If you are planning to go to Disney World in 2014, then "The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2014" by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa is a must read. This is the fourth time that we are planning to "vacation" at Disney World and this time it is in the middle of Spring Break. Obviously, we want to ensure that we take advantage of every possible shortcut and the Unofficial Guide is just the book to help. If you are planning to go at any time of the year or during a busy time, this book provides all of the key information necessary to plan your trip. It rates the rental car companies at Orlando, it provides clear ratings of hotels in Disney World and outside of it, rates the various attractions and provides touring plans and strategies that can help you to navigate the various parks. Every time we go to Disney World, I make it a point of reviewing this book.
A key issue this year is the rollout of the Disney World's new Fastpass + system. While, Universal and Six Flags have sold a line cutting card for years, Disney askewed this popular way of making more money at its parks by providing the popular Fastpass system for line cutting rides. Disney had stations at the most popular rides, where people could insert their tickets and receive printed out cards providing a beginning time and ending time to go on the ride in the future via a separate "Fastpass Line". The system was without cost and was available on a first come first served basis. Disney only allotted a certain amount of Fastpass tickets per hour per day. Thus during busy times of the year, both the amount of available Fastpass cards could be totally allocated by Noon. Another disadvantage of the Disney system is that people selecting later Fastpass cards -- would have their ride times be later in the day -- so a person picking up a Fastpass card at 11:30 am might be told to return to the ride at 10:00 pm, when the kids you wanted to have ride the ride were already tucked away in their beds back at the hotel room. In addition to this issue, the Guide and other popular guide books influenced some people to pick up Fastpasses to popular rides during the early part of the day. Thus a skilled Disney visitor could "game" the system by obtaining a lot of Fastpasses earlier in the day to rides to use later in the day when the specific park was busiest. Although Disney had specific times written on the Fastpass tickets, the people collecting same did not always make people go back during the specific time slot.
Fastpass + is Disney's new system for line cutting rides and its a major change in the system in place at Disney World. While people can still go to the Disney park's and obtain fastpasses at kiosks located at the parks, Disney is now permitting its hotel guests to buy their way to get ahead of the line. This is similar to the system in place at Universal. Universal hotel guests staying at Universal's higher end hotels ---- Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Hotel (but not the new Cabana Hotel) currently receive a great perk -- an "Unlimited Express Pass" enabling the guests to go to the front of the line of nearly every ride at Universal (for as many times as they wanted). Universal sells this pass to visitors to its parks, who are not staying on property, for $85.
Now Disney has put in place a similar for pay system. If you are staying at one of the designated Disney hotels or vacation spots in the program, a hotel guest can obtain a fast pass for each person staying at the hotel by going on the Disney website up to 60 days in advance of the first day that you are going to be at your Disney hotel and selecting the rides that you want your party to go on using Fastpass + for entire stay at Disney. They system, however is very different than the prior Fastpass system that previous Disney visitors are familiar.
First, you are only allowed to obtain Fastpass + for three rides per day at one park per day. So if you were planning to go to Animal Kingdom during the day and got a fast pass to its roller coaster Everest and were then planning to get a fast pass at a night time visit to Magic Kingdom, you will not be able to do so. You can only get fastpasses for one park.
Second, you are limited to only 3 Fastpass rides per day. In a park like Hollywood Studios where there are 4 major rides -- Toy Story Mania, Tower of Terror, Aerosmith Roller Coaster and Star Wars, you will have to decide on a ride to go on without the benefit of fastpass.
Third, Disney further limits your ability to choose the specific rides that you want by instituting a tier system. Like eating dinner at a Chinese restaurant, you will only be able to select some rides from column A and some rides from Column B. Thus, when planning our trip, for Epcot, grouped in Tier B -- was Soarin and Test Track and you were only permitted to choose one ride for the Fast Pass +.
Finally, if all of the Disney hotel guests make ride reservations and Fastpass prior to their stay - then the people who go to the park who do not stay on Disney properties will be left to whatever Fastpass + tickets are then available when they get to the Park. Likely to rides that do not even need fast passes.
As the Unofficial Guide further explains, Disney has also permitted many more rides, parades and shows to have Fastpass +. Thus you may be subject to more people going ahead of you on rides that previously were not subject to official line cutting techniques.
Why would Disney change the popular system. The likely answer is simple - money. People who go during busy times of the year will now be more willing to stay on Disney properties to obtain the Fastpasses, which means Disney will be able to get more fees from its hotels. Its also possible that Disney is changing its system so that people who wanted Fastpasses during the early and midday slots can obtain them rather than getting stuck with a less desirable late night slot.
Under these circumstances, the Unofficial Guide's touring plans are even more helpful for letting you know which rides to go on and which parks per day. The Unofficial Guide also provides strategies for deciding whether to go during Extra Morning Hours or selecting a different park to counter program.
In all, the Unofficial Guide is a key tool for a Disney World vacationer.