Friday, December 18, 2009

FastPass Insanity

Way back on March 18th I promised a post on the plusses and minuses of FastPass. However, I didn’t feel like writing about that, so I wrote about a bunch of other stuff instead, prompting an anonymous commenter to say “hey, whatever happened to that FastPass post you promised?” Well, now that I’ve taken two trips to WDW since Labor Day, and am looking forward to a multi-day trip in about two weeks, I’ve got FastPass on the brain again. By the way, if you don’t know what FastPass is or how it works, here’s the Wikipedia article.

Although the system was introduced in 1999, the first time I ever saw it was on our October 2001 honeymoon. Disney didn’t do a great job explaining it to casual parkgoers, and since we were less than two months out from 9/11, the parks weren’t that crowded and there wasn’t much of an impetus to use it. We made another trip in 2004, and since crowd levels had rebounded, the lines were long enough that we took the time to read the inserts in our park maps that explained how this FastPass thing worked. Judging by the huge amount of people we saw waiting in Standby (a.k.a. non-FastPass) lines, most folks did not do the same, which leads nicely into the first section of this post:

The Plusses of FastPass

The biggest advantage of FastPass, indeed its raison d’etre, is to allow you to bypass long attraction lines. One of the reasons it works so well is that 95% of the people in the parks at any given time aren’t using it. As usual, that figure isn’t based on anything other than my own personal observations, but I’m confident that it’s pretty close to the truth. Otherwise, why would the standby line for Peter Pan’s Flight (which, if it extended straight out from the attraction entrance, would probably stretch to the Canary Islands) be full of families with cranky children who want to get on the ride right now, or else they will scream?

So, FastPass is a system that allows you to bypass long lines, and it works so well because most people don’t use it. Therefore, those of us who do are essentially profiting from the ignorance of those who don’t.  That’s a big plus in my book. Now, time for . . .

The Minuses of FastPass

Why don’t more people use FastPass? Basically, it’s because the majority of them are on their first and only trip to Disney World, and they’re keeping one eye on their hyper-excited kids while using the other eye to squint at their park map to figure out the best way to get to Splash Mountain and where the bathrooms are and how to fit in all these rides that the kids want to go on right now before their 12:30 reservation at the Liberty Tree Tavern (and just where on the map is that, anyway?) They just don’t have the time or energy to read and digest that paragraph on the back of the map that explains what FastPass is all about.

Now, a trip to Disney World has always involved some complexity. But back in the days before FastPass, pretty much the only bit of “strategy” a savvy parkgoer needed to employ was to avoid the lunchtime rush by hitting Pecos Bill’s during the 3:00 parade. Regardless of who you were, your route through the Magic Kingdom would look something like this:


The only decision to make was whether you headed left into Adventureland or right into Tomorrowland after you walked up Main Street.

FastPass, however, has added another wrinkle. A savvy parkgoer will make a beeline for a couple of the park’s most popular attractions, obtain FastPasses, then go find other things to do until the FastPass return time. As the return time approaches, they’re obliged to hightail it to the attraction from wherever else they happen to be, even if it’s on the other side of the park.  The added complexity of dining reservations may cause even more backtracking and mad rushing. A savvy Disney parkgoer’s path through the Magic Kingdom now looks like something from the Family Circus:


The problem gets even worse at EPCOT, because EPCOT is so huge. Whereas EPCOT’s generally ovoid shape meant that your path through the park would invariably go something like this:


. . .a savvy use of FastPass leads to lots of darting back and forth across Future World, like this:


“What’s the problem with that?” you might ask. Nothing, if you’re an fatigue-proof 19-year-old with no kids. But EPCOT and the Magic Kingdom are not small places. Zipping back and forth across them, juggling FastPass return times and dining reservation times is as hard as the work most of us do at our jobs. I don’t know about anyone else, but I go on vacation to relax.

However, Disney World is the American consumer mecca. And a key tenet of the American consumer lifestyle is instant gratification, so a system to make the gratification of experiencing a Disney attraction a little more instant was bound to be a hit. However, I’ve hurried back and forth across crowded theme parks, clutching my FastPass trying to resist the temptation to break into an all-out run, only to collapse exhausted at the end of the day. In two weeks, we’re going to take it a little slower.

Sure, I may grab a FastPass or two, but only to give to my wife for her Disney trip scrapbook. Let everyone else hurry like they’ve got a time clock to punch. We’ll be taking it easy.


  1. I've been using FastPass since it was introduced, and although I will admit I don't have kids, I've never felt like I was rushing around like a crazy person (ok, except to GET a fast pass first thing upon entering the parks around new years). It just takes a tiny bit of forethought in planning what to do with your time to save you so much time in the long run. I find I am much MORE relaxed using the system because I know I am not wasting all my time waiting around in line. If you want to "take it easy" I suggest getting a fast pass, but instead of cutting it too close and rushing back to the ride, err on the side of caution and maybe get there a little early and wait if you have to. You'll still wait less than if you stood on stand-by.

  2. In all my past visits to the parks, I've noticed that there is less of a need to use a FastPass in Disneyland then in Walt Disney World.


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