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Introduction to FASTPASSES at the Disneyland Resort
[Disney uses ALL CAPS in its publications and on its web site, but "Fastpasses" will be used for the rest of this article]
For those who are familiar with the FP+ system used at Walt Disney World: [Temporarily] forget what you know.
Although there are similarities, trying to use knowledge of the WDW system can impede your ability to make the best use of Fastpasses at the Disneyland Resort.
There is no charge for Fastpasses beyond the cost of admission to either park. Do not be confused by some travel agencies and ticket resellers that imply that Fastpasses are included with their tickets or travel packages as some sort of "bonus". Every guest, whether using a ticket or Annual Pass, can get Fastpasses after their admissions media have been initialized at Disneyland Park or Disneyland California Adventure Park on a particular day. Children under the age of 3 do not need a ticket to enter either park, so can't get Fastpasses, but that is not a problem, as these children can enter any attraction that accepts Fastpasses with their families.
Your ticket or annual pass is initialized each day as you first use it to gain admission through the turnstiles of either park.
There are two important implications:
How the Fastpass machines actually work
When a guest attempts to get a Fastpass by inserting their ticket into the barcode reader, the machine does two things. First it checks to see if you already have a current Fastpass for the same attraction (that is, a Fastpass with a start time later than the current time). If you don't, it then checks to see if you have a current Fastpass for another attraction on the same network (Fastpass attractions at Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park are completely separate).
The rule on what constitutes a current Fastpass at another attraction is more complex and is important to getting full use out of the system. The way it works is that once you have a Fastpass for Attraction A, you will not be able to get a Fastpass at Attraction B until either starting time of the Attraction A Fastpass has passed or about 2 hours has passed since the Attraction A Fastpass was issued. The easiest way to check this is to look at the bottom of the first Fastpass where it will state "Another Fastpass will be available at XX:XX."
The minimum possible return time of any ride Fastpass is approximately 40 minutes from when it was issued. The return window for any ride Fastpass is always one hour in length and starts with the minutes at a five-minute increment (#:#0 or #:#5).
You cannot obtain a Fastpass from any machine (except for World of Color) prior to regular park opening, that is, during Magic Mornings / Extra Magic Hours.
Issues that affect Fastpass strategy
There are two networks: one for Disneyland Park and the second for Disney California Adventure Park. They are totally separate, so you can always get one at least one Fastpass for each park. Let's look at the Fastpass attractions in each park:
Disneyland Park (DLP)
Disney California Adventure Park (DCAP)
Not every Fastpass attraction in a park is actually connected to the larger Fastpass network for that park. Currently there are two "disconnected" / "independent" Fastpass machines that operate on a standalone basis:
Radiator Springs Racers Fastpasses are distributed next to It's Tough to Be a Bug. The Star Tours Fastpass machines are located across the pathway next to Buzz Lightyear Astroblasters - machines for both attractions are in the same place. The World of Color Fastpasses are distributed at Grizzly River Run^. The machines are split, some for GRR and others for World of Color, until WoC Fastpasses are fully distributed. ^This is not guaranteed always to be the case, but on some days, a cast member on Buena Vista Street hands out WoC Fastpasses before DCAP officially opens.
*Some Fastpass attractions don't offer Fastpasses year-round, but only on weekends, and weekdays during peak and holiday periods. The attractions listed with an "*" above do not offer Fastpass during the slower weekdays. The Times Guide handed out at the turnstiles when you enter the park does list which attractions will be offering Fastpasses on that day. It has been wrong, though, so it is recommended you check the status at the actual attraction.
Note: Fastpass machines are turned off when an attraction experiences a temporary closure and are turned back on when the attraction returns to normal operation. If you are unable to use a Fastpass during the printed return window because a ride is temporarily out of operation, you will be allowed to use it later in the day after the ride reopens.
Fastpass attraction strategy
The best strategy for the "disconnected" / "independent" machines
The two independent machines are nice and simple. You can get one Fastpass without affecting any other Fastpasses you might want.
So what can you have, before you've even used one of the "networked" machines? Currently, you can have one World of Color Fastpass and one Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters Fastpass.
The best strategy for the "connected" / "networked" machines
You can have, in most cases, one DLP and one DCAP networked Fastpass in addition to the above "disconnected" Fastpasses. Once you get one networked Fastpass, you are not allowed another "networked" Fastpass within the same park (either DLP or DCAP) until one of these two events happens:
One of the most important tricks to maximize your "networked" Fastpass usage is to get a new networked Fastpass prior to using the one you already have. Let's look at an example:
So, at any given time a Fastpass user can theoretically possess Fastpasses for each of the stand-alone Fastpass attractions plus one or two of the networked attractions in each park (depending on return times in relation to the two-hour rule).
Another way to maximize the number of rides you enjoy in one day is to use the Single Rider queues for Indiana Jones Adventure, Splash Mountain, Grizzly River Run, California Screamin', and Goofy's Sky School. With the exception of Radiator Springs Racers, Single Rider lines generally move faster than Fastpass lines, so if you are willing to use SR lines, there will be fewer attractions for which you will want to obtain Fastpasses. Single rider passes are not always offered due to a multitude of reasons, so ask a Cast Member at the ride's entrance toverify the current status.
The best strategy for using Fastpasses
Rather than thinking of Fastpass as two systems (DLP and DCAP) think of it as four systems (Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, World of Color, the DLP networked system, and the DCAP networked system) and that you can have one [or possbily two for the ride Fastpasses] Fastpass from each system at any given time. To make best use of Fastpasses, do not use a Fastpass from the DLP or DCAP systems before attempting to get a new Fastpass from that system.