One of the biggest additions made to park touring was the addition of the Fastpass system, which was introduced to Walt Disney World in 1999. For attractions like Toy Story Midway Mania and Soarin’, Fastpasses are essential and in fact, usually the only way I’ll experience some attractions at all.
Since Fastpass' introduction, people have adjusted (and sometimes readjusted) their touring plans to incorporate the system. Instead making your way to your favorite attraction at rope drop, touring plans now suggest that you grab a Fastpass for a headliner attraction like Space Mountain, Expedition Everest, Soaring, or Toy Story Midway Mania first; then proceed with experiencing attractions. Whatever the touring plan specifics, it always involved physically going to the attraction to obtain that particular Fastpass.
This past week, however, Disney has been testing a new system that adds another location to obtain Fastpasses for the park’s attractions. As you can see below, Disney has converted the old Fastpass Distribution area for It’s Tough to Be a Bug at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and replaced it with machines to dispense Fastpasses for Expedition Everest, Dinosaur, and Kilimanjaro Safaris. When I first walked by, I didn’t quite realize what was going on as it was odd to see those kiosks grouped together.
Liking the idea that I did not have to walk all the way to Asia to get my Expedition Everest Fastpass, I walked in front of one of two Fastpass machines. When I put in my park ticket I instantly realized I had no idea what the Fastpass return time was for any of the three attractions available. No clocks indicated when the return window would start could be found anywhere. It was only until the machine spit out my Fastpass that I saw that I had some five hours before I could use it. Since I had no intentions of waiting around Disney’s Animal Kingdom for five hours, I left the Fastpass on a bench for someone to find and hopefully use. To add insult to injury, I had another two hours before I could get another Fastpass thanks to the “cooling off period.”
This Fastpass failure made me think about how viable the centralized Fastpass idea really was and whether it should be tested and/or implemented in other parks. Perhaps the biggest thing it has going for it is convenience. With two locations to obtain a Fastpass, there is less of a need for backtracking to get a Fastpass. For a place like Disney's Animal Kingdom in the middle of summer, a centralized location to grab a Fastpass can be a real help to guests wanting to avoid needlessly walking across the entire park. Moreover, should an attraction run out of Fastpasses, it is easy to get another one for a completely different attraction since the machine is just a few feet away from you.
On the other hand, there are some drawbacks to a centralized location for Fastpasses. With another one or two machines somewhere else in the park, Fastpasses for an attraction like Toy Story Midway Mania could be gone early in the day. With so many people swooning for a Toy Story Midway Mania Fastpass now, it is not hard to imagine huge lines at both distribution locations. Another problem use a system would have is the trouble I ran into at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Without knowing the actual return time at the centralized location, you may get stuck with a Fastpass with such a late return time, you just can't use it at all.
It will be interesting to see the results of Disney's testing and whether or not guests utilized the new Fastpass location enough to justify expanding the test to include more parks.
Whether you believe that such a system would be harmful or helpful to your experience as a park guest, it is unlikely to make much of a difference at all. While a touring plan may make you go to the central location instead of the ride itself to grab your Fastpass, nothing much else changes. All of the Fastpass rules still apply: you can't request a return time, you can only have one Fastpass at a time, you can get your next Fastpass when your return time for the first Fastpass begins or two hours, whichever is shorter, and you can't use expired Fastpasses. The only thing gained by a centralized location is convenience and more access to Fastpasses. Other than that, there's nothing too special about the prospect of a centralized Fastpass location, and there probably is not much of a need for one either.