One Band’s Dream | Why Walt would have loved the idea of Magic Bands and FastPass+

I tend to give Disney the benefit of the doubt in most cases. I want to think that Walt’s grand idea of a magical place for families to come and enjoy is still the driving force behind the company. When listening to responses to Fast Pass+ and Magic Bands however, that doesn't seem to be a popular viewpoint. So I am going to come to the defense of these programs and try and offer a slightly more optimistic point of view. Our History with FastPasses When my wife and I visited Disney way back in 2001, we were so pleased to discover the original FastPass system. We had both been to the parks as kids and worked our way through high school at Six Flags Over Georgia, so we were expecting crowds and long lines. That was just part of the park experience, and we accepted it. When we went to our first attraction, we were issued a ticket, and told to come back in about an hour and we wouldn’t have to wait in the line. We were blown away. In that moment, Disney had changed the industry forever. This little perk did eventually make it to our local Six Flags Park in the form of a “Flash Pass” which cost roughly $40 per person, in addition to admission. Universal Studios also implemented a “front-of-the-line” access program, eventually limiting it to onsite resort guests or through a premium paid service. Still Disney continued to offer its original FastPass service at no additional cost. Jump ahead to 2013. Disney started tests on a new Fast Pass+ program, and the outcry was immediate. I was as apprehensive as anyone else. Only 3 passes per day? Was Disney trying to find a way to charge for extra FastPasses? Was the full FastPass service going to become a premium service like at Six Flags or only for top tier guests like at Universal? For some reason, everyone began to think the worst about this company who has always been considered the best, in terms of customer service and guest satisfaction. Our family’s first full experience with the new program was in September of 2014, and we loved it. After a couple of quirky issues getting into our room, the use of the Magic Bands became second nature. The real difference, however, was with the FastPass+ changes. The new program affected the pace of our trip in a way we never imagined. Here’s a look at our day at Epcot. Epcot with FastPass+ As usual our day started at rope drop. We had reserved our first three FastPasses ahead of time for “Test Track”, “Mission Space”, and “Nemo”. When the gates opened, we went straight for “Soarin”, but this time at a leisurely pace because I wasn’t splitting off and running to get “Test Track” FastPasses for later. After waiting stand-by for “Soarin”, we headed to “Nemo” where we had plenty of time to enjoy the ride as well as the aquarium and play areas. Normally we would have been rushing the kids out the door to get to “Test Track” before our FastPasses expired. This time, however, we were able to watch the manatees eating, we took everyone’s picture in the giant jaws of Bruce the shark, and we even walked around the gift shop before heading out. Montage Next we made our way across to the “Test Track” area, enjoying the sights and wonders of Future World along the way. We used our FastPasses for “Test Track” and had plenty of time to experience the post ride attractions and gift shop before moving on to “Mission Space”. For the first time in 5 trips we actually had time to visit the post ride attractions at “Mission Space”, and the kids fell in love with the playground and game consoles in mission control. We had now used all of our advance reservation FastPasses, so we hit the FastPass kiosk. We added a pass for “Figment” because we were headed that way next. When we reached the ride however, there was no line, so rather than waste the FastPass I was able to easily change it over to “Maelstrom” from my iPhone app. After “Figment”, we made our way leisurely around the world showcase. When the time for our “Maelstrom” FastPass came up, we were nowhere close to Norway, so I simply pushed the reservation back an hour in the app. This was much better than me running ahead to get FastPasses for the family or waiting until we passed Norway to get FastPasses only to back track later and ride it before dinner. By the end of the day, we had ridden all the rides we wanted at least once, and we enjoyed our time between the rides like never before. We discovered a number of things, particularly in the World Showcase, that we had never done before because we were always racing to our next FastPass window. For all of the groaning and complaining about the new system, it absolutely improved our park experience. As long as it remains a service available to all guests at no extra charge, I think it holds true to Walt’s original vision for the parks. I was able to spend more time enjoying my family and less time leaving them behind to go and claim another FastPass ticket. We spent more time enjoying the magic of the parks and less time prodding and hurrying the kids along to our next stop before our FastPasses expired. The “Dark” Side of FastPass+ As much as we enjoyed our experience with FastPass+, Disney has also been testing another, even more controversial, part of the program. The FastPass-Only option eliminates the stand-by line entirely. Disney has tested this method on a couple of attractions in the past few months with harsh reactions from guests. Even hard core Disney fans who have supported the FastPass+ changes are wary of this option. Again, the naysayers are quick to accuse Disney of ruining the park experience and forcing too much pre-planning on guests. Many are still convinced that the whole system is a ploy to monetize the FastPass program. Here's what I think. The Optimists View The way I see it, this is Disney, once again, trying to do what it does best. If Disney can work out the details and make this program work, it will change and improve the theme park experience forever. Imagine if you will a Disney World theme park with “no lines”. To ride an attraction, simply pull up your app or find a kiosk and make a reservation. If the next time isn’t for 45 minutes, you can enjoy other parts of the park for those 45 minutes until your ride time. How is that not better than standing in line? With the stand-by line running alongside the FastPass+ line, there are a smaller number of spaces available for FastPass+ reservations. By eliminating the stand-by line, all of those spaces are now available for FastPass+ users. As long as Disney can work out this system so that anyone who wants to experience an attraction can get a FastPass+ reservation, how is this not an improvement? The limit of three advanced FastPass+ reservations, the multiple tier system for ride classifications, the elimination of the stand-by line, all of these policies that fans are griping and complaining about are steps toward balancing the system so that everyone can have an opportunity to experience every attraction they want to without spending half of their park day waiting in lines. If they can pull this off, not only have they made the guest experience more enjoyable, they have suddenly released thousands of Disney fans from the cages of their stand-by lines to spend more time in retail shops and restaurants. So there is no need to charge extra for the program. The Conclusion In the end, give the company we love so much the credit it deserves. Have faith in Disney. Find hope in the dream that Walt built of a magical place for families to come and enjoy together. And trust that, with a little Pixie Dust, they can once again change the industry for the better and improve the guest experience for everyone. It’s a lofty dream, but one that Walt would have loved.
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