Beginning June 11th, Character Spot at Epcot will become a Tier 1 FastPass+ selection. It was previously categorized as a Tier 2 experience. As you’re probably aware, most guests may initially select up to three FastPass+ experiences per day either in advance or on the day of the visit. At Epcot, guests may select just one of the Tier 1 FastPass+ experiences listed above and two Tier 2 selections, the choices of which we’ll discuss momentarily. For Disney, the tier system is largely an exercise in the rationing experiences. If the tier system didn’t exist, most guests would select Frozen Ever After, Soarin’, and Test Track as their three initial selections and not think twice about the likes of Journey into Imagination with Figment or Living with the Land. The tier system allows more guests to select at least one priority attraction in advance and also helps spread crowds out as more guests head to secondary attractions with FastPass+ priority.
Note that those who have already booked Character Spot as a Tier 2 attraction will be able to keep it as long as they don’t make any modifications to that selection. So if you’ve previously booked Frozen Ever After, Character Spot, and Spaceship Earth for a visit on July 9th then Disney won’t delete your Character Spot FP+ and make you choose another.
So why the change?
If you pull up the attraction page for Character Spot, you’ll see this chart showing 4th FastPass+ availability, which also doubles as a chart of same-day FastPass+ availability; you’ll notice that there typically isn’t any. These days, seeing little or no day-of availability isn’t all that uncommon for a number of popular Tier 2 attractions. Mission: SPACE and Spaceship Earth also have little day-of FastPass+ availability these days and it’s unlikely to see many slots open for the likes of Tower of Terror or Star Tours as well.
But since Character Spot is a meet and greet where guests have the opportunity to meet Mickey, Goofy, and Minnie in succession, the target demographic is a little different than the one keyed into the popular thrill rides. Interestingly, parents with kids under the age of eight are the least likely demographic to do any serious advance planning. So they’re the ones that are going to be pulling up FastPass+ availability on the day of their visit only to find Character Spot without any. And since Soarin’ and Test Track have height requirements and Frozen Ever After may be too intense for the very young, there aren’t any viable Tier 1 alternatives for those guests.
Moving Character Spot to Tier 1 should guarantee that there’s plenty of day-of availability for those that book FastPass+ much closer to their visit. From that perspective, it makes some sense that it’s a Tier 1 selection.
If you pull up the website’s Epcot touring strategy cheat sheet, you’ll see that this is how the website currently prioritizes FastPass+:
And you’ll notice that Character Spot was previously the top priority in Tier 2. Where does it stack up now? Let’s take what I’m sure is a very exciting look.
Those of you that have been following the website’s recent string of rope drop posts, like this one, have seen me discuss whether or not Test Track deserves to retake the number one spot on the priority list. I generally base FastPass+ desirability on:
- Scarcity. It makes a lot of sense to book FastPass+ experiences that are going to be unavailable on the day of a visit.
- Time savings. It obviously makes sense to book FastPass+ experiences that will save the most time in the standby line.
- The queue. A lot of attractions will save you a similar amount of time, but some rides have unique elements in the standby queue that will be missed if FastPass+ is used. Other attractions offer an unpleasant standby experience. For example, using FastPass+ at Tomorrowland Speedway or Haunted Mansion might save 20 minutes at 10:30am, but most people will prefer the interactive elements in the standby queue at Mansion over sucking down car exhaust at Speedway. Thus, it makes more sense to skip the line at Speedway.
The first two go hand in hand. Obviously, if the hardest FastPass+ to get only saved you one minute in line, then it wouldn’t make much sense to reserve it. Likewise, it wouldn’t make sense to book a FastPass+ in advance that would save you five hours in line but was guaranteed to be available to book at any point during the day. Neither of those scenarios are typically present, but you could argue that time savings is the most important aspect of FastPass+ selection.
For this exercise, we’ll consider posted waits from the last five or so weeks, from May 1st through June 8th.
Here’s Frozen Ever After:
As we’ve been discussing, wait times have come down considerably at Frozen, to the point where the overall average wait is just 52 minutes. The average wait before 10:30am is also under a half hour and it’s never posted at more than 45 minutes at that time of day. On the other hand, Maelstrom’s replacement remains the hardest Tier 1 FastPass+ experience to book in advance or on the day of, which may still make it a higher priority than Test Track. After all, if you can book Frozen in advance and then secure a 4th FastPass+ for Test Track after using all three FastPass+, isn’t that the smarter play?
Speaking of which, here’s Test Track:
Any time you see one of these charts, every blank cell indicates about 15 minutes of downtime. With this past May being the wettest on record, Test Track has in turn closed down a lot, in addition to all of the mechanical and technical problems it suffers. With Test Track’s average wait at 78 minutes, or 50% higher than Frozen, it may be time to definitively move the test car simulator up to the top spot. In addition, if an attraction for which you have a FastPass+ goes down for any reason during your return window, you then have the option to ride it at any point later in the day after it returns to operation. With Test Track down so frequently, securing a FastPass+ protects against the ride being down when you’re interested in riding in standby. Downtime can be particularly problematic at Park open. If you’re planning on riding Test Track first thing in standby and it’s down, then you’ll have to return at some point to ride in standby when the wait will likely be long. It’s either that or try to secure it as a 4th FastPass+ selection.
Here’s Soarin’ Around the World:
Soarin’s overall average wait of 40 minutes is incredibly low for a headlining attraction. Tomorrowland Speedway, Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion, and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin all have longer average waits. On the other hand, waits do build considerably faster than at Frozen Ever After with a 34-minute average wait at the flight simulator at 10am versus 20 minutes up in Arendelle at the same time.
And how does Character Spot stack up?
Pretty favorably, actually. Its 36-minute overall average wait for the last five weeks is just ten percent lower than Soarin’ Around the World. I’m not sure how many people were expecting that to be the reality, but it “feels” like few people would argue that Soarin’ isn’t worthy of its Tier 1 status. And if that’s true, then an attraction with a similar wait time probably qualifies too. It’s probably worth noting that Character Spot’s posted wait time is often exaggerated because it’s a meet and greet with a very low hourly capacity. On the other hand, you can actually wait 20+ minutes in standby with just 25 people in front of you. I’ve been there myself.
One important thing to consider is that Character Spot’s rise to Tier 1 status may actually be a good thing. Back when Great Movie Ride was around, the fact that it was in Tier 1 and few people selected it in advance actually made it much easier to book it as a 4th or 5th selection. If Movie Ride was Tier 2, then far more people would have selected it along with Tower of Terror and over Star Tours or another ride. I think we can expect few people to book Character Spot in advance, which means it’s much more likely to be available later in the day. Being able to book it at 12pm after using FastPass+ at Test Track, Spaceship Earth, and Mission: SPACE may prove to be a better scenario for us and those that don’t plan at all can also benefit from being one of a handful of people to book a 9am Character Spot FP+ at a kiosk upon their arrival.
Here’s how Tier 2 currently stacks up, now ignoring Character Spot at the top:
The last time we looked at Spaceship Earth wait times, the overall average wait was the same as Soarin’. Here’s the last five weeks:
Posted waits have seen a dramatic drop over the last few weeks with the overall average wait coming in at “just” 21 minutes. A lot of that is due to lower waits after 5pm, when the ride has typically returned to walk-on status. A lot of that could be chalked up to the wet weather pushing people quickly out of the Park and making it less likely that they’ll wait outside for a ride that they’ve already been on, but Soarin’s waits are also up over the last month. But either way, the 21-minute average is significantly lower than any of the attractions from Tier 1.
Some simulator downtime looks to have pushed up waits over the last couple of weeks. Running on all cylinders…or…centrifuges…there’s virtually no way Mission: SPACE sports a triple digit wait. But the fact that it’s indoors and near Test Track, which saw so much downtime in May, probably also contributes to the high standby waits. I don’t think Mission: SPACE will continuously post waits longer than Spaceship Earth over the course of the summer, but we’ll see if a change needs to be made.
Living with the Land:
If you were to read the majority of other blog posts covering Character Spot’s move, you probably saw a number of comments from people stating something to the effect of “nothing in Tier 2 is even worth FastPass now.” That may or may not be an ignorant statement. Certainly, we can debate the quality of attractions in Tier 2, though you’d have a difficult time convincing me that anything on the list isn’t worth experiencing. But you can’t really debate the wait times and the fact that FastPass+ is going to save you at least 20 minutes in line at the vast majority of rides that accept it from 11am to at least 5pm. At Living with the Land, the average wait at noon is just two minutes short of 45 and is at least a half hour every single day over the last five weeks, except for one when the posted wait is 25 minutes.
So while you may not “need” FastPass+ at the likes of Living with the Land, you’re certainly going to appreciate having it when the actual wait is 20+ minutes every day at 11am.
Turtle Talk with Crush is the Voyage of the Little Mermaid of Epcot in that using FastPass+ can save you as much as 25 minutes or end up being completely useless depending on which show you visit and what time you arrive.
Just about every Turtle Talk show before 5pm fills to capacity and FastPass+ guarantees a seat at the next show. Often, the standby line will be cut seven to ten minutes before a show starts and only FastPass+ users will be admitted. When that happens, a standby user will have to wait the ten minutes for the next show to start outside the waiting area and then the 17 minutes for that show to complete before being admitted. Arriving with FastPass+ at the same time would cut that wait from 27 minutes (10 minute initial wait + 17 minutes for the next show) to 10 minutes (just the initial wait). On the other hand, if you arrive right after the previous show loads, you’ll often be able to walk into the waiting area whether you have FastPass+ or not. So in that respect, using FP+ at Turtle Talk is like an insurance policy against a long wait that you may not end up needing at all. If you can walk right into the waiting area for the next show and booked FastPass+ for it, then it makes sense to enter standby that and then reschedule your Turtle Talk FP+ for another selection.
Here’s The Seas with Nemo:
Nemo is similar to Living with the Land, only with waits that are 33% shorter, which is why it drops in the priority ranking. Still, using FastPass+ here between 11:15am and 1:15pm is smart and will save you 20+ minutes in line as early as 10:30am.
The smartest way to tour Epcot is to hit Future World hard from 9am to 10:45am and then head up to World Showcase through 5pm before returning to Future World. That way, you enjoy the shortest waits as possible in Future World early in the morning, along with the lowest crowds in World Showcase, as most people arrive at Epcot between 9:45am and 11am and linger at the front of the Park for a while. Come 5pm, most people have moved on to World Showcase and waits return to nominal levels at most secondary attractions in Future World. By 6pm, you’re virtually never going to wait more than three minutes for The Seas with Nemo, while the wait at 12:30pm is often 30 minutes.
Journey into Imagination:
Journey into Imagination and The Seas with Nemo are just about even when it comes to FastPass+ priority. Figment typically has a longer overall average wait – 17 minutes there compared to 14 minutes at Nemo over the last five weeks. But Figment’s waits typically peak later in the day and stay over 25 minutes for a shorter part of the day. Figment FastPass+ are also typically more available on the day-of. But the fact that waits are three minutes longer at Figment than Nemo is a decent argument that the two could probably be flipped on the list.
And finally, you’ve got much bigger problems if you can’t get into the next showing of Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival. Not even the last Captain EO show filled up the theater and the only time FastPass+ might be required is on New Year’s Eve. And if you’re visiting on New Year’s Eve, you probably want to use FastPass+ at Spaceship Earth where the wait will be 130 minutes at 12pm.
So what have we learned?
- Test Track has probably done enough to regain top billing on the FastPass+ priority chart. I think we can say with certainty that Frozen wait times will continue to be much lower and the boat ride will suffer from far less downtime than the car simulator. On the other hand, it’s hard to overlook Frozen’s scarcity. If one Tier 1 FastPass+ selection at Epcot is unavailable, it’s much more likely that it will be Frozen.
- You can make a good argument that Character Spot belongs in Tier 1. With the limited number of experiences distributed, they’re in short supply.
- Character Spot’s Tier 1 move could actually make it easier to secure it as a 4th selection.
- FastPass+ may save you a lot more time than you would expect at Tier 2 attractions – as much as 50 minutes at the higher priorities. Even Journey into Imagination and Nemo see actual waits of 25+ minutes most days.
We’ll see what happens over the course of the summer.