Tuesday, November 10, 2015

UPDATED: Review of DAS at Walt Disney World

It's November 2015, and a few changes have been made to the DAS system.  As most people know, Disney World has been moving over to a system using Magic Bands.  At the time I wrote this in November 2013, there were still FastPass kiosks where paper FastPasses were handed out.  Now a large portion what you do in the parks (from tickets, to dining, to paying for merchandise, room keys, and FastPass+ admission) is done with Magic Bands.  (I'm not going to post a how to on Magic Bands at this time).  Now even the DAS is controlled via Magic Band.  I'll explain how this works. The old post is in black.  Outdated information has been crossed out in PURPLE, new information has been added in RED. 

We just made our most Knowing we were heading to Disney, I have to admit I was very nervous when I heard about changes being made to the Guest Assistance Card.  I understand why they felt compelled to make said changes (I'm sad that so many people ruined a great thing for my kids who don't get many breaks), but understanding why did little to relieve the anxiety I had for how this would affect my kids.

I confess I made more than a few phone calls to Disney to get as much information as possible about the new DAS system which replaced the old GAC on October 9, 2013. The cast members were courteous and as helpful as they could be though I couldn't get definitive answers about how they would handle my unusual situation with four children being on the spectrum and there being a total of eight of us . I was directed to pretty comprehensive information on their website.   I'm posting links, but in case you can't get to them I'll tell you how to navigate there.  Go to DisneyWorld.com.  In the right hand corner you'll see a HELP drop down menu.  While holding down your left mouse button, select the "Guests with Disabilities." This will bring up a new page.  On the disability page, select, "Guests with Cognitive Disabilities."  There are helpful suggestions there regarding stroller rentals, rider switch, and break areas.  There is a pdf guide you can download with information specific to each park.  There is also a link to a page dedicated to the Disability Access Service card. 

How it works:

You go to Guest Relations in any park and talk to a cast member.  Your whole party must be with you.  Based upon your needs, you will be issued a DAS on your Magic Band.  They will take a picture of the child who needs the DAS, They will then scan his/her band as the primary DAS party.  Each person in the party will then have his/her Magic Band scanned as well and attached to the DAS.  We had no issues with all eight of us being attached to one band.    

issue it for the number of people in your party and you will sign the back saying you understand the rules and will not abuse it.  It's good for up to 14 days depending on your tickets.  (Multi-day tickets are valid up to 14 days after the first day is used, so this makes sense). 

You can see our Photoshopped DAS to the right.  

I still believe it works for anyone in the party to approach the cast member at the entrance to an attraction.  The cast member will scan your band, confirm your party size and you will receive a return time based upon the current wait time.  You may only have one attraction "open" at a time.  When you return with your party, the person in the picture must be present for your group to enter the attraction.  He or she will scan his/her Magic Band first and the rest of the party will scan afterwards.  This entrance is independent of any FastPasses you've previously chosen.

The cast member at the entrance will cross off your time and let you enter the queue.  When you get to the additional checkpoint inside you show your DAS again.  (You show possession of the DAS, not the time inside it). 

The return time should show up in your WDW (MyDisneyExperience) App, but it doesn't always seem clear where to find it.  Once when I was checking I saw we had "4 Fastpass+ Experiences".  The fourth was our DAS return time.  I think they are still working out the kinks in this. 

Above:  Screen capture where you should be able to see the return times. 

My family only just discovered the GAC on our last trip to Disney fall 2011.  Prior to that we had utilized a system of obtaining FastPasses, rider switch and allowing our children electronic gaming devices in line to cope with their difficulties.  This trip was very similar to our earlier trips.

Firstly, we brought our previous GAC and a letter from our doctor which specified our needs, without divulging specific diagnosis.  We split our group into two and had two children photographed for each DAS.  At that time we also requested a "stroller as a wheelchair" tag for Baby Girl as well. 

Our first night was Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party and waits were about five-10 minutes for most rides. We got a lot of Splash Mountain, Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain in that night. Because of the minimal wait times we were told we didn't need to pull out our DAS or even use rider switch.

The addition of FastPass+ allows you to preselect your FastPasses and the time window they will be available.  Until Magic Bands are rolled out everywhere, there will be FastPass+ selections and regular FastPasses obtained from kiosks.  You are limited to three FastPass+ selections/per day and only in one park.  Once you use your three selected Fastpass+ selections, you can select additional selections at a kiosk.  I was never really clear on where these kiosks were, but we really didn't need them with the DAS and our FastPass+ selections.

 I was encouraged by cast members to use the kiosks for additional passes for my family.  We did this, though on occasion the FastPasses were all distributed for the day.  If the FastPasses were distributed or the return time was later than we planned to be there (like Kali River Rapids) we used our DAS.

On the most popular rides like Toy Story Mania and Soarin' we found the best way to ride was to head straight for the ride in the morning when the standby line wasn't long (First ride). We usually had a FastPass+ selection for that ride later in the day (Test Track being the exception since you can't do Test Track AND Soarin').  We used our DAS if we wanted to ride a third time. 

 On Soarin' I used our Key to the World cards to obtain FastPasses from the kiosks (Second ride).  I also obtained a return time on the DAS (Third Ride) after we had ridden the ride once and the standby wait time had jumped to 80 minutes.   Additionally we had a later time with our FastPass+ selection which we never actually ended up using.  Baby Girl was not tall enough for Soarin', so we utilized rider switch as well.  As a result, the kids could often ride 2-3 times and once even four times depending on who stayed behind.  Without the DAS we still would have been able to have the kids ride 2-3 times utilizing rider switch, and our FastPass+ selection instead of the DAS. 

Overall we picked a slower time of year and the slowest parks according to TouringPlans.com.  A lot of waits were about 20-30 minutes or less which is what my kids can handle.  We had a five minute wait for Star Tours, and a 10 minute wait for Mission Space.  Because of the short wait times, there wasn't a huge need for us to use the DAS, though we did use it as mentioned above.  We also used the rider switch option because of Baby Girl, alternating which kid(s) would stay behind. 

My Thoughts: The first full day in the parks we underutilized our DAS and the fact you can get FastPasses from kiosks.  On subsequent days we took advantage of times spent in shows like Indiana Jones for our DAS time to arrive and we tried to group our DAS time with either FastPass or FastPass+ times so we could ride a couple of times in a row.  The new system is really like the older and regular FastPass system which requires someone in the party being willing to run across the park to get return times for everyone.  If you are smart, you'll get double the return times (FastPass and DAS).  The regular FastPass system will go away at some point in WDW (once the Magic Band rollout is fully implemented to include gate tickets).  As long as you have someone willing to do the running, there are plenty of things to keep you and your ASD child(ren) occupied as you wait for your return time.

I think the crackdown on sticking to FastPass return times has helped those lines move quickly.  The only time we ran into a FastPass logjam was when one of the rides had broken down and everyone descended upon another popular ride to use FastPass there instead.  (When Splash Mountain broke down we were told we could use our FastPass+ at any attraction in the park for that hour--it seems like everyone descended upon Big Thunder Mountain Railroad).  Because the FastPass line wait times were reduced we actually rode some rides more than we did two years ago with the old system of enforcement.

Overall we are pleased with the new system.  It means more running around than it did in 2011, but it's really not any different for us than trips prior to 2011 (when we ran around and used FastPasses to get onto rides).  The crackdown has made the lines run more smoothly and once we understood how to use the DAS well, we were able to ride what we wanted to.  Keep in mind we were there during a slightly less crowded time of year, but we did that on purpose for our children's sake. 

For more general tips from our most recent trip 2013 trip, click here.

The WDW app takes the guesswork out of ride wait times, and that made standby line decisions easier.  We had a couple of hiccoughs getting people into the parks with the Magic Bands (Epcot, and Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party) and occasionally we had issues with the bands working at the FastPass+ entrance and not in the inside.  (On Toy Story, Acroboy's band didn't register, but because we were all wearing our Camp Half Blood shirts, they didn't' make a big deal of it.  On the inside, it was Princess Ballerina's band that didn't work.)  

Overall I appreciated the attaching of the DAS to the Magic Band--it's one less thing I have to worry about losing and I also appreciate being able to to get all eight of us on one DAS.  I like having the reminders on my phone (when it works) as well.  There is still some running around, but not so much that it disrupts our enjoyment of the parks. 

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