Fastpass Changes Coming to Walt Disney World

Let me start with a full disclosure. I would be perfectly happy if FastPass went away tomorrow. On the whole I think it is a bad thing for the parks. Here’s a short list of FastPass’ problems as I see it: it artificially inflates wait time for rides with high-throughput, creates unhappy guests, and crowds the open spaces of the parks effectively lowering park capacity. It never really drove in-store sales and increased dining revenue the way it was originally intended too either.

What FastPass does do is effectively create an elite class of theme park attendees. Those who know how to maximize their day in the park by efficiently using FastPass have a very different experience in the parks than those who wait in every standby queue. Keep this point in mind. We’ll be coming back to it.

Disney discovered one of the unexpected benefits to FastPass is that it helps Disney forecast staffing levels for the rides. By doling out only a certain amount of Fastpasses early in the day, it doesn’t have to operate the rides at full capacity until later.

This process, along with other labor management techniques, is used to make sure each park is meeting its ‘guest satisfaction’ goal of 8 or 9 rides per day for each guest. Not enough guests hitting that number? Then add some capacity or dole out more fastpasses. Too many guests riding more than 9 rides? Disney can safely cut back on labor hours. Since labor is one of the largest daily costs for the parks, this sort of optimization has helped Disney really milk profits out of the park, like the 17% increase in profits Disney’s parks experienced in 2011.

Disney also uses the ride per capita number to justify capital expenditures. New attractions means the hotels have to up their capacity to accommodate the increase attendance they expert. Restaurants have to be opened, roads paved, busses added, new cast members hired and trained, etc. You can see how it all adds up.

As you may have heard, Disney is getting ready to change Fastpass again. Cast Members have been told that on March 7th, they are to start restricting return times to the period listed on front of the Fastpass. Since Fastpass was rolled out, that window was always a minimum. You had to wait that long, but the disclaimer on the back made it clear that it was just a guideline they were asking you to ‘please’ adhere to.

There are many reasons it was always a guideline, never a hard and fast rule. For instance, Cast Members are trained never to directly say no to a guest. Instead they have to come up with a polite way to get the guest to follow the rules. “Please come back at your return time” is not a ‘no’ since the guest will still get to ride the attraction. But “I’m sorry you missed your appointment” is a ‘no’ since then the guest does not get to ride the attraction. Since a guest can get delayed in many ways that are out of their control, have kids that need a mid-day nap, just fail to read the fine print, or any other of excuses, having to say no was seen as not meeting the standards of total guest satisfaction. Plus why would Disney want to put front line cast members in that position anyway.

Now Disney has determined that there are sufficient business needs for guest satisfaction to take a hit, with the hope that it will be replaced by other forms of satisfaction. The immediate result of this should be more Fast Passes issued. Like airplanes that overbook, Disney can count on a certain percentage of guests to just not show up for that ride. More guests enjoying the benefits of Fast Pass should be good for guest satisfaction and for rides per capita. It doesn’t fix any of the problems I have with Fast Pass, but I’m willing to give Disney the benefit of the doubt that this is an improvement over the current situation.

The longer term goal here is prepping the guest to accept the xPass when it becomes available. Remember above when we said guests who like to plan everything out can really maximize fastpass. Well xPass, a program that lets you reserve your dining, show, and ride times before you even arrive in Orlando, will be perfect for those sorts.

If this sounds like a cruise ship to you. You’re on to something. Walt Disney World, at least, does appear to be moving closer to offering as many aspects as it can on an all-inclusive basis. Hotel, transportation, dining plan, theme parks are all included in your on-property package already.

Now, I’m not actually opposed to Disney having a more all-inclusive option. I’m a big fan of SeaWorld Orlando’s Dine-All-Day deal. If you’re in the park for two meals and a snack, it’s a big savings. Encouraging guests to stay longer for food or entertainment is preferable over Fastpass in this regard. The longer people stay in the park, the more money they spend.

What I am concerned about is xPass and the all-inclusive element will impact day guests and guests who choose not to stay in a non-Disney hotel, or just can’t afford to. All that’s completely up in the air, at least officially. If the number of xPass available each day is very small, and it subtracts from fastpass availability, then it might be okay. But at the same time as a local I don’t like that either.

As you can see there are still a lot of details we don’t know. So my thinking is still forming regarding the changes to Fastpass and xPass.

As for the March Fastpass changes, I think there are still some questions that need to be answered.

What is a guest supposed to do if they show up at their appointed time but the attraction is down. Will they be given a new return time? or just told to come back later and take their chances the next cast member lets them in. Just what is the list of acceptable excuses, or will front line cast members be allowed to make a judgement on a case by case basis?

Here are a few tweaks I would like Disney to do to improve the FastPass system a bit.

  • More surprise fastpasses. Standby queue dropping below 15 minutes? Send a digital fastpass to guests on their mobile phones.
  • Shorten the wait time required to get an additional fast pass later in the day.
  • Let guests pick their return window. Maybe just morning, afternoon, or night. But at least that way you have an option if you arrive at a fastpass machine only to find out you have an restaurant reservation scheduled for that same time.
  • Allow locals to get a digital fast pass for one ride from home the night before. Make it for afternoon or peak dining times only. This solves the having to show up at the crack of dawn problem.
  • Rides with a through-put of more than 2000 guests an hour should not have fastpass. Instead move those machines to spinners and other low capacity attractions.
  • Display publicly the number of fastpasses that can be redeemed an hour. Perhaps as a % of the standby queue. This will help guests decide if they need to get a Fastpass for the attraction or not.
  • Limit the number of Fastpass that can be issued before 11AM to 50% of the day’s fastpasses. This saves some Fastpass capacity for guests who arrive later in the day

What would you like to see?

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44 Responses to Fastpass Changes Coming to Walt Disney World

  1. Roger says:

    I don’t mind the FP changes as I rarely use FP when I’m at WDW. I frequent the DLR and rarely use it there either. But one thing that would make sense would be to begin to offer FP after 11am. It’s not needed within the first hour or two.

  2. WG says:

    An additional benefit to enforcing the times printed on the FP would be to also enforce the DATE printed on the FP. Too many times I see locals (or other frequent guests) wandering around with a Ziploc bag full of out-of-date FPs that they obtained on previous trips with the intention of using them on some future visit or share with friends — or maybe they were scanned/duplicated at home, with today’s sophisticated technology. While I admire the creative abuse of the system, I don’t approve of it — but it was lack of FP enforcement that allowed it to happen.

  3. tom says:

    I’m confused. Are they changing the policy of letting us use a fastpass from the morning later in the day? thats my bread and butter on my trips.

  4. Mike says:

    My family LOVES FP. Less waiting in lines makes for a happy trip.

    Your example FP shows 5:55p to 6:30p. So if I show up at 6:35p I’m going to be told “sorry, you’re late.” I just don’t see that happening at WDW.

  5. connie hall says:

    My family loves the FP. You mentioned it made others unhappy having to wait in longer lines….FP is available to all…it’s just everyone doesn’t take advantage of it. I think it works well. I would agree, not needed until after 11:00.

  6. Nate says:

    I also have my pros and cons about fast pass and I was actually working at the parks when they first started to implement it wide scale. The one thing I always disliked from a cast member perspective is that fastpass took away that “magical moment” I could create as a cast member. I always loved surprised a couple families every hour with “ride now fantasyland passes” or helping them “jump the line” through the handicap line, etc. Disney has always touted how it gives its cast members the power to make things like that happen and I feel like the “take off” of fastpass and other changes have really reduced that. I mean when I originally went through training we were given this booklet where we could write something like “a free night at Disney” and give it to a guest. Now I highly doubt that is done.

    Now when I visit the parts I do take full advantage of fastpass and I do agree with many of your suggestions (more “surprise” fastpass, maybe save some for after 11). I would even be a fan of taking it a step further and only hand out so many each hour or each 2 hours. So if its not available now, come back in 2 hours and try again. This way you don’t run into the problem on those popular rides like toy mania, where you get a fastpass for 8 hours from now.

  7. Christopher T. Rhodes says:

    I think that if this really upsets you all this much, then it’s time to get a job at The Walt Disney Company, and fix it.

  8. ljc says:

    My concern is more for the all inclusive dining package. We do not want to be locked into eating 2 sit down meals a day. We like the flexibility of non being locked into a dining plan. I sure hope they don’t move towards a cruise-like experience where everything is included. When we priced it out, we would spend a lot more that way than we do now – we don’t need sit down meals twice a day!

  9. Matt says:

    I like the idea of choosing your return time. Being one of those “plan out the whole day” kind of people who is known to show up hours after the printed return window, it would let me follow the rules without messing up my strict schedule. I can picture touch-screen kiosks that let you choose a time window that still has slots open. For example you might see 6:30-7:30, 7:30-8:30 grayed out, 8:30-9:30, etc. Unfortunately I can also picture long lines of people not knowing what to choose. Maybe an express lane where you just get what it gives you? or the earliest available time? Just some thoughts…

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  12. Doug says:

    We always followed the Fastpass time frame…UNTIL our last trip in July 2011 with our 3 year old. We arrived early at Disney’s Hollywood Studio to obtain a fastpass for Toy Story Mania and the time was 1:30 pm. We thought we could last that long, but by 12:30 pm in the July heat our 3 year old was just unpleasant. Staying would have been bad for everyone — especially other Disney guests! We did the responsible thing and left for a nap. That evening a kind CM heard our plight and allowed us to ride. Without that, there is no way we could have waited 110+ minutes to enjoy the attraction.

    The expanded window was a new “entitlement” for us and obviously wont be available on our next trip. How could Disney resolve this problem without denying our family (and many, many others) the flexibility that late fastpasses offers? One possible answer would be keeping Disney’s Hollywood Studios open later in the evening. Later closings would expand the number of fastpasses available. Another option would be to add more attractions to the park. Another option would be removing fastpasses from DHS (and EPCOT) to even out the demand. Magic Kingdom has less of a problem because of the higher number of fastpass attractions.

  13. Alicia M. says:

    I’m glad they are changing the fast pass system.

    I just hope that Disney doesn’t go too far down the plan every minute of your vacation path. I like a little spontaneity when I vacation. I miss the days before the dining plan when you could decide where you wanted to eat that day and not 3 months before you leave. I’m glad they added the hold a reservation with a credit card requirement because I have been told by so many people that they would make three reservations for each meal because there were no consequences to being a no show. I’m hoping the fast pass adjustments do to fast passes what fixing the reservations did for dining.

  14. Christine says:

    Great blog post on the changes for Fast Pasts t WDW. Thank you for bloggin about this.

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  16. LoveDisney says:

    Everything will be computerized so when you return to the ride you will need to input your FP card into a machine that will open the gate to let you pass. There will be a man standing nearby to help filter people through the gates and into the ride. This method will also relieve the cast member from having to say “no, you cannot enter”, instead the machine will buzz a pleasant sound for “no entry”.

  17. Back when we started going, we honored the times (not knowing yet that we could come back whenever. I think the biggest downside to that process was having to zig zag the parks to death. For younger people that is fine, but in my mid 40s this gets old. So we have learned to circle the parks 2 or 3 times slowly, gathering fast passes, riding, and cycling the park and shops along the way, and usually finishing up passes near the ned of the day.

    I am a season pass holder at Dollywood (a great park too) and their Q2Q system works in a far more natural way that I would greatly prefer. For 20 bucks extra a day (their season pass is 80-100, so not a big deal), you can sign up for all the shows in advance, and then put yourself in line at any of their rides. Show up whenever you want, but you can only have one active pass at a time. So if there is a 10 minute wait, you have to wait 10 minutes.

    This lets you skip the physical line, but move around naturally through the park. If I could go to any fastpass kiosk, get a ticket for the ride I wanted. Say I walk in the park, get a pass for Splash Mountain, and then walk over to the ride (even if the wait was an hour), eat a snack, buy a shirt, etc, then hit the line, ride, then go to the next kiosk, pick the Haunted Mansion, and repeat the process all day (stopping off to the Philharmagic time, the country bears, etc at my appointed time along the way perhaps) it would be a great experience. At Dollywood, I get the device because they have fantastic shows, particularly at Christmas, and several great rides. We ride rides after our place in line comes up after dinner or a show, and the process is smooth.

    So I love the idea of being able to get one or two show passes for the day, then one active pass at a time. Once you use the pass or the time expires, you can get another one.

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  19. Woody says:

    I was always under the impression that you could only hold one valid fastpass at a time. So if you got a 1-2pm fastpass for something, you couldn’t get another fastpass until at least 1pm. Interesting…

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  21. Steve says:

    As I approach my senior years, FP becomes less desirable. All it seems to do is maximize the amount of walking I need to do in the park. I would much more prefer a few FP ticket sites where I could select two or three FP attractions for that day and my preferred time slots. That way everyone gets an opportunity to see a few of their favorites without having their schedule dictated by the FP system.

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  23. KF says:

    As a Disney guest that always has a full schedule of Preferred Seating reservations, I find this change chilling. It seems we always have a fastpass return during our lunch or dinner time and we will no longer have control over it. There is talk they will be testing xpass for resort guests soon, the need to make your fastpass return window will make that process more challenging. When we are staying off property, we avoid parks with early entry because the fastpasses are all gone for the popular rides before we can get in the turnstiles. Maybe our magic days are over…

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  25. dkh says:

    As much as I’ve loved using FastPass and such to make things better, faster and easier for me, I do believe this goes against the idea of anyone being able to come to the park and have a great experience. Sure, it’s fun to reserve things and have the best spots, but those who haven’t done their research may end up having a worse time. I think everyone should be able to have an equally awesome time — Disney expert or first-timer — and I’m pretty sure that’s how Walt imagined the place should be.

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  28. Jennifer says:

    NOOOOOOOO! I love collecting fastpasses and using them later in the day whenever is most convenient. Sometimes I just knock them all out in a row before I call it a day.

  29. Yolanda says:

    I’m sorry folks, some you sound like a bunch of sheep. Honesty. Disney is a company who came up with fast pass to begin with to make more MONEY. People who sit in a line don’t spend more. They get them out of line, you spend money on food, merchandise, while ‘waiting’ to return to ride. SMART! Thinking that this was a perk or freebie as a guest….not smart. Next-gen will reward those who stay on property and spend the most. With their key to the world card, they can easily track who spends, and can bet that you will eventually be ‘rewarded’ by waiting for an attraction with fast pass while you go spend your money. Only Universal trumped them, they patented the charging for the return pass before Disney could jump on the wagon….they win both ways, but have less retail gain ability than Disney at their parks where patrons spend much more per capita. Anyhow….don’t be a moron. Fast pass, as well as everything Disney does, and always has done, is about profits. Not about guests. Some may say that is how it SHOULD be since they are a publicly traded company accountable to shareholders. End of reality check…back to the pixie dust where fast passes were meant to be a gift to Disney’s beloved guests….

  30. Aaron says:

    This is a prep for the Next Generation Experience, NGE. Tom Staggs spoke about it at the last shareholders meeting – basically, it means that guests will be able to schedule every moment of their vacation, including ride times. Tightening fast past rules is a precursor to rolling NGE out.

    I constantly use the lax policies. I will be sad, but hope the NGE will be worth it.

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  32. Matthew says:

    A possible solution for fastpasses that interfere with dining is an exchange program. Present your fastpass to the host or server and they will give a new one for a time after your meal ends. It could print out with the receipt or they could just have some on hand.

    Additionally the fastpass you trade in could be given out to lucky dinners who are leaving as you arrive. That could create some really special moments for guests.

    • Angela says:

      I have had that happen before. We had our fast passes lost/stolen and they gave up a replacement FP to use. The restaurants are very accommodating.

  33. Ryan says:

    Is this happening at Disneyland, too? They have the same policy previously held at WDW. This truly helped my family navigate the day as we could get passes, take a break or go to another park, come back and use them later that night – the best time to ride some rides like Splash Mountain or Thunder Mountain. This is not the case anymore… Oh well.

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  35. Angela says:

    I read somewhere that if there was ride closure, or extenuating circumstances that they fast pass worker would be able to accommodate. Does this mean that if while walking to the return line a child has to make number 2, they will excuse it? Sounds silly, but it happened while we were waiting for a ride last year.

    Also do you have any suggestions on how to utilize the shorter 1 hour window? Perhaps go to a popular ride as soon as the park opens and then get a fast pass for something else?

  36. TJ says:

    We are not local but have been averaging a couple of trips per year to WDW. FP had helped a lot in the past.

    Ok, here is our first experience with the new Fastpass system; We got our Fastpass for Tower of Terror, went to dinner in the park and returned two minutes, Yes TWO minutes after the time on the ticket. We were told, “Sorry, you missed your time, you need to go standby.”. They would not budge! So we spend tons of money for overpriced food and get rewarded by missing our FP opportunity.

    Wondering if they will enforce this for the tour operators who walk up and put hundreds of tickets through for FP’s??

    My other pet peeve is handicapped bypass of lines. It is so abused. We have seen one person push the wheelchair on the way into the ride and the person sitting on the way in driving on the way out. It seems like renting a scooter or wheelchair is the new fast pass bypass. We have traveled with handicapped relatives in the past and heard people in line actually bragging about it. I understand and appreciate the accommodations but it is very abused. We went to Busch Gardens Williamsburg last year and they had a much better system for handicapped access. You had to register, got a card and could bypass each line only once and the party size was limited to the person plus four others.

  37. debbie says:

    I am so disappointed. I have been coming to Disney 2 or 3 x’s a year the past 14 years. FP is what gets us through our vacation with 3 small children. I don’t see myself coming back as often if this continues. Why not instead just limit the FP to 4 rides per person per day? That seems more reasonable. Then you don’t have the morning people hogging all the tickets. WHERE DO WE GO TO COMPLAIN? I’m coming again in May. Now I’m not as excited about our trip.

  38. john says:

    You said:

    “What FastPass does do is effectively create an elite class of theme park attendees. Those who know how to maximize their day in the park by efficiently using FastPass have a very different experience in the parks than those who wait in every standby queue. Keep this point in mind. We’ll be coming back to it.”

    What is wrong with that? People who stand out in the rain without an umbrella get wet. Those with umbrellas keep dry. Both groups could use umbrellas. And besides, fastpasses are free – available to all who attend on the same basis. People with more experience always do better than people with less experience.

  39. Chris says:

    Our family has visted Disney three times in the past six years and this last trip in June 2012 may just be our final one. The fastpass changes were a major problem for us because our schedule just couldn’t work within the Disney “return time” system. For example, you can be in the park at 11 a.m. and your fastpass return time may not be until 3:00 p.m. With young children and in the hot summer months, this just wasn’t pleasant for us. The fastpass system needs to go back to the original plan. After awhile of giving away our fastpasses, we finally tried to get onto a ride with a “late fastpass” from the same day. We were stopped and practically had to beg to be given consideration. We were sent to the “lead decision maker” who proceeded to “warn us” not to do it again and that this would be the first and last time we would be given a “pass”. All this scolding while our five year old was watching. She actually came back home and told her friends Disney wasn’t as good as it used to be. We weren’t able to go on the rides as often as we used to be able to. Disney has lost much of the magic it used to have for us. In addtion to the fastpass changes, they also are charging a $10 penalty per person if you are unable to make your character meal and that is under all circumstances. So, if you or your child is sick and not able to move…sorry you still have to pay the penality unless of course you know that you or your child will be sick 24 hours earlier. My final complaint is about the Ohana at the Polynesian. This used to be a magical experience for us. Now, the staff has no enthusiasm and charm anymore. The characters included. Everyone working there looks sad or completely unhappy….like their boss or someone in authority is beating them behind closed doors to push people in and out as fast as possible. No longer are you made to feel like you may stay and relax and enjoy your visit. To conclude, we also had several different friends who recently visited and they all felt they were not greeted with hospitality from the staff and that the experience was just not as magical as they had heard it would be. Disney has changed. :(

  40. Bob says:

    I dont like the locals geting a fast pass the night before becuse im not a local i dont live anywhere near disneyworld and i love it but that wouldnt be fair and why would the busy rides not have fastpasses that would be stupid Why would the not busy attractions have fatpasses thier not busy so why do they need a fastpass

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