The Ruckus over Disney’s MyMagic+

The Disney fan blogosphere has been in a ruckus over the company’s new MyMagic+ program, being implemented now in Florida’s Walt Disney World. Specifically, long-time fans are irked by the new FastPass+ system.

For you non-Disney-elite, some background is in order. And trust me, you’ll find it interesting.

Years ago, Disney introduced a system called FastPass. For their more popular attractions, you could go up and get a “return time” ticket, rather than waiting in the normal queue. At the designated time, which was always a 1-hour window, you could come back and use a shorter queue, getting on without waiting as long. The system only let you have one ticket at a time: you couldn’t get a new one until the window started on your existing one. That limited the number you could have each day.

People, of course, gamed the system. They knew Disney’s trained-to-never-say-no cast members would let them come back long after their window had expired, and so they’d gather up multiple tickets and then storm the rides. Folks would also work out fairly elaborate plans based on known ride wait times and so forth, flitting from ride to ride and scoring FastPasses as often as possible.

Disney Parks, at least Walt Disney World, is in the process of turning off that old system and replacing it with FastPass+. You use their Web site, in-park kiosks, or a smart phone app to get your FastPasses now, and they’re connected to an RFID-enabled wrist band that is also your park entry ticket. You tap in at each attraction entrance, and if it’s in your return time window, you get on.

Let’s acknowledge something up front: Any system like this will increase the wait time for the “normal” queue, because you’re letting folks in “head of the line.” The idea, from Disney’s perspective, is to help better accommodate people who are on a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and who don’t know all the elaborate schemes that can be used to game the system.

Let’s also acknowledge that the current system has been in place for over a decade, and plenty of regular park-goers do know how to work the system, and they’re not going to like that being taken away.

Under the new system, you get to pick – as far as six months before your visit – which attractions you want passes for. There’s a limit, often “choose 1 from Group A and 2 from Group B” kind of thing, with Group B being high-capacity, low-demand attractions like shows. The intent is to let a family do that must-do attraction, on their once-in-a-lifetime trip, with little wait; they’ll have to use the regular queues for everything else. There’s no intent to make every line move faster for everyone. That’s physically impossible, as the attractions have a fixed maximum number of people per hour they can move (called the Theoretical Hourly Capacity, or THC, and no, I’m not kidding, it’s a statistic).

Now you don’t have to reserve your passes 6 months out; Disney says a certain number of slots are released at intervals, and some are saved for day-of.

Now for the gripes, and this is where it gets educational.

When I had to schedule three experiences a day I found myself really disliking the thought of sticking to a schedule to the detriment of experiencing other attractions or just the park itself.

Well, you don’t have to schedule anything out in advance, and you certainly don’t have to stick to a schedule. You could just experience the park. And if you’re an annual pass holder, you by definition don’t have any “must-do-on-my-once-in-a-lifetime-trip” attractions, so you can use the normal queue.

If I’d spent $3,000-$6,000 for a week for my family of four and we were relegated to planning at this level, I know that we would have missed a lot more than a typical vacation. Especially with the limited Fast Passes and the longer queues for the D- and C-ticket attractions.

That’s nonsense. It’s appalling to think you’d spend what is, for you, a lot of money on a vacation and not do some advance planning, especially when Walt Disney World is known for being an overwhelming, planning-is-mandatory vacation. Especially for first-timers. The fact that the FastPasses are more limited shouldn’t in any way change your planning process. The fact that some attractions have longer queues than others has always been true. That’s not changed. The Magic Kingdom alone will get 40,000-50,000 people on a somewhat busy day. There’re gonna be lines.

It seemed obvious that the waits for standby were longer than should have been, Both Pirates and Mansion were over a half hour with barely anyone using the FP+ entrance.

Well, now you’re just being contradictory. If the FastPass+ entrance was barely being used, then you were seeing normal park traffic in those queues. They weren’t “longer than they should have been,” they were exactly as long as they should d have been, without any artificial skipping-to-the-front offered by FastPass+.

Honestly, there didn’t seem to be a good reason to use My Magic + unless you wanted to reserve experiences well before your trip. If you’re family had one attraction that was a must do, then you could do it. But, if you’ve got seven to eight attractions (like at the Magic Kingdom) that are must dos, then you are going to miss some things or spend more time in queues.

Yeah. That’s the point. If you don’t have a must-do, you don’t need the system. And if you have seven or eight must-dos, well, that’s nearly ever damn major attraction in the park. You’re going to have to wait in some lines, just like people have been doing since 1971. This is not new, and the old FastPass system didn’t significantly change that.

In my case I found myself watching the clock more than enjoying the parks because I was afraid of missing an experience.

Oh, please. It’s called “set an alarm on your smartphone” for pity’s sake. People act like they’ve never made a reservation for something – dinner, lunch, show (which only run at scheduled times), etc. Don’t be a drama queen.

Another issue was that I needed to use the Disney World app all the time to keep up with my reservations. Of course, that killed my battery and had me messing with my phone more than enjoying the parks.

Right, because there’s no other technology that could have let you write down a couple of return times. Like a pencil. Or an alarm on your smartphone, which you apparently have. You are what we call willfully ignorant. 


So, what’s the lesson in all this?

People hate change, especially when you’re changing something that was advantageous to them, even if it wasn’t advantageous to a large portion of your clientele. It also means you need to be a bit careful with how seriously you treat customer feedback. Your biggest fans will often be your biggest detractors, too, and it can be tough to balance that against the needs of the less-vocal majority. That’s a problem, for example, our US political parties do not do well with: they tend to go for the squeaky wheel, even if that only comprises a fraction of the audience.

You also need to be a bit careful about your customers’ biases. “If I asked my customers what they wanted,” Henry Ford said, “they’d have asked for faster horses.” In other words, sometimes you have to trust your own judgement on what’s best for you as a company. Sometimes, that may mean letting customers go, when they don’t fit what your company needs to do to grow and flourish.

It also means that when you are a customer, you should try and watch for yourself doing these same things. Try to recognize the bigger picture – not just “how does this affect me?” but “what’s the overall affect on the entire population, even if perhaps it isn’t entirely beneficial to me?” Complain about things that are wrong, but understand that you’re not the only one in existence, and sometimes organizations have to try and strike a middle ground, or perhaps focus on an audience that has markedly different needs than your own. It doesn’t make anyone “wrong” or “right,” it just means different parties have different priorities.

Microsoft’s taken no amount of bitching over the Start menu / Start screen “debacle.” They backed down a bit in Windows 8.1, providing a button to get to the Start screen, and changing its presentation to make it less dramatic of a switchover. But so far they’ve held the line on the Start screen; it remains to be seen if they’ll continue to walk that line or not. But the company did what it did because it believed it was the right thing to do for the company. Personally, I think they overstepped – and that’s why were seeing some backing down. But I admire them for taking the step, at least.

There’s a final lesson: The customer, contrary to popular belief, isn’t always right. They just get an unnatural amount of slack. 

Give that slack to your own customers… but recognize when they’re not always right. When you can, try to explain your goals – even if you only do so to help them understand that your goals are not necessarily their goals. Don’t be afraid of saying, “you’re not our target customer, so we’re not going to match up 100% with what you need.” You can’t please all the people all the time, right? Just be honest about not wanting to please everyone, and politely let someone know when they’ve stepped beyond what you’re able to do for them.