keys to the kingdom : fast passes + rider swap 101

Pssst: Be sure to check out all of our updated tips, here.Hey guys! It’s time for our next installment in our Keys to the Kingdom Series, here at The Handmade Home!

If you missed our introduction, or would like to read all about the deats of  where to stay, + food for thought, feel free to click on over and read all about it. This series is three moms’ takes on their vacationing experiences with Walt Disney World, and while we realize that novel upon novel upon novel could be written on this subject matter, our series is meant to serve as a nice, basic overview introduction for those of us who may be first timers, and wish to familiarize themselves with the basics, all while balancing the whole young family gig. So feel free to poke around, and check it out!

We hope you can find something useful here. 

Today, we wanted to break it down, post by post, and cover the idea of Fast Passes and Rider Swap in Walt Disney World. In our experiences of discussing Disney Vacations with friends and family, we’ve realized that one of the biggest things people have missed out on, is this concept. A valuable, learned art, and once you’ve figured it out, it’s not hard to master. It just takes a little planning and thinking ahead. We all know just thinking through the logistics of getting to WDW alone, can be a bit of a challenge for the overwhelmed, vacationing parent, but it really can make your experience well worth it, when you have a young family in tow. Today, Jillina is here to discuss this special art with all of us. So, without further ado, take it away, oh wise master of skipping lines!

Fast Passes + Rider Swap

What is it, and how does it work?

The best tip for beating the lines in Walt Disney World, is to utilize the Fast Pass system. Originally introduced to the parks in 1999 per Disney’s Animal kingdom, it was a real hit, and took off from there, when all the guests breathed one huge sigh of relief, and began requesting them everywhere.

The most popular rides at each park have a fast pass station. For instance, let’s use Thunder Mountain Railroad as an example.

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At the entrance to TMR there is a cast member standing between two paths. One says ‘Fast Pass’ at the top, along with a clock listing the current time, and the other says ‘Entrance’ along with the wait time. If you have no pass, you enter the main entrance and wait in line. If you have a Fast Pass, you hand your Fast Pass to the cast member and go up the Fast Pass lane, which takes you almost all the way to the front of the line. No waiting for you! You walk to the end where another cast member ushers you in front of the other line. It’s kind of a game changer in the world of small, restless, anxious children, and parents who feel the urge to pull their hair out at all the crowds.

So, to maximize Fast Passes, you should always get a fast pass. Never wait in line for a ride that has a fast pass option unless its under 20 minutes.

To get a fast pass, go to the ride. Usually a few feet from the entrances is a huge covered area that says ‘Fast Pass Distribution’ at the top, along with the time the fast pass can be used. There is a cast member hanging out in that area to help, should any problems arise. Depending on the ride will depend how many machines are at the station. You simply go over and put your park ticket into the machine, and out pops a piece of paper that says fast pass, along with the time your fast pass is valid. You need a fast pass for each person who has a park ticket to ride.

Each ride only gives out so many fast passes for each hour block, and once they are out of fast passes, the machines are covered with huge covers. So there is no mistaking when the fast pass option is gone.

If you’re super serious about it, when you first get into the park, you want to assign one adult to be in charge of the park tickets and fast passes. That person should get the first round of fast passes as the other parks the stroller(s).

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So let’s say you go to Fantasyland first, and it’s 9:00 am.

One person could park the stroller and unload everyone, while the second grabs fast passes for Winnie the Pooh. Since the park just opened the fast passes
would probably be for the first hour of 9:00-10:00.

So, hop on Peter Pan and ride it a few times while there’s no line. Let’s say it’s 9:30 now. The fast pass you scored for Pooh says for 9:00 until 10:00, but NO ONE follows this. The only part that matters is the start time. You can show up at Pooh and use your fast pass at 2:00. You just cant go before the start time, and that pass is only good for that day. At this point in the day, I would recommend you save those fast passes, because the line probably won’t be longer than 20 minutes, in the morning.

Which brings me to a side tangent: I recommend, if you can, to get up and going early. You should be at the park BEFORE the park officially opens. Mickey Mouse and friends come out and do a cute Good Morning Welcome at each park, and there is literally a mad dash when the rope drops as people start making their way throughout the park.

The catch to fast passes are you can only get 1 per hour. So let’s say you got your fast pass for Pooh at 9:05, you can not get another fast pass for another ride until 10:05. The fast pass for Pooh will clearly state on the bottom of the ticket: what time you received that one, and when you are allowed to get your next fast pass.

You should always be scoring more fast passes. Not in a scary-guest-shoving-small-children-OCD way, but just be all, “Oh it’s 10:20, now and grab another fast pass, now for Peter Pan!” (The lines are TERRIBLE for Pan! We only ride in the morning, or with a fast pass. Wait times of nearly 2 hours are not uncommon but we refuse to waste time in line). It’s just worth it to think ahead as much as possible while in the parks.

So, throughout the day you are collecting fast passes, and then as time
passes and lines build, you can use your fast passes.

Now that you have fast pass stuff, let’s move on to the next shortcut you
have: Rider Swap Pass. Seriously, this might be better than the fast pass.

Rider Swap Pass is only an option at a height restricted ride, and if you have a small child who can not ride that height restricted ride. Let’s go back to Thunder Mountain Railroad. So, say you all make your way over to Frontierland after lunch. The line is 80 minutes and you don’t have a fast pass for Thunder Mountain Railroad, yet. Of course, go and get a fast pass as soon as you are able. But to bypass the line, take your youngest, who cannot ride, up to the Cast Member standing between the two entrances (Fast Pass and Regular Line) and ask
for a Rider Swap. The cast member gives you one pass.  It looks exactly like a fast pass except it is valid for anytime and 3 people can go in on one pass.

Let’s say one parent got the Rider Swap. Then you give one parent and two children (who are tall enough) the pass, and they can immediately ride. Just give the pass to the cast member when you go up the fast pass line and to the front, while one parent and the smaller child who cannot ride, wait.

Ashley here with a spaz-filled interruption: Ideally, (stay with me now while I over explain) once they get off of that ride with their rider swap pass, the fast pass you initially collected for Thunder Mountain Railroad is still waiting, and they can probably ride immediately, again. CHA. CHING. {Yes. I did just write that.} It pays to have a small child at Walt Disney World. You should probably take one with you just for accessory purposes, and wear them like a boa. It’s an art, I tell you. And totally worth over thinking it, when you have anxious kiddies in tow. I was able to ride bigger rides super quickly with Aiden (6) sometimes twice in a row, while Emerson (3) and Malone (2) waited. {Or in reality, high tailed it with daddy to Winnie the Pooh while we rode}

There is no limit to the Rider Swap Pass. You can collect as many as you
want in one day and it does not affect your fast passes. We would ride once with Rider Swap, then once with Fast Pass before getting a new Rider Swap, as that’s what the Rider Swap is designed for. I’m sure some people just do Rider Swaps back to back {but I think that’s kinda breaking the rules.}

The only catch to the Rider Swap, is the cast member has to see you have a child who can’t ride the ride. You can’t send one parent to get fast passes and a rider swap without having that small child.

Lines can be long, and while Disney does have lots of distractions for kids, no one wants to spend their vacation waiting in line. Get to the parks early, and maximize fast pass. Don’t feel bad for going to the front of the line. You will be in line for the ride with 5 minute wait, and someone will use their fast pass to go in front of you. It’s part of it, and everyone who walks into the park can get, and use Fast Pass.

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So there we have it. Thank you so very much Jillina, for your tips in using that Fast Pass + Rider Swap with small children! Any of you guys have more tips with this little system? Please do share, or feel free to ask questions below! We’d love to hear from you.

Stay tuned for our special post on each park, starting this Saturday here at The Handmade Home. Next up… The Magic Kingdom : What to see and what not to miss!


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19 Responses to keys to the kingdom : fast passes + rider swap 101

  1. Betsy says:

    I’m really enjoying these articles! Thank you!!

    Do you suggest an optimal age for kids to enjoy Disney? i have a 1 year old and a 3.5 year old. I’m wondering if next Fall would be good timing.

    • Hey Betsy! I think that every time you go, it will be a different experience, because children grow older, and they start appreciating different things about disney. I think that’s the beauty of it all. When we went this fall, Emerson was 3.5 and Malone was 2. They both LOVED it. The next time that we go, they will be older, and taller, and able to ride more of the “scary” rides. So they will appreciate that, too. Malone LOVED the monorail. Honestly, it was his favorite thing in the whole entire park. We created great memories of him screaming “TRAIN! TRAIN!” every time it pulled up to take us somewhere. We will never forget that. He was an absolute blast to take, because he loved Mickey, and took it all with stride. Emerson adored the princesses, and I am so glad we took her now, at the height of her princess craze, because when she’s older, she may not enjoy it as much, but she will enjoy other things…so I think it changes with each trip. Short story long, despite what people tell you, there is no optimal age. ;) Each time is awesome in its own special way.

  2. Randi says:

    I’m planning my first Disney trip for my 30th bday in March with my 7 year old daughter. These posts have been awesome!

  3. HannahJo says:

    Our favorite thing to do – because everyone in our family loves D- world but we have SUCH a disadvantage because we are all over the age of *ahem* 23…we don’t get to utilize the rider swap! Bummer!
    My recommendation is to immediately snag fast passes for your favorite ride (Expedition Everest, if you must know) and then stand in line! Part of the Disney Magic is waiting in line :) we always play a game and try to spot the “hidden Mickey’s” in the decorations (they’re everywhere and there is a book for cheaters).
    Then after you’ve waited in line, your fast passes are probably able to be used and you sneak right back in!

  4. Andrea Stewart says:

    LOVING y’all’s tips! thanks for sharing each week — keep ‘em coming! :)

  5. Autumn M says:

    I’m really enjoying this series, thanks for sharing it. Although we have been to both Disneyland and World a number of times I’m still learning new tips!

  6. Melanie says:

    Ok, so we are leaving for Disney in 2 weeks…..we have not been there in 13 years and this time we are taking 3 kiddos, both sets of grandparents, and an Aunt & Uncle. It is beginning to become very overwhelming trying to fig. out all of the new ways of “working the system”. So rider swap, do you have to wait in the fast pass line when you “cash” it in? (I have no idea how long the fast pass lines are usually) Then can you get two rider swap passes- one for one parent and one for the waiting parent and will the 2 eligible children be able to go with the 2nd parent (immediately) and then do you have to take the young child with you to wait with the 2nd parent? Also if the child just chooses not to go but they still meet the height requirements do they count the same as a baby would….I have a 4 yr old so I’m thinking there should be plenty of things she wont want to go on or doesn’t meet the requirements……there is wayyyyyyy to much to get figured out!!! Thanks!

  7. Cristin Malone says:

    Melanie,
    Cristin here from the Keys to the Kingdom series. The typical way the ride swap works is as follows:
    -walk up to the fast pass line with the young child
    - tell them you want to baby swap
    -they give you a fast pass return ticket for you and up to 3 other riders ( so you do not have to ride alone)
    -The first parent goes on the ride, the other sits outside the ride and waits with the child
    - When they come out you take your fast pass and other riders and go through the fast pass line. The young child must be present when you ask for a baby swap. We have never waited in line together. One person goes on- the other parent with the baby waits outside of the ride.

    I hope this helps! Have a fantastic trip!!

  8. Kelley says:

    I just wanted to pass along that they are now being VERY STRICT on the fast passes. You now have to use it in the time allowed. Gone are the days when you could come back later at any time to use it. We made this mistake during Spring Break and we were just 20 minutes late! After begging and pleading, they did allow us on the ride but gave us a stern warning. ;)

  9. Cheryl says:

    This blog has been so helpful during our trip to WDW. Thanks for all of the tips. Thought I would give an update about the Fast Passes. Perhaps in the past they did not adhere to the time windows but that was not the case this week at Magic Kingdom. We took your advice and rode the Ariel ride and pocketed the FPs for later. We pulled them out later when our two little girls were getting a little cranky and tired of all of the lines. We trekked back to the ride and were denied FP entry at 2:00 because our passes had “expired” at 11:15. Needless to say, I had two very disappointed (one hysterical) little ladies and no “carrot” to move them along.

  10. Shari says:

    Thank you for your blog! It helped me a lot on our first trip to WDW. However, one tip did not ring true…The FAST PASS times actually do matter. We were late to our FAST PASS time and the cast member turned us away. You can only be 10 minutes late for them to allow you to use it.

  11. Katherine says:

    Is there a limit to how many fast passes you can have in one park per day?