Managing FastPass+: Guidance for Non-Resort Guestsby Jeff Kober, contributing writer
According to Disney's Eyes and Ears—the internal newsletter for Disney cast members—more than 800,000 guests participated in MyMagic+ testing in 2013. More than 600,000 MagicBand units have been customized (the most popular color being pink), and some 17 million transactions using more than 6,000 new payment devices have been processed.
Almost all of this has involved guests staying on resort property, but over the holidays Disney's Animal Kingdom started implementing Fastpass+ for those not staying on property; this week the Magic Kingdom has started testing it also. While non-resort guests are not currently receiving the bands, their ticket allows them to make reservations once they enter the park. What's it like? Here are two examples:
Example #1 – Disney's Animal Kingdom
On one of the busiest days of the holiday season I went to Disney's Animal Kingdom, arriving just before 11:00 am. We found that Kilimanjaro Safaris had a 20 minute wait on the My Disney Experience app. When we arrived, we saw cast members with tablets at the old Fastpass station for Kilimanjaro Safaris.
I asked for reservations for Kilimanjaro Safaris, Festival of the Lion King, and Dinosaur. All were granted to me, with the first one within the hour, and each of the following about an hour apart. We went to Festival of the Lion King first, and you could have filled the entire lion section of the theater with those who had come in on Fastpass+. Given six to seven shows in a day, that's a lot of people who hadn't previously used Fastpass to get into the show. It's also a lot of people not using a Fastpass elsewhere.
Next we headed to Dinosaur, which had a 20 minute stand-by wait around noon. That's not bad for a very busy day, but it was still great having a Fastpass+ reservation. Afterwards, we meandered over to Expedition Everest, which also had a 20 minute wait. That's a great stand-by time on a holiday for the most popular attraction in the park. To test the system I asked if I could switch my Kilimanjaro Safari with an Expedition Everest reservation, wondering if you could still get a reservation by mid-day on a very busy day. I not only got a reservation, but it was for 1:30 pm—a little more than an hour later. In short, the whole experience was not only easy, but very flexible.
Example #2 – Magic Kingdom
I decided to test out this system on the first day of utilizing Fastpass+ systems with all of the guests coming to the Magic Kingdom—not just those staying at the resort. However this time, I wanted to see what would happen coming at the end of the day. I arrived a little after 5:00 pm on a day when the park closed at 8:00 pm. If I had arrived a few minutes before, I would have received three reservations. If the park is open for less than three more hours, you receive only two reservations; Under two hours before the park closes and you only get one reservation.
There was no wait getting help, but more important was that every attraction had Fastpass+ times available. I chose Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the Tomorrowland Speedway. The Speedway time I received was immediate; I simply walked over to the Speedway and within five minutes of entering the attraction I was seated in a car.
I later tried changing the Thunder Mountain reservation to a Jungle Cruise reservation, and then came back a half hour later and tried to change it back to a Thunder Mountain reservation. Both were easily made with only ninety minutes left in the day. When I asked about a Wishes reservation, I was told it had been available earlier, but by ninety minutes prior to closing all availability had been taken.
All in all both occasions went well, and my observations from this and other days have led to the following tips—many of which are useful even if you are staying on property:
1. Download My Disney Experience & plan your itinerary
It really helps if you have a smart phone, or if you bring along a tablet. Before coming to the park, download the My Disney Experience app and register your name and others who might be attending. Take time to consider which attractions and events you want to book using Fastpass+. With your smart phone you'll be able to look at similar days prior to your trip and see which queues tend to be longer than others. You'll also notice that some Fastpass+ queues will probably never justify acquiring a Fastpass+ option. Mad Tea Party would probably be an example of a wasted Fastpass+.
Decide in advance how much of the park you want to experience. If you're looking to do everything you can possibly do in a day—if you're planning to take on some two dozen or more attractions while you're in the park—you will probably want to come early in the day and hit as many rides and attractions before the park gets too busy. You would have had to do the same thing even under the old Fastpass program. If you're there to simply enjoy the day and you're looking to do the average number of attractions that most people do (around eight) then you'll probably be fine with going in later in the morning or early in the afternoon.
2. Buy your ticket and link it to My Disney Experience
You may buy your ticket wherever—online or at your hotel or at the entrance to the park, but if you don't buy it at the park, the voucher you receive will probably need to be exchanged for a credit card-like pass. Any of the ticket windows can do the exchange that as well as Guest Relations outside the park. If you're going to Magic Kingdom, know that you should do that at the Ticket and Transportation Center before getting on a monorail or ferry; the lines for Guest Relations outside the entrance to the Magic Kingdom can get very long and very slow. If you've downloaded the app, ask the cast member for assistance in syncing your ticket with the app so that you can see your reservations when you're on My Disney Experience.
3. Make Fastpass+ reservations soon after entering the park
When you enter, look for a kiosk or a Disney cast member wearing a shirt with a Mickey Mouse silhouette inside a circle, who is holding a tablet. Inside the Magic Kingdom there are several formal Fastpass+ kiosks:
- Town Square Theater
- Stitch's Great Escape
- The yellow tent near Pete's Silly Sideshow at Storybook Circus
- Mickey's PhilharMagic
- Restrooms between Adventureland and Frontierland
In addition there is usually someone with a tablet near the major attractions of the park. For example, if you are heading to Space Mountain first thing in the morning, you can get on while there's still not a long queue without Fastpass+. Don't stop at Town Square Theater first thing since that may already have a long line. Consider stopping at Stitch's Great Escape in Tomorrowland on the way to Space Mountain and take care of your reservations there.
If there's a line at a kiosk, find someone with a tablet near Space Mountain and get your reservations there. Remember—don't panic if you see a long line of people making Fastpass+ reservations. Just move on looking for someone with the right costume and a tablet. There are many places and many cast members to help you handle this transaction. You should not have to wait in a long line to get your reservations.
The cast member will help you to make the reservations, walking you through the process. The good news is that, like the old Fastpass system, not everyone in your party needs to be there to get their reservations; one person can handle all of the Fastpass+ reservations for the family or group. Going back to our earlier example, if there was someone that didn't want to ride Space Mountain, he could handle the Fastpass+ reservations while everyone else heads off to the standby queue. If you decide you do want some family members to go on some things, and other family members to do other things, be sure to keep track of whose ticket you are using for each reservation.
4. Keep track of individual tickets in large groups
Usually when you obtain your ticket at the park they encourage you to put your name on it; be sure write down a name on each ticket to keep things in order. With the old FastPass system it didn't really matter. With the new system it makes much more of a difference—especially if you are all doing different attractions.
5. Take a picture. Snap a photo of the cast member's tablet screen with your reservations on it, especially if you don't have the My Disney Experience app loaded on your smart phone. It can also provide a backup later on if you can't access your records on the app.
6. Enjoy the park, returning at your Fastpass+ reservation time
Once you have a reservation, it's time to have fun. No more having someone run ahead to get a Fastpass (I spent a good part of my years as a dad doing this). Instead you can enjoy a more leisurely approach, heading to attractions at the reserved time.
7. Check the wait time
Before swiping your card and heading into the attraction, check the wait time. If the standby wait time is very short, go to a nearby cast member and make a new Fastpass+ reservation for something else. Be sure you get the most value from your Fastpass+ reservation and that it's really saving you time.
Where to Use Your Fastpass+
The bad news with Fastpass+ is that you are only allowed three at one time. In the past, if you were a real go-getter, you might have been able to access several more in a given day's trip. Now you have only three options and you will have to use the standby queues for the rest. The good news is that there are a lot more options to choose from, so you want to consider where to best use your Fastpass+. An obvious thought for many is to use it on the three mountains: Space, Thunder and Splash. Assuming that the queues to all three were equal in length (which they often average out to be) then I would take Splash on a summer day first, since the other two have interactive queues that keep you entertained while in line.
Still, there are other choices worth considering—especially since those three mountains have a fairly high hourly ride capacity. Tomorrowland Speedway is new on the Fastpass+ list and often has a very slow moving, "nothing to do but wait," line. If that's an attraction that's worth it to you, then go for it. In addition, most of the meet and greets have been added to the list. Some of those are very long waits and very slow moving—particularly Enchanted Tales with Belle. The final sets of choices are entertainment such as Wishes, which allows access to a reserved space in front of the castle. Although you can see the fireworks from many places throughout the Magic Kingdom, if having a space reserved in the front of the castle is important to you, you may want to take a FastPass+ option for that.
Is This Really Better?
Well... this is all being piloted, so we need to wait a little longer to pass a final verdict. Early indication is that this approach may be doing a better job of balancing out guest flow. However, despite speculation that there wouldn't be times available to the day guest, I found more availability for attractions on my visit using Fastpass+ than I had under the old Fastpass legacy system.
We still haven't yet seen what will happen with Disney's Hollywood Studios and Epcot. Currently a tiered system seems to be in place, which may be disappointing. However, the thought that you may no longer have to haul it over to Soarin' before noon to get a Fastpass for a time that is hours later in the day may make this really quite appealing.
As a non-resort guest have you tried Fastpass+? What has been your experience? Please share your insights. Also, keep an eye for our comments, as we'll keep you further posted as developments occur.