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FastPass+ and MagicBands Takeover Walt Disney World – Part 2: Challenges and Solutions Ahead

One tap of the MagicBand and Guests access their Disney FastPass+ attractions which can be secured before they even leave home. (Kent Phillips, photographer)

One tap of the MagicBand and Guests access their Disney FastPass+ attractions which can be secured before they even leave home.

The switch from Legacy Fastpass (where select attractions were able to be reserved on a day-of basis as many times as you could according to the rules) to the Next-Gen technology driven Fastpass+ (where most major attractions and many minor ones now offer FP+ entry, but you’re limited to just three FP+ a day) is nearly as drastic a change as the transition from the famous A-B-C-D-E-Ticket ride coupons to a passport system where one ticket gets you in the park and on every attractions.

My memory is a little hazy, but I don’t recall guests getting so worked up about that switch. That’s because it was largely a switch in the method of accounting in the guest’s vacation ledger. With ride coupons park admission was merely a token charge, the real money was in the coupons. So grandma could take the kids and she would only have to pay a small amount for herself. Single admission changed that model forever. The new model meant Disney got more at the gate, but a savvy guest could work the system by staying from open to close (we called them marathon days) and ride many times more attractions than they could with a coupon book. Plus they wouldn’t be stuck with a bunch of unused A-tickets at the end of the day. So in the end, the ledger balanced for the guest.

A certain camp of Disney Imagineers believe this switch was the worst thing to happen to the parks. That the move away from ride coupons and to a single passport, meant that new attractions couldn’t be cost justified based on coupon purchases, that guest behavior was unleashed and less predictable, that minor attractions suffered in attendance, and that it made more difficult for a family to come and enjoy the park if they had to pay a large chunk up front just to get in. The counter arguments were: that most families on vacation had a set amount to spend and they’d spend it on passports or ride coupons just the same, that allowing guests to experience the park without worrying about buying another E-ticket for Space Mountain provided a better guest experience, and that the real money for Disney was in hotels, food, and souvenirs.

With Fastpass+ and MyMagic+ Disney is hoping to get the best of both worlds. If you think of the three FP+ as ride coupons you have to judiciously use, then: Imagineering can now point at those numbers as justification for new or updated attractions, Disney’s management gets to use FP+ to drive on-property resort stays (currently the only way to reserve your FP+ ahead of time) helping buttress some sinking room occupation numbers, and (if Disney works out all the bugs) guests will get to ride those “must-do” attractions in short order leaving them more time to shop, dine, or enjoy those hotels they just dropped a pretty penny for without upsetting the overall vacation experience too much.

Disney also gets a truck-load of data to analyze. We could spend hours going over that potential, but for now, check out this story at Giga-Om where a data analytics guru gushes of the possibilities.

By the end of this week, Disney plans to have terminated the Legacy Fastpass systems in the two remaining parks (DHS and EPCOT) placing all four themeparks firmly in the new Fastpass+ experience. Let’s check in and see how that is going.

A majority of resort guests are reporting a great experience with the Magic Bands. For the most part, they deliver what was advertised. You make your FP+ reservations ahead of time and can change them on the fly with a mobile device or at a kiosk. No more separate room keys, admission media, and paper Fastpass. It’s all in one customizable wrist band. However, there are obviously plenty of kinks to be worked out as there are still many reporting glitches with their bands. But even most of those guests like the general idea of the Magic Band, they just wish it worked.

The Fastpass+ experience for those who aren’t staying at a Disney Resort is a different ball of wax. First, there’s a planning challenge ( I have some strategy suggestions to help with that back in part 1). You have to do a lot of guessing and working out which members of your party want to go on which rides together. Then you have to determine if they’re worth spending one of three FP+ on. Then when you get to the park, you have to hope your choices are available, or you might need a backup plan. As a day guest, you just don’t know which attractions will have available return times that work your schedule or ride-abilities. Plus, if a ride goes down, now you have to return to a kiosk to change that FP+ to another attraction and the whole planning strategy starts again.

There are a tremendous amount of other variables to consider for an optimal plan. For instance, A standby wait for Rapunzel may peak at 75 minutes but may drop to 15 minutes after 10pm. However, if your 7 year old conks out at 8pm, now you’re forced to wait in peak standby or use a precious FP+ for a meet and greet perhaps missing some other reservation. How do you make that judgment when you’re limited to 3 FP+ instead of essentially unlimited legacy FP.

It’s these mental gymnastics that have many guests upset over the move to FP+. To be honest, it makes my head hurt a bit too.

I feel this will work itself out as guests become acquainted to FP+ and Disney figures out the optimal ratio for Resort Early Bird FP+ and day-of in-park FP+ reservations to standby guests. On the day I tried FP+ at the Magic Kingdom, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was experiencing a bout of unscheduled downtime and the FP+ kiosk software prevented us from securing at FP+. However, anyone that had an early bird FP+ already had theirs. When BTMRR finally opened for the day, the FP+ queue was overflowing with all those resort guests running over to use their reservations. The rest of us were forced to wait standby, which soared quickly to a 2-hour wait.

That’s insane, and there’s really nothing Disney can do about it as long as they’re allowing FP+ reservations 2 months ahead of time. The FP+ lines are going to flow and standby be damned. Think 2 hours is bad for BTMRR… through the magic of FP+ it can now happen to Rapunzel meet and greet, Aladdin’s Flying Carpet, and every new FP+ attraction across the resort. Disney could limit early bird FP+ reservations, but they’ve spent so much time and money promising that resort guests will get to reserve their must-do attractions they can’t really deny them a reservation. Nor would they want to, that’s the perk that will fill up the hotel rooms, remember.

Right now FP+ is an incredibly labor intensive process. Disney must have cast members staffing multiple FP+ points throughout the day, extra guest relations, and extra cast members at new FP+ enabled attractions. For the day guest FP+ is an incredibly guest unfriendly experience to have to wait in line just so you can wait in more lines (in theory shorter lines) later in the day. Even worse, a not-insignificant percentage of those guests will end up with a bad experience as return times for the attractions they consider “must-do” will either be unavailable, during a dining reservation, or potentially after the guest plans to leave for the day. With the current system, the guest doesn’t know that until they actually see the options on the FP+ kiosk after they’ve waited in line. If they really want to ride Space Mountain that time might have been better spent in the standby queue than waiting for a FP+ that they couldn’t get.

Other common guest dissatisfactions include:

  • The inability to park hop – many guests choose to do DAK in the morning and another park in the afternoon or have a dinner reservation at EPCOT, but have already visited future world once that trip and want to do DHS in the morning instead. FP+ only lets you have reservations at one park per day, so if you park hop, you’re doomed to standby lines for at least park of your day.
  • Tiered parks – two parks only let you book one ‘E-ticket’ experience forcing you to choose two less desirable attractions for the remainder of your FP+ (this is the tiered park concept),
  • Planning for large parties who want to experience a FP+ attraction together is nearly impossible for non-resort guests. Trying to get a party of 12 who wants to ride Pirates of the Caribbean together in the afternoon, but other attractions separately before and after? You have to get everyone together at a FP Kiosk and find a time with available slots that works with everyone’s schedule, hope that no one’s ticket has an error, and other unforeseen problems. Can’t figure that out, it’s an artificially long standby line for you.
  • Being limited to just three Fastpass+ a day. Under the old system, savvy users could often include 5 or 6 Fastpass rides in one day’s visit. There is an advantage to the new system, each FP+ only has to be separated by 1 hour instead of 2. So now you can get all your “must-do” attractions done in a shorter amount of time, leaving you more time to spend at the pool or park hopping (oh wait).

I’m sure I’m missing a few, but you get the general idea.

I’m not sure what make those upset with the switch to FP+ happy. FP+ is not going anywhere, so there will probably be a grim acceptance at first, then people will find ways to adapt to the new system and make it work for them. It won’t satisfy everyone, but I think Disney’s willing to say goodbye to a few non-resort guests, if it means they increase bookings overall.

In Disney’s defense, FP+ is still in testing and most of the above complaints are ‘software problems.’ If they run the numbers for park hopping and it works, there’s no reason the can’t enable that in the future (although I hear park hopping itself will take some significant programming changes). By the same token, over time Disney may find that some attractions don’t need to be on FP+, just like they didn’t need to be on Legacy FP, and order will be restored. Disney will also be able to use this data to provide a better guest experience, justify new attractions, and when the full next-gen potential is reached, come up with some really magical moments.

If you’ve used the new FP+ system after Legacy FP has been removed. We’d love to get your feedback or perhaps tips on how to maximize your theme park time and energy with the new system.

Ctd. in Part Three: Disney’s Marketing Campaign Begins

Previously: Part One of Fastpass+ and Magicband Takeover at WDW.

(Photo courtesy Disney. Kent Phillips, photographer)