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This is how Disney parks’ Fastpass spun completely out of control

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Defunctland’s new video goes deeper on crowd management than you ever thought possible

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the magic kingdom castle at disneyland Photo: James Bareham/Polygon

Since its launch in 2017, Kevin Perjurer’s Defunctland YouTube channel has made in-depth videos detailing the histories of both failed and successful amusement parks and their rides, including Disneyland and Disney World. With extremely thorough narratives, Perjurer asks questions that should interest even those who aren’t theme park enthusiasts: Who crafts the societal vision of fun? Why do fun places exist, and how do they get built? And is it possible for everyone who wants the experience to enjoy themselves at a theme park, even if they’re not rich?

His latest video goes deep on a subject that, for those who don’t pay close attention to the mechanics of Disney parks, might be completely new: FastPass. FastPass, which Disney announced back in August would be retired, is the catchall name for a series of organizational systems Disney has used since 1999 to manage crowds at its parks.

In the 20 years since its development by an executive vice president named Bruce Laval, the FastPass system has grown and mutated to such an extent that it became fundamental part of the Disney park experience, as crucial to park visitors as any meet-and-greet with Mickey or Ariel. The latest installment of Defunctland breaks down how this happened.

FastPass was a “virtual queue” meaning that attendees would arrive at, say, Splash Mountain at 10:00 AM, receive a ticket saying that they are allowed to enter the ride at a later time with virtually no time spent waiting in the Splash Mountain line. This creates two lines for Splash Mountain, or any other ride with a FastPass: the quick moving FastPass line and the slower standby line, where people without a FastPass languish.

The FastPass had a rapid rise among savvy park attendees, who quickly figured out that it allowed for less waiting in line. As Laval told the The New York Times in 2002, “people ended up seeing 25 percent more rides per day and paying the same amount of money.”

It also proved to be a hit among Disney executives, considering that people freed from line-standing now spent more time and money on concessions and souvenirs. So while these guests spent the same amount of money on tickets, they were still spending more. They also began earning the ire of the standby line.

Disney’s California Adventure line
Visitors to Disney California Adventure line up.
Photo by Jeff Gritchen/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images

Perjurer documents this rise, and how FastPass began to merge with a growing online ecosystem, creating MaxPass, FastPass Plus, MagicBands, and an increasing number of headaches for users. In a metaphor showing an appropriate lack of subtlety, FastPass is represented in the video with a monster that terrorizes some park attendees and befriends others.

And then, in part six of the hour and 42 minute-video, Perjurer decides to pay an industrial engineer to create a “complex computer simulation of a theme park” to “compare and contrast wait times, number of rides ridden and other factors with and without a virtual queue system.” Perjurer gives an entertaining and detailed tour of his simulated theme park and who walks through the gates, which includes everyone from rollercoaster enthusiasts to vloggers.

Perjurer, who thanks Laval in the video’s credits, has created an impressive model that shows how FastPass systems, especially ones based online, tend to favor hardcore attendees. He also documents how these systems began to spin out of control, at times creating worse lines than those from the pre-FastPass era.

When Disney “retired” its FastPass system in August, what the company meant was that it was retiring its free FastPass system. Now, the entire system has been overhauled in favor of an app known as Disney Genie Plus, branded with the smiling face of Aladdin’s big blue guy (the Robin Williams version, not Will Smith) that doubles as a trip-planning app. A version of FastPass, now known as Lightning Lane, is available for $15.

How will this new system effect attendees? There are many answers — for some it will be a seamless transition from one system to the next, and others might find themselves balking at the price. But after watching Perjurer’s video, you’ll never look at standing in a line the same way again.