Things are constantly changing at Disney World. Over the past few months, we’ve seen various restaurants reopen, Park Hopping has returned, some drink stations are back to being self-serve again, and some things at the parks have returned to “normal.”
But, when we think about things that are still missing from the parks since the reopening, there’s one BIG thing that comes to mind — FastPass+. When Disney World reopened, FastPass+ was suspended. Will Disney bring back FastPass+ anytime soon? We’re going to break down where we’re at now with FastPass+, what we know so far, and where we think Disney is headed.
Where We’re At Now
FastPass+ Has Been Temporarily Suspended
According to Disney, the FastPass+ service was suspended because they are utilizing “additional queue space to manage capacity at [their attractions] and maintain physical distancing.” What this means is that Disney is saving the FastPass+ line space in case it needs it to spread out guests in the attraction’s line and ensure social distancing.
So, when you go to visit the park, does that mean you’ll be placed in the actual FastPass+ queue? Not really. In our experience, the FastPass+ queue space has been used primarily for those utilizing the Disability Access Service as well as Club 33 members. Disney may also use the FastPass+ queue space for rider switch, No Strings Attached passes, and other occasional needs as well.
So basically the FastPass+ lines are empty aside from the occasional guest. But if Disney were to need that extra space to make sure guests in line are socially distanced from one another, Disney has the ability to potentially use the FastPass+ queue as additional space. The thing is, that hasn’t happened. With incredibly few exceptions, we haven’t set foot in FastPass lines since the parks reopened (The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in Magic Kingdom comes to mind, but the queue is routed through a portion of the FastPass queue out of necessity to avoid touching the interactive honey walls). Even on busy days when attractions have lines spilling out far into the lands they inhabit, the FastPass lines typically remain mostly empty.
FastPass+ Removed from My Disney Experience
When you check the app, you won’t find the FastPass+ feature there as you used to.
Many of Our Readers Think FastPass+ Won’t Be Brought Back in 2020
Last year, we asked our readers “Do you think Disney World will bring back FastPass+ by the end of 2020?”and 68% of our readers who responded felt that FastPass+ would NOT be brought back in 2020. That turned out to be accurate. We are now part-way through 2021, and FastPass+ has not yet returned.
Some of our readers thought that the return of FastPass+ might be necessary as crowds at the parks increased. Others, however, told us that they hope FastPass+ NEVER comes back! Several of those readers indicated that they felt FastPass+ was unfair or too stressful as it required planning your trip months in advance.
FastPass+ Signs Removed
Over the past few months, we’ve seen some FastPass+ signs removed from Disney World rides, like Kilimanjaro Safaris in Disney’s Animal Kingdom…
…and The Jungle Cruise in Magic Kingdom.
Now, these could be removed simply for routine maintenance, but it’s unclear right now what’s going on with the removal of these signs.
In April of 2021, we also experienced a glitch related to Fastpass+. On My Disney Experience, we saw a button show up that prompted us to select our FastPasses, right next to where we would make our other reservations.
When we hovered over the icon, the FastPass+ option even became clickable, and a button popped up that said “Make a Selection”!!
But, when we clicked it, it just took us back to the park information home page. Only some of our team experienced this glitch on their accounts, while others didn’t see this option even become available, so it’s unclear what caused this.
So, that’s a quick recap of where we’re at now. You can’t make a FastPass+ reservation for a current or future trip at all and the reason they seemingly suspended FastPass — to utilize the queues — isn’t quite happening the way it sounded like it would. What could cause Disney to bring back the FastPass+ system and are there some signs that may point to a change in the future? Here’s what we’ve seen.
Is a Change Coming?
Disney previously increased capacity at its parks in Disney World to 35% (up from 25%). Due to changes in local Orange County, Florida regulations and potentially due to changes made by the Governor of the state of Florida, Disney may be able to reduce social distancing soon and, as a result, increase capacity again. In fact, one study indicates that theme parks can reduce social distancing guidelines to 3 feet.
Will Disney reduce its social distancing guidelines and/or increase capacity? That remains to be seen. Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek had previously noted that whether Disney will be able to increase capacity is reallygoing to be determined by the rate of vaccinations of the public. That statement was originally made back in February of this year.
More individuals across the United States have become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. Mayor Demings has indicated that in Orange County, Florida alone, 43.4% of eligible residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine so far. Disney may decide to increase capacity in the future (although no change has been announced yet).
Could an increase in capacity lead to a change with FastPass+?
On the one hand, you could argue that with increased capacity, and therefore the opportunity for more guests to be in the park at the same time, Disney will delay the return of FastPass+ as they will still need the ability to use the additional FastPass+ queue space to manage their standby lines and maintain physical distancing for an even greater number of guests.
On the other hand, you could say that this increase in capacity may lead Disney to bring back FastPass+, particularly if lines start to get really long, as it could potentially help control how many guests are in any one line at a particular time. Basically, instead of having everyone run to Splash Mountain (or another popular attraction) in the morning, it’s possible that fewer guests would go to that popular ride directly if they have a FastPass+ for it later in the day.
Instead, those guests could ride other attractions during that morning rush, while those without a FastPass+ for the popular attractions remain in the standby lines for those rides, potentially spreading guests out more throughout the park.
One issue with bringing back FastPass+, however, is that Disney would have to manage TWO sides of each line with physical distancing which could be very difficult. That could mean the introduction of even more plexiglass in more queues throughout Disney World. But then again, if they just expanded the stand-by queues into the FastPass queues, wouldn’t they have to do the same thing?
Disney would also have to ensure social distancing across both lines on an attraction even in the instance where there are delays, like when a ride hits a cleaning cycle. That could cause both the FastPass+ and standby queue to be longer, meaning even more guests would have to be accounted for on two different sides of the same queue. If the queues spill out outside of the attraction buildings, that could also be an issue.
Right now, if the line for Peter Pan’s Flight, for example, spills outside of the attraction (because of all the social distancing requirements), the Cast Members can simply wrap the line around the outside of the attraction, but that can then cause the whole walkway to feel a bit more cramped (especially if the line for “it’s a small world” also extends outside of its interior building).
Imagine how much more complicated and crowded things would be if there was not just one but TWO lines spilling out of the same attraction in potentially two different directions. That’s something Disney can’t simply ignore. It’s something they’d have to plan and be prepared for if they do decide to reintroduce FastPass+.
Some of those ride queues can already be quite confusing. Click here to see our DFB map of Magic Kingdom that has some helpful information!
This goes hand-in-hand with the above point, but increased crowd levels in the parks could affect the return of FastPass+ again for all the same reasons stated above, as it means Disney would have to ensure there is enough queue space to maintain social distancing with even more guests.
Last year, Disney shared that Thanksgiving week was almost booked to its full 35% capacity. And earlier this year, we saw some of the BIGGEST crowds in Disney World that we’ve seen since the parks reopened.
It seems lots of people are still traveling to Orlando and its theme parks. In fact, the Orange County Mayor noted last year that people are still traveling to Orlando and, in his opinion, will continue to come. He also noted that Orlando International Airport was the second busiest airport in the nation on a particular day last year as well. Despite the situation with the global pandemic, Florida was STILL leading as one of the biggest travel destinations for the 2020 holiday season.
But, we’ve also seen some days with very low crowds, or days where the crowd levels have surprised us. For example, the crowds were actually surprisingly much lower on the day before Thanksgiving than what we expected. We’re not sure exactly why that was the case.
Again, large crowds could push Disney to ultimately bring back — or delay — the return of FastPass+ for the reasons we discussed above.
Click here to see our photos of the crowds in Disney World during the early part of Thanksgiving week!
Park Hopping is Back
Another thing that did not come back with the Disney World reopening is Park Hopping. But, in 2021, Park Hopping returned with some modifications. Could that mean that FastPass+ will be coming back too? The return of Park Hopping could potentially show that Disney is working on bringing back some of the things that have been suspended since the parks reopened.
Josh D’Amaro, Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products has noted that Disney does plan to bring back some of its currently discontinued entertainment offerings in the future. And Disney has announced that Festival of the Lion King will be coming back this summer (with modifications).
So, it seems Disney is very much aware of the things that have been discontinued in the parks and may be looking at ways to bring some of them back. It’s possible that FastPass+ is on that list for consideration.
If Disney does bring back FastPass+ under the new Park Hopping system, they might make some specific modifications. For example, they might limit guests to only making FastPass+ reservations at the park where they have a Park Pass reservation (the first park the guest plans to visit) as Park Hopping to another park is not guaranteed at the moment and will depend entirely on availability (although we haven’t really experienced too many issues with finding availability to Park Hop).
For the time being, Park Hopping has returned but FastPass+ has not.
One thing that could indicate FastPass+ will make an eventual return, however, is a survey that was sent out to guests later in 2020. The survey asked about a few services that have been suspended in Disney World, including FastPass+, and how the absence of these services affected the guest’s experience in the parks.
The mere fact that Disney is asking about FastPass+ and whether the absence of it had any kind of impact on a guest’s vacation shows that they are considering this service and what it means (or doesn’t mean) in terms of guest satisfaction. If Disney receives an overwhelming amount of responses one way or the other, it may impact their decision on when, how, or whether FastPass+ will be brought back.
In other aspects of its business, however, Disney appears to have left out any mention of FastPass+ whatsoever — whether that’s intentional or not. For example, in 2020 we got a preview of the NEW Disney Genie planning app, which is meant to help guests easily plan their trips to Disney World, and even adjust their plans while in the parks on a whim. One thing that didn’t really appear to be specifically referenced during this presentation…is FastPass+.
The previews of the app shown didn’t appear to say anything at all about FastPass+ or making a FastPass+ reservation. Instead, it showed an itinerary which you could update and provided estimated arrival and standby times.
Previous concept art of Disney Genie, however, did include mentions of FastPass+. You can see it referenced near Avatar Flight of Passage on the phone to the left, and near Under the Sea — Journey of The Little Mermaid on the right phone.
What we saw was only a preview though, so a determination can’t be based on this alone. It’s possible that its omission from the recent preview doesn’t really mean anything, or it could mean that Disney is purposefully shifting away from showing FastPass+ in this app, in the event it is suspended for an extended period of time or potentially never brought back.
Could the Disney Genie system take over FastPass+, where instead of making any kind of set reservation, you operate on more of a dynamic itinerary that can help you get the most out of your day while offering more flexibility than a set FastPass+ reservation would? Too little is known about Disney Genie at this time to say either way.
In early 2021, Disney once again mentioned the Disney Genie and noted that it would be coming soon in Disney World, but no mention of FastPass+ was really made. Instead, during the interview, Josh D’Amaro, the current Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products, noted that guests will be able to tell the Disney Genie what they’d like to do and it will present the guest with a plan for an optimal day.
Could the Disney Genie allow for more constant updates about what path or option may be best, and possibly set guests up for success in a way that would enable them to ride more attractions than if they had reservations for just their three daily allotted pre-booked FastPasses? It’s certainly possible. We’ll have to wait for more information on the Genie to see what the future holds.
Standby Pass/Boarding Groups
We’ve seen a virtual queue standby pass experience utilized for some attractions at both Disneyland Paris and Shanghai Disneyland. Under this system, guests can make an online reservation for a participating attraction with a specific time frame selected. During these certain hours, the Disney Standby Pass is the only way to access select attractions. Could we see this system implemented in Disney World instead of the return of FastPass+? It’s possible.
It could help guests plan their days and “reserve” a time to ride certain key rides without actually having to physically take up space in line. Overall, that could be slightly better for Disney in terms of controlling their lines and physical distancing as those guests (who would normally also be in a physical line) could be spread out elsewhere as they wait for their virtual queue standby pass to be called.
Another somewhat similar system we’ve seen used already in Disney World is the Boarding Group system used at Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. While the Boarding Group system may help limit the number of guests that can ride a certain attraction in one day, and thus help spread out guests in the park, an increased use of this system could also cause issues for Disney if the system utilized to “reserve” a spot on a ride makes getting a ride reservation as difficult as it is to get a Boarding Group for Rise of the Resistance.
Now, there may be many factors contributing to why it is so difficult to get a boarding group for Rise of the Resistance including lower ride capacity (particularly before the plexiglass was installed) and the technical difficulties the ride frequently experiences. And Disney has taken some steps to make getting a Boarding Group easier. But, if getting a boarding group for something like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train or Peter Pan’s Flight becomes very difficult (maybe as difficult as getting on to Rise of the Resistance or close to it), you could see guests getting quite upset. So, we expect Disney will consider all of its options carefully before expanding the Boarding Group system.
Click here to read about the recent changes made to the Rise of the Resistance Boarding Group system!
Josh D’Amaro’s Statements
Some of Josh D’Amaro’s statements, however, makes us feel like SOME kind of FastPass+, reservation, or planning system may come to Disney World is the future.
During the 2020 International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Expo, Josh D’Amaro gave a keynote speech where he said, “Do you really have to wait in line? Why can’t guests choose exactly what they want to do when they want to do it? After all, isn’t this what our millennials expect of us today? Why can’t a trip to Walt Disney World be simple?”
Could Josh be referring to the return of FastPass+ or perhaps a modified version of the system? Was this a reference to the Disney Genie app? Or perhaps virtual queues or boarding groups? It’s not clear. One thing that is certain is most guests don’t want to wait in lines and right now, that’s their only option.
But it does seem that something may be coming — perhaps not immediately, but at some point (maybe years into the future) that will allow guests to, “choose exactly what they want to do when they want to do it” and, presumably, maintain any safety or health procedures in place at the time.
Click here to read more about Josh D’Amaro’s exciting (and even some eyebrow-raising) statements during the recent IAAPA Expo!
So, what’s the big takeaway here? There’s definitely a potential to see FastPass+ return, particularly as crowds increase and lines get longer — but Disney will have to overcome logistical hurdles regarding health and safety (lines, plexiglass, how to socially distance people on both sides, etc) AND Disney may decide that a modified or totally different version of “ride reservations” (virtual queues, boarding groups, etc.) may be better than FastPass+ and we may see that implemented instead.
Josh D’Amaro’s statements, however, make it seem like SOMETHING is in the works that will help guests plan out their days and do what they want when they want. What will that system be exactly? It’s unclear. But we’re looking forward to finding out.
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What do you think about FastPass+ and its potential return to Disney World? Let us know in the comments!