Disneyland and Disney California Adventure offer FastPass and digital MaxPass services, both of which we’ll cover in this guide. We’ll also offer tips for choosing the best FastPass options, some strategy for the most efficient use of FastPass, and whether you should use the free FastPass service or paid MaxPass service. (Last updated January 23, 2018.)
If you’re a Disneyland regular, you know the ins and outs of FastPass. It’s second nature. However, if you’re a first-timer, it’s not so simple. It’s also not all that intuitive, particularly since Disneyland no longer really provides information (or signage) to guests about the complimentary FastPass service.
We’ll underscore that point again: yes, FastPass is free at Disneyland. This is the number one question we hear from first-timers, most of whom assume there’s some sort of catch since other theme and amusement parks charge for their front-of-line service. FastPass is totally free–no catch. MaxPass, on the other hand, is not. There’s not a huge difference between FastPass and MaxPass, and we’ll get to that further into the article. Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s cover some of the basics…
FastPass is essentially a virtual queueing system for select attractions at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. Not exactly a front of the line ticket, but close. The key difference between this and a front of the line system is that you are waiting for an attraction…you’re just not physically waiting in the line.
You go to a FastPass kiosk at an attraction (let’s say Radiator Springs Racers) at 9 a.m. The current wait time is 90 minutes. The FastPass return time is 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. You obtain a FastPass reminder paper, and go have breakfast at Flo’s V8 Cafe, do some shopping, and return at 10:30 a.m., scan your park ticket to enter the FastPass return line, and wait ~10 minutes before boarding the attraction. You’ve waited over 90 minutes to ride…you just waited somewhere else.
That’s just one example with arbitrary numbers chosen. Sometimes you wait less time than the current standby wait, but more frequently, you wait longer. Since your line is virtual, you can be in more than one place at once: virtually in line at Radiator Springs Racers and physically in line at Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters.
Hopefully, that explained the basic mechanics of how FastPass works, here are some additional rules and answers to frequently asked questions:
- Unlike some front of line passes, FastPass is not unlimited. You cannot grab a second FastPass until the time on your FastPass reminder indicates one will be available.
- Normally, your next FastPass can be drawn either at the start of the return window for your first one, or 2 hours from the time you grabbed your previous FastPass, whichever is earlier. Example A: You grab FastPass #1 at 8 a.m., and your first FastPass window is 9 – 10 a.m.; you’ll usually be able to grab a second FastPass at 9 a.m. Example B: You grab FastPass #2 at 9 a.m. and your window is 2 – 3 p.m.; you’ll usually be eligible for another FastPass at 11 a.m.
- Given Examples A & B above, you should be able to see how you can sometimes hold multiple FastPasses simultaneously…but not always.
- There’s a limited supply of FastPasses, and return times are based upon demand. You will most often see return times far later in the day for attractions that are most popular/have the longest wait times. Only so many FastPasses are issued for each hour of the day, and return times are based upon demand. Radiator Springs Racers will almost always have a return time far later in the day.
- By contrast, the following attractions routinely have an “instant” return time that is shorter than the standby wait: Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and California Screamin’.
- FastPass distribution occurs in designated areas near attractions. Signs make these areas easy to find. The notable exception to this is Radiator Springs Racers, which has FastPass distribution outside of a bug’s land.
- When acquiring FastPasses, give them to one person in your party and send that person as the designated runner. They do not actually have to run to get the FastPasses, but bonus points if they do! 😉
- World of Color and Fantasmic are not connected to the FastPass system used for attractions. You can always hold these simultaneously with one another and other attractions.
- Disneyland Resort does not use FastPass+ for scheduling multiple FastPasses weeks or months in advance. Whether MaxPass or FastPass, it’s all a same-day, one-at-a-time system at Disneyland.
- There is literally no reason not to use FastPass at Disneyland. You are at a significant disadvantage if you choose not to use it.
One thing to know is that the FastPass systems in Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are now connected, meaning you cannot game the system by getting one FastPass and immediately Park Hopping to get another.
This is a trick that worked for a long time, but it no longer does. (If you see this still mentioned on older posts here, please let us know in the comments of those posts–we are trying to update this info site-wide.)
Another thing to know is that with Disneyland’s new FastPass system that rolled out last summer, the paper FastPasses distributed at kiosks are actually just “reminder” slips. The actual FastPass is tied to your park ticket, and you will scan your ticket to redeem your FastPass, not the FastPass reminder. (If you used your phone as your ticket, that means scanning the bar code on there.)
This has already caused a lot of confusion among Disneyland locals, and log-jams at FastPass return lines as a result. Most Disneyland regulars had the old system down to the point that it was second nature. On our recent visit, we saw many people trying to scan their FastPass reminder slip at the FastPass redemption lines, only to be told they needed to use their park ticket, instead.
The system seems designed so that it can eventually be utilized with MagicBands, or NFC technology like the Apple Watch, but as of right now, it’s a bit clunky with the FastPass reminder and ticket system.
Eventually, locals (and others) should re-learn the FastPass system at Disneyland, but in the immediate future, anticipate some backups at the FastPass return lines…
We cover this in passing in our 1-Day Disneyland Park Itinerary and 1-Day Disney California Adventure Itinerary, but figured we’d offer bullet points with FastPass priorities here for each park, as well.
These rankings are determined by a combination of when FastPass distribution normally ends for each particular attraction, plus average standby waits. Whether an attraction is currently an “instant” FastPass is also factored in…
- Space Mountain
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Indiana Jones Adventure
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Splash Mountain (summer visits only)
- Star Tours: the Adventures Continue
- Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters
- Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
- Haunted Mansion
Disney California Adventure
- Radiator Springs Racers
- Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!
- Toy Story Midway Mania
- Soarin’ Around the World
- Grizzly River Run (summer visits only)
- California Screamin’
- Goofy’s Sky School
In some cases, you’re probably better off revisiting attractions near the top of the list if FastPasses are still available, rather than going directly down it. For instance, Goofy’s Sky School is a total waste of time, so I’d recommend getting a second California Screamin’ FastPass instead of a first Goofy’s Sky School FastPass.
Likewise, if Haunted Mansion has a 10 minute wait and Indiana Jones Adventure has a 60 minute wait, get a second FastPass for Indy, and do Haunted Mansion via standby. The above is just a resource, not a step by step itinerary.
MaxPass is now available at Disneyland Resort. Think of this as a modified version of the My Disney Experience app from Walt Disney World, but with fewer options and a $10/person per day cost. In addition to being able to book FastPasses via your phone, the $10/day add-on grants guests the ability to download PhotoPass photos taken by Disneyland photographers and on-ride attractions.
When we say MaxPass has fewer options than the My Disney Experience app is that it does not allow reserving 3 FastPasses at once and it is not integrated with MagicBands, which cannot be used at Disneyland Resort. (Yet?)
In essence, MaxPass plays by almost all of the same rules as the legacy (paper) FastPasses at Disneyland Resort. (Well, just about.) You are paying for the convenience of not walking to a FastPass machine–almost every other rule applies.
Given that, why would anyone purchase it? When we originally published this review, that was our question. After experiencing FastPass and MaxPass on a fairly uncrowded day, even the introductory price of $10/person per day (for now…it’s all but a sure thing that the price will go up before Christmas 2018) for MaxPass seemed like a steep price for something you could do yourself.
Since then, we’ve been back in the park a couple of moderately busy to extremely busy days and have noticed a few things. Namely, that MaxPass is definitely was more useful on a busy day than it is on an uncrowded day. This was especially true last Halloween (a busy season for Disneyland), but even has proven true for less busy days.
The first and biggest reason for this is crowds. Congestion throughout the parks means a lot of extra time just getting from point to point, and being able to use MaxPass from the phone (e.g. not having to fight the crowds to grab a FastPass) definitely can be advantageous–as would being able to grab MaxPasses while waiting in line for a different attraction. Effectively, MaxPass allows you to be in two places at once.
The second reason why is because of the minimum time window for drawing your next FastPass. Remember that example above (in the bullet point section) illustrating the earliest time you can draw your next FastPass, and how it’s either the start of your next FastPass window or in 2 hours, whichever is earlier?
Well, with MaxPass, the draw window is reduced to 90 minutes. On a busier day, this shorter window can be huge–especially when a lot of attractions are using the 2-hour rule for paper FastPasses.
Over the course of an entire day in the park, the advantage of not having to walk to get another FastPass coupled with the condensed draw window of 90 minutes can amount to an extra 3-5 FastPasses. That’s a pretty pronounced advantage over the legacy FastPass system.
Then there are the other advantages of MaxPass. While it is same-day only and requires that you enter the park to use the service (meaning no making MaxPass reservations when you wake up late in your hotel, or while stuck in traffic on the 5), it does not use a geofence.
This means that once you’ve used your ticket to enter either Disneyland or Disney California Adventure for the day, you can make MaxPass reservations for either park. (Keeping in mind that all other FastPass rules still apply.)
In other words, if you decide to take a midday break and go to your hotel for a nap, you can make MaxPass reservations as soon as you wake up. If you decide to head to Trader Sam’s, you can still make MaxPass reservations. If you’re in line for the Matterhorn, you can make a MaxPass reservation for Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!
Depending upon your park touring habits and how aggressive you are about getting another FastPass ASAP, MaxPass does offer usefulness in these contexts. I still have a very difficult time justifying it, and wouldn’t pay $10 for it myself, but your mileage may vary.
There is another rule exception for MaxPass at Disneyland: when reserving an instant MaxPass, your window for booking the next one will often be 20-30 minutes later, rather than instantly, as it would be with paper FastPass. However, as soon as you tap into the FastPass return line, you can reserve another MaxPass, regardless of the time. (Update: on busier days recently, Disneyland has disabled instant FastPasses–your mileage may vary on this.)
It’s unclear as to whether this is a glitch or how MaxPass is intended to work. (We expect some of these rules to change as MaxPass and FastPass is tweaked.) However, it’s good to know–make sure to schedule that next MaxPass as soon as you jump into the return line!
When it first came out, MaxPass is something we did not recommend, as it didn’t appear to offer much advantage to us initially. Due to adjustments made to MaxPass and also seeing it in action on more crowded days, that’s no longer our assessment.
As much as I hate to say it, I recommend MaxPass if you are visiting Disneyland as a tourist and can justify the cost. This is especially true during the busier days in the parks, as the value/utility of MaxPass most definitely increases as the parks get more crowded. Getting a few extra attractions in per day, saving on the walking, and having PhotoPass included makes it worth the $10/person cost, in my estimation. It’s not that you’re at an extreme disadvantage if you don’t purchase it (most people are not), but buying it definitely gives you a leg up on other guests as you “compete” for scoring FastPasses.
It bothers me that MaxPass costs money in the first place, but I’m not going to discourage its use out of spite. I view MaxPass as a cash-grab and way for Disneyland to profit off of something that would be useful to both guests and Disney (resource allocation is why My Disney Experience is free at Walt Disney World), but the bottom line is that it’s beneficial to most guests who have limited time in the parks, and would pay a couple of dollars extra (per attraction) to experience a few more headliners per day. While the cost of this will add up quickly, so will those extra attractions. I’d still be surprised to see the MaxPass service catch-on with locals, but if you’re an out-of-towner, it should be on your radar, especially if you have more of a ‘time is money’ perspective.
Overall, the FastPass system at Disneyland is nice, and incredibly easy to use once you get the hang of it. There are some features of MaxPass that are also nice/convenient, but for the $10/person/day cost, we have an incredibly difficult time recommending MaxPass to anyone. We suspect that Disneyland has only begun to roll out changes to its FastPass system, with more coming between now and the time Star Wars Land opens in 2019, so stay tuned to this post for future updates!
If you’re preparing for a Disneyland trip, check out our other planning posts, including how to save money on Disneyland tickets, our Disney packing tips, tips for booking a hotel (off-site or on-site), where to dine, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide!
Do you have any additional tips or strategy for using FastPass at Disneyland? Have you tried out the new MaxPass system yet? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? Share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have in the comments!