Changes to FastPass+: tiered choices at Epcot and DHS, no regular FP for Pop Century guests, limited FP+ for Swan/Dolphin

Recently there have been some sudden and surprising changes with the FastPass+ system being rolled out. And at least in one case, it has guests shifting to other resorts or canceling their reservations all together…

First, about a week ago Epcot’s FastPass+ selections began to be “tiered”. This is similar to how attractions were handled with the Birthday/Give A Disney Day Fastpass cards, and with very early FastPass+ testing. What has happened is that the attractions were placed into two groups, or tiers, and you could only make ONE FastPass+ selection from the top tier, which included Epcot Character Spot, IllumiNations (when available), Maelstrom, Soarin and Test Track. Then you can pick two from all the remaining attractions. And you could not change your selections afterwards to attempt to get a second top tier attraction. Note that Soarin’ and Test Track – arguably the top two attractions at Epcot and often the only two you really need a Fastpass for, are in the top tier, which means you have to make the choice – which one are you going to use your FastPass+ for? For now, you could still get a regular Fastpass for the other, but that is changing as well (see further below.)

Now word breaks today that the same is happening at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, with Toy Story Mania, Rock’n’RollerCoaster, Fantasmic! and Beauty and the Beast in the top tier. While this pits TSM and RNRC against each other, it leaves Tower of Terror and Star Tours in the other tier, so you at least have some reasonable choices.

Why are they doing this? Well, without any specific data, it is believed that these top two attractions at each park are getting almost all of the FP+ selections – and this is making availability somewhat scarce as the day draws near. By tiering and forcing the choice, more availability among the top attractions will allow more guests to take part instead of only those planning far ahead.

Also, this past week they started making FastPass+ available to guests staying at the Swan and Dolphin resorts. Neither of these resorts are operated by Disney – they are operated under the Starwood brands, and are somewhat unique in that they are within the WDW resort but are not Disney-operated (Shades of Green is similar). Guests there do not get MagicBands or Key to the World cards, or even the “+10” advanced dining reservation benefit – they do get access to Extra Magic Hours though. So it was a surprise to hear they would be offered FastPass+ this early. However, it was restricted. You could not do it in advance – you had to go to a specially marked “kiosk” to make the reservations, and only for that day. Then you would use your regular ticket media (which had to be RFID, or get it converted to RFID) to redeem your FastPass+.

The problem is that I’m not sure Swan/Dolphin guests knew about it. I was not informed of it when I checked in at the Dolphin. When I asked after checking in, the person wasn’t even aware of it. She said to ask at the concierge desk, so I did the next day. He gave me a little brochure (without much info on it), and explained about the marked kiosks – one at each entrance to the parks (including the International Gateway). So when I went to the IG the next morning, I found out the kiosk was inside the gates, not outside, where it really should be so guests can take care of things before opening. Anyways, after going in, we were going to stop at the kiosk – but couldn’t find it anywhere. We went up to the bridge and asked a CM keeping watch there, and she said it was down by the stroller/wheelchair rentals. So we went back down – and found out the “kiosk” was a CM in a blue shirt at a table with an iPad – she was late getting there and we passed her on the way looking for the kiosk…when we got back, a rather large family was learning about FastPass+, with members coming and going making it difficult for them to agree on things, and after several minutes they finally opted out completely and walked away when they found out they shouldn’t use regular Fastpass if they are using FastPass+, even though they don’t technically restrict it.

After that, I was able to go to the CM and say she didn’t need to explain anything for me, and I think she was relieved. 🙂 The selections were indeed tiered – I chose three attractions, and then she kept drawing random times until they were acceptable (I only cared about an early Soarin’ slot). When done, she offered to allow me to take a picture of the screen (?!?) or email me the itinerary…this has long been reported as a shortcoming of the system – they can’t print the list for you. She emailed them, but strangely never mentioned being able to view them on the smartphone app. I checked the app, and I could in fact view my selections (my AP was already linked to my MDX account), but I could not change them – I was still deemed “ineligible” and I’d have to go to a kiosk to make changes – possibly to one of the special Swan/Dolphin kiosks. It didn’t matter…I used my Soarin’ FP+ fine, had a regular FP for Test Track, and the rest of the day was spent at the Food and Wine Festival. 🙂

But now here’s the kicker…in a sign that the end is near for regular Fastpass…guests at the Pop Century resort checking in starting today will not be given a Key to the World card as a backup to their MagicBands. Recently Cast Members have changed their tune regarding using both FastPass+ and Fastpass, more recently saying that your should not be using both – but having the KTTW card (or other ticket media like an Annual Pass) still allowed it as they could be read by the existing Fastpass kiosks which have not been made RFID compatible.

Now, guests staying at Pop Century won’t get a KTTW card, unless they opt out of the MagicBands. And if they do that, they will get a KTTW card that has the magnetic stripe – the part necessary to work in a Fastpass kiosk – deactivated. So these “stripeless” KTTW cards cannot be used to get regular Fastpass, and the guest is limited to their three FP+ selections.

This has a lot of POP guests up in arms, as other resort guests will still have access to both systems for now. On the DISboards many are changing their reservations to other resorts and at least a couple have canceled their reservations outright – they don’t want to deal with being at a disadvantage to most of the other guests.

We’ll see how fast this rolls to the other resorts. Then all that remains is making FastPass+ available to non-resort guests, and they can take the old system away. Still no word on when Annual Passholders will get access to FastPass+ or MagicBands, but latest is that it will be sometime in 2014 – I’m betting pretty early.