Disney’s new Fastpass+ system damages the Disney Parks experience

The Walt Disney Corporation recently completed the rollout of their Fastpass+ system at their Walt Disney World park. The system uses RFID technology to allow park visitors to scan wristbands (called “MagicBands”) and walk on rides they had scheduled in advance. The new system replaces the previous ticket-based system, which allowed people to walk up, enter their park pass in standing kiosks at attractions, and get a ticket listing a return time for the attraction. Disney has invested over one billion dollars in the new system.

And it kinda sucks.

As a long-time Disney fan, I’ve visited Walt Disney World almost ten times over the past two decades. I have always been impressed by the service and experiences I’ve received. Until now. Visiting Walt Disney World and using the new Fastpass+ system made it a frustrating experience that made me think twice about making a return visit anytime soon.

(I am also someone who specializes in user and customer experience design, so I am particularly attentive and sensitive to such matters… so please keep that in mind as you read on.)

Here’s the problems, as I see them:

Sorry, only three Fastpasses per customer.

In the previous ticket system you could grab a Fastpass, per person, every hour and a half. If you got to the park at opening, you could potentially snag six or seven through the course of the (very long) day. The alternate to having Fastpasses is (of course) standing in lines. With only three fast passes per person, this means a lot more waiting for return visitors who are used to (and expecting) otherwise.

Here’s a couple of quotes, from long-time Disney park visitors posting at disboards.com, that should give the management at Disney pause:

“We have been giving Disney our vacation dollars for 3+ decades. In those 30+ years and I would say about 35 visits we have NEVER done a single rope drop. We are not rope drop people. Vacation to us is not getting up and running to a park at 6/7 am so we can do what we paid for. Now with this horrible FP+ system, we will be lucky to do one headliner attraction a day. Stand by lines as I predicted are growing and slowing to highest average levels ever. Disney only wants you in their parks to spend money on food and souvenirs(and soon FP’s), not to see their attractions. I’m sorry Disney, it was a good run, thanks for the memories.”

“Very disappointing to see the unfortunate regression from “Magic Your Way” to “Magic Our Way (like it or not)” by WDW execs.”

Protip: When you change the ways things work for customers, never make them worse. Always make them better.

Hitting two different parks in a day? Sorry, still only three Fastpasses allowed.

If you pay Disney extra money, you can get a “Park Hopper” pass as part of your vacation package. A Park Hopper allows you to go to more than one park a day. You would think that the new Fastpass+ system would accommodate these customers (who paid more) and give them extra Fastpasses, right? Nope. There’s actually some thoughts online that Disney HATES park hoppers, because it screws up thier predictive analytics about their crowd levels. So… not only can you not gt any more Fastpasses, but you can’t “split” the three between two parks. Not a great experience to provide customers who are paying EXTRA money to the company.

The Disney Experience site/app is buggy as hell

The site users use to schedule their Fastpass+ passes is still in “beta”, and it’s quite buggy. When my family traveled there in December, I ended up “having” six Fastpasses in one day because it hadn’t removed the ones I had originally selected and later removed. Even worse, the list on the website was different on the mobile app on my wife’s iPhone… So we had no idea what passes were real and which ones weren’t. And I won’t even bring up the UI design of the site and app… it’s fairly complicated and not very intuitive. Still some kinks to be worked out, but it’s clear the system is not ready for primetime.

“Tiered” Fastpasses and longer lines

If you want to schedule a Fastpass for the two most popular attractions at Epcot or Disney Hollywood Studios, well… sorry. The Fastpass+ system has set up “tiers”, so you can’t select two “tier 1” passes at the same time (reminds me of the old ticket books Disneyland had when they first opened… You could only ride one “E Ticket” ride). You could get Fastpasses for both rides under the old ticket-based system… not anymore. Critics have called this “ride rationing.” The result of this? Longer lines and wait times for the most popular attractions.

Staying off-site, or a Florida local? Tough luck

If you live in Florida, or are not staying at a Disney resort, you have to schedule your Fastpasses after you enter the park… and odds are you are going to have less options and less flexibility with your Fastpass selections, because visitors staying at the resorts have already booked the best ride times. So budget-minded customers and locals don’t get the same “Disney magic” as people who are staying onsite.

In the old ticket-based system, everyone was equal. Now, like in Animal Farm, some guests are more equal than others.

Closing

The Fastpass+ system takes away flexibility, reduces choice, and makes a Disney vacation as spontaneous as making a doctor’s appointment. Many of you reading this may be going, “So? First world problems, dude.” My point is that Fastpass+ was not designed or implemented for users – it was created solely to benefit Disney, a company that are getting paid a lot of money by customers to even enter the park.

What benefits? Well, since every park attendee is carrying a tracking device with them, it will be lots of Big Data for the Disney company to crunch and analyze. It (supposedly) reduces wait times for popular rides (though according to some Disney representatives, in practice the opposite has occurred). If customers spend less time in lines they will spend more time in the shops, which means more impulse purchases of all those wonderful Disney souvenirs. And Disney is selling a lot of pins and accessories that customers can put on their MagicBand wristbands, another potential revenue source. Unfortunately, the benefits appear to not be happening as the planners foreseen and the hard (sunk) costs of the new systems is putting some cool projects on hold.

Critics of the new system say Disney should have invested the billion dollars in new attractions, instead of changing a system that (to them) wasn’t broken. With a slow economy and increased competition from other local attracts, only time will tell if these critics are right.

Fastpass+ is not a complete user experience failure – there are many people who like the idea of planning out their vacations to the nth degree. These people will undoubtedly love the ability to plan what attractions they want to do months in advance. But anyone who is spontaneous, who liked flexibility in their choices and activities and want to maximize their vacation… well, they will need to look elsewhere for that.

Maybe Universal Studios…