In theory, the written policy has always been that a guest should return to the FASTPASS return area during the allotted return-time window printed on the FASTPASS ticket. This has rarely been enforced, thus leading to many guides including our own offering the following advice for park touring:
In practice, you may use a FASTPASS at any time between the beginning of the window printed on your FASTPASS and park closing. Our data suggest that no specific time is better or worse than any other.
Previously, the only reported instances where Disney has adhered to the return-window policy has been during peak periods with headliner attractions like Epcot’s Soarin’. In the last few weeks Disney has begun sporadically enforcing the return-time window at various park attractions as part of a test period. Further, Cast Members working the FASTPASS return areas have been explicitly directed to honor late returns – for the time being – but to no longer mention or advise guests to use the old open-ended setup of the system.
This slow phasing-in of changes to the return-window is said to be part of preparations for the upcoming NextGen initiative in the parks. For the time being our advice remains the same as before on the utilization of FASTPASS, but please be aware that Disney may choose to change their policy and adhere to the return-window at some point in the near future. We will keep you updated with details as they become available.