Why Now's the Wrong Time to Visit Disney World (Unless You Stay at Their Resorts)

Cinderella Castle, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World Resort, Lake Buena Vista, Orlando, Florida, USA
Disney (DIS) unplugged the FastPass machines at its Florida theme parks last month. Now, instead of guests stepping up to machines at every attraction that spit out return times for priority boarding, the family entertainment giant is installing centralized kiosks that can offer reservations for as many as three rides and attractions at a time.

This may not sound so bad at first. Despite having to line up to peck at a touchscreen for the new FastPass+ platform, most would agree that having centralized hubs to square away priority access for more than one ride at a time is an upgrade.

It will be -- in time.

Right now, Disney is going through an awkward tech transition phase that in its current incarnation rewards guests staying at Disney-owned resorts at the expense of everybody else. It won't last, but it will be uncomfortable until advance access to the new FastPass+ isn't just limited to its overnight patrons.

Checking In

Guests staying at one of the many Disney-owned resorts in Disney World receive perks that visitors staying elsewhere don't get. They have access to the park's complimentary shuttle bus service from the resorts to the theme parks, saving them what has ballooned up to $15 a car for parking. They also get what Disney calls Extra Magic Hours -- admission into selected theme parks either an hour before it opens or a couple of hours after it closes.

Disney hasn't taken any kind of heat for offering those benefits. Providing transportation within the resort is a no-brainer, keeping guests from renting cars and straying to rival attractions. It's also not as if the park would be open earlier or later if it wasn't for the incremental Extra Magic Hours.

However, for now, only those staying at a Disney World resort can use FastPass+ to book priority queue access days in advance. Resort guests can book ride and attraction reservations as long as 60 days in advance, and change them after that through Disney's official theme park app.

Day guests and even annual pass holders aren't so lucky. They have to queue up once they get to the park after resort guests have chosen the three rides or attractions that they want expedited access to that day. Limiting everyone to just three FastPasses per day may improve availability, but for now it's resulting in slowing down the experience of those not staying at a Disney hotel by having them queue up to claim what the resort guests left behind.

Tech's Learning Curve

Hotel guests have been getting MyMagic+ wristbands for several months. The RFID bracelets can be used at park turnstiles and ride entrances to store admission information, offering more customized experiences to the gated attractions. However, the FastPass machines were always there spewing out ride reservations for all guests until Animal Kingdom switched entirely to FastPass+ during the last week of 2013. The other three parks followed in late January.

Annual pass holders and other day guests could have enviously eyed the the colorful bracelets, but they didn't necessarily feel as if they weren't first class customers.

That may be hard to dismiss now that the FastPass machines are gone with only resort guests making ride reservations before they arrive at the park.

Minding the Gap Between the Haves and Have Nots

The gap between those staying at the resort hotels and those spending the night elsewhere has never been this wide. It won't last. Disney sent an email to pass holders indicating that they will eventually receive access to FastPass+ plus before they arrive at the park. Other guests will likely qualify eventually as well.

Disney can always argue that it's not the only theme park operator giving resort guests enhanced access.

Comcast's (CMCSK) Universal Orlando offers early admission and perpetual access to its expedited lines. However, day guests can simply purchase Express Pass tickets to get up to speed. Even regional players get in on the fun. Cedar Fair (FUN) allows guests staying at its Cedar Point peninsula properties to ride a couple of its most popular roller coasters an hour before the public is let through the turnstiles.

However, Disney's migration to the new FastPass+ platform is going to confuse and potentially upset many of its visitors until the playing field is level.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney.

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Read Rick Aristotle Munarriz's article. Was at WDW several weeks ago. I had NO problems with use of old "fast pass!" The number of individuals using fast pass plus was insignificant. Yes, the numbers on line with bracelets reflects the number of guests staying in Disney Hotels...which is just a small fraction of the 100,000 plus people in the parks at various times..
Come on Ric, you say "guests staying at one of the many Disney-owned resorts in Disney World receive perks that visitors staying elsewhere don't get.' That's how Disney gets them to stay in their hotels....many of which are much cheaper than hotels outside of Disney World!!!

February 07 2014 at 1:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Get rid of all the old folks trying to relive their childhood...

February 05 2014 at 10:45 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

I dont like any sort of system which forces you to make ride "reservations". I'd like to take my time and see things in a spontaneous way. It used to be fast pass was used on a limited number of rides, now its pretty much everything. Why not just put people into all day group topurs and march them from one ride to another? I didn't like the old fast pass system and I dont like the idea of this. Ditto the fact that you now MUST make dinner reservations in advance as well. Out me down for supporting EVERYONE waiting their fair turn on line. I have been to Disney World a dozen times, always stay at one of their top level resorts which costs a fortune. Why shoudnt guests paying out that sort of money get some perks?

February 05 2014 at 9:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I went to Disney World the day after it opened it's doors and have been there just a few times in the last 10 years. If Walt Disney knew they were charging $89 for people to see his dream he would rollover in his grave. Millions of families are priced right out from having their kids see Mickey Mouse at that price.

February 05 2014 at 8:21 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply


February 05 2014 at 6:45 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Bo Mullen

As an annual pass holder I can make FP reservations without a room reservation, I can do it thru the Disney App. What is awful is most AP holders tend to be park hoppers, I want to be able to use the system in multiple parks. If I just go for the day, I may start at The Magic Kingdom, shoot over to the Studios, then end the day at Epcot. It would be nice to use FP+ at the attractions I want not by one park per day.

February 05 2014 at 3:37 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

the fast pass system in effect now is elititist.....which is contrary
to Walt,s philosopy......and according to Guest Relations people,
they are catching a lot of crap cause Disney has told them they
don.t need training and they are unable respond to guests about
the program...and thats directly from a disgruntled Guest Relations
CM....Disney may be pulling a General Motors move, which is
not a good indication......and we\'ve been going to WDW four to
six times annually for 15 years.......NO MORE

February 05 2014 at 3:26 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply

Ever since Eisner took over, the goal has been to cater to the top 10% at the expense of everyone else.

February 05 2014 at 2:45 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I have been going to Disney 1973. I am a stock holder and DVC member. Disney has changed alot over the years and always for the better. This new system will take getting use to but give it a chance. If it does`nt work Disney will change it. I have to admit though, the Perks we use to get as an annual pass holder are not as good but that won`t stop me from enjoying the Parks.

February 05 2014 at 2:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Denise Elmore

Oh, and having been there many many times over the last 23 years I have never seen one fight. And if there is a child molester why would you not report that?

February 05 2014 at 11:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply