If you want to toss some virtual rings this week at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you’d better head to My Disney Experience right now, because for the first time Walt Disney World is experimenting with eliminating all standby options at this headlining attraction. As Rickki Nibblet reported, a Toy Story Midway Mania FastPass+ Only test means that from October 6-9, 2014, you must have a FastPass+ reservation — booked in advance online or day-of at an in-park kiosk — in order to ride the popular Pixar-themed shooting gallery. The standard standby line will not be available at all during the testing period, and once all FastPass+ reservations are claimed for the day, you will not have the option of waiting in line the old-fashioned way.
Having previously experienced Epcot’s short-lived experiment with using paper FastPasses for the Soarin’ standby line, I wanted to see how this FastPass+ Only test operated at Toy Story Midway Mania (TSMM). Monday, Oct. 6, was a moderate 5 on our Crowd Calendar, but now that the Studio Backlot Tour is closed, TSMM is (along with The Great Movie Ride) the only all-ages ride in the park. Since guests seem willing to wait an hour or more in standby for TSMM even on off-peak days, I was curious to observe their reaction to this temoprary change.
As an annual passholder, I was able to log into My Disney Experience around 10 a.m. and secure a FastPass+ for Toy Story Midway Mania at 12:55 that day; 6 p.m. was also offered, but there were no other timeslot options. Previously, I have had difficulty booking TSMM for early afternoon on such short notice, so it appears Disney has added some additional FastPass+ availability during this test.
However, by the time I arrived at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at noon, signs were posted near the entrance declaring that “Toy Story Midway Mania has reached capacity for the day.”
Identical signage was posted outside Pixar Place, along with an unusually large number of Cast Members on hand to answer questions about the FastPass+ Only test, and assist with making FastPass+ reservations.
Even though all the FastPass+ windows were officially consumed for the day, Cast Members indicated that, due to cancellations, availability may still occasionally (and unpredicatably) open up. However, there was no regular release of “held back” timeslots in the afternoon, as has been used in earlier FastPass+ tests at Princess Fairytale Hall. If you are denied a Toy Story FP+ at first, try selecting a different Tier 1 attraction, and keep checking back to see if you can convert it to Midway Mania.
Outside the attraction, the standby entrance was roped off, and a Cast Member was organizing a queue of waiting FP+ guests.
There was no holdup due to MagicBand scanning when I visited; these folks were just waiting for their time window to arrive.
Once inside, TSMM’s elaborate queue was eerily quiet. They were alternating sending guests through the standby and FP+ queues, so I got a private audience with Mr. Potato Head.
The stairwells leading to the loading station were also unusually empty, and there were only at most a couple carloads of guests waiting to board.
As I waited, I watched the line dwindle to the point that they sent some empty vehicles, which a Cast Member confided they had had to do periodically throughout the day.
After my ride (I was awful as always, barely earning my stuffed beaver and sore elbow) I lurked around the exit and calculated the number of riders TSMM was serving at approximately 1150 guests per hour. While Disney doesn’t release official numbers, the ride’s maximum theoretical hourly rider capacity (THRC) is approximately 1500 guests, but an average day’s operations come closer to 1300.
The reduced capacity resulted in fantastic experience for those able to secure FastPass+, as I heard guests remark that they were in and out of the building in under 10 minutes — ride time included. That’s an improvement on the normal system with Standby, when the FastPass+ queue can exceed 15 minutes.
On the flip side, I observed a number of guests who were confused, upset, or just pain angry over the Toy Story Midway Mania FastPass+ Only test. A couple who shared my ride vehicle had tried unsuccessfully to get a FP+ through conventional means, and their appeal to Guest Services was denied. It was only after they complained loudly to their bartender at the Brown Derby that a Cast Member was “magically” able to make a reservation appear.
Over at Guest Relations, I saw about a dozen guests waiting, and overheard several say they were there to complain about the TSMM test. One was quite agitated, and claimed that the test had “ruined” her children’s visit. Interestingly, while I heard Guest Relations CMs ask what they could do for the guest in compensation, at no time did I observe them offering to cicumvent the test by granting a FP+.
Another controversial aspect of this test is that it applies equally to guests using Disability Access Service (DAS) passes, which ordinarily allow users into the FP+ queue immediately if standby is under 10 minutes, or at an assigned time if longer. During this test, DAS users must use one of their regular FP+ assignments for TSMM just like all other guests, and get no expedited entrance at Toy Story Midway Mania. As long as the No Standby test is in effect, once all FP+ windows are taken, DAS guests are just a out of luck as everyone else.
After seeing the Toy Story Midway Mania FastPass+ Only test first-hand, I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it was undeniably luxurious to stroll casually through the TSMM queue, step into a car vitually unimpeded, and be back outside again in a matter of minutes. On the other hand, seeing the wasted capacity on a popular attraction, and the unhappy people outside being told they had no other options, goes against my guest service instincts.
If I had to guess, this test is not a precursor to Disney permanently making this popular attraction FastPass+ only — though the upcoming conversion of Maelstrom to Frozen could conceivably be a candidate for that. Instead, I surmise Disney may be experimenting in advance of adding a third track to TSMM. The new track would go in Soundstage 1 (where Wandering Oaken’s recently was) to the left of the current standby queue. Standby guests could conceivably all be diverted to the new track, while FastPass+ gets exclusivity on the original two tracks, as was tested this week. Currently, FP+ reportedly consumes 66% of the ride’s capacity, so this scheme would keep the ratio the same while increasing throughput for both types of guests.
This test is scheduled to end after Oct. 9, but could return in a different form. If you had a chance to try it for yourself, please leave your thoughts in the comments below!