Understanding Disney's MyMagic+, and how to use Fastpass+ to your advantage at Walt Disney World
Published: May 8, 2014 at 11:19 AM
In his remarks during a conference call announcing Disney's second-quarter financial results, Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo said that MyMagic+ is helping to increase capacity at the Walt Disney World theme parks. Here's what he said, as noted by the Orlando Sentinel:
"Because FastPass+, the ability to basically plan your day as it relates to top attractions in the park in advance, has had huge pickup by our guests, it allows a better distribution of guests around the park," Rasulo said. "And quite often the amount of capacity we can let into the park is highly driven by pinch points and particular areas of the park that we don't want to get too overcrowded. So when guests are better distributed around the park, we can let more in."
We know from operational experience that ride reservations schemes don't increase the capacity of individual attractions within a theme park. Whether a person enters an attraction via the standby or bypass queue doesn't affect the flow of visitors at the load point, provided that merging the queues doesn't slow down the line. But Rasulo isn't making a claim that MyMagic+ increase attraction capacity. He's saying that the system increases park capacity.
So how can that happen? Recognizing what's in play here can help visitors get more value for their vacation through myMagic+, rather than being left confused and disoriented.
A visitor uses a MagicBand to "tap into" the Fastpass+ entrance at Epcot's Test Track. Disney World hotel and annual passholder guests are given the RFID-chip enabled MagicBand wristbands as their ticket media under the MyMagic+ system. Day visitors can use chip-enabled ticket cards, or they can buy their own MagicBand for an additional fee, to get into the parks and Fastpass+ entrances. Photo courtesy Disney.
For a clue how MyMagic+ allows Disney to fit more people in its theme parks, take a look at the queues for Maelstrom or Spaceship Earth next time you visit Epcot. Chances are, if you're visiting on a somewhat busy day, you'll find them filled. That didn't used to be the case. Spaceship Earth predictably attracted crowds in the morning, as many visitors stepped into the first queue they encountered in the park. But in the afternoons and evenings, the ride was almost always a walk-on. Norway's Maelstrom also rarely attracted much of a crowd, being one of the less-popular attractions in the park despite its relatively higher capacity as a continual-loading boat ride.
Theme Park Insiders long have known that the key to understanding theme park wait times is to understand the differences in hourly capacity between rides. Rides that can handle thousands of riders per hour typically have shorter waits in the middle of the day than rides that can put through only a few hundred visitors per hour. Sharp visitors understood this, and opted to ride lower capacity rides very early or very late in the day, when fewer people were in the park and wait times would be shorter overall. You should leave huge capacity rides, such as Pirates of Caribbean, for the busier times, since rides such as that do well in putting through large crowds, leaving you with reasonable waits there.
But not all theme park visitors study up like Theme Park Insiders do. (Pat yourselves on the back now.) Most theme park visitors didn't consider attraction capacity as they decided what to ride next in the park. They either went with what was the next nearest ride to them, or what offered a favorite character. As a result, the distribution of visitors through the park didn't match the distribution of its attraction capacity — and that overloaded certain attractions and sections of the park.
Think of a park as a collection of cups into which you're pouring water. Some cups are deeper than others and can hold more water, but you can't see that because they're all set into holes in the table so that their rims are even with the tabletop. As soon as you pour so much water into the cups that one of them overflows, you have to stop pouring.
If the distribution of guests throughout the park is pretty much even, it's like you're just pouring water evenly into those cups. When the shallowest one overflows, you've got to stop. That means no more people getting into the park. Those are the "pinch points" Rasulo referenced.
The old Fastpass system included so few rides that it didn't have as much of an effect upon overall park capacity as Fastpass+ does, as the new system includes dozens more rides, shows, and even some quick-service restaurants. MyMagic+ allows Disney to do more to influence the rate at which the cups are filling, and to start pouring more water into deeper cups when the shallow ones start to get filled. It does this by assigning more Fastpass+ availability to attractions with shorter wait times at particular times during the day. That allows you to "pour more water" into those cups before having to stop, allowing more people into the park.
As we mentioned above, MyMagic+ isn't allowing Disney to put more people through those rides. It's simply allowing Disney to divert more people into their queues. That's why you're seeing fuller queues at rides such as Maelstrom and Spaceship Earth. MyMagic+ increases theme park capacity by helping Disney divert crowds from overloaded queues and pathways into underloaded queues elsewhere in the park.
If the old Fastpass system allowed people to get out of the queues and into stores and other places in the park, the MyMagic+/Fastpass+ system effectively is trying to put visitors back into those queues, or any other spaces it can to more evenly distribute visitors so that no one part of a park becomes overloaded.
What does this mean for you, the Theme Park Insider? It means that you'd better commit to learning about MyMagic+, and how to get the most from it, so that you can avoid being stuck in some of those lines that the system is making longer.
Rasulo said that three-fourths of Disney's hotel guests are using MyMagic+ to make advance reservations in the parks. But only about one in four day guests are using the system. That means that a lot of visitors are being left in standby queues, or lined up trying to make Fastpass+ reservations in the park, when they could have been getting on the rides and shows they came to Disney World to experience.
Disney World hotel visitors can make Fastpass+ reservations up to 60 days before their visit. Annual passholders and day visitors can make reservations up to 30 days in advance. Either way, though, you need to have your Disney World tickets bought and registered in the MyMagic+ system to make your Fastpass+ reservations. So if you want to get the most from the system, plan in advance and have your reservations made and tickets bought and in hand before your reservation window opens.
At midnight Eastern time 60 or 30 days before the day of your visit (depending upon whether you are staying on site or not), go to disneyworld.com and click the My Disney Experience link to start making your Fastpass+ reservations. You can make three Fastpass+ reservations, in any of the parks if you have a park-hopper ticket, or in just one park if you don't. On our Theme Park Travel Tips page, we've listed the attractions that you should make your top priority in each park:
- Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom: Anna & Elsa meet-and-greet, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
- Epcot: Soarin', Test Track (you can get one of those two, but not both), Mission: Space
- Disney's Animal Kingdom: Expedition Everest, Kilimanjaro Safaris
- Disney's Hollywood Studios: Toy Story Midway Mania, Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith (one of those two, but not both), Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
If you don't care about some of these attractions, skip 'em and reserve something else. These simply are the attractions with the longest stand-by wait times in the middle of the day, and the ones for which Fastpass+ reservations get snapped up the quickest. But you shouldn't take one of these coveted spots if you don't care about the attraction.
Once you've used your three Fastpass+ reservations, you can make additional Fastpass+ reservations inside the park on the day of your visit, but only one at a time. At that point, the system works like the old Fastpass system, except that there are no paper tickets and you can make reservations from any Fastpass+ kiosk in the park rather than having to go to each individual attraction.
Because of the opportunity to make additional Fastpass+ reservations, try to book your initial three reservations early in the day for the rides, shows and (especially) character meet-and-greets that run out of reservation times early. Then pick up more widely-available Fastpass+ reservation times for later in the day.
Remember than you can use single rider lines (also listed on our Theme Park Travel Tips page) to minimize wait times if you're willing to do without riding right next to your family or group. Make table-service restaurant reservations up to 180 days in advance by calling +1-407-WDW-DINE or eat and an off-peak time to avoid using a Fastpass+ on a counter-service restaurant. Remember that you might be able to use Fastpass+ to reserve a viewing spot for Illuminations, the Magic Kingdom fireworks, or the Festival of Fantasy parade, but that you'll give up the opportunity for additional Fastpass+ reservations if you do, since those happen late in the day. That might be a trade-off worth making, but you'll have to weigh the pros and cons and make the decision that's best for you.
The only bad choice is to not make any Fastpass+ reservations in advance, and to be left spending all day in standby lines, or wasting precious time early in the day in a Fastpass+ kiosk queue instead of getting on rides. The MyMagic+ system is in place now. If you want to get full value from a Walt Disney World vacation, find the ways to make this system work for you, instead of against you.
We will update this post with readers' best advice from the comments. Let's hear it!