Disneyland and Disney California Adventure offer free FastPass and paid MaxPass ride reservation systems to skip the standby line. This guide covers the pros & cons of each, tips & tricks for choosing the best FastPasses, strategy that will save you the most time, plus whether you should spend money and upgrade to MaxPass. (Updated February 4, 2020.)
We’ll start with something of an update, as we just spent a couple weeks at Disneyland for the grand opening of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. While that blockbuster new attraction notably does not offer FastPass, MaxPass, or a standby line (full details in our Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance Disneyland Strategy Guide), one thing it does require is being inside Disneyland before park opening.
That will likely be the case for the remainder of 2020. Consequently, there’s even more value in purchasing MaxPass than normal. You can book your first MaxPass the moment you enter Disneyland, even before official rope drop. By contrast, we would’ve had to wait another 30-45 minutes each morning to grab our first paper FastPass. We used MaxPass every single day and even with off-season crowds, absolutely loved it. MaxPass allowed us to do 3-4 extra rides per day, which was a huge advantage.
Suffice to say, we recommend MaxPass. (Important note: this recommendation and the accompanying commentary was made when the price was $15 per person per day. As we discuss in the commentary to our MaxPass Price Increase & New Ride Details, it’s a much closer call now.)
The cost is $20 per person per day (but you can save money on park tickets by purchasing Get Away Today’s tickets with MaxPass; see more in our Guide to Discount Disneyland Tickets). Plus, as noted above (and covered in more depth below), MaxPass will allow you to do several more attractions per day as compared to traditional FastPass.
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. As noted above, MaxPass costs $20 per day, but it means less walking and doing more.
If you’re a Disneyland regular, you know the ins and outs of FastPass and MaxPass. 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, and the only MaxPass info is usually a pop-up in the Disneyland app.
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 a return time that is shorter than the standby wait: Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, Haunted Mansion, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
- 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 Disneyland’s 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.)
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.
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
- Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
- Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters
- Haunted Mansion
Disney California Adventure
- Radiator Springs Racers
- Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!
- Toy Story Midway Mania
- Grizzly River Run (summer visits only)
- Monsters, Inc. Mike and Sully to the Rescue
- 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 Incredicoaster FastPass (for nighttime–it’s better then) 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.
Disneyland has confirmed that Monsters, Inc. Mike and Sully to the Rescue in DCA and Autopia in Disneyland will soon be offering Disney FastPass and MaxPass. Both attractions are aimed at families with kids, which is a type of attraction underrepresented by the the ride reservation services. We expect more additions like this as Disneyland tries to make MaxPass more appealing to guests with small children.
Note that neither Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge attraction–Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run or Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance–currently offers FastPass or MaxPass. Given that the Florida version just added FastPass, we’re guessing California’s Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run will likewise add FastPass/MaxPass before Summer 2020. Once it does, slot it into the #4 position on the Disneyland list above.
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 $20/person per day cost.
In addition to being able to book FastPasses via your phone, the $20/day add-on grants guests the ability to download PhotoPass photos taken by Disneyland photographers and on-ride attractions. If you’re a party that would’ve purchased PhotoPass anyway, buying MaxPass is a no-brainer.
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–along with some other advantages that might sound insignificant, but really make a huge difference.
So, why purchase MaxPass? 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.
Additionally, if you enter the parks prior to official rope drop time, you can immediately start booking MaxPass, whereas you cannot go to the physical locations where FastPasses are distributed until official park opening time. Since the turnstiles always open around 30 minutes before official park opening time, this means you can begin booking MaxPass that much earlier. This is a nice and valuable head start, especially for popular attractions like Radiator Springs Racers.
Another huge advantage is being able to snag MaxPasses that are no longer available as FastPass. When other guests cancel their MaxPasses (which happens a lot), that inventory goes back into the system. For example, on this evening at 8:05 p.m., I scored two FastPasses for Radiator Springs Racers, which had been ‘sold out’ of paper FastPass since about noon! By refreshing the Disneyland app, you can continue to acquire hard-to-get FastPasses via MaxPass until late into the evening.
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. 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! On our recent 2-week trip for the opening of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance in Galaxy’s Edge, we’d frequently rope drop Disneyland and then head to Laguna Beach or Los Angeles from around noon until 7 p.m. During that time, we continued to acquire FastPasses via the app, and used our stockpile when we returned at night.
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.
Now, I couldn’t imagine going back to the paper FastPass system. MaxPass is a revelation, and far better than the FastPass+ system at Walt Disney World. Suffice to say, 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 $20/person cost, in my estimation. You’re at a definite disadvantage if you don’t purchase it, and buying it definitely gives you a leg up on most other guests visiting Disneyland.
If you would pay a couple of dollars extra (per attraction) to experience a few more headliners per day, MaxPass will probably be worth it to you. 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 wonderful, and incredibly easy to use once you get the hang of it. There are some features of MaxPass that are incredibly nice and convenient, and the time you’ll save justifies the $20/person/day cost. Once the attractions in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge start offering FastPass and MaxPass that will be even more true!
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 MaxPass system yet? Think being able to do a few extra attractions, not walk as much, and have included PhotoPass is worth the extra $20 per day? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? Share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have in the comments!