Recently, the online Disney community has been aflutter with rumors that XPass may be introduced at the Walt Disney Parks as early as 2012 (see Kevin Yee’s excellent article here). No, it’s not part of the new Fantasyland Expansion, but it may be as big a story. What exactly is it, and why should you care?
XPass is a next generation technology; a sort of enhanced Fastpass system that guests would pay for, and would allow them to plan out their entire Walt Disney World vacation; from what rides and attractions they want to experience, to character greetings, weeks or months before they even set foot in a Disney park. Once they arrive and get to a park, the guest would then just follow the specific plan they created, show up to an attraction, waive the XPass and bypass the other guests waiting on line. Guests utilizing the system would also be given special seating/viewing areas for parades, fireworks, and nighttime entertainment such as “Fantasmic.”
A project that is near and dear to Disney CEO Bob Iger’s heart, the idea gained more attention earlier this year when Chairman of the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Tom Staggs, commented that the company was working on a version of Fastpass for a guest’s entire Disney vacation. To further muddy the waters a little, Jim Hill Media has reported that XPass would not be available for purchase by all guests; instead, only those guests who book a deluxe resort would be afforded the opportunity to partake.
Assuming this project is real, and these rumors are true (and I should stress again that all of this is just a rumor at this point, and nothing has been officially announced) I think it raises a number of concerns. First, since XPass guests would presumably be using the Fastpass entrance at attractions, in order to keep the flow of traffic moving, it’s reasonable to assume that Disney will reduce the total number of Fastpasses available to other guests on any given day. I also have concerns about how Disney will handle guests using XPass at attractions or experiences that don’t normally have them, such as at character greetings. Will guests be split into two separate lines? Will “normal” guests have to wait longer each time a guest with the pass decides they want to meet Mickey? And exactly how does Disney intend to respond to the backlash that is certain to occur from guests who don’t have XPass or are not familiar with it, and don’t like the idea of people “cutting” in front of them? After all, more than 10 years after its introduction, there are still people who don’t understand the Fastpass system, and get upset when people walk by them and directly onto attractions.
Second, I don’t like the idea of a caste system at Disney(or any theme park for that matter). It’s bad enough that people who are willing to spend more money would get to seemingly have an easier, more enjoyable vacation, but to limit the purchase of the XPass only to those guests staying in Deluxe resorts isn’t fair at all. Whether intentional or not, it sends the message that by staying in a deluxe resort, you are somehow better than everyone else, which simply isn’t true. I have talked to many clients who could easily afford to stay in a deluxe resort, but for a variety of reasons, do not – they tour all day and aren’t at the resort enough to enjoy it; they have young children who enjoy the theme of the value resorts better, or they like the fact that staying at a value gives them the option to stay for a longer period of time than staying at a deluxe would. And what about guests who choose for one reason or another to stay off-site? What about locals who have no reason to stay on or off property? If people’s money isn’t good just because they choose not to stay in a deluxe resort, maybe they start spending that money elsewhere.
Lastly, this just isn’t the Disney way. To be fair, this whole idea isn’t new; a certain other park just up the road from Walt Disney World where a famous boy wizard hangs out has (and has had for years) a similar system in place for on-site hotel guests and those willing to fork over extra cash on top of the base ticket price for the chance to bypass the lines at many of the popular attractions. And our friend Jim Hill, of the aforementioned Jim Hill Media, would remind me that if I said such a thing to Disney’s board members, I would be quickly told “Well, maybe that wasn’t Walt’s way, but Walt’s not around anymore, and this is how we do things now.” But when Disneyland first opened, it opened with the idea that it was a place where all families could go and have a good time together. Believe it or not, in its early days, there was even the idea in place that a guest should leave with money in their pocket at the end of the day because it would build brand loyalty. Clearly we aren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto.
That doesn’t change the fact that Disney ISN’T that park with the boy wizard, and the Disney parks are STILL a place meant for families of any shape and size to go and have a good time. The minute Disney starts putting in place systems that reward people with specialized attraction access, priority character meet and greets, and VIP viewing spots for parades and fireworks if they spend more money, they lose that. The minute guests are essentially categorized based on where they choose to put down their head at night, they risk isolating a segment of those same guests. Where Disney has always excelled is in the fact that they were different; there is no place you can go that is quite like Walt Disney World -not even Disneyland. What has always made it special for me is that no matter how many times I visit the parks, I can always find the magic somewhere, and all around me, I can see guests finding that same magic. I’d hate to see a system put in place where the level of magic you can find is dictated by your credit limit. Say it ain’t so, Disney. Say it ain’t so.
Thanks to Bob for his thoughts on this issue. What do you think?