Over the past week, there's been a lot of talk on Disney-related discussion boards about the policy change that the Walt Disney World Resort now has in the works when it comes to FASTPASS return times.
To be specific: Starting on March 7th, Guests who arrive 5 minutes ahead of their ride reservation return time will now be allowed to gain entrance to that show or attraction. Likewise WDW visitors who show up 15 minutes past the return time that's actually printed on their FASTPASS will be allowed to enter. But outside of this 80-minute window, these FASTPASSES will no longer be honored.
If you talk with WDW insiders, they'll flat-out admit that this new rigid-FASTPASS-return-time policy is being implemented next month to help with the roll-out of XPass (i.e. that soon-to-be-announced Disney World vacation package program which will -- among its many perks -- allow Guests to book a full day's worth of FASTPASS ride times for a particular theme park weeks & months in advance). Another less-talked-about aspect of the coming XPass roll-out is the installation of new FASTPASS machines all over property (EX: the system that's in the process of being installed at Epcot's "The Seas with Nemo and Friends" pavilion). Which will then make it that much easier for XPass purchasers to pre-book their rides on many of the WDW theme parks' high profile / more popular shows & attractions.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
"So when is Disney Parks & Resorts going to officially announce that XPass vacation packages are officially available for booking at select WDW Resorts?," you ask. Back in December, the scuttlebutt was that this program would officially be unveiled at the Company's annual meeting of shareholders. Which will be held on Tuesday, March 13th at the Westin Crown
Center in Kansas City, MO. With Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa being selected as the initial test site for this next generation Guest experience.
But nowadays ... I've been hearing that certain higher-ups at the Walt Disney World Resort would like to push back the official XPass announcement for at least a month or two. Just to make sure that -- by the time this enhanced Guest experience goes live -- that enough of the NextGen perks that are supposed to be the heart of this new vacation package are actually operational. With the hold-off-on-officially-announcing-XPass-for-a-while argument being that you only have one chance to make a great first impression. And if the first people who book XPass vacation packages find the initial version of this NextGen Guest experience wanting, in this age of social media, that news will fly around Facebook and Twitter like wildfire. Which is why veteran WDW managers want to err on the side of caution here.
On the other hand, the members of senior management at the Disney Company who actually authorized the estimated $1 billion that has (to date) spent on the development & implementation of all of this NextGen stuff .... They'd like to see the Company start to get a return on this huge investment. Which is why they're pushing from their end to have XPass announced as soon as possible. So it's going to be interesting to see which set of insiders ultimately wins out here when Bob Iger takes to the stage next month in Kansas City and then reveals what the Mouse has in the works for 2013 & beyond.
One point that's worth noting here is that -- while online Disneyana fans are mourning the coming end of the "Come-back-anytime-after-your-FASTPASS-window-has-expired.-Your-pass-will-still-be-honored" era -- 99% of Disney theme park visitors actually believed what what was written on their FASTPASS. So when these people would get a ride reservation for Splash Mountain which stated that they needed to be back between 1:25 - 2:25 p.m., these Guests would then move heaven and earth in order to get back to that thrill ride in time to ride. I've heard stories from veteran servers who work at super-hard-to-get-it WDW eateries like Cinderella's Royal Table at the Magic Kingdom about Guests who would bolt their meals, blow off the chance to have their pictures taken with the characters, frantically gesturing for a check ... All because these people had a FASTPASS for Space Mountain that they didn't want to expire.
So for these WDW Guests, Walt Disney World tightening the return window for FASTPASS isn't really going to have all that big an impact. But for those Disney insiders who have been gaming this ride reservation system for a dozen years now, who have been taking advantage of the Company's lax enforcement / relaxed attitude when it comes to FASTPASS return times ... This policy change (much like that $10 per-person cancellation fee for missed WDW dining reservations which was put in place back in October 26th) will have its biggest impact on those WDW veterans who regularly read all of the Disney discussion boards and believe that they now know every possible trick when it comes to cutting corners / working the system.
And speaking of that recent change to Disney World's dining reservation policies ... Though you'll never ever get anyone in WDW management to go on the record about this particular policy change, I'm told that the Resort's Food & Beverage staff are absolutely thrilled with the positive impact that this $10-per-person-in-your-dining-party cancellation fee has had on some of Disney World's most popular eateries. Now that WDW Guests are required to give a credit card number in order to make reservations at popular places like Chef Mickey's at Disney's Contemporary Resort (More importantly, that these same people will be charged a $10 fee should they opt not to show up), the no-show rate at WDW's signature dining experiences or
character meals has dropped from a high of 25 - 30% to a low of 5 - 10%.
Disney's hoping that next month's change to the FASTPASS return policy will have the same sort of PR footprint that October's $10 cancellation fee announcement had. In that -- after some initial grumbling on various Disney discussion boards around the Web -- there was a nary a ripple about this WDW dining reservations policy change out in the real world. Though given the millions of theme park visitors who have taken advantage of this ride reservation system since FASTPASS was first introduced back in 1999, one wonders how Disney World veterans are going to react when they learn that the Resort's previous your-FASTPASS-can-be-used-all-day policy is being replaced by a 80-minute-long window.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was reworked on February 13, 2012 to clarify the new FASTPASS return times. Which will actually be 80 minutes long, rather than the 20 minutes long mentioned in a previous draft of today's story.
Soooo, what happens when you made your ADR 180 days in advance for, say Cinderlla's Royal Table, a meal taking a substantial time to eat and get photos, but then obtain a FastPass for a return time that falls during your meal???
I'm disappointed at this change because we, admittedly, did take advantage of an open return time on our FP's for more than ten years now (although I don't believe we are in as exclusive company as Jim suggests - LOTS of Guests do the same). My issue is not that I'm now "having to follow the rules" like everyone else, but that the supposed new "policy" is no better than the last one. To say I can come back 20 min after my FP time, makes no sense - why not just be clear on the FP and just include the add'l 20 min on there (eg. Return between 1 pm and 2:20 pm). The problem with the old policy was that the return times we're not accurate, and now.... They're STILL not accurate. Who is this phantom "extra" 20 min supposed to make happy? it's false economy - like my wife who sets her alarm clock ten minutes ahead so she can feel less rushed... ;-)
"Joe", I can't tell if you're serious or not. Of course you are abusing the system if it is not "uncommon" for you to return 45 minutes to an hour late for your FP's. As "Skipper" stated, the number of guests returning late is not a high percentage. Know what that means "Joe"? That means that most people are fully capable of scheduling their FP's around their activities. You already know through your own anecdotal evidence that dining can be slow. Then don't get a Fast Pass for that time. Or get one anyway. It's up to you. But if you miss your window, don't inconvenience everyone else who did things correctly, try the stand-by line. (I know you avoid those. If you were in those lines you would see first hand how people like you are screwing up the system.) Or skip the attraction. As "Tuckenie" mentioned, your vacation needs are not anymore important than anyone else's vacation needs.
GT, I feel like you are misunderstanding the point I am making. I would say that I return to a ride during the Fastpass window about 80% of the time, but there are sometimes when it is not practical or possible for me to do so. I'm sure that this is true for a lot of people. I do not think I have been abusing the system if I show up 45 minutes outside the window occasionally. You may disagree with me, and I understand your point. My point is really this, I travel to Disney World frequently and I know that times are very unreliable (such as reserved dining times, ride wait times and transportation) and I think that I and most people go with the flow and are fine with this. However, when you all of a sudden expect one aspect to be rigid while everything is estimated you are bound to run into some problems especially with guests who are not as acquainted with the park and may expect that they will be seated at the time of their reservation. You also have no control over your Fastpass return time. Toy Story Mania is a perfect example. Fastpasses are out for the day within a few hours of the park opening, so it is not uncommon to get a Fastpass for 6:00 at night at 10:30 in the morning. If 6:00 is when you have dinner at Mama Melrose's, I think it is reasonable to allow that person to come back outside the window as opposed to making them wait two hours to ride the notoriously slow-loading ride. This is also not putting their needs ahead of everyone else as EVERYONE was afforded the same ability to come late.
I guess my biggest issue with the whole thing is tha they are not changing the system because it is inefficent or because it is unfair to standby guests. I understand the point and would be okay with this. They are changing it so that they can charge people to be able to do what we can do now for free. Maybe I'm wrong, but I bet that those willing to pay the premium price for the "premium" experience of XPass will not be turned away if they are late. XPass is clearly sending the message that if you have big bucks, your vacation and time IS more important than everyone else's and that is not cool with me.
Thanks Jim for the great article. I have shared it with my readers via facebook. Please stay on top of the NextGen story for all of us! Mahalo, Mark Hickson