This week, the Next Gen FASTPASS system or xPass or FASTPASS+ is being tested at The Magic Kingdom. As I understand this system, this will grant users the privilege of being able to create their itinerary far in advance of their arrival to the parks. Imagine being able to make arrangements to go on all of Disney’s roller coasters in all of the parks in just one day, simply by planning out your FASTPASS itinerary? Disney’s banking on the fact that you would in some way pay for that privilege.
All this activity takes me back to when FASTPASS was first implemented in the parks. As a Disney Cast Member I was observing the implementation of this system. In its purest form, it wasn’t difficult seeing the advantage. Come by around 10:30 in the morning and pick up a FASTPASS to Kilimanjaro Safaris. Return a couple of hours later and bypass practically the entire line as you moved toward the front. Meanwhile, visit the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, browse for gifts at Mombasa Marketplace and Ziwani Traders or grab a bite to eat at Kusafiri Coffee Shop. You were spared the pain of waiting, and in many instances, Disney benefited from additional per cap while you were waiting for the next attraction.
While confusing to many guests when first introduced, it quickly caught on. Paul Pressler, then heading the parks, thought to treat FASTPASS as if it were a new attraction in and of itself. It was marketed heavily as a “Disney Difference” for visiting the parks. To that end, executives wanted as many attractions as possible to carry FASTPASS in each park. That made sense with the Tower of Terror and with Splash Mountain. But it became a real stretch with attractions like Honey I Shrunk the Audience and It’s Tough to be a Bug. Even attractions like the Haunted Mansion which has a large Theoretical Hourly Ride Capacity (THRC) received FASTPASS machines.
In time, many of the FASTPASS units in attractions like Honey I Shrunk the Audience became marginalized. First, they lost Cast Members hosting those locations. Then they operated a more limited window during the day. Later, they were draped and left there. In some cases, if you booked a FASTPASS for another attraction like The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, they gave you a complimentary FASTPASS as well to Mickey’s PhilharMagic. Finally, as in the case of the Haunted Mansion, they were removed.
Truth is, there wasn’t too great a consequence in putting these systems in place to begin with. Perhaps guests would use their FASTPASS to get into Honey I Shrunk the Audience, only to find out later they really didn’t need it. But after all, it was free. The worse thing was you couldn’t then get another FASTPASS until the time on your FASTPASS came up or after some two hours had passed (not likely with theatrical attractions).
But all that has changed. Now with the new NextGenFASTPASS, there is money riding on it. At least, that’s what is being supposed. I don’t know, and frankly doubt that that people will be running their Visa to pay for each FASTPASS entry. But I don’t think it will simply be positioned more as an “extra” benefit for staying on Disney property, just like Magical Express. There has been too much money put into this. It will more likely be treated as an income source or per cap, rather than as a liability on the spreadsheet.
So to that end, it looks like Disney is ramping up the number of FASTPASS options. For example, The Seas with Nemo and Friends is adding FASTPASS machines. It’s expected that the new Little Mermaid attraction in Fantasyland will also have FASTPASS machines. And the thought is that the Haunted Mansion will re-install the FASTPASS machines they had earlier removed. But given their omnimover capacity, is FASTPASS really needed here? Yes, there are large lines in front of some of those attractions at the height of the day. And there are really large lines during special holidays. But most of the time I never spend more than ten minutes waiting for any of those attractions. And The Little Mermaid FASTPASS equivalent at Disney California Adventure practically goes unused most of the time because the queue moves so quickly.
Even more curious is Dumbo the Flying Elephant. While Dumbo never had a “long line” per se, it always had a very slow moving line. For years it really needed something. But now, the 9th Wonder of the World will have two sets of flying pachyderms, an interactive queue, and FASTPASS. Plus it’s been moved to a location that is no longer in the center of the park and thus the traffic. How badly will you need a FASTPASS when all of that becomes available? You certainly don’t need one that badly at The Magic Carpets of Aladdin. And it seems like the Astro Orbiter could use more attention for its slow moving queue.
So what does all this mean when you are sitting in Topeka, Kansas trying to map out your next Walt Disney World vacation? It means buyer beware, because what you select may not be really worth the value. And frankly, Disney is hoping you will be choosing attractions like Captain EO that really don’t require a FASTPASS most of the year, as well as those that usually do. They’re hoping that when choosing FASTPASSes, you choose not just the mountains at the Magic Kingdom, but also Mickey’s PhilharMagic. And why? Because it allows greater capacity on NextGen. It also spreads the distribution of guests throughout the park. In fact, for those of you not taking advantage of this feature, it will create less competition waiting in line on those attractions that really do have long queues.
If you’re given four options for a FASTPASS at Epcot prior to setting out on vacation, what would you choose? Of course Soarin’. And probably Test Track, Mission: SPACE, and perhaps Maelstrom. But what if you don’t like closed spaces like in Mission: SPACE? Imagine you have a child that’s under one of the height requirement for Test Track. Will choosing Spaceship Earth or Turtle Talk with Crush instead really be of similar value?
My philosophy–and I think it was Walt’s–always be sure you offer something that has value. I appreciate Disney taking risks in managing the most frustrating customer service issue they face–long lines. And I understand that Disney is a company–it’s about making money at the end of the day. But I hope we don’t re-configure queues and add FASTPASS machines to justify a new revenue source that may not offer as much value as it is hyped. Just as we saw ten years ago, you can say the ride has FASTPASS, but it doesn’t mean it needs a FASTPASS. By and large, guests are smart–and they want value at the end of the day.
What do you think? How willing would you be to pay for this experience? Would you be as willing to pay for it in the off season as you would in the height of Spring Break? Would you get as much value from that option given your own circumstances or preferences? Let us know what you think.