How the Fastpass machines actually work

Think of the all the Fastpass machines in a park as a computer network, with each attraction being a "node" in that network. When a guest attempts to get a Fastpass by inserting their ticket into the barcode reader, the machine does two things. First it checks to see if you already have a current Fastpass for the same attraction (that is, a Fastpass with a start time later than the current time). If you don't, it then checks to see if you have a current Fastpass for another attraction on the same network (Fastpass attractions at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are completely separate).

The rule on what constitutes a current Fastpass at another attraction is more complex and is important to getting full use out of the system. The way it works is that once you have a Fastpass for Attraction A, you will not be able to get a Fastpass at Attraction B until either starting time of the Attraction A Fastpass has passed or 2 hours has passed since the Attraction A Fastpass was issued. The easiest way to check this is to look at the bottom of the first Fastpass where it will state "Another Fastpass will be available at XX:XX."

Also a Fastpass always has a minimum return time of 40 minutes.

 

Issues that affect Fastpass strategy

It is no wonder that Disney doesn't advertise these "tricks" as it is hard to explain to a park guest. You will find out that many cast members have no idea about what is a "standalone" machine, or other information mentioned here. They do know the information as described on the official Web site,  since this is what Disney has taught them. They generally have no idea about the "secrets".

There are two networks: one for Disneyland Park and the second for Disney California Adventure. They are totally separate, so you can always get one at least one Fastpass for each park. Let's look at the Fastpass attractions in each park:

Disneyland Park (DL)

  • Autopia*
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad*
  • Indiana Jones Adventure
  • Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin
  • Space Mountain  
  • Splash Mountain
  • Star Tours: The Adventures Continue
  • Haunted Mansion Holiday^

  Disney California Adventure (DCA)

  • California Screamin'+
  • Goofy's Sky School*
  • Grizzly River Run*
  • Radiator Springs Racers
  • Soarin' Over California
  • Tower of Terror*
  • World of Color (Showpass)

Now, what is not so commonly known is that not every Fastpass attraction in a park is actually connected to the larger Fastpass network for that park. Currently there is only one (two as of December 12, 2014)  "independent"  Fastpass machine that operates on a standalone basis:

  • World of Color (Disney California Adventure)
  • Fantasmic! (Disneyland Park - beginning December 12)

Also note, the Radiator Springs Racers Fastpaases are distributed next to It's Tough to Be a Bug. (The machines used to be used for ITTBAB, and Disney opted to place them away from Radiator Springs Racers entrance). The Star Tours Fastpass machines are located across the pathway next to Buzz Lightyear (The machines used to be used for BLAB). The World of Color Showpasses are distributed at Grizzly River Run. (The machines are split, some for GRR and others for World of Color, until World of Color Showpasses are fully distributed.

*Some Fastpass attractions don't offer Fastpasses year-round, but only on weekends, and weekdays during peak and holiday periods. The attractions listed with an "*" above do not offer Fastpass during the slower weekdays. The Times Guide handed out at the turnstiles when you enter the park does list which attractions will be offering Fastpasses on that day. It has been wrong, though, so it is recommended you check the status at the actual attraction.

^Although not offered for a couple of years, in 2014 Fastpasses have been offered for Haunted Mansion Holiday, but were not available until the attraction had been open for several weeks. 

Note: Fastpass machines are turned off when an attraction experiences a temporary closure and are turned back on when the attraction returns to normal operation.

Disney has discontinued Fastpass on Pirates of the Caribbean, "it's a small world" holiday, Muppet*Vision 3-DIt's Tough to Be a Bug, and Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters.

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Fastpass attraction strategy

The best strategy for the "independent" machine

The sole remaining independent machine (World of Color) is nice and simple. Yyou can get one Fastpass (or "Showpass")  without affecting any other Fastpasses you might want.  As of December 12, this also applies to Fantasmic!.

Note: All times are an example, and should not be a reflection of the time you really get on your Fastpass.

As of February 19th, 2013, the Disneyland Resort has started enforcing the end time on the FastPass, which means that you have one hour to use it. (This is a major change from the past, where Disney didn't enforce the end time).  If you are a few minutes late, more than likely the Cast Member will accept it if you have a decent explanation why you were late.  But if you are over 15 minutes late, more than likely you will be turned away. Also, exceptions will be made if the ride breaks down during the valid period of the FastPass, and you can use it at a later time.

So what can you have, before you've even used one of the "networked" machines? Currently, you can have one World of Color Showpass. And if you remember to pick up a new Fastpass before using one, you'll always have an current Fastpass for these attractions.

The best strategy for the "networked" machines

You can have, in most cases, one Disneyland and one DCA networked Fastpass in addition to the above standalone Fastpass. Once you get one networked Fastpass, you are not allowed another "networked" Fastpass within the same park (either DL or DCA) until one of these two events happens:

  • It is later than the beginning time listed on the Fastpass; or
  • Two hours have passed since receiving the Fastpass
Examples:
  • It is early in the day, and you go to get a Splash Mountain Fastpass at 9:15 a.m., the Fastpass issued to you is valid from 10:20 a.m. to 11:20 a.m. In this case, you could get your next "networked" Fastpass in Disneyland at 10:20 a.m., and that would be the time printed on the bottom of the Fastpass
  • But let's say it is a bit later, around 10:30 a.m., when you get a Splash Mountain Fastpass and it is instead good between 2:40 p.m. and 3:40 p.m. In this case, the next networked Disneyland Fastpass would be available to you at 12:30 p.m., two hours after the Fastpass was issued. There is one additional rule in that you would not be allowed to get another Splash Mountain Fastpass, until the window opens at 2:40 pm. At 12:30 you could get a Fastpass for Autopia, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Indiana Jones Adventure, etc.

One of the most important tricks to maximize your "networked" Fastpass usage is to get a new networked Fastpass prior to using the one you already have.  Let's look at an example:

  • You have an Indiana Jones Adventure Fastpass that will become good at 12:35 p.m. At 12:35, you could get a Splash Fastpass (let's say it is good for 2:50 p.m. to 3:50 p.m.) and then go back to ride Indiana Jones Adventure. Then at 2:35 pm (don't forget the two-hour rule), you might pick up a Big Thunder Mountain Railroad Fastpass, before riding Splash Mountain. Continue this throughout the day.

So, at any given time a Fastpass user can theoretically possess one or two Fastpasses for each of the stand-alone Fastpass attractions plus one or two of the networked attractions in each park (depending on return times in relation to the two-hour rule).

Another thing to think about to maximize the number of rides you get into a day are the Single Rider Passes available on Indiana Jones Adventure, Splash Mountain, Radiator Springs RacersGrizzly River Run, Soarin' Over California, California Screamin', and Goofy's Sky School. With the exception of Soarin' Over California and Radiator Springs Racers, use of single-rider lines is generally faster than Fastpass, so if you are willing to use them this will free up the list of attraction for which you will want Fastpasses.

The best strategy for using Fastpass

Rather than thinking of Fastpass as two systems (Disneyland and DCA) think of it as three systems (World of Color, the Disneyland networked system, and the DCA networked system) - four including Fantasmic! as of December 12 - and that you can have one or two from each system at any given time. To make best use of  Fastpasses, do not use a Fastpass from one of the systems (with the exception of World of Color) before attempting to get a new Fastpass from that system.