This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.
Even if you’ve never been to Walt Disney World before, you’ve probably heard mention of the mammoth lines that certain attractions can generate. You might be thinking that a trip to Disney is essentially an exercise in standing and waiting, with occasional bursts of fun. While lines will indeed be a part of any Disney trip, there are steps that you can take to minimize the amount of waiting that you do and one of the best tools you have in your arsenal is the DisneyFastPass+ service, which is a ride reservation system that allows you to experience headliner attractions with minimal wait at Walt Disney World.
FastPass+ is free to use for everyone visiting Disney and it can make an enormous difference in the enjoyment of your trip. There are few things that make me cringe quite as much as someone coming back from a trip and being upset because people kept jetting by them as they stood in line because they weren’t aware of FastPass+. They assumed either that it was some sort of VIP line, or that it was a special line for people that had paid extra on top of what is already a costly vacation. Don’t be that guy. Read on to learn what FastPass+ is and how to use it!
What is FastPass+?
First, a little history and background to put things in context. When Walt Disney World first opened, the queues for attractions were handled the same way they might be at your local carnival — you got in line for the attraction you wanted to do when were are ready to do it, and waited your turn, which often meant standing in a really, really long line. In late 1999, Disney developed FASTPASS as a way to minimize the amount of time you had to physically be in line. To use it, you would go to the attraction you wanted to experience, put your park ticket into a kiosk, and it would print out a little ticket with a time window for you to experience the attraction with little or no wait. Once you had one FastPass, you had to wait two hours or until the start time printed on the ticket before you could get another one. This same system is used at Disneyland today, in fact.
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“There is nothing wrong with your computer monitor. Do not attempt to adjust the settings. We are controlling content. If we wish to excite you, we will bring you a post about the Fantasyland Expansion. If we wish to bore you, we will bring you a post about which brand of band-aid best accommodates walking-borne blisters. If we wish to bend your brain, we will bring you a post much like the one to follow. For the next five minutes, sit quietly and try to wrap your mind around what we are about to deliver. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your computer. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from within the insanity of Type-A, commando, vacation planners to . . . The Outer Limits.”
This is how I imagine a blog post such as this one should open. My mind explodes as I try to comprehend the magnitudinal impact of the information that I am about to share. In terms of a Disney vacation, this is where it is at for a die-hard. The time that could be saved . . . the biological energy that could be conserved . . . the amount of Disney territory that could be conquered . . . it’s almost more than a little Neurotic Disney Mom such as myself can take. But a word of caution: This information is not for the faint of heart. It is possibly not for the faint of anything because once you are able to comprehend this complex trickery of Touring Plan bliss, the execution of it might cause you to . . . well, faint. Consider yourself warned.
Many a Disney fan is familiar with the Fastpass system that is an option for most of Disney’s longest “wait-in-line attractions”. To refresh, though, I will pull an excerpt from the latest edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World:
” . . . . insert your park admission pass into a Fastpass machine and receive an appointment time (for later in the day) to return and ride [the attraction for which you opted to get a Fastpass]. When you return at the designated time, you enter the Fastpass line and proceed directly to the attraction’s preshow or boarding area.” – p. 79
In the Fastpass system, each ticket is limited to one Fastpass at a time. The holder of the Fastpass for one attraction may not acquire a Fastpass for a second attraction until the time indicated on the original Fastpass has transpired. Only then can a ticket-holder seek a Fastpass for a second attraction, but the “Rider Exchange” is a game-changer for those that are serious about time efficiency.
The “Rider Exchange” (referred to as the “Switch-Off” in The Unofficial Guide) is possibly a less-known time-saving technique amongst the Disney guest population because it is not as widely publicized. However, it is a necessary option for parties that have a person who is unwilling or unable to ride attractions but can’t be left alone while the rest of the group experiences them. Here is another excerpt from The Unofficial Guide to briefly explain:
“To switch off, there must be at least two adults . . . . On most Fastpass attractions . . . . When you tell the cast member that you want to switch off, he or she will issue you a special “rider exchange” Fastpass good for three people. One parent and the non-riding child (or children) will at that point be asked to leave the line. When those riding reunite with the waiting adult, the waiting adult and two other persons from the party can ride using the special Fastpass.” -p. 331-332
So here is the mind-blowing part. You can incorporate Fastpasses with the Rider Exchange in order to have Fastpasses for multiple attractions at the same time. This is an enormous benefit for larger groups.
Because the “rider exchange pass” can be used by the adult holding it as well as three companions, this essentially gives a “four for the price of one” scenario in terms of Fastpass currency. The basic idea is that we’re using one one-person Fastpass to get one multi-person rider swap pass. Naturally this give you more “bang for your buck” in terms of covering ground during your hours at Disney.
An alert reader in Mequon, WI discovered this strategy of combining the two time-saving line options to ride more Fastpass attraction headliners:
You advise sending someone to get Fastpasses for Big Thunder and then “switching off” so all the adults can ride. But if you have at least two adults in a group and one non-riding child, it’s possible to use the “switching off” pass to get Fastpasses for more than one attraction at a time.
Our group consisted of two adults, two teens, and two young children. We split our tickets into two groups of three and used one group to get Fastpasses for Big Thunder and one group to get Fastpasses for Splash Mountain. When the half with the Big Thunder Fastpasses went to ride, we asked to “switch off” and obtained a pass good for one adult and up to three other people. My husband used the three Fastpasses to ride with our two teens. Then, with the switch-off pass, I rode with the teens again and one of our younger sons who was willing to ride. We did the same thing on Splash Mountain immediately afterwards because the time on our Fastpasses for that ride was already here when we finished riding Big Thunder.
Depending on size and number of ticket-bearers, this strategy has the potential to hold Fastpasses for as many as five attractions at any given time while still maintaining the ability to get the entire group on each attraction with a single “swap.” This mass Fastpass acquisition is accomplished by dividing up the group’s tickets for Fastpasses at different attraction kiosks, but the maximum number of attractions a party can exploit this way diminishes as the size of the group increases.
Used at its fullest potential, a family that consists of two adults and four other ticket-bearing people (one which is not able or willing to ride) can divide their tickets into five groups. One ticket would be used to obtain a Fastpass at “Attraction A.” One would be used to get a Fastpass at “Attraction B.” The pattern would continue for acquiring tickets for “Attractions C, D and E” simultaneously. With the attraction of the earliest Fastpass time stamp being called “Attraction A”, an adult wielding the Fastpass for “Attraction A” would request a rider exchange pass by approaching the Cast Member at the Fastpass Return entrance. After securing the rider exchange pass, the adult would use his Fastpass to board the ride and give the rider exchange pass to the second adult when he rejoins the group. At that point, the second adult–accompanied by the three others whom are riding–would present the switch-off pass to the Cast Member guarding the Fastpass Return entrance. All four family members would be permitted to enter the Fastpass lane for the ride while the first adult would remain with the non-riding individual. Upon the return of the second group, the same procedure could be followed for the remaining four Fastpass attractions without having to wait an extended period for the assigned time-frames.
This scenario may seem unappealing as it would require an adult that was always willing to ride solo as well as some serious team cooperation in gathering the Fastpasses from all corners of the park. For that reason, we see dividing the group’s tickets into thirds and using them for three different attractions as a more reasonable option (providing the number of riders in the party doesn’t exceed six). Here is how it might play out:
Two parents, two adventurous grandparents, two excited teens, and one terrified child named Clarence want to make the most of their time. Dividing their tickets into three groups of two, Dad runs to grab two Fastpasses at Space Mountain and plans to meet up with the rest of the family after they have used two tickets to get Fastpasses at Splash Mountain and two tickets to get Fastpasses at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Once the time rolls around, Dad and Grandpa use the Fastpasses for Splash Mountain, being sure to ask for the rider exchange pass when they enter the Fastpass line. After they ride, they give the rider exchange pass to Mom who then takes Grandma and the two teens through the Fastpass lane. Dad and Grandpa wait with Clarence near the exit, and the group is reunited when Mom, Grandma and the happy teens emerge. This same scenario would play out for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Space Mountain in short duration due to the fact that the FastPasses for those attractions have already been grabbed and the time for entry has probably arrived.
Now that I have completely amazed you with the brilliance of this Touring Plan technique, you are left with two questions:
1. How far are you able to take this mind-boggling strategy within the demographics of your particular vacation party?
2. Are you willing to take it to the “Outer Limits”?