Fastpass+ : The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Crowds are going to be a constant issue for any successful theme park. Over the years, the parks at Walt Disney World have taken measures to make the crowds and subsequent lines more tolerable, including the initial rollout of FastPass nearly fifteen years ago. The recent switch to Fastpass+ is another advancement in factoring out crowds and making your trip less stressful. As we noticed when the first FastPasses showed up back in 1999, the crowds are still very much a force at the parks, but they tend to swell and accumulate in different places. After spending several days in the new system, here are our observations of the good, the bad and the ugly side of the new Fastpass+ system:

The Good

  • Shorter standby lines

    Many E-ticket attractions now have noticeably shorter lines - possibly because of fewer passes in circulation for these particular attractions with some of the new limitations. Several rides we noticed consistently shorter standby lines on are Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain and Test Track.
  • Less stressful park hopping

    While there are some complaints about how Fastpass+ works with Park Hopping (we'll get to those later), we did find a silver lining. We always show up for rope drop at one park, then bail if the crowd levels become uncomfortable. In doing this, you inevitably end up at another park with (hopefully less) crowds, but still plenty of lines to wait in. We found that park hopping was less stressful when you could use the new My Magic+ phone app (or mobile site) to check out other parks and reserve or change Fastpass+ reservations. In our case, we hit Animal Kingdom for rope drop, got our fill of Everest and several other E-ticket attractions, then while we waited in line for Primeval Whirl, we were able to spend the time looking at Fastpass+ availability at the other parks. We then reserved Fastpasses (or in our case altered existing reservations) for Rockin' Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, and Star Tours for times between noon and 3:30 PM. This was much less stressful than showing up to Hollywood Studios not knowing what to expect, or having to rush down Sunset Boulevard to get ticket reservations for an evening ride.
  • Managing a group got a lot simpler

    When travelling in a group in the old Fastpass system, one unlucky group member would have to collect everyone's park ticket or room key, rush to a Fastpass ticket kiosk, and perform a separate transaction for each group member, hoping the return times come out close enough to each other for everyone to ride together. With the new Fastpass+ system, you can quickly reserve for a group using the app or mobile website. Just make sure that everyone's park reservations are linked in the My Magic+ website, so you can make reservations for each other - unless you don't trust some of your group, in which case you do not want to let them make reservations for you! And as always, if you run into trouble reserving attractions, you can always visit the FastPass+ kiosks - just be prepared to wait in line.
  • No more paper FastPass tickets

    We never noticed it before so much, but as it turns out, paper FastPass tickets are cumbersome. They are also fragile (remember what a pocket full of paper tickets feels like after Kali River Rapids?), and they are easily mis-placed. Since the new FastPass+ system uses Magic Bands that never have to leave your wrist (even on Kali River Rapids!), there are no more worries about keeping up with stacks of paper tickets.
  • Long-term reservations give peace of mind

    We used to plan visits that began at rope drop first thing in the morning, and plotted a course that balanced visiting FastPass kiosks with actually riding the attractions. Some days the time wasted in the hunt for a good FastPass eclipsed the fun of actually getting to ride the attractions. With the advanced FastPass+ reservations, you can reserve attractions up to 60 days in advance, and simplify your plans. We found that the first two days of our trip were pretty easy to book in advance for, because we knew where we would be. Every day after that, we ended up changing our minds many times and moving our reservations around different parks and attractions based on what we had already ridden.
  • Changing plans

    Updating your FastPass+ reservations is relatively easy using the app or mobile website. With the old Fastpass system, you could only swap attractions if you found a willing party to trade with. Don't be fooled though - more than likely you won't be able to get Toy Story reservations with a few hours notice, but many attractions can be booked on very short notice.

The Bad

  • High volume attractions with higher waits

    While some attractions benefit from the changes from the FastPass+ rollout, some did not. We noticed consistenly higher wait times on attractions like The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean that historically had shorter lines. This was particularly noted on attractions that are capable of handling high volumes of visitors. Our assumption is that the FastPass+ reservation system is intended to drive more of the crowds to these attractions since they can handle it, hence the longer lines.
  • FastPass+ Restrictions

    In the old FastPass system, we would line up FastPasses like dominoes throughout the day for 10+ attractions on a good day. The new restrictions on FastPass+ limit each park guest to 3 attractions per day, all in one park.
  • Park hopping

    While park hopping is less stressful in some ways, it also has its limitations due to the 3 FastPass+ attractions per day restriction. This restriction requires the 3 FastPass+ attractions to be in the same park, so if you park hop, be sure to consider this ahead of time.
  • Unused Fastpasses go unclaimed

    This is a minor gripe, but still something that we noticed. Any unused FastPass+ reservations simply expire – there is no way to trade or give them away. We used to participate in "FastPass Philanthropy" by giving away unused FastPass tickets on our way out of a park. It was great being on the receiving end of this as well – nothing like walking into a park and having a stranger hand you a stack of FastPasses ready to use.
  • Turnstiles aren’t much faster

    We expected the new turnstiles at the park entrances to shorten the lines getting into the parks. But while the new turnstiles certainly get points for style, the function and efficiency doesn't seem to have improved. Most guests do not understand that there are two Magic Band turnstiles at the end of each line, so Cast Members are constantly asking bewildered park guests to step up and use all open turnstiles. The turnstiles still require fingerprint verification, which was the slowest part of the old system. This will get better over time, as the main bottleneck comes from the behavior of the people in line, not from the system itself.

The Ugly

  • Fastpass+ Kiosks

    The only non-attraction lines longer than the Starbucks’ line in the morning are the FastPass+ Kiosks. These are located throughout the parks, typically near the recently defunct FastPass paper ticket kiosks. Cast members armed with tablets patiently explain to guests how FastPass+ works, and assist in reserving attractions. This will only improve as guests are better educated about what to expect, and become aware of the fact that their smart phone is now their most important asset in getting last-minute FastPass+ reservations.
  • Confusion

    Confused guests are the ugliest part of the new system. Guests' lofty expectations going into a Walt Disney World trip lead to emotional discourse with Cast Members explaining to them that they just waited an hour in a FastPass+ kiosk line only to find out that they have already used up their 3 attractions for the day. The new system is easy to get the hang of once you’ve used it - the confusion will improve over time, but in the meantime, Cast Members have their work cut out for them explaining the system.

What we’d like to see

  • Park hopping considerations

    It would be nice to add some value back to the park hopper ticket by changing the rules a bit. This could be simply removing the restriction of all three passes in one park per day, or allowing park hoppers to get more than three FastPass+ reservations per day, as long as they are distributed across multiple parks.
  • Better load balancing between attractions

    In short, we want the lines for Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion to behave more like they used to.
  • Self-serve Fastpass+ Kiosks

    We'd like to think that the majority of the people waiting in the FastPass+ kiosk lines would be able to make their own reservation at a touch screen kiosk. That may be too much to expect out of confused guests, but worth considering.
  • "Tap" Magic Band to a phone

    We look forward to future Disney apps and possibly third party apps taking advantage of the Magic Bands' capabilities. In theory, there could be great potential in this area for further simplifying the experience.
There are plenty of positive aspects to the new system. In general, the system works very well, and arguably better than the old system, despite certain trade-offs. Over time as most park guests adjust to the new system, turnstiles will turn faster and the operation should run more smoothly.

Just remember, if you have a smart phone, then you are ahead of the curve. Use the iPhone and Android apps, or the mobile website (which typically operated faster than the apps). Also, avoid the FastPass+ kiosks whenever possible by using your phone, and you will get the most out of your experience.

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