Wondering when FastPass+ will come back at Walt Disney World or if it’ll be replaced by a paid ride reservation system? This post covers dates free FastPasses could return, how virtual queues reduce park capacity, and the possibility of Premier Access, MaxPass, and the Genie app as replacements that will cost money. (Updated August 12, 2021.)
Walt Disney World suspended FastPass 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. Physical distancing is gone, attendance has increased, and wait times have gone up since then.
Consequently, there has been significant backlash to the elimination of FastPass+ among fans, hence this post. Walt Disney World has not provided any actual updates on FastPass since last year, but the rumor mill has gone into overdrive, and we have all the possibilities and theories for you. (Note: for the August 2021 updates, scroll down to the “Will FastPass+ be replaced by a different system at Walt Disney World?” section above the Runaway Railway photo.)
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 in the last two months, 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. 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.
When Walt Disney World first reopened, 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. As noted above, Walt Disney World officially dropped physical distancing and guests have quickly followed suit. If you’ve been in the parks during the last couple of months, you know they look more or less “normal” in terms of guests spacing and congestion. You’ll even hear “please fill in all available space” from Cast Members once again.
Similarly, attendance caps are no longer much of an impediment. Walt Disney World was operating at 35% capacity earlier this year. Back at the start of summer, Disney quietly indicated they’d stop providing updates on attendance limits. Since then, Disney has refilled Park Pass reservations on numerous occasions, and there is frequently full availability for all parks every day.
Along with the attendance limits increasing, wait times have been growing. That might be why you’re reading this article to begin with–because you’re visiting Walt Disney World and are desperately missing and wishing for the return of FastPass. We hear you and agree with you. Some of the standby lines are pretty miserable right now, with long waits extending into overflow queues without any shade.
The lack of FastPass+ was definitely more tolerable last year and in early 2021 when lines moved quickly and constantly, and wait times were shorter. (We actually preferred no FastPass when crowds were super low.) Now, it’s a different matter entirely. FastPass cannot return soon enough!
Naturally, the core problem in bringing back FastPass has morphed over time. Like so many other businesses around the United States, Walt Disney World is short-staffed. 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 enough other experiences that would help soak up the “ghost guests” displaced by FastPass.
This problem is starting to be resolved. In the last month, Walt Disney World has significantly increased dining capacity and also is in the process of bringing back several shows. However, several others remain gone for various reasons, and some–like Finding Nemo: the Musical, Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, and Fantasmic–may not return until 2022. That appears to be more of monetary decision than a staffing one.
That’s a long-winded explanation and maybe you just wanted a one-sentence answer, but we believe understanding the why of FastPass+ being unavailable is important. The point is that the parks are sufficiently staffed and capacity is has been close to fully restored via the reopening of more in the parks. That thus paves the way FastPass being restored or replaced.
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. There will almost certainly be a lag between announcement and when it’s back. As for when an announcement will be made, we suspect one will come sometime in August 2021–possibly as soon as the Walt Disney Company’s quarterly earnings call.
If you’re looking for a specific date when a version of FastPass will return to Walt Disney World, the most likely return 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. While Walt Disney World is gradually bringing back offerings between now and that date, it is the most significant milestone on the horizon, and Disney is waiting to debut a lot–from new entertainment and nighttime spectaculars to early entry and extended evening hours–until that date.
With that said, there’s still a remote possibility that Walt Disney World gets cold feet on the FastPass replacement and doesn’t launch it until January 2022.
Given the latest rumors–which are literally flying in every direction right now–this seems highly unlikely. The only reason it’s presented as an option is because plans can fall through. Based upon the current chatter, the FastPass replacement plans are going to congeal at the last possible minute, with the specifics still being debated and determined. Which brings us to the second question of this post…
Will FastPass+ be replaced by a different system at Walt Disney World?
Probably. Everything is subject to change until officially announced by Walt Disney World (even then, plans sometimes change!), but we’d be willing to put money on the prior incarnation of FastPass+ never coming 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. Whatever it is, that new ride reservation program will almost certainly have an upcharge component–or be a paid system completely.
There are a couple of possibilities for what paid FastPass will likely look like at Walt Disney World. For the first, see Paid Premier Access Replacing Free FastPass at Disneyland Paris. The new system has rolled out there and essentially combines Standby Pass, which is a free and hybrid virtual and physical queue, with a paid line-skipping option.
This system is now what exists for Disneyland Paris and Shanghai Disneyland, and a version of that is rumored as coming to both Walt Disney World and Disneyland. While the specifics will almost certainly differ for Florida with tweaks made given Walt Disney World’s unique size, scale, on-site hotels, and status as a vacation destination, the contours could be similar.
For another possibility, check out Disneyland’s MaxPass system. 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. Despite the downside of being paid, MaxPass allows for more spontaneity, which is a breath of fresh air.
As Walt Disney World is a different beast than the other parks, it’s possible the new paid FastPass system cherry picks components of both Premier Access and MaxPass and repackages them under different branding. In practice, this might mean bundle booking access for certain attractions plus a la carte paid FastPass for a handful of select headliners.
What remains to be seen is whether the FastPass replacement is integrated into the Disney Genie app announced a couple of years 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. According to Walt Disney World, the Disney Genie app is still coming, but it’s unclear when it’ll be released. From the outset, details about Disney Genie were vague to the point that it seemed undefined, so it’s also entirely possible that the paid FastPass system will use the Disney Genie branding, and that’ll be the total extent of Disney Genie (meaning it won’t be a standalone app at all, but rather, a feature within My Disney Experience).
In any case, the debut of that app plus the “temporary suspension” of FastPass+ offers an opportunity for a soft reset of Walt Disney World’s ride reservation system, with the paid replacement coming in Fall 2021 via Disney Genie. 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.
Ultimately, we’re on board with a wholesale overhaul of the FastPass+ system, but not a system that is pay to play only. Hopefully whatever comes to Walt Disney World contains a free option along with added access for on-site resort guests. Again, we should reiterate that this post is almost entirely speculation and rumor. All Walt Disney World has announced is that FastPass+ is temporarily suspended. We’re simply guessing that it’ll be replaced by a hybrid of Premier Access and MaxPass, with Disney Genie being the system and/or branding.
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? Thoughts on the possibility of Premier Access, MaxPass, or a mashup of the two coming to Walt Disney World? 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!