In the Shadow of the Mouse

Secrets of a theme park obsessed local who lives next door to Mickey, with annual passes to every Central Florida park

More wonders of FastPass+: Not just for rides and attractions (eat at Be Our Guest too)

Recently, I blogged about how I used FastPass+ to slash a three hour wait down to just ten minutes. In this article, read about how it makes the wait to meet Anna and Elsa of “Frozen” manageable, even though their wild popularity means multi-hour standby waits every day.

bb1You can use FastPass+ on a wide variety of rides and other character greetings, too, and you can even reserve a viewing spot for attractions like Illuminations at Epcot and the Festival of Fantasy Parade and Main Street Electrical Parade at the Magic Kingdom. But did you know that it’s also good for a special dining experience that’s second only to Anna and Elsa in the crazy crowds it attracts?

I’ve been dying to have lunch in the Beast’s castle ever since the “Be Our Guest” restaurant opened there. I’d tried the delicious dinner menu, so I wanted to see how the counter service lunch stacked up. Alas, lunchtime brings long lines that stretch through New Fantasyland, so lunchtime in the Beast’s ballroom has remained but a wistful dream.

But did you know that you can book a lunchtime FastPass+ reservation for “Be Our Guest” if you’re staying at a Disney resort? I gave it a whirl when I was in the Magic Kingdom last week for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train media event. The standby line was long and intimidating, but I stepped up to the FastPass+ check-in, gave my name and flashed my Magic Band, and I was walking into the castle almost immediately.

bbI tried the ham and cheese sandwich and the tuna salad, and both were very tasty. You could easily share a lunch entree between two people here. It’s a place to come for the atmosphere as much as for the food; besides the heavily themed dining rooms, you’ll love the way you use a magic rose (see the first photo in this article) to alert the servers to your location. Place the rose on your table, and they magically appear when your order is ready, serving it up out of the same fancy carts that are used for dessert in the evening.

As of right now, you can only book a Be Our Guest FastPass+ if you’re staying at an on-site resort, and it’s still in a testing phase so you may or may not be able to make the booking. Go to the Be Our Guest booking website and have your reservation number handy to see if you can grab your spot at this lovely restaurant.

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog  In the Shadow of the Mouse.

FastPass+ must dos at the four Disney parks: Grab these attractions

Now that FastPass+ is a thing, what rides should you grab when your booking window opens? As an annual pass holder, I’m at a disadvantage as I can only make ride and attraction reservations 30 days out. However, if you’re staying at a Disney resort, you can do it a full 60 days before you check in, as the Walt Disney World website explains. Either way, here are my suggestions for the FastPass+ ressies to grab at each of the four parks:

b7Magic Kingdom

Two words: Elsa and Anna. If you don’t want a multi-hour wait to meet everyone’s favorite princesses, this is the FastPass+ reservation to snap up as soon as it becomes available. Otherwise you’ll wait two hours, three hours, or possibly even more, depending on the crowd level. The second best option is a viewing spot for the Festival of Fantasy parade. Yes, you could go for a major ride like one of the mountains, but both Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain have interactive queue lines that give you something to do while you’re waiting, and most of the Space Mountain wait is indoors, in air conditioning. Waiting in those lines is preferable to standing out in the sun for an hour or more to stake out a good parade spot.

Epcot

Soarin’ is the main attraction here, although Test Track can get some pretty wicked wait times in the summer. Still, Test Track has a single riders line if your family is willing to be split up in separate cars. I’d rather get a Soarin’ FastPass and do Test Track as a single.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Toy Story Mania or Fantasmic. Toy Story Mania has obnoxious lines during the peak season, and Fantasmic attracts huge crowds that become something of a mob scene. Granted, the Tower of Terror and Rock n Roller Coaster are also popular, but their wait time rarely approaches Toy Story Mania. Better yet, Rock n Roller Coaster has a single riders line, so use the heck out of that if others in your party are amendable to the idea.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

b6Kilimanjaro Safaris or Kali River Rapids in the summer. The safari is the signature ride here; you can usually get on with little to no wait if you rush to it early in the morning. Otherwise, just grab a FastPass and rush over to Expedition Everest instead. Yes, Expedition Everest offers FastPasses, too, but it has a single riders line, so that’s a wiser option if you don’t want to waste your precious FastPass allotment. However, if you’re visiting in the dead of summer, opt for Kali River Rapids instead. The line gets very long as people seek a good soaking to cool down in the vicious Florida heat.

Those are my personal suggestions. Sure, there are many, many other options, so work your FastPass+ selections around your own family’s tastes. Yes, it might be hard to plan something as detailed as your ride and show preferences that far in advance, but there’s also a big plus side. Once you make your reservation, you know for sure that you’ll be able to do the things that matter the most to you, even if the park is packed to capacity.

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog  In the Shadow of the Mouse.

MyMagic+ gets better on April 28: Park hop and make more FastPass+ reservations

temp31FastPass+ is the next generation of Disney’s venerable FastPass system, which savvy mouse fans have used for years to slash their wait times. With MyMagic+ and Magic Bands, guests have been able to book their FastPasses for rides. shows, parades, and even character greetings before they even reach Walt Disney World. Why wait three hours to meet Anna and Elsa or waste an hour staking out a spot for the Festival of Fantasy parade (pictured at right) when you can make a handy dandy reservation?

Only problem is, in the old days of FastPass, you could keep getting more all day. Once you hit the time frame for one, you could get another as long as there were still times available. Not so with FastPass+, which capped you at three and forced you to get them all for a single park. That kept you from the freedom of park hopping if you preferred to split your day between multiple parks.

Today company chairman Tom Staggs announced on the Disney Parks Blog that, starting on April 28, the three FastPass limitation will disappear like the Cheshire cat. You have to start out with just three FastPasses, but once you use them, you’re free to get another…and another…and another…until you don’t want any more or until they’re all handed out for the day, whichever happens first.

As an annual pass holder, I love the fact that FastPass+ is now pretty much in line with the old system. In fact, it’s even better because you can grab three rides or attractions in advance without worrying that you’ll get to the parks, hoping for an early time on Soarin’ or Toy Story Mania, only to get caught behind a tour guide getting FastPasses for his group of 200 via one of the old machines.

Better yet, you can park hop under the new system. Let’s say I want to grab three rides at the Magic Kingdom, then pop over to one of the other parks. As long as there are still times left for Soarin’ or Kilimanjaro Safari or the Tower of Terror, I can head over to Epcot, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, or Disney’s Hollywood Studios and extend my fun.

The only potential downside to the new system is that if you get one of your first three FastPasses for a late attraction, you probably won’t have much of a selection when its time to get your fourth. For example, if you book reserved viewing for the Festival of Fantasy parade, you’re tied up until 3 p.m. If your kids (or you) really, really want to see Anna and Elsa and the only available time is 5 p.m., you’re in the same boat.

As a local, I’m not too worried about those limitations, since I don’t have to fit everything into a compressed time period. If you’re a tourist, it will take a little planning, but you’re much better off having access to the additional FastPasses. Grab the first ones for early times if you can so you have the most possible freedom for the rest of your day.

Staggs says more MyMagic+ enhancements are coming, so stay tuned for future ways in which that cute little MagicBand can give you a smoother Walt Disney World experience.

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog  In the Shadow of the Mouse.

Fastpass+ and MyMagic+ at Disney World: Great planning tool or spontaneity killer?

Once upon a time, everyone was equal when you visited Walt Disney World. You decided what ride you wanted to do, got in line, and waited. Maybe the wait was just a few minutes or maybe, if it was summer or a holiday, you cooled your heels for an hour or more.

Then, in 1999, Disney introduced a little game changer known as Fastpass. This little slip of paper acted as a magic ticket to get you to the front of the line…well, almost. You used your park ticket to get a free Fastpass for the major attraction of your choice. It gave you a one-hour window during which you returned to that ride. At that time, you entered a special line that was much shorter than the standby wait.

Fastpass had its limits. For example, you couldn’t get a another Fastpass until you used the first one, with exceptions on very crowded days with very long waits. Also, Fastpasses for the best rides ran out very quickly, so you were relegated to the standby line if you didn’t get to the park early and grab one as soon as you dashed into the park. Still, it was a good system if you knew how to work it. Heck, in the old days all the locals knew that you couldn’t use a Fastpass early, but you could use it any time you wanted after the start time, regardless of the end time printed on your return window.

tempAlas, those days are gone for good, as paper Fastpasses are a thing of the past. Now you’ve got Magic Bands that work via RFID, and you make MyMagic+ reservations instead of getting those old-school paper slips. This Disney Parks Blog just officially announced that MyMagic+ is available to day guests after an initial roll-out to onsite hotel guests, followed by annual passholders. That means that you make your ride reservations online in what some see as a great planning tool, while others are mourning the death of spontaneity in your Disney day.

So what do I, as an annual passholder, think about MyMagic+? Back when I was a tourist traveling from Chicago, I often booked all-inclusive package deals that came with a precursor to what’s now known as the Disney Dining Plan. My aim was always to maximize my value for the dollar, which meant eating at the priciest restaurants. The foodie in me loved it, but it was something of a pain to plan my trip around restaurant reservations. Sure, I could have moved things around during my trip, but that would have meant giving up wildly popular places like Cinderella’s Royal Table and the steakhouse in Canada. It was either be a compulsive planner and stay locked into those plans or give up some of the best places as the cost of spontaneity.

Now that’s true of rides, too. At the moment, you’re limited to choosing three per day, although that’s going to change. Also, they must all be in the same park on any given day, but that’s going to change, too. The addition of parking hopping will be a big improvement because on of the best parts about having four parks at Disney World is the ability to hop freely between them, provided you have a park hopper ticket. Is the Magic Kingdom getting too crowded? Pop over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Are you still full of energy when Animal Kingdom closes? Head over to Epcot and stick around for Illuminations. When I was a tourist, I doubt I ever spent a whole day in just one park.

Now, your Fastpass+ reservations will tie you down to an extent. For example, let’s say Magic Kingdom is getting packed like sardines, and you’d really like to hop the monorail to Epcot, but you’re holding a 3 p.m. Fastpass for reserved viewing of the Festival of Fantasy parade. You have to stick around or lose it. Sure, you can try to switch that ressie to one for Soarin’ or Test Track, but there probably won’t be anything left late in the day during the busy season. In the meantime, you get an extra stessor when your booking window opens, much as those who seek to have breakfast with Cinderella start dialing the moment the reservation line opens on the appointed day to share a coveted spot.

Fastpass+ also means a lot of last minute changing around if the weather doesn’t cooperate. For example, you can make your ride reservations months in advance for the Magic Kingdom, only to discover that it’s going to storm all day when you finally arrive in Florida. A park like Epcot or Disney’s Hollywood Studios has more to do indoors, but good look with last minute changes to your MyMagic+ plans.

Yes, those are all downsides. but MyMagic+ has some upsides, too. As long as you’re diligent with your planning, you can virtually guarantee that your family will get to experience the things that are most important to them, and you’ll slash some of the worst wait times. For example, Elsa and Anna regularly have multi-hour lines, so it’s a Godsend for parents with little kids to be able to book their greeting via Fastpass+. For me as a local, I can grab a Fastpass+ reservation for Kilimanjaro safari and enjoy a few single rider line rides on Expedition Everest, pop on the safari truck, then head home after a fun morning in the park with minimal waits, even in the peak season.

I’ll probably go to the parks more often in the peak season, since I’ll know ahead of time that I’ll get to ride my favorites, rather than hoping that I don’t get stuck at a Fastpass machine behind a Brazilian tour guide glomming a hundred Fastpasses. Instead, I’ll stroll into Epcot in the middle of July, knowing that I’ll get a ride on Soarin’, then grab a coffee and bail when the heat and crowd overwhelms me.

MyMagic+ is still a work in progress, so it remains to be seen how it will all work out. I have my brand-new Magic Band, but my dog, Bolt, turned it into a chew toy, so I’m going to need a replacement before I even get a chance to use it. There’s a long summer ahead, so I’ll be sure to report on what this opinionated local thinks about the new system and whether the shorter waits are worth the spontaneity cost.

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog  In the Shadow of the Mouse.