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Last September, I wrote an article discussing the recent enhancements to My Magic +. I focused that column specifically toward MagicBands and Fastpass+. They were new at the time and we were all learning how to use them. To an extent, we're still learning but, gradually, some things are becoming clear.


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It seems that many people are developing a "love or hate" relationship with Fastpass+—as in, they love it or hate it. There doesn't seem to be many of us on the middle ground. Some people accuse Disney of fixing something that wasn't broken while others simply long for the days of yore—when the original paper Fastpass system was in place.

I now have two trips using the MagicBands and Fastpass+ under my belt so I thought it might be time to take a look at how things are working, what changes might be in the works and discuss some simple strategies for how best to use these new tools. Before we get started, let's look at one of the complaints, specifically the one accusing Disney of fixing something unbroken.


MagicBands. Photo by Steve Russo.

Don't Fix Something That Isn't Broken

In my opinion, the Fastpass system was broken. Oh, it worked fine allowing you to pick up the paper Fastpass for Soarin', do some other things while your "virtual self" waited until the appropriate time arose, and then allowed you to ride the attraction with a minimal wait via the Fastpass queue. Where this system became flawed was in the high popularity of a few of Walt Disney World's attractions: notably attractions like Soarin' and Toy Story Midway Mania. If you arrived at Disney's Hollywood Studios or Epcot in the afternoon, sometimes as early as mid to late morning, you'd find the Fastpasses for those attractions gone for the day or available for a time of day that was so late, you knew you'd no longer be there. Essentially, if you didn't arrive sometime around park opening or shortly thereafter, you had little or no chance of visiting those attractions the entire day.

To a lesser extent and depending upon the time of year, you could also toss in attractions like Test Track, Story Time with Belle, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and several others. Unless you rode or picked up a Fastpass early in the day, the only chance of riding later would involve a lengthy queue.

How does the new Fastpass+ system address that issue? In most cases, it allows guests to reserve their Fastpass for those popular attractions in advance. Essentially, if you've pre-booked a Fastpass+ at Toy Story Midway Mania for 9:30 to 10:30, there's no need to be at Disney's Hollywood Studios precisely at park opening and powerwalk back to the attraction to ensure you're able to ride on this day.

Let's look at what Fastpass+ is, what it may become in the not-too-distant future, and come up with some Fastpass+ strategies that might work for you. Ready?

Note: The system is still in Test Mode as Disney learns, tweaks and expands its reach.

Walt Disney World Guest Types

Before we get too much further in discussing strategy, let's look at the types of guests that visit the Walt Disney World theme parks:

On-site guests

These are the folks visiting the parks and staying in one of Disney's resort hotels or the Fort Wilderness campgrounds. These lucky folks have been issued MagicBands and are allowed to make Fastpass+ reservations days, or weeks, in advance. This program began in test for just a few resorts but has gradually expanded to include all Walt Disney World, and Disney-owned, resorts.

Off-site guests

These are the folks visiting the parks and staying in any one of the non-Disney hotels, motels or resorts off property. Rolling out Fastpass+ via MagicBands is still in the future for these folks.

Locals

Let's use this category for people that are not staying at a hotel or motel but have traveled in to visit the parks for a day. The MagicBands have not been available to these folks yet but… Disney has announced a plan to bring in a number of local Annual Passholders on a test basis. This is viewed as the first step in making MagicBands available to non-Disney resort guests.

How Does Fastpass+ Work?

Think of Fastpass+ as an electronic version of the old Fastpass system. You used to get a slip of paper that was your authorization to return within a specific one-hour window and enter an attraction via the Fastpass queue. The Fastpass queue allows boarding after waiting a length of time usually a small fraction of the current Standby wait time.

The Fastpass+ reservation is linked, again electronically, to your unique and specific ID. That ID is contained within your MagicBand or, in the case of off-site guests or locals, your ticket media. Remember, both the MagicBand and newer ticket media contain an RFID transmitter. When you place either against one of the new Mickey-head readers, your ID is recognized. Any Fastpass+ reservations are also linked to your ID so you can be "validated" and allowed entry to a Fastpass queue. Got all that?

How Do I Make Fastpass+ Reservations?

How does the selection of Fastpass+ attractions and the linking occur? On-site guests are allowed to use the My Disney Experience website or smartphone app to link fellow travelers, resort reservations, Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs), and so on. They can also customize and receive, in advance, MagicBands for their traveling party. They may then, interactively, select three Fastpass+ reservations per day, for a single park, for each day of their stay. All these items link to their system ID so each MagicBand links to the same information (ADRs, Fastpass+, and resort reservations).

Off-site guests and locals are, so far, not eligible for MagicBands, but they do have admission media. All newer admission media contain the same RFID technology as in the MagicBands, so these guests can still make FastPass+ reservations and link them to their media. The chief difference is that this must be done in the park, after arrival, at one of the many Fastpass+ kiosks set up in each theme park—no Fastpass+ reservations can be made before the guest arrives to the park. If you're apprehensive or fearful of using this new technology, there are multiple cast members at each kiosk to provide assistance and guidance.

Single Park Per Day

I'd like to re-emphasize one of the restrictions for the new Fastpass+ system. The most Fastpass+ reservations you may obtain in a single day is three—and they must all be in the same park. I asked, and was given this information, separately by multiple cast members. I asked each of them if there was any chance this would change in the future, and each of them told me it would not.

This is a significant restriction for a park hopper, like me. I tend to visit a park in the morning, take a mid-day break back at the resort, then hit a different park in the evening. While I was told this would not change, a part of me is suggesting it will—but somewhere down the road when the more important basic functions of these systems have been fine-tuned. Personally, I'd love to see the ability to make four Fastpass+ reservations per day, across two parks. Keep in mind, however, this is my speculation only—I could be completely wrong.

Touring Styles

The last item to define, before we start making some suggestions on strategy, is the different touring styles used by Walt Disney World guests:

  • Early Risers – are always be at a park in time for park opening or "rope drop."
  • Late Risers – prefer to sleep in a bit, enjoy breakfast at the resort and get to a park mid- to late-morning or, possibly, even early afternoon.
  • Park Hoppers – typically visit more than one park in a given day. A common style is to visit one park in the morning, take a mid-day break for lunch, swimming, naps, etc. and then return to a second park in the late afternoon or early evening.
  • Single Parkers – spend the entire day in a single theme park. These folks may be trying to "not waste daylight" by utilizing every minute a park is open or they could also be those that take the mid-day break—the difference being they would return to the same park.

I could be wrong, but I believe you can probably fit most, if not all, touring styles within those four areas. The categories will grow if we consider we might have combinations, such as an Early Riser Park Hopper or an Early Riser Single Parker. However, none of that will affect the strategies.

Strategies

These strategies avoid one potentially critical component: the time of year of the visit. Anyone familiar with Walt Disney World knows that crowds and attraction wait times go hand in hand. You might never see a 120-minute Standby queue for Soarin' in January or September, but you know that will be common during the most crowded times of year, including summer, Spring Break weeks, Christmas week, and so on. Adjust your strategy accordingly, based on the timing of your visit.

Early risers

You can probably visit a park's busier attractions upon arrival and minimize any waiting. For that reason, you should probably consider making Fastpass+ reservations for those more popular attractions for later in the day—either afternoon or evening depending on your touring style. If you like to ride favorites more than once, this will provide the opportunity to ride something like Toy Story Midway Mania with a minimal wait at rope drop and then, later in the day, at a time of your choosing, via the Fastpass queue.

Late risers

You'll lose a bit of flexibility but if you arrange for Fastpasses on the more popular attractions, you can leisurely enjoy your resort in the morning, arriving at a park well after opening, but relaxed in the knowledge that you've already secured your Fastpasses for Space, Splash, and Big Thunder. You would fill your time around those Fastpasses by visiting the park's less busy attractions.

Park hoppers

Park hoppers might want to consider making Fastpass+ reservations for the park they'll visit later in the day. It's during those periods when the Standby waits are likely the longest.

Single Parkers

There's no reason to complicate things at all. Simply take the advice given based on your proclivity to be an Early or Late Riser.

Tiered Attractions

One additional and very important thing to note is that Disney has begun placing attractions in different tiers solely for Fastpass+ purposes. So far, only Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios are affected, but the other parks could follow. With this tiered system, you are only allowed to select a single Fastpass+ from the top tier of a list of attractions and fill out the remaining two from all others. The top tiers currently include:

Epcot Disney's Hollywood Studios
  • Illuminations: Reflections of Earth
  • Maelstrom
  • Epcot Character Spot
  • Soarin'
  • Test Track
  • Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage
  • Fantasmic!
  • Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith
  • Toy Story Midway Mania

What this means is that you cannot get a Fastpass+ for Soarin' and Test Track on the same day. Ditto for Toy Story Midway Mania and Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. For Early Risers, I'd suggest reserving one of the two in the 9:30 to 10:30 period and riding the other first thing using the Standby queue. Late Risers are rather stuck here. The only advice I could offer is to visit the park on a second day to Fastpass the one you may have missed earlier.

Summary

I hope I've provided a basic understanding of the new systems, along with a strategy that might work for you. I'm interested to hear from others that have used Fastpass+ to understand what strategies you employed. I'd also like any feedback on the touring styles I might have overlooked and how they might fit into the scheme.

Right now, we're all learning, including the folks at Walt Disney World that are tuning these systems. The goal is to provide the best possible touring experience for all attendees and I'm sure we'll be going through additional changes as we make our way there.

As always, thanks for reading.



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(Send an email to Steve Russo)

Steve's a Disney Vacation Club member that has been planning Walt Disney World vacations since 1984. Along the way, he's tried to learn everything he could about the Disney World resorts, restaurants and theme parks. He brings you that knowledge via planning tips and insights, often delivered with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

His three children are now grown but still vacation at Walt Disney World with Mom and Dad. The clan has increased to include a daughter-in-law, two sons-in-law and grandchildren. Steve is now retired and he and his wife, Barbara anxiously await their next visit to the World.

Steve is the author of So... You're Going to Disney World: How I learned to stop worrying and embrace the planning process.