Walt Disney World tightens the rules on FastPasses

On The Disney Blog, John Frost describes the upcoming rule-tightening for FastPasses in Walt Disney World. FastPass is a ride reservation system: park visitors visit a ride, feed their entry ticket to a kiosk, and it spits out a coupon that can be redeemed later in the day for admission via a shorter queue. Until now, FastPass expiry times were not enforced (that is, the pass might say it was good for 3-4PM, but you could use it any time after 3), which led people like me to collect FastPasses all morning (you can get one every hour or so) when the lines were short, and then use them all in a bunch in the afternoon when the lines got longer.

Frost says the rule change is a precursor to a much more dramatic change, a FastPass replacement (?) called xPass, which allows visitors to reserve their ride-times far in advance, over the Web, simultaneous with their other bookings -- dining, hotel, etc. This feels like it would suck a lot of spontaneity out of Disney World visits, though for certain very slow-loading/long-queueing rides, it would be nice to guarantee a ride in advance.

Meanwhile, Frost has some excellent suggestions for ways to fine-tune the new FastPass system:

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

Fastpass Changes Coming to Walt Disney World

(Image: Rockin Rollercoaster Fastpass Walt Disney Hollywood Studios, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from kathika's photostream)


  1. Combine the reservation system with kiosks at the rides themselves and some phone apps and it sounds like it could be a very effective and useful system without sucking out too much spontaneity. Or at least no more than the current pass system does.

    1. That would create a class system: those who have phones that can use apps and those who don’t. Lots and lots of people, including people who can afford to go to a Disney park, don’t have phones that do that.

      1. “That would create a class system: those who have phones that can use apps and those who don’t. Lots and lots of people, including people who can afford to go to a Disney park, don’t have phones that do that.”

        So use it to enhance, not replace the current system.

  2. Limiting the early hours is very smart; I have seen “cast members”– employees– building up a stockpile to then keep in their pocket to hand out to whomever strikes their fancy.

    1. My wife and I benefitted from the generosity of some cast members on our trip to Epcot for our honeymoon.   At guest services, while we were registering for dinner at the Restaurant Marrakesh, we casually mentioned to the representative that we were there on honeymoon.   The representative then gave us special buttons for the both of us to wear that rather ridiculously declared what we were there for in no uncertain terms.

      In addition to getting the normal verbal congratulations from various staff through the day, we got a few extra perks, such as free dessert from the manager of one of the restaurants we stepped  into for lunch, as well as a few passes to butt ahead in line on a few of the rides.   Given that (a) it was late May, so tourist season hadn’t fully hit its stride, and (b) it was well into the afternoon hours when we got these passes, the advantage wasn’t biblically ridiculous, but the courtesy was quite welcome. 

      And no, there was no invitation for further action afterwards… though the one nubile young lovely at the Norwegian pavillion….

  3. “Allow locals to get a digital fast pass for one ride from home the night before,” Frost suggests.

    Good idea.  That way, locals will be there early when the park opens the next day, and presumably, open up more spots in the parking lot.  But how would locals get back home?  Why not allow locals to get a digital fast pass for a ride back home as well?

  4. Every time my girlfriend and I go to Disney we are startled by how few people seem to make use of the Fastpass and choose to wait in the line. Not that I’m complaining, it makes it better for us!

  5. It all sucks.  They should just have a special time block for people to pay double the admission and be able to ride rides without long lines, because they limit the number of attendees.  Such as late at night on Friday night or something.  Delay the cleaning crews until 3am or something, so the big kids can enjoy the rides after midnight.

    1. Universal Studios Florida will usually sell a super fast-pass equivalent, which costs about $25 and gets you one ride on each ride.

      1. The beautiful thing about the FastPass system at Disney is that it’s one of the few places in the commercial world where the advantage is to the intelligent, rather than to the rich. The vast majority of Disney visitors are too dumb to figure out how the system works, so spend most of their visit queuing. So we geeks can run rings round them. I hate places where you have to *buy* your privileges.

  6. Fixing fastpass is not what they need to be doing.
    They need to increase overall throughput.

    I believe they can do this by applying the principles of “Personal Rapid Transit” to roller coasters. That way the ride *never* stops — only individual cars do. Plus, you could do great stuff like swipe your card to get on the ride, and choose how many laps you’d like to do. More laps cost more ride credits. As far as I know, I came up with this idea. I did email some people at Disney to try to talk to them about it, but never received a reply. I really think it could revolutionize theme parks. Bonus: it doesn’t require all-new rides — just new cars for the rides, and the addition of an onramp/offramp.

    1. You mean, like, you go thru the front gate, hop in a “ride car” and the ride car rides you around the park to different rides, as they free up, then rides you on them then off to the next one?

    2. Two things: Disney never accepts outside ideas. If you ever get a response, it will be in the form of a letter saying basically that.

      Next, your idea wouldn’t work for most Disney rides. First, because they don’t use a ticket system any more, and second, because for many attractions the load area isn’t the same as the unload, and the vehicles have to go through an area that is not meant for guests to see. The Haunted Mansion, for instance. Third, they already have ride systems in which the ride never stops: the Omnimover, for one, which again the Mansion uses.

  7. I’d be happy if you could either get fastpasses via mobile phone or get any ride from any fastpass machine. I hatehatehate the forced march at epcot to get the soarin fastpass.

  8. Long wait lines? There’s an ap for that. My wife has one where you can see wait times, and even with out fast passes you can see where to wait in line for the quickest ride.

    BTW – not to toot my own horn – but I had the highest score rank you can get in the Buzz Lightyear ride.

  9. The only time I’ve ever been to Disney World was on my honeymoon– which was a week after they reopened after 9/11. The parks were basically empty– some Brits and some Japanese tours and my husband and I on our honeymoon, as far as I could tell. There were no lines, no waiting for anything.
    It was a GREAT honeymoon, but it kind of ruined Disney for me. I can’t imagine going back and having to wait.

  10. Gaming the system at Disney is a time-honored tradition.  I think rule changes should be approached cautiously.  It would be terrible if, in chasing efficiency/fairness/innovation, they made the game less fun. 

  11. spontaneity has been absent from disney for half a century. now its all lines and baby strollers

  12. It’s tempting to see theme park queues as an undesirable inefficiency that needs managing away as far as possible. 

    There ARE queues like that – eg at railway stations, where simultaneous queues of empty taxis and taxi-seeking passengers are a symptom of bad organisation, and there is win-win potential if you can change that.

    But surely, in a theme park, the operators NEED the queues. If you only have a fixed number of high-demand-ride-places per day, then you need to keep down the number of places consumed by each visitor to allow you to take admission money off as many visitors as you can get away with – and you limit consumption by keeping people penned up in queues. While people are in a queue for one high-demand ride, they can’t consume another high-demand ride. 

    If you let visitors spend less time queuing then they are going to consume more of these constrained-capacity rides and you have two unattractive options:

    Option A is to set a lower limit on visitor numbers, which cuts both gate revenue and retail/catering income. 

    Option B is to stick with the same number of visitors, and accept that the increase in the consumption of high-demand rides by the savvy and well-planned will be matched by a poorer experience for other visitors who might not get on more than one or two popular rides in their whole visit – and are less likely to come back.

    Premium-price priority passes may be economically viable (bringing in enough extra to compensate for reductions you need to make in non-premium admissions). But reduced queuing for popular rides at standard admission prices? Doesn’t look like a winner to me.

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