I made an all too brief visit to Walt Disney World this past weekend with my husband. About two weeks prior to our departure for this trip, I received a surprise FastPass+ tester invitation in the mail. The “welcome” letter included two standard plastic cards which were imprinted with our names and a square QR code box. We were directed to a website where we could use our resort reservation number to sign up for FastPass+ use.
The test took place at the Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We were directed to choose one of these parks on each of the two nights of our stay. I chose our arrival day Friday December 14 for DHS and Saturday 15 for the Magic Kingdom. We were offered a list of several attractions and allowed to choose a limited number to reserve with the FastPass+. We were presented with four sample time configurations, but had the ability to go in later and tinker with the timing. In practice, this felt very much like making a meal reservation.
Here are some screen shots of the reservation process:
I’m still processing my thoughts on FastPass+, but here are some initial observations and reflections:
- This is an AMAZING tool for WDW arrival days. Our flight to Orlando landed in the late morning. There was no way we could get to Disney’s Hollywood Studios before 1:00 p.m., when Toy Story Midway Mania standard FastPasses are usually long gone and waits of 90 minutes or more are typical. However, because I had a reserved FastPass+ slot at 3:00, we were able to hop right on the attraction at our appointed time. Similarly, this will be a boon for teens or other folks who like to sleep in on vacation. With FastPass+ you could theoretically schedule all your riding in advance for late afternoon or evening. The whole “get to the park before rope drop” mindset may change dramatically.
- You can set up separate FastPass schedules for each member of your party. This means that you don’t all have to ride together, or even ride the same attractions.
- There is definitely a “Big Brother is watching you” aspect to this. Each time we used our FastPass+, we were greeted by name. Somehow during the registration process, my husband’s card got coded with my name and vice versa. Cast members remarked on this several times.
- The guest-specific labeling of the FastPass+ has me wondering what will become of the “FastPass sacrifice.” For example, my daughter Josie LOVES Tower of Terror, I can take it or leave it. Often I’ll use my park ticket to get a FastPass for ToT and give it to her – sacrificing my Pass so that she can ride twice. I hope that enforcement of FastPass+ user identity does not become the norm. Somewhere in the rumor mill I recall hearing that the new card technology will eventually be linked to guest photos. (Just a rumor, I have no scoop.) Would my photo show up if my daughter used my Pass, thus causing her problems?
- The “celebration notification” aspect of the card might become grating after a while. During registration, I was presented with half a dozen choices of things I might be celebrating (birthday, anniversary, reunion, etc.). I chose the last option, “other,” just to see what would happen. Sure enough, all the cast at the FastPass+ return areas asked what the “other” was. Even if you’re there for your birthday, I can see that the obligatory good wishes could quickly seem forced rather than fun. Also, I didn’t necessarily want to have a conversation at every ride.
- We were allowed to make changes to our FastPass+ “reservations” on the fly, pending availability. For example, at any of the stations, you can ask to see your remaining FastPass+ allotment and if check whether it’s possible to switch attractions or times. As with restaurants, there appeared to be a few attractions that filled up quickly and had little movement in their availability. My impression was that the reserved parade and Wishes areas were the hottest tickets, likely because there is only one time each day for this.
- The FastPass+ times were staggered such that you could really only have one FastPass+ reservation per hour. This did not impact your ability to get/use regular FastPasses. No word yet on whether this will stay the same once the rollout it complete.
- I hope that eventually guests will be able to build Park Hopping into their FastPass+ experience. The current test only allow reservations at one park per day.
RFID Room Key
During this trip, we stayed at the Boardwalk, where all the rooms appear to have been converted to RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) locks. You wave your room key in front of the lock, rather than sliding it into a slot. I had previously encountered this technology during opening weekend at the Art of Animation resort.
I loved the RFID locks at AoA, but initially had huge problems with them at the Boardwalk. I’d get to the room and the key would work. I’d leave and come back, then the key wouldn’t work. This happened several times. Eventually I found a cast member at the Boardwalk concierge desk who explained that the new iPhones have been demagnetizing guests’ key cards. She gave me an envelope for my key and told me to put it in a different part of my purse, away from my phone. After following her advice, I had no more key problems. I hope this is something they work out because I often place my room key and phone in a small wristlet or clutch when I’m going out in the evenings at WDW.
RFID Tap to Pay
When checking in at the Boardwalk, we were asked if we wanted to activate “Tap to Pay” on our Key to the World Card. To do this, we selected a four digit PIN and input that number twice into a reader on the check in desk. There are some restrictions about what PINs are available. For example, we were told that we could not choose four consecutive numbers (1234) or two sets of double numbers (1122). Once your Key to the World Card had Tap to Pay activated, for purchases under $50.00 you really do just tap your card on a reader in front of the register. If you’re making a purchase over $50.00, you tap your card and then input your four digit PIN into the reader. I used this technology twice, once at the Boardwalk gift shop and once at the Emporium on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom.
My sense is that in the long run, this will become a slight time saver for merchandise check out cast members. Previously, cast members had to check photo ID for room charge purchases over $50.00. With the RFID system in place, these transactions will involve less fumbling to find drivers’ licenses and more quick tapping of PIN codes. On a related note, there is fairly large subset of WDW guests who likes to enter the parks with only their Key card. Under the old system, these folks could only make merchandise purchases of less than $50.00 because they had no ID on their person. Now they won’t need the ID to make a payment.
RFID Park Entry
RFID entry was also tested at the Magic Kingdom. Four or five sets of turnstiles had been removed from the far right side of the entry area (near Guest Services) and had been replaced with Touch Point card readers. There was no entry barrier; it was simply up to the cast on site to regulate the flow of guests. The scene during the test was slightly chaotic because it was not immediately clear who could enter where. Cast members were just asking people if they were staying on WDW property and if so did they have their park tickets encoded into their room key. Since I am an annual pass holder and did not have my park ticket on my room key, I could not enter through the test area. I did, however, watch the entry area for quite a while. The lack of physical turnstiles made it much easier for guests using strollers or personal mobility devices.
Overall, I was impressed with my tech testing experience. I know that my teens will be thrilled when the day comes that they can be sure about getting on Soarin’ without having to wake up at the crack of dawn. And once I got the demagnetization issue worked out, my RFID room key and payment experience was quick and easy. I look forward to subsequent roll out steps.
Fellow travelers, what questions do you have about FastPass+ or other new technology testing at Walt Disney World? Let us know in the comments below.