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How xPASS plans on servicing Resort Guests as well as Disney World's day visitors

How xPASS plans on servicing Resort Guests as well as Disney World's day visitors

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Late last week, the Terrible Towel wrote in to say:

Jim,

I've been enjoying all of these XPASS articles that you've been writing lately. But with resort guests being able to reserve their ride times weeks and months in advance, I have to ask: What's going to be left for the day guest, the person who bought their ticket to a Disney theme park on the day of their visit? How are these people ever going to be able to experience these park's very best rides, shows, or attractions once XPASS is up and running?

That's my main worry about this new ride reservation system. That XPASS is going to backfire on Disney  because all of the great viewing spots for the parades & fireworks in the parks will be set aside for the resort guests rather than the day guests. I'm thinking that this will leave these people with a bad taste in their mouths. They'll be the ones telling their friends about the awful time that they had at Walt Disney World thanks to XPASS.


Photo by Gene Duncan. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

How is Disney going to stop this from happening?

It's simple, Terrible Towel. Part of this solution will come from radically increasing the number of rides, shows and attractions at the Parks that will offer FastPASS. Take -- for example -- the Magic Kingdom. Which will eventually bump the number of FastPASS-enabled attractions at that theme park up from 9 to 19.

Then by making it possible for WDW Resort Guests to reserve their xPASSES in advance for use during Extra Magic Hours ... Well, that will then allow that theme park to bump the number of xPASSES / FastPASSES it has available from over 60,000 nowadays to over 200,000 per day in the not-so-distant future.


Photo by Todd Anderson. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So at full build-out / maximum implementation here, we're talking about a far deeper pool of xPASSES  & FastPASSES for Disney World officials to draw from. Which will (in theory, anyway) still make it possible for both Resort Guests as well as WDW's day visitors to continue to utilize & enjoy this ride reservation system.

Mind you, to make it possible for Resort Guests to really get the most out of their WDW vacation and park hop while they're using xPASS ... Well, that's why Disney World plans on breaking its available ride reservation windows into clearly designated blocks of time.

Take -- for example -- a day when the Magic Kingdom is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. On a day like that, xPASS would give Resort Guests the option of booking their ride times between:

  • 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • 12 noon to 4:30 p.m.
  • 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.


Photo by David Roark. Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

By doing something like that ... Well, that would then make it possible for a Resort Guest to spend their morning at the Magic Kingdom enjoying Splash Mountain & Big Thunder Mountain Railroad before grabbing lunch at Cinderella's Royal Table and then heading over to Disney's Hollywood Studios. Where -- thanks to xPASS -- this same Resort Guest would be guaranteed a great viewing spot for Fantasmic!

FYI: DHS managers are considering  having half of the seats in the 7900-seat Hollywood Hills Amphitheater aside set exclusively for xPASS users. But -- to make sure that day visitors to the studio theme park will still get a chance to see this fireworks-and-water show --  Disney's Hollywood Studios is also looking to possibly extend its operating hours for six to eight weeks out of the year, thereby making it possible for stage two or three performances of "Fantasmic!" per night during that Park's busiest times of the year.

That's what (I think, anyway) the xPASS haters have been overlooking to date. That -- in their rush to condemn this next NextGen enhanced version of FastPASS -- these folks have mistakenly  been overlooking the upside of this billion dollar project. That -- in order to accommodate all of those Resort Guests who will be booking ride times in advance via xPASS -- Disney Parks & Resorts is now looking for ways to aggressively increase the hourly capacity of WDW's four theme parks. And in addition to extending these theme parks' operating hours, the ideas that are currently being explored include adding a third theater to Epcot's super-popular "Soarin' " attraction to building a brand-new E Ticket over at Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park (Gee, I wonder what that might be themed around ... ). All of this stuff is now on the table.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And we're talking some pretty out-there ideas when it comes to giving Resort Guests additional viewing spots for WDW's parades and fireworks shows. Take -- for example -- the East Rose Garden right off of the Hub at the Magic Kingdom.  This 5775 square-foot, currently fenced-in spot is being re-envisioned as a viewing space for 1200 Guests. Putting these people right in Tinkerbell's glide path as she "flies" from Cinderella Castle all the way down to the roof of Tomorrowland Terrace during "Wishes."

So are we talking about a fundamental change in the way that people will experience WDW's theme parks? Absolutely. But most of the changes that Disney World is proposing making here are -- in the long run -- (I think, anyway) for the better. Take -- for example -- how once xPASS is up and running, this NextGen program will deliberately eliminate much of the backtracking that Guests now typically have to go through while they're using FastPASS during their time in the Parks.

And speaking of time ... The more that I talk to Disney insiders, the more that I believe that we're talking years -- rather than months -- before we see full-blown integration & implementation of xPASS (or whatever this system will ultimately be called when it's finally  unveiled at the Walt Disney World Resort) in all its permutations.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Between getting all of those Scene Ones built & installed (Work began just last week on the NextGen elements that are going to be added to DHS's Twilight Zone Tower of Terror), not to mention all of the cool new features that Food & Beverage will soon be bringing online (Which -- I promise -- I'll soon be discussing in a future JHM article), plus the enhanced character meet & greets and entertainment offerings ... Holistically integrating all of these elements after first rolling xPASS out at WDW's deluxe resorts (to be quickly followed by Disney World's moderate & value resorts as well as all the hotels in the Downtown Disney area) is going to take a little doing.

So -- as I said with last week's xPASS article -- some patience is in order here, Terrible Towel. So don't throw in the towel just yet. Because based on the Guest feedback that WDW officials have received so far (where theme park visitors who have been surveyed about xPASS were incredibly enthusiastic about the idea of being able to choose between / book in advance 70 different experiences at the Resort.   Not to mention being able to hold multiple reservations per day for some of Disney World's most popular rides, shows and attractions), people outside of Disney fan circles seem genuinely excited about xPASS's potential.

So did anything that you read today help you change your mind about xPASS, Terrible Towel? Or have my answers to your questions now left you with even more questions?


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

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  • Still have concerns though.... Look at the irresponsible way people used the dining reservations service until Disney started charging for missed reservations? People would make multiple reservations and then choose the one they "felt like" doing thereby ensuring other guests could not get reservations. Any advance booking system needs to have some sort of control over this happening.

  • Hi, any news as how this will affect shades of green guests, will they be able to take part in xpass?

  • If I get you correctly, Jim, this means more attractions, more time on the attractions, less time in lines, more capacity, and more visitors.  I see why this could be revolutionary for Disney parks.  As Walt Disney was once told more than 75 years ago, this will make a hatful of money.

  • This seems like a pretty elaborate way to basically get Disney Parks back to the "A-E Ticket" model they were designed for.  Basic premise- ration the ride experiences to ensure universal access/people paying more get more experiences.  If this gets things back to me getting to ride my favorites a couple times without an absurd wait (which worked pretty well pre-1980 when the ticket system went away), I'm fine with it.

  • They've got to be kidding...a 3rd theatre for Soarin'?  That money could go SO far elsewhere.

    EDITOR'S COMMENT: When I got the chance to interview Marty Sklar back in February of 2001, just prior to the grand opening of Disney's California Adventure, I asked the then-president of Walt Disney Imagineering if there was one thing that he could change about this soon-to-open theme park, what would that be. Without skipping a beat, Marty said "I'd have had them build a third theater for 'Soarin' .' We knew that this new attraction was going to be popular with California Adventure visitors. But we had no idea that 'Soarin' ' was going to be this popular. Demand to ride that attraction really exceeded capacity during this park's preview period. And it's only going to get worse now."

    And given that WDI has long had a "Soarin' " sequel in the works (i.e. "Soarin' Around the World," or so the story goes. This version -- featuring flyovers of some of the more spectacular pieces of architecture in the world / natural wonders -- was originally supposed to be an opening day attraction for Shanghai Disneyland and then eventually find its way to Epcot's "Soarin' " theater. Though it's been a while since I've heard anyone at 1401 Flower Street talk about this project), it's not like the folks visiting Future World wouldn't benefit from a third "Soarin' " theater being built. Adding one more theater to the "Land" pavilion would certainly help make the always-lengthy line for this attraction that much more manageable.

    So I don't know if I entirely agreed that this money could be better spent elsewhere, Kelly

  • Some of the changes sound good, but these are the people who anticipated 44,000 for extra day @ Disneyland and got 106,000, so the planning dep't leaves something to be desired. Also, going from 9 to 19 attractions for xpass @ DMK is like taking reservations @ McDonalds. Only a few of these attractions are XPass worthy.

  • Interesting, but I think the expanded hours and more ride capacity would help alleviate increased wait times.  I don't see a need for the Xpass system if they are going to do these things.  And I can't find any way to think about this other than the fact that non-resort guests are getting hosed.  Basically, for non-resort guests there are already lines formed for attractions before the park even opens.  That seems like less opportunity for non-resort guests to me.  Can you give a spin-free explanation of the system, my head hurts.

  • Disney is one of  the few companies that is actually growing in the current economy.  In fact, their attendance seems to be way up (maybe due to the free-food plans).  Their growth can be seen at DCA, as well as WDW's Magic Kingdom, and WDW's Animation resort.  For Disney to spend massive bucks on the X-Pass system, I would like to believe that it was developed with the guest expierence in mind.  I have gone from being a critic to becoming more and more curious about it.  Disney believes in their X-Pass, and only time will tell (via guests comments once it's implemented) if the system was worth spending major dollars on or not.  With todays technology, Disney is becoming a reservation based operation. Like the current FastPass, I'm sure that it may take a little time to work the kinks out.  While a lot of us seem to expect the worst, maybe we should simply hope for the best.

  • I would argue that Soarin' needs TWO new theatres, and an additional film. Imagine "Soarin' International"....new locations would include the Great Wall, Uluru-Ayers Rock, the Swiss Alps, and the Serengeti.

    Even better...make each Soarin' theatre rotate scenes randomly, like Star Tours: the Adventure Continues.

  • I'm a big Disney park fan, but this just sounds like a lot of work.  I don't want to spend the time before my vacation worrying about how I'm going to spend every minute in the park, and make the reservations ahead of time.  Then walking around the park looking at my list of reservations telling me where and when I have to be some place.  What about those of us that like to wing it as we go?  Sounds like the Xpasses will be taking up all the space during the popular times, with the fast passes available during the "extended hours".   Ugh!

  • It's interesting that they're talking about expanding FASTPASS/xPASS to include a lot more attractions, but I have to echo Alan Carter's comment. There were several other attractions at DL and WDW that had FASTPASS, only to see the system pulled from those attractions when there wasn't much need for them. Are they installing (or re-installing) the kiosks purely to give folks an option that past experience has shown they won't actually need, or do they expect that xPass is going to make the headliners so busy that they'll need more FASTPASS/xPASS attractions to handle the excess demand?

    I guess I'm just not getting the reason for this thing. How does xPass help Disney compete against a Universal that seems more determined than ever to either knock King Mickey off the hill, or at least shove him to one side and sit on the hill with him?

  • Quote JH:

    "That's what (I think, anyway) the xPASS haters have been overlooking to date. That -- in their rush to condemn this next NextGen enhanced version of FastPASS -- these folks have mistakenly  been overlooking the upside of this billion dollar project. That -- in order to accommodate all of those Resort Guests who will be booking ride times in advance via xPASS -- Disney Parks & Resorts is now looking for ways to aggressively increase the hourly capacity of WDW's four theme parks."

    That's great, but what does that have to do with xPass?  I mean I'll certainly cheer if WDW is planning on adding more capacity, showtimes, and attractions -- but I fail to see what that has to do with xPass, exactly.  If the point is that Disney will take the extra revenue (will there even be any?) from xPass and dedicate it to new attractions and operations, great, but...I don't see why that will necessarily be the case either.  That's not how a public company the size of Disney works.  Like your payroll tax dollars don't sit in a lockbox and fund Social Security checks solely, the revenue from your park tickets funds everything from John Carter to dividends back to shareholders to Mary Poppins on Broadway to a new pilot on ABC.

  • As far as I understand the company finances, Walt Disney World only uses funds from it's own profits, and doesn't share its money with other companies owned by the Walt Disney Co. The theme park money stays in the parks, studios in the studios and TV in the TV studios etc. So if there was any profit of Xpass (probably from attendance increase-based on the same calculations of judging a new attraction's profitability) it will only go to the parks. However, the point was that in order for Xpass to function, the rides with Fastpass and rice capacities will have to increase beforehand for it to work...so in more than one ways it's all connected.

  • The worst part about a Disney theme park experience is the boredom of waiting in line, and this can range from mild boredom while you joke with family/friends to intense dislike.  This is why FastPass was created, for the guests who absolutely can not stand to wait in line, they get a front of the line pass.  Interactive queues also aim to take some of the pain away from waiting in line.  You don't get a lot of people complaining about FastPass because everybody can participate, and its a fun way to tour the park, knowing that you can jump on your favorite attraction later in the day.

    The whole XPass system will give some guests a really great experience, and the mouse wins by getting people to buy the whole XPass package.  Of course, the 'losers' will be the folks who stay off property and wait in line while XPass people get bumped to the front of the line.   Some rides are FastPass worthy, and some are not . . . what you'll get is a regular guest who can't get a FastPass for Peter Pan or Splash Mountain but is offered a FastPass for the TeaCups.  Assuming that ride queues will be labeled with a 'FastPass/XPass' line, regular folks will be asking about and will be peeved that they have to spend extra time in line despite rising ticket prices.

    Eventually there will be a Platinum XPass which you only have to pay $5,000 a year so that you can walk on to the exit of any ride and ride it!  Believe me, a lot of people would buy this and as long as Disney makes $ then it would be OK.

    The reality is that without more attractions being added, like E-Tickets, regular ticket prices will go up and the regular 'guest' gets bumped to the back of the line.  If they added, for example, three new E-tickets to Magic Kingdom, then I would be 'ok' with being a plebian.

  • What concerns me about all this talk about increasing capacity, etc. is something that we've lost in the "extra magic hours."  That special perk just isn't so special anymore.  I remember when my wife and I first visited WDW in '96.  We'd arrive for early morning in the Magic Kingdom and it would be deserted.  I have a picture of my wife on Main Street at 8 am and she is the only one there!  (Within 10 minutes of course, the street was swamped with people...)  Now, such a picture would be impossible.    

    But once upon a time, before there were so many hotels on property, and far fewer rooms, fewer people had access to the parks during those extra hours, and it was actually a real value.  Now, not so much.  

    I dunno.  I'm an agnostic about this stuff, if it means more people jammed into the parks.  But I'm willing to give it a try.  Maybe I'll convert :-)

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