A Californian's Florida Adventure - Part 4

Edited: November 12, 2017, 3:37 PM

If you missed Part 3, click here to go back and read about Epcot.

Thursday, September 26th, 2017...another day, another Walt Disney World theme park to check out. After using our days at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Epcot, only the two kingdoms remained...the fantastical (Magic Kingdom) and the natural (Animal Kingdom). Choosing which to visit ended up being a bit of a planning conundrum, as it would force us to do the fourth park on Saturday (Friday was reserved for a different activity). So, which park to pick? Ultimately, the choice was made by the schedule for Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, as I didn't want to miss Magic Kingdom's evening entertainment.

Part 4: Kingdom of the Animals


The newest of Walt Disney World's theme parks, Disney's Animal Kingdom has yet to celebrate 20 years of operation (that will come next year). However, with the exception of Magic Kingdom, it has probably seen the most investment since opening day. The park opened with only a handful of attractions, as the main draw was intended to be the animals. Over time, however, it has grown into more of an animal theme park, adding some of the best attractions at the resort and expanding from a 4 hour park to one worthy of a full day (at least for first-timers). In fact, just this year Animal Kingdom opened an entire new themed area: Pandora - The World of Avatar. Themed to the planet of the same name from a film many saw exactly once, the land represents a departure from the non-fiction settings of Africa and Asia into a fictional alien world. It is also home to Flight of Passage, claimed by some to be the single best attraction ever created.

Pandora was what broke my Fastpass+ streak. At the previous parks, I was able to get exactly what I wanted, but this time it didn't work out. Despite logging in exactly 30 days prior to the visit, there was no availability for Flight of Passage. Every single Fastpass for the day had been claimed 60 days out by those who planned special trips to visit this land and who were staying on Walt Disney World property. Disappointing, yes, but not unexpected. I instead grabbed one for Pandora's secondary ride, Na'vi River Journey (as well as Expedition Everest and Kilimanjaro Safaris), then made a plan to hit Flight of Passage first thing in the morning.


Well, that's not what happened. As this would be a day where Evan and I were on our own (it's not a vacation for locals, after all), I went over my plans for the day with everyone at the house prior to visiting. The decision was unanimous...ignore the advice of almost every online guide and do Pandora in the afternoon, after the opening day rush has worn off and before people come back for a second ride. Supposedly, afternoon wait times were typically only in the 60-70 minute range most days. I was skeptical, but I trust the word of several friends who I know visit regularly over an online guide by someone I've never met. I did check the app about 15 minutes after opening, and Flight of Passage was posting 140 minutes. Seems like a good call to hold off.

Saving Pandora for later, and taking the immense size of the park into consideration, we opted for a simple counter-clockwise loop around the park. As a result, our first stop was Dinoland U.S.A., home to Walt Disney World's Indiana Jones equivalent.


Simply named Dinosaur, the ride is an adventure back through time in order to rescue an Iguanodon. On paper, the ride sounds intriguing, and given that Indiana Jones Adventure is among the best dark rides ever built, it has to be decent, right? Nope, not even close. There is little more to this ride than racing through a dark prehistoric forest and stopping suddenly at intervals so a dinosaur can pop out. While the first Carnotaurus is a surprise, the ride is so repetitive that by the end you don't care about the story and just want to return to the present. This is the only motion base ride that I've experienced that fails to make it into the must ride category, and that says something about the quality (or lack thereof) of the attraction.

To avoid showcasing something that makes Walt Disney Studios Paris look good, this photo has been intentionally omitted.

Next door to Dinosaur stands Chester and Hester's Dino-Rama, which looks exactly like what I'd picture a Disney traveling carnival to be. Midway games surround TriceraTop Spin, the Dumbo equivalent of Animal Kingdom. The back, however, contains a roller coaster...or, technically, two roller coasters.


Side by side, the Primeval Whirl coasters are stock spinning mice themed to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Covered in cardboard cutouts with only simple animation, this ride is very reminiscent of Goofy's Sky School. There's just one problem...the ride flat out sucks. With trims on almost every block and a complete lack of spinning, this wild mouse is nothing but mild. In fact, it wins the distinction of being the both the worst attraction I experienced at Walt Disney World and the worst coaster on the trip, even when the unthemed clone at Fun Spot and the smaller kiddie coasters are considered. I rarely say this, but this ride needs to go.


Moving onward, we come to Finding Nemo-The Musical. While technically a part of Dinoland, the show is removed from the rest of the area and thematically doesn't mesh well with the nearby carnival. However, it is probably the best part of Dinoland.

Full disclaimer...I like Finding Nemo, but I consider it one of Pixar's more overrated movies and don't get the high praise it receives (I rank it more in the middle of the pack). However, I actually enjoyed the live musical version better than the film. The show is mostly an extremely fancy puppet show, but it uses extremely fancy puppets and a lot of interesting effects and choreography to bring the world of Finding Nemo to life on the stage. Additionally, Disney did a phenomenal job adapting the movie into a 40 minute musical performance. No, it isn't Aladdin, but it is still well worth at least one viewing.

Leaving Dinoland behind, a bridge leads across Discovery River to the continent of Asia. Here, I get my first look at what is probably my most anticipated ride of the entire trip (at least at Walt Disney World).


As a child, I never had a particularly strong interest in visiting Walt Disney World. Back then, I saw Disney World as the Magic Kingdom, and while it was a place that many talked about, I didn't see the point in flying across the country when Disneyland was just 45 minutes up the freeway. Over time, my opinion changed a bit as I learned more about Walt Disney World and got more involved in the enthusiast community, but it was still never a priority. Cedar Point, Holiday World, Kennywood...places like that, featured on every amusement park TV show, were still more of a priority. Then, one attraction made Walt Disney World a must visit destination...Expedition Everest!


Towering 199 ft. above Animal Kingdom, the Forbidden Mountain is the largest Disney has built. Housed within is a $100 million roller coaster, careening inside and outside of the structure along 4,424 ft. of track at speeds of up to 50 MPH. The whole ride last just shy of three minutes, and includes two lift hills, a backwards section, an 80 ft. drop, and an encounter with the Yeti (who has recently developed a disco fetish). It is the Matterhorn Bobsleds on steroids, reimagined with modern technology and elevated in thrill level to match most major non-looping coasters. It is also the best roller coaster Walt Disney Parks & Resorts has ever built.


Expedition Everest begins with a long queue line through a museum full of Himalayan artifacts, many of which were lost on me as I kept pace with the party in front of me through a nearly empty queue. For once, I actually wished the line was longer (it never got above 20 minutes all day). At the end of the queue, you board a steam-powered mine train for a journey up the mountain. At first, everything is fine and dandy, but then a broken track forces the train to reverse course. It is here that the roller coaster really begins, and the remainder of the ride consists of a winding run in, around, and through the Forbidden Mountain, with just the right level of intensity to ensure everyone is thrilled without being too much for someone who rarely rides big coasters. The ride is so good that I rode not once, not twice, but SIX times during the course of my day at the park. Now, if I were to evaluate it strictly as a roller coaster, California Screamin' does have a slight edge over Everest, but the theming and unique aspects of the latter elevate it above Screamin' as a Disney attraction. I've ridden over 400 roller coasters, and Everest is the only Disney coaster to make my top 50.


Following our escape from the Yeti and a quick trip on the Kali (an unremarkable rapids ride), it was time for lunch. On Evan's recommendation, I secured a reservation at Yak and Yeti, which actually ended up being a bit of a challenge. However, it was worth the hassle...of the three full service meals I had in the parks, this was probably the best. The restaurant is immaculately detailed as a Nepalese inn, and from our table on the second story we had a great view of Asia below. The food consists of a mixture of various Asian cuisines, ranging from the common to the more obscure, but omitting anything too exotic. I don't remember what Evan ordered, but I opted for the Chicken Tikka Masala, an Indian dish consisting of roasted chicken in a curry sauce and accompanied by Jasmine Rice and Naan bread. It was, in a word, delicious. Spicy, but not excessively so, and with a nice mixture of flavors when accompanied by the rice. Evan's recommendation was right...Yak and Yeti is excellent.


With our return time for the Kilimanjaro Safaris approaching, we made our way over to Africa and joined the queue to enter the Harambe Reserve. This attraction was Animal Kingdom's original E-ticket, and while portions of the attraction have been removed throughout the years, it still provides an excellent simulated safari through manufactured nature.





While many of the animals present can be viewed in most major zoos, the attraction presents them in a way most guests may not be accustomed to, with no visible barriers inside the rather large enclosure. Picture taking is encouraged, as the ride is a photo safari, and even though it lacks any story the settings make up for it. It can't hold a candle to something like the San Diego Zoo's Safari Park or even the Safari Off-Road Adventure at Six Flags Great Adventure, but evaluated on its own merit the attraction is very well done and an absolute must-ride for all visitors.


While we didn't see it into much later in the day, Africa contains one other notable attraction: Festival of the Lion King. A performance using the theater in the round setup, this show is part parade, part circus, and part sing-a-long. Each seating section is assigned an animal (Warthog, Elephant, Giraffe, and Lion), with guests asked to make noises and gestures representative of their mascot to complete the celebration. Framed as a party for Simba and using popular songs from the film, the performance features the tumble monkeys trapeze artists, a fire-twirler, an aerial dance, and plenty of audience participation. While the show lacks production value, the acts are entertaining, and the entire experience is just a whole lot of fun. Excluding nighttime spectaculars, this was probably my favorite show at Walt Disney World (tough call between it and American Adventure). Perhaps if Disneyland in California had performances like this, locals would be more receptive to show-based attractions.

Continuing beyond Africa, a long winding path follows the river toward the Valley of Mo'ara. This is Pandora - The World of Avatar. It has been 50 years since the events of the film, and Alpha Centuri Expeditions has turned Pandora into a tourist destination. Here, guests can immerse themselves in an alien world overrun with bioluminescent flora and teeming with otherworldly fauna. And, best of all, in the center of this magnificent valley floats a mountain range. Except...well...


Behold...the legendary Hallelujah Arch of Pandora!

From the initial announcement of Pandora, I've been extremely skeptical of the land. Not only does the property not feel right for a Disney park (let alone Animal Kingdom), it is one that was popular for a year and then faded into obscurity. Even today the future of the franchise is unknown. However, Disney opted to continue forward, and the end result now sits in the southwestern corner of Animal Kingdom. As much as I wanted to like it, and as much as I tried to give Disney the benefit of the doubt, Pandora just falls flat on so many levels. Even if I had just watched the movie, I would not recognize the area Disney created as the world of the Na'vi. There are also some poor design choices here, as things that are rendered in CGI don't necessarily translate well to the real world (especially when such things would be impossible to replicate faithfully). It's an immaculately detailed area, and it is clear that Disney put a ton of effort into Pandora, but it just isn't Pandora. Sadly, I was extremely hyped for Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge after attending D23, but seeing what happened here has sown some doubt in my mind that Disney can do it right. However, even if a land as a whole doesn't work, it may still have attractions that do (for example, Radiator Springs Racers in Cars Land). So, on with the rides.


First up, Flight of Passage. It's been called the best new attraction of 2017 by many reputable sources, and some have gone as far as saying it's the world's best theme park attraction. Given that, I was not fazed by the 95 minute wait time...for a brand new E-ticket, that's acceptable. There's only one problem...the line didn't take 95 minutes. As we wound through the queue admiring a Pandoran cave, announcement after announcement sounded about the ride operating at reduced capacity. Eventually, a cast member came through and explained the situation: Two of the four simulators had overheated, and despite the best efforts of the maintenance team they just couldn't be brought back online. As a result, priority was being given to Fastpass, and we should expect to wait at least twice as long as posted. When all was said and done, this ride broke my record for longest wait for a theme park attraction, as we ended up waiting about 220 minutes. We were given a bonus Fastpass as compensation, but unfortunately it couldn't be used for another ride on Flight of Passage (it became an Everest ride). More than anything, this incident exposes why Fastpass needs to change...not only were guests missing their return windows at other attractions, those with a Fastpass were taking nearly every available seat, making the wait longer than it really needed to be. A simple solution would be to just make all the Fastpasses valid for the rest of the day, then keep the ratios the same and warn Fastpass users about the long wait and encourage them to try later. It just isn't right to let only one party from standby enter per 100 Fastpass guests.


As for the ride itself, the story is this: The Banshee population on Pandora is dying, so Alpha Centuri Expeditions have restarted the Avatar program to conduct research and reverse this trend. In order to help fund their research, tourists are being given the opportunity to fly aboard a Banshee. After an elaborate preshow where riders are linked with their avatars, they are given flight glasses and seated in a link chair. The ride that follows is essentially Soarin' Orange Team - More Intense Flying, as the ride has the motion of something like Star Tours while you're on a seat similar to Pony Express. It is an outstanding simulator attraction, and is probably the best simulator I've experienced, but at the end of the day it is still just a simulator. As good as the ride was, I still prefer a majority of the E-ticket level dark rides, and I would never wait 220 minutes for another ride. That sentiment was present among every single person heading out the exit...extremely cool and very good (and probably Animal Kingdom's best ride), but not worth the wait time given how long it was.

Due to the long line for Flight of Passage, we ended up missing out on most of the shows we wanted to see, though we made it to the ones mentioned previously. Afterward, we returned to Pandora to use our Fastpasses on the Na'vi River Journey. To me, this attraction felt like one that had a lot of potential, but squandered it by going only 80% of the way. The ride is simply a 5 minute cruise through the jungle of Pandora, featuring incredibly detailed sets but mainly projection effects for characters and animals. The lone exception comes in the form of the Na'vi Shaman of Songs featured toward the end of the ride, a full size animatronic Na'vi that sings to guests as they float past. While I was not blown away by this animatronic, I was still very impressed, and it elevated this ride from "pass" to "worth a short wait." That said, the regular line was 90 minutes, and I can't imagine anyone being satisfied after waiting 90 minutes for this. I also don't understand why Disney built a boat ride in 2017 that only seats 8 passengers per boat...Pirates sat 22 in 1967, when crowds were much, much smaller.


The inside of Na'vi River Journey represents what all of Pandora should have been...a land covered in bioluminescent plants, teeming with wildlife, and featuring the Na'vi interacting with visitors. Instead, the land is a generic-feeling alien world that feels dominated by tourists, with little of the natural wilderness remaining behind. Yes, Flight of Passage is an outstanding attraction on its own, and the Satu'li Canteen serves some of the best counter service food found within the World, but as a whole Pandora is more of a disappointment than anything else. For something that took years to build and was meant to dethrone the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, it mostly failed in my opinion. I really hope Disney learns what didn't work and fixes it for Star Wars Land, because mistakes on a minor franchise may disappoint visitors, but poor execution of (possibly) the most popular franchise of all time could turn lifelong fans into total haters.


I think my Christmas lights have more bioluminescence than this.

By the time we finished Pandora, night was falling and the showtime for Rivers of Light was creeping closer. We made our way back to Dinoland and joined the queue for stand-by viewing, which occupies the far end of the 5,000 seat amphitheater. This is the lowest capacity nighttime spectacular at Walt Disney World, and with only one showing per night it often plays to capacity crowds. Fortunately, we managed to get into the performance.


Rivers of Light is a brand new show that debuted back in February and, unlike most of Walt Disney World's attractions, I had no idea what the show was. The best way to describe the show is World of Color meets the Electrical Water Pageant (which I unfortunately never got to see), though completely devoid of IP and focusing on the natural world. The show opens as two teams of storytellers, one representing fire and the other water, sail to the center of the lagoon from opposite sides.


Using their mystical instruments, the shamans call a parade of spirit animals, each representing one of the four elements of nature (tiger for fire, elephant for earth, sea turtle for water, and owl for air). Following this, the show becomes largely a fountain and water projection show, with footage similar to what would be expected in a DisneyNature documentary and an original musical score.


Finally, the River of Light (aka aurora borealis) appears, leading to a grand finale full of everything seen throughout the show, plus the mandatory fire tower (though no pyrotechnics). The show is beautifully put together, and while it lacks the punch of many of Disney's nighttime spectaculars, it's still well worth a viewing (I'd personally rank it above World of Color).

Rivers of Light ends about 30 minutes before park closure, which left a little more time to enjoy the park. We opted to head back to Asia and close out the night with an Expedition Everest mini-marathon. By this point, the park was so empty that all guests were being directed through the shorter Fastpass queue, enabling us to get several rides on the coaster in darkness. Eventually, 9:00 P.M. came and it was time to head out of the park.


Looking back on it, Animal Kingdom is much like California Adventure in that it is a difficult park to evaluate. While the park doesn't contain as many thrill rides as Hollywood Studios, Expedition Everest is the best ride at the World in that category save only Tower. However, the overall attraction selection, while slightly lacking in quantity, is just as good in quality as what can be found at Epcot or Hollywood Studios. The park's landscaping is probably the best among a Disney park, and while the theming isn't quite as strong as Epcot's, outside of Dinoland it is still top notch. Evaluated objectively, the park would probably score third among the WDW parks. However, despite the weaknesses of Animal Kingdom, I truly enjoyed the park much more than the previous two. As much as I love Tower of Terror and Star Wars, DAK would be my second day choice if I only had two. It is not a perfect park by any means...Dinoland needs a complete replacement, the park as a whole could use more attractions, and those looking for a true Disney experience will be disappointed by the relative lack of IP (I don't mind the last one), but it is a unique theme park with an exceptional balance between rides, shows, and walkthrough attractions, all set in a fully immersive environment. It is overall a relaxing park to visit, yet those craving an adrenaline rush will be able to find it here as well.


Disney's Animal Kingdom Scorecard:

Dinosaur - 7/10
Expedition Everest - 9/10
Festival of the Lion King - 8.5/10
Finding Nemo-The Musical - 8/10
Flight of Passage - 9/10
Kali River Rapids - 7/10
Kilimanjaro Safaris - 8.5/10
Na'vi River Journey - 7/10
Pandora (as a whole) - 8/10
Primeval Whirl - 4.5/10
Rivers of Light - 8/10
Overall Park Score - 8/10

Three Disney parks down, and one to go. However, the last park will have to wait, as our next day would instead be bringing us to Florida's original Animal Kingdom.

To view the entire photo album from this park, click here.

Replies (26)

Edited: November 12, 2017, 4:57 PM

Very good, very honest report, AJ! Funny, I never thought of Dinosaur as a letdown as you did, but you're right in your assessment of the ride's lack of a compelling storyline.
DAK is close to being a great park. Yes, it definitely needs more attractions. In particular, DAK needs more family attractions with younger children in mind. Younger kids are definitely overlookded at Animal Kingdom. In fact, do you know how many rides without height restrictions are offered at DAK for younger kids? Not shows or walk through but actual rides? Three...THREE!
By comparison, Epcot, well known as WDW's theme park for adults, has six. DAK desperately needs an area for younger children similar to DCA's Flik's Fun Fair that offers rides specifically for them. And the addition of a dark ride or two would also help. But like you said, DAK has not reached its 20 year anniversary yet and the additions that have been made have been mostly positive. Yes, Dino-Rama maybe the exception, but with some slight adjustments, this area could be a great area for younger children as well.

November 12, 2017, 5:41 PM

I count myself lucky I was able to enjoy Everest in March of 2006, right after it opened when the Yeti was still impressive. Still a great ride but I admit my last trip (2012), I skipped Kingdom for time. I mean, Everest, Dinosaur and that's pretty much it. Naturally, I will be going back to check out the Avatar stuff and such but do think they still need a bit more to beef up.

Personally, I think a great idea is to redo that train ride to "Zootopia" where you see screens of the cities and the final stop a recreation of the main area, would be a fun bit and fits the park perfectly.

November 12, 2017, 6:55 PM

AJ .... you and I are in total agreement on how poor Fastpass+ really is ..... I got caught out on the Na’vi river ride with the 4 or 5 standby people vrs a boatload of fastpass people. OK ... so I enjoyed a FofP walk on due to my Fastpass but come on Disney let’s try and make it fairer for the standbys ...... and as I’ve said before .... don’t stop me having a Na’vi pass just because I have a FofP pass.
Great reading your take on AK. Until the Pandora mania slows down the lines are going to be horrendous. I rode Everest 3 Times, once on a FP and the other 2 as a single rider ... pretty much straight on every time. I’m not sure about scrapping Primeval Whirl though ... :). It has its place in the Dino area.
I lasted until about 4pm, so I admire your staying power to be there all day. It’s a great park, but I much much prefer Busch Gardens for the wildlife. Next up for me is Hollywood Studios early December then I’ll do MK and Epcot in January .... I am not getting anywhere close to those 2 parks this time of year.
I hope you went to Seaworld...it’s my “home” park so I look forward to your thoughts.

Edited: November 12, 2017, 10:08 PM

I feel your pain AJ. My wait for Flight of Passage in August ended up ballooning from four hours to five and a half (I was only willing to wait because I had no clue when I'd be back to Animal Kingdom and I've done virtually everything else there before). Because of my experience, I'm going to have to book a hotel room for Galaxy's Edge to take advantage of EMH and avoid similar misery.

November 13, 2017, 7:23 AM

This illustrates the inherent problem with FP+, and why it needs to go. While I am sure Avatar is great, this was months after it was out during a time when school is in session. 30 days out and you cannot get an advance ticket? A family in my office decided the other day to go this Thanksgiving. They did not know I am an enthusiast. I asked if they had ride or dinner reservations. They said no. They said they didn't know they needed them. I said you really need to check into that. After booking, they now know they cannot get any dining and most ride reservations are gone. Many people are this way. With the old system, they could get by at least with the rides. Imagine what it will be like when people spend their savings to take their kids to Star Wars and not be able to experience the attractions. Granted, there was no attempt to do a rope drop for the ride above, but I am also dismayed by a five minutes river ride. If they go cheap on Star Wars, I may just move in at Hogsmeade and never leave.

November 13, 2017, 8:19 AM

As someone who just got back from Orlando a little less than a month ago, I can draw some direct comparisons to AJ's comments. The first regarding FP+, particularly when it comes to FoP. For much of the summer, Disney was deliberately holding back the distribution of FP+ reservations for FoP until they could reliably operate the attraction at full capacity. As noted, FoP has 4 separate theaters, each with multiple levels of link chairs (think Simpsons/Back to the Future). It takes some serious coordination, not only from CMs but also from the technology, to get this ride to run a peak efficiency. The rumor was that Disney was running the ride at half capacity through much of the summer while CMs were still getting the hang of loading and operating the attraction. However, in late August, Disney was regularly able to operate FoP at or near full capacity. This encouraged Disney to release a flood of FP+ reservations to the market to allow more guests to get their hands on this coveted resource. We were fortunate to snag one on the day Disney flooded the market, which was about 2 weeks before our trip (like AJ, we were only able to snag a Na'Vi River Journey FP+ at the 30 day mark, but replaced it when the FoP reservations became available).

However, wanting to get at least 2 rides on one of the hottest rides on the planet, we took the rope drop approach too (not sure where AJ heard the advice of shorter afternoon lines, but the only other strategy I would have considered aside from rope drop would be to enter the line at the very end of the day when Disney deliberately inflates wait times to psychologically keep guests from getting in line so they don't have to operate rides long after park closing - a 140 minute posted wait 5 minutes before park closing has been averaging about 60 minutes in real wait time). We arrived at DAK about 60 minutes before the official park opening time, and were gathered in the entry plaza with fewer than 1,000 people. After waiting about 30 minutes outside, they opened the gates and allowed guests to proceed towards Discovery Island. They held guests near Tiffins and the bridge leading towards Pandora for another 15 minutes before letting guests walk into the new land, and were loading guests onto FoP about 5-10 minutes before the posted park opening time. Even with a FoP FP+ for 10:15 AM, we headed towards the simulator and were on and off the attraction within about 25 more minutes. We then went over to Na'Vi River Journey, which posted a 90-minute line, but was more like 30 (this became a common observation throughout our most recent WDW trip - grossly inaccurate wait times), and after the overly short and unimpressive boat trip, we went back and rode FoP again. After strolling around, participating in the drum show, and eating lunch at SaTuli Canteen, we had completed everything in Pandora by 11:00 AM, which included 2 rides on FoP.

We managed yet another ride on FoP later in the day when a FP+ reservation happened to pop up on the app. That's another common theme we found with this WDW trip compared to previous visits. FP+ can be a blessing and a curse, and we frequently stumbled upon coveted FP+ reservations at random times throughout our trip. Just by continuously refreshing the offerings, you are fed a highly variable group of available FP+ reservations most closely meeting the time and park parameters you've initially selected. However, if you don't like what you see on first glance, you can refresh the view to see if something better comes up. I can attest that we scored more than a dozen additional FP+ reservations during our 4+ days at WDW, including 7DMT, FoP, Everest, TestTrack, Soarin', Tower of Terror, Rock 'n Rollercoaster, Toy Story Mania, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Peter Pan, and others attractions with traditionally long waits that didn't have FP+ reservations available on the first pull on the app. On one day at MK, we used 10 FP+ reservations (including the first 3 we setup before we arrive). The same goes if you're in the process of booking your FP+ reservations weeks before your trip starts - don't be satisfied with the first list of attractions and times you're presented with. Now, if a FoP, Frozen, or 7DMT FP+ presents itself (regardless of time), you should probably grab it when you see it, but don't be afraid to later click "modify" and scan the offerings regularly to see if you can get something more convenient even before you get to Orlando.

I've never been a FP+ fan, but have learned to deal with the system. It's not going away any time soon, so those that are frustrated with it should either figure out the rules and tricks, or just don't bother going to WDW. Galaxy's Edge will present even more challenges than PtWoA, especially since both rides are expected to be E-tickets, or at least not one e-ticket and a lame boat ride, so most guests will need to pick one or the other, and be willing to either rope drop or toil through the standby line for whichever attraction they cannot get a FP+ for (they will inevitably put the 2 new attractions in the same tier like they've done with Pandora).

As far as Pandora as a whole, I was pretty impressed. My expectations were not sky high, but I really liked the way the area was laid out, and a really enjoyed SaTuli Canteen. There are some good nooks and cranies and Pandora, that many guests will probably overlook just trying to get on the rides. We returned at night, and were equally impressed. Though, I was a bit bummed that Disney did more with black lighting than I was expecting. I was hoping for at least some fiber optic lighting embedded in the concrete (like at EPCOT), but it's all black light paint splattered all over the place like a Pollack painting. I did enjoy some of the interactive elements scattered throughout the area, but felt there should have been more and some more CMs directing guests to try them out. Pandora is far more impressive at night.

November 13, 2017, 11:05 AM

Well, I can say this for certain, Pandora is no Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Nice try Disney, but Universal is still in the lead.

November 13, 2017, 2:24 PM

i'm on the fence about Fastpass. Firstly, I like that its free, and that it ensures you get to experience some attractions that you consider "Don't miss". Its also good as a Load balancing tool - if certain attractions are getting less than usual the "on the day extra fastpass" can help push guests to less busy attractions.

However, I don't want to plan my trip to the Nth degree. I'm on break, I'm supposed to be relaxing. If I want a schedule i'll go back to work. You also don't necessarily know what needs a fastpass because they're bolted on to every attraction... Magic Eye Theatre for example definitely doesn't need fastpass.

To be honest, until Universal solves the kinks in Virtual Queing, I think its the last-worst option. I hate pay-to-play more than Fastpass.

November 14, 2017, 9:12 AM

"However, I don't want to plan my trip to the Nth degree."

That's one of my biggest gripes about FP+ too. I also intensely dislike having to pick attractions weeks in advance. I somewhat understand Disney's motives for wanting guests to schedule far in advance - it helps them determine anticipated park crowds and allows them time to increase or decrease park hours and staffing if pre-FP+ projections change. However, asking guests to pick what rides they want to ride (and at what time give or take an hour) as far as 70 days in advance is just ludicrous. There's absolutely no reason Disney can't let on-site guests make FP+ reservations 2 weeks in advance and off-site guests 1-week in advance. Even as off-site guests, when we made our FP+ reservations 30 days in advance of our trip, it felt like an eternity between when we secured our FP+s and when we arrived in Orlando. Even though I spent the weeks in between trying to tweak our FP+ reservations and times, there's absolutely no reason I should have had to do that for 4 weeks.

I will say it's nice to have FP+ for lesser attractions, especially for the reservations you can pick up after the first 3 you can secure in advance. I would never ride Small World if the line was over 10 minutes, so being able to snag a quick FP+ while strolling through Fantasyland for an immediate boarding is a nice perk. By our second day, I was regularly pulling up available FP+ reservations on my phone even before we boarded our current FP attraction (after scanning your Magic Band at the FP entrance, you're free to make a new reservation even if you haven't ridden yet). I was surprised I didn't see more people doing that, but for us, it saved a huge amount of time being able to ride most of the lesser attractions without having to wait in any line. I'm still bummed that Disney got rid of the FP+ reserved viewing areas for the parades and nighttime shows at MK. Those were easy FP+ reservations to snag on our last visit just minutes before a performance, and would have really helped us as I HATE standing around waiting for a parade or fireworks (ended up with a mediocre view of Happily Ever After from the Tomorrowland Bridge).

I agree that paying for queue avoidance is annoying, but Universal's Unlimited Express for deluxe hotel guests is not quite pay-to-play, yet far exceeds the FP+ model. I'm still waiting for Disney to start tiering FP+ access based on the hotel you're staying in. As of right now, a guest on the Concierge Level of the Grand Floridian has the same level of FP+ access as someone pitching a tent at Fort Wilderness.

November 14, 2017, 12:53 PM

The inherent problem with FP+ is the way people (and yes my pass-holder friends do this) think ..... Hmmmm I'd like to go to the MK one day in a week that's 30 days out ..... but, they don't know just which one of those days they'll go. So they will book their 3 fast passes for the 5,6 or 7 days of that week, and then when it finally arrives for them to go, they will go the 1 day and let the other FP's expire. So in reality 18 Fast passes have been booked, but only 3 will be used. Then to use up even more, some have other pass holders linked to their accounts, so they will book 3 fast passes for each person ... so on and so forth. Just imagine how many fast passes a large family/party of people will reserve 60 days out ?? Staggering, and I've come across that. I went looking for FP's at the MK a while back and checked a particular day, and almost every attraction had no fast pass available !! One can only assume a large group had completely wiped out them all.
Russell is right, Disney will never change ... not for the foreseeable future anyway.
And I may a lone voice here ..... but I'd much rather pay for the privilege than spend all my time trying to find a fast pass for a particular ride and/or attraction. It's a grind and a chore.
......... and heaven help us 30 day people if Disney ever decides to give FP+ priority to Grand Floridian, Contemporary and the other higher ranked hotel guests.

November 14, 2017, 2:31 PM

You're absolutely right Makorider. Like any "system" Disney comes up with (ADRs, old FP, transportation, Dining Plan, Photopass, etc...), it doesn't take long for people to find "loopholes" and to take advantage of the system to its fullest. My comment regarding giving high ranked hotel guests FP+ priority was based on some stories I've read of guests that book off-site hotels (or live in Florida with APs) and then reserve "dummy" campsites at Fort Wilderness with no intention of ever using it. Those campsite reservations give those parties access to FP+ 60+ days in advance, even if they never pitch a tent. I had always wondered why I could rarely find a campsite reservation after FP+ started, but now I know.

I think if Disney went to a straight pay-to-play model, it would similarly get out of control. The same guests exploiting the system now would still find a way to skirt the rules and take advantage. It would just start costing everyone real money instead of the cost of time and frustration.

Perhaps I had an unusual experience last month as on off-site guest, but the parks seemed pretty crowded (not summer or holiday crowded, but more crowded than when we last visited in October 2014). The only major attraction we didn't get a FP+ for at 30 days out was FoP, which we snagged when Disney dumped inventory at the end of September. In the parks, we didn't have any issues grabbing more FP+ reservations, sometimes even for high profile attractions, throughout the day and while park hopping (we grabbed FP+ reservations across 3 parks on one day). Being able to use the mobile app was a HUGE advantage over our previous visit where guests could only add/change reservations at the in-park kiosks (now practically extinct).

Don't get me wrong, I really don't like FP+, especially when compared to the old FP system. However, we were able to adapt to make it work for us, and it seemed to work pretty well. Aside from our rope drop rides, we only waited in a handful of standby lines across 4 full days and got on virtually every operating attraction in WDW, some multiple times. Aside from the pre-planning aspect, I think a lot of people complain about it because they don't understand how it works or how to make it work for them.

November 14, 2017, 3:35 PM

Lots of comments this time. I'll get to as many as I can.

Keith, my armchair Imagineer idea for DAK's next expansion would be a Zootopia area replacing Dinoland. Dinosaur could be re-purposed as the area's E-ticket, then Dino-Rama would become a mini-Fantasyland with 1-2 D-ticket attractions and 2-3 flat rides. Ideally, nothing new would have a height restriction (or if it did, it would be no more than 36"), creating a family-friendly area based on a popular IP that fits with Animal Kingdom. The fact that there's even a rumor about redoing that section of the park as Indiana Jones scares me, because not only is it not what the park needs, it fits the park far less than Pandora.

Mike, despite the non-functional Yeti, I'd still say Expedition Everest ranks very highly. While I'm sure a working animatronic adds to the ride, given how fast you go past I'm guessing it doesn't make as much of a difference as a static animatronic on a dark ride. I'd also say that given the current state of the parks, DHS and (arguably) Epcot should be cut before DAK, but perhaps that wasn't the case five years ago.

Makorider, I visited every theme park in Central Florida on this trip, so you'll be seeing reports from the others in due time. Besides, as a coaster enthusiast, how could I pass up the biggest coaster in Florida? As for staying all day, I regularly do open-to-close visits at Disneyland when I visit, so I'm used to it. DAK is a bit harder than some to fill a full day, but with a leisurely pace (and a nearly 4 hour wait) it's definitely doable.

James, that wait time is ridiculous! Personally, I have a hard time investing more than two hours into any attraction, and even if it was the best ride ever created I can't imagine feeling satisfied after waiting 5+ hours.

Russell, I had five different friends, all who live in the Orlando area, tell me the same thing...unless you get to the park at least an hour early and the ride is running at full capacity at opening, expect to wait at least two hours for Flight of Passage if you go there at opening. They'd all tried it, and they all found that, barring mechanical issues, the waits were shorter in the early/mid afternoon.
Since we were unwilling to get up super early (the next three days were all extremely long days), we decided to aim for arrival about 15 minutes before park opening and take our chances. Afterwards, my friends confirmed that based on where the line started, the 95 minute posted time would have been accurate had all four simulators been running. Given how many people we saw marching to Pandora when we arrived, I probably wouldn't have gone there first in any case.

Lastly, FP+. There is one, and only one, thing I like about FP+ that no other system has...you can easily adjust your reservations should something prevent you from making your return time. Other than that feature, every other express pass system I've tried is superior. Advance reservations are more of a hassle than a help, the limits on attractions essentially force long standby waits if you want to ride all the headliners, and the number of reservations given out are based on ideal capacity, not actual capacity. I've heard of some people having better luck than I did, but I was never able to get more than one additional Fastpass at any of the parks, and I ended up losing two due to either closed rides or an inability to reschedule. Now, the technology behind the system is perfectly fine, it is just the way it is used that bothers me.

What I'd like to see is a system similar to the Flash Pass that Six Flags uses, as that is the best skip the line system I've used. It could work something like this: Upon entry to the park, guests become eligible to use the Fastpass system. To use it, they simply go to the app on their phone or visit a kiosk in the park and select a ride. Instead of giving a reservation window, they are given a return time, at which point they may go to the attraction and enter through the Fastpass queue. This return time is based on the actual length of the queue, which is calculated by comparing the number of people currently in line (physical queue plus Fastpass holders) and the actual throughput of the attraction (averaged over a specific period of time). Guests are not required to return right at their return time, but they cannot get a return time for another attraction until they have used or canceled their current time.

To keep the system from becoming overrun, all visitors would receive a certain number of free Fastpasses (with more going to hotel guests than day visitors), then additional uses would be an upcharge. For example, a day visitor may get three reservations, then it is $10 per reservation for any additional reservations. Other upcharge options could be made available as well (such as unlimited reservations and/or shorter waiting times), and certain attractions could be restricted to prevent excessive use (for example, Flight of Passage is an upcharge for a reservation or guests can only do one Space Mountain reservation per day).

Edited: November 15, 2017, 7:15 AM

Interesting idea AJ, and what you've described is more like how the old FP system worked, except guests had to walk to each attraction to pick up a slip for a return time instead of being able to do it on their phone. In reality, those return times were calibrated to match what the wait time would be if everyone at that specific time were piled into the FP line. I do think the pre-reservation process is the biggest problem with the current system.

I do see the flaws in FP+, but there are far more complaints about guests simply not using the system correctly, or not understanding how it works. I'm all for a system, especially those that are free, that provides advantages to those who take some time to research how it works and know what to do to take maximum advantage (within the rules). FP is one of those systems that is incredibly frustrating if you don't know how to use it, but supremely advantageous if you do. Like I said before, we got multiple additional FP+ reservations beyond our first three pre-reserved attractions, including one day where we got more than 10 over 3 different parks. We did have a couple of problems with attraction breakdowns, but I think the way the FP system handles them is pretty seamless - you are notified by e-mail and in the app that your FP+ reservation has been converted to an "anytime" FP+ (with some limitations if it's not for 7DMT, Frozen, certain character meets, and FoP, but no limitation if the original FP was for one of those uber-headliners). The only drawback is that anytime FP stays in your app, preventing you from making any other reservations, until you use it, so if you did intend to use it for Frozen, FoP, or 7DMT, you have to hang onto it until that ride comes back up (which is easy to tell through the app). If not, you might want to use the anytime FP for a more popular attraction (like Space Mountain, Tower of Terror, Everest, or Soarin') that might not be anywhere you are at the time, and be forced to either waste it on a lesser attraction or walk to the other side of the park to get the best use of it. You also can't take the anytime FP hopping to another park, which is a bit annoying, but guests can either use it on an attraction on their way out or simply cancel it so they can make a FP+ reservation in the park they're hopping to.

I think once you get past the first 3 pre-reserved FP+s, the system does work essentially like FlashPass. When you pull up the attractions on the app (you can even pull up in a park you're not currently in if you plan on hopping), and it shows current wait times and available FP return times. Most of those FP+ return times are based on (or at least they appear to be based on) the current line and number of FP+ reservations remaining for the day. In most cases, we found that if I reserved an additional FP+, the earliest time given was typically equivalent to the current wait time for most attractions aside from the headliners, a huge time-savings since I was making reservations before even boarding the attraction our previous FP+ was for. As noted, occasionally headliner FP+s would pop up, that I assumed were either reservations dropped by people that couldn't make it, changed their plans, or were from Disney adding additional reservations because of efficient operations throughout the early part of the day. I've read many horror stories about FP+, but as annoying as the pre-reservation part of the process is, I'd much rather have a free FP+ system than a pay system (even if you're only paying for additional access beyond a free "basic" service).

November 15, 2017, 10:29 AM

FP+ is workable for sure. but there is still a lot of effort required to accomplish the desired ride times. Going online to check (daily at 7am EST ??) the availability, and then using the app to get more passes on the actual day in the park. A couple more weeks and I can start looking in January ... it'll be interesting to see if the FP+ becomes a little more available in what is usually the quietest month of all to visit WDW.
And, as always my request to Disney ..... I'm OK with you giving me an initial 3 FP+ a day, but please don't restrict what rides and/or attractions I can use them on .... :)

Edited: November 15, 2017, 11:40 AM

I don't think it's a lot of effort, and if you're willing to put forth a bit, the system typically rewards you. Checking daily at 7 AM isn't necessary unless you're at your 30 or 60+ day window (it does suck for guests from the west coast that have to get up at 4 AM - I know because we were in Ft. Collins, CO the first day our FP+ window opened and had to wake up at 4:45 AM). After that, it's probably best to avoid early hours to make changes. People changing their schedules is completely random, so once you've done your initial scheduling at the 30/60+ day mark, you're far better off checking at random times until your trip starts, including most importantly the few days before your visit when volatility is the highest.

The tiering is annoying, but I think it's a necessary restriction to spread crowds around the park and give the greatest number of guests a chance to experience at least one of the headline attractions in each park without waiting in the standby line. MK doesn't need tiering since it has so many attractions and enough must-dos that 3 FP+ reservations aren't enough to overwhelm the system. However, all of the other parks don't have enough headliners, meaning if guests could use their 3 pre-reserved FP+s for the obvious headliners, there are going to be some guests left in the cold. Look at Pandora - even with both FoP and Na'Vi River Journey set as tier 1 attractions (meaning you can't have FP+s for both at the same time) they both "sell out" extremely quickly. Before Disney increased the number of FoP reservations available each day, it was routine to see reservations completely gone by 60-62 days in advance (on-site guests can make FP+ reservations for their entire stay 60 days ahead of their check in day for up to an extra 10 days of advanced reservations depending on how many nights they're staying on-site). Guests are still reporting morning FoP times unavailable at the 60-day mark even with the greater supply, so imagine if all of the guests with FoP reservations could also have Na'Vi River Journey FP+s too (not that the boat ride is worth wasting a FP, or more than 20 minutes of time on). The tiering is absolutely essential, and will be even more necessary when Galaxy's Edge opens, assuming WDW is still using FP+ in 2019.

November 15, 2017, 4:45 PM

Another big issue with FP+ is that it is on everything, even things that don’t need it. Because of that, those attractions now have unusually long wait times where they never had in the past. Omnimovers and the boat rides are especially true of this. 45 minutes for Spaceship Earth is stupid, and it was never a fast pass attraction. They should reserve the system only for the attractions that truly need it. Now you are seeing 90 minute waits for Pirates and Haunted Mansion, and this is during non-peak times.

Edited: November 15, 2017, 6:47 PM

All good points raised Russell, but surely if there’s ‘x’ amount of passes for FofP and ‘y’ amount for the Na’vi river ride what difference does it make if I have 1 for each, or even 3 for FofP at different times of the day ? In the end it’s the same allocation of FP+ being available ... it’s just the distribution that’s different. Maybe I’m just seeing it from a locals perspective instead of a visitors one !!
I do agree on your Na’vi river assessment ..... it is very poor ... and I waited over an hour in standby to be totally underwhelmed.
How can you have Pandora without the tree of souls ?? Just think how good the river ride could have been with the boat going past/under the TofS and animatronics of the creatures of the forest. The Shaman at the end is a good indication as to just how good it could have been. It’s as if Disney got half way thru the design and thought “screw it” ... let’s bore everyone with videos. 2/10 at best.
Good news on a Seaworld write up AJ ... I’m looking forward to it. I love the park but I have many criticisms on numerous things so don’t hold back ... as if you would anyway ... :)

Edited: November 16, 2017, 7:24 AM

@JC - I actually like the secondary and tertiary attractions having FP+. Yes, many of those attractions didn't have significant lines 10 years ago, but the parks were not nearly as crowded 10 years ago as they are today. We've been going to Orlando pretty regularly every 2 years in the fall for over 15 years now, and have seen the steady rise in crowds during what was a very quiet time of year (the numbers back me up with over 5 million more people slamming into MK in 2016 than in 2004, a @35% increase). I completely agree that you could walk on many lesser attractions in 2005-2010, but after the recession ended, and more enticements were added to get guests coming back (seasonal events/festivals, new attractions, hotel deals, etc...), the parks have gotten more and more crowded. Even without FP on those smaller attractions, you'd have significant standby lines, so being able to grab those later in the day after you've used up your first 3 pre-reserved rides is a great advantage. I'd say we probably saved almost 2 hours of line waiting each day with FP+ on our trip last month, or at the very least rode a bunch of smaller rides we would not have likely done had it none been for FP+. Again, I'm all for a system that rewards those who know what they're doing, and if people want to stand in a 30-minute line for Small World when there's a FP+ reservation available on the app 5 minutes from now, then why should I complain? I'll gladly scoop up the FP+ and let the dullards stand in line or wander aimlessly looking for something that doesn't exist (an attraction without a line).

@Makorider - What you're advocating is hoarding, which I'm sure those that know what they're doing and are persistent would love, but is patently unfair to the less-experienced and uninformed. I would love to ride FoP a dozen times in a single day if I didn't have to wait in the 3+ hour line, but so would every other person in DAK on a given day. The fact of the matter is that the attraction simply doesn't have the capacity to do it, and probably doesn't even have enough daily capacity to allow every guest on a typical park day to ride it more than once. So, if they're going to give guests a queue avoidance system (that's not a cast system based on how much you're willing to pay or what hotel you're staying at), they've got to let everyone get a shot at riding the biggest/best/most popular rides. If resourceful guests were able to sit on 2, 3, or more FP+ reservations for a single attraction, that's another person wanting to ride the attraction just once that will get relegated to the standby line just so Mr. Uber-fan can ride for the 100th time in a week. I'm all for a system that rewards knowledge and persistence, but you still need to make it feasible for the average Joe to get a shot at getting a ride on the best rides without standing in obscene lines.

November 16, 2017, 10:00 AM

This has been a fascinating discussion concerning FP+, one I cannot personally add to since I've never used it. Still, FP+ greatly informs how I might one day plan a WDW visit, and it gives me the impression (along with Dining Plans, DVC and other complications) of a place which is functionally nothing at all like the various other Disney Park resorts.

Through research and experience, I have mastered the classic paper FP model. In my recent first visit to DisneySea I never waited longer than 15 minutes for a ride, still I did 'em all with ease (many repeatedly), and wait times that day still swelled over 3 hours for other guests. Planning was needed, to know ride priorities, routes, and yet there's a zen state with classic FP which still allows for freeform lollygagging in between return times. Efficient but unhurried. It's not easy getting out to Japan to see their crowded parks, so it's my responsibility to tour smartly while I'm there.

Classic FP, though free, creates castes of the knowledgeable and the uninitiated, and I regularly see once-a-lifetime tourists at Disneyland at a disadvantage for not understanding the system (or even knowing it exists - I hear frequent grumbles from standby people assuming I've paid to bypass them). FP+ creates the impression of access to less experienced guests, which is great for WDW as a tourist-friendly destination. But I'd wager FP+ is primarily designed to extend guest resort spending. Stay in a hotel, get earlier FP+ windows. Use only 3 a day, with longer lines everywhere, and you're visiting longer, eating more. Why would Disney change that? Of course, smart guests like Russell can maximize this system.

Every queue-cutter has its perks and drawbacks. If I ever visit WDW, I mean to be pragmatic about FP+ in the way Russell describes, looking to burn through the 3 gimmes early to gain that opportunity to pick up more reservations. All with a focus on rope drop efficiency, single rider lines, etc. of course. It costs a lot per day to visit Disney as an out-of-towner, and I'm interested in maximizing that value however possible.

So if I ever visit WDW, I'm going prepared. Not like some tourists who arrive at Magic Kingdom midday at peak season expecting to simply walk onto 5 major E-tickets in a row instantly. This means research still creates visitor castes, though at least it's not pay-for-play castes like with some other parks. It's a pain, yes, but it's the nature of how Disney operates. Some guests will surely spend all day attempting to just do the two Pandora rides once each, and achieve little else beyond that, but we don't have to be those guests!

Edited: November 16, 2017, 5:14 PM

" ..... but is patently unfair to the less-experienced and uninformed"
I think for all of us who live within minutes and not hours of a theme park/resort the mindset is more of a selfish nature? ... but maybe it's just me?, Even when I lived within striking distance of Alton Towers I always chose to go off-peak because I didn't like the idea of ‘other people’ being at "my" park. Same for me now with SeaWorld ... at the moment it's awesome to go in after work at 4:30, have a few rides on the coasters, eat and walk around before close at 6. Try doing that between Thanksgiving and Christmas !!
FP+ has it's place in the world of Disney, and until they come up with another/better idea, then we're stuck with it.
Like Douglas, I too have learnt a lot about FP+ during this highly entertaining discussion. Thanks to all for the input, and I will put all my new found knowledge to the test when I visit Disney Hollywood Studios in early December .... :)

November 16, 2017, 12:41 PM

Douglas, you hit the nail squarely on the head. I go to both WDW and DL. Same volume as MK and DL. I can experience 15 attractions to about 8 at DL to MK. It is about their ability to maximize spending in the parks; therefore, it is a system made for the parks and not the guest.

November 16, 2017, 10:56 PM

The Fastpass system, regardless of iteration, actually has no connection to the current wait time at attractions. It instead is based on a mathematical formula. Essentially, a certain percentage of an attraction's daily capacity is made available to Fastpass, and this is divided into intervals. For example, say a ride has an hourly capacity of 2,000 guests per hour, and half of that (or 50%) is reserved for Fastpass. That means, in each hour, 1,000 Fastpass tickets are made available. This is further divided into 12 intervals, with approximately 83 tickets available for each one.

With the old system, Fastpass machines were set to a certain start point each day, then the first 83 would get the first slot, the next 83 the next slot, etc. If the delay prior to returning became too short, the machines would proceed to the next interval and the unclaimed tickets would essentially be added to the stand-by capacity. This meant that as long as Fastpass was not selling out fully, the stand-by wait would usually be about the same as (or even slightly shorter than) what it would be had all those Fastpass holders jumped in line. It also meant that smart guests could essentially be standing in two or three lines at once. However, the system breaks down when there is any delay or reduction in operations, as any loss in capacity must come out of the stand-by line until those holding reservations are accommodated.

Fastpass+ behaves essentially the same as Fastpass, but most return windows are completely sold out. As a result, it is really easy for the stand-by lines to balloon rapidly if everything doesn't go as planned. Even a surge of Fastpass guests arriving at once could cause a modest stand-by line to double. From the guest perspective, the system is also difficult to benefit from...you save time at three attractions, but your wait is often increased enough elsewhere to cancel the benefit out. Yes, you could schedule your return times early in the day and collect more tickets afterward, but in my experience availability was non-existent at all but the highest capacity attractions by early afternoon. Another issue I ran into was that sometimes there weren't enough slots for the entire party, so I'd have to make reservations in groups of 1 or 2 and pick overlapping time slots so that everyone could ride together.

I don't know the exact numbers, but my understanding is that Walt Disney World distributes 70-80% of their attraction capacity in Fastpass+ reservations (varies by attraction), so based on the theoretical model above that means only 400 guests from the stand-by line would enter each hour. Compare this to the old system (which had distribution of 40-60%), and it just seems insane. However, the true goal of Fastpass+ is not to improve the guest experience, but to equalize it. The system is designed so that regardless of crowds, everyone will be able to experience 10-15 attractions if they wish to do so, but it will be difficult to get to more than that. The number of Fastpasses given per guest is set so that on a capacity day every single visitor can still get three, and while I dislike the restrictions on what can be selected it does make sense to spread out the crowds.

I'm not going to say anything more as I don't want to spoil the Magic Kingdom day (that will be next week's report...tomorrow's is a different park), but you'll definitely see another side effect of Fastpass+ there.

Edited: November 17, 2017, 7:56 AM

AJ - Your understanding of the FP+ system is different from what I've read about the new system, and have experienced first hand on multiple visits. What you've described is essentially how the old FP system worked with attractions designated with a certain number of FP reservations allotted each day based on typical capacity spread across a number of time slots throughout the day. However, FP+ is far more dynamic and adaptable to changing conditions. I also think your FP+ allocation is a bit off with between 50-60% of attraction capacity being made available to FP+ reservations (not 70-80%), though all FP+ reservations are not made available to guests at the same time. My understanding and experience of the system paints a much more complex picture with Disney holding far more control as to how reservations are distributed than in the old system.

Here's how I believe it works...

Disney has determined a "baseline capacity" for each of their attractions, which is the minimum number of guests that can ride on the slowest, most sparsely staffed days. This number also accounts for a reasonable number of breakdowns in an average day and the occasional slowing of loading for disabled guests. For omni-movers like Spaceship Earth, Haunted Mansion, and Little Mermaid, that baseline capacity isn't much different than the maximum capacity, but for attractions like Everest, Space Mountain, Tower of Terror, and Flight of Passage, where additional trains, tracks, or ride systems can be brought on and off-line based on crowds, that baseline capacity may be very different than the attraction's maximum capacity. Did you ever notice that rides like Big Thunder and Space Mountain were not operating both platforms at all times? That's not because of a malfunction, it's because Disney bases operational capacity on how many people are in the park at a given time and will deliberately allow standby lines to build to push guests away to less popular, but higher capacity attractions. So, at the 60+ day window, Disney makes FP+ reservations available based on the baseline capacity, again my understanding is that it's closer to 30-50% of that number, but as Disney makes decisions on how they're going to operate attractions on a given day (i.e. consider increasing attraction capacity above the baseline if they think it's going to be a really busy day based on early FP+ system activity, hotel reservations, and recent park guests counts), they will make additional FP+ reservations available. From most accounts, it appears that the additional FP+ reservations are added at random points, not at a specific number of days ahead of time, and sometimes, like during known busy summer months and holiday periods, Disney already assumes that they're going to be running attractions as close to maximum capacity as possible, and almost all potential FP+ reservations are made available at the 60+ day mark. It's my understanding that when the additional capacity is considered or park hours are expanded, Disney starts allocating a larger percentage of that capacity to FP+ guests, which reportedly has been close to that 70-80% number AJ cited, however, that's only a percentage of the added capacity, NOT overall capacity allocated to FP+. Reports and experience also suggest that Disney almost always holds back a very limited number of FP+ reservations to introduce to the market either on the day or day prior to sprinkle some "pixie dust" on guests that may not have had much luck in the early reservation window. Disney also releases additional FP+ reservations based on current operational status. If ride ops are cranking and running attractions at or above maximum capacity, Disney will often release additional FP+ reservations the day of. If a standby line is unusually short, Disney may release additional FP+ reservations to encourage guests to move to that part of the park and to slightly lengthen the standby line. If a big ride breaks down, and lots of FP+ reservations are converted to "anytime FP+s", Disney can pull back unclaimed FP+ reservations for other popular attractions to account for the guests that may use their "anytime FP+s" on a different popular ride. The bottom line is that Disney wants guests standing in lines for no more than 3-4 hours in a typical 12-hour day, regardless of how busy the park is on a given day, but they still want guests waiting in some lines to increase overall park capacity and to keep pathways navigable. That means if an average guest is riding 6-8 rides, they're not waiting more than 30 minutes per ride. After-all, a guest standing in line is not spending money, and probably not having much fun either, even with the interactive queues and detailed themeing in the lines of modern attractions. However, Disney still wants guests, regardless of when they're visiting, to have similar experiences, which is why guests are reporting unusually long lines since FP+ was implemented, even during slow times of the year. Disney wants guests to have a similar experience visiting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving that they do on a Tuesday in late January, and they use attractions capacity and FP+ to normalize the guest experience. That means FP+ needs to be a very dynamic system AJ, and may even be more dynamic and complex than I have explained it.

November 17, 2017, 8:48 AM

I'm not a huge fan of Disney's corporate practices, but I will say that I like FP+. I've used it twice now in the past few years, and for someone who's married to a night person who likes to go to the parks in the afternoon and evening, it is awesome. The old system favored the morning people and fastpasses were usually all gone by the time we got to the park, so our visit was degraded. Now I can enjoy the parks at a leisurely pace with my spouse without the pressure to get up early or the disappointment of standing in too many long standby lines.

November 17, 2017, 10:47 AM

During my visit to AK last month, and seeing first hand the crazy lines in and around Pandora, I did wonder later what % of people were ......
1) Savvy app people, and looking for FP+ for most of the time they were there ? Always difficult to say for sure, as most people are constantly looking at their phones these days anyway ... LOL
2) Early reserving FP+ people (like me) who had their fast passes prior to arriving and didn't use the app to find any more ?
3) Guests who had not used the FP+ system and turned up for the day and were prepared to spend most of their day in line for the FofP and Na'vi river ride ?

2 very interesting viewpoints of the FP+ system from Russell and AJ. I suppose these days with constant monitoring of guests in and out of the park, Disney has to be able to change FP+ allocation on the fly. I assume there's a 'big brother' computer controlling all of that ?

Edited: November 17, 2017, 11:58 AM

HP is a big Disney partner, and is likely managing the FP+ system with AI and additional input from Disney (hotel occupancy, historical park attendance, attraction capacity, current operational efficiency, etc...).

My impression from being there a month ago is that most people (80% or more) have little knowledge of how to use FP+ to maximum benefit. A majority of those guests probably at least know about the system, and may have gone online prior to their visit to snag reservations for the most popular ride. However, many of those making an attempt were probably too late to get reservations that regularly sell out these days (7DMT, Frozen, FoP, and Na'Vi River). Those guests were probably satisfied with the attractions they did get FP+ reservations for, and were resigned to the fact that they would just wait in the standby lines for the popular attractions they were unable to get FP+s for.

My impression (again just based on my personal experience and awareness of fan board participation/comments) is that there are probably about 10% of WDW visitors on a given day that really know how to maximize the FP+ system, and utilize it as a pure queue avoidance tool (like FlashPass or Universal Express). There are probably another 10-20% of daily WDW visitors that have a strong knowledge of the system, but instead use it as a scheduling tool or a way to tailor the WDW experience to their taste (as Tim pointed out to be able to ride headliners in the evenings to avoid waking up early on vacation). I don't know how many times I've seen stories of guests perfectly happy to plan attractions around a dining reservation or get reserved seating for nighttime shows - as opposed to securing reservations for attractions early in the day to allow for additional FP+ reservations later in the day, of which evening shows and rides around ADRs could be scheduled in the park through the app. These guests, while good intentions to serve their family's schedule, are unknowingly cutting themselves off at the knees by locking themselves out for the day with an evening FP+ reservation (assuming it's not for a headliner with scarce availability, at which point it's up to preference whether it's more valuable to get 10 FP+ rides, none of which are for the one you really really want, versus 2 along with the ride you've been waiting years to experience). Finally there are those that simply don't have any idea of how the system works, and perhaps go online to make some reservations before they arrive or simply wait until they show up. I think that group makes up the majority of WDW visitors (probably 60-70%), and it's possible that some of those may have a travel agent or group leader that help to at least get them some decent FP+ reservations, but once they're in the park, they probably never use the app to change or make additional FP+ when available.

I would also note that it appears Disney has recently changed the way they manage their wait time displays. Aside from the very beginning of the day and the very end of the day, the displays used to be extremely accurate because CMs would constantly send "red tags" through the line (essentially prox cards that were tapped when handed out and when returned that instantly provided an actual wait time for the guest holding the tag), giving real time data for the displays. They would even send red tags through the FP line to ensure guests were not waiting longer than acceptable in that line, forcing a merge distribution shift if the wait was too long. When we were there last month, we only saw a few red cards being handed out (we didn't wait in a lot of standby lines, so my observations were only from the main attraction entrances and at merge points) when during past visits we saw them everywhere, and were handed red tags on multiple occasions, including twice through FP queues. What we noticed instead on this trip was a dramatic difference in the accuracy of the posted wait times, which is confirmed by a number of trip reports I've read elsewhere over the past year. It seems that Disney is still sending red tags through, but not necessarily using that data to immediately update wait times. Instead, they are skewing wait times in what I believe is an attempt at balancing crowds.

In one instance, we had just finished riding Rock 'n Rollercoaster, and I was scanning on the app for another FP+ reservation. There was one available for Toy Story less than 30 minutes from that time, so I grabbed it. Since we had a half hour to kill, I looked on the app to see what the current wait was for Tower of Terror. In the app, it was posted at 20 minutes, which at first I didn't believe, because it was running between 40-60 minutes all day to that point. So we walked around the corner and went to the Tower entrance, and indeed the wait was posted on the board at 20 minutes, and we got in line. I looked at the line and was a bit skeptical because it extended into the courtyard, but trusted that Disney was posting real time data. I should have trusted my gut, because we ended up waiting 40 minutes just to get into the library and another 10 minutes in the boiler room (all 4 loading stations were running). We were never in danger of missing out Toy Story reservation, but we didn't arrive until 30 minutes into the window, which was 30 minutes after we could have secured another FP+ reservation had we been able to arrive at the beginning of the window (perhaps for a night ride on ToT). We encountered inaccurate wait times all over WDW during this trip, which was completely counter to previous trips (there have been a lot of reports over the past year of similar observations), which makes me think Disney is deliberately skewing these numbers as a crowd balancing technique (along with additional FP+ distribution). Nonetheless, it's really frustrating, especially when Disney wants you to schedule everything in advance, and you count on those wait times to be at least accurate give or take 10 minutes, and are willing to walk from one end of the park to another to ride a popular attraction that is showing a short line.

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