Wondering when FastPass+ will come back at Walt Disney World or if it’ll be replaced by another ride reservation system? This post covers dates FastPass could return, how virtual queues create “ghost guests” and reduce park capacity, and the possibility of Disney Genie as a long term replacement. (Updated June 8, 2021.)
For those who missed it, Walt Disney World temporarily suspended FastPass Plus prior to the reopening of the parks. While the official rationale for this was to use the extra queue space for the standby lines, it was actually due to physical distancing. Among other things, getting rid of FastPass+ would speed up the standby lines, which in some cases are quite lengthy due to the added spacing.
There has been significant backlash to the elimination of FastPass+ among Walt Disney World fans, hence this post. As for the when FastPass+ will return, Walt Disney World’s official stance is that they’ll “share any future updates on the service at a later date.” That’s obviously vague and offers zero timeline, so we have some speculation for you…
First, let’s answer a different but related question we’ve been hearing from guests: “Is FastPass+ already back at Walt Disney World?!” This is one we’ve actually heard asked in the parks a lot while we’ve been waiting in lines. No, Disney did not “secretly” bring back FastPass+ and forget to announce it to everyone.
Currently, the physical FastPass+ queues are being used for Disability Access Service (DAS) and select VIP guests. This priority access lane essentially includes tour groups, Golden Oak residents, and Club 33 members. We have noticed a significant increase in the usage of FastPass lines since the start of Summer 2021, which is presumably attributable to more DAS passes being issued, since the number of VIP guests is relatively static.
With that out of the way, let’s turn to the titular question. Actually, this post essentially poses two different questions–let’s start with when FastPass will return? That’s the more popular topic among readers and an inquiry we’re receiving quite often.
In actuality, FastPass+ was suspended because it reduces the overall attendance limit of the parks. This is actually nothing new. Magic Kingdom, for example, used to have a higher capacity cap in the pre-FastPass days despite having fewer attractions. This might seem counterintuitive, but it’s because the FastPass system effectively allows guests to be in two places at once. With standby lines, when you’re in line, you are always physically standing in line–occupying only one spot in the park.
When guests use FastPass, they aren’t simply skipping the line. That’s the straightforward marketing moniker of how it works, but the nuanced explanation is that a “phantom version” of the guest is waiting in a virtual line for their turn to ride. (That’s right, virtual queues like FastPass+ are basically lines for ghosts!) This is why standby wait times are longer and that line moves slower when FastPass+ is utilized.
At the same time that ghost guest is in the virtual queue, the actual guest is doing whatever–shopping, dining, or even doing another attraction. Freeing up guests from standing in line was actually one of Walt Disney World’s two goals of the original paper FastPass system. In a nutshell, it would give guests more time to browse stores and eat, increasing per guest spending in the process.
In the past, this was no issue. There were plenty of stores, restaurants, shows, and other lower profile offerings to absorb the displaced crowds. The benefits of increased per guest spending brought about by FastPass coupled with guests perceiving it as a value-added perk outweighed any drawbacks.
The downsides were essentially higher staffing requirements (to support the FastPass infrastructure), reduced overall park capacity, and the need for sufficient alternative things to do. None of this was really a big deal because the parks had plenty of things to do and surplus capacity–it didn’t really matter whether Magic Kingdom had an upper limit of 110,000 or 80,000 guests if the vast majority of days only 60,000 or fewer people were visiting the park. However, things are different right now.
At one point not too long ago, the biggest impediment to the return of FastPass+ was physical distancing, which in turn put the upper limit on attendance at 35% of full capacity. If FastPass were reintroduced while full physical distancing was in place, it would further decrease overall park capacity.
However, this is no longer the problem. Walt Disney World has officially relaxed physical distancing, and more critically, guests have informally decreased it even further–spacing is more or less back to normal in lines. (See our new Physical Distancing & Face Mask Rule Relaxation Report for on-the-ground photos and observations about guest behavior and adherence to the current rules.) There is still some physical distancing on attractions, but that is quickly being reduced and will soon be eliminated entirely. It’ll be a non-issue before the core problem is fully resolved.
Naturally, the core problem has morphed into something different entirely. Like so many other Central Florida businesses, Walt Disney World is short-staffed, which why they accelerated the return of the College Program to Summer 2021, has numerous job openings, and is actively advertising that its hiring in the Orlando market.
This labor shortage means Walt Disney World doesn’t have the attractions Cast Members necessary to support the FastPass+ infrastructure. It also means Disney doesn’t have the other Cast Members necessary to reopen more restaurants, retail, shows, and other experiences that would help soak up the “ghost guests” displaced by FastPass.
In a nutshell, that is the big problem right now, but the good news is that Walt Disney World should soon start enjoying the fruits of its ongoing hiring blitz. For the last month, there have been huge training sessions around Walt Disney World, and these onboarded Cast Members are starting in new roles around the resort.
The next big thing is the return of the College Program, which starts on June 14, 2021. It’ll take a few weeks for those participants to arrive, be trained, and positioned throughout Walt Disney World, but the point should be clear: help is on the way!
That’s a long-winded explanation and maybe you just wanted a one-sentence answer, but we believe understanding the why of FastPass+ being temporarily suspended is important. The short version, as you’ve probably surmised by now, is that the FastPass system cannot possibly return until the parks are sufficiently staffed and capacity is restored via the reopening of more in the parks.
With that said, what’s possible and when it happens are two different things. As we’ve said before, think of Walt Disney World like an ocean liner: you turn the wheel slowly, and the big ship pivots gradually. Everything takes time from decision to implementation. Even though Disney’s decision-makers are undoubtedly discussing the reinstatement of FastPass+ or its replacement, that coming to fruition could take more time. There will almost certainly be a lag between announcement and when it’s back.
If you’re looking for a specific date when FastPass+ will return to Walt Disney World, I think there are three distinct possibilities at this point.
The first is July 5, 2021 (or sometime around that holiday weekend). When I first floated this date at the beginning of the year, there were still strict physical distancing policies in place and operational normalcy felt like a remote fantasy. I viewed it as a long shot. A lot has changed since then, almost all for the better.
Wait times have not gotten noticeably worse yet, but they will. Walt Disney World has begun distributing more Park Pass reservations for later in June and July 2021, so higher crowd levels are an inevitability. Obviously, with that comes longer wait times. There’s already a growing chorus of fans calling for the return of FastPass+, and as wait times spike, guest demands will only get louder.
Disney has known Independence Day was going to be a significant milestone for several months, and could’ve start laying the groundwork for the return of FastPass+ then back towards the beginning of the year. If that happened, the company could have it ready to roll following the holiday weekend. By that point, staffing woes should be alleviated and more offerings could reopen to accommodate the return of FastPass+.
Based on a mix of need, staffing, and guest demand, I no longer think July 5, 2021 is a long shot for the return of FastPass+ at Walt Disney World. However, I remain “skeptical” (to put it charitably) that Walt Disney World got the ball rolling months ago when they could’ve. As such, I don’t expect it to be back that soon.
A more likely date is on or around October 1, 2021. This one is based upon the start of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary and new fiscal year. It’s beginning to feel like Disney views everything up until the anniversary/next fiscal year as a write off, and will just “tread water” up until that point with the status quo. Given that Disney is particularly cautious and slow-moving, this is also a distinct possibility for that reason.
The final prediction is January 1, 2022. There’s a bit more flexibility to this one (it could be some random date in January or February–just after the Christmas season and during the next winter off-season) but it’s a guess based on the possibility that Walt Disney World plans on totally replacing rather than reinstating the old FastPass+ system. Which brings us to the second question of this post…
Now, for some rampant speculation. It’s possible that FastPass+ will never come back to Walt Disney World.
Some form of virtual queue will unquestionably return, but the FastPass+ system and branding could be retired and replaced by something else entirely. Or, FastPass+ could be supplemented by something new. Whatever it is, that new ride reservation program would almost certainly have a paid component. Perhaps it would have a base level that’s free–or included as a perk for on-site guests–and the option to pay more to upgrade or increase access.
It’s no secret that the entire NextGen project–including My Disney Experience, FastPass+, MagicBands, and interactive queues–was not the success Disney had envisioned for the multi-billion dollar initiative. We don’t have the time to do a deep dive into that, but you can read “The Messy Business of Reinventing Happiness” and “Behind the Scenes at Disney As it Purged a Favorite Son” for a partial picture.
Suffice to say, there’s a reason why every single park complex in the world that has since rolled out digital systems subsequently has not used the same tech infrastructure as My Disney Experience. Moreover, a big reason Walt Disney World stuck with it was to save face. With most of the leadership of the NextGen days no longer with the company–and new executives looking to leave their fingerprints on the parks–now could be the time for big changes.
In fact, we’re already starting to see this happen. It began at the start of 2021 when Walt Disney World eliminated the complimentary solid-color MagicBands that were sent to guests pre-arrival. Of course, you can still purchase MagicBands–Disney won’t retire a revenue generator.
Then, Walt Disney World announced the MagicMobile service. This is a contactless way to access MagicBand features like theme park entry through your iPhone, Apple Watch, or other smart device. Guests will be able to create a Disney MagicMobile pass through the My Disney Experience app and add it to their smart device’s digital wallet. It may seem insignificant in isolation, but this is a step away from Walt Disney World’s NextGen system and a step towards what Disneyland uses…
So what’s potentially next? Disney Genie. Remember that? Probably not–even though it was announced only a little over one year ago.
Disney Genie promised a revolutionary new digital offering that would enhance the way you plan for and experience a trip, with optimized itineraries, real-time tips and updates, recommendations for experiences it thinks you’ll love, and help navigating the theme parks with added convenience and comfort. It was originally set to debut last year, but that didn’t happen for obvious reasons.
Before all of this, I was extremely skeptical that Disney Genie would deliver on any of those promises. From accounts I had heard, the announcement was rushed and took an idea that was being toyed with and presented that as something more. (It’s also not as if Walt Disney World’s IT track record instills much confidence.)
In any case, Disney Genie evinces a desire within the company to overhaul My Disney Experience. While I still question whether it’ll come to fruition as announced, I do think the “temporary suspension” of FastPass+ offers an opportunity for a soft reset of Walt Disney World’s ride reservation system, with the permanent replacement coming in late 2021 or early 2022 via Disney Genie (or whatever the branding ends up being).
The easiest way for Walt Disney World to monetize its ride reservation system would be doing something akin to Disneyland’s MaxPass system. Despite costing money, MaxPass has been met with rave reviews by Disneyland fans. This would necessarily work differently at Walt Disney World, but the core premise would be the same: a free tier of ride reservations for some or all guests, plus a paid tier that offers superior access.
The primary advantage of MaxPass is that it allows you to be more dynamic in your plans for the day, making FastPass reservations as you go, adjusting your schedule on the fly based upon your actual progress (and crowds) in the park, rather than making than months in advance. MaxPass allows for more spontaneity, which is a breath of fresh air.
Walt Disney World undoubtedly wants a slice of that money-making pie. There have been rumors of paid FastPass for years, and at some point, those will be brought to fruition. If Walt Disney World’s goal is to introduce paid FastPass with minimal guest friction, it’s easiest to go from nothing (standby lines only) to something. If Walt Disney World brings back free FastPass in Summer 2021 and then rolls out paid FastPass in January 2022, there will be a ton of backlash, complaints, and cancellations. Hence the possibility that FastPass won’t return until 2022, or until the Disney Genie system is ready to debut.
Ultimately, we’re on board with a wholesale overhaul of the FastPass+ system, replacing it with something more akin to what’s used at Disneyland Resort. Even though that means a partially-paid system, it’s infinitely better and less convoluted–and there’s still a free option in place at the California parks. (We are not okay with only a paid system.) Again, we should reiterate that this is almost entirely speculation. All Walt Disney World has announced is that FastPass+ is temporarily suspended. We’re simply guessing that it’ll be replaced by Disney Genie in the long run.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
When do you think FastPass+ will return to Walt Disney World? Or do you think it’ll never back back, replaced by something else instead? Do you prefer fast-moving standby lines only, or the FastPass and standby combo? Interested in how Walt Disney World will implement the new system? Agree or disagree with our assessment? Other thoughts or concerns? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!