Disney World brings return time cards to Epcot's Soarin'

July 30, 2014, 1:33 PM · Walt Disney World today expanded its "Anna and Elsa"-style timed return ticket system to Epcot's Soarin'. With standby waits often over two hours, Soarin' is one of Disney's most popular attractions, which is why the resort soon will be building a third theater for the show. But in the meantime, Disney's trying the system it employed last week for the Anna and Elsa meet-and-greet at the Magic Kingdom's Princess Fairytale Hall.

Inside Soarin'. Photo courtesy Disney

People who have made Fastpass+ reservations for Soarin' will continue to use that return queue as before. However, once the standby queue reaches a certain point, Disney cast members stop admitting visitors to that queue and start instead handing out cards with assigned return times.

When that time arrives, the visitors go into the by-that-time-much-shorter standby queue for a (relatively) quick wait to get into one of the Soarin's theaters for the show. Ultimately, visitors still are waiting several hours to see Soarin', but now they can wait elsewhere in the park, seeing other attractions or spending money on food and merchandise. In essence, it's like getting another Fastpass+, but one that doesn't count against your limit and one that you have to claim in person at the attraction, with no choice on return time. In those ways, the "new" system is much like the old, original Disney Fastpass system.

As with Anna and Elsa, this appears to be a test. But with this system appearing now in three of the Disney World theme parks (Disney's used it for the Frozen Summer at Disney's Hollywood Studios, too), one wonders if Disney will continue to expand these return time cards to other popular attractions throughout the resort, when standby wait times surpass a certain point.

That would leave Disney with three ways to get on its attractions: the advance Fastpass+ reservations, the return-time tickets, and the traditional stand-by queues. Note that when Disney goes with return-time tickets at a ride or show, it closes the standby queue, so there are only two of the three options available at any given time on a specific attraction.

Visitors will valid theme park tickets may reserve three Fastpass+ reservations per day for their visit via the Disney World website or app, then get additional Fastpass+ reservations in the parks, one at a time, as available, after they've used their first three. The return time cards aren't part of the Fastpass+ system, so you can get one of those without counting against your Fastpass+ limit. And once Disney's handed out all the cards for all the available return times for the day, you're out of luck. There's no way to get on that ride or show. (Though it is possible that Disney could decide to cut off distribution of the return time cards earlier in the day to allow the standby queue to reopen on a walk-up basis later in the day. Some visitors have been told that's what will happen with Soarin' today.)

If you're trying to figure out a strategy for maximizing the number of high-demand attractions to visit with these return-time cards, good luck. Perhaps, with time, it will become easy to predict when Disney will close a stand-by queue in favor of the return-time cards. For those attractions, you'd want to be at the attraction entrance as soon as possible after Disney starts handing out those cards to get your assigned return time. If you knew you'd be able to do that, it then would make sense to use your three advance Fastpass+ reservations on other rides or shows during the day. That would allow you to have, in effect, four reserved attraction times. But if you're not certain that Disney's going to go with the return-time cards on a ride or show with typically long waits, you'll need to get a Fastpass+ reservation to avoid having to wait physically in an hours-long standby queue.


Replies (29)

July 30, 2014 at 2:00 PM · I can't see this working at Soarin' without creating a lot of angry customers. I understand the reasoning in not having people wait hours in a standby queue, but not letting them ride at all just seems like an awful idea. It's another step in a bad direction that is going to drop customer satisfaction. To me, this is a much different situation than the Anna and Else one.
July 30, 2014 at 2:13 PM · The California Adventure standby wait times is seldom over 60 minutes. Usually 20 to 50 minutes. The longest wait times there is the Cars rides which can be 90 to 120 minutes. Maybe they should travel to Anaheim.

They need to get that third theater constructed as soon as possible at Epcot.

July 30, 2014 at 2:19 PM · Does Disney even want to be in the theme park business anymore? Theme parks are treated like the unwanted stepchild of ESPN. Walt must be spinning in his grave. Disgraceful.
July 30, 2014 at 2:59 PM · It makes sense to get folks out of attraction lines and into shops and restaurants. A company can't make money if most of the folks are in attraction lines. Obviously Disney is making a commitment to eradicate standing in line for something that does not produce revenue (other than the occasional ride photo or t shirt).

It sure would be nice to one day visit a Theme park (besides Worlds of Fun which is largely empty every Sunday - Thursday morning, of course) where waiting in standby lines has been removed from the equation.

July 30, 2014 at 3:07 PM · Old fast pass, new fast pass and then a combination. I'm lost. When you take a step back there are only 2 rides that create that kind of lines and it are Test Track and Soarin. Not because they are awesome rides (Orlando has much better to offer) but because it rest or the rides are even less desirable. And Disney's solution is old FP tickets and probably building 1 or 2 new theatre's. That is insane!
What if they made Ellen's energy whatever into something amazing or Journey or Space or all the other crappy old rides? They would distract from the tech demo that is called Soarin. I knew the time when Sea Base Alpha was an amazing pavilion but everything Disney did with it to update it made it worse and was done on the cheap. They same goes for the Immagination pavilion that once was the highlight of Epcot.
So is Disney already rethinking Avatar land from building 10 instead of 2 Soarin clones? The park has, except for it's safari, a handful of small and extremely short low capacity rides. Instead of expending the offerings and make larger capacity rides in case Avatar will be a hit (and with the lack of new stuff it will be) they probably continue with what they wanted, get budget cuts and downgrades and will be as stellar as that awful Frozen sing a long amateur production in the Studios.
July 30, 2014 at 3:09 PM · I tend to go during the less busy season but the normal fastpass system has always worked just fine for me. That being said, I know Disneyland uses it still. Not sure if WDW does.
July 30, 2014 at 3:25 PM · I miss the old days when there was one queue for everyone.
July 30, 2014 at 4:33 PM · Ahhh, knowing I can now get a return time for Soarin' means that I can get my drink on through the countries of the world, then make the hop over to the ride after I'm a bit tipsy. Trust me people, Soarin' only makes sense if you're in an altered state of mind. Otherwise it's a confusing, boring slideshow for the state of California- for a ride that is in Florida.
July 30, 2014 at 4:36 PM · This pretty much negates the "you have more time to be spontaneous" talk that Disney has thrown around in regards to FastPass+. Now, being spontaneous could end in a cast member telling you that you were spontaneous too late, and you will not be allowed to ride Soarin' no matter how long you are willing to wait.

This is dreadful guest service if it's truly being implemented as reported; I expect better of Disney than to turn guests away from attractions that aren't closed for refurbishment or due to technical difficulties.

July 30, 2014 at 4:37 PM · "If you knew you'd be able to do that, it then would make sense to use your three advance Fastpass+ reservations on other rides or shows during the day."

This is not practical advice. If Soarin' is a must-see ride, then you should definitely get the Fastpass+. Demand creates the scarcity. It is likely that you can get last-minute Fastpasses for Test Track and Space so you really shouldn't worry about those attractions. Once all Fastpasses are gone for Soaring', you will have to try again another day and that is also impractical.

July 30, 2014 at 9:26 PM · The 2 hour stand-by waits always discouraged me from riding it. I expect that is true for a great many people. However, now I know I won't stand in line while waiting to ride, therefor, I will now get a paper return ticket. Me and 100s of my fellow formerly discouraged line-standers. I don't see this as a help for those who would have stood in line but now will be shut out of riding because all the passes are gone sooner.
July 31, 2014 at 12:47 AM · So let me get this straight:

Disney are taking a horrendous line and saying to their guests "rather than wait for 2 hours or more bored out of your brain why don't you go and enjoy yourself somewhere else for a couple of hours then come back and wait a much shorter time for a guaranteed ride?".

So they are making my experience much more enjoyable and you guys are complaining that this is somehow poor customer service?

Get off your anti-Disney horse folks and recognise this for what it is - this is great customer service. It's dealing with a long line and freeing guests from tedium.

July 31, 2014 at 1:01 AM · While I agree that this may mean the need to step up building that third theater, I also think maybe this shows that Epcot needs another big E-ticket attraction to spread the theme park attendees around a bit.

I can't imagine anyone on this site really disagreeing with the addition to another attraction Epcot though. So Disney, make it happen!

July 31, 2014 at 4:57 AM · The people who can't go on Soarin at all that day because they don't have a FP+ or didn't arrive early enough to get a paper ticket before they are all handed out aren't going to view this as great customer service. Telling customers they can't stand in-line at all even if they want to is horrid customer service. Those people paid a lot of money for a theme park admission to a park with very few decent rides and now they don't even have a chance to ride one of them.
July 31, 2014 at 6:44 AM · "This is not practical advice. If Soarin' is a must-see ride, then you should definitely get the Fastpass+."

That is true Anon. However, if you are prohibited from reserving Fastpass+ return times for both Soarin' and TestTrack, then this gives guests another potential strategy to see both attractions, assuming they cannot take advantage of the single rider line on TestTrack. If a guest knows that Disney is handing out paper Fastpasses to guests for Soarin', meaning that you don't need to physically wait in the standby line (remember the entire Fastpass system is based on the theory that guests with Fastpasses are actually waiting in line, just not at the attraction) for Soarin', why would you waste your 1 top Tier Fastpass+ on that when you could instead get one for TestTrack while getting the paper return card for Soarin'. It allows guests to essentially beat the tier system without having to physically wait in a standby line.

I'm not advocating the strategy, because it's difficult to tell how guests will react to this news or how precisely Disney is planning to employ the policy (Are they only doing it on peak days?--Do I sacrifice my Soarin' reservation for a trip 2 months from now in the hope that they're still doing this in October?). However, if you are a fan of both rides and want to try to avoid the conundrum of picking between the two for your one top tier Fastpass+ reservation, it might make sense to choose TestTrack and pick up a paper return card for Soarin'.

Just like when the Fastpass+ system was first brought online, it's going to take some time and reports from guests to determine what works best, and how precisely the system is working. I agree that there's a chance that if a guest tries to beat the system by counting on the paper return cards being available, they are taking a risk of potentially not getting on at all, but perhaps some guests are willing to take that chance, and could benefit greatly from doing so.

A similar strategy could apply to Toy Story Mania (this is the other attraction I could envision this happening to) if you're also a big fan of Rock 'N Rollercoaster and cannot take advantage of the single rider line.

July 31, 2014 at 6:52 AM · I agree with David. This is great customer service..... in response to a problem partialy of Disney's own making. Soarin' has needed a third theater for far too long, and Epcot has needed some serious upgrades for years.

You can't fault Disney for building some of the best theme parks in the world, but you can fault them for being way too actuarian when it comes to investment in their parks. They really need to get away from primarily making decisions based upon maximizing revenue, and put a little more consideration to keeping and building the goodwill they have engendered over the years.

But as long as the sheep keep flocking to Disney, they're going to keep doing what they're doing.

Go, Universal, go!

July 31, 2014 at 7:06 AM · I had another thought about this system. Is there anything to stop someone from going to Soarin' and getting a bunch of return cards? Under the old FP system, you were blocked by having to connect your ticket to it. Now, it seems like you could pick up a bunch and then be set for the day. It also seems like a terrible idea.
July 31, 2014 at 7:27 AM · Sooo, kinda, sorta, Fastpass.
My head hurts Disney....
July 31, 2014 at 9:20 AM · @Russell: "why would you waste your 1 top Tier Fastpass+ on that when you could instead get one for TestTrack while getting the paper return card for Soarin'."

Because.... you might be so late to get your Soarin' paper fastpass that you'll might not get one at all. I said this already. The Test Track fastpass isn't hard to get. In fact, it is much easier to get and you can get it even on "busy" days.

These attractions are not equal. Epcot might allocate Soarin' and Test Track to be Tier 1 attractions, but you can't tell me Test Track is more popular than Soarin'. When I arrived in May, Test Track had a 5 minute standby wait time at 11am while Soarin' already had a 90 minute wait time. Whenever you check the wait times, Soarin' and Toy Story Mania have the longest waits.

"I agree that there's a chance that if a guest tries to beat the system by counting on the paper return cards being available, they are taking a risk of potentially not getting on at all, but perhaps some guests are willing to take that chance, and could benefit greatly from doing so."

You can't benefit greatly by taking a chance on not getting on this ride. Please.... Test Track is not hard to get on even on a busy day.

July 31, 2014 at 9:38 AM · Too little, too late. Disney could spend $1.5 billion dollars developing Magic Bands, but $100 million to build another E-ticket attraction in Epcot would have been just too much? Playing the little dutch boy, putting fingers in the dyke, is not great customer service.
July 31, 2014 at 10:44 AM · I will never understand the appeal of this ride. It's a "meh", at best.

Epcot needs new rides, and by that I don't mean another theater for Soarin'

July 31, 2014 at 11:01 AM · @Anon - I don't dispute that, and my impression is that TestTrack does have significantly shorter standby lines compared to Soarin'. However, as you yourself have said on multiple occasions when discussing the Fastpass+ system, guests should get Fastpass+ reservations for the attractions they most want to experience. Perhaps someone, like me for instance who has ridden Soarin' dozens of times (both in California and Florida), but hasn't been to EPCOT since TestTrack got the Tron-esque update (missed it by a couple of weeks in 2012) would actually prefer to ride TestTrack over Soarin'. If it were just me going (my son hasn't been able to ride Soarin' yet because he hasn't met the height requirement, but will on our next trip so this would just be theoretical), I might consider getting a TestTrack Fastpass+ reservation to ensure I have a guaranteed ride on an attraction I haven't been on since it was revamped. I would then take my chances with Soarin' by either getting to the park at rope drop and making the mad dash, or hoping that they were handing out the cards.

Everyone's priorities are different, and I think Robert, along with others, including myself, are merely offering potential strategies. Just because you, the high-and-mighty Fastpass+ master, don't agree with them, doesn't mean they won't work. The whole system is still extremely new, and strategies are changing every day, particularity when Disney changes the rules like this particular situation (and the Anna and Elsa situation and the ability to get more FP+s beyond the first 3). I don't understand why you feel the need to beat down every suggestion that's offered just because it doesn't fit with the way that you visit the parks. Believe it or not, some people that visit WDW don't mind getting up early and stay up late to maximize their visit, and are willing to do whatever tricks they can take advantage of to get on as many attractions as possible in a day. In contrast, there are those that like to sleep in, go to the park to experience the 3 things they have FP+ reservations for and leave. To each their own, but to dismiss a potential strategy because it doesn't fit with the way you visit the parks is not very productive to the discussion.

From what I've read about the FP+ system is that it seems to work with a number of different strategies, and rewards power users (maybe not as much as before) as well as more laid-back guests. To say one strategy is better than another, or to dismiss an idea out of hand is neglecting the fact that different people have different priorities when visiting WDW.

The fact of the matter in this instance is that guests can either reserve a FP+ reservation for Soarin' or TestTrack. If a guest wants to guarantee themselves a ride on TestTrack and don't really care about Soarin' (many people really don't like it, and hate the fact that there are always ridiculous like for such an overrated attraction), they should use their top Tier FP+ for TestTrack, and the new paper system gives them another opportunity to experience Soarin' beyond the absurd standby lines if they're so inclined. Sure, there's a good chance additional FP+ reservations are available later in the day for TestTrack, but what happens if a guest has a dinner reservation or heaven forbid, actually has a FP+ reservation for Illuminations or their Soarin' FP+ reservation is extremely late in the day (essentially locking them out of additional reservations for the entire day), then they would be forced into the standby line to experience the attraction they most wanted to ride. That's completely counter intuitive to the way FP+ was supposed to be used, and puts the guest in the same situation they were in before the new system was put into place.

July 31, 2014 at 10:54 AM · The answer is to add more Soarin type rides in the other countries around the World Showcase. This would give guests more options. It would be awesome to see a Soarin over France ride or any of the World Showcase countries.
July 31, 2014 at 11:25 AM · I love to ride Soarin. It is my favorite ride at Epcot and possible my favorite at Disney World. Why doesn’t Disney take the money that they would spend on adding another theater for Soarin over California and use it to create another Soarin ride in the World Showcase? This would move people to other parts of the park and give them more options, thus reducing the wait times at Soarin over California. It would be awesome to ride several Soarin rides order different countries in the World Showcase. France, Canada, China, Norway or Mexico could be converted to a Soarin ride.
July 31, 2014 at 1:01 PM · @Russell: "Everyone's priorities are different, and I think Robert, along with others, including myself, are merely offering potential strategies. Just because you, the high-and-mighty Fastpass+ master, don't agree with them, doesn't mean they won't work."

LOL!! What was that all about.

I do accept your strategy as one possible option, but I still don't understand why you would not accept a Fastpass+ reservation for Soarin'. If Soarin' isn't your priority, then go ahead an reserve Test Track.

It doesn't make sense to not make a reservation for the most popular ride in Epcot just because you also want a reservation for the second most popular ride. So you strategize by reserving the second and hoping to get the paper fastpass for the first, WHICH I must advise you WILL definitely put you out further than 3 hours minimum. You could very well have your dinner reservations or Illuminations plans ruined.

Or you will settle for missing out on Soarin' and you'll leave the park knowing that your never should have prioritized Test Track since the Standby wait time might very well be 5 minutes after Orlando has its daily rainstorms and Test Track shuts down for a few hours and the immediate aftermath is a short 10 minute wait. There is no risk of Soarin' shutting down since it is all indoors.

Don't let me dissuade you from your plans.

July 31, 2014 at 2:30 PM · This is a direct result of simply not having enough attractions in the park. CA adventure has the same ride, but the wait never gets that long because there's plenty of other attractions to experience. So they wasted 1 billion on the magic handcuffs but still require a legacy fastpass type system? At least universal is investing in attractions.
July 31, 2014 at 3:27 PM · Actually, Test Track has had consistently longer lines than Soarin' every time I have been to Epcot (which is multiple times a year). Test Track is normally 20-30 minutes longer than Soarin' lines.

I think the whole system is a good idea, if it is controlled well. If it gets to where you have to go to Soarin early in the day to have any chance of getting on, then of course, it is not going to end well. They need to have some way of limiting the amount of passes given so that you can come later in the day and still get on. I think it will be a hit or miss.

August 1, 2014 at 8:14 AM · the best way to avoid lines is to write a hit pop song and get a personal escort through the parks.
August 1, 2014 at 2:56 PM · When Epcot was new, the lines were never this long. I think a lot of that was because there were a lot of interesting rides that everyone could ride. They ruined Imagination, closed Life, demolished Horizens and eliminated World of Motion instead of just adding Test Track. And who was the brain surgeon that decided that bringing back Captain EO was a good idea? Magic Journeys was a much better show and didn't include a leading character with a controversial past. Even eliminating lesser attractions like Kitchen Kabaret cut down on what people could do. Instead of handing out return time passes, they need to fix all of the things they broke and bring back better versions of the originals, not forgetting that a lot of people aren't into thrill rides and really enjoyed the old passive rides. There is so much potential for making this a great park, both in Future World and in expanding World Showcase to include rides in more countries or adding new countries. Has Disney lost the imagination to do this?

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