Today Walt Disney World theme parks have begun actively enforcing a rule that was often bent since the debut of the FASTPASS system in 1999. Return times listed on FASTPASS tickets are now strictly enforced, no longer allowing theme park guests to use a FASTPASS at their leisure.
Guests obtain free FASTPASS tickets by inserting theme park tickets into FASTPASS machines, in return getting a one-hour time window that allows them to bypass the normal standby lines of many popular Disney attractions, rides, and shows – essentially a ride reservation. But while the beginning of that window was always strictly adhered to, not allowing guests to use a FASTPASS beforehand, the ending time was almost always overlooked, giving guests the opportunity to return at their convenience any time after the FASTPASS becomes valid.
But as of today, Walt Disney World is now enforcing both the beginning and end times, allowing guests holding a FASTPASS to only return during the one-hour window stated on the FASTPASS slip. It may sound like an undesirable change that will further limit flexibility in a busy theme park schedule, but it’s not actually a new rule. Though the return time window has often been ignored, the basis of the FASTPASS system lies within this return window. It’s simply now Walt Disney World’s decision to finally start enforcing the rule that’s been there since the beginning. And though it will affect regulars who know how to use the FASTPASS leniency to their advantage, most Walt Disney World guests already do return during the designated time window and likely won’t notice much of a difference.
There will always be, of course, exceptions to the rule. If an attraction becomes temporarily closed or guests are somehow otherwise prevented from visiting an attraction due to circumstances out of their control, Cast Members stationed at FASTPASS return areas will surely continue Disney’s long-standing tradition of doing whatever they can to make guests happy. But it does mean guests will need to pay closer attention to posted return times when grabbing a FASTPASS in the first place, as to not overlap times with dining reservations, parades, or anything else that might draw attention away from the desired attraction.
To make the change clear to theme park regulars who are used to disregarding the second time printed on a FASTPASS, Disney has added signs to FASTPASS machines property-wide, like this one:
The daily time and information guide that accompanies theme park maps also has added a note that reads:
“To ensure you have the best experience possible, please remember to return to FASTPASS attractions within your return time window (printed on FASTPASS tickets).”
FASTPASS tickets also now include the phrase, “Not able to accommodate late arrivals.”
Walt Disney World is certainly making it clear to all visitors that the former lax treatment of FASTPASS rules is no longer available and that all guests will need to strictly adhere to the FASTPASS rules. But why the sudden change of attitude?
Just over a year ago, in February 2011 at a Disney investors conference, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts chairman Tom Staggs confirmed Disney is working on a system from which those planning a trip to Walt Disney World will be able to make ride reservations from outside the parks, even from home before the trip begins.
Staggs said, “…we are currently developing an innovative system that will, in essence, create a version of FASTPASS for their entire Disney vacations. Now we define the guest experience as beginning from the time a potential guest sits down at a computer or picks up a phone to make a reservation. […] They’ll be able to create a personalized itinerary that gives them the exact Disney vacation they want.”
Though that revelation was met with mixed reactions from Disney theme park fans, it’s likely that the new FASTPASS rule enforcement is directly related to the yet-to-be-revealed ride reservation system, rumored to be dubbed “X-Pass” or “xPass” (or a variety of other names). With Disney planning to add a more advanced ride reservation ability, the current FASTPASS system must be completely under their control, knowing exactly when and how many guests will be returning, expecting to “skip” the line.
The change is likely to cause some frustration among those who have grown used to the convenience of using a FASTPASS any time later in the day, but ultimately just as FASTPASS was a revolutionary addition to the parks in the late ’90s, the new “xPass” system (or whatever it might be called) is being designed to revolutionize, enhance, and minimize the act of mindlessly waiting in line, allowing for more entertainment and enjoyment out of a Disney theme park visit.