For first time visitors, these passes, which enable to you access rides via a shorter queue at Disney and Universal, can be pretty confusing given that there are different options and they work differently in the two resorts, so I figured I’d give you the low down on how these work.
Is it worth it? YES – IT IS FREE!! Those that have had experience with Universal, or other parks paid-for fast-tracking passes, tend to discount the Disney FASTPASS simply because they aren’t aware that it is a free to use system, and that you don’t need anything other than your original park ticket to be able to take advantage of it. You don’t buy it and you don’t have to be staying in a Disney hotel to be able to use it and yet it is the single most important thing you can do to shorten your waits for the busiest rides at Disney.
So it works like this. The park maps will indicate whether a ride has a fastpass option. When you head over to the ride, to one side of it will be fastpass machines with a sign above saying what time it is currently giving out for fastpass return. You put in your park ticket and the machine spits out a fastpass ticket, with your return time printed on it. This will be an hours slot later in the day, during which time you can return and enter the ride via the fastpass entrance, enabling you to bypass a large part of the queue.
There are some rides that I would rarely contemplate riding without fastpass, due to the typical length of the regular queue. For Toy Story Mania at Hollywood Studios it is practically a necessity – the queue for fastpass itself can be pretty long first thing and the fastpasses almost always run out for the entire day within the first few hours of opening. Soarin’ at Epcot, Peter Pan at Magic Kingdom, Kilimanjaro Safaris and Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom are all rides that unless you’re there at rope drop, you’ll want to consider getting fastpasses for as the regular queues will run pretty long all day long.
The one thing you need to consider when getting your fastpasses is your priorities for which rides you want to use them on. You can usually only have one fastpass at a time – i.e. if you’ve have already got one, the machines won’t grant you another one for this or any other ride for a while. Usually you become eligible for your next fastpass around the time that your first one is due, but if you’re first is much later in the day, occasionally you’ll be eligible earlier on. Your fastpass ticket will give you the time when you are able to get another.
There has recently been a change to fastpass policy whereby Disney is now enforcing the time slots for returns. It used to be that you could return any time after your fastpass slot, whereas cast members are now only permitted to grant you access to the fastpass lane if your are returning within 15 minutes of the time slot on your ticket. Many people won’t even be aware that this was never the case, but I thought I’d mention it as it is often a tip you read about that is no longer be true.
Universal’s Express Plus Pass
This is a much more ‘exclusive’ pass and you pay for the privilege of getting quicker access to SOME of the rides around Universal. The amount depends on the time of the year and you purchase it as an addition to your regular ticket, on a per-day basis.
The Express Plus pass allows you to ‘skip the regular line’ ONCE for each of a list of attractions. It does cover many of the attractions at both parks, but worth noting that it does NOT include Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Pteranodon Flyers, or Hollywood Ripride Rockit. Having it for the main Harry Potter ride would make it much more worthwhile, in my opinion.
You can purchase these for just one of the parks, with the cost ranging from $20 to $60 per day, depending on the time of year or between $26 and $70 per day for both parks. This cost is in ADDITION to your regular park ticket. The cheaper price is obviously when the parks are least busy – cheaper to buy, but essentially worth a lot less as the queues aren’t huge anyway. The times when it would be an advantage to skip the queues it is very expensive, given that it is in addition to the cost of your park ticket. If money’s no object, or you only have one day at the parks, it might be worth it. You can purchase them at the park, or online in advance – and bear in mind they are limited so sold on a first come first served basis.
It is also possible to purchase VIP park tickets, which gives you unlimited access to the Express Plus queues as part of your ticket – these cost between $170 for a 1-day off-peak ticket to $350 for a 4-day peak ticket (compared to $156 for a 4 day regular ticket). If you stay at an onsite hotel, one of the perks is that you get a free unlimited access to the Express Plus lines – therefore you do not need to purchase the pass and are not restricted to how many times you use the Express Plus Pass lanes.
Whether or not you purchase a Universal Express Plus Pass is purely down to personal preference on what you spend your money on. If you have some spare cash and your time at Universal is at a premium then it might well be worth the extra money, so you can get everything done. For us, Universal is not and has never been a priority and I could never justify spending additional money – we rarely even visit it any more. The fact that the pass only allows you on each ride once also puts me off, given that I often fastpass my favourite rides more than once per day and for free at Disney. If however I really wanted to make the most of my time here and was visiting at a peak time when it might be worth paying to beat the crowds, I would probably explore staying one night at the on-site hotels and getting the unlimited pass, before I moved to Walt Disney World.
So there you have it! Summary: Disney’s fastpass – do it, it won’t cost a penny and will save you hours a day in queues. Universal’s Express Plus – will cost you extra and is more limited in its use, but might be worthwhile to some families as a way to make the most of limited time in the parks.