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Disney is testing a surge pricing fee to jump lines. What does that mean for Disneyland Fast Passes?

SF Gate logo SF Gate 7/11/2021 Julie Tremaine
a group of people walking in a park: Space Mountain in Disneyland Park in Anaheim, Calif. Disneyland Paris' version of the ride is one that will have a paid Fast Pass option. © Courtesy Of Disneyland

Space Mountain in Disneyland Park in Anaheim, Calif. Disneyland Paris' version of the ride is one that will have a paid Fast Pass option.

Disneyland fans have been vocal about annual passes being the single most desired thing that’s missing from the 2021 Disneyland experience, but Fast Passes are a close second. Still, no one knows when they will return to Disneyland. A perk that had been available pre-pandemic that didn’t return when Disneyland reopened in April, Fast Passes allowed park guests to bypass long standby queues for some rides by giving them a return window and access to a shorter line. 

But if the news coming out of Disneyland Paris this week is any indication, the return of Fast Passes at Disneyland could also mean another substantial implementation of added costs to the park experience.

On July 6, Disneyland Paris announced a fee-based Fast Pass system called “Premier Access.” Under this new system, guests will be able to purchase entry to Fast Pass queues individually, per ride. Depending on which ride you’re purchasing Premier Access for, that access could cost between 8 euros and 15 euros per ride depending on how busy the park is that day.

“As part of our ongoing commitment to provide guests with a range of options to optimize trip planning, guests can choose to purchase Disney Premier Access on the Disneyland Paris app when it launches this summer,” said a press release from Disneyland Paris. “This optional digital service allows guests to enjoy the ability to skip the regular queue line for some of our most beloved attractions.” 

It’s a revolutionary — and unusually expensive — new upgrade-based Fast Pass system. If it works, it could mean things are about to get even more costly at Disneyland in Anaheim, too. 

Since Disneyland reopened, the Disney Company has not been shy about its aggressive financial strategy, which has involved charging top-tier prices for limited experiences and implementing unprecedented ways to charge guests money, like a never-before-seen $60 upgrade to the new Spider-Man ride in the recently opened Avengers Campus attraction in Disney California Adventure. It is certainly not outside the realm of possibility that Disneyland in Anaheim would follow its Paris counterpart’s lead and implement a per-ride system.

Before Disneyland closed in March 2020, the park had been offering a MaxPass ticket upgrade. For $20 per ticket per day, people could pre-book their Fast Passes via the Disneyland app, rather than walking to each ride, inserting their park tickets into the Fast Pass machine and getting whatever return time was available at that moment. Even with the upgrade, though, there were limitations on availability and how many passes you could use per day.  

It's possible that Premier Access will solve that problem. Paid upgrades at Disneyland Paris are available on Autopia, Big Thunder Mountain, Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast, Peter Pan's Flight, Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain, Ratatouille: L'Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Guests can only hold one Premier Access pass at a time, but the new system could alleviate the issue of having to choose only a few rides for accelerated access. Theoretically, if you’re willing to pay individually to skip each line, you should be able to do that as many times per day as you want. 

With prices between $9 and $18 per Premier Access pass, you could easily spend hundreds of dollars extra per person per day in the park if you were inclined to upgrade your wait experience. For visitors who are only at Disneyland Paris for one day — admission can reach $140.41 for a single-day Park Hopper ticket — the added cost may be worth it to ride as many rides as possible.

“Disney has faced a difficult year financially due to the pandemic,” Carly Terzigni wrote for the Disney fan blog AllEars.net, “but tacking on fees for a popular service that used to be included in your admission could be a new pain point for many guests.”

With the exception of the MaxPass, Fast Passes have been free since they debuted in 1999. Disneyland Paris is still offering free “Standby Passes,” which will seemingly function like the old Fast Passes — they’re free to use and “can be activated during certain periods of the day, subject to availability and dependent on day-to-day needs in the parks,” according to that same news release from Disneyland Paris. The difference is that the Standby Pass will only be available to use when wait times exceed certain levels for certain rides. There is no way to book them in advance if the pass is not currently being used for that experience.

“We are always looking for ways to improve the guest experience,” said Juliette Bron, vice president of digital and data at Disneyland Paris, in that release. “The return of Standby Pass, the introduction of Disney Premier Access and each new digital enhancement across our parks and hotels is part of our commitment to provide innovative products and services that take into consideration ongoing feedback and not only meet but exceed the expectations of our guests. Guests expect seamless experiences more and more, and with technology’s evolution, we have an opportunity – and a responsibility – to match their expectations.” 

One expectation that has been true of a Disney visit this year: Costs are going up, and even with Disneyland’s recently announced California resident discount ticket, a park day is becoming harder and harder to afford. 

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