Fastpasses and the Rider Exchange: A Powerful Combination

by on December 17, 2010 23 Comments

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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”?

Posted on December 17, 2010

23 Responses to “Fastpasses and the Rider Exchange: A Powerful Combination”

  • We did something similar on our last trip.. 4 adults, 2 babies.. I love having access to both!

    • I have to admit that it really gives people with little kids or “special needs” folks in their party a much needed edge.

      • If you have a child or adult with special needs,(anything from wheelchair access to Autism spectrum disorders), you can go to customer service right inside the main entrance and get a fastpass card for up to 6 people. On any ride that has fastpass, you go in the fastpass line. On all other rides, you go in the exit. Much quicker if you have some who can NOT wait in line reasonably.

  • One caveat: once in a blue moon, the CM at FP Return will ask for a fastpass for the *waiting* adult, which cuts the advantage to 1-to-2 from 1-to-4. Still nice, and this is rare. I think I’ve only had it happen to me once.

    • This surprises me as a Fastpass for the “waiting adult” really should have no bearing on the situation. Even if the original adult did not have a Fastpass, the Rider Exchange pass would entitle the “waiting adult” to use the Fastpass lane. The point of the Rider Exchange pass is to keep the “switchers” from having to wait in the long line twice. To ask the “waiting adult” to have a Fastpass really defeats the point of creating a Rider Exchange pass at all.

      But I suppose with almost everything at Disney this is a “your mileage may vary” type scenario (even though it shouldn’t be).

  • We have used this strategy in the past. It does work, however we have always had issues at Test Track in Epcot. On one trip my sister (who is a little hot-headed to begin with) got into a shouting match with the CM at the Fastpass return line when he refused give us a Rider Switch pass because he said the rest of the group needed valid Fasspasses before he could give us a rider swap pass. Another CM ended up coming over and telling the CM to calm down and she gave us the Rider Swap pass and asked us to come back later. We did and ever since then I have been less than enthusiastic to ask for the rider swap because I don’t like to cause problems.

    • Again, I do not understand the logic of this. I know that I have been asked to prove I had a “waiting individual” before they would give me the pass; however, I have never been told the “waiting individual” needed a Fastpass. That just completely negates the need to even create a “Rider Swap.”

      My guess is maybe what should be done first is approach the CM for the non-Fastpass lane for the Rider Exchange pass. Then give the Rider Exchange pass to the “waiting adult” before you use your Fastpass to get in the Fastpass lane?

  • JL:

    Great article!

  • I bought a TouringPlans subscription based on this article alone. Can you just have JL write every article on this site? Is that possible?

    • Hey, Tom! Thanks so much for your enthusiasm. I have no doubt that your Touring Plans subscription will meet your expectations.

  • So I was wondering: do this work? I´ll be going with four adults and two children. As I can see for the problems related above, it´s better to split in only two parties, so that the “waiting adult” also have the Fast Pass? Isn´t it wright? How many times have you tested leaving the “waiting adult” without the Fast Pass?

  • Is it unethical to use this as a family of 4 with kids who will ride the ride both times? I may not be understanding this correctly. For example, dad and son go through the line and ask for a switch, ride the ride, and come out with a switch fastpass for 1 holder plus 3 companions. Later in the day we can all go on the ride in the fastpass line, and still obtain other fast passes the regular way with our tickets?

  • Is the switch off good for one adult and two other people as stated in the book: “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

    … or one adult and up to three additional based on the Mequon guest: “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. ”

    I’m a little confused, trying to plan for 2 adults, 2 tweens, and one baby.

    Thanks, great site

  • We have done this our last two trips (2009 and 2011). Typically we are asked to show our child that cannot ride and the waiting adult. We have never had to show FastPasses for the waiting adult. We have also only done it typically for two rides as a time, but we did at one point have FastPasses for three rides. It is a great strategy when traveling with little ones or ones that are too afraid to ride. We are returning in July of 2013 with a group of eleven and hoping this will help cut down some of our wait times as we will have 2 two-year olds with us.

  • Is this strategy still good for 2 adults, one 7 years and one 2 years children? If yes, we can split our tickets into two groups of one adult and another adult 7 years child, correct?

    • This is still good. If you do the rider swap, the 7 year old can ride with the first adult. When you swap riders, that same 7 year old can ride again with the other adult, if the 2 year old is unable to ride. 🙂 The rider swap pass is good for one adult and at least 2 other riders. I have heard 3, but the info is conflicting on that number.

  • We’re going to the Magic Kingdom in February and will have 6 adults (one non-rider for most Fastpass rides, so 5 adult riders) and 5 kids (one is 2, so also a non-rider for most Fastpass rides, so 4 kid riders). Can we get two Fastpasses for a ride (say for the grandparents), and ask for the rider exchange (or switch-off) for both of these Fastpasses for the other three adult riders and 4 kid riders? One switch-off would be for one adult and three of the kids, while the other would be for the remaining two adults and one kid. Is this at all possible? If so, we’d like to use this “loophole” combined with earlier Fastpasses at another ride for everyone but the Grandparent to avoid the time limit for multiple Fastpasses.

  • Just came back from a week long trip to Disney World and discovered that each park operates their child swap program differently. We were also informed of this by Guest Relations when we told them of some of our hassles. Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios will send the non-riding adult and child (John and Sam) to the exit area (usually by back hallway)to wait for the riding adult and child (Lisa and Michael). Then John would go back to the front of the line with Michael (Michael gets to ride twice) via the same back hallway and go on the ride. Animal Kingdom does their child swap differently by making you go back to the back of the line up with your new rider. We had fastpass + for Expedition Everest and there was a half hour wait in the fastpass + line. I went with my 12 year old while my husband stayed with our 7 year old. When we finished, my husband was going to have a turn as well with the 12 year old while I stayed with our younger guy, but he was told he had to go to the back of the fastpass + line which was further out than what it was the first time! We didn’t have time to wait around a second time. Very disappointing! Same thing happened at the Dinosaur ride. Didn’t try child swapping at Epcot so don’t know their rules. Not very consistent with their policies so double check before you head out!

  • Visitors are now only allowed 3 Fastpass + times and there are a few stations with cast members throughout the parks to enable you to do so. If you don’t know your park’s layout, be careful you don’t make your fastpasses back to back and discover you have to traverse the park repeatedly. We made that mistake the first time. The next time we made sure to ask the cast member regarding WHERE each of the fastpasses were located. Some cast members are more helpful than others. If you are staying at one of the resorts, you can book your fastpasses ahead of time if you know which parks you are heading to on each day.

    We had problems with their computer system which wasn’t allowing us to do so, so we had to do it when we entered the parks. We never even made it to Toy Story Mania as all the fastpasses were used up before the park was even open! Although I appreciate that being a perk of staying onsite with Disney, it certainly is not a fair system for anyone else entering the parks.

    We had other issues with Disney’s Guest Relations due to problems with reservations and park passes. Their first line to you whenever there is a problem is “I understand” and this will be said repeatedly to you even when it is very evident that they don’t understand. And then you will be passed around from one cast member to another. Our last Guest Relations fellow finally did not give us lip service and was able to help. Too bad we couldn’t have dealt with him from the start! As much as we loved the rides, our trip was overshadowed by very poor customer service. Hope we were the exception to the rule.

  • JL, would you do another rider exchange article with the new Fastpass+ system? Pleaaase 🙂 Or is it just the same?

  • This was really confusing for me, this article says that with the rider exchange you can ride with 3 more guests totaling 4… But i went to the disney website and it says that you are only allowed to bring 1 guest with you totaling 2 guests per pass…

    Is the article just outdated or am i really stupid?

    Help ! 🙁