This entire entry is dedicated to a group of gals on Facebook who were seeking my opinion on something. I don't answer Disney questions in anything other than pages, so I had to house it here.
There's a home video of me, approximately aged 5, that my father lovingly titled "Abby Files A Protest." It involves a Big Wheel race around my grandparents' culdesac, and some rather shady behavior by my same-aged cousin. Despite what ANYONE ELSE said or saw, he was cutting corners in his efforts to beat me. That he is now an ordained minister should not sway you in who to believe here. I have photographic evidence! ;-) The entire video is me trying, in dulcet tones, to explain why I had ACTUALLY WON the race, despite having careened off course and crashed into the back bumper of my Grandaddy's Lincoln Town Car.
Today, those same dulcet tones will be used to explain why I, who shares the position of Co-Captain of Team Disney or Die with my sister, am none to happy regarding their latest and "greatest" rollout in guest experiences.
Here's what arrived in our mailbox today.
HOORAY! We're heading down in a month or so, to celebrate Jeremiah's birthday and early Christmas. As a result of being booked to stay on property, we have been selected to be part of the test market for Magic Bands.
These are my sister's Magic Bands for her upcoming trip. Aren't they cute and fun?!? The short version is that instead of having a plastic key card housing your room key, credit charges, and park tickets, you now have this nifty wristband. They have microchips in them that require a simple touch to a sensor to read, and you're good to go. I can get behind that-- they're waterproof, less likely to get misplaced, and you can get a pink one! I can see it eventually morphing into a child location device, like on the cruise ships... These things could be great!
What I can NOT get behind is the attached Fast Pass Plus system. Currently, you can use your plastic key card to get FastPasses for various attractions, assigning you a time later that day to return and "skip the line" (read: stand in a sometimes shorter, sometimes not line). There are a few limits on it to keep the crowds flowing around the park- you can't get more than one within a certain time period, and often times there will be such a demand for them they will run out of FastPasses for very popular rides early in the day.
Fast Pass Plus gives you the opportunity to make appointments for attractions in advance. How far in advance remains to be seen, as it's still in the testing stages, but I got my info on it today, and my vacay starts in 40 days. The appeal here, on the surface, is that I can now have the ability to know when, precisely, my family will be riding/experiencing certain attractions in the parks.
Let me be clear here- I am not co-captain of Team DoD for nothing. I love to plan my park days, and we have a system down to a T that enables us, if necessary, to blow through all 4 parks, riding all of our favorite rides, in approximately a day and a half. I know how to manipulate the system to make it work for us, and perhaps that knowledge will come in time with this new system, but for now there are some MAJOR RED FLAGS A-WAVING. Pour yourself a cup of tea and let's chat:
1) The greatest "draw" of this plan is also it's greatest flaw.
Being able to plan out your ride times 6 months in advance (which sounds ludicrous, but is the current standard opening window for dining reservations. It would not surprise me in the least if ride reservations went the same way within a year or so) sounds fantastic. How exciting to know that you'll be able to skip the standby line for the big rides, and to be able to plan your park days accordingly! "Once in a lifetime" Disney trippers get a huge benefit from this-- it takes away much of the overwhelming stress newbies can feel when standing in the parks for the first time and having no idea what to do with themselves.
Except it doesn't. It just moves that stress to 6 months earlier, on top of converting Newbie Disney Mom into a clipboard toting Drill Sargeant. To effectively plan your rides in advance, you need a good working knowledge of how far it is from one ride to another, which rides are worth using up a reservation slot for and which aren't, as well as outside factors individual to your family, such as what times your kids like to rest or eat. Once those time slots are booked, Newbie Disney Mom has joined the ranks of the women shrieking at their children "I DON'T CARE IF YOU ARE TIRED OR HUNGRY OR WANT TO SEE MICKEY MOUSE! WE HAVE 14 MINUTES TO MAKE IT TO TOMORROWLAND AND WE ARE GOING TO HAVE FUN, DAMMIT!"
Because, if you don't make it to Tomorrowland in 14 minutes....
2) You're screwed if you miss it.
This from the Disney Webpage:
"We understand that there are many unexpected situations that may
arise and cause you to miss your FastPass+ attraction arrival window
time—but don’t worry! If your plans change while at the park and
FastPass+ experiences are still available (emphasis mine), you can modify your
selections online with your mobile phone or at a FastPass+ kiosk.
try to make changes to your FastPass+ experience before the start of
your arrival window time. If you miss your time due to circumstances
beyond your control, please speak to the Cast Members at the attraction.
you may lose the opportunity to use an attraction’s FastPass+ entrance
if you miss your arrival window time, all operating attractions still
provide a standby queue where you can wait to enjoy the attraction."
Guess what. Little Johnny just had a blowout and is leaking poop onto your rented stroller. There aren't enough wipes in the diaper bag, and you have to go back to hotel to hose him (and you) off. You're going to miss your Space Mountain time.
Per the Disney Webpage- while you are dragging poor soiled Johnny by one arm down Main Street, you should also have your phone out, frantically trying to find another open reservation time for Space Mountain. Otherwise, you just bought yourself a 120 minute standby wait after you wash the poo out of your hair. Or, if one pays attention to the print up there, you just scored the only available reservation left for that day ('cause ClipBoard Mom from #1 booked all the good ones 6 months ago)- FastPass Plus for Winnie the Pooh! Your teenager will be thrilled!
With the old FastPass system, if you missed your time, it was sad. But, it was easy to take solace in the knowledge that you could, with a few exceptions like Soarin' or Toy Story, get another one for that ride, though probably much later in the day. And in the meantime, you could fill up your wait time by FastPassing other rides.
3) Three shall be the number thou shalt count.
Yep. Three reservation slots per day is the current standard,with some people (usually those booked on low attendance days) reporting "surprise" opportunities to book a fourth, and being given a "freebie" in the pre-selected form of Haunted Mansion or Pirates of the Caribbean, neither or which I have ever, in more than 20 trips, waited more than 25 minutes for on standby line. Not really a great "free surprise!", but it looks that way on paper.
The rub here is that with the old system, we have had park days where we were able to use up to 8 or even 10 FastPasses in one day, sometimes for the same ride multiple times.
With this new system, you get one go on a ride per day before you are relegated to the standby line, and you are limited to 3 "experiences", which might be rides, or shows, or reserved parade/fireworks viewing per day. AND THEY MUST ALL BE IN THE SAME PARK.
Oh yes, not only are you limited to three FastPasses per day, you are also limited to keeping them within one park for that day. Park-hopping, under this system, has lost much of its appeal. The Disney Dream of hitting all 4 mountains in one day (Space, Splash, Thunder, and Everest) has died- as doing so without FastPass use is almost impossible.
This isn't a big deal to people who are there for 10 days, and spend 2 or 3 days at each park. It is, however, a big honking deal to people like me, who fall into this category...
4) Last minute trippers, i.e. repeat customer$$$$$, are getting a real short stick here.
With our DVC points and our no-expiration tickets, or Sister's family with their annual passes, it is so easy for us to say "Hey, let's jaunt down for the weekend. We already have tickets and a room, we'll just have to pay for gas and food." Doing so meant that we had to forsake almost all chances at sit-down restaurants, as those book up at the 6 month out window, but that's never a big deal.
Now, however, we will have to factor in that the FastPass Plus reservations have significantly decreased the number of FastPasses available for other guests who don't have the armband reservations already made. Sure, we can hop on the app (OF COURSE there is an app! We'll revisit this in #5) as we are hurtling southbound, and see what's open, but if the experience in trying to get a last minute dinner reservation is any indication, that won't go well.
Other people getting royally screwed include people who are staying off property, people who buy tickets from other retailers than Disney (Undercover Tourist represent!!!), and people who live locally in Florida and have annual passes. They won't have the ability to make any advance ride reservations at all, being only able to use the old FastPass machines (which are being phased out as we speak, with only 1 of 6 available machines at Rockin Rollercoaster being in operation) to get what few actual passes remain after the advanced reservation people have made their choices. I can actually see the logic here from Disney's standpoint, as those other people aren't giving them enough money to be entitled to a premium guest experience.
Ooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh-- did you read that sentence carefully? 'Cause I am enough of a conspiracy theorist to know that this could very likely be Step One in the march towards Paid FastPasses-- anybody who is willing to pay a little extra can get extra FastPasses added on. Just ask Universal Studios down the road-- it works like a champ for them and I can almost smell it landing on Main Street within five years.
5) It feeds into one of my biggest personal pet peeves:
PUT. DOWN. YOUR. FLIPPIN. PHONE.
It saddens me, every day, the frequency with which I see kids at restaurants with ipads while their parents are checking Facebook and dribbling cheese dip in the process. Lots of the concerns people have raised with this program have been answered by Disney with "With our new wifi park wide, you'll be able to get constant updates if something affects your reservations, and you'll be able to modify your choices from your device."
Super. Now Clipboard Mom from #1 is frantically checking her phone, making sure there's no magical email from Mickey telling her to show up at 2:45 instead of 2:14. YAY VACATION!!!!!!!!!!!!
So many people are going to love this business, and I might love it in time. I might not have a choice, as this "testing phase" that we have been asked to be part of is the last step of a full rollout. Right now, being part of the test group is GREAT because, as late as last week, people were able to double dip and use their new wristband reservations ON TOP OF their traditional room keys to get extra FastPasses the old way. Disney doesn't leave loopholes open for long, so I'm not counting on that for our trip in December or when we go back for the marathon. Even if that loophole were going to be there, I wouldn't use it. I'm protesting out of principle and my general disdain for this silliness.
I embrace innovation. I like advancements. I celebrate the Carousel of Progress and all that it represents. I just remain unconvinced that this plan, in its current form, is a good one. Two years from now, I will probably be happily waving my pink armband in the air, all its virtues to espouse to anyone who will listen. But until someone holds me captive and shoves that wristband on my arm, I'm giving Mickey a big
THANKS BUT NO THANKS, AND HAVE A MAGICAL DAY. :-)