Fastpass+ (or -)

I can recall an age long past, an ancient time… before Fastpasses. As hard as it may be for you whippersnappers to believe now, there was once a time at Walt Disney World where the only option was to wait in a line in order to go on a ride. Sometimes the lines were long, and the only real option you had to avoid that long line was to not go on that ride.

We had to wait in lines uphill, barefoot, in the snow. Also, please get off my lawn!

When the Fastpass thing first came into being, they were paper tickets that you had to go get from kiosks at each attraction, and honestly I rarely bothered with them. I had been waiting in line for years (by which I mean I’ve waited in a lot of Disney lines and not one long multi-year line, though when you’re a kid it certainly feels that way), and the idea of going to an attraction to get a little piece of paper that would let me go BACK to the attraction later seemed odd to me. I know that lots of people liked them, but personally I just never really found them worthwhile. I also rarely had much of a plan when wandering around the parks–if a ride had a long line that I didn’t feel like waiting in, I would just go somewhere else (I have seen them all more than once, after all). My sense of linear time is shaky to begin with, too, so needing to keep an eye on a clock in order to get back to particular rides just seemed like more work than I wanted to put into my vacation.

I think, over the years, I’ve only gotten a few Fastpasses. That includes one given by a cast member as an apology for Splash Mountain breaking while I was on it and one that a random woman in a line gave me because her kids were tired and she wasn’t going to use it (which, funny enough, was for Splash Mountain). By the time I got to the ride, though, it was late in the day and there wasn’t even a need for the pass since the standby wait was about five minutes.

I will say that a Fastpass was absolutely necessary in getting onto Toy Story Midway Mania at Hollywood Studios last year. My wife and I got through the gate first thing in the morning and made a beeline for that ride (along with lots of other guests with the same idea) and managed to get a pass which allowed us to return a few hours later. The ride always has a huge line, and the Fastpasses get ‘sold out’ really quickly, so if it weren’t for that we would have had to wait for about two hours or opt to not see the ride at all.

Now things have changed again, and the Fastpass+ system is in place. With Fastpass+ you choose your passes electronically on the web or through the My Disney Experience smartphone app (though there are kiosks in the parks as well) and they’re stored right on your Magic Band. You can start choosing your Fastpass+ options online up to sixty days prior to your trip, and you can go back in and change times or attractions as long as what you want is still available. EPCOT has a ‘tier’ system, and when choosing your first three passes you can only get one pass from the top tier there (Soarin’, Test Track, and other popular attractions). Also, the three you choose for the day must be at the same park (so no advanced park-hopping Fastpasses). Once you use those first three you can get more for any park, though you can only get one at a time and must use that one–or let the scheduled timeframe pass–before getting another.

So, as our trip is in early February, we’ve already gone ahead and gotten our Fastpasses. Currently, we’ve gone with:

Day one, Magic Kingdom: Seven Dwarves Mine Train, Enchanted Tales with Belle, Festival of Fantasy Parade (Town Square Viewing Area)

I’m pretty happy with these choices. Both the Mine Train and Enchanted Tales can have long waits because they’re newer attractions, so it’ll probably save time to have the faster entry. I can go either way on the parade one; on the one hand it could be cool to have a pass to a preferred viewing area, but at the same time we’ve always done OK with seeing the parades on our own and this pass could be better used to mitigate a lengthy wait for something like Peter Pan’s Flight. I’m curious as to whether or not the parade Fastpass+ ends up being worthwhile, though, so I think we’ll keep it partly for research purposes. Once we use all three, if there are still Peter Pan passes available, we’ll definitely add that on as it generally (and inexplicably) has one of the longest lines in the park.

Day two, EPCOT: Meet Disney pals, Test Track, Mission: Space

EPCOT has their weird tier system, and they’re the only park to have that in place. So, since we really want to see the new renovations to Test Track, we can’t also add Soarin’. Because you have to pick three passes to start, and most of the good attractions are in that top tier (from which you can only choose one) we added the Disney pals one really as a throwaway. I feel sort of bad about it, like someone who actually really wanted to meet them could have used that pass and we may or may not end up even using it, but we had to put something in that slot. I do like meet & greets, so maybe we’ll show up for it, though it partly depends on which characters are being offered. Sadly, it’s probably not Dreamfinder and Figment, since they haven’t been there for like twenty years or so (insert grumbly old man noises here).

Day three, Animal Kingdom: Kilimanjaro Safaris, Festival of the Lion King, Finding Nemo-The Musical

Three solid options here. My wife isn’t generally into roller coasters (Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is about the top of her comfort zone) so there’s no need for the often-busy Expedition Everest. Since we’re going in February and who knows what the weather will be like, we opted not to go with the Kali River Rapids ride. The safari often has a wait, and it’ll be nice to have an easier time getting into the shows. So I’m happy with these choices.

We’ve played around with the times on each one in order to have a good flow throughout the day, have time for lunch or other planned activities (like a tour we have reserved), and we’re pretty happy with our choices. Granted, the meeting Disney pals thing at EPCOT was more just to use up our allotted three Fastpasses than anything due to that park’s tiered options, but it could be entertaining. Or we’ll skip it entirely.

We’re now about 40 days away from our trip, and we already have somewhat specific return times for certain attractions. This means we need to now plan the rest of our days around the times we have the passes for. We can certainly opt to forego the passes and wait (like, as I mentioned, I used to do in olden days) but it does seem like they add a level of ease and convenience, and popular rides like Mine Train and Test Track can often have pretty ridiculous lines. The Mine Train in particular can have a wait time up to or even beyond 100 minutes, so being able to mitigate that is definitely a positive. If some advanced planning now can save us an hour or so at the parks, that’s an hour or so spent on other rides and in that case the passes definitely pay off. 

So for all intents and purposes this whole system is a good thing. We now know that we have Fastpasses for attractions that we want to see, potentially cutting down our wait times considerably. But at the same time, we now have fairly specific windows in which to get to those attractions and this means (at least to a degree) planning the rest of the day around those. Sure, there’s some wiggle room–the Fastpasses give you an hour window–but it still required more planning than I’m normally prone to. Right now our Fastpass+ for the Seven Dwarves Mine Train is timed for between 9:40am-10:40am, so no matter what we’re doing around that time we need to figure on getting back there within that window. Usually once I’m in the parks I have no real plan, meandering from attraction to attraction. Part of the fun (for me) is that I don’t have any real schedule.

I know some people like to plan out every aspect of their trip. I once saw a woman with a bunch of laminated note cards, held together with a metal ring, and from overhearing her it sounded like she had a very specific timetable for her family’s day. For someone like that, the Fastpass+ system works well with their personal style.

At the same time: if someone isn’t as tech savvy and isn’t prone to being online or on a smartphone, or there’s someone who just decides fairly last minute to go to a park for the day, they could basically miss out on getting Fastpasses entirely. Sure, they can check that day and see what’s available but it’s safe to assume that all of the ‘good’ ones will have been taken well in advance. This has actually been a recurring complaint from annual pass holders, too, that they often come to the parks only to find that all the Fastpasses for popular attractions have long since been claimed. So does this Fastpass+ system favor those who plan ahead, taking some of the spontaneity out of a trip to Walt Disney World?

This whole experience has me thinking: is the new Fastpass+ system taking some of the fun out of being at Walt Disney World? Are guests essentially being forced into using the new Fastpass+ system in order to get on the rides and being saddled with long waits if they didn’t plan ahead? Is some of the wonder of exploration gone if you’ve already got your day planned out? Would it be better to allow guests to pick up to three instead of requiring that initial allotment? That way we could get a pass for a ride we expect to have a long wait, like the Mine Train, without feeling like we have to now plan more of our day (and possibly pick passes we don’t necessarily care about). Also, if a large number of guests are picking their Fastpasses in advance–and likely for the more popular attractions–then could we see longer Fastpass wait times?

As a side note: many rides have cool interactive queues, and (at least from what I’ve seen) the Fastpass lines sometimes forego those. So I’ll skip the pass and wait in the regular line in order to not miss the cemetery at Haunted Mansion, thanks.

Maybe I’m overthinking it. Is it basically like any other reservation? We have a tour reserved for the afternoon of our EPCOT day and a dinner reservation that night, so we do have to plan our day around those to make sure we get there at the appropriate time. Is “reserving” a time on a ride with a Fastpass+ any different?

I don’t even think it’s the Fastpass concept in general that I have an issue with. It’s been around for a long time now, but it’s always been something that you could get in the parks (or not) on that day. It required a bit of planning, but at the same time it was a level playing field with everyone else who went through the gates that day. Now, with the Fastpass+, you have to basically plan in advance a part of the trip that I never wanted to plan in advance. Of course, you can still ignore the passes entirely and do it the old-fashioned way (i.e: waiting in line) but it also really does seem like doing this could save a considerable amount of time in the parks. So the choice is not plan ahead but run the risk of waiting in long lines, or get the passes early and stick to their times but maybe feel like some of the spontaneity of a Disney day is gone.

So this post is ‘to be continued’ until we actually get to use these Fastpasses that we’ve reserved in advance. I don’t have an answer yet on whether our advanced Fastpass+ reservations are going to improve or detract from our trip (or do neither). This is the first time I’ve actually dealt with this newer system, and I don’t think I’ll know for sure until our trip in February. Maybe I’ll be sold on the concept once I see it all in action, or maybe I’ll think they add an unnecessary level of complication to what should be a relaxing trip.

I do intend to write a follow-up to this post, but for now I’m curious as to the thoughts of my readers (you know… both of you). Do you use Fastpasses, and have you had the opportunity to use the Fastpass+ system yet? Do you think it helped the trip and saved time, or was there an additional level of stress in keeping track of them and being at certain attractions at specific times?

Also… could you turn down that noise?!? Back in my day we had something called music

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