Universal Express vs. Disney's FastPass+: Two different ways to look at a vacation
Which type of vacation sounds better to you?
One option: You are assured of getting on all the attractions you want to see because you've reserved ride times for each of them, in advance. Your lunch and dinners are reserved, too. In fact, all of your meals and snacks are included in the cost of your hotel room, which can range from mid-range to luxury prices. It's pretty much an all-inclusive vacation, with all your activities scheduled in advance, for worry-free enjoyment during your trip.
The other option: You don't have to worry about waiting in lines on your vacation, because when you show your room key, you get to skip them. There's no need to schedule anything in advance, just show up whenever you like and go to the front of the line for nearly-immediate boarding. You can reserve meal times in advance, too, but that's another phone call, and there aren't that many places that take reservations, anyway. Most dining is counter-service, and if you want an "all-inclusive" option, you can buy an additional, inexpensive "all you can eat" plan. But it's honored only at a few, selected locations. The skip-the-lines perks is available only at a limited number of hotels, which start at upper-mid-range go up from there. But if you can afford that, and get a room, it's no worries about ride and show lines or reservations for the rest of your trip.
Regular readers of Theme Park Insider will recognize these options as the (new) Walt Disney World and (existing) Universal Orlando models, respectively. They fascinate me because they really do represent two different views of what a relaxing vacation should be: one where everything's planned in advance, and one in which planning isn't necessary.
Not only that, I think it's fascinating to think ahead about how these plans will influence the future of the Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando resorts.
Here's another big difference between these approaches: Walt Disney World's scales, while Universal Orlando's does not. Walt Disney World can continue to add more and more people to its now-very-limited FastPass+ system, scheduling more people into more attraction times at more locations in its parks, replacing the current paper Fastpass reservation times it now distributes. Conceivably, it even could make Fastpass+ a requirement for all visitors, forcing everyone to schedule every attraction visit in advance.
Universal Orlando, however, can't add many more people to its Universal Express line-skipping plan without creating significant waits in the supposedly-no-wait Universal Express bypass queues. That's why, when Universal Orlando announced plans for a fourth on-site hotel, it noted that guests there would not be getting the free Universal Express perk with those rooms. Universal has hit its limit with free Universal Express. The system simply won't scale beyond what it now is.
But hitting the limit does bring one advantage over Disney's system. Universal's system is sustainable. It can go on offering its Universal Express perk to guests at those three hotels pretty much forever, if it would like. The easy scalability of Disney's approach eventually will force it into a sustainability problem. What happens even those ride reservations are "sold out"? You can't keep selling tickets into the park then.
Fastpass+ either will need to be capped, a la Universal's plan, to allow for reasonable stand-by wait times, or it inevitably will force Disney into a system where it must require visitors to specify a date for their visit. Days where all the Fastpass+ reservations are claimed would be days that are "sold out" and no one could buy admission to the park. Since popular dates likely would sell out far in advance, it wouldn't surprise me to see Disney then implement a variable pricing scheme, where park admission on certain dates cost more than on others.
Gaming out the future of Fastpass+ is like watching dominoes fall. If Disney goes with variable pricing, what happens to existing tickets? Disney's always said that a non-expiring ticket is good for admission on any day when the park is open. Now, Disney easily could deny admission to someone with an old "no-expire" ticket on a sold-out day. But it couldn't easily demand that a customer pays extra to use that ticket on an "upcharge" day. With so many no-expire tickets out there, even a variable pricing plan might not keep popular vacation periods from "selling out" far in advance.
So the only other solution is to increase capacity. Hello, Cars Land East. And Avatar Land. And Star Wars Land. Any anything else Disney can envision to increase its parks capacity. Which would be great for theme park fans, unless Disney's bean counters start enforcing a "quantity over quality" approach, only approving new developments that might make California Adventure 1.0 and the woeful Walt Disney Studios Paris parks look like dream destinations in comparison.
And what of people who don't get these perks? With Universal already hitting its limit, the future seems to be the same as it ever was over there. Perhaps Universal will play around more with pay-per-use ride reservation systems, as it has this year. But if Disney expands Fastpass+ beyond the capacity of its current Fastpass system, as it appears bent on doing with all the Fastpass+ infrastructure we're seeing going into non-Fastpass attraction at the resort, visitors who don't use Fastpass+ might be facing longer and longer stand-by waits as a result. At some point, not participating in Fastpass+ might not be a viable option if you want an enjoyable theme park vacation.
So whats the best solution? Honestly, I don't know. So long as I can afford a room at Universal's Royal Pacific, I love being able to skip the lines at that resort. But I totally see the appeal of locking in my no-wait ride times at top Disney World attractions, too, especially if I don't have to book an on-site hotel room to do it.
Let's throw it open for discussion. What do you see the logistics of Orlando theme park vacations changing, as a result of Fastpass+? And how will you, and your family, probably react? Let's talk in the comments.
It's not even close. Universal by a landslide. I despise having to book everything in advance while on "VACATION". Vacation then becomes like work, schedules for most everything. I want leisure and spontaniety while on vacation. Reading many of the Disney oriented web sites, it appears that hard core Disneyphiles are turned off by what they have heard about Fast Pass+. Working around dining reservations is bad enough. Universal does it right.
You outlined the issue very well. I love Universal's system and always stay at the royal pacific. (I've tried their other two hotels, and don't like them as much as the RP. Bonus is that it's the cheapest one.) As much as I love their express system, I hate their all you can eat meals. The places that honor it are the lousiest of the restaurants. It's just not worth it.
A vacation where you have to adjust your visit to many scheduled appoinments for nearly every ride/show/meal is really a vacation?
For now, I still think the best Fastpass at any theme park chain is Disney's free Fastpass. You don't have to stay on site and you don't have to pay anything extra. It is truly free. You just show up and use the system. Furthermore, it is available on all headliner attractions.
Fastpass+ by a landslide. Universal and lines aren't a problem since I'm a local and go when it isn't crowded. Same goes with Disney, but Fastpass is needed at some rides (TSM), and this system will make it even better since I don't have to go all around the park back and forth. My big complaint with both Fastpass and Express is that they can backup standby waits.
love universal and the hotels...outside of harry potter and rip rocket its just about good for all the rides. Not to mention if you want to go on it a few times in a row. I do not have to plan anything and do not need to wake up at the crack of dawn to rush to the park to get on my ride unless its potter or the rocket...as for disney, the current fast pass on certain attractions is gone quickly. Heaven forbid you try and get on soaring or the new test track attraction after lunch. Weekends at disney is insane. Fast pass plus? maybe. But paying for it? I pay for enough as annual passes or regular tickets are costly.Give me my royal pacific at a reasonable rate, and just do what I like..
Edwin, you won't have to pay anything for Fastpass+
You have to compare Disney and Universal on equal terms. If you are paying around $250-300 a night to stay on a Disney property, Universal Unlimited Express wins by a landslide.
N B said,
NB's point being that Fastpass runs out quickly on headliner rides due to the massive crowds at the Disney parks. For example, people who want to sleep in and relax won't even get a chance to use Fastpass on Space Mountain. Looking at things in this way, NB is 100% correct.
I also agree with James. SF Flash Pass is extremely expensive and they blend you in fairly close to the loading platforms, but the top level (Platinum, I think) is the only one that allows you to reserve 10-15 minutes ahead of time.
NB, the people who pay $2,225 a night for a Royal Asante Presidential Suite with Kilimanjaro club level concierge service at the Animal Kingdom Lodge probably spring for a VIP tour...
The people who pay $2,225.00 a night for the Royal Presidential Assante Presidential Suite probably hire people to ride the rides for them. LOL
Universal by a landslide for ease of getting on the most popular rides multiple times,(use the single rider at HP and the Rocket). The bigger question is which park appeals to you the most on any given vacation? You will see Universal in less time and have more chances to ride a ride multiple times than at Disney.
For the skip the line systems I've got experience with, here's how I'd rank them (best to worst).
What, no Vote of the Week?
Dom, the point I was trying to make was FastPass is a perk anyone can enjoy if they plan for it but there are such a limited number of passes that it is impossible for everyone in the park to use them.
We give Express nasty looks since they ONLY let Express in. Same goes with Fastpass, they ONLY let Fastpass in. Of course it all depends on who's running the ride.
I hate the idea of Fastpass+. I seems designed to set up tiers of theme park visitors where Disney gives perks to hotel guests based on how much they spend. At least with the current Fastpass system, diligent visitors who show up early and have a plan can have a great day. The idea of reserving every ride and attraction sounds awful, particularly to parents with kids. If Disney sets up its Fastpass system directly, there would be no need for it. This is a way for them to drive attendance at hotels and make extra revenue without just raising ticket prices. It also pushes people into "magical" experiences that cost more but can be reserved.
A tiered system of haves and have nots is exactly what you get with any paid "cut in line" perk, whether it is an add on option or included with your room. You cannot blast Disney for treating resort guests in a "special way" then praise Universal for packaging the same type of class system wih their three onsite properties.
I think what a lot of people don't realize is quite a bit of Disney's moderately priced hotels average out to about the same as the three Universal hotels.
^Because people don't take the time to do even the tiniest bit of research. And when people don't understand, they feel like they are being ripped off, and they get angry. It must be a bit of an operational nightmare for Disney cast members to have to deal with such a lazy, unmotivated, and uniformed public on a regular basis... (the same folks who ask, "What time is the Three O'Clock Parade?"). I wonder if that is why Universal got rid of their free version of Universal Express a few years back? (You don't think it was simply because of greed, do you?).
The third option would be to lower demand, via turning it into a user pays system.
Im not sure but their could be a major problem with Fastpass+.
Irrespective of the relative merits of each system there is one over-riding deciding factor for me - There simply isn't enough to do at Universal to make it a 'vacation destination'. I could maybe spend two nights there but even without Express access my wife and I had exhausted each of the two parks by mid afternoon. It was very different at Disney World however where we could easily spend a week between the four parks and the rest of the resort.
David you hit the nail on the head. I can spend ten days on Disney property at WDW and still have not done everything there is to do. I can spend 1-2 days at Universal and we're done.
Disney has not yet given out exact details on how Fast Pass + will actually work. Since it's still in the testing phase they may well still be tweaking the system. However, on the Disney oriented web sites, two prominent insider rumors are being circulated. One rumor says regular Fast Passes will be discontinued once Fast Pass + is "fully implemented", since the numbers won't work utilizing both. The second rumor is that Fast Pass + will only be for hotel guests and day trippers & AP's will be blocked out as paper fastpasses will be eliminated. What's your opinions if those rumors end up being fact?
I cant help but feel that Fastpass+ is Disney saying 'look what we can do!!!' and forgetting that the vast majority of customers:
A few clarifications on Fastpass+ (FP+) from the FAQ on the Disney website:
My son and I are adrenaline junkies, so Universal Orlando is our first choice. My wife does not like rowdy rides, so she prefers Disney.
God am I glad I can visit the parks when they are almost empty. Still Universal wins with more e ticket rides per park and a stress free vacation.
Here's my take on what James Reo just said. Now let's just say you put a ride with the advanced technology and popularity of Spider-Man in a park like MK with the new fastpass plus system on a crowded summer day with no unforeseen variables like down time or weather. You pay to stay at a good neighbor or onsite hotel lets say 100 bucks for a family of 4 and you got a reservation at that particular ride on that day in advance. You get to the park and get into the fastpass line and ride the ride and everyone thinks its fabulous. You and everyone else wants to ride it again but.....you can't go in the same line again.....you'll have to wait two hours. Oh wait their is still some free fast passes left....oh wait you can't do that either because you got the fastpass+...... You give these people a taste of not waiting for a ride and they will expect it. You have the kids saying and crying to you why can't we just go on the great ride again without waiting for two hours! You have your wife giving you those nasty looks. It turns the happy vacation into a nightmare that you're wishing you're back at work. I'm not even adding in other rides, weather, down time, someone is sick, or doesn't want to ride after a meal.
It may be because I come from a family of planners, but I look forward to using th Fastpass+. I already try and book all the dining 180 days in advance, along with checking weekly for updates on park hours and special events.
Lots of good points Todd. It seems that freedom is the key. Vacation is for leisure & relaxation. We too, spend 10 to 12 days at Universal and never have a dull moment. I could stay there three weeks and enjoy without regret. Great hotels & themed pools, excellent Citi Walk non ending entertainment, and two fabulous theme parks, all within easy leisurely walking distance. Plus, like you, we repeatedly ride what we like. Spider Man was 14 times last trip (May 2012)....On the other side, we'll be at Disney for 14-16 days in 2013. We have a great time and fully utilize the present Fast Pass system, which we like, though not nearly as much as the Universal Hotel Express system. But I don't care much for the idea of a Fast Pass + that doesn't allow you to use the paper Fast pass if you opt for the reserved Fast Pass+. And I believe that once Fast Pass+ is fully implemented, the paper Fast Pass system will be eliminated within a year or two, since the numbers probably won't work utilizing both systems. But, we'll have to reserve final judgement of Fast Pass+ after the testing and early implementation phase. After customer input (will it be negative or positive?), and numbers crunching on people in line, the final version may turn out to be a completely different animal.
Having just been to both experiences this month I can only say that Disney has it right and Universal has it worng. No long lines at either experience but Universal pushed me to purchase their Express pass. It was a total waste of money since there were no lines and no waiting. All they wanted was my hard earned money.
The Disboards has a thread that exploded with 100s of comments in just a day about a rumor that Annual Passholders at WDW will get 20 FP+ in a quarter. Some think that means 4 a day for only 5 days (20 total) but only at one park a day which is the resort guest rules. This seems wrong. I think it means 'no more than 4 a day and only at 1 park a day' which limits the APers to FP+ usage no better than resort guests with a limit of 20 FP+ per 90 days.
Now person with only numbers as a name like some matrix wannabe your not Neo and I'm nit Morpheus. No one forces you to get a fast pass. If Disney or any theme park tells you to jump off a bridge would you do it, don't answer that TH because I know you would contemplate it if it was for the kids. You got snocky snookered if you go to any park and purchased a exclusive pass finding out there's no waits in the middle of the week during an off season. You should look at yourself and say damn I just got snocky snookered and it wasn't anyone else's fault but your own. Hell I don't if I'm talking to a real person you could be some computer in the future taking threads from us normal people. At least TH, Skippie, Domenatrix, and James Rio Speedwagon pony up and have some balls to actually voice their different opinion and give out their name to it. Pony up and play with the big dogs pansy of a number person, kid, or alien.
^Thanks, uh, I think, Todd Rundgren Donawho.
Todd, spot on.
^Preaching to the choir, NB, I've been saying that for years.
As a little insight, my Disney CM brethren will agree, the current Disney Fastpass system gives out 75%-80% of ride capacity each hour. So if an attraction has a capacity to seat 1000 Guest per hour the system will give out between 750-800 fastpasses each hour of operation.
Using Dan's numbers, it doesn't appear that Fastpass+ and the present paper Fastpass system will be able to exist side by side for very long. Otherwise, it won't be very fast.
If the old system gave out 800 Fastpass tickets (to use the previous example), will the new system give out 800 "regular" FP tickets AND also give out 200 advance FP+ tickets? If so, then the standby line is dead.
@N B, I won't be upset when the current Fastpass is gone, as I'm excited for Fastpass+ and I'm a local, so there you have it.
I agree with Dom's comments about FastPass+ being beneficial for a local. When I was hitting a park before work, say DHS, I know the rides I want to get done in advance.
James: Great comment and insight. "Be careful what you wish for". Very true...And the other commentators' discussion comments concerning the average tourist that doesn't know the inside intricacies of park operations are right on. There are going to be some very confused people that won't understand why they will have to stand in a stand by line for an eternity, during the crowded seasons, waiting for a E ticket attraction.
^That's already happening today at all parks that use some sort of "cut in line" pass. It is just exacerbated at Disney because the crowds are much bigger than at other parks.
James: Some very true comments....And MERRY CHRISTMAS to all the TPI readers.....and a healthy and prosperous New Year.
I think James has it right. It allows you to plan for nighttime visits to your favorite ride. Still, the free fastpasses works. I wonder how this is going to improve/worsen the experience.
I think James has it right. It allows you to plan for nighttime visits to your favorite ride. Still, the free fastpasses works. I wonder how this is going to improve/worsen the experience.
We just received an invite for our best friends to renew their vows........at Disney World..... in September 2013.
Gratz! The parks won't be crowded, and your expenses will be paid!
So I'm trained officially on the new Fastpass Plus. To clarify on the whole planning ahead issue....the system is like the old ticket system, with A through E tickets for guest, so smaller attractions will have more "Credits" or "Tickets," if you will, versus E tickets experiences. Once you are there, you can change times and rides instantly on a smart phone or at set up kiosks in the parks, so guest have more freedom than the current system. Everyone will be able to take advantage of the system for free. It is true, as of now, Park Hopping will be an issue. However, the rest of the details are still NDA.
Skipper, did they happen to mention a date when the new service goes live for all park guests?
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