Disneyland also will begin enforcing Fastpass return times, starting next week

February 11, 2013, 5:26 PM · Following the lead of Walt Disney World, the Disneyland theme parks in California will begin enforcing return times for Fastpass ride-reservation tickets, starting next week.

With the new return-time requirements, let's hope that you don't end up with FPs for returns at the same time, on opposite sides of the park, as I did at Disneyland Paris last summer.

Until now, you simply had to come back at any time after your Fastpass return window opened in order to get into the shorter Fastpass-holders' queue for a participating attraction. Starting Monday, you'll need to return within the specific one-hour time window listed on the ticket. Show up after your return time window closes, and Disney won't let you into the shorter Fastpass queue.

Disney World made the switch to prepare for its new Fastpass+ ride reservation system, which allows hotel guests to schedule visits to multiple attractions in advance of their visit. While many (if not most) visitors did return within their specified time window, more and more visitors had figured out that they could come back any time later in the day, which was compromising Disney's ability to keep the Fastpass queues as short as possible, as returns backed up later in the day. With Fastpass+, Disney wants more precision in the system.

Disney's not said a word yet about bringing FastPass+ and its NextGen reservation systems to Disneyland, which serves a much, much larger number of local visitors and annual passholders than the Walt Disney World Resort. But if Disney's going to provide a specific time window for a return, as opposed to saying "come back anytime after X o'clock," it simply makes sense for Disney to try to enforce that time.

That said, Disneyland fans, now you know. No more stashing Fastpasses through the day. It's use it or lose it time, starting next week.

Replies (16)

February 11, 2013 at 5:36 PM · Funny that they didn't enforce it. The only thing I'd add is that, if I were designing the system, I would offer the ability for a customer to specifically request a later return time, to take care of the issue you hit. So long as they schedule it, and there's times available, it shouldn't really be an issue for them.
February 11, 2013 at 6:22 PM · Interesting thought. It would be great if you could choose your return window. The machine would say "come back after X o'clock." And then you would have the ability to program in which hour you would like to return.
February 11, 2013 at 7:31 PM · When you took the picture of the FastPass with the same return time I'm sure you did so out of amazement, not despair. Clearly, a real "Theme Park Insider" would know that this is not really a concern. Most Disney attractions, certainly the ones with FastPass, take minutes to complete, not hours. Arrive at one of the attractions at the start of the return window and you'll finish with ample time to make your way to the other. However, if for some reason you're too inept to do that then I'm certain that guest relations can appease your misfortune. Frankly, when this happens it's really the fault of the guest for failing to pay attention to the return time that is offered.
February 11, 2013 at 7:47 PM · It is hard to believe Disney has never enforced this.... I didn't know you could come back ant any time and still get on the ride / attraction.
February 11, 2013 at 7:53 PM · Actually, Eric, at DLP the two attractions not only were on opposite sides of the largest Magic Kingdom park, there was a parade going on in between them at the same time, blocking the most direct route between them and forcing us to go all the way around through Fantasyland. And there was only a half-hour window to get to both.

That said, heck yeah, I made the window for both. I am a trained professional, after all. ;^)

February 11, 2013 at 10:25 PM · Its a good article, but why are people surprised? I never even dared to try and use a Fastpass after the time was up. Then again, I don't know of a time I let a Fastpass expire.

February 11, 2013 at 10:55 PM · I like the idea suggested above of being able to choose your return time at the FP machine. What if you get there and the posted return time is when you have a dining reservation (or, like Robert's example, you have a FastPass for a different ride during that window)? Do they expect you just to hang out until the FP return time changes on the sign? Or to go do something else and come back later, when perhaps all the FastPasses have been distributed? I'd be really bummed out if I arrived at a FP machine for a favorite ride only to discover that the return time conflicted with my existing plans, while knowing that I might not be able to circle back and get one for a better time. Maybe I'll just stop making dinging reservations. Since my boyfriend and I usually travel as a couple, we've lucked into a two-top table with a relatively short wait on many occasions.
February 11, 2013 at 11:25 PM · Although I did sometimes take advantage of the loopholes in the system, I'm glad the park will be enforcing the window. Overall, it will probably work better that way. I've seen way too many instances where the Fastpass line was overflowing and the standby line had to come to a virtual standstill in order to keep the Fastpass line under 20 minutes (example: at Space Mountain, I once saw the standby line as being just under the cover before entering the mountain, but since the Fastpass line was all the way out the entrance the standby wait time was over an hour).

If they are going to enforce windows, however, I think one of two changes need to happen:

1. Selection of windows. Either have riders be able to select a window when getting their Fastpass at the attraction, or have a centralized distribution center where all passes for the day can be obtained at once. In both cases, each window has a set number of passes and once a window is fully booked no more passes will be distributed for it. If there was a centralized distribution center, I would add the restrictions that a. only one Fastpass for any attraction may be obtained per day and b. windows must be a set amount apart (say one hour between the end of one window and the start of the next). This would keep guests from taking too many Fastpasses at once. In either case, once tickets are collected they may not be exchanged unless a ride goes down (in which case they will either be good the rest of the day at that attraction if the breakdown occurred during the window or can be exchanged for a pass to another attraction if the ride will be down all day).

2. Validation stickers. If something happens that interferes with your window (slow service at a restaurant, unexpected trip to first aid, stuck on a ride, etc.), you would be able to get a validation sticker that will allow you to use your pass after the window has ended. Also, in the event of a ride you hold a Fastpass for being closed for an extended period of time, it would be nice to be able to transfer your Fastpass to another attraction if you wish (with a separate validation sticker that can only be obtained at the closed attraction, of course).

February 12, 2013 at 3:26 AM · The whole point of Fast Pass was to offer virtual queuing so that guests will have more time to spend in restaurants and gift shops instead of waiting in line. Now that they are enforcing the windows guests might feel more rushed and end up spending less money.

I could get another Tequila shot in Mexico pavilion but I have to leave to catch my Test Track window.

I think this claim that "late fast pass users are clogging up lines" is a lot of BS or hyperbole. It's not that hard to figure out how to distribute between fast pass and stand by capacity. Cast member's have recommended us to come back later with our fast passes when one of the sides of Sorin' is down.

February 12, 2013 at 6:25 AM · Good article Robert. I am surprised they never enforced the FP windows in the first place. Doesn't really follow the spirit of the plan, does it?
February 12, 2013 at 7:06 AM · Just this past summer I was at WDW with my family. The fast pass time slots were pretty annoying, especially trying to get on BTMR and Space Mountain, AND Splash Mountain.I remember trying to run towards the back end of the parade as it went through Frontierland one night in order to get around it to Splash Mountain before our Fast Passes expired. We got there about five minutes late but luckily the cast member let us slide in anyway.
February 12, 2013 at 1:36 PM · I like the idea of a validation sticker for exceptions with slow service, delays, etc. The "choose your own return time window" idea sounds good at first, but I imagine in execution the distribution would be so painfully slow. Annoyed when people spend a long time queuing at counter service restaurants only to look at the menu for the first time when they reach the counter? Imagine a line at fastpass distribution where guests start thinking about what time they want to and are able to return when they get to the machine. I've seen long enough lines even though all you have to do right now is just stick your ticket or pass in and take the FP ticket that dispenses.
February 12, 2013 at 2:36 PM · I usually only get 1 or 2 per day, other wise, my group always just does the single rider line when available.

However, this will make the RSR Fastpass line.........

February 12, 2013 at 8:22 PM · I am one of the guys that used the 'FastPass' when ever it was convenient, even if it was expired. In fact near the end of the night I almost always had 2 or 3 unused 'Fastpass' and would hand them to someone just coming into the park.
I guess that I should not have abused it, but it did make for a stress free relaxing day.
I hope the new wrist-band system will make our visit just as enjoyable.
We will soon see.
Donald, BC Canada
February 13, 2013 at 11:51 PM · I don't believe the idea of choosing your own return time for the Fast Pass would work.

During the mornings, when lines are shorter, there is less reason to get a Fast Pass **if the return times are enforced** because you don't save much time versus being in the standby line. The lines tend to be longest in the evenings, especially after parades and nighttime shows, and the demand would be greater for Fast Passes around those times.

The logic of the Fast Pass system is that a ride's Fast Passes are used up in sequence throughout the day until all Fast Passes have been distributed.

Those who have the knowledge that return times were not being enforced could "game the system" by collecting Fast Passes throughout the day, and then using them during popular times. This would force the standby line to slow considerably for a given ride because the allocated number of Fast Passes for a given hour, say 8-9 pm, were being far exceeded by people who had collected them for earlier return times.

I don't think that most people realize that when the system was rolled out in 1999, Disney told the media that the idea was for visitors to collect their pass and then stay in the general area of that major attraction and shop, eat at a restaurant, or go on a smaller attraction with a shorter line. Visitors would benefit by being able to do other things than spend time waiting in line. The unspoken part of the equation was that Disney would profit from being spending money in shops and restaurants instead of standing in lines.

I'm not claiming that is the motivation for enforcing the return times. It's been reported by Robert and elsewhere that implementing the Fast Pass+ and Next Generation reservation systems requires better control over how visitors were using the limited number of Fast Pass slots.

February 15, 2013 at 8:48 PM · My family and I went for the first time to Disney World in January of 2013. We waited at most 30 minutes for the New Mermaid ride in New Fantasyland. Those that choose the fast pass actually waited longer then we did, and on some rides I would not recommend the fast pass because you will miss out on the details. For example, the mermaid ride has a fast pass access; however you bypass the details in the cave by doing so and that is the case on many rides. I guess if there was one ride you were dying to get on the fast pass may be the best idea for you, but I don't recommend it when the lines are not long. I am sure when I go back in october the lines will be double or triple what we had though.

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