Universal Express vs. Disney's FastPass+: Two different ways to look at a vacation

December 20, 2012, 12:21 PM · Which type of vacation sounds better to you?

One option: You are assured of getting on all the attractions you want to see because you've reserved ride times for each of them, in advance. Your lunch and dinners are reserved, too. In fact, all of your meals and snacks are included in the cost of your hotel room, which can range from mid-range to luxury prices. It's pretty much an all-inclusive vacation, with all your activities scheduled in advance, for worry-free enjoyment during your trip.

Mickey and Minnie

The other option: You don't have to worry about waiting in lines on your vacation, because when you show your room key, you get to skip them. There's no need to schedule anything in advance, just show up whenever you like and go to the front of the line for nearly-immediate boarding. You can reserve meal times in advance, too, but that's another phone call, and there aren't that many places that take reservations, anyway. Most dining is counter-service, and if you want an "all-inclusive" option, you can buy an additional, inexpensive "all you can eat" plan. But it's honored only at a few, selected locations. The skip-the-lines perks is available only at a limited number of hotels, which start at upper-mid-range go up from there. But if you can afford that, and get a room, it's no worries about ride and show lines or reservations for the rest of your trip.


Regular readers of Theme Park Insider will recognize these options as the (new) Walt Disney World and (existing) Universal Orlando models, respectively. They fascinate me because they really do represent two different views of what a relaxing vacation should be: one where everything's planned in advance, and one in which planning isn't necessary.

Not only that, I think it's fascinating to think ahead about how these plans will influence the future of the Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando resorts.

Here's another big difference between these approaches: Walt Disney World's scales, while Universal Orlando's does not. Walt Disney World can continue to add more and more people to its now-very-limited FastPass+ system, scheduling more people into more attraction times at more locations in its parks, replacing the current paper Fastpass reservation times it now distributes. Conceivably, it even could make Fastpass+ a requirement for all visitors, forcing everyone to schedule every attraction visit in advance.

Universal Orlando, however, can't add many more people to its Universal Express line-skipping plan without creating significant waits in the supposedly-no-wait Universal Express bypass queues. That's why, when Universal Orlando announced plans for a fourth on-site hotel, it noted that guests there would not be getting the free Universal Express perk with those rooms. Universal has hit its limit with free Universal Express. The system simply won't scale beyond what it now is.

But hitting the limit does bring one advantage over Disney's system. Universal's system is sustainable. It can go on offering its Universal Express perk to guests at those three hotels pretty much forever, if it would like. The easy scalability of Disney's approach eventually will force it into a sustainability problem. What happens even those ride reservations are "sold out"? You can't keep selling tickets into the park then.

Fastpass+ either will need to be capped, a la Universal's plan, to allow for reasonable stand-by wait times, or it inevitably will force Disney into a system where it must require visitors to specify a date for their visit. Days where all the Fastpass+ reservations are claimed would be days that are "sold out" and no one could buy admission to the park. Since popular dates likely would sell out far in advance, it wouldn't surprise me to see Disney then implement a variable pricing scheme, where park admission on certain dates cost more than on others.

Gaming out the future of Fastpass+ is like watching dominoes fall. If Disney goes with variable pricing, what happens to existing tickets? Disney's always said that a non-expiring ticket is good for admission on any day when the park is open. Now, Disney easily could deny admission to someone with an old "no-expire" ticket on a sold-out day. But it couldn't easily demand that a customer pays extra to use that ticket on an "upcharge" day. With so many no-expire tickets out there, even a variable pricing plan might not keep popular vacation periods from "selling out" far in advance.

So the only other solution is to increase capacity. Hello, Cars Land East. And Avatar Land. And Star Wars Land. Any anything else Disney can envision to increase its parks capacity. Which would be great for theme park fans, unless Disney's bean counters start enforcing a "quantity over quality" approach, only approving new developments that might make California Adventure 1.0 and the woeful Walt Disney Studios Paris parks look like dream destinations in comparison.

And what of people who don't get these perks? With Universal already hitting its limit, the future seems to be the same as it ever was over there. Perhaps Universal will play around more with pay-per-use ride reservation systems, as it has this year. But if Disney expands Fastpass+ beyond the capacity of its current Fastpass system, as it appears bent on doing with all the Fastpass+ infrastructure we're seeing going into non-Fastpass attraction at the resort, visitors who don't use Fastpass+ might be facing longer and longer stand-by waits as a result. At some point, not participating in Fastpass+ might not be a viable option if you want an enjoyable theme park vacation.

So whats the best solution? Honestly, I don't know. So long as I can afford a room at Universal's Royal Pacific, I love being able to skip the lines at that resort. But I totally see the appeal of locking in my no-wait ride times at top Disney World attractions, too, especially if I don't have to book an on-site hotel room to do it.

Let's throw it open for discussion. What do you see the logistics of Orlando theme park vacations changing, as a result of Fastpass+? And how will you, and your family, probably react? Let's talk in the comments.

Replies (56)

December 20, 2012 at 12:33 PM · It's not even close. Universal by a landslide. I despise having to book everything in advance while on "VACATION". Vacation then becomes like work, schedules for most everything. I want leisure and spontaniety while on vacation. Reading many of the Disney oriented web sites, it appears that hard core Disneyphiles are turned off by what they have heard about Fast Pass+. Working around dining reservations is bad enough. Universal does it right.
December 20, 2012 at 12:39 PM · You outlined the issue very well. I love Universal's system and always stay at the royal pacific. (I've tried their other two hotels, and don't like them as much as the RP. Bonus is that it's the cheapest one.) As much as I love their express system, I hate their all you can eat meals. The places that honor it are the lousiest of the restaurants. It's just not worth it.

That being said, Disney could only do something like this if they cut out the inexpensive and moderate resorts, and only included the upscale / DVC resorts. (And I'm not sure it would work then.) what I hate about disney is using my pass to get fastpasses. I am always terrified of losing my pass by dropping it while going for a FP. I do like disney's dining system better. they have lots of great restaurants and I only buy the dining plan every third trip or so in order to keep it special.

December 20, 2012 at 12:41 PM · A vacation where you have to adjust your visit to many scheduled appoinments for nearly every ride/show/meal is really a vacation?

Honestly even the regular FastPass seems me a little bit odd because you have to be wandering not too far from the ride, always having a look to the watch just to be sure that you did not miss the time of your ride. What you actually miss is spontaneity.

Otherwise, I have to say that regular FastPass is useful for a few always-crowded rides, and at least seems me more 'democratic', as it's useful for everyone, not only for big budgeted escapes as in Universal. So it's true, none of them are a perfect system at all.

December 20, 2012 at 1:17 PM · For now, I still think the best Fastpass at any theme park chain is Disney's free Fastpass. You don't have to stay on site and you don't have to pay anything extra. It is truly free. You just show up and use the system. Furthermore, it is available on all headliner attractions.

As for Fastpass+, I love the idea of planning everything in advance. I think this new perk will definitely increase my enjoyment in touring the Disney parks. It will be especially nice to know that I can reserve specific times (like night rides on Thunder Mountain) without worrying about timing the current Fastpass system "just right". And the fact that Fastpass+ ties into parade and fireworks viewing is also very cool. I cannot wait to try out the new system when I visit in 2014.

The most reasonably priced "paid" Fastpass system is the one at Dollywood. For around $80 my entire family of five can get unlimited "fastpasses" to all the top rides. It is a great value and a huge time saver.

Without a doubt though, the best paid perk is Universal's Unlimited Express which you receive when you book a stay at the Royal Pacific, the Hard Rock, or the Portfino Bay resort. It ain't cheap to stay at these hotels, and Universal Express does not include all the headliners, but the stress free vacation you receive during your two night/three day Universal stop is impossible to beat. I would not visit Universal without this perk. It is almost too good to be true, which is why I am sure it will not last forever. I do not know how Disney could offer this type of perk as the number of guests staying onsite at the WDW resort is so much greater than at Universal. The free Fastpass system would be completely ruined for the casual visitor. Disney would have to limit this type of perk to a few high end resorts (as another poster mentioned), and probably further limit that group to a specific park - for example, guests at the Grand Floridian would would have the perk at Magic Kingdom and guests at Beach Club would get the perk at Epcot, something like that.

The worst systems are the ones employed at Six Flags (Flash Pass) and Cedar Fair (Fast Lane), as they specifically manage their ride lines to cause back ups and frustration so people are almost forced to spend the extra dough to buy a fastpass perk. Six Flags further insults visitors by only including certain rides (like X2 at Magic Mountain or the Texas Giant at SFoT) with the more expensive "gold" version of their substandard system. Such a slap in the face.

But again, Disney's free Fastpass system is still the best, just because it is truly free, which is the best perk of all.

December 20, 2012 at 1:25 PM · Fastpass+ by a landslide. Universal and lines aren't a problem since I'm a local and go when it isn't crowded. Same goes with Disney, but Fastpass is needed at some rides (TSM), and this system will make it even better since I don't have to go all around the park back and forth. My big complaint with both Fastpass and Express is that they can backup standby waits.
December 20, 2012 at 1:34 PM · love universal and the hotels...outside of harry potter and rip rocket its just about good for all the rides. Not to mention if you want to go on it a few times in a row. I do not have to plan anything and do not need to wake up at the crack of dawn to rush to the park to get on my ride unless its potter or the rocket...as for disney, the current fast pass on certain attractions is gone quickly. Heaven forbid you try and get on soaring or the new test track attraction after lunch. Weekends at disney is insane. Fast pass plus? maybe. But paying for it? I pay for enough as annual passes or regular tickets are costly.Give me my royal pacific at a reasonable rate, and just do what I like..
December 20, 2012 at 1:46 PM · Edwin, you won't have to pay anything for Fastpass+
December 20, 2012 at 2:11 PM · You have to compare Disney and Universal on equal terms. If you are paying around $250-300 a night to stay on a Disney property, Universal Unlimited Express wins by a landslide.

If you are staying at a $79 a night budget hotel or a local with an AP, Disney has an advantage. I always wondered what the people who pay $2,225 a night for a Royal Asante Presidential Suite with Kilimanjaro club level concierge service at the Animal Kingdom Lodge think of Universal Unlimited Express....

The benefits of staying on-site at UOR is a stress free, do anything you want whenever you want vacation where evrything is within walking distance. People complain about RRR and FJ not having Express, but all you have to do is get up an hour earlier and you can ride them 2-3 times before the parks open to the public.

You are also guaranteed entry to the parks (I'm not sure how that works if they are at capacity, which is rare and only happened a handful of times at IOA after HP went in)

If you take the cost out of the equation, you still can't exit a ride and jump right back in line for another go with Fastpass because it is a "wait like everyone else perk", you just don't have to wait in line.

Basically, if you like to ride (a lot) and have quite a bit of extra time to enjoy the pools, restaurants and CityWalk, staying on-site at UOR is worth every penny. The cool thing about Fastpass is anyone can use it, you just have to know what you are doing, but supplies are limited. It's not like every guest in the park can use it.

December 20, 2012 at 2:21 PM · N B said,

"It's not like every guest in the park can use it.'

I respond,

Yes, they can.

December 20, 2012 at 2:27 PM · NB's point being that Fastpass runs out quickly on headliner rides due to the massive crowds at the Disney parks. For example, people who want to sleep in and relax won't even get a chance to use Fastpass on Space Mountain. Looking at things in this way, NB is 100% correct.
December 20, 2012 at 2:26 PM · I also agree with James. SF Flash Pass is extremely expensive and they blend you in fairly close to the loading platforms, but the top level (Platinum, I think) is the only one that allows you to reserve 10-15 minutes ahead of time.

The regular Flash Pass makes you wait as long as you would if you just stepped in the back of the line, which, if I am not mistaken, is how FastPass works.

December 20, 2012 at 2:33 PM · NB, the people who pay $2,225 a night for a Royal Asante Presidential Suite with Kilimanjaro club level concierge service at the Animal Kingdom Lodge probably spring for a VIP tour...
December 20, 2012 at 3:15 PM · The people who pay $2,225.00 a night for the Royal Presidential Assante Presidential Suite probably hire people to ride the rides for them. LOL
December 20, 2012 at 3:38 PM · Universal by a landslide for ease of getting on the most popular rides multiple times,(use the single rider at HP and the Rocket). The bigger question is which park appeals to you the most on any given vacation? You will see Universal in less time and have more chances to ride a ride multiple times than at Disney.
December 20, 2012 at 4:49 PM · For the skip the line systems I've got experience with, here's how I'd rank them (best to worst).

Disney's Fastpass: This is the best system as it is free to use, is only available on a limited number of attractions (typically headliners or other popular attractions), and if the return windows are enforced it keeps the length of the Fastpass line reasonable. The only issue with this system is that some rides give out too many Fastpass tickets, causing the standby line to be excessive (I'd say 10-20% of the ride's capacity should be given out in Fastpass tickets, but I've heard that some rides give 50% or higher).

Q-Bot: This is used primarily at Six Flags parks (called Flash Pass), but is also in place at Dollywood (Q2Q) and a handful of other parks. Of the paid systems, I like this one best as return times keep too many people from showing up at once (just like Fastpass), but there are some issues in the system as well. Dollywood does a great job of merging in users with the regular line, but at Six Flags parks merging can vary in terms of effectiveness (I hate it when users are allowed in the exit and may pick any seat they desire, which occurs on some rides). Also, while I don't mind a more expensive pass with shorter waits before return times (the Gold level), I do not like the practice of requiring that pass for access to certain attractions. Worse is requiring an extra fee on top of the Gold level pass for some rides, and even worse is the Platinum level, where riders get to ride twice in a row without leaving their seats (and when the operators are not attentive, I've seen riders abuse this and go as many as four times in a row in a high demand seat).

Fast Lane: This is the Cedar Fair system, and it is just a wristband that lets you use an express line. Since there are no return times, this line can become clogged on popular rides. However, Cedar Fair tends to do a good job balancing the regular and Fast Lane lines so that neither side feels cheated, or will not use the system on rides where this is not possible. Pricey, but worth it if you only have one day at Cedar Point or Canada's Wonderland (or any other big Cedar Fair park).

Go Fast Pass: This is an alternate Six Flags system for the parks that have not switched to Q-Bots (I know Great Escape uses it, but I'm not sure if anywhere else still does). It is similar to Fast Lane, but you are not free to choose where you wish to sit.

Quick Queue: The SeaWorld/Busch Gardens system. Not a huge fan of this one because you only get one ride per attraction and are generally restricted to only one or two seats on the coasters (note that I've only used it at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, so it may function differently elsewhere).

I've never used Universal Express, but if the system is similar to the Gate A pass at Universal Studios Hollywood (one priority admission per ride), I wouldn't be much of a fan. If it is more like the Q-Bot system, however, that would be great. I'd almost rather the hotels give one free Q-Bot per room than unlimited anytime access as it would be more fair and could be extended to more hotels than the resort currently has.

As for Fastpass+, if it is anything like it sounds like it will be, it is the absolute worst priority boarding system in the industry. It is impossible to know months in advance what you will feel like doing and when you will feel like doing it. While I do think it is a good idea to have a general idea of what you want to ride during your day at the park, I would not want to be forced into a rigid schedule where any unforeseen circumstance could destroy my entire day. It may also decrease your enjoyment if you're scheduled for a specific attraction, but when that time arrives you don't feel like doing it and would prefer to do something else. Even worse is the impact this type of system would have on standby lines, either making them a thing of the past or rendering them impractically long if you want to use Fastpass+ at all. While I do like a lot of the NextGen stuff Disney is rolling out right now, Fastpass+ is actually a very strong reason for me to NOT visit Walt Disney World unless I'm shown that it works completely different than the way I believe it will.

Fifteen years ago, the skip the line pass didn't exist and nobody complained about waiting. Now they are getting out of hand. While I don't hate skip the line passes, they need to adhere to three things for me to consider them an acceptable system. They must be: 1. Affordable to the average visitor, 2. Have few negative effects on those not using the system, and 3. Be impossible to abuse. Fastpass and Q-Bot systems generally adhere to these, but many of the other systems violate one or more of these conditions.

December 20, 2012 at 5:54 PM · What, no Vote of the Week?

I just want to say that I am completely against the idea of FASTPASS+. Theme parks should be about going around and having a ball, not fretting over being able to make it to a specified reserve time. Disney should just stick with their current system (which I admittedly am fond of) to make theme park planning less of a hassle.

December 20, 2012 at 7:24 PM · Dom, the point I was trying to make was FastPass is a perk anyone can enjoy if they plan for it but there are such a limited number of passes that it is impossible for everyone in the park to use them.

Disney sees an average of 45K geusts per day, Let's say 4500 Fastpasses are handed out. That would mean only ten percent of the guests can use Fastpass, therefore not everyone can use the perk.

Universal does things very efficiently, rides that have two loading platforms are split so the regular lines have one side and Express has the other. When there is no one in Express, they load both sides with the regular lines.

I have read some posts on the Disney forums where the regular lines were completely stopped for 20 minutes (or longer) while all the FastPass holders were accomodated first.

AJ is correct. It is very easy to ride something like MIB ten times in a row before the people at the end of the regular lines reach the loading platform with Unlimited Express.

I have heard things like "Look at these _______ people..." as you pass them in an empty queue. If you happen to want a second ride immediately after exiting, the comments get louder and more abusive.

December 20, 2012 at 7:35 PM · We give Express nasty looks since they ONLY let Express in. Same goes with Fastpass, they ONLY let Fastpass in. Of course it all depends on who's running the ride.
December 20, 2012 at 7:39 PM · I hate the idea of Fastpass+. I seems designed to set up tiers of theme park visitors where Disney gives perks to hotel guests based on how much they spend. At least with the current Fastpass system, diligent visitors who show up early and have a plan can have a great day. The idea of reserving every ride and attraction sounds awful, particularly to parents with kids. If Disney sets up its Fastpass system directly, there would be no need for it. This is a way for them to drive attendance at hotels and make extra revenue without just raising ticket prices. It also pushes people into "magical" experiences that cost more but can be reserved.

On the other hand, I don't have any issues with Universal's approach because it's limited. I've been to Universal on slow times in January and February, so we haven't needed to consider it. When our kids get older and we go during busy times in the future, I'd consider paying the high hotel charges for the convenience of not waiting in line. If Universal keeps up their current pace of exciting new rides, it may be an easy choice.

I love Disney World and went there many times as a kid and even as an adult before we had kids. I'm growing really concerned with their NextGen ideas and wonder if it's going to negatively impact experiences there in the future.

December 20, 2012 at 9:19 PM · A tiered system of haves and have nots is exactly what you get with any paid "cut in line" perk, whether it is an add on option or included with your room. You cannot blast Disney for treating resort guests in a "special way" then praise Universal for packaging the same type of class system wih their three onsite properties.

Furthermore, just to clarify, regular Fastpass is NOT going away with Fastpass+. Disney will still be the only major theme park chain with any sort of a free system. You gotta give them props for that singularity.

December 21, 2012 at 12:54 AM · I think what a lot of people don't realize is quite a bit of Disney's moderately priced hotels average out to about the same as the three Universal hotels.

Then you have the Grand Floridian, Wilderness Lodge, Polynesian and the other Premium hotels.

The funny thing is, the animosity still exists at Disney towards the FastPass lines even though the perk is free.

December 21, 2012 at 4:06 AM · ^Because people don't take the time to do even the tiniest bit of research. And when people don't understand, they feel like they are being ripped off, and they get angry. It must be a bit of an operational nightmare for Disney cast members to have to deal with such a lazy, unmotivated, and uniformed public on a regular basis... (the same folks who ask, "What time is the Three O'Clock Parade?"). I wonder if that is why Universal got rid of their free version of Universal Express a few years back? (You don't think it was simply because of greed, do you?).

As for the price of Disney's moderates, other than the Fort Wilderness cabins, all four run about $149 - $182 / night for a basic room, depending on the season. That price range is generally less than the Royal Pacific (considerably less and the $360 Seasonal Rate Universal is currently charging - yikes!), the cheapest of the three Universal on site properties. Also, keep in mind Universal adds $20/night for parking, and $25/night for a rollaway bed if you have a family of five. As I wrote previously, the "free" Express Pass perk at Universal ain't cheap - but it is definitely worth it if you want to feel like part of the aristocracy and have a relaxing, no hassle vacation.

December 21, 2012 at 3:55 AM · The third option would be to lower demand, via turning it into a user pays system.
December 21, 2012 at 4:31 AM · Im not sure but their could be a major problem with Fastpass+.

Normally if you are using the current Fastpass system and a ride goes down you can wait until it comes up and be expressed on, now this is usually fine as your next Fastpass time is likely to be two or three hours away.However with Fastpass+ you have your entire day mapped out even when you eat

So if lets say BTM goes down in Magic Kingdom and your next Fastpass+ reservation is for fortyfive minutes or an hour further on you cant afford to wait and you wont have time to come back either because you have planned every minute of your day and if two big rides go down in one day and you have thosands of guests on Fastpass+ with their timetables thrown out I dont think you will have many happy mouse fans

December 21, 2012 at 4:50 AM · Irrespective of the relative merits of each system there is one over-riding deciding factor for me - There simply isn't enough to do at Universal to make it a 'vacation destination'. I could maybe spend two nights there but even without Express access my wife and I had exhausted each of the two parks by mid afternoon. It was very different at Disney World however where we could easily spend a week between the four parks and the rest of the resort.

I'm not sure I want to schedule my entire vacation ahead of times but if I could book certain things ahead, (like fireworks or show viewing) then that's appealing.

Until Universal gives me more to do in a day however I don't care which system is more appealing as I'm not going to stay at a Universal resort....

December 21, 2012 at 6:22 AM · David you hit the nail on the head. I can spend ten days on Disney property at WDW and still have not done everything there is to do. I can spend 1-2 days at Universal and we're done.

As for the two systems, I think both are great but will cater to two different groups of people. Some people like structure even on vacation and the ability to plan up front ensuring they get to do the things they love. Others don't want to have to plan and just want to show up. Great, you can do both.

I personally prefer Disney's method but that's just because it works for our family.

December 21, 2012 at 7:13 AM · Disney has not yet given out exact details on how Fast Pass + will actually work. Since it's still in the testing phase they may well still be tweaking the system. However, on the Disney oriented web sites, two prominent insider rumors are being circulated. One rumor says regular Fast Passes will be discontinued once Fast Pass + is "fully implemented", since the numbers won't work utilizing both. The second rumor is that Fast Pass + will only be for hotel guests and day trippers & AP's will be blocked out as paper fastpasses will be eliminated. What's your opinions if those rumors end up being fact?
December 21, 2012 at 7:21 AM · I cant help but feel that Fastpass+ is Disney saying 'look what we can do!!!' and forgetting that the vast majority of customers:
a) will not know about fastpass+ (I didnt know about fastpass when it was installed and wondered how all these people could be walking on the ride before me)
b) wont want to book or know what they want to do at 2pm on Weds August 14th, today.
c) want a VACATION. I work hard 5 days a week, for 50 weeks a year, on those 2 weeks off, I dont want or need military precision thanks.

Disney should put all the funding into 'RFID' (whatever that is) and Fastpass+ into a killer new attraction at the underloved/valued parks.
And yes I have voted with my wallet. We used to spend 5 days of a 2 week vacation in WDW - for many years. This year, we spent 1 day there.

December 21, 2012 at 7:53 AM · A few clarifications on Fastpass+ (FP+) from the FAQ on the Disney website:

FP+ is free to all Disney guests with Magic Your Way tickets – you do not have to stay on property to have access. Far as I can tell, Annual Passholders can convert to RFID IDs and use FP+ as well.

Resort guests receive access to FP+ reservations 180 days in advance, day guests 60.

There are a limited number of reservation slots for any given attraction on any given day.

There are a limited number of reservations FP+ users can make in a given day.

FP+ can only be used at one park per day – park hoppers are out of luck.

FP+ reservations can only be made once per ride (you can’t reserve Space Mountain all day long).

FP+ users will NOT have access to regular FP, and vice versa. It is a one or the other proposition (once you switch to RFID use, you will not have access to the normal FP machines).

Special, excellent viewing areas for parades and fireworks are also able to be reserved with FP+.

FP+ is still in the testing phase (as Rob noted) and there is no official live date yet announced.

Everything I have written here may be changed by the time the system goes live.

December 21, 2012 at 9:52 AM · My son and I are adrenaline junkies, so Universal Orlando is our first choice. My wife does not like rowdy rides, so she prefers Disney.

If I shell out the big bucks at Universal and stay on site, I get front of the line access. That works great for my son and I because we can go hit all of the thrill rides that we want while my wife, a night person, is sleeping in and then getting ready at her leisure. Then when she's ready, we can hit the rides that we all can ride. All in all a pretty leisurely vacation.

If I shell out the big bucks to stay at the hotels on the monorail line at Disney, I pretty much lose out with the current system unless I rush over to the parks, get fastpasses for the whole family, and hope that she will be ready when our fastpass time comes around. Then I spend the rest of the day either waiting in long lines or rushing around the park trying to get to an atrraction during a fastpass window. That totally sucks and is not my idea of a relaxing vacation.

Now if Fastpass+ fixes that problem, I quess I'm for it because I can have a more leisurely visit with a little advance planning. But, I see problems.

The first issue I have with Fastpass+ is a lack of spontaneity unless I want to pay the price of waiting a long time for an unplanned attraction or restaurant. It also leaves me little flexibility to adjust my schedule if the weather doesn't cooperate, and we all know that the weather doesn't get unruly in Orlando. :/

The next issue with Fastpass+ is that it doesn't address the basic problem at Disney - lack of attractions for the size of crowds they have coming in the gate! Evidently Disney's interpretation of the number of rides and attractions that you should experience in a visit differs tremendously from mine.

Disney needs more attractions in their parks. So instead of farting around with crowd management tricks why don't they just admit the truth and build more attractions? The Fantasyland expansion is a great start, but where are the new attractions in the other three parks? The Univerasal Orlando complex is a fraction of the size of the Disney World complex, yet Universal's park expansion and modernization efforts make Disney's look paltry in comparison.

So, for those of you who say that Disney's Fastpass system is free and is available to all, I disagree. Your time is worth something, and your self respect is invaluable. Universal respects me as a patron and tries to meet my expectations. Disney on the other hand views me as a revenue source to be exploited for the maximum output with the least input, and the only reason I go there is for my wife and grandkids.

December 21, 2012 at 9:52 AM · God am I glad I can visit the parks when they are almost empty. Still Universal wins with more e ticket rides per park and a stress free vacation.
Maybe Disney just should upgrade AK, Epcot and the Studios to make them as desirable as MK (like they did with California) then crowds would spread evenly.
December 21, 2012 at 10:52 AM · Here's my take on what James Reo just said. Now let's just say you put a ride with the advanced technology and popularity of Spider-Man in a park like MK with the new fastpass plus system on a crowded summer day with no unforeseen variables like down time or weather. You pay to stay at a good neighbor or onsite hotel lets say 100 bucks for a family of 4 and you got a reservation at that particular ride on that day in advance. You get to the park and get into the fastpass line and ride the ride and everyone thinks its fabulous. You and everyone else wants to ride it again but.....you can't go in the same line again.....you'll have to wait two hours. Oh wait their is still some free fast passes left....oh wait you can't do that either because you got the fastpass+...... You give these people a taste of not waiting for a ride and they will expect it. You have the kids saying and crying to you why can't we just go on the great ride again without waiting for two hours! You have your wife giving you those nasty looks. It turns the happy vacation into a nightmare that you're wishing you're back at work. I'm not even adding in other rides, weather, down time, someone is sick, or doesn't want to ride after a meal.

I'll be over at IOA with staying at an 250 dollar room on site. Where we can go on the Spider-Man ride 10 times in that day when we want at no wait on the same day. Who cares if those variables that I mentioned come up. We can plan our day to our own specific needs as they arise. We can change it on the fly as always is the case with 4 people. Everyone is happy.

With Universal you get Freedom if you want to pay just 150 dollars more for a family of 4. Disney your given a one time per ride fast pass that is so structured that if anything goes wrong you ruined and adding in the fact that you get a taste of no wait time but don't get to do it again that day. That's cruel and unusual punishment.

If you like freedom than there is Universal, and there is plenty to do at Universal, Top restaurants in CityWalk, nightclubs, world class entertainment, world class pools, a river walk, excellent on site hotels, and did I mention two of the best theme parks all in walking distance. Oh and by the way they are always updating these and improving with new attractions every year. You can easily spend 10 days here.

If you want to go for a strict scheduled exhausting vacation where your forced to something at sometime so that its good for everyone. Like a true communistic state like North Korea than sure a vacation at Disney is fine.

I like Freedom and I like America so I'm going to Universal!

December 21, 2012 at 11:22 AM · It may be because I come from a family of planners, but I look forward to using th Fastpass+. I already try and book all the dining 180 days in advance, along with checking weekly for updates on park hours and special events.

We just returned from nine days at Disney World. If I had not planned so far in advance, we would not have had the great time we had. If I could have already had allotted times in place for TSM and such, I would have jumped on it quickly. We arrived one of our days at the gate opening to DHS so that we could sign our sons up for Jedi Acadmey. While I had the boys in line for sign up, my husband ran to TSM to get fastpasses. At 9:05 am, he was able to snare four fastpasses for a return time of 4:10pm, I was able to get the boys into the 3:00pm Jedi training. So we rode a quick ride on Star Tours, then left and took the boat to Epcot until time to return.

If I could have scheduled these two events, we may not have had to waste nearly an hour getting these times and could have spent them happily doing something else. Since we try and go about once a year sometimes twice to a theme park, we like having a game plan instead of wondering around trying to decide what to do.

Now we do some things spontaneously, but only after we have made sure we have done all that we originally hoped to do. But if I was not such a planner, we wouldn't have gotten dinner reservations at Be Our Guest, character dining during the MVMCP, nor had down time to swim. My boys like schedules too. Each evening they wanted to know where the next day would take them. We had a great time on our schedule.

December 21, 2012 at 11:23 AM · But Todd,

the vast majority of guests don't want to go on Spiderman 10 times in one day... Once was enough for me...

December 21, 2012 at 11:29 AM · Lots of good points Todd. It seems that freedom is the key. Vacation is for leisure & relaxation. We too, spend 10 to 12 days at Universal and never have a dull moment. I could stay there three weeks and enjoy without regret. Great hotels & themed pools, excellent Citi Walk non ending entertainment, and two fabulous theme parks, all within easy leisurely walking distance. Plus, like you, we repeatedly ride what we like. Spider Man was 14 times last trip (May 2012)....On the other side, we'll be at Disney for 14-16 days in 2013. We have a great time and fully utilize the present Fast Pass system, which we like, though not nearly as much as the Universal Hotel Express system. But I don't care much for the idea of a Fast Pass + that doesn't allow you to use the paper Fast pass if you opt for the reserved Fast Pass+. And I believe that once Fast Pass+ is fully implemented, the paper Fast Pass system will be eliminated within a year or two, since the numbers probably won't work utilizing both systems. But, we'll have to reserve final judgement of Fast Pass+ after the testing and early implementation phase. After customer input (will it be negative or positive?), and numbers crunching on people in line, the final version may turn out to be a completely different animal.
December 21, 2012 at 12:57 PM · @Tobd Interesting that you picked Spider-Man for your example (it is my favorite Universal attraction), however, visitors can ride it ten times a day without Express Pass. Wait times are seldom long on any Universal ride outside of RRR and Forbidden Journey, which, incidentally, are the only two rides in which Express Pass is not allowed. So the problem you presented is real, but it also exists at Universal today - feel free to spread your venom equally. Additionally, the fact that anyone would spend their day riding nothing but Spider-Man says volumes about the quantity of things to do at IOA... I love the Universal parks, but the reason I don't mind paying $250 a night for the Royal Pacific is because I utilize it fully during my Universal stay. To be honest, I am generally finished with the parks and swimming in that huge Royal Pacific pool by mid afternoon. Which is neither here nor there...

Overall, though, as I have been stating all along, I agree with you, Tadd, Universal Express Pass for onsite resort guests is the best, "free", cut-in-line, theme park perk money can buy.

@Amanda, I also love to plan my trips to an extreme... so I find Fastpass+ to be tremendously intriguing. One thing I have considered is actually getting the Park Hopper option (something I have never done before) and using my Fastpass+ reservations at the park to which I will hop instead of my starting park. So, I could visit DHS at park opening, ride the headliners and d-tickets until mid afternoon, then hop over to the Magic Kingdom (on a magic hours night no less) where I have reservations for all the rides that normally are out of fastpasses by noon due to the Magic Kingdom being the most popular theme park on the planet. I could also reserve a great spot for the evening parade and fireworks show. Talk about stress free!!! That would be a great perk on my travels.

December 21, 2012 at 1:27 PM · Having just been to both experiences this month I can only say that Disney has it right and Universal has it worng. No long lines at either experience but Universal pushed me to purchase their Express pass. It was a total waste of money since there were no lines and no waiting. All they wanted was my hard earned money.
December 21, 2012 at 3:26 PM · The Disboards has a thread that exploded with 100s of comments in just a day about a rumor that Annual Passholders at WDW will get 20 FP+ in a quarter. Some think that means 4 a day for only 5 days (20 total) but only at one park a day which is the resort guest rules. This seems wrong. I think it means 'no more than 4 a day and only at 1 park a day' which limits the APers to FP+ usage no better than resort guests with a limit of 20 FP+ per 90 days.

This is an associated FP+ vs Univ. Express issue. However UOR APers don't get any Express Passes and WDW is maybe thinking APers do get FP+. Since WDW already has the regular FP that APers can use, this new system will be implemented when FP+ takes over for the present FP by the end of 2013.

Regular ticket buyers that stay off-site will get to use only the regular FP system or maybe none at all if the present FP system is completely over-ridden by FP+.

December 21, 2012 at 3:26 PM · Now person with only numbers as a name like some matrix wannabe your not Neo and I'm nit Morpheus. No one forces you to get a fast pass. If Disney or any theme park tells you to jump off a bridge would you do it, don't answer that TH because I know you would contemplate it if it was for the kids. You got snocky snookered if you go to any park and purchased a exclusive pass finding out there's no waits in the middle of the week during an off season. You should look at yourself and say damn I just got snocky snookered and it wasn't anyone else's fault but your own. Hell I don't if I'm talking to a real person you could be some computer in the future taking threads from us normal people. At least TH, Skippie, Domenatrix, and James Rio Speedwagon pony up and have some balls to actually voice their different opinion and give out their name to it. Pony up and play with the big dogs pansy of a number person, kid, or alien.
December 21, 2012 at 3:42 PM · ^Thanks, uh, I think, Todd Rundgren Donawho.
December 21, 2012 at 4:38 PM · Todd, spot on.

I find Express isn't even needed at IOA from open until about noon since everyone wants to see Potter, even during peak Summer. Spiderman and Hulk waits are usually 15-20 minutes at that time.

Once it hits noon to 1PM, those waits quickly become 50-75 minutes.

Purchasing Express before you enter the parks is nuts, especially during off-season. I would wait until I got in, check out the wait board, then decide whether to buy them.

It doesn't save you anything buying them at the gate vs in the park at one of the designated locations.

I can guarantee you it will be the same when Potter London opens at Universal. The rest of the park will be a ghost town, except maybe for Transformers, until early afternoon.

I see Fastpass+ being a disaster if the rumors are true. On-site guests have 180 days to reserve rides where everyone else has 60. I can guarantee that the die-hards and thier knowledge of the Disney parks will have grabbed all the FastPasses long before the second group has an opportunity to reserve them.

I agree that people spending money in the Disney owned hotels should have a perk, such as priority FP booking, but the AP holders and locals will be up in arms on the forums when the paper ticket versions have been removed.

This is great news for the annual Disney vacationers who stay on-site, but bad news for everyone else. The biggest plus about the current FP model is everyone is on a level playing field, regardless of income or what you spend on Disney property.


In short, Universal Unlimited Express doesn't come cheaply, but it does rock...

December 21, 2012 at 4:56 PM · ^Preaching to the choir, NB, I've been saying that for years.
December 21, 2012 at 5:35 PM · As a little insight, my Disney CM brethren will agree, the current Disney Fastpass system gives out 75%-80% of ride capacity each hour. So if an attraction has a capacity to seat 1000 Guest per hour the system will give out between 750-800 fastpasses each hour of operation.
December 22, 2012 at 6:58 AM · Using Dan's numbers, it doesn't appear that Fastpass+ and the present paper Fastpass system will be able to exist side by side for very long. Otherwise, it won't be very fast.
December 22, 2012 at 7:22 AM · If the old system gave out 800 Fastpass tickets (to use the previous example), will the new system give out 800 "regular" FP tickets AND also give out 200 advance FP+ tickets? If so, then the standby line is dead.

However, Disney could keep the total number of FP tickets at 800 giving out only 600 regular FP tickets and allotting the remaining 200 tickets to FP+. In this scenario, the two systems can exist side by side, there will just be less regular FPs to give out, which should be offset by the number of visitors using RFIDs without access to "regular" FP.

Furthermore, Disney is adding FP to attractions that currently do not use or need FP, such as Haunted Mansion. This move should further even out the demand between day guests and advance reservations.

But eventually, I agree that FP as we know it today will go away. Which I guess is okay since the die hard Disney geek has been complaining about it since day one, wishing for something different - be careful what you wish for, the old adage goes....

December 22, 2012 at 8:27 AM · @N B, I won't be upset when the current Fastpass is gone, as I'm excited for Fastpass+ and I'm a local, so there you have it.
December 22, 2012 at 11:51 AM · I agree with Dom's comments about FastPass+ being beneficial for a local. When I was hitting a park before work, say DHS, I know the rides I want to get done in advance.

However, in terms of those on vacation, it completely takes out the spontaneity of a visit. As we currently are reading TPI, and many of us read similar theme park/trip planning boards, a lot of us are 'in the know' about the parks and its attractions. So many guests are first time visitors who turn up to Disney expecting the 'Disney experience' with no prior research done - many of them are unsure of the park they are in, but merely at 'Disney World'. It is easy for us to see the benefits of FastPass+, but to those 'regular' ;) folks, who turn up expecting a magical time, work all year, or for many cases, their whole life (we must remember that Orlando for is often a 'trip of a lifetime'!!) - they are going to be extremely unhappy. Whereas if no-prior-research-family turn up at Universal, stay on-site - is this a problem? No.

I'd just like to say I am neutral. I don't see the benefits of staying on-site at Universal or Disney. I've been to the parks enough to know what to do and not be upset by what I miss. My family and I can stay at a villa which means we all have our own bedrooms, our own swimming pool and some privacy after spending a long day together! All this for the same price that I'd get staying at Disney Value - Moderate. No front of the line benefits will ever convince me otherwise - it just isn't worth the money for me.

December 22, 2012 at 2:11 PM · James: Great comment and insight. "Be careful what you wish for". Very true...And the other commentators' discussion comments concerning the average tourist that doesn't know the inside intricacies of park operations are right on. There are going to be some very confused people that won't understand why they will have to stand in a stand by line for an eternity, during the crowded seasons, waiting for a E ticket attraction.
December 22, 2012 at 3:57 PM · ^That's already happening today at all parks that use some sort of "cut in line" pass. It is just exacerbated at Disney because the crowds are much bigger than at other parks.

However, at some point the onus has to be on the customer to do at least a little research, don't ya think? I mean who spends $3k to $5k on a purchase and doesn't take time to research what they are buying? Honestly, that person gets what they get, as another old saying goes...Ya pays yer money ya takes yer chances!

A little research goes a long way, and the folks at Theme Park Insider are here to help!

"TPI: We Help The Hopeless"!

December 22, 2012 at 5:25 PM · James: Some very true comments....And MERRY CHRISTMAS to all the TPI readers.....and a healthy and prosperous New Year.
December 22, 2012 at 6:28 PM · I think James has it right. It allows you to plan for nighttime visits to your favorite ride. Still, the free fastpasses works. I wonder how this is going to improve/worsen the experience.

I think the issue is that most families save a lot for Disney. They want the whole experience.

December 22, 2012 at 6:28 PM · I think James has it right. It allows you to plan for nighttime visits to your favorite ride. Still, the free fastpasses works. I wonder how this is going to improve/worsen the experience.

I think the issue is that most families save a lot for Disney. They want the whole experience.

December 22, 2012 at 8:27 PM · We just received an invite for our best friends to renew their vows........at Disney World..... in September 2013.
December 22, 2012 at 9:00 PM · Gratz! The parks won't be crowded, and your expenses will be paid!

I presume all your TPI friends can accompany you, right?

December 23, 2012 at 5:01 AM · So I'm trained officially on the new Fastpass Plus. To clarify on the whole planning ahead issue....the system is like the old ticket system, with A through E tickets for guest, so smaller attractions will have more "Credits" or "Tickets," if you will, versus E tickets experiences. Once you are there, you can change times and rides instantly on a smart phone or at set up kiosks in the parks, so guest have more freedom than the current system. Everyone will be able to take advantage of the system for free. It is true, as of now, Park Hopping will be an issue. However, the rest of the details are still NDA.

P.S. Guest Assistance Cards are going away, which makes up about 40-60% of the Fastpass line at any one time.

December 23, 2012 at 7:24 AM · Skipper, did they happen to mention a date when the new service goes live for all park guests?

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