Rumors have been floating around for years that Walt Disney World would attempt to monetize FastPass+. These gained momentum last year with the successful rollout of MaxPass at Disneyland, at which point we predicted that it was only a matter of time before Walt Disney World saw some sort of hybrid free/paid FastPass+ service. Well, that time is now upon us.
Walt Disney World has confirmed that beginning January 12, 2018, guests staying in rooms at select Walt Disney World resort hotels that are eligible for Disney Signature Services (meaning Club Level, plus the Poly Bungalows, Cascade Cabins, and Swan/Dolphin Suites) and who have purchased a 3-day or longer theme park ticket or Annual Pass are able to purchase a new “theme park extra” for $50 plus tax per guest per day as part of a limited pilot program. Since Disney has yet to give this an official name, we’ll call it VIP FastPass+.
These guests will receive the following:
Three additional FastPass+ selections per day.
Ability to reserve these three additional FastPass+ selections in more than one theme park when a valid Park Hopper option is also purchased.
Booking window of up to 90 days in advance for these three additional FastPass+ selections and the ability to book them at multiple top-tier attractions.
Preferred viewing location for nighttime spectaculars, one per day, including Happily Ever After at Magic Kingdom, IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth at Epcot, Fantasmic! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Rivers of Light at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
All theme park Guests with valid theme park admission continue to receive up to three FastPass+ selections at a single park per day at no extra charge, as well as additional day-of in-park selections that may be reserved and redeemed one-at-a-time after those initial three selections are redeemed.
This news has been met with an extreme negative reaction by many long-time Walt Disney World fans. Most of this has been directed at FastPass+ availability, and worries that Avatar Flight of Passage, Frozen Ever After, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and other highly coveted FastPass+ attractions will now have nothing at the 60 day mark.
While we think this general sentiment is warranted, we don’t believe the specific worry about FastPass+ availability for specific attractions is. Even with a 100% adoption rate by guests staying Club Level (and there’s no way it’ll be anywhere close to that–more like 10% to 20% at best), the FastPass+ pool for each popular attraction is exponentially larger than the total pool of Club Level guests.
Daily attraction capacity (and, to the point, the percentage of that capacity allocated to FastPass+) is simply way higher than the number of eligible rooms that can purchase this upcharge. If you booked your FastPass+ early in the morning at the 60-day mark before, you should have roughly the same results now. You won’t notice a difference, but perhaps those booking at the 55-day window will notice a minor one–and even that’s a stretch.
The real problem lies in the future. This is a pilot program, and if successful it most certainly will not be confined to just a small subset of all Walt Disney World guests. The next logical step would be all Deluxe Resort and Disney Vacation Club guests.
Once rolled out to those tiers, the impact could be more pronounced. While not a clean comparison, we only need to look to MaxPass, which has negatively affected regular Disneyland guests. Not to the point that it’s blatantly noticeable, but it is apparent if you do a side-by-side comparison (which we’ve done–and that results in about 3-4 fewer FastPasses in a given day).
The reason it’s not a clean comparison is because MaxPass is $10 per day or $75 for the life of an Annual Pass, and available to everyone on a day-by-day basis. Quite simply, cost is going to be a significant barrier to entry for the VIP FastPass+ service as compared to MaxPass, since the “cheapest” per person buy in for these extra FastPasses is $150.
Still, we could see this making an Avatar Flight of Passage FastPass+ more difficult to score at some point down the road. Not enough that we have any immediate sense of fear or outrage, but enough that we have vague concerns about what else will be unveiled ahead of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Speaking even more broadly than just these VIP FastPass+, this should be concerning because it’s part of a trend in the last several years towards more and more upcharge offerings at Walt Disney World. We’ve graded some of these Walt Disney World “Enchanted Extras” in the past and discussed how many felt like they were hastily put together without regard for value.
When viewed in isolation, most of these new upcharges are ostensibly defensible. In certain situations, regular guests might have compelling rationale to use X or Y service, splurge on a dessert party, etc. The individual offering, by itself, does not detrimentally impact the overall experience of other guests to a significant degree.
However, once you step back and look at all of these recent upcharges, it’s easier to see how their aggregate effect does burden the normal park-goer’s experience. There are fewer good seating areas for parades and fireworks, less FastPass+ availability, new surcharge transportation offerings are introduced instead of fixing the broken legacy ones, etc.
To be sure, not all of these new services Walt Disney World has introduced are bad or blatant cash grabs. To the contrary, we are fans of things like Minnie Vans (even though the service isn’t for everyone), and find some Enchanted Extras to be all upside (things such as Behind the Scenes tours, certain culinary experiences, etc) that don’t at all detract from others’ experiences.
Beyond that, there’s the simple fact that Disney is investing billions of dollars into Walt Disney World right now, and the amount of money being dumped into the parks between now and 2021 is fairly unprecedented. If a few minimally-intrusive upcharges aimed at affluent guests are what it takes to help fund (obviously this is an oversimplification of the process, but you get the idea) new stuff for all, that’s fine.
For me, the problem lies in the upcharge offerings that have the potential to significantly impede or dilute “standard” theme park admission, or stratify the theme park experience to an unsavory degree.
Unfortunately, I fear that’s what will ultimately happen with off-site guests and locals. We’ve said it before, but we’ll reiterate: Walt Disney World is a hotel business that happens to also operate theme parks. This might seem counter-intuitive since most fans view the four theme parks as the heart and soul of Walt Disney World, but the more lucrative portion of the business is the hotels and the guest spending those hotel stays drive.
Walt Disney World has made a concerted effort to get more people to stay on-site, and that has largely been successful. Hotel occupancy has crept up over the last several years to the point where many seasons are close to full occupancy.
This is why we’ve seen Walt Disney World on-site perks extended to the Disney Springs Resort Area, and we’d expect Disney to find new ways of nudging guests even more towards Disney-owned and affiliated hotels. Increasing per guest spending is one of the next logical steps, and is accomplished via similar initiatives. Expect to see more like VIP FastPass+ as we draw closer to the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Not all at once, as the aggregate impact of that is more likely to be met with outrage, but little by little.
Of course, this prediction is made in a vacuum without regard for greater economic conditions. We already discussed this at length on Page 2 of our “Should You Visit in 2018 or Wait?” post, but Walt Disney World is benefitting right now from a strong economy and high consumer confidence, both of which are drivers of travel spending.
Add a hot property like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge to the mix, and the sky is the limit on what upcharges are introduced, and even how base pricing creeps up. Remove that hot economy (as could very likely occur before the end of 2019), and the equation changes considerably. The good news is that we don’t think these upcharges and price increases are sustained indefinitely. They very well might be sustainable through the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, but at some point, a course correction is due–perhaps one is already overdue. The bad news is that we’ve been wrong with these predictions in the past.
Ultimately, this is a long and rambling way of saying that you shouldn’t necessarily be outraged by this specific upcharge offering, but you should be concerned about what it represents, and the overarching trend. That is, unless you’re super-duper wealthy; in which case, Walt Disney World will welcome you with open arms and make your experience as stress-free and frictionless as possible!
Do you agree or disagree with our take on VIP FastPass+ being sold to Club Level guests at Walt Disney World? Do you think this pilot program will be expanded and, if so, what do you think of the long term ramifications? Are you concerned about pricing trends once Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens? Any thoughts or predictions of your own to add? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!