You don’t need a blog post to know that Disney World is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. After all, Tom Brady doesn’t shout, “I’m going to Six Flags Magic Mountain!” after winning the Super Bowl. As far as I can tell, Disney has earned its reputation as the happiest place on Earth by doing two things better than everyone else, one obvious, one less so. The obvious one is customer service training. Every character is always “on,” every employee knows where every ride in the park can be found. And everyone smiles, no matter how hot it gets.
But I would argue that one of the big keys to Disney’s success is something you’re not aware of as you experience it: line management. With close to 20 million visitors per year, the Magic Kingdom is one of the most visited sites in the world, yet everything seems to run smoothly. Disney invests millions of dollars every year in logistics, and it shows. Nevertheless, no matter how good they are, you’re going to be waiting in some lines, particularly if you show up on a weekend or during a holiday period. How you manage them, however, is up to you, and there are still plenty of ways to “work the system.” FastPass+ is one of them.
(Note: While I can give you a number of tips, there is no way that any person can list everything there is to know about FastPass+. In a perfect world, this thread will serve as a resource that anyone can comment on with their ideas.)
In the beginning (or at least in 1999), there was FastPass, a reservation system that allowed you to choose a ride, get a “reservation” and jump almost to the front of the line. And Disney saw that it was good, so it created FastPass+.
FastPass+ is the digital version of the original FastPass. You can choose up to three rides, experiences or character meets and reserve a time, generally a one-hour window, during which you can show up and use a special line, which is rarely more than five minutes. After using up your three FastPasses, you can get additional ones, one at a time, which must be done through the kiosks found around. Disney will actually give you several options to most efficiently use your FastPasses, but you can do whatever you like with them.
Managing Your FastPass+ Choices
Fortunately, not everything has to be done at one of four kiosks in the park. Disney created the app My Disney Experience, which allows you to manage everything online or on your smart phone. You must download this app. It will make your life much, much easier at the park. You will get a list of the FastPasses that you chose, have the ability to switch them and see wait times at the various rides. When it comes time to use your FastPass, you’ll scan the card that Disney sent you or your Magic Band, a bracelet you can purchase for $12.95 (or that you’ll get for free if you stay at a Disney property). There’s nothing you can do with the Band, however, that you can’t do with your card, so there’s no need to buy one.
Making Your FastPass+ Choices
Guests staying at a Disney property can make their FastPass+ selections sixty days in advance, while everyone else gets thirty days. If you want any shot at getting a FastPass for a popular ride, you must make your choices as soon as possible and, even then, you might not get your first choices, unless you can choose sixty days out. On my most recent trip, we did not stay at a Disney property and, at T+3o, there were no FastPasses available for some of the Princesses (particularly those named Elsa and Anna) and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, our kids’ first choices.
The most popular FastPass choices generally fall into two categories: roller coasters and princesses. They are consistently at the top of the “Wait Time” list, which you can check anytime on the My Disney Experience app (including right now):
If you’re thinking about the most popular rides when you were a kid, the first one that will come to mind is Space Mountain. It’s still popular, but the lines move quickly enough that you’ve probably got a good 30-40 minutes after the park opens before the lines really build there, since the park is emptiest the hour after it opens and the hour before it closes (although it gets much better after 5 pm). For most of the day, the two longest lines will be at Seven Dwarfs and Peter Pan, so if you want them and get FastPasses, you’re in pretty good shape because, by midday, the wait times will look like this:
The last thing you want is to be waiting over an hour in the midday sun (or even the shade, another thing that Disney does well) while your kids are screaming for $7 lemonades. Every family will have different “rides of choice,” but if you’re willing to do Space Mountain first and be done with it, hit Tomorrowland first thing in the morning and try to visit the three most popular rides there: Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear and the Tomorrowland Speedway. You can then cut off a whole corner of the park for the rest of the day. If you are not, however, able to get a FastPass for your favorite ride, do that ride first. It “sold out” for a reason.
Next tip: No FastPasses for the first hour. Yes, you may have to wait in lines, but they’ll be a heck of a lot shorter than than those same rides later in the day. If you start your FastPasses around 10 am, you’ll have a few hours of short lines before lunch. It’s a nice feeling.
Speaking of which, if possible, book your FastPasses for the morning. There are two reasons for this. First, if the lines for your ride are short, you can cancel the FastPass on your phone and rebook it for a ride later in the day. Second, after using all three FastPasses, you can still get more at the kiosks. You’ll only get one at a time, but most of the “very popular, but not uber-popular rides,” such as It’s a Small World, Dumbo and a few of the “minor” princesses will still have availability. If your FastPasses are all scheduled for the afternoon, you’ll be waiting in lines all morning.
You don’t have to guess at what rides will be the most popular. Remember, you can download the My Disney Experience app at any time and get real-time updates on lines whenever you like. You don’t have to be at the park! So do a little research to see what lines look like throughout the day. You’re going to spend thousands of dollars on this vacation, so get the most you can out of it. Not only will your planning help you pick the most popular rides but it will also help you avoid wasting valuable Passes on a ride with a short line. Yes, you want to take your kid on the Prince Charming Regal Carousel, but there are 90 horses on that thing. You’re not going to be waiting long for it.
A few other rides tend to get long lines, including Winnie the Pooh, Pirates of the Caribbean, Dumbo and The Jungle Cruise. These are excellent uses of the FastPasses that you pick up at the kiosks after you go through your first three.
Save “shows” for the middle of the day. Disney has gone way beyond the Tiki Birds and Carousel of Progress, although those are still favorites (that never have a line). Be sure to check out Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor and Mickey’s Philharmagic.* Not only are they engaging for both adults and kids but they are also in air-conditioned theaters.
As I said at the start, this post can only scratch the surface of the best ways to use your FastPass+. I’d love to hear your comments and suggestions, and create a resource for everyone to use.
*Mickey’s Philharmagic is my new favorite Disney “ride.” It’s actually a 12-minute 3D (or as they call it, 4D) show involving Disney characters and Disney songs. I don’t want to give too much away, but this may be the single-best 3D production that I’ve ever seen. We saw it five times in two days and it never got boring.