Need to Know: FASTPASS & Rider Switch at Disneyland

Welcome to the first in our “Need to Know” series. This series is intended to give first-time or infrequent visitors to the Disneyland Resort the essential information that they need to know to get more enjoyment out of their visit to the Resort.  We’re going to start it off with the most important piece of information.  What is, and how to use, FASTPASS and Rider Switch.


One of the biggest disadvantages that occasional Disneyland Resort visitors have compared to those who visit regularly is an understanding of and ability to take advantage of the FASTPASS and Rider Switch opportunities at the parks.  If properly used these free park perks can greatly reduce the time you spend waiting in line with your family for attractions.


What is FASTPASS? Quoting Disney’s website it is the following:

FASTPASS service is available at … select attractions in Disneyland Resort theme parks and is complimentary on a first-come basis. FASTPASS saves your virtual place in line for an attraction while you enjoy the rest of the park. If the return time posted works with your plans, get a FASTPASS ticket and return to the attraction’s FASTPASS entrance any time during the one-hour window shown on your ticket. There is a limit to the number of FASTPASS tickets available to you each day.

So how does this work in practice? The mechanics are as follows.  The first task you must accomplish is identify what the FASTPASS machines look like and where they are located for each attraction.  Generally the machines are located near the entrance to the attraction and look like a line of stationary Star Wars droids. There are some notable exceptions however, with Radiator Springs Racers being the biggest one. (The FASTPASS machines for this attraction are near the entrance to “It’s Tough to be a Bug”)  To obtain a FASTPASS you approach the machine and insert the park tickets for each one of your family members.  In return you will get one FASTPASS ticket for each park ticket you scan.  On the ticket there are 2 important pieces of information.  First the return time for the attraction which is usually an hour window that occurs later in the day. (How much later depends on how busy the park is that day and the demand for the attraction) Second, in smaller print below, there is the time at which you can get another FASTPASS.  To use FASTPASS effectively you should get a new one for another attraction as soon as you pass this second time.  During our visits I usually accomplish this by holding onto all the park tickets myself and acting as a runner – criss-crossing the park to get FASTPASSes as soon as I can.  This way we almost always have a pass available for a big attraction. This comes at the expense of me walking a great deal more than my family but it is worth it to avoid the lines.


Examples of FASTPASS Tickets


Rider Switch
The Rider Switch program is likely a much lesser known program offered by the Resort. It has also been known on the interwebs by other names such as “Child Swap” or “Child Switch”.  While you may think this is referring to a controversial program that would allow you to trade your screaming child with a much more well-behaved, Disney-fied, doppelganger, in reality it is essentially a free FASTPASS for parents of young children who are too small to ride a given attraction.  This program works as follows.  When you want to ride an attraction that has a height restriction taller than some of your little ones you first take the whole brood to the entrance of that attraction.  At the entrance you will encounter a Cast Member (Disney terminology for a ride worker/operator). Walk up to the Cast Member, show him or her your little child(ren) and request a Rider Switch pass.  At this point the process will sometimes vary.  On occasion I’ve been instructed to take the clan farther down the queue to meet up with another Cast Member but most of the time we have been given the Rider Switch pass at that point.  The pass itself is usually a colored piece of paper that indicates you can return to the attraction with 2 riders to get back on quickly.  Sometimes the Cast Member has just provided me with two FASTPASS tickets.  In any case, what this allows you to do is split up after receiving the ticket.  One parent waits (or goes on another attraction) with the smaller kids while the other rides with the bigger kids. Then, upon the first riders returning to the waiting parent, the riders switch (hence the name Rider Switch) and the waiting parent, with another bonus rider, can then return to the entrance of the attraction, present their ticket, and get on the ride without having to wait as long in the regular queue. This is an awesome perk for families with young kids.


In practice we only seem to use Rider Switch on attractions that have a height restriction but not a FASTPASS – such as the Matterhorn.  Every time I get FASTPASSes for any attraction I get them for all ticket holders – even if  their heights don’t allow them to ride. Because of this, we often have extra FASTPASSes that we can use on the second go-around.  Of course this will change as the kids get older or want to ride more of the big rides so I will likely be taking advantage of this program more in the future.


So there’s the run-down on the FASTPASS and Rider Switch programs.  There are rumors swirling about that things may change with the FASTPASS next year (2016) but for now this is what it is.


Do you have any additional tricks for leveraging FASTPASS & Rider Switch? Leave them in the comments below.

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