Changes are coming to Fastpass…

Posted On January 9, 2013

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As you may be aware, Walt Disney World has been upgrading its infrastructure to offer theme park goers a next generation experience. Small changes such as enforcement of fastpass return times and new RFID readers appearing in parks and a variety of trials have apparently given way to rollout of the program–called MyMagic+–which features a MyDisneyExperience smartphone app, MagicBands, and the latest iteration of the fastpass program, Fastpass+. I have been closely monitoring these changes–and while we don’t know everything yet, I’ve summarized what we do know, linked to several sites with more information, and will continue to update this post as we see how Fastpass+ works in practice.

What We Know:

  • You will get a wristband (MagicBand) which will use RFID technology to allow you to do everything from opening your hotel room door to paying for in-park purchases and from entering the parks to using fastpasses (Disney Parks Blog).
  • You must pick between using regular FP and FP+ (MyDisneyExperience ToS).
  • To register for FP+ you must convert your tickets to paperless tickets (MyDisneyExperience ToS).
  • You may begin registering for FP+ 60 days before your trip (MyDisneyExperience ToS).
  • You may only have one FP+ per attraction/experience per day (MyDisneyExperience ToS).
  • You may be able to FP+ more things than rides, such as shows, quick service meals (including ordering from your phone), table service meals (not sure how this interacts with/replaces the current priority seating system), character greetings, parade viewing locations, and fireworks viewing locations (MyDisneyExperience ToS).
  • The primary method of managing your Disney vacation will be the MyDisneyExperience website and (in parks) smartphone app. For guests who don’t have smartphones (or whose smartphone batteries have died), there will also be in-park kiosks (Disney Parks Blog).
  • There is now free wi-fi in the parks so you can use the apps without huge data charges.
  • Cast members/interactive queues will be able to interact more personally with guests (they may know names or if someone is celebrating a birthday, etc–I think you can opt out of this part, at least for children).
  • You can only make Fastpass+ reservations for one park per day (MyDisneyExperience ToS).
  • You will need to use a PIN to pay for purchases.
  • Disney ticket booths, KTTW cards, and (as of 3/20) APs are being issued in RFID format. From March 20 for about 3 weeks, current AP holders will be able to convert their passes to RFID at the Odyssey in Epcot. No sign of Magic Bands yet.
  • It looks like FP machines are using generic paper, which may be a sign that Disney is phasing out paper FPs (i.e. that it doesn’t want to invest in individual FP paper for each attraction).

Rumors (It must be true because it’s on the internet!):

  • You will be able to book 3 FP+ in advance. 
  • AP holders will get a certain number of FP+ per quarter (20?).
  • Roll-out begins with the Boardwalk Inn (Deluxe with fewest rooms) in February (per Jim Hill).
  • Guests may have different levels of access to FP+ (either in the number you can get or in how soon you can book them) depending on where they stay (so even though the service is “free,” guests who pay more for deluxe resorts get better options).
  • This program has cost Disney between 1.5 and 2 billion dollars to implement.
  • Disney will be tracking your every move within the park (certainly possible, given the RFID devices) and will use these patterns to sell your information to corporate third parties (seems unlikely, given the current ToS) or to try to more effectively advertise/market theme park opportunities to you (seems possible to me).

What’s Still Unclear (At Least to Me):

  • Will you be able to upgrade ticket media once they’re paperless? How would such an upgrade (say from a MYW ticket to an AP) affect existing FP+ reservations?
  • Will FP+ users (who may only have been able to register for 3 FP+ in advance) be able to acquire additional FP through the MyDisneyExperience site/app in park?
  • Will regular FP still be an option?
  • Will regular FP still be a viable option for popular rides (such as TSMM, Tower of Terror, Star Tours, Rock’n’Roller Coaster, Soarin’, Test Track, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, Dinosaur, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, and Peter Pan)?
  • Will Photopass/Photopass+ pre-orders purchased before MyMagic+ integration be able to be loaded onto your MagicBand?
  • Will Photopass/Photopass+ be limited to one person’s band, or to a specific number of bands, or can everyone in a traveling group share one account?

My Analysis

Right now I am taking a wait-and-see approach to this news. I don’t love the idea of Disney being able to track my movements around the park so closely (although I know that Google probably has a far better idea of my movements around the internet, so…). I don’t love that Disney spent almost 2 billion dollars developing this program instead of working on new attractions (although I am sure some of the upgrades/infrastructure were necessary, it’s hard to look at MyMagic+ and get excited when Universal Orlando has recently gotten Harry Potter land + a coming expansion and the Transformers ride, Universal California is getting Harry Potter land, and Disney California Adventure just got Cars Land).  I am nervous that the new system will make it harder to ride popular fastpass rides (if you’re limited by the number of fastpasses you can get–under the old system, if you got to the park early, you could accumulate and use many fastpasses each day–and you could get fastpasses in each park you visited, if you timed it right). Fortunately, I see no need to make a final decision about how or if we’ll use the new system until late October (60 days before our late December trip), so I’m just going to continue to monitor the situation. I’ll update this post as more information becomes clear.

2/7/13 Updated Analysis:

Many of the parts of this system are probably for the best. I don’t love the idea of Disney knowing exactly what I’m doing in the parks, but it’s not like I’m going there to do things I don’t want to be caught doing (yes, Disney, you’ve got me…I love the Country Bears), and given the amount of data that big technology companies like Google and Amazon already collect (shockingly, Amazon has figured out that I love Disney music and Google has directed a number of ads for Disney World and Universal Studios my way), it’s hard to take a hard-line stance on Disney without taking a similar stance on Google and Amazon. The RFID technology, especially in relation to photopass and hotel door locks, may be really useful.

So, my major concern is the implementation of Fastpass +. I’ve read a lot on the boards where posters imply that Disney has made some of the rules that seem apparent (either from the ToS or from the video of Nick Franklin) because it’s trying to limit guests from riding headliners over and over. We don’t know what Disney is thinking, exactly. We can’t. We don’t even have great numbers on the numbers of FPs available or the percentages of guests that currently use them (there are tons of scenarios where people use estimates to prove that not everyone in the park can get a FP to one of the headliners in a day, much less all of them, so if some people regularly get FPs to all the headliners, that means that some guests never get to use them). Maybe if you can’t do all the headliners in a park in a day with reasonably short waits, you’ll plan multiple days at each park. Or maybe you’ll just plan your next vacation to center on Universal Studios (where if you stay onsite you get free, unlimited Express Pass, which is like Fastpass except you can use it whenever you want, as many times as you want, and on every attraction except for 3, 2 of which have single rider lines and where they are actively building new, exciting rides instead of dithering about Avatarland and constructing elaborately-themed, Rapunzel bathrooms).

I am not necessarily opposed to making FP more high tech. I am not necessarily opposed to paying more to play more (for example, you can already spend a fortune and take a guided VIP tour that will take you into FP lines and the back entrances of rides without FP; Universal has a pay-to-access express lines system that rewards guests for staying onsite [or for paying for 1 express pass/ride/day, with the price tied to the expected crowds]). But I am concerned about a system that rewards people who want to plan the most important rides of their vacations 60 days out (as opposed to the current system, which rewards people who are willing to get up early to experience the parks) and which requires that we spend more of our vacation tied to our phone screens (or waiting in line for a kiosk because we don’t want to pay for data, or have low battery lives, or don’t have smartphones at all). And for many families who like to include a day to revisit favorites at the end of the trip (ours included), the last-minute flexibility to incorporate new favorites may be gone.

I am also concerned about Disney’s ability to manage the IT/technical side of this project. The photopass website is currently a mess–often down and difficult to use. New Fantasyland has caused two huge technical snafus (the attempt to allow AP holders to register online for soft previews of New Fantasyland, and the opening of phone lines to take ADRs for the Be Our Guest website). The new Test Track ride has a design-your-car section of the experience (in the queue) that is supposed to change your experience in the ride–and as far as I have been able to tell, that RFID integration has NEVER worked as it was designed.

I remain confident that as this project rolls out (supposedly now at the end of this month; apparently it’s already not working as well as they had hoped, at least according to some rumors circulating around the message boards), we’ll have a clear sense of how best to deal with it before our December trip (and before we have to make hard decisions in October).



One Response to “Changes are coming to Fastpass…”

  1. Tim

    Great work on putting all of this together. I’ve been tracking the rumor on my own site ( and I wrote the Open Letter on MiceAge

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