Walt DisneyWorld has always tried to strike a balance between honoring the past and embracing change. If you go a few years between visits, the experience will almost certainly feel very familiar but also be filled with a few new rides and some alternate magical touches. The Mouse House was forced to adapt extensively during the pandemic, however, and those changes have started coming at a much faster rate than normal. The Magical Express is ending. Magic Bands are being aggressively deprioritized, Annual Passes were discontinued at Disneyland and now, there’s a rumor swirling that FastPasses may be coming to an end. Really though? Could that actually happen? Let’s talk this out.
Late last month, Mickey Views put together a pretty extensive video speculating on the future of FastPasses, which have been temporarily sidelined because of Covid concerns and the limited capacity in each park making them less necessary. In the video, host Brayden Holness claimed executives at Disney are throwing around ideas about a FastPass free future in which almost everyone used the normal line and a small minority of guests shelled out for a so-called Lightning Pass that allowed them to skip the lines entirely. It would assumedly work a lot like Universal’s Express Pass and could come with a ticket upcharge of anywhere between $100 and $300 depending on seasonality and park capacity issues. The potential change was very overtly framed as something that may or may not happen, but it’s terribly interesting to think about.
A year ago, I would have said very confidently this wasn’t going to happen. Most people I’ve spoken with enjoy the FastPass system, and as someone who is a very organized planner on trips, I really enjoyed the help it provided in planning our days at Disney. I also liked the relief that came with knowing you would for sure be able to ride desired attractions. But this isn’t a year ago. Disney seems to be questioning a lot of very basic things about the parks right now, and there is clearly money to be made here.
I don’t know exactly how much money we’re talking about, but I’m sure Disney, whether it’s actively considering moving forward with this or not, has run the numbers. A percentage of people would definitely pay more money to lose the lines, but if too many people pay to lose the lines, it’s going to balloon the weight times for everyone not paying and lead to reduced customer satisfaction. Of course if the asking price is too high, then not enough people would get this hypothetical pass and then what’s the point?
It’s all very complicated, even more so because there are alternate rumors going around right now that Disney is about to bring FastPasses back. According to Walt Disney World News Today, guests inside the mobile app have seen the word “Standby” added to wait times. Traditionally Disney refers to the two lines as “Standby” and “FastPass.” Since the parks reopened, there has only been one line. So, does the return of the word “Standby” mean the FastPass line will be returning to? I have no idea. I don’t think anyone outside of Disney has a complete picture of what’s going on, and I’m not even sure if Disney has figured out the long-term plan.
I’m all for Disney finding additional sources of revenue. I know the pandemic was terrible for the bottom line, but Disney also needs to be careful to not sharply reduce the quality of the guest experience. I don’t think anyone really cares if their wait time in a line is a few minutes longer because some people willing to pay more jumped the line, but at the end of the day, Disney World is Disney World because hundreds of millions of people dream of taking their families there and having a special vacation. If their experience is worse when they go or they’re made to feel like second class citizens, they’re not going to bring their families back and their kids aren’t going to grow up dreaming of taking their kids to Disney.
Long story short, I don’t really care if Disney eliminates FastPasses. I would be marginally annoyed and move on with my life. I also don’t care, I guess, if they institute an Express Pass style line that you have to pay extra for, but I do think Disney needs to start being careful here. The Magical Express is gone. Weight times to talk to customer service (at least in my experience) sometimes now take hours to get a person on the phone. Prices just keep going up. If Disney wants to stay Disney, it needs to remain a magical experience for everyone. So, whatever is done with FastPasses needs to be done thoughtfully.