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 March 12, 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…
As noted above, Walt Disney World’s official position is that the parks will use the FastPass queue space for additional standby capacity. However, that doesn’t make a ton of sense for many attractions. In a lot of locations, the FastPass and standby lines are totally distinct. It’s not possible to easily retrofit the FastPass line so that it could accommodate more standby capacity.
In the ~8 months since the parks reopen, this has not occurred at a single attraction. Instead, the physical FastPass+ queue has been 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.
It’s possible that at some date another virtual queue, like the one used for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, will be rolled out for select attractions. This has happened at other Disney theme parks around the world during the phased reopening, but has yet to appear at Walt Disney World. There were rumors of this coming to Jungle Cruise and Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run late last year, but that never came to fruition. As of March 2021, this has not happened yet, so it seems unlikely.
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, the benefits of increased per guest spending brought about by FastPass coupled with guests perceiving it as a value-added perk outweighed any drawbacks. Those were essentially higher staffing levels (to support the FastPass infrastructure) and reduced overall park capacity.
The latter was not a big deal because the parks had plenty of 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, in the current era of physical distancing, the circumstances are very different.
As of March 2021, Walt Disney World is limiting attendance to 35% of full capacity, which is essentially the upper limit of what’s possible while still maintaining physical distancing of 6′ (at least per Disney’s industrial engineering estimates). This 35% number has only been attainable thanks to installation of plexiglass barriers and extending a maze of standby queue markers throughout the park.
Right now, when guests wait in line, they are only in that one location. If FastPass were reintroduced right now, those same guests could once again be in two locations at once. That would decrease overall park capacity, which would be an issue right now since physical distancing has already slashed the upper limit of guests (and whereas the normal 100% capacity is seldom hit, that 35% limit is reached with regularity).
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 can return once physical distancing is eliminated entirely or significantly relaxed to the point that Walt Disney World is not regularly hitting its capacity limit.
As we’ve pointed out repeatedly, physical distancing is Disney’s biggest impediment to profitability and they’ll want to get rid of it ASAP. To that point, on a recent earnings call, Disney CEO Bob Chapek recently stated that Walt Disney World could have “some level” of physical distancing and mask-wearing for the remainder of 2021. (See When Will Walt Disney World Stop Requiring Face Masks? for more on the latter.) However, he also stated that Disney views widespread vaccine availability as a “game-changer” for physical distancing and mask rules.
Widespread vaccine availability looks like it’ll occur sooner rather than later. In a primetime address, President Biden stated that all eligibility restrictions for vaccinations will be lifted by May 1, 2021 and availability will open to all adults. He went on to set an Independence Day target for having things mostly back to normal.
While these might seem like goals, this administration has taken a conservative “under-promise, over-deliver” approach with benchmarks that are easily attainable well before the stated target date. Many individual states have indicated they’ll start vaccinating the general population this month or in April. It’s thus entirely possible that things are closer to normal and physical distancing can be relaxed by Memorial Day.
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, and it’s premature to make most of these decisions right now.
Walt Disney World will undoubtedly lift capacity limits the very first day that’s possible. That much is literally like flipping a switch. However, reinstating FastPass+ or whatever its replacement might be could take more time. There will almost certainly be a lag between announcement and when it’s back due to staffing and planning requirements.
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. This one is predicated upon Walt Disney World craving more operational normalcy as soon as possible, but also following the same conservative path as announced by President Biden. Disney could start laying the groundwork for this today and have it ready to roll following the holiday weekend.
The second is 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. I think it’s entirely possible that FastPass+ will never return. Instead, it could be replaced by something else entirely.
It’s possible that it’s being announced as a temporary suspension of FastPass+, but down the road we’ll see an official statement with the words “due to overwhelming feedback from our guests and extraordinary demand…” Disney has a way of strategically using misinformation to ease guests into changes.
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, in March 2021, 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).
There’s also Walt Disney World’s obvious desire to monetize its ride reservation system, a la Disneyland’s MaxPass system. Despite costing money, MaxPass has been met with rave reviews by Disneyland fans.
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 backlash, it’s far easier to go from nothing (standby lines only) to something rather than from free FastPass to paid FastPass. Hence our view that maybe FastPass won’t return until 2022, or whenever 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 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 on board 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!