Sunday, January 06, 2019

A Tale of Two MaxPasses

I haven't posted to this blogger version of my site in four+ years - most of that time I was active at, which I finally stopped paying for due to lack of time to keep it properly updated.

That said, every so often I want to jot down ideas that are too big/long for social media, and I kind of like the permanence of a google-able record. So I dusted off this blogger platform. I guess I'll use this every so often now - but it's not my plan to return to frequent posting. Just occasional :)

Today I tackle MaxPass at Disneyland, from which I just returned after almost a week's worth of visits. If you don't know, MaxPass is $10/person for the right to make FastPass reservations from your phone, rather than walking to the attraction and getting the same (free) FastPass on paper. It also comes with free PhotoPass photos for the day. Note that MaxPass and FastPass could be used on the same day, because the reservation is really just a digital artifact attached to your park admission ticket (meaning you can't "get both" and have them overlap; it's all one system).

EDIT: this post was written on 1/6... the same day Disneyland increased MaxPass prices to $15 per person. I just found out about the price increase.

I was initially very skeptical. I know Disneyland well enough to navigate it without conscious thought (not an exaggeration) so how much benefit can the phone version bring? Turns out, enough.

We were a family of four, so this is $40/day worth of commitment. We used it on our first day at Disneyland, which, because of our multiday passes, also had ONE day of early entry. We were there right at 7am (operating day was 8am-midnight), and attacked the park. It was a mixture of standby and MaxPass, of course. For those curious, here were our results:

  1. Peter Pan
  2. Alice
  3. Matterhorn TL
  4. Nemo Subs 
  5. Haunted Mansion Holiday
  6. Pirates
  7. Space Mountain (MaxPass)
  8. Big Thunder 
  9. Jungle Cruise
  10. Winnie the Pooh 
  11. Casey Jr 
  12. Pinocchio’s Daring Journey
  13. Indy (MaxPass)
  14. Indy (re-ride due to ride breakage)
  15. Roger Rabbit (MaxPass)
  16. Small World Holiday (MaxPass)
  17. Matterhorn FL
  18. Haunted Mansion Holiday (MaxPass)
  19. Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters (MaxPass)
  20. Minnie’s house. Chip-dale treehouse. Main Street cinema. 
Mind you, all this was done by 6pm - 11 hours in the park. We had a further six hours of operating park time available to us, but elected to end early due to travel fatigue and jet lag. We could have broken 30 rides... on December 26!! (I guess I didn't mention yet that this was during the busiest week of the year at Disneyland).

If you study our list, you'll see some patterns. Much of the MaxPass riding came late in the afternoon. The reason is that the return times increasingly push out into the evening, but you can stack up holding multiples ones (just not the same attraction over and over) until your time comes. You need only wait 90 minutes from the booking.

And that is a major benefit as far as I can see - 90 minutes is faster than the normal 120 minutes you have to wait if you didn't purchase MaxPass, and just scanned your ticket for the free FastPass. The MaxPass option gives you an earlier window.

The other thing I underestimated is how much time you save by instantly creating the next reservation at the 90 minute point. You may be standing in a 35-minute Matterhorn line, but with the phone you can grab that next reservation right away, instead of waiting to ride, then walking over to get the reservation. Those stray 30 minute bits add up big time!

And then there's the free PhotoPass, though we managed to not take the requisite Castle shot by some miracle of oversight. For those who care, though, this is also worth the money (side note: if all you care about is PhotoPass and not the early reservations, just have ONE person in your party pay the $10 upgrade).

Upshot: Disneyland benefited greatly from MaxPass. I went into it thinking we were spending money for something we get for free at WDW, but they aren't the same. There's the time window advantage and there's the PhotoPass benefit, but the overall USAGE of reservations is different in Anaheim. True, in Orlando, you get to make selections ahead of time - one month in the case of us annual passholders. But it's hard to get the BEST rides that way in Orlando (especially for those of us not staying at a Disney hotel), but the Anaheim version is more egalitarian. You start the day with NO ONE having reservations, so you can get what you want. If you start early enough and plan cleverly enough, you can get all of what you want, perhaps even multiple times. As you see above, we scored six reservations on one of the busiest days of the year--something you'd have trouble doing in Orlando even in the off-season, and it wouldn't be the top-tier attractions (those are sold out months early).

Enthused, we bought MaxPass the second day, in DCA. That turned out to be a mistake. Malfunctions on Radiator Springs Racers conspired against our carefully laid plans, and we stuck it out in the Standby line when we should have aborted (and, as we learned later, just use the single rider line). As a result, our first two reservations expired without being used, and I learned that the attractions computers have no way of knowing I had those reservations, and the CMs are rightfully worried I might just be making it up. (For those curious, the problems came from not assuming the worst once Racers broke. We stayed in the standby line as the announced wait time ticked up... and up... and up, and ultimately spent 3+ hours in here and missed our reservations - we were hoping we could come late and just explain, but we didn't know their computers would keep no records. Also, we had a smaller-than-usual list of rides we cared about since much we'd seen before or had in Orlando, so we stuck it out in this line longer than we would have in Disneyland).

Guest Relations helped, sort of, with two "make up" reservations not part of our paid plan (but not Racers, one of the ones which had expired). The GR Cast Member shared, somewhat conspiratorially, that the free legacy paper FastPasses were probably the way to go in DCA, and we agreed.

So: skip MaxPass at DCA, but use it to great effect at Disneyland. Start as early as you can for maximum benefit. And plan very carefully which rides you'll do in the morning rush ("morning advantage"), which you'll do in the peak of the day, and which you'll do in the late evening, especially once Fantasmic and the fireworks start and lines start to slow. If you aren't doing MaxPass every day, delay shows and fireworks for a different day.

Kevin Yee
Author of "Walt Disney World Hidden History" and other independent Disney books.
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