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Alex Stroup and Kevin Yee
June 14, 2000

Fastpass Station
The FastPass ride-reservation system
-FASTPASS  - a blessing or a curse?

The ride reservation system at Disneyland (DL) and Walt Disney World (WDW.)


  FastPass is probably one of the greatest ideas on paper that the Disney Company has ever had. 

It has the potential to completely alter the theme-park experience in wide-reaching ways. 

It's also horribly flawed in reality, and let me come right out and say I think it should be abandoned. I applaud them for trying it, but they should get rid of it.

You're right in that on paper it is an ideal addition to the park experience. It seems like a melding melding of customer desires (less time standing in line) and corporate desires (less time standing in line, more time buying stuff). 

I won't claim it is perfect, but I think it works well enough that Disney should continue tinkering until they get it right. 

Let me raise the first issue in saying that I think FastPass works very well at Disneyworld. Over there the system has a couple of minor flaws but unfortunately when you bring the same system out west they magnify into the problems you probably have with FastPass.

  Well, one thing to point at, as part of my objections: FastPass just wrecks the notion of standing in line without a reservation. 

So our readers are clear on this, let me outline how it works. You are still free to wait in line for a FastPassed attraction, the way you've done it for ages. This is called the standby line. 

If you prefer to get a reservation - and anyone who knows about the system chooses this option - then you scan in your daily (or annual) passport and receive a reservation. Return during that window printed on the card, and your wait will be five to fifteen minutes. Voila! Magic all around, right? 

Well, let me start with the queue, since we've mentioned it. Those people waiting in Standby lines get relegated to some pretty awful queues sometimes. These waiting areas were just not built to withstand two separate lines.

Yes, that is true. But I think that as FastPass usage increases (more on this later) an equilibrium will quickly be reached. 

Perhaps some people will want to wait in line for 70 minutes rather than have to return in four hours.

And I think people will quickly learn that FastPass doesn't work quite as efficiently as they hope. Only on a few occasions has FastPass got me on a ride in 10 minutes. 

Using FastPass on DL's Splash Mountain I had to return in 2 1/2 hours and then still waited in line for about 25 minutes. The people standing in line had about a 75 minutes queue. Who got the better deal? I don't know.

  Oh, it's worse than that. I think the only reason people stand in line is that they do not quite realize how FastPass works, or maybe don't even know it exists. 

One of my two big points to make is that Fastpass only works well - to the benefit of the customer and the company - when people who know how to use the system benefit from those who are ignorant of it. The system works only by exploiting those who don't use it. 

Let's take Splash Mountain as an example, since you mention it. Let's pretend, just to have even numbers, that it maxes out with 2,000 riders per hour. Fastpass does nothing to increase the capacity of this ride. If everyone said they wanted a reservation - and who likes lines anyway? - then everyone would get a reservation. 

Well, the way the system works, the more people holding a reservation, the farther in the future time is tied up. Instead of returning four hours later, you may have to return six hours later. And let me remind you, those are six hours where you cannot FastPass another ride! You're stuck using the standby lines. 

The net result of all this is that on any given day in 1995 (pre FastPass), you could get on a certain number of E-Ticket rides - let's say 10. I would guesstimate that nowadays that maximum number drops to eight, maybe even six, because of this ride reservation thing.

I don't see that. At least at WDW, FastPass seemed to increase the number of rides I could experience in a given time. I would think it would help even more at DL where only a few (3?) attractions have FastPass. 

Even if I have to get a ticket in the morning and return in the late afternoon I am going to spend the rest of the day in non FastPass lines. I am going to see more attractions. But even if I want to do only E-ticket rides: If I get a Splash FastPass, go wait in line for 90 minutes for Space Mountain, and then return to Splash for another 20 minutes in line, I have spent about as much time in line as before FastPass. 

I don't think it is going to have a drastic affect on the number of major rides done in a day and it may make it a little less stressful for your average visitor (I rarely do the E-tickets anyway).

  I'd better get my other Big Point out there as it might help me disprove your argument so far: FastPass removes people from the queue but does not make them disappear. 

If Splash Mountain usually has 1500 people in line but now only has 500, that means 1,000 people are now elsewhere (presumably Space Mountain or whatever). 

Let's not kid ourselves: few people are going to use this time to shop. In your example, you rode Splash and Space in 110 minutes. You posit that this is the amount of time you would have had to wait in the pre-FastPass days as well. I might be persuaded to believe that FastPass doesn't add any time, on average, to the total wait for the day. 

In a way, that makes neat mathematical sense. A day with no FastPass has 400 minutes in line, and a day with FastPass would have also roughly 400 minutes in line (just to create an example). But if that is true, then the quality of the experience becomes important. Pre-FastPass, we had swiftly moving lines through well-themed queues, usually air-conditioned. 

But what happens with FastPass is that you wait more outside, in the sun, while people with reservations breeze right past all the show. 400 minutes in air-conditioned lines was nicer than 400 minutes in annoyingly slow and hot lines, in my opinion.

Oh, I agree. "Line quality" is an important issue for me. But rather than dumping the idea I think it is something Disney can work on and fix. 

The big problem is that few attractions were designed for two separate lines. So in some cases you have people shunted outside into the sun when they would have been inside (Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin, for example). 

But conversely, in others you have situations where the standby people haven't been moved, but the FastPass people simply skip the entire queue area. 

The problem with this is that it means FastPass people don't get to experience the queue theming.

This isn't a big deal on Splash Mountain, but is more of an issue for Space Mountain and Rober Rabbit. These are serious flaws, but not fatal flaws. Disney will just have to do a bit of work during ride rehabs. 

My fear (my only major one) is that if FastPass becomes too widespread and too popular then Disney will simply stop theming queue areas.

  I think we agree that most people will want to use FastPass if they understand how it works. Sounds like it's too good to be true, doesn't it? What I fear is that eventually everyone will use FastPass, and the great results we've seen so far will disappear. 

One recent Saturday I was at Splash at 2:30 pm, and the ride reservations were for 7:30-8:30 return. The Standby line was immense, so if all those people had taken reservations it would have been even worse. That means that my day would consist of one, maybe two reservations and then everything else would be standby. This is not a bargain in my book. 

Standby lines are longer than pre-Fastpass-era lines. For the most part, as you said, it all evens out. But now I would have the stress of making my window for the reservation, and my day becomes much more planned and less spontaneous.

Again, I disagree. I find that it frees up my day. I get a FastPass for a ride and then go do things I wouldn't normally do. 

At WDW I actually spent more than an hour on Tom Sawyer's Island. When was the last time I did that? And then when the time came for our FastPass we decided we didn't want to walk back over there and so we did something else we normally wouldn't (Country Bears, I believe).

My total time in line may not be reduced but I will get the privilege of standing in more lines.

  I don't see how that freed up your day. Having the FastPass actually caused you to alter your plans and do something you weren't planning on doing.
Ah, but you just complained that FastPass makes your day LESS spontaneous. I am saying it made mine MORE spontaneous.  
  That confuses me. You could have been just as spontaneous if FastPass never existed. Spontaneity, I would argue, was forced upon you by your situation. But that's not really worth spending too much time on. 

What I really want to get across is the notion that FastPass as it exists now works better than it will once everyone gets used to it. If everyone did use FastPass, then the lines at the theme parks would just get re-distributed in various ways. 

Like I said, the system does not make one single person disappear or the rides to load any faster. In macro-terms, the park as a whole, exactly the same number of people are being served. Only now, you have crappy lines instead of cool and themed ones, and you have windows of opportunity and scheduling instead of spontaneity.

As I said, I agree that Disney must work at maintaining the "joy" of standing in line. But it will never reach a point where everyone is using FastPass exclusively. 

This is for exactly the same reason that the lines for Splash and Space never reached 3 hours before FastPass. 

Psychologically the delay will reach a point where people are willing to trade a shorter standby wait for a longer appointment. 

If I come into the park at 10 a.m. I'm not going to take a FastPass ticket for 8:30 that evening. I am either going to skip the ride or get into the standby queue.

  Indy also - as soon as they get it working. Plus the Space Mt. line is outdoors.
My recollection is that a goodly portion of the line was outdoors pre-FastPass as well. I remember well the lines being out the doors and into simple chain corrals. 

I don't think we are disagreeing on the issue of line theming, but where you see a fatal flaw, I see something that can be worked out. 

For example, at WDW FastPass seemed to provide a shorter line without either completely skipping the themed queue (Test Track is a good example) or displacing the standby queue. This is because they have more room, I imagine. It just means the DL people will have to be more creative.

  I consider it a fatal flaw only insofar as a hypothetical day at Disneyland in 2003 is less nice than the same day had been in 1995. 400 minutes in line on either day, but the year 2003 one (by then Mansion and Pirates and others will be FastPassed as well) will be spent in ugly, boring, slow moving lines rather than the quicker-moving lines from 1995. Nothing, in other words, is actually *gained* by Fastpass. 

It should be noted that at the present time, Fastpass actually does work to reduce your wait. But there is no magic here. I would argue that it's doing so on the backs of the uninformed guests who wait standby, the way they've always waited for Disney rides. 

Once they figure it out, the system really will move toward an equilibrium where a day with or without Fastpass results in an equal number of total minutes spent in line. 

Let's change the subject. There have been rumblings that FastPass might (will?) eventually become a paid premium (it is currently a free service). What do you think about that?

I think I'd wait in standby lines. In a purely abstract sense I am against it because it goes somewhat against Walt's ideal that everyone in the park should be treated the same (obviously there are exceptions, but very few). 

On a more pragmatic level I don't have much problem with it. If people are willing to spend a few more bucks for a service, then go ahead. But from your point of view, charging for the service should reduce many of the problems you considered above.

  My knee-jerk reaction is the same as yours - this isn't what Walt had had in mind. But I am of mixed mind here. If the price were expensive enough, it might actually solve most of the problems I've pointed out about the system, as you say. 

In such a scenario, we'd be back to the pre-FastPass Disneyland basically, with 200 or maybe 2,000 people in the park getting special treatment. "So what," I say, in that event. What I fear is a small enough charge for FastPass - say only $5 - that everyone buys it, thinking it's some sort of magic ticket. 

In that case, they've essentially upped the price of admission (remember, a park full of FastPass-using guests probably results in an equal number of minutes of wait time daily). And those who don't buy it will now "save" some money (more accurately, fail to pay more), but they will have longer lines than they do now.

Of course it would be a (somewhat) hidden price increase - at least it would be one I could opt out of. But then they would probably include it in the Premium Annual Pass and increase the price of that. 

Keep in mind, however, that even a $5 separate fee may keep many people away. For a four a family of four using three day Flex Pass, it still adds up to an extra $60 bucks. 

So, morally I am against it, but not to such a degree that I would picket in Burbank or anything. Let me wrap this up by saying that we can both agree that regardless of whether it is for better or worse, FastPass is going to be bring major social, logistical, and systemic, changes to the park. 

I think it has enough potential that Disney should work out the kinks but am willing to concede that your doom-and-gloom outlook isn't entirely unreasonable.


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Dual Reviews

Alex and Kevin debate current events and review Disney books.

This column is about opinions; unfortunately, we don't know any important Disney insiders so they are just our opinions. We are bringing this column to you as two ordinary Disney fans, much like yourself. We hope you enjoy and respond.

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