Development of FastPass+ delivers freedom as Walt Disney World personalizes vacations with more MyMagic+ planned

in Disney, Disney's Animal Kingdom, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Technology, Theme Parks, Walt Disney World

The latest innovation from Walt Disney World isn’t a big new ride but behind-the-scenes improvements that are meant to better the guest experience.

MyMagic+ has officially rolled out, offering technologically-driven tweaks to a Disney vacation designed to pull visitors out of lines and give them more time to enjoy time spent together.

“This is really the basis of the guest experience,” explained Sarah Sinoff, Director of Growth Marketing Strategy, Walt Disney World. “What we’re trying to do is give the guest a more personalized experience. It improves the experience for every single guest and allows them to pick and choose what they want to do, have information at their fingertips, move through the park without barriers like the turnstiles. It’s a complete new platform for the park.”

Sinoff has spent more than 3 years working on MyMagic+, a task she called a “journey to develop.” Its components are driven by RFID technology – chips embedded in park tickets and new MagicBand wristbands that allow tap-to-enter hotel rooms, turnstile-free faster entry into theme parks, and tap-to-pay in stores.

The centerpiece of the MyMagic+ program is FastPass+, an enhancement to the line-skipping feature that Disney first launched in the late ’90s. Now travelers can book FastPass+ selections for three rides, shows, or other attractions up to 60 days in advance with more selections available day-of.

But at a reported cost of more than $1 billion for these backend enhancements, many fans are left wondering why that money wasn’t spent on incredible new attractions instead. Disney says the investment is important to improving time spent in the parks.

“It’s not about a Walt Disney World vacation,” said Sinoff. “It’s about spending time with their family or their friends that they come with. What we believe this does is takes away the friction that took away from those great experiences, their ability to really spend that quality time together, and it gives it back to them.”

By offering advance ride reservations, Disney hopes guests will use their extra free time to shop, dine, and otherwise freely explore and have fun. The new system is intended to take the pressure off of a Disney vacation.

“No longer does the ‘amazing race’ happen when the rope drop occurs where people run to FastPass locations that were decentralized,” noted Jim McPhee, Senior Vice President, Walt Disney World Parks. Now, guests who don’t book FastPass+ reservations in advance online can simply visit any of the kiosks throughout each theme park to plan out their day or just grab whatever is the next available spot, by passing long waits in lines.

Jim McPhee (center) discusses MyMagic+ at a recent Walt Disney World press event.

Disney insists spontaneity is not dead due to the addition of FastPass+. Those who take advantage of the advance reservations will find more freedom available to them on their trips. But those who aren’t avid planners aren’t required to take part.

“It works for everybody,” said Sinoff. “There are a lot of experiences available. Most are available day-of. So it’s not that you have to plan before you come, it’s that you can.”

But there is already a divide Disney has created in the system. Those with reservations at a Walt Disney World hotel can book FastPass+ reservations up to 60 days in advance while annual passholders and day guests can only book 30 days.

“We heard from our resort guests that they prefer to plan far in advance and we heard from our day guests and our pass holders that they want a lot of spontaneity,” said Sinoff. From that, Disney decided to offer a longer window in which hotel guests can make their FastPass+ reservations.

It doesn’t exactly sound like a solid excuse for the split, more like a perk for those paying to stay at a Disney hotel. It also doesn’t mean it will stay this way.

Based on guest feedback, Disney has already implemented some changes to FastPass+ since it first launched a few months ago. Guests can now make additional in-park FastPass+ selections after they’ve used their first three for the day and those additional selections can be at any of the four theme parks, allowing park hopping.

To help alleviate some of the confusion about how many selections can be booked at what time, Disney offers a series of FAQs online explaining it all to those who take the time to read them.

Though there will be tweaks, don’t expect any major changes to FastPass+. “We’re not looking reinvent FastPass+ a second time,” added Sinoff. “But we’re going to always work on how we make this experience even better for our guests.”

Out of the gate, FastPass+ has been heavily utilized and appreciated by many of Disney’s guests. Within a couple hours of FastPass+ bookings becoming available for the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride (opening May 28), more than 50,000 signups had already occurred, according to McPhee. There was so much interest that the online system was temporarily brought to a halt. Likewise, FastPass+ selections filled up quickly as soon as word spread that they were available for Star Wars Weekends.

FastPass+ reservations disappeared fast for the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at the Magic Kingdom.

In fact, FastPass+ is being used by 40% more people than the previous system was, according to Disney Parks and Resorts chairman Tom Staggs, who also added that Disney’s guests are experiencing more attractions and exploring the parks more extensively than they did while using the original FastPass, spending less time “running around grabbing passes.”

MyMagic+ as a whole is an ongoing and ever-evolving program. Unlike officially opening a ride with a grand ceremony, Disney has opted to not cut the ribbon, so to speak, on the new system since they intend on making small but regular changes and upgrades to it.

“We want to continue to evolve in a very realtime basis,” explained McPhee, adding that it’s a rather unusual rollout for Disney. They can make changes on the fly as they see fit, so the way MyMagic+ and FastPass+ work today may not be the same tomorrow.

“We will continue to test the experience forever,” said Sinoff. “We are going to continue to test and build, grow and learn forever. It’s never going to be done. It’s all about innovation for the future.”

There are big plans for MyMagic+ ahead, though Disney isn’t ready to disclose what those are just yet. Integration with attractions is certainly on the horizon, allowing guests’ personalized data to customize experiences. Disney has previously offered examples of Mickey Mouse “magically” knowing a guest’s name and that they are celebrating a birthday or riding through “it’s a small world” and seeing dolls that the guest had customized online show up digitally alongside their boat in the ride. The possibilities of RFID-triggered interactions are endless.

But the technology that makes it all work will remain hidden from the average guest’s view. Staggs used legendary writer Arthur C. Clarke’s “third law” to describe MyMagic+, stating that “sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

And Disney is indeed developing even more technological magic. “We are just getting started,” said McPhee. “We wanted to get to a place where we could take the Parks and Resorts experience at all of our property here at Walt Disney World to the starting line of personalization and customization and we are excited about the things that are on the horizon for us to go and do.”

54 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Lewis Pierce

    Will this new Magic Band System be available in Disneyland Resort anytime soon?

    1. Avatar

      Ricky Brigante

      Disney has said a version of MyMagic+ will be going to Disneyland and other parks worldwide. But they haven’t said exactly how it will all work. MagicBands may or may not be a part of it.

  2. Avatar

    Taylor

    How about fixing what you have before trying to improve what is broken. Currently it is down and many have reported many issues with the FP system in its current and past form. Also, while your at it work with the DAS and Mobility folks you seemed to have forgotten about.

    1. Avatar

      Darthmaul666

      I was curious as to privacy concerns. Is this the Disney version of the NSA? What does Disney do with my personal information? It seems Disney is trying to jamb 500lbs into a 100lb sack, it doesn’t work. But it makes money for investors, that’s all that counts. They want to encourage more spending, plain and simple.

      1. Avatar

        Jason

        We just returned from a Disney vacation at WDW and used the Magic Bands and FastPass+ and loved it. Makes things so much more convenient. No one is forced to use any of this, but it’s very helpful and does improve the overall experience. Of course they want to encourage you to stay in the parks longer and spend more, they are a for profit entertainment company, but hey, if you don’t like it, you can always stay home or go somewhere else.

      2. Avatar

        You have no Clue

        Taylor and DarthMaul, really you have no clue. I used MyMagic+ and it was awesome. After I was in Disney for a week I went to Universal for 4 days and I had to use 4 different cards to access my room, parks, photos, express pass. At Disney I used a bracelet. And that is just the basics.

        1. Avatar

          Taylor

          Actually as an AP holder I do have a clue.

          1. Avatar

            Oh thats it

            Taylor –

            So you have AP, then you must have a clue…just feel like being a troll?

            I have AP as well, and I have been several times. Works great for me…I didn’t use FP before, not I have.

            As for DAS. IT is still recognized as a world leading example of guest service

          2. Avatar

            Taylor

            If you READ what I wrote I state MOBILITY. The DAS is hit and miss for a large population of us mobility patients who live local. I had the DAS in the beginning then it became for those who were excluded from mobility. Use your DAS, you abusers have no clue. One day you will.

  3. Avatar

    Tom M.

    I’ve been an uber planner and have gone to WDW once or twice a year for almost 20 years now. I know what works. What Sarah Sinoff states is inaccurate. It is not an enhanced system in terms of FastPass+. The old FastPass system was far more flexible. The new system has too many constraints. Sarah Sinoff states “It improves the experience for every single guest and allows them to pick and choose what they want to do” Well Sarah we were able to do that before with the old system and we didn’t have to use up all our FP’s before we could obtain more. She further references FP+ by saying ““It’s about spending time with their family or their friends that they come with. What we believe this does is takes away the friction that took away from those great experience” False. Unless everyone is going to take off there Magic Bands each time, everyone has to go to the FP+ kiosk instead of dad just taking the cards old school to obtain more. They didn’t this for us the park guest. Disney doesn’t a billion dollars if there weren’t a return on investment.

    For some reason Disney just keeps spending and spending and thus the cost of a stay on property goes up and up. Here’s a secret Disney. Your parks became popular for a reason. What the Disney fans would rather see is the cost of a Disney vacation remain somewhat affordable than introduce something we didn’t need in the first place that will in turn make the price of a Walt Disney World vacation become out of reach.

    1. Avatar

      Chris

      In response to Tom, I have seven tickets for my family linked to my account….I have been able to get fourth and fifth FPs for the whole family if I go to a kiosk and get them….no need for whole family to be present.

      Was a huge opponent before I used it, but it’s working great for us

    2. Avatar

      Rhianna

      I am an uber planner as well, Tom, and I don’t like the new system because it leaves out everyone who doesn’t like to plan, like us, SOL.
      “Disney insists spontaneity is not dead due to the addition of FastPass+. Those who take advantage of the advance reservations will find more freedom available to them on their trips. But those who aren’t avid planners aren’t required to take part.” – if you have any spontaneity at all in you, you’re screwed. As it says in the article, the new Mine Car ride is booked. And I have read articles about Anna and Elsa visits also having fast passes gone before the morning-of. For me, it’s awesome, but for anyone just wanting to chill on their vacation you’re screwed. And anyone who doesn’t vacation at Disney often is screwed because they wont know they need to book their fast passes in advance for the popular attractions. And certainly anyone without an internet connection is completely up shit creek. It doesn’t seem to be inclusive, but rather exclusive. Not happy, Disney. Not happy.

  4. Avatar

    Ryan

    Hey Sarah Sinoff, Tom Staggs, & Jim McPhee.

    Take it from a loyal park guest. We would have rather you spent that billion on a Star Wars Land and other attractions than MyMagic+. Just goes to show you really don’t know your customers. Nor do you seem to care. At least fix the damn Yeti!

  5. Avatar

    There’s certainly a lot to find out about this
    issue. I love all the points you made.

  6. Avatar

    Patrick

    I just came back from a Disney World vacation. I actually have to say I really enjoyed Fastpass+. We could start at Epcot at 3 pm and have our Fastpass for Soarin’ or Test Track which was perfect vs. having to be there at opening to get something for 2 pm. It made it relaxing, knowing Fastpass was waiting for us. We also got an alert via email when Test Track was down due to weather and to get something else.

    I know some people want to have more Fastpass+, and to be honest we were able to get more on the days all Fastpass were done early (except at MK on a Friday… it was actually insane that day and we left).

    I hope everyone will try it. At the end of the day Disney is a Company folks, and they answer to their shareholders. They also need to balance with the needs of guests, but if they can have more people enjoying the parks and the overall resort with this system, I think they would be foolish not to use it, as it will bring more money.

    My only complaint I have to say about this system is it’s flexibility to park hop; that should be within the system and not finishing 3 Fastpass+.

    My only fear is if there is a glitch in the system and all of a sudden nothing works (park ticket, Fastpass+, entry to your room). That would be terrible.

  7. Avatar

    Lynn Chapman

    I was able to use fastpass+ as part of the trial period. I am also a DVD member who knows her Disney well, has been many times, and had the old system down to an art.
    I can honestly say I had big doubts and concerns when the new fastpass+ system rolled out. But my family of 5 all used it and LOVED it. It really did give us more time together and less time running around for fast passes. We realized that we had indeed become pass hounds and spent a great deal of time and energy worrying about getting that next pass.
    With the magic bands and reserving them in advance it eliminated so much stress! We were able to sleep in longer, actually visit more of the shops (and you really should see them even if not buying), and to our great delight see more shows and eat more delicious food.
    And since I am savvy with a smartphone we were not locked into our pre – made choices, there were many times we changed our passes on the phone in the park within minutes –It absolutely worked and no running around.
    The only things we didn’t like were the limit of 3 and that you couldn’t park hop. But we like many gave that feedback and Disney has already made adjustments.
    I do now have concerns that with more and more people using the system that it will be overloaded and the lines longer. But Disney has never let me down yet, so I will keep my faith in that they will continue to make changes when needed.
    Overall I think people should just give the new magic bands and fastpass+ system a try before getting too worked up. They may find like us that just because the old system seemed great, doesn’t mean the new one can’t be great too….or even better:)

  8. Avatar

    Lynn Chapman

    That was DVC member….Not DVD, LOL

  9. Avatar

    Maryellen

    We are going WDW this september only for one day can we still get a wristband? And if so how do
    we get one

    1. Avatar

      Christina

      You can buy them (magic bands) in the park for 12 dollars and they can link your tickets to them

    2. Avatar

      Wendy

      If you’re not staying at a Disney resort, you may not need a wristband (unless you just want it as a souvenir). Unless you have an old ticket that’s not RFID-enabled, you can use your ticket to book the Fastpasses.

    3. Avatar

      Barry

      You can also just use your park tickets (which now have RFID embedded) to use Fastpass+ without a Magicband.

  10. Avatar

    Michael

    Uh 40% more people using it over the legacy system – not really anything they ought to boast about as they effectively “forced” guests into using it out of fear they would have to wait in exhaustive lines. Of course many people signed up for the mine coaster – again out of fear they would be waiting in lengthy lines if they didn’t. All they have done, by their own admission, is force congestion where it was not prior, in certain increments of time so as to displace crowds. And let’s be real, they didn’t create this system to allow families to have a “pressure free” vacation, they did it to squeeze more people into the parks and get them in the shops, spending.

  11. Avatar

    Lynn

    My biggest problem is the tiering in Hollywood Studios. I like Toy Story Mania and my family enjoys it too but prefers Rock n Roller Coaster. With tiering we can only choose one – I either have to ride alone on TSM or give it up. How is this enhancing the family experience? Otherwise, we have tested the bands and did enjoy not having to run to FP machines with our cards and sleeping in…

    1. Avatar

      Lynn Chapman

      I do agree tiering can be frustrating. But we found that we could work around it. Toy Story is way more crowded than Rock n Roller coaster so by far picking Toy Story is the best choice. You can get on Rock N Roller coaster pretty easily several times a day (opening, during shows & parades, and before closing. And depending on the length of your stay you can also visit Hollywood Studio’s a couple of days and alternate which tier you pick.
      We actually found out being more spontaneous once in the park was fun. No longer did we spend time running for fast passes, but instead just went with the flow and went on what we could at the time. We still made it on our favorite rides with the fast passes, just not over and over. But surprisingly that made us enjoy other things more.

  12. Avatar

    Robbie

    I would have preferred a few new E ticket attractions and better upkeep of the parks. I was there a couple of weeks ago and was stuck on at lease 5 rides (I lost count) and couldn’t believe how much better Disneyland looked compared to wdw.

  13. Avatar

    Tracy

    For what it’s worth, here are my thoughts… While some people see this as constraining the system, for someone with health issues (like myself), I see it as a game changer. This is going to level the playing field for people, be they elderly or possessing disabilities, who are not able to dash from FP kiosk to kiosk to get the passes every morning. Not everyone can have a “runner” do it for them. This is a way to make the experience more enjoyable for the rest of us who never get to ride anything because all the lucky, eager beavers got all the fast passes early on. And sure, you may say that the early bird gets the worm, but now the playing field is level. I can be an early bird on my laptop and snatch up that reservation just as fast as anyone else! That’s something I couldn’t do before. I also like knowing that before I even get to WDW, I have reserved my top 3 favorite things per day. That’s an incentive in my book. I also like that they are offering the extra 30 days to resort guests. People who pay the extra to stay on property should get a perk or two. It’s good business. And look at it this way, guys, they don’t have to give us fast passes at all. They set this system up to enhance our enjoyment (and spending $$$ time lol). I, for one, am thankful. Before this came out, I was dreading figuring out how I was going to get fast passes for the things we wanted to experience on our upcoming trip because my family has mobility issues. Now I don’t have that fear. AND they’re still allowing you to collect extra fast passes after you spend your original three. I truly believe it’s a smart system and I give kudos to Disney for the changes and making it easier for me and mine.

  14. Avatar

    Tracy

    Oh, and I do agree with one of the other comments. My only complaint is the tier system. If they would just get rid of that, or allow us to book up to 5 FP+s in multiple tiers, it would be close to perfect in my book.

  15. Avatar

    chris

    to me the fast pass system is like a double edge sword where it both helps and hinders
    i love how if i want to just go to Disney on my day off i can pull out my phone and book 3 fast passes which is a lot less stressful then running at rope drop but the tier system while it makes since the way they ranked each ride doesn’t. a good example would be the Norway ride being a tier 1. also noticed on rides like star tours which has had a heavy increase of fast passes they just stop the standby line until fast pass line in clear. which last time i went resulted in a 40 min wait when the sign said 10 min

  16. Avatar

    KF

    We were at WDW the dreaded busy Easter week and the new system worked pretty well. My Dad had Magic Band problems entering the park one day, but there was a castmember right there with an iPad to fix things up. The ability to make advanced fastpass+ reservations did not reduce the number of people running for Midway Mania when the park opens at all. I think we rode less than we did 2 years ago under the old fastpass system. We were good at working the system and always got our next fastpasses when the window opened before we used the fastpasses we were holding. We also got the non riders fastpasses so we could ride twice. You can’t do that with the new system. The one thing that surprised me was that we were able to book fastpasses in the park that corresponded to our times for someone that was not in our fastpass + group. Disney went out of their way to have castmembers with iPads helping people schedule fastpasses for that day. The castmember’s iPads did have to use the same spotty wifi that guests use, but it worked if they stood in the right spot. The magic band integration as a room key, dining plan ticket and payment mechanism actually worked! At times, a server would have to borrow an iDevice while waiting for theirs to reboot.
    Once again, just like with advanced dining reservations, people who plan and stick to a plan will have a better vacation experience. While I would rather have a Star Wars Land or Radiator Springs, the Magic Band and Fastpass + worked pretty slick.

  17. Avatar

    Randy

    Have used Fastpass+ many times and don’t see the real value. Instead of additional time with family, time is spent on phone trying to manage visit with really slow and clumsy app. $1 billion could have been much better spent on linking Disney Springs, Animal Kingdom, Studios, and more hotels with monorails instead of the dirty, clunky, deadly bus system.

  18. Avatar

    Jeff a

    As an annual passholder at wdw, I am a huge fan of the system. I love the recent enhancements as they fixed the only problem I had with the fastpasses. And after my trip to disneyland in March of this year, I only have even more positive things to say about mymagic+. Going back to pre magic band times(at disneyland) made the park feel archaic. Having to rush into California adventure at opening to wait in line for 45 mins just to get a fast pass for radiator springs racers surely did not enhance my experience. Im just home from a quick wdw trip and I literally selected my fastpasses in the car ride up to wdw on Monday night for the last 2 days. I got great times that worked for me. When our 3 were up. We went and picked another. Less than a 5 minute wait as well. Would I have rather had a new ride ? Before going to disneyland I would have said yes. Not anymore. I love the system and I think of it as maintenance on a car. Once it’s done it’s done. Then you are free to spend your money on something else. Embrace change people!

  19. Avatar

    Greg

    As being a cast member for the most popular ride at Epcot FastPass+ definately works with one at the longest wait times being 15 minutes when Stand By is at 120 minutes plus. What the article doesn’t meantion also the bands are linked to the Disney dining plan which also greatly helps resort guests. You could also buy the band at D Street in downtown Disney, activate it with a prepurchased ticket or Annual pass and plan your excursion 6 months in advance also.

  20. Avatar

    Kerry

    I look at this completely different to a lot of you as being from the UK we can only go every 3/4 years. Our last visit was last year, arrived at Hollywood Studios at 10am no fast passes for Toy Story Mania … Tried again a couple of days later … Same again!!! As a family that do no get to visit often I love the fact that next time we go we could have booked rides before we get there meaning we won’t miss out again. To me getting up and into the parks at 8.30am ready for rope drop and then a spirit into the park after a fast pass (which is a health and safety concern for any company) is not a vacation. When you’re spending two weeks wondering round parks last thing you want is more stress and hassle. When you travel halfway round the world you want to be able to do the “talked about rides” not walk past it to see there are no fast passes and the queues a day long!

    Even with the pros and cons be glad Disney does fast pass for free and for everyone.

  21. Avatar

    Celly L

    It has been interesting to read all these comments. Our trip is coming up later this summer and I have to say I’m looking forward to trying the FastPass +. I say this because we are one of those families who is relatively relaxed. We like to hang by the pool, gauge the weather and hit the parks on a semi-schedule based on any eating reservations we may have that day (i.e., Be Our Guest, Tappan Edo etc..) During our past vacations there have been certain rides where the fast passes have sold out before noon (Toy Story Mania, Soarin’ etc) and we would either have to skip the ride (we’ve been numerous times and still have never made it onto Toy Story Mania!) or wait HOURS to get on. I feel the FastPass+ might actually give us a chance to get on these rides without having to get to a park ridiculously early to try and score a fast pass. We’ll see how it goes and if my opinion changes I’ll make sure to update! I just feel it’s a good option for those vacationers who aren’t people who go to parks from the minute they open etc. We shall see, we shall see…

  22. Avatar

    Stephan

    Hi,

    I am doing research for my master thesis “Increased customer convenience in theme parks through RFID”.

    Therefore, I am doing a short survey (5-10 min) about Disney’s MyMagic+ system (MagicBand) and its perception in the parks. Everyone (also cast member) who experienced Disney’s system is more than welcome to participate. I’m very curious about your thoughts.

    http://h2370926.stratoserver.net/limesurvey/Index.php?r=survey/index/sid/674295/newtest/Y/lang/en

    Thank you, I appreciate your help!

    Stephan
    Master student
    University of Applied Sciences Stralsund, Germany

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