Maximizing Fast Pass at Disneyland (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Lines)

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My friend Mike is a Disney and travel expert and has written extensive Disney content here at The Coupon Project. I recently reached out to him to see if he would discuss strategies for using Fast Passes. As we know, in Disney – time IS money! With that, here’s Mike:


It’s not the first question, or the most common question I get about going to Disneyland, but it’s definitely seems to always be the last question. When I help my clients (and friends) plan their trip to Disneyland, I ask if they’d like to talk about touring and Fast Pass. Most people shrug it off in that moment and probably say to themselves, “That’s Future Me’s problem!” Well you’re leaving for Disneyland next week and “Future Me” is now you!

Some folks have heard about Fast Pass, and even fewer have heard of the next generation Max Pass (like if Fast Pass had a kid who is now 16 and quietly scoffs when you ask how to do something on Facebook). No matter where you are with your Fast Pass knowledge, there’s a surge of understated panic when you consider the crowds and lines you are about to face. Even if you’ve used Fast Pass in the past, there’s trick to the trade that can help you tour like you’re a So Cal local and zip past the crowds and lines.

What is Fast Pass?

As the Mad Hatter says, let’s start at the beginning. Here’s an example. You walk up to Space Mountain at 11AM and you see the wait time is already over 180 minutes. Ouch! But you love Space Mountain (because you have a functioning soul). You could wait in line or come back later. You have the distinct feeling that the line won’t go down until the end of the night (when you want to be watching fireworks). Sigh.

But then suddenly you see a row of kiosks that say “Fast Pass” right next to the entrance. It also clearly says “Fast Pass Return Time” and displays 210PM to 310PM. You walk calmly over, as to not signal others to this fortuitous find, and you scan your park ticket at one of the kiosks. A new ticket is printed out with the Space Mountain logo. It repeats the time you are to return between 2 and 3 and also says when you can get a new Fast Pass. In this case, it says 1PM.

You go leave Space Mountain with a spring in your step. You ride Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin, you grab some corn dogs from the Little Red Wagon, you ride the Matterhorn Mountain, you get off the Matterhorn and wish you had flipped the order of the last two things (milk was a bad choice), you sit and watch the Disneyland Band and compose yourself.

Best Corn Dogs Ever

Now it’s just about 210PM. You head back to Space Mountain and see the line is now over a 240 minute wait for the standard line. But you see the Fast Pass entrance, you walk over, hand them your park tickets, they scan it to verify your Fast Pass, and you walk right by everyone. You spend maybe 10 minutes in line before you are zipped around Space Mountain.

That is essentially Fast Pass. The ability to get into a shorter line, by delaying when you come to the attraction. You can pick up a new Fast Pass every 2 hours or when your last Fast Pass begins (whichever is shorter). There’s a limited amount of Fast Pass given for each ride in a day. The return time will continue to go later and later until it reaches the time when the park closes. That is when Fast Pass has run out for that ride for the day.

And what is Max Pass?

Max Pass is the same exact thing with a couple big differences. First, you can make your Fast Pass reservations from the Disneyland app on your phone or tablet. This means that you don’t have to walk over to Space Mountain to grab a Fast Pass. You can be on the other end of the park enjoying a Monte Cristo and a Mint Julep while getting your Space Mountain Fast Pass.

How Max Pass looks on your phone

The other notable difference is that it is not complimentary. Currently, the price is $15 per person, per day. You can do this for your entire length of stay or you can purchase it through the app for that given day when you enter through the gates. To help offset the cost, Max Pass offers one other perk. It gives you any pictures taken by Disney as a complimentary digital download.

How to Get The Most Out of Fast Pass

Make sure to grab the most popular rides first. In Disneyland, you want to be thinking about Space Mountain, and Indiana Jones. On really hot days, you might also think about Splash Mountain. Over at Disney California Adventure (DCA), Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout and Radiator Springs Racers are still the first to run out. But again, on hot days, try to plan for when you’d most like to ride Grizzly River Run.

Try not to walk across the park if you’re using Classic Fast Pass. If you’re in Adventureland, don’t walk to the far side of Tomorrowland just to grab a Fast Pass, only to walk all the way back to continue to enjoy attractions where you started. Often the walk time will reduce the effectiveness of Fast Pass. Try to think local (I believe this is the origin of the catchphrase, please don’t correct me). If you’re going to be waiting for Jungle Cruise, grab a Fast Pass for Indiana Jones. If you’re going to stop at Bengal BBQ for a bite, grab a Big Thunder Mountain Fast Pass (and a Bacon wrapped Asparagus skewer, they’re delicious).

Often people are not considering grabbing a Fast Pass on their way to a meal or out of the park, so that when they are ready to hit rides again, they are locked and loaded. Free Apps like “Lines” by Touring Plans not only give you the attraction wait time, but also say what the current Fast Pass return time is. If you’re leaving the park for some much needed swim time, you can see what ride is offering Fast Pass for the late afternoon/early evening when you return.

If you’re using classic Fast Pass, have a runner. This ends up usually being me. Let’s say we are on our way first thing in the morning to Fantasyland to get on Peter Pan before the line gets huge. I will split off, grab our first Fast Pass (probably Space Mountain or Star Tours) and meet everyone as they are getting in line for Peter Pan. If we went as a group, we would probably spend an extra 10 minutes when time is at a premium. And when my kids were really young, walking up to a ride and not getting in line would make their minds explode. There’s lot of rides that don’t have Fast Pass that command long lines due to the low ride capacity.

Checking out the view in Finding Nemo Submarines

Dumbo, Finding Nemo Submarines, Storybook Land Canal Boats. These are prime attractions to make sure you’re setting up a Fast Pass for nearby attractions before you begin waiting. A runner will let everyone start heading toward the next attraction while not adding any extra wait time for making the Fast Pass detour.

You can only check in for a Fast Pass about 5 minutes early. There’s also a 15 minute grace period after your window as well. But if you’re running especially late for a Fast Pass (maybe a nap goes an extra hour long), go to the entrance of the Fast Pass line and ask the Cast Member if you can still use your pass. Explain the situation and they can possibly make an exception and still let you use your Fast Pass. But be nice if they need to say no and understand this is an exception that they can’t always make. It never hurts to ask though.

Shows like World Of Color and Fantasmic use Fast Pass to assign viewing sections. You can grab this type of Fast Pass even if you have another reservation currently. They also don’t change when your next Fast Pass reservation window will be.

Not a new tip for travel in general, but with Max Pass being so popular with guests, it is a good idea to bring a back up battery for your phone or tablet. If your device dies, there goes Max Pass.

Don’t fear the crowds!Make sure you’re getting the maximum amount of Fast Pass by setting an alarm on your phone. Often you get so busy having fun that you may forget you’re able to grab a new Fast Pass. This is especially helpful with Max Pass. As soon as you make your Fast Pass reservations, note the time given for your next Fast Pass. Then set an alarm on your phone for that time plus one minute. That way you can jump back on your phone when you hear the alarm and grab your next Fast Pass.

Make sure to use Child Swap and Fast Pass together. This is perfect if you have young children that aren’t quite thrill ride ready. When you get in line, let the initial Cast Member know you’d like to use Child Swap. They’ll give you a little voucher and all but one adult and the child in question will stay behind. When the first group gets off, the adult who stayed behind hands off the child to another qualified adult and uses the voucher to get through the line. But here’s the fun part, the adult who waited gets to bring up to 3 people with them on the ride as well. Meaning some people can go twice!

Certain rides have Fast Pass changed depending on the season. During the Halloween/Christmas time, Haunted Mansion turns into Haunted Mansion holiday and the line can be very long. Consider prioritizing that Fast Pass. And also during Halloween, Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout has an evening edition, Monsters After Dark. Make sure to know when this switches over to grab the Fast Pass for the version you want to ride.

That’s it for now. Hope this helps with your next Disney vacation. What are your best Fast Pass tips?


For more tips on saving money in Disneyland, please see our Disney page.

Mike Rinehart is an independent travel agent affiliated with MEI & Mouse Fan Travel. Follow him on Facebook at Or request your free no obligation quote on your next Disneyland, Disney World, Aulani, Disney Cruise (and any other cruise line) vacation by emailing him at [email protected]. Mention “The Coupon Project” and receive a free gift with your completed booking.