thousand dollars for a stress-free vacation. What these folks are getting is an experience that forces them to try to get to the park, into the park and to ride "A" within the assigned time frame. Then they must leave ride "A" and potentially cross the entire park to get to ride "B" within that window, etc. I can't tell you how many times we've had people (adults and kids alike), in their haste to get to their next Fastpass have walked or run in front of the wife and I, causing us to have to stop our scooters quick in order not to injure someone. We've seen the same thing happen to people who are pushing a loved one in a wheelchair or a little one in a stroller. The other problem is how the current Fastpass system works.

Currently, visitors who are staying at a Disney resort are allowed to make their 3 FPs per day up to 60 days in advance of their arrival, while visitors staying off-site are allowed to make their FPs 30 days in advance.
What happens to folks who don't want to preplan their vacation and prefer to ride the rides they like more than once a day if there are no standby lines?

People understand that standing in lines is a part of the theme park experience. It always has been since the first amusement park opened in the late 1800s. The system you are describing would be not only very complex and expensive from Disney's standpoint, but also very confusing for the guest. This would add more stress for the guest, which, in turn would cause many visitors to reconsider their vacation plans.

I don't believe Disney wants to risk losing large amounts of revenue by not giving guests an enjoyable experience. If someone saves up their hard earned money for a Disney vacation and that experience is a nightmare, it is unlikely they will return for their next vacation. If you read the other comments here, many say they are unhappy with the current system. Others commented they were unable to ride Toy Story Midway Mania when they visited during the standby line elimination test. Some said they were so upset that they will not visit again. Still others who are annual passholders say if Disney implements this program resort-wide, they will not renew their passes. We would fall under this group. Annual Passholders pay a lot of money for the passes. We love WDW, however, implementation of any further system of control over our visits will cause us to not renew our passes, instead opting for passes to another theme park/resort.

In reply to by Norm Blackhall (not verified)

See, here's the thing, again you are applying the faults of the Fastpass and Fastpass+ system to a theoretical virtual queue or Smart Fastpass. You're also applying people's frustrations with Fastpass+ and the Fastpass+ only experiment to it. The whole point of the system I am decribing is to eliminate several of those weaknesses. Your only solid argument is that people are used to queues but you're suggesting any attempt to eliminate the need to queue would be alienating and therefore it would never work. People fear change, sure. But as another commenter pointed out, if Disney never changed anything we wouldn't have all access tickets and we certainly wouldn't have Fastpass. Sometimes people's fear of change means they don't know what is best for them. You're imagining some strict, regimented schedule. It's not like that at all. It bends to the guests' will. You can still do things the old fashioned way, queuing for one attraction at a time, and the experience would be fundamntally identical except instead of standing in the line, you can go and sit on a bench and eat ice creams or something. Or, if you want, you can set up a whole chain of rides that optimise your experience - which the success of things like Touring Plans indicates there is plenty of audience for. If you're going to sit their and argue that people have some kind of emotional attachment to standing in a long line such that Disney's taking it away would hurt and not improve their experience, I don't know what to tell you. The line is a flaw, people complain about those. All. The. Time. Just because they put up with them as they are an accepted part of the experience does not mean that people will refuse to deal with a option to not do it.

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