Here’s praise, criticism, and a suggestion for Disney’s Fast Pass system.
Disney offers Fast Passes – a paper ticket reservation system – in each theme park, allowing guests to bypass the long line on selected popular attractions. Rides with a Fast Pass option have a kiosk near the entrance. Guests slide their daily admission ticket into a machine, and it spits out a Fast Pass “reservation” for a one-hour window sometime in the future. A visitor with a Fast Pass for a ride might be able to cut a one-hour wait time down to 10 minutes or less.
Disney created a workable scheduling system. Guests receive only one Fast Pass at a time. If the one-hour window occurs in less than two hours, another Fast Pass may be secured after the start time. (Example: At 1 p.m., you receive a Fast Pass for 1:30 to 2:30. You may get your next Fast Pass after 1:30 even if you haven’t used the first Fast Pass yet.) Alternately, a Fast Pass may be secured after two hours. (Example: At 1 p.m., you get a Fast Pass effective for 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. You may get a second Fast Pass, however, after 3 p.m.) Confused? Read the Fast Pass. It tells you when you qualify for another one.
The system empowers visitors to pick a handful of must-see rides. It also allows guest to spend more time in other lines or shopping – a perk for Disney, perhaps, more than the guests.
The Fast Pass system discriminates against older adults, the disabled, and visitors who want to treat a Disney vacation like, well, a vacation. Even for healthy guests, it adds miles of walking onto an already long day. It forces guests to choose between convenience and comfort.
Each Fast Pass ride allocates a specific number of Fast Passes per hour. At 9 a.m., an extremely popular ride, such as Animal Kingdom’s Expedition Everest, may pump out a reservation that allows a guest to return between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. However, at 11 a.m., the Fast Pass return time could be 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. That means a guest walked to the ride at 11 a.m. to get the Fast Pass (and Everest isn’t close to anything) and then walked back later in the day to ride it. That’s a lot of walking.
But here’s the real kicker: Fast Passes sell out.
Once a ride gives out its full daily dose of Fast Passes, the machines shut down. Assume you were on the other side of the park, considered three different rides, but decided Everest was the top choice for your next Fast Pass. You walk a quarter mile and get in a short Fast Pass line at Everest. The machines’ quota sells out just before you get to the front. The person in front of you gets a Fast Pass – you don’t. Or perhaps it sold out before you arrived.
You’re out of luck – the quarter-mile hike was worthless – and you’re back to Square One: Do you walk to another ride to get a Fast Pass or toss your arms in the air and decide to just wait in lines? Walk or give up? Walk or give up? For all you know, the next ride could be sold out of Fast Passes too. It’s not a fun decision.
The problem has an easy fix – allow guests to get a Fast Pass for any park ride from any Fast Pass kiosk.
Once in front of a computer screen, a guest would see the rides still offering a Fast Pass, the reservation time offered, and the wait time for people without a Fast Pass. He selects a ride and a Fast Pass pops out. Under this system, guests secure a Fast Pass without hiking, avoid the disappointment of a sold-out ride upon arrival, and can pick an alternative ride without scuffing more rubber off their sneakers.
And, in a mutual win for Disney, it opens up even more time for shopping.