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Fastpass is Dead, Long Live Fastpass+

In the past 6 months I’ve had the opportunity to use the new Disney World MyMagic+ system as a guest at Animal Kingdom Lodge on two separate trips – my honeymoon in October and a trip at the end of January. In October, we got to test the Fastpass+ system – which allows you to schedule rides before you arrive at the park – while still enjoying the old system. A shining moment of efficiency where we rode Big Thunder five times and Space/Splash Mountain twice each. Alas, that loophole is now closed – as of January, the old-fashioned Fastpass system is gone, replaced, a piece of history.

(I am a child of Disney World. I tried to resist it once or twice, but the wiring’s somewhere deep in my brain intertwined with breathing now, so I just decided to embrace it and joined the Vacation Club. )

I don’t remember what year we first started travelling to Disney World, but I DO remember obsessively poring over the Birnbaum’s Guide my mother purchased each year. I’d eagerly read the descriptions of each attraction, commiting the ideal touring plan to memory so that I could drag my family to the back of the park and get on Space Mountain before the lines got long. And boy, did the lines get long. I remember waiting 2 hours to ride the newly-opened Splash Mountain, the endlessly snaking queue bursting out of the building and into the hot Orlando sun. And those long lines were the only way to ride.

We went almost every year throughout my childhood – we were very lucky. It wasn’t until college that I stopped making the journey – incidentally, right around when the Fastpass system was introduced. My first experience with Fastpass was three years into the program, as a Disney World employee. Those 4 months gave me plenty of time to get comfortable with the system.

Fastpass changed the way the parks worked. Elaborately themed queue lines were bypassed by acquiring a tiny slip of paper. Of course, there was this diffused tension – you’d hike all the way to the ride just to anticlimactically shove your ticket into a machine and get a return time. Then… you waited. Sure, you weren’t in line, but you were waiting somewhere else. Most of the time, you couldn’t have two FastPasses at once, so this led to plenty of aimless wandering. And a sense of entitlement that made waiting in any line a bit tiresome.

Fast forward many years, and here we are. Fastpass+ limits you to three ride reservations a day at one park per day. There’s a tiered system where you’ll have to choose between the most popular rides – you can’t get Fastpasses for Soarin’ and Test Track at Epcot on the same day. If you’re a resort guest, you can make your reservations 60 days out, but offsite visitors can only make reservations on the day of the visit.

THE GOOD & THE PROMISE

For Resort guests, the MyMagic system heightens the entire leadup to the trip. A few weeks before your trip, your color and name-customized MagicBands are FedExed to your door, along with instructions on how to begin your planning. Having the bands before we arrived made using the Magical Express service at the airport completely painless. No more shuffling paper tickets about.

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The MagicBands we were sent for our honeymoon in October. Fun fact: the blue one is defective.

In October, I immediately noticed a difference – our time in the park was much calmer. No longer was there the self-made pressure to go beelining to an E-ticket to grab a Fastpass. Instead, we took the day as it came. Fewer rushed trips back and forth also led to more time to ride… other rides. Smaller attractions we might not have bothered with in the past. More time to head back to the resort and relax. This is the biggest benefit I’ve seen from the system – a more “civilized” approach to the day.

The way your Fastpass+ times are verified is by tapping your park ticket or MagicBand (all RFID now) to the entrance. This causes your name (if you specified it, and first name only) to appear on the entrance cast member’s screen. I can certainly imagine a world where your ride experience is customized based on your name or preferences. There’s a restaurant in the Magic Kingdom where those RFIDs are used to “magically” direct a cast member to your table to deliver your food in a quick service environment.

For those at the hotels, the MagicBands – in addition to replacing a room key – make maneuvering in the parks even easier. It was the first time in years I didn’t have to wear a floppy lanyard full of tickets and Fastpasses. The bands are waterproof, which is much appreciated during the inevitable Orlando rain events. And the MagicBand + PIN combination makes spending in the parks very painless, for better or for worse.

I hope that the system continues to bear fruit. It’s the ultimate in big data, and as a tech geek I’d love to see what improvements can be made with this sort of information.

THE BAD

Defective Bands Happen: My first MagicBand on my honeymoon was defective. Not magic at all. We ended up having to spend our first hour of the honeymoon in City Hall on Main Street, waiting for the Cast Member who took my band backstage for 20 minutes to return or send us any word at all. Ironically, they gave us a few paper Fastpasses for our inconvenience, but they didn’t work in all the places the band did. The City Hall cast members need to resolve those problems more quickly.

Traffic Flow: Secondly, there’s a bit of an odd bottleneck problem. The RFID process is mystifying guests, causing backups at the FastPass entrances sometimes over 50 people deep. At Kilamanjaro Safaris, this meant major crowd flow problems with this spontaneous line of Guests that was never supposed to be there. Disney needs more scan points at the entrances to rides, particularly at a shorter height for kids wearing the bands. And if this is a permanent problem, move the entrance gates off the beaten path so guests aren’t queuing in major thoroughfares.

Hopping Discouraged: If you can only make your choices from one park a day, it really removes one’s opportunity to do multiple parks in one day. The only exception is hopping for resort Extra Magic Hours, which become even more valuable as your chance at shorter lines with no Fastpass competition.

Disengagement: The biggest problem I have with the current implementation of Fastpass+ is an issue of immersion. The mobile apps are presumed to be your primary method of keeping track of your FastPasses – but that means that you’re spending a significant amount of time distracted, looking at your phone, waiting for the sloooow app to load. I’m fairly certain Walt would have been disheartened to see this trend in the parks.

And relying on guests to use their phones is a big assumption. On crowded days, it can be difficult to get signal and phones drain quickly. Some parks have water rides where you might want your phone in a locker or even in the hotel room, enabling you to be off the grid.

I think Disney may be too wrapped up in the idea of paper being antithetical to magic. I would have considered it very magic indeed if the hotel handed me a printout of my Fastpass times when I checked in! Sure, Disney has Fastpass+ terminals in the parks, but only a precious few – and those are overrun by offsite guests since it’s their only way to make reservations. I kept wishing for a low-friction interaction – like a barcode scanner at Macy’s – where I could hold my band up to a terminal and see my next FastPass time. Just for reference. Don’t force me to stick my nose in my phone when the grand vision is immersion and appreciation of those in your traveling party!

Rough Edges: There are still some inexplicable gaps in the system. The dining discount programs still use paper tickets, and both Disney Vacation Club membership and Annual Passholder status have to be verified visually, not with the bands. Magical Express return trips still need paper confirmations. If I’m going to relinquish “privacy” for convenience, take the convenience all the way. Plus I still worry about system failures. In a perfect world I could abandon my wallet for the day with this system – but all it takes is some device failures at a venue and you’re out of luck.

Too Much Punctuation: I have to laugh at the naming conventions they’ve chosen. Stick a plus on everything! It’s all magic! We have MyMagic+, MagicBands, and FastPass+. I suspect there will be more plus signs in our future. I don’t know how MyMagic+ is different from FastPass+.

Long Term Questions: It looks like the MagicBands may not always be free. They’ll probably be free for resort guests for a while, but I’ve seen replacement costs of $50 listed for Annual Passholders who want replacement bands. Guess I should keep track of the 2 working bands I have…

SURVIVAL TIPS:

  • If you’re traveling to the parks and staying in the Resorts anytime soon, make sure to check MyDisneyExperience.com about 60 days before your trip to start planning. That’ll give you the best shot at the rare FastPasses, like reserved viewing for fireworks.
  • Don’t like the times you have reserved? Check back into the app the morning of the reservations. Certain times are “held” for day guests but get released once those day guests start arriving.
  • If you’re using a cell phone, take a screenshot of your FastPass times before leaving. Then you won’t spend nearly as much time waiting for the app to load.
  • If you’re traveling in a group of friends and staying at the Resorts, ask the concierge if you can assign a different credit card to each band. So much easier than splitting the accounting.
  • If your MagicBand doesn’t appear to work well at the hotel, see the concierge before leaving for the parks. Shorter than waiting in line at City Hall, and as of October only the hotels stocked the special colored bands.

In the end, I think I appreciate the calmer park experience afforded by the new system, but that’s largely because as a Vacation Club member I don’t have to deal with the rough edges caused by staying off-property. Were I traveling as a little girl with my family again, staying in the off-property hotels, I think I’d feel a bit left out… as things stand.

May the wait times be ever in your favor!

Sporting our MagicBands on honeymoon - note that mine's now grey...
Sporting our MagicBands on honeymoon – note that mine’s now grey…
On the January trip with my dear friend Pam, sporting a new pink MagicBand and some Seahawks pride
On the January trip with my dear friend Pam, sporting a new pink MagicBand and some Seahawks pride

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