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So how exactly is Disney World's new xPASS system supposed to work?

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So how exactly is Disney World's new xPASS system supposed to work?

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If you look around the Web, you can see that the reaction (among Disney theme park fans, anyway) to the xPASS-related  articles that I've written so far seem to have been pretty negative. With the gist of their comments being that "I would never ever pay for a service like this" and "booking ride times for attractions weeks in advance would rob my WDW vacation of spontaneity."

Addressing the latter complaint first ... Let me blunt here:  A Walt Disney World vacation is hardly an exercise in spontaneity. For most people, just in order to get to Orlando involves buying a plane ticket and/or driving for hundreds of miles. Then -- if they're planning on staying in the area for a couple of days in order to actually experience the Parks -- these people are going to need to find a hotel room as well as purchase some theme park tickets.

 More to the point, if you're planning on visiting a Disney theme park, these places have definite operating hours. So if you show up at Disney's Hollywood Studios at 10 p.m. on a night when that park closes at 9 and then say "I wanna go ride Twilight Zone Tower of Terror" ... Well, that's just too bad.

Photo by Garth Vaughan. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

You get what I'm saying here? The people who are now griping about how xPASS will possibly rob them of the opportunity to have a truly spontaneous WDW vacation are -- at best -- being insincere. I mean, if the vacation spot that you love to take your family to has a parade scheduled to step off every day right at 3 p.m. and/or requires you to make dinner reservations 6 months in advance in order to guarantee seating at that Resort's most popular eateries ... We're not exactly talking about the spontaneity capital of the world, now are we?

More to the point, how is being able to have the ability to book (at most) four xPASSES per day per park weeks in advance going to ruin your Disney World vacation?

You see, that's how this NextGen system is really supposed to work. How far in advance you book your WDW vacation and/or buy your Disney World theme park tickets will then determine the number of xPASSES that you'll be able to reserve for yourself and your family. A typical scenario:  If you book at least six weeks out, you should then be able to go on the xPASS website and reserve four experiences (EX: two attraction ride times, an exclusive meet-n-greet with a Disney character as well as a viewing spot for the nightly fireworks).

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Now multiply that by the four WDW theme parks and you've then got 16 different instances where people vacationing at Walt Disney World can actually avoid a line. That's a huge Guest satisfier. Not to mention being able to use the xPASS system to avoid lines at the Parks' Quick Service Dining locations by ordering your meals in advance using your iPhone & Smart Phones (That's another aspect of xPASS that we'll get to in an upcoming JHM article. So hang in there, folks. There's lots more info to share yet about this NextGen project).

And given that Disney Parks & Resorts now no longer plans on making people pay for xPASS (That's right. This newly enhanced version of the Company's virtual queuing system -- just like FastPASS before it -- will be a freebie. Available to all WDW Guests in some way, shape or form) ... Well, how can Disney theme park fans (who -- let's be honest here -- have a tendency to initially be negative  about anything new that's proposed for the Parks. Invariably trotting out that same old tired "Walt wouldn't have done it that way" argument that they always use. As if anyone could actually accurately predict what  Disney would have done in any one situation more than 35 years after the company's founder has passed away) now find fault with that?

That said ... It is worth noting here that -- under the current plans for the xPASS system (which now looks to be rolled out during the first quarter of 2013. After more of the in-park infrastructure that is needed to support this radically enhanced version of Disney's virtual queuing system is actually in place) -- the further in advance you book your vacation package / buy your theme park tickets, the more xPASSES you'll then be able to book. So six weeks out, you should be able to book 4 experiences per day. Two weeks out, we're talking two or three. Day of? The way I hear, we're now back in typical FastPASS country. Where -- depending on how many people are in the Park that day / Guest demand -- we're now talking one, maybe two ... depending on availability.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Beyond that ... Let me toss one final little tidbit of news out there. Which is that -- when xPASS debuts in 2013 -- it's unlikely that this NextGen version of Disney's virtual queuing system will still be called xPASS.

Why For? Because according to the survey work that Disney's marketing staff has done, the xPASS name has been testing poorly. So as of right now, Disney's looking for a better handle for this service.

And now -- to get to the particular sticky question of where annual passholders, DVC members as well as Disney World cast members fit into all this, what sort of xPASS privileges can these folks expect to have access to ... And the answer is: Disney doesn't know yet. Even though this NextGen virtual queuing system project has actively been in development for over 5 years now, they still don't know quite what to do with the Company's own employees and/or its most loyal & dedicated customers.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

As of right now, it looks like -- due to the anticipated increased Guest demand for FastPASSES / xPASS experiences -- anyone using comp tickets will allegedly not be eligible to use this virtual queuing system to book anything in advance. Which means that WDW cast members and their friends & family will only be able to book their experiences on the days that they actually visit the Parks.

Whereas annual passholders & DVC members ... Recognizing that these people are among Disney's most passionate customers ... Well, the Company's obviously got to come through for them in a large sort of way, at least as far as xPASS is concerned. But that said, there's still a delicate balance that needs to be struck here between servicing the day Guests at WDW's theme parks, sending them home satisfied as well as making annual passholders & DVC members feel like they're special.

And then there's the whole issue of which attractions should actually be included in the FastPASS / xPASS inventory. (EX: The Magic Carpets of Aladdin. For 9/10th of the year, this Adventureland spinner has absolutely no problem meeting Guests' expectations.  Every person who comes to the Magic Kingdom and then wants to experience the Magic Carpets will have the opportunity to ride this spinner. It's only during those extremely busy times of year at this theme park [EX: The week between Christmas and New Years, February school vacation, Easter week, the height of summer] that Guest demand exceeds this ride's capacity. So is it really worth it to make the Magic Carpets of Aladdin a FastPASS / xPASS ride for those four weeks out of every year? Or would it be wiser in the long run to make some other, more-in-demand attraction at the Magic Kingdom part of this virtual queuing system?)

Photo by Matt Stroshane. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Long story short, folks:  At this point, we're still at least 10 months out from xPASS (or whatever new name the Company eventually hangs on this NextGen version of Parks & Resorts' virtual queuing system) debuting. And given how fluid this situation still  is, it's entirely possible that other significant changes will be made between now and the first quarter of 2013.

So my advice here is to be a bit patient. More importantly, don't listen to the doom-and-gloomers who are calling xPASS the death of spontaneity (at least when it comes to WDW vacations). Because based on Disney World's own internal survey work, Guests who make use of the FastPASS system during their vacations come away from that experience with a far more positive impression of the time that they spent in Orlando. These people love anything that then gets them out of a line / allows them to board a ride and/or experience an attraction ahead of the other Guests.

So with xPASS potentially allowing these people to walk into a Disney theme park knowing that -- even before they push through those turnstiles -- that they get to jump the line for four different experiences over the course of their day in the Park ... That's a huge Guest satisfier. Something that these people are sure to talk up once they get back home.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which is just what the Company was looking to do when they initially put xPASS into development back in 2006 or thereabouts.

So now that you have a somewhat better understanding of what xPASS is / how this NextGen virtual queuing system is supposed to work, what other questions do you have? Based on the info that I have in hand / the sources that I have within the Disney Company, I'll do my best to answer your questions in the coming weeks. So fire away.

Your thoughts?


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  • IF these details are true (and you can always hide behind the fact that things are still being worked on and changed), then these are great details for your site to be breaking.  I've heard speculation on other sites, which sounds terrible.  But the proposal you lay out here, where you get only a few, based on how early you book, sounds like a wonderful enhancement.  The people who are the ones who plan out all the details, who fill out the restaurants 180 days early, those are the ones that will benefit the most from this.  The people who do not plan do not need to make use of this service.

  • First time commenting, long time reader.

    Does this mean you'll be able to use Xpass, or whatever they will call it, to book up to 4 experiences and then upon entering the park and activating my ticket, still be able to get Fastpasses for rides as I do now? If so, I don't see how anyone could have many complaints if Xpass is allowing me, in essence, a few additional Fastpasses albeit booked in advance. As a DVC owner, I am glad to hear that Xpass, at the moment, should/will extend to DVC. Thanks in advance for any response. Love reading the site!

  • Good article Jim.  If the change is correct about it being free, then we're looking at history repeating itself here.  Just like Disney Dining and having reservations in advance, there will always be a problem with people reserving it 6/3/1 month out and NOT using it.  While the issue of someone not being able to enjoy an attraction because of a no-show, there will still be staffing and traffic issues with foot traffic in unexpected places, such as rides not set for full capacity, etc.

    Imagine they allow 6 month out reservations.  You reserve Fantasmic! at 6pm, with Tower of Terror at 5:15 before it...and then two weeks before your trip they stop playing Fantasmic! that night, or perhaps it needs an urgent rehab.  How will Disney contact everyone who reserved Fantasmic! in advance? Email, phone call?

    I see fireworks being a bigger problem - what if they get cancelled because of excessive winds one evening, and the family only allocated that day for MK/DL?  They will not see the system as something great because they lost value - one of their limited XPasses were thrown out the window and getting a free replacement one won't help as they wouldn't be coming back to that same park.  Or worse yet, someone with an XPass tries to be spontaneous and visit a sitdown restaurant without ADR and...is late to an XPass reservation and misses their window to return.  While the last thing is most likely to happen, guests will see it as losing value especially if they have to plan the XPasses weeks/months out.  If they get them the same day it would be a different story as it would be basically the same thing as FastPass, only you don't have to race to get them the morning of your park visit.

    Which honestly is the way Disneyland used to handle ADRs.  I remember getting to DL at park opening one Mother's Day so I could get ADRs for the Blue Bayou - I went straight to the restaurant and got it.  Every one will have different priorities for a trip but imagine guests who don't want to be spontaneous being told "All XPasses have been distributed for the day" at Soarin or Toy Story Mania at park opening.  They will not look at this service as a good thing.  Hopefully Disney will hold some back for same day use, and honestly they could have mostly fixed Fastpass with the new changes AND with turning off the machines when the distribution exceeds a certain window and then turning them back on.

  • Great article Jim.

    So how does this effect the RFID features?  Will most guest be able to create the small world dolls and access other features (Mickey knowing your name etc.) or will this still be for Deluxe guest only.  

    I might be mixing my RFID and xPass together when they are not connected, if so here is a question that spans both.

    I have also heard about the wristband for the RFID.  Is there any plan to have your (xPasses of FP's) on your wristband instead of a ticket?

    Keep up the great articles!

  • You get what I'm saying here?

    Yes I do. You make stupid remark and you know it. The first part of your article is nonsense.

    Later on you even contradict the fact that this will not negatively influence my stay at Disney to tell us we have to make dining reservations far in advance so we can eat at certain places.

    Before those reservation everyone going to the park had a change to eat where ever they wanted. Disney killed that.

    The same with meeting characters. In the past characters walked around the park. If you were lucky you would meet them and it was magic. Now I never meet a character anymore. They are put away behind long lines that form there in advance.

    You see what I´m saying? Whenever Disney put his customers more on a schedule, they are sure they sell out. The experience is booked, manned and people are sure to come. The rest of they're customers can take a hike. That are the customers that don´t stay in their expensive hotel rooms, it are the European travelers that rented a home for a month or the locals with annual passes.

    It´s also what a former cast member said about fastpass and how often guests in the regular lines get upset when they are put on hold to let the smirking  fastpass guests go first and how they get to deal by an even more urgent group, the xPass guests.

    And that favorite spot you liked to watch the parade? Sorry, these are reserved for move valued guests.

    Maybe Disney should have changed their whole park. You enter and go through all the attractions in one ride, then get on a conveyer belt to meet the characters, drop you off at your favorite restaurant and then drop you in a giant mall so you can spent the rest of your day there buying stuff. At the end of the day I fond spot number 30.293 to watch the firework and get the exact time I have to leave to get on the monorail.

    Disney World is more and more starting to look like a dictatorship. America is already more difficult to get into then Russia during the cold war and now Disney tries to tag and shovel their guests through their parks. No thank you.

  • Wow, so just because WDW parks have certain operating hours, that means that a Disney vacation isn't spontaneous at all? I call shenanigans.

    I have no idea weeks in advance what I want to ride. What if my choice breaks down during my reservation time?

  • Jim - read comment by OT - my sentiments exactly!

    Disney DID kill spontaneity (exclude transportation to wdw, accomodations, and admission media - that is a given for everybody) with free dining (the worst killer - IMHO), fast passes, park apps, homogenization of the merchandise in its shopping venues,  etc. (I'm sure each person has their own items to add to the list) .

    xPass and other such "enhancements/entitlements"  will just contribute even more ways to un-Magic the Magic that used to be there.

    I am a Disney stockholder,  a DVC member (from year 1), an annual passholder, and a long time Disney afficinado  who bought a house in what was then Disney's town of Celebration so I could own a permanent piece of the magic.  I wonder what Walt's reaction to all this would be?

  • Jim,

    Thank you for the details and for your articles.  I normally would allow this to pass, but given the tone of the beginning of your article, I have to comment.  I 100% agree with you that Disney vacations are planned out by most guests months in advance of arriving at the parks.  I would like to point out, however, that many of us use the flexibility that Disney offers to be "spontaneous".  I can't tell you the number of times that my family has paused in one of the pavilions at Epcot (read: spent money at souvenier shops) simply because we didn't have to rush on to hit the Fastpass return time.  One day we randomly tried Kim Possible and had a ball - but we used it at the right time during the day when the kids needed a diversion.  I can't plan that kind of thing six weeks in advance and I really would prefer not to.  We spent time at the trains in Germany.  We watched a street performer in France.  We took the time to meet Mary Poppins simply because we happened upon her standing outside the United Kingdom.  We listened to an entire set from Off Kilter in Canada.  We went and saw The American Adventure to let the kids take a quick nap because they needed it.  All of this was because we knew we could use the benefits of the Fastpass later.  

    While I am going to use the xPASS simply to keep up - I admit a bit of trepedation that some aspect of the Disney experience will suffer.  My family and I go to the Parks to discover something new and enjoy the detail that the Imagineers put into the entire experience.  It will be a shame if this has to take a back seat.


  • In response to, " that same old tired "Walt wouldn't have done it that way" argument that they always use" ....

    Walt was always an advocate for change and technological progress.... I predict, if Walt was still alive, this whole system probably would have been developed, implemented, and perfected by 1995! :) I mean, what else would he do after he finished EPCOT City??

  • Ia sked this late in the previous thread and thought I would bring it up again. I'm just curious what the penalty will be for missing a reservation - or will X-Pass be in the same boat as ADR before the recent policy change? With patrons telling themselves "Let's reserve Space Mtn but if we don't feel like it when our reservation time comes up months from now, who cares?"

  • The main problem I see with the new plans is that there are still PLENTY of guests who don't understand FASTPASS/how to use it. Creating a new, more complicated system is going to leave those guests even further in the dark and having a less than magical experience.

  • What about the locals?  I sometimes just decide to go to a park.  I don't do any booking because I just take day trips.  What will the X-pass have for me?

  • Upon reading this article and Lesrning that 1. It will be available for all Disney Guests and 2. It's free I couldn't be happier. I mean for everyone who is so P.O'd about it get over it! First off all no body forces you to go to Disney World, and if they think hey have found a way to increase guests satisfaction and help you get on even more rides and attractions then bring it on! Second, if you don't want to use xPass then don't use it, I dint think it will be a requirement. What a great feeling it will be to walk through the gates and know that regardless of the crowds and lines and before you ever get a Fastpass ticket you are guaranteed at least 3-4 attractions. Yes it might tie you up a little more  from being able  to go here or there when you want, but at the end of the day everyone's goal is the same--get on and see as many attractions as possible-- and from the sounds of this, XPass sounds like it will help get this done.

  • I was never against this idea- it seems like a great new innovation, and would definitely improve first-time guests satisfaciton. For those who say that it "takes away spontaneity-" Nobody is forcing you to use it! It is not that different from a Fastpass- you just sign up to use it in advance, and can do up to four.

    Sure, there might be a few kinks to work out, but all in all I think that this would be a great improvement. It's not like you're planning out your day to the minute! It is no different than using four Fastpasses.

    Also, Jim, someone might have asked this before, but is there any possibility of the so-called "Xpass" being used at Disneyland? Just wondering. :)

  • I wanted to say it again.  If you have concerns about the rumors, let the people at Disney who can make the decisions about this know how you feel.  I would guess these are the higher up executives, the board of directors, the major stockholders.  I don't think that any of our comments on a fan's blog is going to cause that much concern to the company.  Make a rational case for your concerns.  Also, who is willing to vote with your dollars about this?  Will this change affect your decision to go back to the parks?  If not, then the company will continue to keep making decisions trying to enhance their business to try get the most people to come to their parks to spend more of their money.

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