What are you doing on January 9th 2015 between 9:55 and 10:55 am EST? No idea? Well, you’re not much of one for planning are you?
I, on the other hand, will be at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at that exact time. Followed by Pirates of the Caribbean between 11:10 and 12:10 and Enchanted Tales with Belle between 12:40 and 13:40. Now, knowing where I’ll be on any given day is not that unusual, especially if I’m on vacation. But knowing exactly what I’ll be doing on each hour of the day seems a wee bit excessive, even to me.
So why is my next vacation planned to the minute, you may ask? Well, for this I can thank Disney’s new Fastpass+ system, which was implemented at their Florida parks about a year ago. Under the old Fastpass system, you could skip the lines at some rides by getting a paper Fastpass from a machine near the ride entrance. This pass gave you a one hour window in which you could return later and skip most of the line for that ride. It wasn’t a perfect system; you sometimes had to crisscross the park to collect passes, really popular rides ran out of Fastpasses early in the day and you couldn’t choose your return time, but it was still a great way to avoid long lines and make the most of your day at the park. (Incidentally, this is the system that’s still in place at Disneyland in Anaheim at the moment.)
But about a year ago, Disney World scrapped the entire Fastpass system and brought in a new one, where you could log into a website and pre-book up to three Fastpasses per day rather than collecting them at the park. People staying onsite at one of the Disney hotels can book up to 60 days in advance while others have up to 30 days, which is a pretty significant perk for onsite guests. Since we’re staying at the Art of Animation resort for our January stay, this meant that I could log in on November 4th and start selecting Fastpasses for my entire six day stay.
Now, I’d heard horror stories from others about the website not working and Fastpasses for the most popular attractions disappearing within minutes of opening, but I found the experience pretty easy. I selected the park I wanted to visit each day, chose from a list of attractions and selected my times. Everything I wanted was available, but of course that doesn’t mean it would be if you were booking 30 days out or less.
The system did have some oddities. When you selected your three passes, it gave you four options for times that seemed to be completely random. No matter which one you chose, you could go in after and switch the times around. I’m not sure why it just didn’t let you pick your times to start with rather than give you four choices of times that you could change at the next step.
Another oddity is that Fastpasses are available for everything now, not just the most popular attractions. Shows that never have a wait and rides with lots of capacity have Fastpass now too. I have no idea why anyone would book a Fastpass for some of those things. But of course you have to do your research and look at average wait times in order to see what is most beneficial to book. There’s no point getting Fastpasses for something that never has more than a ten minute wait, but it’s an option now if you want it.
Another huge disadvantage for many is the fact that you have to decide which park you want to visit each day in order to select Fastpasses. Before you could wake up and say, “Let’s go to Epcot today” while you were on a Disney trip and have as good a chance of collecting Fastpasses for your favourite rides as anyone else. Not any more. People like me have gone in and snapped them all up weeks ahead of time, at least for the most popular attractions.
Another disadvantage is the three Fastpass limit per park. It’s not a big deal for us in three of the four parks; my kids aren’t tall enough to ride everything and there are only a few things with long waits in Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom so I prioritized those rides. But Magic Kingdom has 29 options for Fastpasses, most of which appeal to my kids, and still only three Fastpasses per day. Even with two days there it was a pretty hard to choose.
Now, if I wanted to, I could also know exactly where I’m eating every meal of my trip as well. Disney World allows you to make restaurant reservations up to six months in advance, and many people actually do this for the most popular restaurants. So I could not only know what rides I’m doing on January 9th at the Magic Kingdom, I could also know exactly where and when I’m eating. I could even check out the menus online and decide what I want to eat ahead of time if I so desired. (Although, at they don’t ask you to pre-book the exact meal you’re planning to order. At least, not yet!)
Now, for a planner like me, all this can be kind of fun. I don’t usually have my days planned out this much while on vacation, but I don’t really mind the chance to pre-book things. But for people who hate planning and/or being locked into a schedule, I can only imagine it takes a lot of the fun out of the trip. I’ll make sure I post a post trip review of my first Fastpass+ trip to Walt Disney World to follow up on how all the planning turned out. Because we all know what happens to the best laid plans when there’s a Mouse involved!