Anyone can use it. You don't have to be a VIP. You don't have to be a resort guest. And most importantly, the service is completely FREE!
Let me explain how it works.
If you are at Magic Kingdom, and your group decides that they want to ride Splash Mountain - when you arrive at the attraction, you might find that the line is 75 minutes long. Personally, I won't wait in a line that is any longer than 20 minutes. (Really. And yes, I still ride everything the world has to offer!) So, since 75 minutes is way past my 20 minute rule, I'll get a fastpass. Just to the side of the stand by line, you'll find fastpass machines. Above the machine you'll see a time - and this is the time that you will need to come back to the ride. As long as you have no conflicts (meaning you don't have dining plans at that time - or it's at a time when you plan to be back at your hotel) - get a fastpass by placing your ticket into the machine. The machine will then "spit out" your fastpass. This is what they look like:
Let's talk about what the information on your pass means. Notice the time window for your return - you do need to return within that window, but they will give you a 15 minute grace period outside of end time. Also, a bit further down, your fast pass will tell you when you can get another fast pass. Often you may get another one as soon as you are ready to use the one in hand. But sometimes with more popular rides, if your fastpass return time is more than two hours away, you will be able to get another fastpass in two hours rather than waiting for the return time. For example, if it's 9am and you are getting a fastpass for Toy Story Midway Mania at Hollywood Studios - and the fast pass return window is between 1:20 and 2:20 - you do not need to wait 4 hours to get another fastpass. Usually, your next time to get a fastpass will be at 11am - and that exact time will be printed on your fastpass.
You can hold as many fastpasses at one time as you like - just make sure that you are using them at your window of opportunity!
Everyone in your party that wants to ride needs their own individual fastpass.
So. Let's go back to our Splash Mountain fastpass scenario. The line is 75 minutes long. And everyone in your party of four wants to ride. So, you put, one at a time, everyone's ticket into the machine, and now you are the proud owner of four fast passes. Let's say that it's 10:30 am and you are to return between 12:10 and 1:10. So...what are you going to do now?
You have lots of options. You could find a ride with a much shorter wait. Perhaps you could ride both the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean. You could take a boat ride over to Tom Sawyer's island and explore while you wait for your window. You could go shopping on Main Street. You could go to Sunshine Seasons and get a Dole Whip (delicious pineapple soft serve!) or some other snack. And the next thing you know, it's 12:10.
When you arrive back at Splash mountain, you'll want to look for the special entrance to the ride that is designated for fastpass holders. Everyone will need to show their fastpass to the Cast Member at the entrance - and then you'll actually give the fastpass to someone closer to the front of the ride. Your time in line should be minimal - perhaps just the amount of time it takes to walk to the front - but usually no more than 10 -15 minutes.
As soon as you ride - or perhaps even before you ride - be sure to get another fastpass for another attraction (or the same one if you want to ride again!) so that you don't spend your fabulous Disney vacation waiting in long lines!
So...what about you? Do you use fastpasses? You can check the Disney website for a full list of rides with fastpasses.