The website typically takes a wait-and-see approach to major changes that will impact our future time in the theme parks; the reality of a new situation, however poorly timed or worded Disney’s initial announcement might be, is rarely as calamitous as the immediate reactions of clickbait prognosticators or shouting Main Street DJs would lead you to believe; nonetheless, we’ll want to have our elbows adequately sharpened and poised for what the fall (season) is likely to bring.
Free FastPass+ service is out, supplanted by the introduction of the $15 per person, per day Disney Genie+ system, which the company has elected to bake into its existing Disney World app instead of launching separately. This was not the original intention, but with the company jettisoning the team programming the backbone behind much of the app’s functionality in early 2020, they were largely unable to secure the visas to bring anyone who knew what they were doing back into the fold when it was time to get going again in the middle of this year. That basically left them with an old TouringPlans programmer to finish the job. And, well, I probably don’t have to tell you how that turned out.
So what we’ll be served will look a lot like most of Disney’s offerings from the past ~18 months – a barebone system built to increase revenue, offer those willing to pay a premium the illusion of flexibility at ever-escalating costs, and get our eyes off of the rotting infrastructure and back on our phones.
If you’re ever trying to take a nap at the All-Star Sports, and think you might hear the distant, soothing hum of a gentleman whispering in the nonexistent summertime breeze, “refresssshhhhh…refresssshhhhh” it’s probably me irascibly screaming down the hall at my “interns” to secure me a better Genie selection so my day looks more efficient than riding Mad Tea Party for the third time in what should become part seven of a blog post series that we both know I’ll probably never get around to writing.
The whole thing is confusing and convoluted, accentuated only by a searing lack of detail – you know, like an actual release date, or what attractions will be offered, or if there will be an annual add-on for our precious blogging elite, or really anything that would imply this system is in any way worth more money, when the old way of doing things was clearly not. That leaves us with little to focus our energy on other than the notion that FastPass+ used to be free and isn’t anymore. And that seems bad.
The good news is potentially that it could have, and was intended to be, and likely will become in the future, far more expensive. The basic Disney Genie itinerary service is available to all guests at no additional cost. It promises to do the impossible – route guests to the attractions they choose in an efficient manner, while minimizing waits. It’s highly unlikely Disney Genie will be any good at this itinerary optimization, even if it was intended to be.
Instead, it’s more likely that Disney Genie will play tricks on the user, sending them in the opposite direction of the big crowds and high-priority attractions and instead to where fewer guests typically start their day. On one hand, setting off for Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Haunted Mansion, while everyone else knocks each other out on the rush to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train or Avatar Flight of Passage doesn’t sound so bad. Let’s thank the blue ghoul and end this post.
Not so fast there, Prince Ali. Your $15 per day flat rate access to the various Lightning Lanes, which are “literally” just rebranded FastPass+ lines, is not all-encompassing. Some number of Select-Experiences-To-Be-Named-Later will cost some unknown amount of money extra – probably anywhere from $6 to $36 per person per ride, depending on the attraction and demand. But it’s not like we’ve had 20 years to figure this out or anything. We’re looking at putting a plan together in about five weeks. So at least we’re consistent in our expectations for the new system. Low, ideally.
So your $15 won’t buy you the opportunity to secure Lightning Lane access for Flight of Passage, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Rise of the Resistance, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, and the like. Adding the maximum of two daily Individual Attraction Lightning Lane “opportunities” will bring your per-day Genie+ cost closer to $45 or more per person per day, or about $200 for a family of four after tax, for similar access that would have been included “for free” with your admission prior to March 2k20.
Are you not entertained?
I don’t think there’s a more humid location on earth than one step outside of the Orlando international airport pic.twitter.com/kMTet5xk2S
— josh (@easywdw) June 21, 2019
Charging a minimum of $15 for access to what had been 20+ years of free FastPass might not be such a difficult pill to swallow if it didn’t come on the heels of Disney charging guests a nightly parking fee at its resorts, eliminating complimentary MagicBands, and announcing that they’re doing away with Magical Express for all guests next year. Harry Potter World down the road might have poked a hole in the Disney bubble, but I certainly didn’t expect the company to willingly, and evidently gleefully, blow the top off themselves. To what could very easily be disastrous consequences should people start to realize that they’re paying a lot more for an experience that is now not only far more expensive, but also far less convenient.
I’m not sure what we’ll hope for on Lightning Lane Individual Attraction pricing. On one hand, it would be nice if it was inexpensive because we’d be able to afford it without having to cancel our anniversary dinner at California Grill and head to Cosmic Ray’s instead. I’d be happy to shell out an extra three bucks for Rise of the Resistance without a second thought. But so would everybody else, which would culminate in incredible demand and much lower chances of being able to even acquire a “Pass.” On the other hand, if the cost is absurdly expensive – say, $30 per person to ride Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure in the Lightning Lane, fewer people would spring for the cost, and standby waits would be less affected. In the latter example, we wouldn’t need Lightning Lane access because standby would move at a reasonable rate, and we wouldn’t spend all night on the toilet because Cosmic Ray’s.
From a capacity standpoint, it’s hard to say what ratio Disney is gunning for when it comes to Lightning Lane versus Standby. Back in the free FastPass+ days of…last year…adoption rates were so high that nearly every FastPass was taken for nearly every attraction at virtually every time, and standby waits were higher than they had ever been with 70-to-80-percent of an attraction’s capacity going to FP+ “line cutters.”
They might arrive after you, but they’re riding before you, because they have priority
FastPass+ Lightning Lane access. It’s unlikely that we’ll see those same high levels of priority access utilization again under a paid system. But to a point, Disney won’t need demand to be that high, as they merely need to fill exactly as many Individual Lane spots as they make available. They’ll be maximizing revenue if they price each Individual Attraction Lightning Lane Pass so the last one of the day is sold at the last possible moment. That means the price is so high that most guests have scoffed at the prospect, but enough are willing to pay the astronomical ask.
It’s an interesting paradox that becomes more complicated when you have paid Lightning Lane Individual Attraction Passes overlapping virtual queues at Rise of the Resistance, and once it officially opens on October 1st, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. On one hand, over the last ~20 months, you could very easily visit Hollywood Studios and not secure a boarding group for Rise of the Resistance. With no standby option, you would be out of luck. You’ve traveled across the country, studied up, exercised your dexterity, paid, and gotten shut out of the one thing you really wanted to do. With no recourse other than to come back on another day and try again.
Lightning Lane is potentially that recourse at the most popular attractions, should you be willing to fork over the unspecified, dynamic pricing that Disney is yet to release. Now, Disney is offering an opportunity to experience that attraction that you would otherwise be unable to, either at all or without a 2+ hour wait, so long as you’re willing to pay.
Disney Genie+ is basically Disneyland’s MaxPass system without the option to collect paper FASTPASSes for free. I remember a lot about my Disneyland trip, but paying an extra $10 or $15 per day for MaxPass is not really one of them; we got enough benefit from overlapping FASTPASSes and gaming the system that the perceived value far outweighed what we paid. I expected to be mad, as I usually do, but I wasn’t. Which was a strange feeling inside of a Disney theme park. And still one I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced in Florida.
Back to Genie+, which we’re determined to hate, most of the rest of the news is either bad or annoying. First, there is no more booking days in advance. Resort guests, off-site guests, the Green Knight, and everybody else will be able to book their first attraction bright and early on the day-of at 7am. At least for the general Genie+ attractions. If you’re talking about those pesky individual Lightning Lane attractions, like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, on-site guests can book them at 7am, while ineligible guests won’t be able to until the Park officially opens. It’s convoluted, remember? So those guests up at 7am will be able to book the best general Genie+ attractions at the earliest hour, while anyone expecting this to be a “vacation” and do something stupid like sleep in until 8am will find far less availability.
Where Lightning Lane and Virtual Queue overlap, like at Rise of the Resistance and “I Came As A Rat,” it also means far fewer “free” spots will be available. If Disney wanted to, they could probably sell out of Rise of the Resistance virtual queue spots at five bucks a pop just about every day. They know this. So at a minimum, it will make Rise even more difficult to experience without an additional cost attached. But, it also means if you’re willing to pay, you’ll be able to experience the attraction, which is something that you couldn’t currently say without a VIP Tour that would cost you thousands more.
So How Is This Going to Shake Out? Are There Any Benefits? I Am Very Angry.
The changes are probably more nuanced than most people who are framing this as a mere money grab would admit or understand, though certain guests with larger budgets are certainly poised to benefit most.
- Pro(?) – Disney Genie+ largely evens the playing field and eliminates the booking advantage of staying on-site for more than seven days. At least as things stand, all eligible guests with Genie+ access, regardless of where they’re staying, will be able to book their first general Lightning Lane attraction at 7am. Remember when I said they’re going Full Big Thunder Mountain on the Disney Bubble? Just for a quick, shortsighted buck? Of course, that level playing field means getting up at 7am, but if you’re planning on rope dropping or heading out for breakfast then somebody is probably getting moving that early anyway. And if you’re not, some vlogger/child rolling down the hall is going to get you up that early, anyway. But there is still that on-site advantage in being able to book those two individual attraction Lightning Lane (LL) Passes at 7am with plentiful availability. Of course, if there are still times available come Park open, when everyone is eligible to book those Individual Attraction LLs, most guests will probably be happy to book whatever is left.
- Pro(?) – It appears like Genie+ users will only be able to book one general Lightning Lane attraction at a time. That should open up availability, and make booking additional attractions throughout the day easier for all guests. Gone are the days of the guest staying on-site for ten days being the only people able to book Slinky Dog, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, and Tower of Terror, or Flight of Passage, Kilimanjaro Safaris, and Expedition Everest in advance. While anyone staying off-site would be lucky to see any availability for more than two of those attractions. People said they wanted spontaneity. Now you probably realize that you don’t.
- (Con?) Another point is that Disney specifically says the general Lightning Lane attractions will be available to book only for the next available time, instead of giving you the option to select from all or most available morning, afternoon, and evening return times. There will likely be some strategy with the selections there – the next available Lightning Lane for Smugglers Run might be 2pm at 10:30am, while there’s Lightning Lane availability for Toy Story Mania for 10:45am. It also remains to be seen if other guests’ canceled attraction selections reenter inventory, potentially making earlier Lightning Lane arrival times open. That’s something we took advantage of a lot when using MaxPass at Disneyland, and a “feature” that we hadn’t heard much or anything about prior to our visit. Something like Indiana Jones may have initially only shown availability hours in the future, but if somebody holding an earlier time canceled their selection, it would be available for us to pounce on. It’s unlikely we’ll be able to bank on that too much with so many guests constantly adding additional Genie+ Lightning Lane selections, but it may occasionally save a lot of waiting or cause a lot of refreshing.
- Pro(?) – There will be few a la carte Lightning Lane attractions. And at least two of the likely candidates will at least offer some opportunity for a “free” boarding group/virtual pass. And if experiencing that additional attraction is that important, you can budget for it, instead of getting shut out. That may mean spending $90 for a ride and skipping the bottle of wine with dinner. Don’t get a 7am boarding group for Rise? You may be able to book Lightning Lane for 3pm and then cancel it if the second drop at 1pm continues and you somehow score a spot. Or, if you don’t get a boarding group during either “free” drop, the paid option is available.
- Pro(?) – Posted wait times should be more accurate. Disney actually knows about how long you’re going to wait in standby at any given time, even if they (often) use those posted waits to manipulate crowd flow. With the free Disney Genie itinerary service offering wait time predictions all day, and specific timing as you move about your day, there’s going to be an incentive for Disney to actually get it right. That should offer us more clarity into what we’re able to do and how long waits actually are.
- Pro(?) – Standby waits should be shorter with fewer people using the paid Genie+ priority access than used free FastPass+. This may be particularly true at the top tier Individually Priced Lightning Lane attractions, where the cost is prohibitive enough that most people don’t use it. If it’s economically priced, we’ll know which attractions offer the most value and will save you the most time in short order. The knowledgeable guest will continue to win out.
- Pro(?) – If the Disney Genie itinerary service doesn’t work well, we’ll only benefit because it will send everyone using it in exactly the wrong direction as we continue to tour more intelligently.
- Con(?) – Obviously, we’re now basically paying for something that had been “free.” On the other hand, Disney could have simply raised ticket prices 10% and people would complain about that instead. Like with Magical Express, if you didn’t use it, you were subsidizing the cost for guests who did, especially if you were staying on property. Now, guests who use Lightning Lane will be subsidizing labor costs for guests who don’t use it.
- Con(?) – Fewer “free” boarding group/virtual queue spots for Rise and a limited number for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. If Disney is looking to maximize revenue, you can bet that as many spots as possible will go to guests willing to pay more.
- Con – The timing is certainly poor with Disney set to “celebrate” 50 years without many of the enhancements or new attractions we were expecting/promised. Some of that can obviously be directly blamed on the shutdown, but there’s little doubt Disney could have put the pedal to the metal if they so chose. They would obviously prefer to spread those costs out, just like you’ll be paying off Genie+ for the foreseeable future.
- Con – Repeat visitors, if there is such a thing anymore, and Annual Passholders who visit often, will likely feel the pinch the most. Genie+ currently isn’t available as an annual option, meaning I and anyone else wishing to use Lightning Lane will have to pay the per-day cost each and every time we enter the Park and want to use it. That could mean budgeting for the service 20 to 40+ days a year, at a cost of $300 or more per person. Guests visiting for a week will be looking at spending an extra $100 per person for basic Genie+ service. And much more if they pay their way onto Individual Attractions during busier seasons. I may never see the inside of Rise of the Resistance again.
So the good news is that standby waits will likely be shorter under Genie+ than FastPass+, with the caveat that you may have to pay your way onto the top two attractions at each Park. And basically pay for FastPass+ in the form of Genie+, now with “different” pros and cons. A big con of FastPass+ was that it was nearly untenable by February 2020, with so much inventory taken in advance. I could have refreshed the night before a visit three or four hundred times and never see FastPass+ availability for any of the Tier 1 attractions at Hollywood Studios. The other good news is that we should be able to figure out how to work this system to our advantage, just like paper FASTPASS and digital FastPass+ before it.
Potentially, the worse news is that long wait times, manipulated by Disney via insufficient staffing or running attractions at reduced capacities, will be a way for the company to drive Genie+ and Individual Attraction Lightning Lane purchases. Wait times over the past few weeks have been among the shortest of the year, to the point where guests could actually book Rise of the Resistance boarding groups basically through Park close. If that’s the reality once Genie+ comes online, Disney won’t make any money with their new system. And it will behoove them to run the attraction with a limited number of vehicles or simply say the virtual queue is full, forcing guests to pay to play.
As far as which attractions will offer General Genie+ Lightning Lane, and which will be Individual Attraction (IA) a la carte Lightning Lane, my guess is we’re looking at something like this, where I’ve italicized the Individual Attractions as such:
- Animation Experience at Conservation Station
- Avatar Flight of Passage (IA only)
- Expedition Everest
- Festival of the Lion King
- It’s Tough to be a Bug
- Kali River Rapids
- Kilimanjaro Safaris
- Kite Show
- Na’vi River Journey (IA only)
It’s possible that Disney will select a ride outside of Pandora as its second IA-only attraction, with Kilimanjaro Safaris as the obvious next choice. But that ride has an immense theoretical capacity that is rarely harnessed. Capacity at Na’vi River Journey is basically fixed and is obviously a newer attraction that more guests have not experienced. Flight of Passage is the clear “favorite.”
- Disney and Pixar Short Film Festival
- Frozen Ever After
- Journey Into Imagination with Figment
- Living with the Land
- Mission: SPACE
- Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure (IA/Virtual Queue only)
- Seas with Nemo & Friends
- Soarin’ Around the World
- Spaceship Earth
- Test Track (IA only)
- Turtle Talk with Crush
Remy is already confirmed as being IA/Virtual Queue only. The second selection comes down to Frozen Ever After or Test Track. Test Track remains Epcot’s, sorry, EPCOT’s most popular attraction in terms of high wait times, but it’s also Walt Disney World’s least reliable attraction, particularly in the summer when it closes for inclement weather on top of its usual technical problems. Frozen is also the newer and more marketable attraction. Test Track also theoretically has the single rider line, which would reduce a guest’s need to pay extra if the wait remains relatively short.
Flight of Passage never used single rider, but opened with signage indicating it would. Rise of the Resistance also theoretically would have offered single rider, as would The Rat Ride, like it does in Paris. Disney could take some of the sting out of the Individual Attraction Lightning Lane upcharges by offering single rider as an option wherever possible. Though it’s unlikely that we’ll be that lucky.
It’s also unclear if Disney will add Lightning Lane access to nighttime spectaculars or shows. In the FastPass+ days, Disney made the service available at attractions that had no business offering it in an effort to increase the Park’s overall allotment. Hence, FastPass+ at Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, Disney and Pixar Short Film Festival, etc. On the other hand, including these attractions in Genie+ may make the service appear more valuable as Disney can tout a higher number of available attractions. And as Genie+ adoption rates increase, they may need to increase that inventory again. Of course, they could always start without Lightning Lane when/where it isn’t “needed,” and add the service when it is.
But offering FastPass+ at nighttime spectaculars in particular was a logistical nightmare that required Disney to staff the shows with dozens more cast members to scan tickets, walk guests to their designated areas, keep the ineligible out of the roped-off areas, etc. So we’ll have to wait and see what they decide to do there.
- Alien Swirling Saucers
- Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage
- Frozen Sing-Along
- Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway
- Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster
- Slinky Dog Dash (IA only)
- Star Tours
- Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance (IA/Virtual Queue only)
- Tower of Terror
- Toy Story Mania
Other than Genie+ potentially being available at some of the shows, this list is fairly straightforward. Rise of the Resistance is already confirmed IA/Virtual Queue and Slinky Dog Dash clearly posts the longest waits.
Weren’t those the days…
- “it’s a small world”
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant
- Enchanted Tales with Belle
- Haunted Mansion
- Jungle Cruise
- Mad Tea Party
- Magic Carpets of Aladdin
- Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
- Mickey’s PhilharMagic
- Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (IA only)
- Space Mountain (IA only)
- Splash Mountain
- Tomorrowland Speedway
- Tron – (Eventually IA/Virtual Queue Only)
- Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is confirmed as an Individual Attraction purchase. The second choice could go a few ways, but it’s unlikely to be attached to Splash Mountain given its eventual re-theme, even if wait times are longer there. And with Splash down, traffic to the back of Frontierland will likely drop with it. That leaves the venerable Space Mountain as a potential option with Tron either being added to the list or replacing it when it’s ready to open. Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind will be a similar situation at EPCOT, either being added as a paid a la carte option or replacing either Test Track or Frozen.
Potentially, we’re five or six weeks away from much more clarity on what to expect and how best to go about our day.