How FastPass+ is Affecting Wait Times at Disney World Attractions

by josh on March 9, 2014

As you may be aware, this website collects and stores wait times at every Walt Disney World attraction in five minute intervals all day, every day. These wait times are used in a variety of ways. Most importantly, the crowd calendar relies on this “data” to identify crowd patterns and overall crowd levels. From there, the wait times are the basis for the Cheat Sheets, which include wait times based on crowd level and time of day:

This shows the wait times at Pirates of the Caribbean every five minutes between 3:20pm and 5:15pm on March 5th. To get an idea about the amount of data we’re talking about, you can take a look at this 416 page PDF file that lists wait times at just the Magic Kingdom attractions over the last 3.7 days.

In addition, these wait times are available in real time all day, every day via http://www.easywdw.com/waits so you can follow along at home.

Today, we’ll take a look at the data and see if we can get a glimpse into how FastPass+ is affecting standby wait times. To do this, we’re going to compare wait times for the first 65 days of 2013 and the first 65 days of 2014. I’ve taken the median wait time and the median peak wait time at each attraction over those 65 days in 2013 and 2014 and compared them to each other in this chart.

What we’ll see over and over again is that secondary attractions are affected more than the headliners. From there, the attractions that offered legacy paper FASTPASS with return times usually just 40 minutes in the future are most affected. DINOSAUR in particular has seen wait times that basically doubled year over year. Kilimanjaro Safaris is another attraction that has seen a significant bump in wait times.

Remember that FASTPASS/FastPass+ holders receive priority boarding. If there are 100 people waiting in standby and 100 people in FASTPASS, the 100th person in the FASTPASS line will likely board before the 30th person in standby. If there are 300 people in FASTPASS and 100 in standby, the 300th FASTPASS user will likely board before the 100th person in standby because FASTPASS users are so heavily favored. That’s how ratios work.

It’s likely that DINOSAUR is distributing far more FastPass+ daily than it ever did with FASTPASS. DINOSAUR historically has had short to nonexistent waits before 11am and after 4pm. FastPass+ users can visit as early as right after Park open, pushing up wait times as off-site guests booking same-day gobble up the last remaining FP+ upon arriving. With FastPass+ needing to be booked in advance, often at a kiosk far away from the attraction, guests somewhat blindly select attractions with no knowledge of current standby waits. An off-site guest might arrive at 10am and book DINOSAUR FP+ for 10:15am – 11:15am, not knowing that the ride is a walk-on. But since they booked the FP+, they head over at 10:30am and use it. Anyone in standby will have to wait for the FP+ user to board, in turn pushing up standby waits.

Kilimanjaro Safaris has a monster capacity, but it’s also the second most popular FP+ choice at Animal Kingdom and they routinely run out of available times by lunch. The number of people using FastPass+ is overwhelming the attraction, causing long FP+ lines and in turn, pushing up standby waits.

Other attractions are impacted much less with virtually no difference at Kali River Rapids and Expedition Everest. Primeval Whirl has seen a modest bump in peak waits.

Looking over Epcot, the biggest jumps are at Journey into Imagination, Maelstrom, and Spaceship Earth. Journey into Imagination and Spaceship Earth are two attractions that historically did not offer FASTPASS. The addition of FastPass+ is pushing up wait times as users arrive with priority boarding in hand (or on phone as the case may be). The impact at Maelstrom is among the largest we’ll see, with peak waits more than doubling. You may be thinking: “Who on earth would pick their one Tier 1 FastPass+ as Maelstrom?” The reality is that Soarin’ and Test Track are running out of FP+ times by 1pm most days, leaving only Character Spot, IllumiNations, and Maelstrom as Tier 1 choices. The majority of people don’t care about meeting characters and others aren’t staying for IllumiNations or prefer to find their own spots, leaving only one choice. With Maelstrom lending much more of its capacity to FP+, we see longer waits in standby.

The two headlining attractions actually see similar median waits and peak posted waits have dropped by ten minutes at Soarin’ and Test Track.

The trend continues at Hollywood Studios, where Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Toy Story Mania have similar waits year over year. Great Movie Ride waits have basically doubled now that FastPass+ users arrive with priority. Star Tours and Tower of Terror see the biggest jumps. Star Tours and Tower of Terror are by far the two most popular Tier 2 attractions, distributing the maximum number of FP+ most days. Star Tours standby waits were so short with legacy FASTPASS that few people bothered. And with Toy Story Mania and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster legacy FASTPASS return times so far in the future, few people were eligible to pull an additional FASTPASS for Star Tours anyway. With guests scheduling their Star Tours FP+ far away from the attraction with no knowledge of posted waits, users arrive and enter the FP+ line, pushing up standby waits in the process.

Magic Kingdom is perhaps the most interesting, where median and peak waits have actually gone down significantly at the headliners and up considerably at several of the secondary attractions, most notably it’s a small world, Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise, and Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s hard to say how much of an effect FP+ has had at Haunted Mansion and Jungle Cruise in particular. It might seem obvious that FP+ is directly responsible for the uptick, but those two attractions had oddly increasing wait times over the months leading up to the initial implementation of FP+. Nonetheless, expect to wait a lot longer at both in the afternoon.

It’s also difficult to say what changes in guest behavior are causing the lower wait times at the Mountain attractions. The number of FP+ distributed for each is likely similar to the number of legacy FASTPASSes distributed last year. Guests may be going the “one and done” route where they’re satisfied experiencing a ride like Space Mountain just one time, whether it be very early or very late when wait times are short or via FP+. Casual vacationers more aware of FP+ and its benefits could be relying on FP+ instead of clogging up standby lines. And because guests can currently only schedule three FP+, commando-type return visitors may prefer to ride standby during a recommended time and use FP+ elsewhere, thus reducing the number of educated guests in the FASTPASS line riding for a third or fourth time.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is another ride with lower wait times post FP+. With the three FP+ limit and the wide number of attractions available, it seems like fewer guests would select an aging dark ride like Winnie the Pooh. With fewer guests arriving with priority, standby waits are pushed lower.

Pirates of the Caribbean has seen a significant uptick in wait times. Historically, Pirates has been a walk-on most of the day on all but the busiest days of the year. In 2013, it was a big deal when the extended queue was used. In 2014, the extended queue is required virtually every day. This may also be due to a lower capacity with a reduced number of boats in operation.

Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid is fading fast with considerably lower wait times than when it was “new” early last year. It’s also unlikely most guests will use FP+ here and it has a monster capacity, resulting in shorter waits.

Overall, FP+ is causing wait times to increase at most secondary attractions, while having a less substantial impact at the most popular attractions with the longest wait times.

The website will continue to monitor the situation.

{ 113 comments… read them below or add one }

Aaron March 12, 2014 at 8:08 pm

Josh, do you have any data to compare the change between 2012 and 2013 posted wait times? I’m curious as to how much of the increase in wait times on some rides is due to FP+ and not other factors, such as increased crowds.

Michelle March 12, 2014 at 10:40 pm

Josh, thank you so much for this post. What a great and timely piece! As Aaron asked, I am also curious if you have any data regarding year to year attendance. I would like to compare to my previous visits and see if I can tell a difference based on how many people were actually there. Do you have any basic data such as 2007 was more crowded than 2008 but much less than 2010? Or anything like that? Do you have/know predictions of what this year holds compared to previous years attendance?
I know last October had a lot of surprises with very long, unexpected waits. I wonder if there was an upsurge in attendance then?

Mr. Fredricksen March 13, 2014 at 10:45 am

I thought FP+ was supposed to make the waits lower and give you the opportunity to ride more often?
Also, do you ever think they will post FP+ wait times? Like you said at the beginning 100 FP+ would be about the same as 30 standby. But how long is the wait for those 100? It there any way to know?

Aaron March 13, 2014 at 11:02 am

I think everyone is ignoring the fact that the legacy Fastpass system was exploitable and only enjoyed by a tiny minority who visit far more often than the average guest. I don’t think it was ever intended for a small group of savvy users to accumulate a wildly disproportionate number of fastpasses when compared to the average guest, but that’s what happened. The new system is designed to make it work they way it was supposed to work in the first place.

The new system is fair for everybody. Everybody gets three. Informed users will opt for more desirable fastpasses, and less informed users will pick attractions and times in strange, unpredictable ways for a while.

It’s embarrassing to watch histrionic adults pitch a fit over not being able to game the system anymore. Get over it. Or don’t, Brazil is lined up behind you with fistfuls of cash and no idea what to expect.

Megan March 13, 2014 at 6:48 pm

The only real problem I have with FP+ is only being able to fast pass one park a day. This basically makes the park hopper option a waste of money. We still get it because we love to eat dinner at Epcot. Let people with the park hopper option fast pass 3 attractions at two parks a day.

Debbie Sellers March 15, 2014 at 7:14 pm

Wait times at the headliners have gone down in some instances but not by that much. Wait times at some of the secondary rides – those eligible for FP+ – have gone up by quite a bit. So where were all those people last year? They weren’t in standby lines for the secondary rides – that’s why wait times have gone up. They weren’t in line for the headliners because wait times have not changed that much. So where were they? Are they just the result of increased attendance?

Haley March 16, 2014 at 6:01 am

Having been a few times since they started to really roll with FP+ I am positive that the overall impact is more time in lines. Even if some lines are unchanged or have a small increase, the fact that other attractions that used to have no or very short waits now have lines. So I may wait the same 45 minutes for BTMRR but I’m also waiting 40 minutes for flying carpets, my total wait time is higher.

MK is hard on families with one little kid and one slightly bigger one. It always has been, it is just worse now. You used to be able to get maybe 5 or 6 FP sets if you were willing to arrive early, so you could ride Peter Pan with you kids, ride dumbo, teacups and then ride buzz as a family, and Dad and older kid could still ride Space and BTMRR. You can split up and do one parent with younger one and one with older, but it sucks that you miss out on the family experience.

I’m also positive the ride times on the app are often way off. Soarin’ had people standing in the standby queue all the way up to the entrance with a posted wait of 50 minutes. It took us 30 minutes to go through the FP queue, stand by was at least twice what was posted.

Cheryl March 16, 2014 at 8:51 pm

I’m thinking that part of Disney’s mission is eventually to spread the crowd out more: to actually increase lines at the second-tier rides, while decreasing waits at the headliners in return, by controlling the number and times of fastpasses more closely. But I think that may be a mistake on their part, as it would make the guest experience perception worse. For example, if you wait 80 minutes for the 2 top-line rides, but got on 8 other rides in 10-13 minutes, waiting a total of 260 minutes, you would feel it was a good day and you hardly had to wait (as you feel you could expect a super long wait on the top ride, but would remember that all the others were walk-on). If you had instead to wait 25-30 minutes on every single ride all day, that perception is that it is really annoying and upsetting that you wasted all that time in all those long lines, even though the total amount of time in line is about the same. You would go home complaining to everyone about how crowded the park is nowadays. It doesn’t surprise me that some rides like Haunted Mansion and Jungle Cruise are experiencing longer waits- I think that is the plan. But it takes a longer wait on several other rides to create a perceptibly shorter wait on one or two headliners.

Will March 17, 2014 at 1:41 pm

Debbie,

To answer your question, I don’t think there are necessarily more people than last year, just more people using FASTPASSes. Remember what we are comparing here are Stand-by wait times. If 1000 people when on It’s a Small World when it didn’t have FASTPASS then maybe the average wait time was 20 minutes for everyone. Now if 500 use a FASTPASS and 500 get in the stand-by line, then for 500 that use FP+ the wait time is 5 minutes, but the wait time for the Stand-by shoots up to 35 minutes. The average wait is still 20 minutes per person and the same 1000 people move through the ride, but Stand-by wait time is significantly worse.

That being said, this shouldn’t be that much of an issue unless you are attempting to do all of MK in one day. If each attraction has a priority, then the new strategy should be to make your FP+ reservations for later in the afternoon and everything moves up in priority. In other words, instead of doing It’s A Small World after lunch when you have already experienced Peter Pan, BTMRR, and Buzz, you do it before lunch and schedule the others for afterwards. The only thing that scares me is that is that FP+ causes totally irrational behavior. “We have to get to Magic Carpets by 10am because we have a reservation!”

What I am more interested in, and Mr. Fredricksen already asked this questions, is what is happening to FP wait times. If average wait times are about the same overall, but some people are waiting less and some are waiting more (if you are reading this site then you will definitely be in the “waiting more” category), then Disney is going to lose some customers about which, to someone’s point earlier, they may or may not care.

Last comment. Doing research, planning your FASTPASSes for the day, getting up early, knowing FASTPASS rules, and executing your plan is far from exploitation, it’s just smart. If you aren’t that smart or don’t have the willingness/discipline to do it then don’t cry exploitation. What is unfair is that Disney, in a move that reeks of Socialism, has taken time from those willing to put forth the time and effort to create a park strategy and given it to those who have done nothing more than shown up. If anything is unfair, that is. I have don’t ride headliners more than once and I am out of the parks by 1pm every day so I rarely used more than a few FP’s myself, but I respected others’ right and commitment to do so. It stings when things become “fairer” for everyone by negating one’s ability to plan.

Marta March 18, 2014 at 9:28 pm

I wonder what is happening to character meet and greet lines. Are the (awesome) articles about character prioritization that Josh wrote last December still current? I assume the order of priority is the same, but the wait times are higher. Does anyone know?

stephen March 18, 2014 at 10:38 pm

How does the FP+ compare to express pass Universal Studios uses?

Sue March 19, 2014 at 11:15 pm

Will, I couldn’t agree more. I think the FP+ system is totally unfair. What’s worse is the tiers at Epcot and DHS are horrible. Limiting us to a choice of Sorin or TT? Then 2 useless FPs you don’t need anyway. I liked the old system way better!!! Just because we understood the system, how is that exploiting it? Nothing wrong with willing to do the leg work to get FPs. Or pulling another FP for your fav attraction to be able to ride more then once without having to stand in a 60 min queue!!

may May 30, 2014 at 9:59 am

I don’t believe the old system was being exploited. The fastpass time and everything is posted big and clear for everybody to see. Anybody can get them if they are willing to walk there, wait, then come back. It’s not a deep concept, and everybody can “exploit” it if they feel like it. You didn’t have to wait in line at kiosks; the fastpass machines spit out your tickets instantly. And you didn’t have to wait in the fastpass+ line to scan in your bands.
The new way sucks. The old way was more efficient and convenient.

Speaking of “exploiting,” you can bet I’ll be exploiting the new way. Go during the slow seasons. Get to the park early. Get the first fastpasses done and get more fastpasses. Find out where the empty kiosks are. Given that new fastpasses are harder to get, fewer people will be getting them, meaning more for the hardcore ones.

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