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One of the most debated questions in the Disney community is the optimal Walt Disney World Fastpass strategy. This post goes over our recommended and tested Fastpass+ strategy (the one we actually put to use while we're in Walt Disney World, and it saves us hours). We start with some basic rules about Fastpass+ and the Disney World Fastpass+ tiers, then we move onto examples of bad strategies. Finally, we break down our strategy along with tips about taking it to the next level, the secret Disney Fastpass hack we mostly think is real, and how to book for large groups.
Once you've read this post, we suggest moving onto our individual park-related posts, which can be found at the following links:
- Magic Kingdom Fastpass+ Strategy
- Epcot Fastpass+ Strategy
- Animal Kingdom Fastpass+ Strategy
- Hollywood Studios Fastpass+ Strategy
Once you've got a good idea of the parks and Fastpass+ strategy, we also have an in-depth post about which parks and Fastpass+ slots to schedule on what days. We'll be breaking this Fastpass+ strategy into four parts: knowing the rules, picking your rides, scheduling your rides, and mastering the are of the "tap and grab."
Part 1. A Quick Review of the Things You Need to Know About Disney World Fastpass
- Fastpass+ (pronounced "Fastpass" or "Fastpass Plus" is the electronic/online system for booking rides at Disney World so that you can skip the lines (or wait in substantially shorter lines) for your favorite rides. Time is money at Walt Disney World, and you get the most bang for your buck with good planning. If you need help planning, there are a variety of apps that are awesome for this purpose.
- If you're staying at a Disney resort (or select other resorts), you can make Fastpass+ reservations 60 days in advance of the first night your stay. If you are not staying at a Disney resort, you can make Fastpass+ reservations up to 30 days into the future.
- Initially, you can make 3 Fastpass+ selections each day. Each has an hour window, they cannot overlap, and they must be at the same park. You can modify these once you have made them, subject to those rules.
- Once you have used or cancelled all 3 of your Fastpasses for a day you can make another one for that day at any park. Once you use or cancel that reservation, you can make another, and so on.
- Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios have tiered selections (see below for the Disney World Fastpass tiers). When you make your advance three reservations, they can only include a maximum of one "Tier 1" ride.
- You can change, modify, and get new Fastpass+ reservations via the My Disney Experience App (best method) or via in-park kiosks.
Disney World Fastpass Tiers (2018)
Instead of totally breaking down the Disney World Fastpass tiers, we're just going to list the top tier attractions. Here they are:
- Hollywood Studios - Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, Toy Story Mania!, Beauty and the Beast, Fantasmic!
- Epcot - Frozen Ever After, Soarin', Test Track, Illuminations
- Animal Kingdom - Flight of Passage, Na'vi River Journey
Remember, when you book your Fastpass+ reservations at these parks, you can only book one top tier ride in your first set of three Fastpass+ selections. Once you use or cancel your three, you can book a new tier one ride as your fourth (and/or fifth, and so on) selection.
Club Level Access to Extra Fastpass+ Perks
You may have heard the news in early 2018 that Disney World has started offering access to extra Fastpass+ reservations for an additional fee to club level guests. Guests who pay $50 plus tax per person per day will receive (paraphrasing Disney Tourist Blog):
- Three additional FastPass+ selections per day
- Ability to reserve these three additional FastPass+ selections in different parks if you have park hopper
- Booking window of up to 90 days in advance for these three additional FastPass+ selections
- Additional Fastpass+ selection can be used at multiple Tier 1 rides
- Preferred viewing for one nighttime show per day
At this point we have no intention of updating our strategy with anything more about this. The reasons for this are twofold. First, we don't think many readers will avail themselves of this option, nor would we endorse it if you're at all on the fence about it. We don't value this perk at $50 per person per day, not even close. Second, you can take the essentials of this purchase and just modify our strategy to apply it yourself, it shouldn't be too hard. We don't want to complicate things with too much unnecessary content.
Part 2. Choosing Which Rides to Use Your Disney World Fastpass Selections On
There's not too much debate around this issue. It is subjective insofar as you can skip rides you don't care about or don't want to ride, but beyond that, a good rule of thumb is to use Fastpass+ for the rides with the longest average standby times. Remember too that you'll have to keep the Disney World Fastpass tiers in mind.
You can find information on standby times on various sites, most notably Touring Plans, which also has extensive Fastpass+ content. We also have individual park guides linked to above and in the next paragraph.
In general, the most important (that is, difficult) Fastpass+ reservation you can get at each park in 2018 will be:
- At Animal Kingdom - Avatar Flight of Passage (the most difficult at Walt Disney World)
- At Epcot - Frozen Ever After
- At Magic Kingdom - Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
- At Hollywood Studios - Toy Story Mania! (Note: When Toy Story Land opens, this may change)
Scheduling Your Disney world Fastpasses: Two Bad Strategies
We're starting with bad strategies as a way to show you some of the counterintuitive aspects of Fastpass+ planning.
Bad Fastpass Strategy 1: Start the day quickly
The first bad strategy is to put your Fastpasses right at the start of the day. Putting one at the time the park opens is a baffling decision, as your wait time on your first ride will be short if you get to rope drop regardless. Besides Magic Kingdom and Pandora at Animal Kingdom, the parks don't really get going for a few hours, anyways.
Plus, early Fastpasses limit your ability to respond to the chaos of opening. Rides will be down, rides will open late, the crowds will go different places, and you won't be able to respond to the best wait times if you have to be on one side of the park in the first hour.
Bad Fastpass Strategy 2: Space them out Too Much
An arguably worse mistake is to space your Fastpasses out throughout the day. If you park hop, this is a real waste because it keeps you locked into one park for too long. If you don't park hop, you're still waiting until you use that last Fastpass before you can start making new selections. This results in a sort of sunk cost fallacy, where you might hold onto the last Fastpass rather than searching for better opportunities. The spaced out Fastpasses also cause problems with waiting in standby lines, as you can't wait too long lest you miss your Fastpass window.
The Best Disney World Fastpass Strategy
The best Fastpass strategy has two parts. First, when you initially book, you book three Fastpasses in near succession, preferably between the hours of 10AM and 3PM (or else one to two hours after park opening through midday). Second, as soon as you use your first Fastpass (!!) you start modifying your next two, and you continue picking up Fastpasses throughout the day. Let's address these two parts in detail.
Part 3. Scheduling Your Advance Fastpass+ Reservations
First, here's why scheduling your initial three Fastpass selections in near succession between 10AM and 3PM is best.
- It gives you full flexibility at rope drop. You can go where the lines are shortest for the first hour or two. Importantly, you can expect a short wait on the first ride you go to (except for Flights of Passage or whatever the newest ride is when you're read this) which saves you from having to waste a Fastpass on that ride.
- You minimize big gaps. Because your Fastpass windows are back-to-back-to-back, you can do two of your rides back to back, you won't have to waste hours waiting in lines or walking around the park waiting for your Fastpass times to arrive.
- You avoid the biggest mistake the experts make. You want to leave a gap of 15 minutes to 30 minutes between your first two Fastpass+ reservations in order to be sure you can move up your third reservation once you use your first.
- You Fastpass through the busiest time of the day. 10AM to 4PM tends to have some of the longer waits. You've scheduled your Fastpasses to avoid that. It doesn't matter what season or what the crowd calendars say, Disney lines can get wicked year-round.
- You're done early to get a new Fastpass and start park hopping. This is why we love this strategy. Once you've used your three Fastpasses, the World is your oyster! You can even pick your next park based the best Fastpass available. Or you can keep checking until your favorite ride opens up. There's not a single ride--include the new Pandora rides--that doesn't occasionally see an open Fastpass slot.
Part 4. Mastering the Art of the "Tap and Grab"
Here's how the awesome ride-hopping folks over at Parkeology describe the "Tap and Grab":
Once you have used your initial selection of 3 FastPasses, the My Disney Experience app lets you pick up bonus FastPasses one at a time. As soon as you “tap” at the Mickey touch point to use your current FastPass, the app will allow you to grab a new FastPass.
Tapping and grabbing is an essential part of any good Fastpass+ strategy. Some bloggers refer to it as a "hack" (it might be more fitting if we described it such). Others call it the secret to getting "infinite" Fastpasses. However you want to think about it, this is what drives getting the most out of Fastpass.
The best way to master tapping and grabbing is to practice. Magic Kingdom is the park where tap and grab is most essential, so we suggest practicing it at a different park in the days before you visit Magic Kingdom.
The Big Fastpass+ Secret: "Tap and Grab" Starts After Ride One, Not Ride Three
We only quibble a bit with Parkeology prefacing "Tap and Grab" with "Once you have used your initial selection of 3 FastPasses..." While not entirely tapping and grabbing, the actual work starts as soon as you ride your first ride. This is the one secret to Fastpass+ we think the experts ignore! Here's why you absolutely need to open up your My Disney Experience app as soon as you've used your first Fastpass.
You can move up your next two Fastpasses once you use your first
If you scheduled a 10AM, 11:15, and 12:15, when you use that 10AM fastpass right at 10AM, you can hop on your app and move your 12:30 to 10:05, if a slot is available (and it often will be!). Even if it isn't, you can move your slots as early as possible, buying you more time for the rest of the day.
Note that this doesn't have anything to do with your fourth Fastpass selection. We're still just talking about your first three. All you're doing is modifying them once you've used your first. You can't schedule them for 10AM, 10:10, and 11:15 in advance, but once you use your 10AM, you can go ahead and move one up to 10:10.
You can cancel your next two Fastpasses if something better pops up!
This is most important at the parks with tiered Fastpass levels, and it's best explained with an example. You're at Hollywood Studios with three reservations for Toy Story Mania!, Tower of Terror, and Star Tours. You use your Toy Story Mania! and pull open your app. You find out there is a Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Fastpass in just 5 minutes! You try to modify Tower of Terror, but you can't! Toy Story Mania! was the only tier 1 reservation you get in that first group of three. You can modify your Tower of Terror to Voyage of the Little Mermaid, or Muppet Vision, but NOT Toy Story Mania! or Rock 'n' Roller Coaster.
But you really want Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, and the waits for Tower of Terror and Star Tours are next to nothing! So you cancel your second and third reservations, and now you're allowed to book a "fourth" reservation for any ride at any park, including Rock 'n' Roller Coaster!
This is a risky strategy, especially on big name rides like Avatar Flight of Passage where by the time you cancel and get back to your search, the slot might be gone. But we've employed it several times, usually when we notice short waits on the rides we have Fastpasses for.
Then once you've used (or abandoned) your first three Fastpass selections, keep searching, and you'll skip almost all the lines!
As an example of how great this can get, on July 5, we grabbed a Fastpass for Space Mountain via the app at 11:23 (while on the bus to Magic Kingdom). The Fastpass window started at 11:35, just 12 minutes later, while the standby wait was 65 minutes! We were two people, and that means any two people hopping in that line at 11:23 could have saved nearly an hour of waiting in line if they had used this strategy! Then as soon as you use that Fastpass, start searching for your next one to do the same trick!
Finally, Are There aNy Secret Disney World Fastpass Hacks?
Okay, we're not big believers in there being Disney Fastpass+ secrets, but we think there is maybe one. We don't have anything other than anecdotal evidence (both our own experiences and others) to suggest that this really is a Disney Fastpass+ hack, but here it is.
Speculated Fastpass Hack: It's Easier To Modify An Existing Fastpass+ Reservation Than To get A New One
Again, we're relying entirely on our own experiences and word of mouth here, but we think that if you're looking to get a specific Fastpass+ selection, you're better off grabbing anything at the same park and then trying to modify it, rather than just searching from a blank slate.
For example, let's assume Adam and Beth both want a Splash Mountain Fastpass for 4PM. They both have no current reservations for the rest of the day. Adam is on his phone constantly refreshing and conducting searches for Splash Mountain, making no reservations until he finds one he likes.
Beth grabs a 3:30PM Fastpass for Buzz Lightyear and then continually tries to modify that to a Splash Mountain Fastpass.
We think Beth has the better odds here. This might seem like complete nonsense, but there is a pretty good reason things might work like this, and that's that Disney doesn't want people with no real intention of going to a park to snag a Fastpass slot. In our example, Beth looks like someone who is trying to have a good day at Magic Kingdom. But Adam doesn't even have a ride booked. It makes sense that Disney might trust that Beth will actually use the Fastpass more than Adam.
This is a bit silly, of course, because it's premised on Beth grabbing the Buzz Lightyear Fastpass selection just to throw it away.
Getting Fastpass Reservations for Your Entire Group
One of our toughest Disney challenges was surviving a trip with eleven family members. Just kidding! But the real challenge was getting all the Fastpass reservations scheduled, especially when it came time to tap and grab.
Break the group up when you need to
Breaking the group up into two when Fastpass scheduling is fine if you getting overlapping slots. You might not be able to find availability from 11:30 to 12:30 for a group of eleven, but if you can get six at 11:05 to 12:05 and five at 11:45 to 12:45, you have a 20-minute window during which you can all ride together. This is annoying when planning your three advance reservations, but you should have better luck finding space for large groups on those, anyways. This means having two team captains who are making the reservations. It's not enough to have one person, because availability just comes and goes too quickly.
Pay attention to who is actually riding
If grandma and grandpa aren't going to ride Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, don't include them when searching for availability! If the little ones (or in our case, our 30-year-old brother) are afraid of Tower of Terror, then tell them to enjoy a turkey leg when you find availability for everyone who actually wants to ride!
Get Out and Ride, Ride, Ride!
Fastpass+ is a system that is totally worth mastering. While this strategy is the best for us, it might not be the best for your circumstances. But you know what? The first thing you try won't be the best either. We're talking about hours of time waiting in line that you could avoid if you find the strategy that works best for you and your family. If you don't take this strategy in all its details, take the main ideas with you and put together the strategy that works for you!