The Walt Disney World rumor mill has churned out a real big one this week as word has come down (unofficially thus far) that starting March 7, 2012, Cast Members will begin enforcing the FASTPASS return time window. Here's the jist of it from our friends at TouringPlans.com
Cast Members at the Walt Disney World Resort have been informed that enforcement of the FASTPASS return time window will begin on March 7, 2012. This means guests will be allowed to return to an attraction with a FASTPASS during the time frame indicated on the FASTPASS – not anytime after the window as with the previous policy until now.
Guests can now return 5 minutes prior to the window (ending the backlog of guests who arrive a few minutes early), and Cast Members are being told to accept the FASTPASS up to 15 minutes after the window as a courtesy.
How this will affect Disney's Hollywood Studios can be categorized in two areas: How it will affect Toy Story Midway Mania and how it will affect everything else.
At Toy Story Midway Mania, you have one of the most popular FASTPASS attractions in Walt Disney World, with guests taking up all the FASTPASS's regularly by lunch time. So demand for the use of FASTPASS here is the greatest and I believe this will create the largest problem. Let's face it, guests aren't known for their timeliness. Part of the reason why the FASTPASS system has worked the way it has (with return times allowed throughout the day) is because so many guests were never really able to make it back in time. If this new method is true, I foresee a lot of guests missing their return windows.
Getting back to the attraction isn't just a Disney World "n00b" problem. It's difficult for anyone to get back to a place without simply sitting down and waiting it out. It's incredibly difficult to properly estimate how long a ride or attraction will actually take to wait and experience and then get back. Nevermind bathroom breaks, snacks, and other distractions along the way. Walt Disney World has been engineered to offer guests distractions everywhere: attractions, gift shops, restaurants and more vie for our attention everywhere we go.
The original intent of FASTPASS was guests would get a FASTPASS and then go eat or shop (read: spend money) while they wait for their FASTPASS time to show up. The intention was never really to mastermind the perfect touring plan of the parks (sorry TouringPlans). And frankly, if I know I want to ride a certain attraction, within 30 minutes of the start time, you know I'm going to slink into my Type-A personality and simply find a place to sit or wander through a situation I know I can control, like a gift shop. The last thing I'm going to do is risk getting stuck on another attraction elsewhere and potentially forfeit my precious FASTPASS.
The other attractions at Disney's Hollywood Studios will be less dire. While Toy Story Midway Mania can generate standby wait times of multiple hours, rides like Tower of Terror or Star Tours or Voyage of the Little Mermaid are considerably less difficult to deal with their standby wait times. In addition, the FASTPASS return times for these attractions are usually much closer to the time you get the FASTPASS ticket so getting back in time seems to be easier.
For the time being, we will have to see exactly how these new rules (assuming they are indeed true) will really affect how we tour the park. There's no question it will be less convenient in the grand scheme of things, but just how less convenient remains to be seen.