The key to maximizing your time at Walt Disney World is of course figuring out the FastPass+ system and using it to your advantage. In fact, there are whole sites devoted to just this single subject. While these sites are great, they don’t really work that well for special needs families that have additional things that eat up lots of time. I know in our family, it takes at least double the amount of time to load and unload a ride as it does typical families. Even though Disney is great at assisting us, loading and unloading a wheelchair just takes time. There are lots of families that need to plan time for the meltdowns that can happen at literally any moment as well. This is why I have developed the special needs mom guide to maximizing FastPass+.
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Begin Planning Early By Staying On Property
On our very first trip to Walt Disney World, I took a binder. Yes, I did. I was prepared for anything and everything, maybe even the apocalypse. Of course this was before the invention of the magicband, My Disney Experience and FastPass+. Now I simply access my app where every detail of my trip is there for me.
Gone are the days of running to the machines outside the ride entrance to print out your FastPass card. Now this is all taken care of via your magicband. For those staying on property, FastPass+ reservations can be made from your computer or smartphone up to 60 days in advance. This is truly amazing for special needs families, because let’s face it, special needs parents are planners out of necessity.
In fact, this little detail alone makes staying on property essential. Those guests who choose to stay off property must wait until 30 days prior to their trip to book FastPass+ reservations. Unfortunately this means that quite a lot of rides will be completely booked before these guests can even log into the system. When Pandora first opened at Animal Kingdom, these rides were completely booked within hours of the 60 day window being opened. Seems crazy to think about, but with this reality, I will not stay off property. Disney is too expensive of a venture to risk missing the must-see attractions.
Understanding The FastPass+ Tier System
No one likes a long wait for anything, even Disney. Now of course Disney does a wonderful job of entertaining guests in their lines. But, if your kids are like my kids, even Disney lines are more like torture devices than entertaining places of joy. Disney’s attempt at fixing this problem is the FastPass+ system. Literally every ride and attraction can be scheduled using this system, which is different than the old system.
Each guest receives three advanced FastPass+ reservations per park per day. Once these are used, you can reserve more rides one-at-a-time, as long as times are still available. This alone has helped disperse guests across the parks. However, this was not quite enough to make things totally fair, so the tier system was born. The only park not currently using the tier system is the Magic Kingdom. With all the popular attractions, I am not sure how they would choose which one would go in what tier anyway.
The rides are assigned a tier based upon the popularity, Tier One being the most popular rides, and Tier Two being the less popular attractions. Each day you will get access to one tier one ride and two tier two rides. So you can probably already see that you will have some serious planning to do. If you are like me, you will most likely want to use all three FastPass+ times at the tier one level. This is only natural, right? While Disney figures that most people can stand in at least one long line during the day, this is simply not so for special needs families. This is where the Disability Access Service comes into play. Your family can combine the FastPass+ service with the DAS to maximize your time in the parks. Thank you, Disney!
More Bang For Your Buck: Combine FastPass+ With DAS
Your family can add the DAS to your magicbands by seeing guest relations at the entrance of any of the parks. This service allows guests with disabilities to reserve ride or attraction times one-at-time each day. Simply walk up to the Cast Member working the ride or attraction and receive your return time. Unlike with the FastPass+ times, you cannot miss your DAS time. It will be good until you use it or until the park closes for the day.
The best way to maximize the two services is to choose one tier one FastPass+ ride, and then utilize the DAS service for the other tier one attractions. For example, the tier one rides at Epcot are Frozen Ever After, Test Track and Soarin Around the World. To make sure that we got to experience all of these rides, we made Test Track the first ride after rope drop, we used the FastPass+ for Frozen Ever After, and we used the DAS for Soarin Around the World. We made sure to get the DAS reservation for Soarin Around the World before we got in line for Test Track. This allowed us to be ‘in line” for Soarin Around the World while we were enjoying Test Track.
To maximize your time in the parks, make sure that you always have both a FastPass+ time and a DAS time. This way you should ideally never wait in a line very long. We always “got in line” at another atrraction just prior to going to our FastPass+ rides. That way, we were “waiting in line” for the DAS ride or attraction while we were enjoying our FastPass+ ride.
Use Dining Reservations To Your Advantage
For most of us, its the characters we really want to see. The trouble is that most everyone wants to see the characters, and this translates into long lines. You could use a FastPass+ reservation to shorten the lines. For most of us, these reservations times are better served on other attractions. There is a way to see the characters without standing in line though. In fact, with what I am about to suggest, the characters come to you!
Character dining is a great way to get to see the characters. Rather than stand in a long, hot line, you get to enjoy some great food. Typically there is a character meal devoted to just about every character. While these meals can be a bit pricey, breakfast is usually cheaper than a dinner. Our favorite character breakfast is at the buffet at the Tusker house in Animal Kingdom. Mickey and all of his friends pop out for a wonderful time. Some of the dining locations even offer preferred seating for the evening show at the parks for an additional fee.
Because most character dining requires advanced reservations, staying on property is a good idea. For those staying on property, dining reservations can be made 180 days in advance of your arrival. Character dining is quite popular, and the reservation times are typically booked well in advance. To ensure you get a table at your favorite character’s restaurant, I highly recommend staying at a Disney Resort and booking at 180 days.
Planning Out Your Quick Service Meals In Advance
This may seem a like a weird way to maximize FastPass+ times, but it is actually a very important piece to consider. If your family has food allergies, not every quick service location can accommodate this easily. Disney has several allergy friendly quick service locations around their parks. The last thing anyone needs to do is waste time wandering the parks. Planning your FastPass+ reservations for times that you will be near a particular allergy friendly restaurant only makes sense, right?
Plan out your quick service meals in advance. This may seem a like a weird way to maximize FastPass+ times, but it is actually a very important piece to consider.
Currently, Hollywood Studios has two allergy friendly quick service restaurants. If I were planning to eat lunch at either of the two restaurants, I would plan a FastPass+ reservation for Star Tours at around 1pm. Why? Because both of the allergy friendly quick service options are near Star Tours. If I had a Fast Pass for Voyage of the Little Mermaid at 1pm instead, I might not make it there since it is across the park from the restaurants.
If you choose Star Tours as your FastPass+ time you will cut down on the amount of travel time between your lunch and your next attraction. You can also get a DAS return time, and be “in line” while you eat. Thinking ahead, and having a tentative plan for even your quick service dining will help to maximize the time spent having fun.
Example Schedule For A Day At Epcot
To help you get an idea of how to maximize your day, I have provided you the schedule we had for a day at Epcot. In this example, the park was open 9am until 9pm. When we travel to Walt Disney World, we plan on arriving at the parks at rope drop or official opening time. This way we can take advantage of the lower crowds for about the first hour or so. The schedule below is assuming that you will also want to get the park at rope drop.
9am: Rope Drop, take family photo in front of the ball. go to Soarin Around the World to get a DAS return time (10:00am).
9:20am: FastPass+ for Test Track (actual time 9am-10am)
9:55am: Mission Space
10:15am: Breakfast at Sunshine Seasons
10:45am: Living with the Land
11am: Return for Soarin Around The World
11:30am: The Seas with Nemo and Friends (FastPass+ time 11am-noon)
12:30pm: Epcot Character Spot (FastPass Reservation 12:30pm) Get DAS return time for Spaceship Earth on the way.
1:00pm: Spaceship Earth
1:45pn: Lunch at the American Pavillion quick service location Liberty Inn
2:15pm: Wander the World Showcase
3:30pm: Fastpass+ time for Frozen Ever After
4pm: Wander the World Showcase
6:45pm: Dinner at the Garden Grill to see Mickey, Pluto and Chip and Dale. Get a DAS for Soarin Around the World on the way.
7:45pm: Ride Soarin Around the World again. (our youngest’s favorite ride)
8pm: FastPass+ for Turtle Talk with Crush
8:30pm: Head to our preferred viewing location for Illuminations.
9pm: Enjoy the show and head back to our hotel having been able to see everything we wanted.
If are planning your next vacation to Walt Disney World you can use the The Special Needs Mom Guide to Maximizing FastPass+ to make sure your family sees everything you want to see.