FASTPASS Return Policy Change Testing at Walt Disney World

by on August 27, 2011 47 Comments

Filed under: Recent News, Trip Planning

Disney has begun testing changes to the functional FASTPASS return policy at Walt Disney World.

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.

Posted on August 27, 2011

47 Responses to “FASTPASS Return Policy Change Testing at Walt Disney World”

  • This really sucks. My strategy has always been to accumulate a lot of FPs during the day and then use them in the late afternoon. I would think most people don’t know they can return anytime after the first time on their ticket.

    WDW is making a lot of changes, most of which I dislike tremendously. I’d like to know what spurred all this nonsense.

    • Disney wants to boost occupancy at its resorts, and charge more for those rooms. One way to do that is to provide more benefits to onsite guests, especially those who stay at moderate and deluxe resorts.

      One example of this is FASTPASS. Disney thinks that more people will stay at its resorts if FASTPASS (in either its current form or an enhanced form) is for Disney resort guests only.

      As Robert mentioned, it’s not yet clear where Disney’s policy is headed regarding FASTPASS for offsite guests. I’ve heard everything from “No FASTPASS for offsite guests” to some sort of reduced FASTPASS scheme (like one or two per day) to offsite guests.

      I’m sure much of this is still up in the air as Disney tries to figure out how the balance between perks for people who are only paying $70 per day for its parks, versus people who are paying several hundred dollars per day for its parks.

      • Oh, I totally understand that. I wouldn’t mind if Disney made FP applicable to onsite guests only (and they would probably throw in FL residents also). I do NOT like having to pick out my FPs in advance, as is rumored with the NextGen system.

        It’s these little changes that seem to come out of nowhere that really affect me. I go to WDW 3-4 times a year and DL once a year, and I have my set plan (thanks to this site!). I usually run around like a madman for the first 3-4 hours and getting as many FPs as possible. Then, I relax in the afternoon and use up the FPs. Everyone I know does the same thing. I just wonder who Disney is catering to with these new policies that don’t seem to make any sense to me. Who does it hurt if my FP return time is 11:30am and I go back at 3:00pm? There doesn’t seem to be any real affect on wait times, either for the standby line or FP line.

        • by Andrew Carrieri on August 27, 2011, at 9:43 pm EST

          I completely agree with John on the NextGen system. Picking out dining reservation 180 days out is bad but picking out fastpasses in advance is worse. How am I supposed to know whether an attraction will break down or if the weather (mainly a problem in AK) will force the shut down of an attraction at the time I’m choosing my fastpasses? Also, I know this site is mainly for planners but this is just too much: I’d like to have a little sponteineity while touring. If Disney is going to change the fastpass system, the MAXIMUM IMO they can do is to give resort guests a fixed number of fastpasses per day. I’d love a Universal type system if I’m stayng at a Disney resort but there are just too many patrons to make this feasible.

      • I’ve been wondering how long it would take Disney to realize that making FP free is leaving money on the table. As far as I know, they are the last park operator with a free virtual queueing system. Universal and Cedar Fair got rid of theirs, and both have now switched to pay-as-you-go versions exclusively. Cedar Fair only has a few pilot programs, the largest at Kings Island, but with Ouimet now the CEO, replacing the technology-phobic Kinzel, it won’t take long. Six Flags and Herschend never had free versions, but have been expanding their paid systems.

        • Kings Island charges $50 for the fast lane option, making admission more expensive than WDW. But @ KI, it’s probably worth it if u can afford it. The employees are not well trained or well supervised and there is little order when queing. The lines are atrocious and some rides take up to 10 minutes to load! They also took away single rider lines to make way for the new system (grrrrr!) W have passes, so we go on off days only. On Friday we went and saw only 1 couple in the whole park with the wristbands.

      • by Andrew Carrieri on August 27, 2011, at 9:22 pm EST

        Disneyland,this past summer, was giving resort guests two free fast passes per stay. Obviously this is not much and there are only 3 onsite resorts at Disneyland but this may have been the start of something.

  • Yikes!!!!!!

  • We usually only get one fastpass a day and almost always use it past the one hour window so we can do everything else and then come back. I don’t like that at all. And I don’t like the plastic wristband idea, in Florida, in the summer (or any other time of the year, like with long sleeves or a coat). Ugh.

    • I agree with the wristband thing. at least in all the pictures they look like they can be taken off. i’ll just keep it in my pack when i’m in the parks. for sure i won’t be wearing it on my wrist all day if it can be removed. I’m not sure why they want to change it…were that many people really complaining about carrying a card shaped ticket?

  • by John E. Levis on August 27, 2011, at 8:47 pm EST

    Hmmm, this won’t have much of an effect on us as we don’t make too great of a use of fastpasses. However, we do use annual passes and get to the parks 2 – 3 times a year. I’ll be the last one to fault Disney for trying to maximise revenue. But, I hope they don’t make guests staying off property into second class citizens. We’ve owned timeshares (not DVC) for some time and we won’t give those up just to get a fastpass.


  • While I like the idea of getting reservations for a ride…. I worry about the death of the spontaneity of touring. I plan my days out using the crowd calendar and maybe even the first hour in the park…. beyond that I play it by ear. I worry that just like I have no idea where I’ll want to eat 6 months from now, I have no idea where or when I’ll want to go on a certain ride.

    I have no problem with Disney giving additional or enhanced fastpasses to resort guests, but I have a problem with Disney taking rights and features away from locals, specifically local annual passholders. (Of which I am not one now…)… And even from regular APs. They may not always stay on site, but the mouse certainly makes more on them than your average day guest or offsite guest.

    • That’s a great point! i’m a florida resident seasonal passholder and only stay on site once a year (for the food and wine festival) but i go almost weekly in the cooler months. i don’t get a ton of fast passes but it would suck if i couldn’t get any because i’m not staying at a resort.

  • I was at Animal Kingdom two days ago and was chastized by a cast member for returning to Kali River Rapids after the fastpass window. (about 2 hours late) He was quite rude about it! If they are changing their policy he could at least inform me nicely. Thankfully a few hours later when we went on the ride again with another expired pass another cast member was present and didn’t say a thing.

    I too like to stockpile fastpasses and use them later in the day when crowds are heavier. A one hour window in a busy park with kids that often don’t want to leave a store or restaurant at the necessary time to rush accross the park would be stressful to say the least.

  • by John E. Levis on August 28, 2011, at 6:25 am EST

    It seems that quite a few people here or on can’t manage to coordinate two events in a 3 hour window. Seriously, you have a fastpass for a ride with a 12 to 3 window and a lunch ADR for 1 and you can’t figure out how to do both?

  • 3 hour window!? It’s been 1 hour FP return window as long as I’ve known. Did they change it?

  • John E.- its a 1 hour window.

    I actually don’t like this. its a virtual queue. if less people show up during the hour for the FP return- more standby get on the ride. If more FP show up (some from outside the window), less standby gets on the attraction. I understand Disney is a business, but its really pushing it.

    On a different note- I found DL is be much better at upkeep of its attractions than WDW.

  • by Keith C (TheFugitiveGuy) on August 28, 2011, at 10:22 am EST

    I’m a little confused by exactly what has changed. On one hand, this post says “Disney has begun sporadically enforcing the return-time window” but on the other hand “[CMs] have been explicitly directed to honor late returns”. So are they enforcing it, or are they honoring it?

    Does it basically mean that CMs might give us grief, but will ultimately still let us in with the pile of FPs that we accumulated earlier in the day? 🙂

  • The return time is too short for the big parks. I’m not hanging around for hours in one spot because I don’t want to be in italy when it’s almost my return time for soarin. That journey with a toddler could take an hour.

  • Well in a way it makes sense. If my fastpass gets me a spot in the faster line at 3pm, but Joe smith skipped his faster line time at 11am, but is allowed in at 3, that makes my line longer. I think it would be neat if you could choose a couple times though.

    • Hi King. Really, that guy who came @ 3 could only effect your wait by some incredibly small fraction of a minute. You can do the math using this example: Space Mtn. wait is only about 3 minutes per 100 people. I bet there aren’t 100 people returning in fp lane @ exactly the same time as you, are there? Other stats in UG. Fun to check them out.

  • My apologies, my mistake, of course the window is 1 hour.

  • So everyone seems upset that they are thinking about enforcing something that is clearly written ON the FastPass and on all of the marketing materials that relate to the FastPass.

    I always liked that they didn’t care if you came back after the time on the ticket, but my understanding of this from an inside source is that it was just more costly in employee time management to try and enforce the return-window than just to let it slide.

    The problem began when cast members started telling guests that the return time did not mean anything (this was never supposed to have happened, they were only supposed to let people in if they were late – not broadcast that it was okay). So what they have now is a situation where at the end of business on a crowded day, the stand-by lines are ridiculous because of all the late FastPasses that come in. Disney policy is that anyone in line before the park closes will get on the ride. The issue then becomes that due to a much larger influx of riders at the end of the day (as opposed to it being spread out the way the computer calculates the passes), the stand-by line is so long that rides are staying open far later than the park intends. This negatively impacts many aspects of the employee wages and park time-management.

    Of course, I’m more guilty than ANYONE of collecting FPs as soon as they become avaialable, and then using them all at the end of the day to get in as much Disney Magic as I can, so really you can blame me. 🙂

    • i doubt everyone is returning at the very end of the day forcing the parks to stay open later.

      • The last stastistic I saw showed 37% of the entire day’s FastPasses were being used in the last 94 minutes of the park hours.

        • at leat you quoted data this time. then how about a 3 hour return window? i think 1 hour is tool small.

          • I think I misrepresented myself…in no way am I fan of them enforcing it! LOL I love coming back at the end of the day a zooming past everyone.

            BTW…all of my info and data is on DL, It might be a TOTALLY different situation @ WDW…I’ve just been putting this out there as a theory based on what I’ve learned as to why they are are all of a sudden enforcing something that has never been an issue before.

        • Ah, I’m going to need a cite for that, J-W.:)

  • Earlier this month, I had a CM at Peter Pan give me a heads-up that beginning in the fall, they would begin strictly enforcing the FP return time.

    But I agree that a 1-hour window can be totally unrealistic given the size of the parks, the number of parks, and all the little things that can go wrong (rides breaking, busses being late, child meltdowns). When I was at Universal, their system had no designated return time, but you could only get one per ride (unless you were staying on their property). Maybe that’s what Disney can do. Or, a hybrid, w/a designated “no earlier” return time (to spread the crowds out more) but no designated end time.

    Whatever they do, I do NOT want to see them charge for FP or limit it only to Disney resort guests. I like the egalitarian nature of Disney’s system (as opposed to Universal’s), where you can get the same opportunity without spending more money. It’s one of the reasons why I prefer Disney over any other theme park. I like the idea that the family staying at the Super 8 has the same chance to ride Toy Story Mania as the family staying at a suite at Grand Floridian, or in the near future, the family with the $8 million home at Golden Oaks.

    • oh man when i win the lotto my first purchase will be a golden oaks home 😛 a bit off topic but i saw the press release recently and fell in love! 😀

      and i agree with not wanting it to change. we had two price increases within the recent 12 month period. surely that’s enough to cover the fast pass rights for people not staying onsite? it’s a fun little perk that makes disney even more magical 😀

  • Auuuugggggh, this is so frustrating. I literally JUST learned about this little “loophole” and was hoping to use it to my advantage during my trip in December. I really think that there’s only a relatively small percentage of people who know you can come back after your return window.

  • I’ve used FPs late forever, thanks to the tip in the Unofficial Guide. If they decide they’re not going to accept them late anymore, I’ll adjust.

    What I do NOT like is having uncertainty thrown into the situation. “Spordically enforcing” anything makes it difficult to know what the policy is that’s being enforced and make a less pleasant experience as a result. Pick a policy and apply it across all 4 parks.

  • I do not like the fact that it will be onsite resort guests only. I’m a local Florida seasonal annual pass holder. I’m at the parks sometimes twice a month if not more.

    They ought to include annual pass holders too.

  • I think it’s a good idea. You have a given time frame to adhere to – nothing hard or unfair about that at all! If it keeps people from hoarding FastPass tix, that’s perfect. Wait your turn so it’s fair to all guests.
    Personally, I’d also like to see some sort of policy/policing where the entire party be present to enter the que line. Tired of one person holding a spot for an entire family or group thus pushing everyone behind them back.
    These practices coupled with the line cutting and pushy, impatient folks are ridiculous.

  • Well, here’s the thing: we are all critiquing the relatively unknown. It’s no secret that Disney wants to squeeze every dime out of us, but it’s also no secret that they go miles further than just about anyone else to ensure customer satisfaction (parks, not merchandise, lol). I can’t imagine that they would want to piss off half of Fl. by taking their fp’s away. People pay a lot for the perks@Disney and they always will, so imho, taking any of them away AND increasing prices @ the same time sounds crazy!

  • I don’t see what is wrong with the current fastpass system. Is it broken? Are these possible changed sue to guest demand? Like a previous poster I like how egalitarian it their current system is. We also use fast passes as way to avoid getting a guest assistance card. I would be incredibly unhappy if they start charging for fastpasses or start a tiered fastpass system that is tied to what level resort you are staying. With the way Disney is increasing it’s prices, I already pay plenty for my Disney vacation. (Even if I don’t stay deluxe.) I wonder if Disney will push too far and hit a tipping point soon.

  • Please keep us updated on this important development!

  • Interestingly, I was at Soarin’ on Monday and the cast member at the Fastpass booth was informing the guest in front of me that the FASTPASS was valid until the end of the day. Additionally, at some point in the last week (I can’t remember which) the cast members at the turnstile were informing guests queuing up for rope-drop that FASTPASSes would be accepted right up until the end of the day.

    Seems that the message hasn’t quite managed to completely permeate to all cast members yet!

  • The idea is to give the on site guests a certain amount of FP. Value 2 FP per person,per day,moderate three and deluxe .

    They have lets say 1000 FP per day for one attraction. 500 will go to on site guests and the remaining FP will be for free use in the park.

  • I’m totally cool with them enforcing end times, as long as they CLEARLY let people know ahead of time. I was always very good about showing up within my FP window because I didn’t think I had a choice. Then a California Adventure CM told me that, and I quote, “You can’t be too late for a Fast Pass, only too early.” I want to make this clear – I was not trying to abuse the system, I was doing what a CAST MEMBER told me! I understand the reasoning behind enforcing the end time. This system was designed for crowd control. If you issue 100 FP’s for 12:00, 100 FP’s for 1:00, and 100 FP’s for 3:00, but all those people show up at 4:00, that is NOT helping crowd control. I just want to be sure Disney lets their guests know about this change way in advance so that there are no (or few) unpleasant surprises.

  • Nice selection, green is such a fresh colour.
    I especially like the Eco Environments site.