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How Fast Passes Are Ruining Our Nation, Hyperbole… or Not?


Megan McArdle, a business and economics blogger recently made the jump from Newsweek to Bloomberg. During that time off she indulged in one of her passions – roller coasters. I knew there was a reason I liked her. One of her insights from the trip is about how guest services like Quick Queue, Fast Lane, or Fast Pass are impacting the enjoyment of theme park guests, and, perhaps, even symbolize something that’s gone wrong with our nation over all.

McArdle observes something many theme park fans have noticed before. Even though Fastpass is free, and other systems aren’t that outrageous as a percentage of the overall vacation, some families just don’t use them.

I find it hard to believe that the problem is a lack of awareness; all three parks prominently hawked Quick Queue or Fast Lane passes at concession stands.

Perhaps the problem is the price — though with the bucks people were dropping on concessions, I can’t believe that this is the issue. No, I think the answer is in the hard stares we got as we walked through the fast-pass gate. People just don’t like fast passes. It doesn’t feel right.

I had never really thought about it that way. But it makes sense to me.

The real problem with fast passes isn’t that they allow a tiny number of people to jump the queue; it’s that those people start feeling that they should never have to mingle with the people who don’t have the passes. They act like entitled jerks who have the right to shove everyone else out of the way.

We’ve all encountered people like that, haven’t we. In fact as the gap between the rich and poor continues to expand, the whole idea of a separate access for the privileged is spreading:

Jump the security queue at the airport because you’re a frequent flyer. Walk straight into your rental car because you’re a Hertz#1 Club Gold member. Don’t like the kids your children are hanging around with? Push them into an elite program, or buy a house in a more exclusive school district. Join a gated community so the wrong people can’t even walk near you.

The economic elite used to just buy more of the things we all enjoyed. Now they have access to a different set of experiences entirely. No, that’s not quite true — of course the rich used to be able to afford better vacations and nicer cars. But increasingly they’re enjoying an exclusive version of the things we all do — right there in front of us, where we can resent them for it.

Frankly, that’s been one of my chief arguments against Fastpass access in that it creates separate cast of guests at the parks. Disney is not the worst offender, as at least Disney’s Fastpass is included in general admission with the same rules for everyone.

After reading McArdle’s post, I’ve even come to a new appreciation of Disney’s FastPass+, at least as the current rumors lay it out (this may change if rules are different when it debuts).


Right now it sounds like all guests would be allotted 3 (maybe 4) Fastpass+ reservations in one park per day. You can log on and request your favorite Disney attractions 60 days in advance, perhaps a bit earlier for Disney resort guests, your preferred times (if you won’t be there in the AM, you can set your times to start at Noon for instance) and the computer spits out your Fastpass+ return times. You can modify them anytime up to when the Fastpass+ is active.

Fastpass+ will not only replace the existing system of paper tickets, but will vastly expand the number of attractions with Fastpass access. (Such as a Parade viewing location, a special meet and greet with a princess, or special seats at a show) As these new attractions were previously not in the loop, there is some complicated math to see just how overall park capacity will be affected by Fastpass+. But that’s a topic for a future post as Disney is still working out all the kinks.

Aside from the part of having to make early reservations not really an option for locals or those who decide to visit spur of the moment and other logistical issues for groups, this new system is significantly more equal than say Universal’s system where you need to pay extra or be a hotel guest to get the QuickQueue access (I’ve used it, and the experience is exactly like McArdle describes).

I hope that Disney figures out the math so that even with more people using Fastpass in the parks each day, the overall number of Fastpasses issued for an attraction is reduced. This would have the very nice effect of letting the people who really want to make sure they experience Peter Pan get to do so, while speeding up the wait for those who are forced into the Standby Queue.

I’m still with-holding final judgement, but I do find myself liking the idea a bit more. I’m definitely not a fan of the type of pay for front of the line access that McArdle experience because it really does reflect the growing economic inequality in our nation and, in my book, it’s just poor form.

What are your thoughts on McArdle’s column and the potential for Fastpass+ to be a better system than pay-for-access systems?

22 thoughts on “How Fast Passes Are Ruining Our Nation, Hyperbole… or Not?”

  1. It’s an interesting perspective, but it’s a little harsh. We’re taught throughout our developing years to work hard, to push ourselves, to do our best. We’re taught that the rewards in life are all about feeling a bit special – receiving praise, getting special privileges like staying up late or ice cream after a meal.

    Our entire culture is based on striving for reward, but as soon as people have success in their career, they’re smacked down and accused of being greedy, entitled, all sorts of awful things.

    I’ll confess that one of my biggest inspirations to work hard and earn money (after security, of course) is my desire for space. When I’m watching World of Color and the woman behind me is deliberately kicking me, or I’m at Illuminations and somebody’s teenage kid is climbing on the back of my chair, or I’m on a flight and my very tall husband has his knees crushed by the person in front of him, it diminishes my experience. Selfish, but true. I don’t care if these people are princes or paupers, what colour they are, where they come from or what their political leanings or jobs are. I just want to be free to enjoy an activity without being physically hurt (even if only a few bruises) in the process.

    So, yeah, I do believe that you should receive some reward for any effort you make. Whether it’s earning more money because you work long hours in a job that not many people can do, or having a better Disney experience because you did a lot of research, it’s not unreasonable to hope that you get out what you put into life, so long as you try to ensure others are able to get out what they put in as well. And you’re nice about it :)

  2. Oops… Me again ;)

    I just wanted to add that I do not believe that principle applies to basic fundamental services, e.g. healthcare, education, sanitation, emergency services. With those, I feel everyone should get the same. Just the fun stuff.

    1. Sigh…I could make so many political arguments against this…but this is a Disney blog. Political plugs don’t belong here.

  3. WDW is already a filtered version of humanity filled only with those who can afford it, so the have/have not argument about FastPass rings a little thin with me. Looking down your nose at someone who took advantage of a FP system that’s available to anyone who’s already there is ridiculous. We uber Disney fans tend to put too much emphasis on the things about a Disney vacation (like FastPass) that in the end matter very little to the masses of people who enjoy WDW. My problem with FP+ isn’t the perceived exclusivity; it’s the way that it’s pushing people towards more and more advanced planning and structure for what’s supposed to be a fun experience. The more Disney pushes ways to figure out your whole vacation schedule 180 days in advance, the more it sounds like attending a conference rather than enjoying the happiest place on earth. I’ve been a lifelong WDW fan. But if Disney’s not careful, it’s going to change the experience of going there into a burden rather than a joy. Maybe I’ll trade my Annual Pass for a nice vacation at a cabin in the mountains next year.

    1. >My problem with FP+ isn’t the perceived exclusivity; it’s the way that it’s pushing people towards more and more advanced planning and structure for what’s supposed to be a fun experience. The more Disney pushes ways to figure out your whole vacation schedule 180 days in advance, the more it sounds like attending a conference rather than enjoying the happiest place on earth.

      This. So much this.

    2. Agree with you both so much on this one… it kind of sickens me. As for myself, I am a huge Disney fan… my excitement did not stop at taking pictures of every new inch of the New Fantasyland, but the photopass photographers, to at home photo albums.. to reading up on what attractions and new things to do there are… and now this? Oh my.. and we all know good and well that this FF+ will cost a pretty penny I’m sure. I say just go to Disney for the 4 day stay passes.. and then there’s plenty of time to do everything, even with the “standard” FF… that is, IF they are planning to keep them both going (FF and FF+) -_-

  4. No, I don’t think this is true. All in all, these fastpasses are free! You’re bringing up riches… You don’t need to be any more rich to be in touch with a fastpass. It’s an interesting concept, but I don’t think fastpasses are going to ruin us as an economy. It is an equal fairness of who obtains a fastpass. So it causes a bit of division? Fine. What I’m getting to is that it’s not the end of the world! There is no struggle here, this is a theme park. Not everything needs to connect to financial issues or economy. I think it’s a little too much for Disney to handle. They meant it well, just to give an opportunity for those who choose to take it. It’s not an economical problem in my opinion.

  5. Simply not fair to post this article and only use FastPass photos. You cannot buy FastPasses so it has nothing to do with the rich/poor debate. I mean really…

    1. Problem is your first time visitor doesn’t realize it when they have other companies like Universal to compare to.

      1. But that’s just the fault of the visitor who does no pre-trip research and pays no attention to all the Fastpass signs around the resort. Disney actually does a pretty good job of advertising FP and making sure that people know it’s free. People just need to be alert.

  6. From what I have heard, there is a plan for a distinction between the haves and the have-nots in the new FP+ system. When you make reservations, the computer will decide which attractions / experiences are available to you. Those staying at deluxe resorts will get one set of options (Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Railroad, etc.). Those staying at value resorts or (horror!) off-property will get a different set of options (It’s a Small World, Mad Tea Party, Tomorrowland Speedway, etc.). I think once this aspect of the FP+ system becomes more widely know, there will be greater discontent with this new way of doing business.

  7. I have mixed feelings about the new fastpass+ system. Mainly because of the advanced planning it seems like will be required. I think it could end up being a good change but I don’t like the idea of fastpasses being distributed according to which level of resort you’re staying at. The idea that McArdle puts forth in this article is ridiculous. Fastpasses at Disney are free. Everyone can use them. If you choose not to, that is your prerogative. Don’t look down on others for planning well and taking advantage of a system that is available for everyone!

  8. LINDA is right on point. I am already disgusted with making dinner reservations 6 months out and still can’t get in certain places. Our next trip will be our first without the meal plan.

  9. This may be the only time I’ve ever read the comments and they’ve actually made me feel better :) Positivity is an important

  10. I also disagree with the idea that Fast Pass is a program for an elite few, as the systems in place at other parks are. Current FP attractions utilize the 80/20 rule – that means upwards of 80% of an attraction’s daily ridership is coming through the FP return. It’s the way Disney has designed it. Less waiting in line, more $$$ spent in the parks goes the theory. Many, many more people are using the current FP than we might assume.

    Who knows what FP+ might bring. My two cents: I don’t want to plan out that far in advance. Kind of removes any sense of spontaneity that might have been left.

  11. Fastpass was overcomplicated phooey from the start. And now with this FP+ nonsense, Disney’s expecting me to schedule my vacation like some sort of business conference? No thanks, I will never do that. On my vacations I intend to get away from routines and schedules, and if that places a hindrance on my enjoyment of their theme parks, then so be it. I may just find myself vacationing elsewhere more often.

  12. So the debate rages on. I don’t know if I’m in the minority or the majority, but I love Fastpass. Part of the reason why I love Disney is that I have the option of getting a Fastpass and jumping on those popular E-ticket attractions with little or no wait. I was at the Studios today, and at 9:30 AM, both Tower Of Tower and RnRoller Coaster had upwards to an 80 minute wait. Without Fastpass, I wouldn’t even consider waiting in those lines, nor would I be as frequent a visitor to WDW as I have been these past 10 or so years as a passholder. The analogy that this person draws to people with and without Fastpass to the rich and poor is totally inaccurate. It’s not about rich and poor. Fastpass is included with EVERY person’s park admission, so everyone and every family has the option to use it. I think ultimately what it boils down to is, people that come from afar to visit the parks for that once a year, or once in a lifetime vacation, don’t put in the necessary planning/research to take full advantage of a system that’s put in place to maximize time, not deplete it. It seems to me that people just don’t do the planning necessary to have an enjoyable time in a WDW theme park. Nowadays, you can’t just show up to a Disney theme park and just walk right in. You have to plan and research those attractions you will need to get Fastpasses for. Research, research, research. As far as FP+ goes, it’s too early to make any kind of judgement. I’ll figure it out once it’s been fully rolled out, just like everyone else.

  13. I am so against fastpasses!!!! What they have done is make the lines longer and longer, I have been going to disney for over 28 years now, and I never remember wait times being 3 hours long!!! Just returned on Friday 7–26 was there with 49 people . What I saw was people running to get a fastpasses leaving the family behind as they mowed people over to get to the fastpasses tickets..,I thought disney was about family and time together . The fastpasses has ended that, you used to wait in line with your family where you could talk and enjoy the walk together before you got on the ride. By 10 some mornings fastpasses were gone for the day, so u either had to skip the ride or wai from 80 to 180 minutes for a ride, let it be equal for everyone , take the fastpasses away and let families enjoy each other again…everyone today wants everything now… Slow down and enjoy life, it flys by and you are all missing that special thing your child might have said to you if you waited with them in line, instead of being gone for 45 mins running back and forth to get a fastpasses!!!! Sad you will be sorry someday when your child is grown and you rushed through life. Just my opinion.

  14. A free system like Fastpass has no connection with money at all. Its available to all park guests. If people choose not to use it, that’s up to them. If they don’t use it because they don’t know how it works then that’s their fault because the information is freely available from a number of sources. The positive side of Fastpass is that its possible for most people to experience at least one or two attractions without a huge wait. It would be very disheartening to have to wait for long periods for every ride and would probably put a lot of first time guests off. Its not really possible to get more than a handful of fastpasses on any given day unless the parks are very quiet in which case you probably don’t need Fastpass as much anyway. I understand some people’s reservations with the Universal system for their hotel guests but they have a much smaller number of hotel guests than Disney and I can’t say that I’ve ever had much of a problem as a non-hotel guest. I think Universal chose this method to compete with Disney’s Extra Magic Hours without obviously copying them.

    Fastpass Plus looks interesting. I don’t understand the objection to planning what you do for the day because I’m pretty sure most people do this for restaurants without a complaint. I understand its also quite common with places like cinemas, theatres and a whole load of other businesses too. This is effectively what people are doing with the current FP system only with the current system you are assigned a time with no choice at all. I work quite hard to earn my holidays and I think I should give them at least the same degree of attention that I would apply to a visit to the dentists or to get my car serviced.
    Also,to be honest, I would always advise anyone to invest some time in planning a Disney trip or any holiday. Theme parks are complex and a little bit of planning can go a long way and save a lot of disappointment.

  15. The EuroDisney fast pass system when you stay at the signature disney hotel is hands down the best. You get a fast pass ticket that allows you to use the fast pass lane any time. Is that worth staying on the most expensive hotel on property? Yes, in terms of time savings! That said Euro Disney really needs a clean up. Space Mountain Mission 2 is a nice touch but the could do a lot more. I say bring the Euro Disney Fast pass system here!

  16. I think the article had more to do with the systems at Universal or 6 Flags.

    For example – I was looking at running up to Six Flags Great America one day (I have not been in a few years and live 2 hours away). An advance ticket purchased 3 days in advance would cost me $41.99 online. Then parking is $22 per day. So for two of us – we are at $105.98.

    Now – lets say I want to add a “Flash Pass” for two people…the regular one (You go to the line and reservate a time equal to the current wait time) is $95; a Gold pass reduces your time by 50% and is $140 and the Platinum pass reduces your time by 90% and you get to ride twice in a row is $205.

    So this means the more I pay the more I can play…If you have a party of four the platinum pass costs $385. No way I would pay more then the cost of my park ticket for this – six flags is not that great to begin with – just local.

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