A few months ago we spoke with friend of the show, Jim Hill about some of the Next Gen projects going on at Walt Disney World. One of the main topics that we discussed was a new attraction reservation system that at the time was referred to as xPass and is now referred to as Fastpass+. You can listen to the episode here.
Since this show aired, Disney began testing some of the components of the Fastpass+ system with random tests conducted at the Magic Kingdom between May 1st and May 15th. Disney would approach guests as they waited to board the Magical Express bus at Orlando International Airport and they would help those guests schedule up to 4 attractions for a day of their trip. They would have to adhere to the schedule that the Disney cast member set up for them, but they would have guaranteed Fastpasses for those 4 attractions days before they ever set foot in the park.
At this time, we really only know what is being considered but there is plenty to speculate about it. The test included the following attractions:
- Jungle Cruise
- Splash Mountain
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Mickey’s PhilharMagic
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
- The Haunted Mansion
- Space Mountain
- Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
This list includes 6 of the 8 currently active Fastpass attractions as well as two interesting additions: The Haunted Mansion and Mickey’s PhilharMagic. Both attractions previously used Fastpass but it was regarded as unnecessary due to their larger capacity. The new interactive queue for The Haunted Mansion is actually configured now to better accommodate a Fastpass lane, but potential bottlenecks do exist by using Fastpass on a high capacity attraction like The Haunted Mansion.
Rumors point to more Magic Kingdom attractions being added to the full scale implementation of Fastpass+. The attractions rumored to include Fastpass+ are as follows:
- Town Square Theater Meet and Greet
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- It’s a Small World
- Stitch’s Great Escape
- The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
- Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor
- Tomorrowland Speedway
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant
- Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid (Opening Late 2012)
- The Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train (Opening Late 2013/Early 2014)
- The Barnstormer Featuring the Great Goofini
- Enchanted Tales with Belle
Additionally, premium viewing for parades and fireworks are also being considered:
- Celebrate a Dream Come True Parade
- Main Street Electrical Parade
- Wishes Nighttime Spectacular
Admittedly, we don’t know everything about this new system but there are many that feel that this will be the end of any spontaneity in the parks. The counter argument is that very few aspects of a Disney vacation are spontaneous, so the ability to guarantee a spot in an attraction certainly has it’s benefits. In the Next Gen podcast episode Jim Hill highlighted the possibility of parents filling in some information about their family before hand so that it can be used later by characters in meet and greets. The hope being that it will create a truly magical moment for the children. Kids will be amazed that Mickey Mouse knows where they’re from or what their dog’s name is. All of this is great in theory but many have speculated that it will come at a cost, and that cost seems to be an uber scheduled day at the parks. Perhaps this Fastpass+ system would work better if it’s used solely for these interactive meet and greet experiences.
So with respect to this “end of spontaneity” argument, there is a significant amount of information that is currently available that all seems to be linked to the future of the Fastpass+ program. Back in March Disney began enforcing return times on their current Fastpass system. Previously, when guests acquired a Fastpass that said return time between 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM, guests could return any time after 12:00 PM on the day the Fastpass was issued. Under the new rules, guests would be allowed a 5 minute early return and a 15 minute late return but no other exceptions would be made. This was met with significant resistance because currently Fastpasses cannot be scheduled, you are at the whim of the available return time when you reach the distribution machine. What this can mean is that the family of 4 that has a 6:00 PM reservation at The Brown Derby could be faced with a tough choice when they arrive at the Toy Story Mania Fastpass machines only to see a 6:00-7:00 PM return time. That family has the following options:
- Don’t get Fastpasses and wait in a 90 minute + standby line
- Get the Fastpasses and skip dinner, only to be charged $10 per person for not cancelling a signature dining reservation 24 hours in advance
- Eat really quickly and miss out on the Grapefruit Cake at The Brown Derby.
The preceding is an extreme example, but one that was a 100% non-issue in September of last year when the Fastpass return window wasn’t enforced and the fee for not making a dining reservation was non-existent. Having said all that, it’s fair to argue that both of these new policies are positive ones. Dining reservations are easier to get now as less people are double booking them, and the Fastpass lines are reportedly shorter.
Some facts about the current Fastpass system:
- Disney distributes Fastpasses for attractions in 5 minute intervals for a return time of 1 hour. This is occasionally different for shows, and select attractions (Example: Soarin’ will often use 3 minute intervals).
- The Fastpass return windows for most attractions begin 40 minutes after park opening, and will usually go to park close. (Example: if the Magic Kingdom is open from 9 AM to 10 PM, guests arriving at Jungle Cruise at 9 AM will see the Fastpass machines distributing Fastpasses for the 9:40 AM – 10:40 AM interval and the last Fastpass interval of the day could be as short as 9:55 PM – 10:00 PM)
- Guests can get an additional Fastpass when the return window for their preceding Fastpass opens, or 2 hours from when they acquired their previous Fastpass, whichever is sooner. (Example 1: A Toy Story Mania Fastpass distributed at 10:00 AM may have a return time of 6:00-7:00 PM, guests would be able to get a new Fastpass for any attraction at 12:00 PM) (Example 2: A Star Tours Fastpass distributed at 10:00 AM may have a return time of 10:45-11:45 AM, guests would be able to get a new Fastpass for any attraction after 10:45 AM)
- Usually shows that offer Fastpass are not linked to rides that have Fastpass. (Example: Guests are able to hold a Fastpass for Voyage of the Little Mermaid and Toy Story Mania at the same time)
- A ticket must be used to enter the park on that day in order for it to be used in a Fastpass machine.
- The number of Fastpasses available in every 5 minute interval is a function of that ride’s capacity. That means that a set number of Fastpasses is available in each 5 minute interval, when that number is reached, the return time bumps up to the next 5 minute interval.
- The return time will also bump up to the next 5 minute interval if not all Fastpasses available during the preceding 5 minute interval are distributed fast enough. The quickest possible return time from an acquired Fastpass is 36 minutes. (Example: at 10:04 AM, the Fastpass return time for Jungle Cruise is 10:40-11:40 AM, at 10:05 AM, the Fastpass return time for Jungle Cruise will automatically bump up to 10:45-11:45 AM if not all available Fastpasses have been distributed)
- There is not a set number of Fastpasses that any guest can acquire on any given day. It’s conceivable that a guest can get a Fastpass every 40 minutes if the distribution allows it.
The preceding information on Fastpass is only part of the information needed to further examine how Fastpass+ may work. Additional information has been provided by Jim Hill through articles on JimHillMedia.com, the TEA 2010 Themed Entertainment Attendance Figures, and feedback from the May test of Fastpass+. Individual attraction capacity information has come from a variety of sources and estimates have been used where necessary.
- The amount of Fastpasses distributed per every 5 minute interval is not public information, but this number is estimated at 5% of an attraction’s hourly capacity. This means that starting 40 minutes after park opening, 60% of an attraction’s hourly capacity is distributed as Fastpasses.
- Depending on the park, attendance, and the results of the test in May it is speculated that each guest will receive access to 2-4 Fastpass+ attractions per day
- Attendance at the Magic Kingdom in 2010 was 16,972,000 or an average of 46,499 guests per day
- The estimated hourly capacity of the 8 current Fastpass attractions (Jungle Cruise, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Peter Pan’s Flight, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Space Mountain, Town Square Theater) at the Magic Kingdom is 9550 per hour
- An average attendance day at the Magic Kingdom will see 13 hours of operation: 9:00 AM – 10:00 PM
- A 13 hour day will have 148 Fastpass Intervals of 5 minutes each (13 hours x 12 five minute intervals per hour less 8 intervals at the start of the day)
- With every attraction operating, the estimated maximum Fastpass distribution during a 13 hour day at the Magic Kingdom is 70,670.
- This means that up to 56.92% of total rides on the 8 Current Fastpass attractions can be done through the Fastpass system. Assuming that the 5% number is correct, this percentage is accurate regardless of whether or not the attraction capacity numbers are correct. If the number changes to 4% then the percentage changes to 45.54%, and at 6% the percentage changes to 68.31%
- The addition of the other attractions and premium entertainment viewing can potentially bring the daily Fastpass+ availability to 237,450 per day. This would include all of the Fantasyland expansion being open as well as premium viewing for a daytime parade, a nighttime parade and a fireworks show.
- With 46,499 guests in the park, and each guest entitled to 4 Fastpass+ attractions, 185,995 of the 237,450 available Fastpasses can be distributed via Fastpass+.
- This would mean that 78.3% of Fastpasses could potentially be booked prior to guests entering the park. If each guest can book 3 Fastpass+ attractions the percentage drops to 58.73% and if each guest can reserve 2 attractions the percentage drops to 39.15%.
- The corresponding numbers are significantly less favorable at the Animal Kingdom but that is subject to change with the addition of World of Avatar. The numbers are comparable at Epcot, and slightly more favorable at Hollywood Studios.
Essentially what all of this means is that guests could see even less “day of” Fastpass availability for marquee attractions. Guests currently have to plan significantly if they want to experience Toy Story Mania and to a lesser extent, Soarin’. At Toy Story Mania, Fastpasses are regularly distributed for the day by noon. This means that at 12 PM on many days under the current system guests can no longer acquire a Fastpass for Toy Story Mania. If Toy Story Mania Fastpasses are available to book on Fastpass+, that number could easily drop to 11 AM or even 10 AM on even the least crowded days.
There are certainly advantages to this system to those people that like to plan ahead. What is unknown is how far in advance guests will be able to book Fastpass+ reservations. Currently dining can be booked 180 days in advance, with marquee dining locations often unavailable at 170 days in advance. If Disney takes a similar approach with Fastpass+, they could potentially see marquee attractions reserved 6 months in advance. This seems unrealistic and probably unlikely. Logic would dictate that the fairest way to reserve Fastpass+ reservations would be at check in at your resort and/or within a week of the day the guest is entering the park. During the beginning stages of this process there will be a steep learning curve and Disney can’t expect guests to wait on the phone for 45+ minutes in hopes of having a shorter line for Space Mountain months in advance.
The problem is that by limiting the amount of Fastpass+ reservations available to 1 or 2 per guest, the guests will prioritize the marquee attractions and eliminate the benefit of adding additional attractions to the Fastpass system. I would think the system would be most effective at reserving highly specialized experiences, perhaps even at premium meet and greet locations or premium viewing locations for fireworks and nighttime shows. It would be an easier sell to the public if Fastpass+ only included these premium offerings and resulted in no change to the scheduling of current offerings.
However, it is unlikely that Fastpass+ will only be limited to premium experiences; it is expected that it would include the full slate of attractions mentioned previously. The benefit of this system that appeals to me the most would be the ability to reserve specific attraction Fastpass times in a park on the day you enter that park. This is the most fair way to utilize this system, and it will also help pacify the guests that scorned the removal of the late Fastpass return time. In the Toy Story Mania/The Brown Derby scenario highlighted above, that same family of 4 would be able to reserve a Toy Story Mania Fastpass after dinner and not have to worry about the cancellation fee on their signature dining reservation.
There is a growing concern amongst fans that this system would mean the end of in park spontaneity. Scheduling attractions days, weeks, or months in advance does give many people piece of mind, but it significantly hurts those people that like to have a little less structure to their day at the park. If given the choice, I would welcome a system driven by smart phones that was available to all guests upon entering the park but not on days leading up to entering the park. For those guests that don’t have a smart phone, a device could be rented. This presents other potential issues:
- Would Disney charge guests a fee or deposit to use Disney’s device for Fastpass+?
- What percentage of guests in the park are traveling with a smart phone?
- Would an entire group be able to use a single smart phone?
- Would there be charging stations available to compensate for the insufficient battery life of existing smart phones?
- What is the learning curve for utilizing the system?
The previous issues are ones that can be addressed relatively easily, but Disney will likely only get one chance to role out this system to the masses. They need to get it right because more so than any other changes that have been made over the years, this one has the potential to be significantly disruptive. The failure of this plan could result in many guests turning away from Walt Disney World as a source of entertainment. The time frame for this very well may also correlate with the opening of Phase 2 of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter over at Universal Studios. The stakes are definitely high, and while we certainly don’t know all the details there is certainly a level of skepticism that is shared by many.
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