When Disney announced the switch to FastPass Plus, I was skeptical because it offered less than paper FastPasses. The tiers and limits seemed designed to penalize knowledgeable fans that knew how to maximize the system. Adding FastPass to so many rides also messed with the flow of those lines and raised wait times at second-tier attractions. These concerns were largely justified, and I observed significant changes during our trip in early 2015. I wrote about the challenges and benefits in an article for Theme Park Insider and added more thoughts on this site in August. The results were definitely mixed based on my experience. Even so, I did see potential for this new crowd management system.
Disney’s pitch with FastPass Plus is the ability to book attractions from the comfort of home. There’s no need to scramble to Toy Story Mania or Soarin’ at rope drop! While that promise is mostly true, I saw a lot of glitches in my first experience. After using the system again a few weeks ago, I’ve revised my feelings about it. Most of the issues that I noticed last year weren’t as prevalent this time. Standby lines moved better, and lines at the in-park kiosks were minimal.
We visited with our two young girls, so we weren’t moving that fast. However, we still used five FastPasses on each day at the Magic Kingdom. I also easily switched times on the My Disney Experience app to match our schedule. Our trip was during Martin Luther King weekend, so it was hardly a dead time for crowds. Even so, there were plenty of opportunities to get the most out of our shorter visit. I expect that the extra year has given Disney much-needed time to improve the system. I should note that we stayed on-site this time, so I had better options before the trip. That fact was definitely part of the reason why we were able to do more this time.
Despite a rosier outlook on FastPass Plus, I’m still not a fan of having to choose the park and rides so far in advance. It wasn’t an issue for this trip because we only had three park days. We spent two days at the Magic Kingdom with Epcot in the middle. It’s difficult to predict how a day will go when setting up ride times. Disney offers a one-hour window and the ability to move times, but it still adds stress. There was one moment where we rushed through eating ice cream to reach Big Thunder Mountain for our FastPass. Instead of relaxing and enjoying the snack, there was pressure that shouldn’t be there. The key is making sure you don’t become a victim to the schedule. We mostly succeeded, but I’m still working on that side of the equation.
To better illustrate my planning and ultimate experience, let’s take a look at each park day in our trip. I’m starting each section by including my original reserved FastPasses, which ended up changing quite a bit during our visits. Some adjustments were needed on the fly, but we barely missed any of the top choices on our to-do list.
Day 1 – The Magic Kingdom
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train — 9:20 a.m.-10:20 a.m.
- Peter Pan — 10:25 a.m.-11:25 a.m.
- Splash Mountain — 11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m.
My girls are just shy of seven and three, so it was crucial to plan a route that minimized the amount of walking. We did have a stroller for my younger daughter, but I knew she’d want to walk at times. I decided to begin our day in Fantasyland with the hope to fill in the gaps around the FastPass rides with Winnie the Pooh, Under the Sea, and It’s a Small World. Given the 60-day window of staying on site, I decided to book FastPasses early with hopes of getting more in the afternoon. That strategy was a good choice, and I’d definitely go that way again. I also doubted we’d arrive before rope drop, so I moved the times back a little bit as a cushion.
The first picks were a no brainer since both have long lines even during the off-season. Peter Pan also fit because the entire family could ride it. The tricky part was the third choice since Splash Mountain was a good hike away from the others. We also had a Be Our Guest reservation for 1:55 that afternoon. I decided that we would progress towards Frontierland and then board the train after riding Splash Mountain. Predictably, this plan was too ambitious. It also didn’t consider the possibility of a serious downpour that morning.
As our trip approached, I started getting nervous about the weather forecast. Visiting Disney World in the rain with a stroller did not seem promising. Thankfully, even some torrential rain failed to diminish the fun. It actually was a blessing in disguise because it kept the crowds down. We chose indoor attractions like Philharmagic and Town Square Mickey and even rode the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in the rain. The weather did cause me to switch out our Splash Mountain FastPass for The Haunted Mansion on the fly. The My Disney Experience app worked perfectly and allowed me to make the quick change. After seeing the short standby line for the Mansion, I realized it was a mistake. Even so, being able to adjust on the fly was great.
After using our three FastPasses, I stumbled upon an important discovery — the kiosk in Fantasyland near Philharmagic. Strangely, there were never any lines at this spot. After lunch, we easily grabbed extra FastPasses for Winnie the Pooh and then for Big Thunder. There were many different options available, even a few slots for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train due to the rain. We experienced quite a lot and even had time to ride the Liberty Belle in the middle. While I kicked myself for giving up the Splash Mountain FastPass when the lines increased, we still had another Magic Kingdom day. We were all set to fill in the gaps after a jaunt to Epcot.
Day 2 – Epcot
- Spaceship Earth — 9 a.m.-10 a.m.
- Test Track — 10:20 a.m.-11:20 a.m.
- Seas with Nemo and Friends — 11:50 a.m.-12:50 p.m.
Planning for Epcot is very simple with Soarin’ down for refurbishment. Test Track is the obvious choice from the Tier 1 options, and only Spaceship Earth is typically needed from the Tier 2 picks. In hopes of not backtracking, I went against conventional wisdom and slotted Spaceship Earth as our first attraction. We actually had a late start after a long day on Friday, so I ended up moving the time back to much later in the day. This day was designed to be more relaxed, so we weren’t going to push it. I knew that we had more excitement to come.
Epcot was pretty crowded, and I experienced the odd sensation of waiting for Journey to Imagination and The Three Caballeros. The strange part was that our longest wait of the day was in the FastPass line for The Seas with Nemo and Friends. I’d picked that as our third choice by default and might have skipped it without the FastPass. The posted wait time was 20 minutes, and we waited at least that long. It was a rare occasion where something was off with the line movements. It’s possible there were some mechanical issues, so I’m unsure if it was a FastPass problem. Regardless, there were no major hurdles on this day. I’ll be curious to see how the system works with both a new version of Soarin’ and Frozen Ever After up and running.
Day 3 – The Magic Kingdom
- Space Mountain — 9:40 a.m.-10:40 a.m.
- Buzz Lightyear — 10:45 a.m.-11:45 a.m.
- Big Thunder Splash Mountain — 12:35 p.m.-1:35 p.m.
The benefit of spending two days at The Magic Kingdom was being able to slice up the park. We didn’t even set foot in Tomorrowland on our first day. This time, it would occupy most of the morning. Before we even arrived, Disney notified me by e-mail that Space Mountain was down. This meant that we could use our FastPass for that ride (or a group of others) at any time that day. This was a relief. We were planning to stay late for the fireworks, so we only strolled up to the gates around 10:30 a.m. We now had the flexibility to do Buzz Lightyear, the People Mover, Space Mountain, Carousel of Progress, and the Speedway in a few hours with minimal crowds.
I wasn’t surprised to have the chance to grab Dumbo FastPasses that afternoon. It’s one of the easier same-day FastPasses to acquire. Even so, I won’t complain about avoiding a 30-minute wait. The shock was being able to reserve another Buzz Lightyear FastPass at night only 30 minutes before the 8 p.m. window. Many people did not stay for the 9 p.m. Main Street Electrical Parade, so we accomplished quite a lot during the evening. Despite it being a holiday weekend, the only places where we really felt cramped were in the bottleneck near Splash Mountain.
One continued issue was finding an easy way to incorporate Splash Mountain into our planning. We spent the morning in Tomorrowland and then strolled all the way to the other side of the park for that ride. Our path did include an unfortunate stop in a packed Columbia Harbour House, yet it still felt like there should be a better way. This was a downside in booking our FastPasses early in the day. Next time, I plan to double up on the Frontierland mountains to avoid the extra walking. The main casualty on this day was skipping The Jungle Cruise. It consistently had waits above 40 minutes, and securing a FastPass never fit. Even so, we enjoyed two parades from close spots and experienced the old-school trio of the Country Bears, the Tiki Room, and Carousel of Progress in a single day. It’s impossible to complain.
Speed Is What We Need!
Everywhere you go at Disney World, you overhear constant talk from guests about FastPasses. This does take away a bit from actually enjoying the parks. I’ll admit that it’s easy for me to become obsessed with touring strategy; this article is a prime example. Whether we like it or not, using FastPasses just keeps becoming more important to a Disney trip. It was refreshing to experience fewer glitches with the system this time. FastPass lines moved well, and we rarely spent more than a few minutes in line. Even Test Track was smooth, which was definitely not the case last year. Disney seems to have fixed many of the early issues.
FastPass Plus still increases the standby waits at rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and Spaceship Earth, and that’s an unfortunate side effect. It did seem like there was a better balance of the two lines, however. The one exception was trying to do Mission: Space at Epcot. The posted wait for the Green version was only 20 minutes. After waiting nearly that long and not moving at all, we decided to exit the line. That was my only experience where cast members focused almost solely on FastPass guests while the standby queue stalled. The system will never be perfect, but at least the delays feel a lot rarer these days.
Another factor was visiting on a busy holiday weekend. Because they expected larger crowds, Disney was running most attractions with extra vehicles. This meant that lines moved better despite more people in the park. The lower standby waits may also have helped with my access to extra FastPasses since many guests didn’t use them. I’m mostly speaking about The Magic Kingdom with these trends. Epcot and the Studios will be works in progress until they add more headliners. Despite its crowds, The Magic Kingdom seems like the easiest place for maximizing the FastPass Plus system.
A Mea Culpa on MagicBands
Before closing out this long post, I have to admit that I was wrong about the MagicBands. Prior to this trip, I was convinced they were a nuisance and only set up to make guests spend more money. While the second part is partially true, they’re also good fun! My girls are constantly playing with them at home, and it’s a cool reminder of the trip. They also did make it easier to use FastPasses. Not having to find our tickets (or paper FastPasses) was refreshing, especially with kids in the picture. We didn’t have any issues with the bands at the park.
It wasn’t entirely perfect, as our bands had issues in opening up our room. So there were still a few glitches. I could have tried harder to get them set up right at the hotel’s front desk, but it didn’t feel like a necessity during our short trip. We didn’t use the MagicBands to buy food or merchandise (except at Be Our Guest), so I don’t believe we spent more. I also didn’t mind wearing it, which is odd since I never wear a watch.
On the Right Track
Despite our successful trip, I’m still not convinced FastPass Plus is the best system for maximizing a Disney World visit. Not being able to add FastPasses on the app still feels like an unfortunate limitation. Also, some attractions just don’t need FastPass and are slowed down with the system. Even so, this trip was the first time I really embraced using FastPass Plus and the MagicBands. On the second experience, I understood it better and found ways to benefit from the service. I’m hopeful it will continue to improve as new attractions come online in the future.