How to Make the Most of Disneyland's Fastpass Line System

Lose Some Wait

Disneyland Disney World Fastpass photo
Arthur Levine
  • What: Fastpass virtual line program eliminates waiting in long lines for popular rides.
  • Cost: Free (included with regular admission)
  • Where: Disneyland Resort 

Note that in 2014, Walt Disney World introduced FastPass+, a major overhaul of the original FastPass system that uses "NextGen" technology and allow guests to make ride reservations in advance of their visits as well as take advantage of all kinds of other cool features. Learn more:

    Disneyland is still using the original Fastpass system, which is described below.

    A ride on the Mad Tea Party tea cups is an archetypal Disney theme park experience. But the 90-or-so seconds of pure joy is frequently preceded by another archetypal Disney theme park experience: the dreaded 45-or-so minutes spent standing in line.

    It is an absurd irony that we toil away all year at our oppressive jobs, scrimp and save for a big vacation, and fly halfway across the that we can inch along in the hot sun for hours while we listen to our kids whine. But we love theme parks, and lines are a necessary theme park evil, right? Well, not necessarily.

    Fastpass, available for selected attractions at the two Disneyland Resort parks in California, eliminates lines. There are some caveats, however. The most important: Guests can only have one Fastpass at a time unless two hours have lapsed since picking up a Fastpass ticket. That means you'll still have to wait in some of the old rat-maze queues, now called "standby" lines.

    Disney Takes a Pass at Lines

    "It's our number-one guest complaint," says Dale Stafford, VP of Planning and Development for Walt Disney Attractions, referring to lines. Rubbing elbows with tens of thousands of people, most of whom are vying for a seat on Space Mountain, it's no wonder guests get cranky.

    Instead of watching those cheesy projected asteroids fly overhead ad nauseam, Disney's Fastpass allows guests to wander freely around Tomorrowland before blasting off into hyperspace. Depending on the time of day, the number of people in the park, and the popularity of the attractions, Fastpass return times can vary considerably. On very crowded days, the waits can quickly jump to three or four hours -- or the passes can run out completely.

    With Fastpass ticket holders cutting to the heads of the lines, one would assume the standby queues would be hopelessly longer. But Stafford, one of the developers of Disney's virtual line system, claims the opposite is true. "Through a self-selection process, Fastpass has reduced most standby lines," he says. "At peak times, our research shows the lines aren't any longer than before Fastpass."

    That's the company's take on it anyway. I'm still not convinced. Regardless, if you visit a Disneyland park, you really should learn how to use the Fastpass system and use it to its full potential.

    How Fastpass Works

    1. Once you've decided to use the Fastpass system for an attraction, go to the bank of Fastpass machines near that attraction's entrance. Insert your admission ticket, and the machine will spit out a Fastpass ticket indicating the time you need to return.
    2. You have a one-hour window. For example, the Fastpass may read "Please return anytime between 1:10 p.m. and 2:10 p.m." Go enjoy other things in the park. Return to the Fastpass line at the attraction during the designated time.
    3. A cast member (Disneyspeak for employee) will check your Fastpass before allowing you into the line. DON'T DISCARD YOUR FASTPASS TICKET! At many of the attractions, a second cast member will re-check your Fastpass before letting you board the ride. (This prevents scofflaws from sneaking from the standby line into the Fastpass line.)
    1. You can't get another Fastpass for any attraction until it's time for you to return for the first attraction OR two hours have passed since you obtained the first Fastpass (whichever comes first).

    Fastpass Tips

    • The most important tip is a general one: Plan ahead and get to the parks early -- particularly during holidays and other peak periods. You'll be able to get Fastpasses with quick return times for the most popular attractions right away, and you'll probably be able to walk onto some attractions as well. Later in the day, when the Fastpasses are gone and the lines have swelled up to two hours, go hang out by your hotel pool with a frozen drink.
    • To save time and energy, give the quickest one or two members of your touring group all of your admission passes and have them get the Fastpasses. You can order their meals or start some other activity while they're traveling back and forth across the park.
    • Look at the posted standby line time. If it's just a few minutes, it's probably not worth wasting a Fastpass. Just wait in the regular line and use Fastpass later for a more crowded attraction. On particularly slow days, you may only need to use Fastpass once or twice, if at all.
    • Look at the posted Fastpass return time. There are signs at the entrance of all Fastpass-enabled attractions that indicate the current return times. If it's much later in the day, and you're planning to go somewhere else, you may want to skip the Fastpass. Remember, you can't get another Fastpass until it's time for you to return for the first attraction (or two hours have lapsed).
    • Ask cast members if any Fastpass machines are distributing "Surprise" Fastpasses. These bonus tickets, given at the same time as a regular Fastpass, will allow you to skip the line for a second attraction.
    • Look at the posted Fastpass return time and the standby line time. If it looks close, you may be able to get a Fastpass, wait in the standby line, then get back in the Fastpass line for an immediate re-ride.
    • Once you get a Fastpass for later in the day, try not to plan an itinerary that will have you crisscrossing the park. The time you save from Fastpass may be wasted walking all over the park.