Without FastPass, A Disney World Vacation Is Very Different For Families

by Ed Pizza
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Love it or hate it, FastPass+ has been the only way for years to guarantee yourself a short wait for the most popular attractions unless you wanted to shell out a ton of cash for a VIP tour.  When Disney World reopened last summer after the pandemic started, FastPass+ was one of the features that didn’t return.  At the time, Disney didn’t announce a date that it would return.  As of the time of this publication, there still were no firm updates.  Park hopping has returned, but no clear timeline for FastPass+..

Hardcore Disney fans have strong feelings about FastPass+.  Some think it’s a horrible idea, that getting rid of FastPass+ would bring lines down for everyone in general.  Those reduced wait times mean you could squeeze in more attractions in a day.  On the flip side, there are families that love FastPass+ for the ability to plan out there day (and make sure they have a shot at the most popular attractions).  Who’s right?  Both, neither.  There are compelling arguments on both sides.  What isn’t really up for debate is that without FastPass+, a Disney World vacation is very different for many families.

Disney World Wait Times

To understand the impact the absence of FastPass+ can have, we need to look at wait times. Right now, wait times are shorter than they’ve been for much of the past six months.  The folks at Touring Plans do an excellent job keeping track of wait times.  They also have some phenomenal Disney World planning tools, which we’ll dig into in a future story.  Recent weekend waits, as you can see from the screen shot below aren’t short.

Increased wait times are largely a function of reduced ride capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions.  For example, Disney Park Pride’s Mike LaRosa reported earlier this week that the line for Tower of Terror was 80 minutes.  They didn’t have all the elevators operating, but they also have restricted capacity in each elevator for safety.  That drastically slows the line down.

How The Absence of FastPass+ Changes A Day At Disney World

It’s worth noting that the wait times Touring Plans reports are average wait times.  Disney fans who are on their game can definitely go where the crowds aren’t and save time.  But, there are significant headwinds right now.  As I look down all the wait times from this past weekend, I made a few observations:

  • There are only a handful of attractions with a wait time less than 20 minutes at Magic Kingdom.
  • There are virtual no short lines at Animal Kingdom.
  • Same for Hollywood Studios (25 minutes for Muppets!!)
  • EPCOT is the place to go if you’re looking for short lines.
  • The average wait time is at least 30 minutes.

Let’s focus on that last bullet point. I don’t have robust science to back it up, but looking at the weekend crowds in January, it’s safe to say you’ll spend at least 30 minutes in line for many attractions.  And, this is one of the slowest times of year.  Using 30 minutes as a baseline, let’s look at a typical park day.

Magic Kingdom typically opens at 9am right now.  Folks staying at an on-site Disney property will have a 30-minute head start on that opening time soon, but we’re setting that aside for the moment.  If you hit the park at 9am, the lines appear to be shorter in the mornings.  That’s a typical pattern.  Let’s say with walking around the park, you could average 2.5 rides an hour until 11am.  That means you could squeeze in 5 or 6 rides before an early-ish lunch if you have kids.  That’s a good start to the day.

Lunch is where things start to slow down a bit.  There are fewer food options open right now, and lines are longer.  Using the mobile app to order food is a requirement unless you’re doing one of the few sit-down options currently available (Skipper’s Canteen and Crystal Palace are our choices there).  Let’s say after lunch and potty breaks, you’re ready to get on a line by 12:30pm.

At this point, wait times are likely a minimum of 30 minutes and climbing.  Now, you can probably only hit 1.5 rides per hour.  Even with 30-minute waits, you still need time to get from one place to another, squeeze in bathroom breaks, etc.  With the park closing at 7 or 8pm most nights, and the need to probably set aside 60 minutes for dinner, you might be able to squeeze 10 rides in the rest of the day.  But, as wait times increase on the popular attractions, 10 rides is really only achievable if you can consistently average a 30-minute wait.

There are a bunch of assumptions here.  I’m assuming your kids have enough stamina to make it through a whole day.  60 minutes for lunch and dinner is sort of a middle ground between a quick-serve meal and a sit-down meal.  I’m also assuming that you’re consistently going from one ride to the next.  Fold in any level of shopping or waiting for one of the popular rides and you’ll quickly drop from a potential 15 rides to something more like 8-10.

Now, you might be thinking, “8-10 rides on a shortened Magic Kingdom day isn’t truly horrible.”  At over $100 a day, I’d push back a bit on that sentiment.  I might not balk if you got 15 rides in.  But, there’s another issue.

Kids Don’t Like Waiting (Adults Don’t Either)

One of the benefits of FastPass+ is the ability to break up the day.  Even if you don’t turbocharge FastPass+ and get 7 or 8 FastPass opportunities in a day, 3 FastPasses can be game changers.  When used for the right rides, 3 FastPasses in Magic Kingdom could easily save you 3 hours in line.  Seven Dwarfs Mine Train consistently clocks in at over an hour on the standby line.  Space Mountain and Splash Mountain are usually around an hour.  Thunder Mountain is good for 35 or 40 minutes as is Pirates of the Caribbean.

Our kids are a bit spoiled given the number of times they’ve visited Disney World over the years.  Part of that spoiling is due to our park planning.  We frequently get more than 3 FastPasses in a given day.  But, even at 3, timing is everything.  A normal plan for us would be to hit the park late morning and ride whatever has a short line.  Then, we’d go get some lunch and time our FastPasses for early afternoon (that way we can score more once we use up our 3).

Even if you didn’t score more FastPasses, those 3 can really be used to break up the day.  Lunch is normally a refresh time for our kids.  They’re ready to go after resting for a bit. But, they get bored in longer lines.  Disney has rolled out some interactive games they can play on a phone while we wait, but those only work for so long.  We’ll sometimes sandwich a long wait in between two FastPasses.  That way the kids are effectively only waiting once for 3 rides over the course of an hour or so.

On the flip side, they get much more tired when they have to wait in longer lines without some sort of a break (eating, shopping, riding).

Wrapping Up The Magic

Planning a trip to Disney World during the pandemic requires patience, trade-offs and planning. Some changes right now make it easier to plan a last-minute trip.  For our family (and likely yours), the absence of FastPass has the opposite effect. If you are able to pull off 10-15 rides at Magic Kingdom right now, there’s one other detail to consider.  With an average wait time of 30 minutes, 10 rides means 5 hours of standing and walking slowly (while wearing a mask).  15 rides puts you in the 7 hour range.

I’ve never really sat down to calculate how long we wait in line on an average Disney World park day.  We’re very aggressive with FastPasses.  But, even on our worst day I can’t imagine we approached 7 hours in line.  You need to think about how you’ll keep your kids engaged over the course of a day filled with longer than normal wait times.  And, an iPhone might not be enough to kill the time.

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