For the past few months there have been rumblings that the Fastpass system at Walt Disney World would be changing. Those changes came into focus today as a variety of fan communities caught wind that effective March 7th, Fastpass return times would be “strictly” enforced. To further clarify, the apparent new policy will be to allow for guests to return 5 minutes prior to their Fastpass return time, or 15 minutes after their Fastpass return time. No more, no less. Previously, the rule was to allow for guests to return at any point after the opening of the return window.
This change in policy is meant to prepare guests for the upcoming “xPass” system that will allow certain resort guests to pay a premium to schedule their entire vacation in advance. This means that guests will now be able to pay for the opportunity to schedule ride times up to 6 months in advance. xPass will likely be used in conjunction with the current Fastpass system with the rides scheduled in advance likely deducted from the Fastpass distribution for certain time windows.
The question here is, ”What does all of this mean?” To most guests, this won’t be a huge issue. Most guests, were unaware that you could return outside of the scheduled return window, so to those guests this won’t matter. However at this point it remains unknown what will happen to Fastpass distribution; it’s conceivable that it could be accelerated or decelerated as a result of this change.
To those guests that regularly took advantage of the previous policy that allowed for late returns, this change could potentially be very disruptive. This will conceivably change touring plans entirely. Guests will likely have to backtrack more frequently to ensure they can meet their new strictly enforced return time. The other possibility is that Disney starts to see guests using the time between distribution and return time on their Fastpasses used for shopping instead of riding in additional rides. At this point, it’s a significant enough change to the efficiency of the park that guest traffic patterns as a result of this change are unknown.
It’s safe to assume that for high demand Fastpass attractions like Toy Story Midway Mania and Soarin’, there won’t be a significant change. However for attractions like Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin or Jungle Cruise Fastpass usage may decline; these attractions typicaly have return times at less than two hours from distribution, and wait times under an hour. Often times, guests would acquire a Fastpass for an attraction like this despite a wait time of 20-30 minutes so that they could go ride something else and return with their Fastpass with a 5 minute wait. This change could potentially eliminate or decrease that behavior.
I would also hope that a way around the return times should be the presenting of a table service receipt. This will especially be an issue at Toy Story Mania where often times the return window can be 8-12 hours away. A Fastpass acquired at 10 AM at Toy Story could have a return time of 7 PM. It’s conceivable that 6 months prior to your visit, you could also have made a dining reservation at Brown Derby. I can see a situation where people could skip their Brown Derby reservation and then be charged $10 per person, just so that they could make their Fastpass return time. This is going to be a bloodbath at Guest Services.
Personally, I believe that the issues/changes are likely going to evolve on a case by case basis. In a park like the Magic Kingdom where attractions are very close together, it’s far more reasonable to acquire a Peter Pan’s Flight Fastpass that’s three hours out, and still be able to spend time in the area by eating a meal and riding “it’s a small world”, The Haunted Mansion, and Mickey’s PhilharMagic during that time period.
Conversely, in the Animal Kingdom attractions like Expedition Everest are undoubtedly going to require backtracking, but that was already the case. Unfortunately, that park is so spread out that Fastpass could be much more difficult to handle now in conjunction with shows. It’s entirely reasonable to now have to choose between squeezing in one of Flights of Wonder, Finding Nemo the Musical, or Festival of the Lion King or making your Expedition Everest return time. I could definitely see an increase in single ride line usage as a distinct possibility.
The other interesting thing that’s on the way is the addition of Fastpass to several existing rides. Work is currently being done to add Fastpass to The Seas with Nemo and Friends, and it is anticipated that Fastpass will also be added to Spaceship Earth and potentially The Great Movie Ride as well. The thought process behind these additions is less to do with demand and more to do with creating false value. Currently in Epcot, it’s fairly reasonable to wait less than 30 minutes for every attraction in the park while only acquiring Fastpasses for Test Track and Soarin’. As such, Fastpass is not as important in that park. However, the existing Fastpass system will be integrated with the new pay service, xPass. In order to give the appearance of value to guests, Disney is looking to have as many Fastpass/xPass attractions as possible, even when they are unnecessary. Consider the ride breakdown below:
Magic Kingdom attractions with Fastpass (8): Jungle Cruise, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Peter Pan’s Flight, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Town Square Theater Meet and Greet
Epcot attractions with Fastpass (5): Soarin’, Test Track, Mission: SPACE, Maelstrom, Living with the Land (seasonal)
Hollywood Studios attractions with Fastpass (5): Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, Star Tours, Toy Story Midway Mania, Voyage of the Little Mermaid (seasonal)
Animal Kingdom attractions with Fastpass (5): Expedition Everest, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Dinosaur, Primeval Whirl, Kali River Rapids (seasonal)
There are other attractions that have Fastpass machines but they haven’t been used in years, and then there are “Surprise Fastpasses” distributed for Mickey’s PhilharMagic and Carousel of Progress on a regular basis, but that’s more to do with crowd distribution than to save guests time. Additionally during extremely busy times, the Animal Kingdom will offer Fastpass for two or three of the stage shows in the park. Considering all that, in every park other than Epcot there are at least three attractions that require Fastpass in order to wait less than 30 minutes on most days. This is largely why it will be added elsewhere (The Seas with Nemo and Friends and Spaceship Earth), to help foster that false value for the xPass customers.
Because the xPass system will allow guests to plan out their day up to 6 months in advance, I would hope that this can also be used for every day guests on the day they arrive. I don’t expect this to happen, but in theory this would eliminate many guest concerns. Consider this hypothetical situation:
Space Mountain distributes 100 Fastpasses for every 5 minute interval starting with 9:40-10:40 AM until park close. If xPass distribution takes away from Fastpass distribution that will leave less Fastpasses for every day park guests, but the guests using xPass can pick any available time they want, not just the next available time. This means that hypothetically this could leave 75 Fastpasses for the 1:00-2:00 PM window, but 95 Fastpasses for the 1:05-2:05 PM window. More significantly, day guests without xPass don’t get to choose their return time, however because xPass is being integrated, this could conceivably be built into the software. A day guest could arrive at the Space Mountain Fastpass machines at 9:00 AM. The return time could be 9:40-10:40 AM, but that guest doesn’t want to get a Fastpass for that return time. Instead they can look at all available return times, and they can choose the 1:00-2:00 PM for themselves and 3 other family members. This would mean that when the Fastpass return time gets to the 1:00-2:00 PM window they would only be able to distribute 71 Fastpasses for that time because 29 have already been distributed. The balance that could come into play would be that the guest that opts for the later Fastpass return time would also lock up the usage of their ticket for two hours instead of only locking it up for 40 minutes had they used the 9:40-10:40 return time.
If Disney anticpates their xPass guests are “smart enough” to handle scheduling their entire vacation, I would hope they are willing to accommodate the day guests in the same way. Another way to help out these day guests would be through setting up centralized Fastpass machines in every land of every park. A strict enforcement of Fastpass return times will result in more back tracking, but if a Fastpass for Space Mountain can be acquired in a distribution area in Adventureland, guests can work their way over to Space Mountain instead of having to first stop in Tomorrowland to acquire the Fastpass, and then returning at the set return time. Again, this would likely require touch screen computer screens to be installed, but it seems that’s a trend that Disney is already headed towards.
Another problem is that xPass could be exploited in a way that old Fastpass system couldn’t. What’s to stop people with the xPass system from scheduling rides at all 4 parks, or at the very least 2 or 3. I would assume those people willing to pay for the premium service of xPass will also be very efficient in touring. As such, park hopping has to be included as an xPass option. But the question becomes will guests be able to schedule out their attractions in a way that they overlap? Even just using 2 parks it can be pretty easy to have reservations at attractions in a park that the xPass guest won’t even visit.
All in all, the strict enforcement of return times helps to level the playing field amongst experienced guests and first time guests. Those guests with more experience will still be able to efficiently use the system, but those slow moving families like the Grasseys are going to experience issues with this change. I can anticipate this change upsetting some hardcore fan boys, and potentially result in some of those fans changing the way they vacation. They may opt to cut out park hopping from their plans, or elect to visit Disneyland instead (there is currently no plan to make this change in California).
I won’t be visiting Walt Disney World until September, so hopefully all of the major issues are worked out before I arrive. That trip will only be Marie and myself, so as able bodied adults, any backtracking will be less of an issue. Where the real test will be is in a family vacation where the 9 of us are incapable of rushing any where to make a scheduled event. I can anticipate an increase in stress as a result.
Some Fastpass Discussion Fastpass Podcasts
WDW Fan Boys Podcast Episode #002 12/20/2009 – Fastpass in the Magic Kingdom
WDW Fan Boys Podcast Episode #009 02/07/2010 – Fastpass in Epcot and Hollywood Studios
WDW Fan Boys Podcast Episode #010 02/14/2010 – Fastpass in the Animal Kingdom and the need for Fastpass
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