Josh’s Note Begin (Easily Skippable Nonsense): Things may appear to be even wonkier than usual here for a week…or two…or three…or until Marvel unravels the true meaning of the multiverse that I hope we are on the cusp of escaping. However those portals work. I’m ready to jump through whatever, especially if Alligator Loki is there to guide the way.
We’re desperately trying to claw our way back onto…the Disney blogging bandwagon of middling relevance. That sounds like a sad attempt at an enterprise for which to reembark; but the discerning Disney tourist only possesses so much ability to forge onward without being reminded that every Dole Whip basically tastes like every other Dole Whip. Even if a cast member clumsily molds said treat into something resembling…well I can’t tell either. But you can be sure the cost rises $7 because the melting amalgamation of sugar cubes and conspicuously pink vanilla
ice cream concoction sort of resembles a tropical bird. Is it supposed to be Zazu? Hei-Hei? Panchito Pistoles? An iPhone 13 with a pink screen? We’re dangerously close to forgetting that sweet tang of artificial pineapple. And even I wouldn’t let that happen.
Our dream of Dole Whip isn’t going anywhere. Disney has scheduled what is certain to be one abomination of a soft serve cone after the next under the guise of a 50th anniversary celebration that for some reason will last until the end of 2028. If we’re lucky. And pending the multiverse. We’ve all had that girlfriend (or boyfriend) who gleefully announces that it’s their “BIRTHDAY MONTH” at 12:01am on the first day of every March. As if I could forget after being reminded for 364 straight days. Heaven forbid it’s a leap year. And why we’re both single again on March 1st at 12:02am.
Of course, Disney offers each of these anniversary treats for exactly 6.2 hours, on precisely one day, and at the least convenient location possible. This is in part because there’s at least a 40% chance that the company forgot to let the company know what’s happening. There is a saying about the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, but I’m not entirely convinced the Walt Disney Company has arms at this point. Otherwise, why I am I reading the “Disney Foodie Guide to Beef Stew for Valentine’s Day at Cape May Café.” (Bring antacid.) (Lots of antacid.) Not to mention their special holiday charm this year, at least according to our Foodie Guide is the elimination of seafood, salad, or anything else from the buffet that isn’t Beef Stew. If you’re wondering, I still made a reservation.
But chasing down Disney’s one-time offering that you won’t have the opportunity to try and I wish I didn’t is half the fun. “Hey, look at this Stitch Cone, so cleverly offered only at the Polynesian on 6/26. Since that’s the date Dr. Jumba Jookiba undertook his illegal genetic mutation creating both myself and our mischievous friend. Which is which? Of course, we always pretend like 6/26 at the Polynesian is one big surprise. Although at this rate there is probably a Disney Foodie Guide about it. Color me excited for my birthday treat coming at the end of June, preferably with paint that isn’t as neurotoxic as those overdyed blue cones.
In case you’re wondering why the Italy booth has been featured for so long, it’s largely because it amuses me; but you can see what’s up here and here on Twitter. You don’t need to sign up for the social media “service” to read the tweets. In fact, if you’re not previously registered on Twitter, I probably would not open the site again. Although it is the best way to get my attention; that might sound appealing, but it’s almost always accompanied by an inauspicious outcome where you no longer like me because you don’t understand obscure jokes from 1997. But like my mom, you can typically check if I’m alive, or someone is at least dropping lotion into a deep hole in my house while pretending to be me, at twitter.com/easywdw. And sometimes at easywdwforums.com. I suppose the worst case scenario there is that I’ll emerge quite moisturized. Maybe it’s Maybelline.
The first set of screenshots linked above is probably not as dire as they may sound. Feelings are fleeting. We are all our worst critic, even if we have to defrost those thoughts first before attempting to examine them. Hopefully you don’t make the same mistake I do and opt to use a zoom lens on those problems or that frostbite.
I started this post well over a month ago, but it should remain relevant, if not a bit overly festive. I’ll point out when something has changed. But I had to spend the day at Hollywood Studios, so you do too. Even if it was a while ago, we suffer our penance together.
Red light. Green Light.
There’s another on the left. Red light. Green light.
Red light. Green light.
The best advice you will read about visiting Hollywood Studios summed up. And you don’t even have to stop on a dime.
Most of the post that follows is an introduction to the joys of Genie+ and a lengthy rant on the size of Oreo packages getting smaller. So you can probably just skip it and read a review of the Everglazed Donut that was available exclusively yesterday from 1pm to 3pm for $22.49. Was it good? Who cares?
Josh’s Note End (The Rest Probably Skippable)
The website has spent the last couple of months exploring the quirks of Genie+, potential optimizations, and the myriad scenarios that you may find yourself experiencing. It’s far more complicated than either of us would like. Fortunately, most of the distress you may experience is relegated to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which is where we’ll begin our analysis.
Because how could things get any worse? From there, touring the other theme parks will “feel” significantly easier. I’ll admit that I’ve struggled with how to present and explain Disney’s FastPass+ replacement more than any other change Disney has dropped on us in the past ten years, other than that one donut.
But armed with a lot of data, a lot of experience, skipping Disney Junior Play and Dance! more times than I can count, and considering touring from a lot of different perspectives, we’re going to get as close to figuring it out as possible. And we’ll continue to return as things inevitably shift, try new techniques, and find more solace in crying ourselves to sleep than I would have predicted going into the year.
We’ll start with a brief introduction about Disney Genie, and the $15 per person per day Disney+ upgrade, along with what Disney calls Individual Attraction Lightning Lane attractions. That way, I can link back to the beginning of this post for those unfamiliar with the program and its numerous intricacies. If you’re already familiar with Genie, which debuted all the way back in October, feel free to scroll down to the picture of the BoardWalk/Crescent Lake area, where we’ll begin specifically discussing how to go about your day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Well, the next post scheduled for August will.
The first decision you’ll need to make is whether or not you want to spring for the cost of Genie+, which is the upgraded, and really only useful addition of the Genie program as far as theme park touring is concerned. This will give you access to the regular Lightning Lanes for the day, which make up about 90% of the attractions that offer a “line skipping” option at each Park. There is no such thing as FASTPASS or FastPass+ included with admission anymore. It’s Genie+ or bust. And at Hollywood Studios, you will bust. Either way, really.
Here’s the lowdown on Genie:
When it says, “This is not a reservation,” I feel like they should add, “Or a promise. Or really even likely. Or actually ever happened before.” But we’ll get there. On the plus side, the Genie has never sent me to the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights at 3pm like the “optimized” plans from TouringPlans.com used to command. So that’s something. Under our reservation ! warning, we have the option to purchase Disney Genie+ for the day.
Genie+ should be offered for every day of your vacation package at the time of booking, I would likely not opt for its inclusion unless it’s discounted by roughly 50.7%. While we are absolutely going to rely on it at the Studios, it potentially holds less value and time savings at Animal Kingdom and EPCOT, depending on how you tour. Genie+ does not sell out; the last time Disney refused someone’s money was April of 2008. How do I know that? Let’s just say the Italy booth played a prominent role.
Instead, Genie+ becomes available to purchase for that single day for everyone staying on-site or not at midnight. You can even buy it from wherever you happen to be right now if you want. But again, it does not sell out, so it is not a race. Instead, I would likely set the alarm for 6:45am or so – perhaps a couple minutes earlier if it’s your first time booking, you’re not sure if your credit card/gift card/first born has been added as a payment source with the billing info correctly. After your first purchase, and potentially on the first, the process takes about two minutes.
You can also “practice” at home without actually going through with the purchase should you so choose, so long as you have a valid ticket and a theme park reservation for that day, the latter of which you can cancel, and the former of which is likely an (occasionally for sale) Annual Pass of some variety.
Genie+ in all of its purple and blue glory is all done through the regular DisneyWorld app. You should see the screen similar to the one below once you open it. I’d say the same screen, but it would be kind of weird if it greeted you as Joshua and your name was Lauren or something. But if it looks nothing like this, hit the hamburger button on the far right on the bottom screen and then
Used to Be Included My Genie Day on the next screen:
Hit the purple Genie+ button that we’ve seen in the screenshots to get started and you’ll also see some additional information about what the service entails:
It may also be a good opportunity to make sure your payment info is up to date. As you can see, even after taking all of these screenshots and stealing someone else’s credit card info to pay for it, it’s only a two-minute process.
Another reason to make the purchase a few minutes earlier on day one is to get acquainted with the convoluted menu and button layout. The key to booking Lightning Lanes or checking wait times is the “Tip Board” button near the top left.
You would think it would just say, “Could have stayed at a Universal Deluxe and gotten Unlimited Express for everyone in the room included. And then just showed up at the parks without a reservation or anything and skipped the lines almost everywhere all day.”
But alas, that seems unlikely to move the (Disney) stock price north, Delaware or otherwise.
Once you click “Tip Board,” you should see Magic Kingdom’s information come up regardless of where your reservation was made that day:
This is where that 6:45am recommendation comes in, since everyone with the Genie+ upgrade is eligible to make their first selection at 7am. This is true whether you bought the service in advance or on the day-of.
At the Studios in particular, Lightning Lane return times take off incredibly fast, with Slinky Dog Dash routinely running out of inventory by 7:05am, or just five minutes after they first become available. Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run could very easily be distributing return times for the late afternoon by 7:15am. So it’s imperative that you’re prepared to book a top priority immediately at 7am.
With more attractions and/or less demand at the other Parks, the timing is less consequential. But to paraphrase Yoda from a movie called Star Wars, “Either buy Genie+ or do not. There is no waiting until Park open to make the determination if crowds and wait times justify the cost.” If you do, you’ve given thousands of other people the opportunity to book the priorities before you. Lightning Lane availability and return times will suffer greatly, with the potential that you’ll be shut out completely at something as pedestrian as Na’vi River Journey, or the initial return time will be much later than you’d like. If you’re already on the fence about Genie+, you’ll only extract less value out of it the farther past 7am you ultimately make your decision. So make the call before 7am, and ideally the night before. Nobody is going to be too enthusiastic before they’ve had their cup of coffee.
So far, I’m not sure that we’re necessarily angry. It’s a bit surprising that Disney has opted for the unbundling of services versus reducing the offerings still available (further) or raising prices across the board (further). Unbundling is famously alienating. Recently, Amazon began charging $9.95 to Prime members to deliver any amount of food from Whole Foods, when previously there was no additional cost for members spending more than $35 in an order. Reportedly, and Amazon disputes this, orders dropped over 70% within two weeks. People don’t want to pay more. Or more precisely, they don’t want the illusion of paying more. Or in this case, getting smacked in the face with it.
Amazon’s/Whole Foods’ reasoning: it was either charge for delivery or raise prices on just about everything. But I used to make two or three Whole Foods orders a month when it was “free.” I haven’t made one since the added the delivery charge. Had Whole Foods increased the cost of everything in the store by 5%, I would have likely made the same number of orders, even if the cost of the same items was now $90 instead of $80, or the cost of delivery built into the final price. Of course, charging those who actually use the service a fee kept prices lower for those who elected not to use it. And for a lot of people, that’s a good thing.
That psychology is why the standard price of your bag of Oreo cookies may still be $3.99. But in 2010, you would have gotten 40 cookies. By 2015, it was 30 cookies. Then 25. Then 20. But the price stayed the same, and Oreo packages potentially went on “sale” more often, increasing the perceived value for consumers, even if they still ended up with fewer delectable treats.
Disney’s previous attempts to unbundle services has not gone over particularly well. Famously, instead of the standard 6% yearly increase on nightly resort prices, they elected to charge guests for overnight parking, with higher rates at its more expensive resorts. The higher fee was seemingly for no other reason than they could get away with it.
This alienated an overwhelming number of guests with the news spreading quickly via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, the blogs, and whatever the kids are using these days so China can log your keystrokes. No longer did Disney seemingly offer the advantage of not charging the infamous “resort fee” or parking fee that many off-site or non-Disney-operated resorts had been charging for years. But occupancy numbers did not take a major hit, and if they did, Disney knew they could simply offer a 10% to 30% “discount” and fill whatever rooms it wanted to within a few hours. Worst case scenario: “Free dining.” And still make up for that by charging $25/night to park. Of course, charging for parking kept resort prices lower for those electing to use alternate transportation to the resort. Well, they probably didn’t. But somebody named Bob is smiling.
More recently, Disney eliminated the Magical Express transportation service to and from the airport that was previously built into the nightly cost of the resort. Again, if you’re not using the service, this is probably good news, as you’re no longer subsidizing the cost of those who do. But it’s not like the Polynesian is less expensive this year. And those who relied on the service feel alienated as they’re spending the same or more money for their room, but now have to navigate the numerous transportation options to get from the airport onto property with prices that are constantly in flux depending on demand and availability. Disney has since added an option when booking for return motor coach service.
While we may be getting off track here in considering where we’re getting nickel-and-dimed and where we’re now only paying for the services that we actually use; but one thing is for certain: everything is getting more expensive. And unfortunately, the initial $15 a day Genie+ upcharge may just be the beginning of how much more expensive your day at the theme parks will now cost. It also gets even more complicated, almost like it’s designed to be that way, in what Disney so clearly and lovingly refers to as “Individual Lightning Lanes:”
- Disney lays it out just about perfectly, knowing they can command even more money for their most sought-after attractions or for guests who have “done it all” and just want to focus on the latest and greatest…for about $8-$15 per person per ride.
- A separate Genie+ purchase is not required for these two Individual Lightning Lane attractions. If you want to use Lightning Lane at the Studios’ two usual Individual Lightning Lane attractions outside of any of the regular Genie+ attractions, which include Smugglers Run and Slinky Dog Dash, it will cost an additional about $15 per person for Rise of the Resistance and about $8 per person for Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. With prices fluctuating depending on demand and whether or not it’s the weekend. So a family of four purchasing Genie+ and both Individual Lightning Lanes would be looking at spending an extra ~$163 over the course of the day to have theoretical access to all Lightning Lane attractions.
- Individual Lightning Lane Pricing is typically about $3 higher per person on weekends.
- One other key point: on-site guests can make their first Individual Lightning Lane (ILL) purchase at 7am, while ineligible guests largely staying off-site must wait until after Park open to book theirs. This usually comes into play two times. Rise of the Resistance, even as the most expensive ILL, is routinely sold out by 7:15m. That means off-site guests will have no opportunity to purchase priority boarding for Disney’s most popular attraction. Even if the weatherperson called for a Category 5 hurricane to arrive at Park open, it’s likely Rise ILL passes would still be sold out. But at least you could kind of blow your way over instead of having to rely on Disney transportation.
- Another point is that you can make a maximum of two ILLs per day regardless of Park. So you can’t book both Runaway Railway and Rise of the Resistance at the Studios, and then use it on the same day for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, since that is three attractions and beyond the maximum or two. Sorry, there was no promise that there would be no math.
But since I’m as tired of rewording this stuff as you are scrolling through it, let’s take a look at what you can expect to see on the ground. We’ll get to plenty of tips and tricks as we move about this day and others. If for some reason you’d like to read more of Disney’s official word, you can do so here.
Here we are making our first Lightning Lane of the day at the Studios, which absolutely has to be Slinky Dog Dash:
When booking Lightning Lane at the Studios, you want to do so in this order:
- Slinky Dog Dash
- Rise of the Resistance if desired
People will move on Slinky and then briefly consider the cost of adding guaranteed boarding on Rise.
There are a lot of differences between Genie+ and FastPass+, but two will immediately stick out.
Genie+ only offers one potential return time, sort of like in the old FASTPASS days. Unlike the FASTPASS days, the actual return time you get could be wildly different than what’s stated on the screen. Above, you’ll notice that I clicked Slinky Dog right at 7am. It originally showed a return time of 9am. “Perfect,” I thought. By the time I clicked through, after doing so dozens of times, my actual return time was 11:15am:
There is no warning that the time will differ. Another friend on the same day clicked as close to 7am as possible and ended up with a return time about 45 minutes later.
Within a minute, Slinky’s return time was out past 7pm:
Whereas Star Tours, one of the lowest priorities, still has availability at 9am, or Park open.
And within five minutes, Slinky is gone:
Even Star Tours has jumped to 9:10am. But because of the additional cost, Rise of the Resistance will remain available later into the morning, giving you an opportunity to purchase it after making the Slinky Dog reservation. With two or more people booking, you could theoretically do both just about simultaneously. But it’s not yet a necessity.
But you can expect Rise to sell out within 15 minutes:
It’s 7:14am and Rise is unavailable, while Toy Story Mania Lightning Lane is already out to 10:20am with the 9am open.
Should you wish to book Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, there is no rush unless you want an early return time:
We’ll be able to book the Railway most of the day if the wait or Park becomes intolerable and you don’t want to wait until much closer to the end of the evening to ride with a short wait.
As a mere local paying a mortgage of approximately $9,000 a month for a shanty under the bridge, I’m unable to book either Individual Lightning Lane until the Park opens, which is typically 9am, but may be 10am:
I have no shot at Rise of the Resistance, while the Railway would have availability throughout most of the day. Yippee.
I’m tired of looking at these screenshots, so we’ll get going and make more points…and point out more tips as the day progresses. I’m arriving at the Swan, but an early arrival and a walk over is less necessary than it would have been six months ago when Disney transportation was far less reliable.
Of course, the walk over remains a pleasant one:
In the next post certified for a July release, we’ll actually head inside and see what we’re able to do.