Walt Disney World introduced its FastPass system back in 1999. This free system allowed guests to get FastPasses for certain rides, with a one-hour return window. When they returned in that designated window, they entered a special line with a much shorter wait than the regular line.
FastPasses have endured and become a popular way to ride E-ticket attractions without long waits. However, they have their limits. Normally, you can only have one FastPass at a time and can't get another one until you reach the first one's start time, although there are exceptions on very busy days. Only a limited number of FastPasses are distributed each day, so in peak season they run out for the most popular rides long before noon. On those days, you might get a FastPass at 11 a.m. with a return time of 7 or 8 p.m.
Still, for those who know how to use the FastPass system, it's been a real boon, As a local, it allows me to ride my favorites in the summer. I've been known to grab a FastPass for Soarin' first thing in the morning at Epcot, then ride Test Track through the single riders line until my FastPass return window. This also works well at Disney's Animal Kingdom, where I grab a FastPass for the safari, then ride Expedition Everest as a single rider until it's time to head out on the savannah.
Now Disney is changing things up with FastPass+, part of a much wider initiative known as MyMagic+. Under this new program, you'll be able to pre-select a limited number of attractions and character greetings and get your FastPass times before your vacation even starts. No more rushing to the FastPass machines or worrying about whether they'll all be gone for Toy Story Mania before you even get to Disney's Hollywood Studios.
In theory, it's an interesting concept. Do your compulsive planning up front, then relax when you arrive in Florida and know you'll get to do the things that are most important to you. In practice, will people really hold to the structure?
For more than a decade, guests were unofficially allowed to use their FastPasses any time after their time window opened, even if they had technically expired. Savvy Walt Disney World guests knew this and used it to their advantage. Then, in preparation for FastPass+, it was announced that the return windows would be strictly enforced. The resulting outcry showed that many people hate being held to a certain time frame.
While some people thrive on structure, things can often change spontaneously on a Disney trip. Let's say you're at Disney's Animal Kingdom and it turns out to be an ugly, rainy day. On the spur of the moment, you decide to go to Epcot because it has more indoor attractions. What if you selected FastPass+ options at the original park? Or what if you miss your time because of a change in dining plans or something else that holds you up unexpectedly?
FastPass+ will no doubt have its fans and haters. I can't judge personally yet, since I have know idea how it will accommodate local annual pass holders. Once I find out, I'll most certainly use it to the fullest extent.
One big advantage of FastPass in either form is that it's free. For a skip-the-line option with no restrictions, but with a cost, continue on to part two of this article.