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Disneyland resort launches digital version of Fastpass, but it will cost you

Disneyland’s Fastpass system, the ride reservation system that the park invented in 1999, has moved into the digital age.

The Anaheim resort launched a smartphone version of the ride reservation system Wednesday. It operates from the park’s smartphone app, and unlike the free reservation system that dispenses paper tickets from kiosks in the parks, the digital Maxpass costs $10 a day.

The digital pass underscores how the theme park industry offers customers upgrades, but for added costs, much as the airline industry has added charges to get a seat with extra legroom or better onboard food and drinks.

At Universal Studios Hollywood, for example, a one-day ticket for $110 increases to as much as $239 when it includes a pass to skip to the front of the line. At Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, visitors can pay up to $135 extra per day to get a device, called the Flash Pass, to make a reservation for a ride; the device sounds an alarm when it’s time to get on the ride.

At Walt Disney World in Florida, visitors who stay in a resort hotel get a free wristband, called a Magicband, that includes a microchip that can be used to confirm a ride reservation, unlock a hotel room door or buy souvenirs. People who aren’t staying in a resort hotel can buy the band for up to $33.

“This is part of a larger trend to monetize any area of the park experience they can,” said Matthew Gotulla, a longtime Disneyland fan from Altadena. “We’ve been seeing it a lot recently with extra-cost preferred parking, dining packages, dessert parties and lounges.”

Although Disney already charges visitors to rent strollers and lockers, park executives always consider how longtime fans will react each time they add a new fee, said Edward Marks, a producer at the Producers Group, a Los Angeles theme park production company.

“Disney has been battling this and struggling how to do this from a PR point of view,” he said.

Disney representatives say Maxpass was created to make it easier for guests to avoid the long waits for some of the most popular rides.

Maxpass also helps Disney combat bogus Fastpass tickets and people who share the paper tickets with friends, Marks said.

“At the end of the day, if using the app only costs $10 a day, it’s worth it,” he said.

This year, the resort added Toy Story Mania in Disney California Adventure Park and Matterhorn Bobsleds in Disneyland to the reservation system, bringing to 16 the number of attractions with Fastpass access.

Wait times at Disneyland resort parks keep climbing. Here's how much. »

Under the new system, guests can purchase the daily Maxpass when they buy their ticket online, or they can add it separately.

Once in the park, Maxpass users can use the app to reserve a time later in the day to visit one of the 16 rides. When the Maxpass users get to the ride, they can show the reservation on their smartphone screen and use the shorter Fastpass line to board the ride.

With few exceptions, visitors can’t get a second Maxpass or Fastpass reservation until the start time of the first reservation. In other words, visitors won’t be able to stockpile ride reservations.

Visitors also can’t use the app to reserve a ride time until they actually go through the park turnstiles — so there won’t be any ability to get a jump on non-digital competitors for reservation times before the park opens.

Disney warns that the choice of rides available under the reservation system can change without notice, and the Maxpass fee is nonrefundable.

The Maxpass price includes unlimited downloads of photos shot by park photographers.

But not all Disney fans are cheering the introduction of the Maxpass. To use it, visitors must have good cellphone service in the park.

Pam Wycliffe, a Disney fan and graphic designer from San Francisco, said her phone gets spotty service in the park, making the use of the app limited. She suggested that Disney offer the new service free of charge or for $1.

“Rare that I can pull up the app and look at ride times,” she said. “They need great service for all if this is going to work effectively.”

A Disney spokeswoman said Disney has added extra Wi-Fi hotspots for visitors to use.

How Disney plans to fit a Marvel Galaxy in California Adventure Park »

Another complaint comes from owners of the Disney Signature pass, an annual pass that comes with free photo downloads. Signature pass holders have complained to Disney that because they already have the free photo downloads, using the Maxpass would cost $10 a day just to make ride reservations.

“Like most of my fellow Signature pass holders, [I believe] we should get a separate rate to add on Maxpass to our passes,” a Disney fan wrote on a Disney parks blog Wednesday.

A Disney representative said the company may consider changing the price for some pass holders. Some of the most expensive pass categories will get the Maxpass free.

Walt Disney Co.’s parks and resorts business has been booming. The company’s U.S. theme parks recently set second-quarter records for revenue and operating income.

Walt Disney Co. reported $2.4 billion in net income for that quarter, which ended April 1, an 11% increase over the same period in 2016. Disney's overall parks and resorts operation posted an operating income increase of $750 million, up 20%.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

To read more about the travel and tourism industries, follow @hugomartin on Twitter.

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UPDATES:

4:25 p.m.: This article was updated to include additional analysis.

This article was originally published at 12:10 p.m.

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