In Spring of 2020 all of Disney’s theme parks around the world closed due to the pandemic. This included both domestic parks, Walt Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California. As the parks reopened they put in place a number of safety protocols that were meant to be temporary and part of a phased reopening process. One of those changes was removing Fast Passes, making every ride use the old-school standby lines.
Standby lines is a fancy way of saying, “the line you walk up and stand in with everyone else.” Fast Passes have their own line and they allow guests to skip ahead of the standby line, getting on the ride with minimal (if any) wait.
This feature was removed for the phase reopening for a number of reasons, the first is that Disney needed to keep things simple at first. People have strong opinions for and against the implementing of Fast Passes, but one thing either party can agree on is that they increase the complexity of the parks operation on Disney’s end of things. This isn’t a deal breaker during normal times, but when Disney was having to open in phases, with limited capacity, social distancing, and an ever changing set of rules handed down from the state and county, it would have been a logistical nightmare to have Fast Passes during this time. But, things are starting to get back to normal, so this reason will no longer be applicable.
The second reason Disney did away with Fast Passes during the pandemic was similar to their Annual Passes, they have been wanting to make changes to the system for years and this gave them the perfect opportunity to reset and introduce something new. I am not insinuating that Disney was happy about the pandemic shutdowns, but there were some silver linings for Disney and this was one of them. It is much easier to introduce a new fast pass program (and annual pass program) coming out of an extended shutdown versus in the middle of a normal year.
This article is not going to get into the debate about Fast Passes. The debate can get heated in the Disney Parks community. The general (VERY general) argument against them is that it slows down the standby lines, as Cast Members are supposed to let in anywhere from 4-10 fast pass guests for every 1 standby guest. The argument for Fast Passes is that guests like the structure they can provide and many guests have gotten very good at snagging even the most illusive passes, making their days free from any super long waits.
Needless to say, folks who dislike the Fast Pass program have been very happy that the last year has been fast pass free, hoping that the parks will remain this way even when the parks get back to full operation. Fast Pass fans have been hoping that the removal of fast passes is just like the many other covid related changes and things will go back to normal over time. Those who enjoy FP have been hopeful since Disney’s newest ride, WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure, opened in Disney California Adventure at Disneyland Resort last week with a Fast Pass line built into the entrance, even though they are not using it yet.
However, an even bigger indication that Fast Passes (or something similar) will be coming back was spotted late last week. On both the Walt Disney World and Disneyland phone apps, the wait times for each ride suddenly added a word that essentially solidifies that fast passes are coming back soon.
Since reopening the WDW and DL apps have had the wait times listed as follows: XX Minute Wait. You can see the screen shot I took back on May 7th 2021 below:
As of a few days ago, Disney quietly changed the app to display the wait times as follows: XX Minute Standby Wait. You can see the screen shot I took earlier this morning, June 12th, 2021:
The addition of the word standby is strong evidence that fast passes, or something similar, will be returning shortly. This was a deliberate and specific addition that was done for a reason.
There are rumors swirling around from credible sources that Disney is workshopping the idea of a premium pass that would be an added cost and provide guests with front of thee line access, similar to Universal Theme Park’s Express Pass. In the Disney Parks rumor mill this is being described as a ‘lightning pass.’ We have no information that this will actually come to the parks, it is strictly a rumor.
Aside from standby and fast pass, there is one more option for crowd management that Disney is currently using and will certainly expand, that is virtual boarding groups. Right now Disney is using these for Star Wars: Rise off the Resistance at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland, as well as Indiana Jones Adventure in Disneyland, and WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure at Disney California Adventure. I would not be surprised if this system is used for other popular rides in the near future. While the 7AM and midday lotteries are frustrating, it allows guests to enjoy the rest of the park instead of waiting in line.
We will be monitoring these changes closely, but expect news about Fast Passes to come sooner rather than later and no matter what they decide to do the Disney online communities will complain with faux outrage. Enjoy!