The wins and fails of Disney’s new FastPass+ 

Does FastPass+ live up to the hype, or is it the anti-Christ of amusement parks?

click to enlarge PHOTO BY SETH KUBERSKY

Disney’s MyMagic+ program is the most expensive, ambitious and potentially intrusive IT infrastructure overhaul ever attempted, making it a contentious topic in theme park fan forums, corporate shareholder meetings and congressional hearings. You may have seen tourists wearing colorful MagicBand wristbands (embedded with RFID tracking chips) or watched Hulu ads hawking “tests” of the nascent system. But this brave new Walt Disney World – which involves using FastPass+ to reserve ride times and exclusive performance viewing areas a month or more in advance – has until now been off-limits to Mickey’s most fervent frequenters.

Disney recently retired its popular paper-ticket-based FastPass ride reservation system, replacing it with touchscreen kiosks where guests can receive FastPass+ attraction appointments – provided the resort’s on-site hotel guests haven’t gobbled them all up first. I experimented with same-day FastPass+ over several weeks with mixed results, but until this month was unable to evaluate advance FastPass+ firsthand. Those features have now finally rolled out for all Walt Disney World Annual Passholders, allowing anyone with a full-year ticket full access to FastPass+ up to 30 days in advance.

But increased availability hasn’t quelled complaints from some camps. Does this billion-dollar-plus investment live up to CEO Bob Iger’s hype, or is it the anti-Christ of amusement parks, as online detractors insist? Here’s a fair and balanced assessment of FastPass+, counting the ways I’ve seen it simultaneously win and fail.

FastPass+ wins because you do everything on your phone or tablet: For annual passholders getting started with MyMagic+ and FastPass+, it’s easiest to visit with your web browser to register an account, link it to your ticket ID and customize a free MagicBand to be shipped to your home. Then install the free My Disney Experience app for Apple or Android, which displays current wait times, show schedules and more.

FastPass+ fails because you do everything on your phone or tablet: You’ll need that app inside the parks to change and confirm FastPass+ appointments, but between inconsistent Wi-Fi connections and constant GPS usage, your phone’s battery will drain double-time; my iPhone 5S barely lasts five hours. And don’t get me started on people lugging iPads around theme parks.

You can reserve three FastPass+ times at once: The old system only allowed you to pull one return ticket at a time. Now Annual Passholders can hold three FastPass+ reservations per day, on any seven days within the next 30.

You can only reserve three FastPass+ times once: Once you use those three reservations, you are stuck with standby for the rest of the day. This is the biggest problem for former FastPass power-users, who could snag 10 or more tickets per day. Conversely, if you only want two reservations you’re forced to take three and waste one.

Early birds no longer get the worm: It used to be virtually impossible to ride Epcot’s Soarin’ or Toy Story Mania at Hollywood Studios unless you arrived when the park opened; by noon, the standby queue would be hours long and all FastPasses long gone. Now you can prebook E-tickets for after lunch, using FastPass+ to skip the rope-drop and sleep in.

Bad news for early birds: It’s currently impossible to book FastPass+ at multiple parks per day, or transfer remaining reservations to a different park once you’ve used one. That sucks for anyone who paid extra for park-hopper passes and wants to make the most of them.

Less standing in line: Replacing turnstiles with RFID admission scanners has improved congestion at park entrances, and FastPass+ seems to be distributing attendance more evenly, reducing peak waits at top rides.

More standing in line: FastPass+ entrances are often clogged with guests fumbling with wristband scanners, and adding the system at C-ticket rides like Journey Into Imagination has turned perpetual walk-ons into 15-minute waits, negating any net time savings.

Reschedule reservations if you need to: FastPass return times were take-it-or-leave-it, but you can adjust FastPass+ reservations through the app as long as other time slots are available.

You’ll need to reschedule reservations: Between backed-up FastPass+ lines, slower standby queues and frequent ride breakdowns, you’re unlikely to keep all your appointments without on-the-fly adjustment.

You won’t have to wait hours to meet Anna and Elsa: Starting April 20, the über-popular Frozen sisters are moving from their always-overwhelmed meet-and-greet in Epcot’s Norway Pavilion to Magic Kingdom’s Princess Fairytale Hall, which offers FastPass+ access.

You’ll have to wait 30 days to meet Anna and Elsa: Reservations to see the siblings are currently unavailable through the entire Annual Passholder booking window. Either check the app daily at midnight for openings, or convince your kids to “Let It Go.”


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