I do understand the argument being made but since I like walking I don't mind retrieving the fastpasses for my group. I have never waited an hour in line for a Disney ride in the past decade(except for when non-fastpass Nemo submarines opened) and I've become sort of an expert using the fastpass.
Anyway the fastpass system rocks and I'm glad its lasted the ten or so years its been around. Hopefully Disney would keep it just the way it is.
You pay for these of course, and I do believe they are limited per day. I remember them being somewhere in the $30-40 range on top of the $65 ticket into the park. I don't believe they are purchasable online either. Can't really check as the site is geared towards Christmas Town right now and not the normal operating season.
However, perhaps I take advantage of the one big tip of having a plan when getting a fastpass (such as another ride, a show, lunch, etc).
Disney does it nicely: free and fair! Universal is a close second, but it is hotel perk.
Here's a simple idea. At the exits of popular attractions, have cast members hand out Fastpass-esque tickets that guarantee front-of-the-line access to an attraction on the other side of the park. The crowd will naturally disperse throughout the park without consciously planning on it.
Better yet, design the parks for better crowd control. Why Fantasmic!, Tower of Terror, and Rock 'n' Roller Coaster are all in the same area is beyond me. They could have an alternate exit at Fantasmic! that goes directly to the parking lot while keeping the original pathway that returns guests to the park.
Or, alternatively, they could run Disney like a nightclub. The more popular the attraction, the more exclusive it is. Big ol' bouncers standing behind velvet ropes pick guests to come in based on how much Disney merchandise they're carrying. Occasionally, a big Disney celebrity like Miley Cyrus shows up from a parade float and the bouncer opens the front rope to escort them in while impatient guests are subjected to snubs. As the bouncer opens the attraction door for said celebrity, "Yo-ho, yo-ho..." can be heard until the door closes, muffling the pirate tune to nothing but a faint bass line.
... Yeah, I think that's the best option.
1) It does nothing to increase attraction capacity within the park, and might actually reduce it. If you have a return ticket, you want the merge point between the return line and the standby line to be as close to the loading point as possible. That minimizes your wait time with a return ticket. But if there's any delay at that merge point - for a person fumbling to retrieve a FastPass ticket from his pocket or her purse, for example - and that delay stops the flow of guests at load, even for a second, that means the ride will put through fewer people that hour, reducing its practical capacity.
That's why parks try to move those merge points farther back in the line, so that a momentary delay at the merge doesn't affect the flow of guests at load. But doing that increases the average wait time on a ride with a return ticket, reducing the value of the guest to using the FastPass.
2) Even if you have a FastPass, that never means you get on a ride with no wait. As I just mentioned, there's almost always some wait with a return ticket, even if it's just a couple of minutes. But you also should count the time that you spend going to the ride earlier and waiting to pick up the FastPass ticket. Plus, you should account for the extra time and effort you made to figure out what FastPasses you wanted to get, and when - over and above the amount of time you otherwise would have spent planning your day in the park.
3) Because FastPass does nothing to increase attraction capacity, if the system is leading people collectively to experience more attractions that they would have without the system, that comes at the cost of a longer cumulative wait time for guests in the park. That's just basic math there. Bigger numerator (number of rides experienced) with the same denominator (capacity of those rides) equals bigger result (longer waits). Disney knows this - its purpose with FastPass is to get you to spend longer in its parks. But if you are staying longer in a park than you anticipated and part of that extra time is devoted to longer wait-time for rides, does that really provide you extra value?
4) Don't compare your FastPass wait times with the stand-by wait times in deciding the system's value to you. Remember that the stand-by wait time is inflated because a percentage of seats on the ride in any given hour are being held for people in the return line. If 50 percent of the seats are being held for FastPass holders, that means that the ride's wait without FastPass would be just half of what the stand-by wait time now is. And maybe even less than that, if the merge between the stand-by and return lines is causing load problems.
For these reasons, I think that getting rid of FastPass would lead to average shorter waits within the Disney parks. (And from what I've seen anecdotally from the reduction in FastPass distribution in California, I think the Disneyland experience supports that assertion.)
So, why have a ride reservation system at all?
Here are my two reasons:
1) Parks need to do something about truly burdensome wait times. I think that two hours in a theme park queue is too much, even on a busy day. Ideally, parks should build enough attractions, with large enough capacities, that wait times don't exceed an hour or so even on the busiest days. Disney, Universal and SeaWorld do this fairly well, which is why they own the top 12 spots among the most popular theme parks in America. But even at those parks, some new attractions become true blockbusters (see: Harry Potter). In those cases, I would prefer the parks adopt a museum-style assigned admission time. Hand them out as people enter the front gate for the first time.
This system would serve as a rationing system for the most popular rides, limiting each visitor to a single visit on the ride, so that more visitors could experience it during their day. And it would eliminate the need for the fuss of a FastPass-style system. (If a visitor didn't care to experience the blockbuster ride, he or she wouldn't have to take the return time ticket at the gate.)
2) Parks are in the business of making money, and could extract extra cash from some visitors who are willing to pay for an additional premium experience that allows them to skip some, or all, lines in the park. The number of people using this option must be very limited, though, so that the average additional wait time to accommodate these skip-the-line passes is imperceptible to everyone else.
I don't like making these skip-the-line passes a straight upcharge, though. I prefer systems where parks bundle it within an additional purchase, such as staying at a park hotel (as Universal Orlando does), or buying a tour of the park (as SeaWorld, Disney and Universal also do).
The need to limit the number of people using this second system would make it impossible for Walt Disney World to adopt a Universal Orlando-style system (though Disneyland could). At WDW, such a system would have to limit the number of ride-skips a hotel guest could use each day.
The point with this type of system is to leverage additional spending in exchange for exceptional value. A bundled benefit amplifies that - both in terms of the spending and the value, which is why I can endorse it.
Theme parks need to realise that their own rides' capacity limitations cause long lines - and that profiteering from this through paid-for queue-jumping programmes is not a strategy that will create happy customers.
The problem with Toy Story Mania at DHS is not the FASTPASS system - it's the ride's capacity. Yes, it's a brilliant attraction and probably my favorite Disney ride, but there's no getting away from the fact that it processes guests at a painfully slow pace.
Also, Six Flags has a paid for fastpass type system that is electronic. The number of devices and people willing to pay $20 limits the people who have the passes, and it allows you to choose your ride without being near it. When you get to the ride you have to have the pass device already out to get in the line, so by the time you get to the merge point you aren't fumbling to find it. And if you miss your time you can't use it later like at Disney parks, making it actually spread out. When we used their system I thought it actually did allow us to do more in that day. Though we did pay $20 for it.
Robert: you mentioned that it may not actually allow me to ride more rides, but I would much rather walk across the park, than stand in a themed corridor or something. Its not just the result that matters, it's the experience that raises guest happiness, not just overall attractions.
creating a centralized FP system where people can pick them up from either the front gate or at any FP stand would fail for 2 reasons:
1. it would require more interaction than there currently is (you would either have to tell a cast member what ride you want, or use an interface of some sort which would confuse people even more, lowering the capacity of the booths)
2. It would make FP very obvious (and too convenient), and make the system less appealing to those of us who do know how to use them properly.
Just keep FASTPASS the way it is.
For a newcomer to the parks, the system is somewhat complicated. Let's say you're a newcomer to the parks. You arrive at Disney's Hollywood Studios an hour after opening (10 am), ready for a fun, family vacation. You pick up a park map and quickly glance over the attractions. The first thing you run into is The Great Movie Ride. Well, why not? The line is short and it's right at the entrance. You'll start here and make your way around. There are some characters outside the attraction, so you mingle for a bit and snap some pictures. Your daughter wants to see Beauty and the Beast, which starts at 11, so you hot-foot over to Sunset Boulevard. It's now 11:30. Might as well hit the Tower while you're here. The Tower has a 45-minute wait, so you pick up one of those fancy Fastpasses the concierge told you about. Return at 3:30 pm. In the meantime, you ride the Coaster... 90-minute wait?!!! Well, just get another Fastpass! ...You can only have one at a time? Alright, you'll just grab one at 3:30 when you come back for Tower. Lunch time. After lunch, your son wants to catch the 1:30 pm showing of Lights, Motors, Action! Hey, a Muppet attraction? You're a long-time fan. You see the show. It's now 2:45 pm. You have time for one more attraction before Tower, so you go to Toy Story Mania... Another 90-minute wait? It's a slow ride, isn't it? Not a roller coaster or something? And all the Fastpasses are "gone"? The people at the front gate said it's a must-see, so you decide to come back later. Your daughter wants to see Mermaid, which is on the way to the Tower, so you see the show. Boy, that was disappointing - were they lip-syncing? It's now almost 4 pm, so you hit the Tower and use your Fastpass. Great ride - you'll want to do it again later. So now, to the Coaster to grab your Fastpass... All the Fastpasses are gone here, too?!!! Well, you can't miss the Coaster. You suffer the 90-minute wait. It's almost 6. Dinner reservations are at 6:30. You still want to see Toy Story, Indy, the Backlot Tour, Fantasmic, and another ride on the Tower and/or Coaster. The line for Toy Story is too long, Indy's next show is at 6:45, and the Backlot Tour takes 45 minutes to see. Might as well kill some time walking around. Dinner finishes at 7:30 and the first showing of Fantasmic! starts at 8. You're tired, but there are still attractions that you definitely want to see. You decide to skip the first showing of Fantasmic! All the Indy shows are done for the day. DAMN. Really wanted to see that. You head instead to Toy Story. Pretty fun, but now you're exhausted and stressed from the big, greasy meal and 90-minute queue surrounded by cranky families. It's 9 pm and the next Fantasmic! showing is at 10. Your family votes that they'd rather ride the Tower again than do the Backlot Tour. You ride the Tower. Your energy is somewhat restored, but now it's 9:45 and you have to rush to Fantasmic! to get a seat... What? Standing room only? Your kids are sleepy. You're losing patience. You're all hot and sticky. You missed out on several shows and attractions. Well, at least this auditorium serves beer... They only have Bud Light???!!! ARRRGGGGHHHHH!!!
These people fork out lots of cash to Disney. It should be expected that for a vacation that expensive, you'd feel rejuvenated at the end of the trip. Instead, people often end up frustrated and exhausted because the trip is quite demanding. A study performed by Frommer's showed that a large majority (I think it was over 70%) of children said that their favourite thing at Disney was the hotel swimming pool. Why? Because nobody tells them what to do. No lines. No reservations. No schedules. They can play at their own whim. That's the way an ideal theme park should be - see and do what you want, when you want, without having to wait too long.
Robert is correct. Reservation systems require improvement, as do the overall crowd and queue control.
1. It will never significantly reduce long lines unless everyone uses them, which won't happen. It doesn't matter when they are given out or where the merging point is. A thousand people in line is still a thousand people.
2. It won't increase capacity. Capacity is dependent upon the ride and those who operate it. If they want to move more people, they need to load/unload faster or have more rides to spread the people out.
3. Many guests aren't interested in following a schedule. They get enough of that in their real lives. They are content to be spontaneous, and don't want to feel controlled. Some are ok with it, but mandating a system like this would defeat the purpose of vacation for many.
That doesn't mean the system doesn't serve a purpose, but unless it's more of a privilege, it won't be something that's truly beneficial to both guest and park. When something is free, the value of it declines drastically, so there's little need to offer guests something that's basically worthless to both guest and park. A good reservation system takes a few things, convenience, consolidation, and limitation. They would all be different for different companies and such, but I'll use Disney because they have the capacity to implement such a thing.
I know that the Disney hotels (like most other ones) are able to predict the number of guests on any given day to a pretty accurate figure. Using that data and their own (combined with the weather forecast), parks can predict how busy they and their rides will be. All of that information is a starting point for how many passes there will be for a given ride on a given day. There has to be a limit on the passes, but there is also the need to offer them on as many rides as needed on a given day. A ride might have a half hour wait one day, and a 3 hour one the next because of the crowd. This Disney model uses all of that data that they already mine, and marries it with computers and automation.
1. The reservation system is only offered to Disney resort guests and passholders, and they have the option to use it or not. If they want it, a one time, fairly negligible fee is included in their hotel bill or season pass. There is a limit of only a few rides per day. All guests are educated about the system via literature and are offered a tutorial on how to use the system. Hotels have kiosks, or are able to make reservations at the concierge desk, or even through their hotel phone or hotel TV if the capability is there. Guests are either given a ride ticket or a confirmation number to redeem for a ticket at a park kiosk.
2. The rides, park, and resorts are networked together so that the hotel desk computers, the ride reservation kiosks placed in the hotel lobby, and the secure website/mobile phone app that passholders and guests can use...all have the updated information necessary to distribute the proper amount of passes at the right times for the right rides. If a ride wait time goes over 90 minutes for an extended time, the reservation system opens up. If it goes under for an extended period, the system for that ride is closed until times go back up.
3. There wouldn't be as many kiosks in the park, and the ones that are would be in a low profile place and could only be accessed by a room key or a swiped season pass.
4. The ride reservations could be made a day early on a limited basis by select guests, leaving plenty of times open.
5. Because the system has been streamlined and use of it somewhat more limited, move the fastpass line closer to the front, although not all the way up. The guests then see some real value in the pass, and those who wait in line aren't traffic jammed by a barrage of fastpass holders.
6. The new system also theoretically makes the data that Disney mines even more accurate. They are able to generate a more accurate guest profile based on ride reservations. They'll know which park the guests are going to and which rides they reserve. If they are smart and completely automate the hotel guest experience by enabling them to charge everything (food, drinks, gifts..etc) to their room using their key, then they know even more and are able to make the guest experience even better.
After some tweaks based on the numbers (which I don't have to work with), I think it would be the best way to offer such a pass. This method brings some value to the fastpass, helps to alleviate the traffic jams that fastpass systems can cause, helps to bring about a better guest experience, and helps to cover it's own cost.
But I hate the way that Fastpass makes the Standby lines longer and miserably slow. I hate having to look at my watch and schedule my fun.
And I think it's terribly unfair. Annual passholders, who can come back whenever they want, know how to maximize the system and get to go on more rides with shorter waits. They do this at the expense of the "once-in-a-lifetime" guests, who are unfamiliar with their system and who don't know their way around the park.
I'd much rather see some kind of system that lets those "once-in-a-lifetime" guests experience as many attractions as possible. Not a system that puts them at even more of a disadvantage, as compared to the regular guests.
It would have been better if the system was designed so you could only get one fastpass per ride per visit, and if annual passholders (and employee passes) were not eligible for Fastpass. Then you would have a much smaller number of Fastpasses, and the standby lines would be a lot better.
I'd rather wait in an immersive, themed queue than have to get a fastpass and wander around the park while I wait.
If you think you like Fastpass, you should try Tokyo Disneyland on a busy day! That experience taught me that Fastpass only works well when the majority of guests have no idea how to use it. When everyone uses it, it's horrible.