Disney Genie vs Genie+ vs Lightning Lanes

As Disney World’s 50 Anniversary approaches, Disney is celebrating by changing how guests enjoy the park. Their new system, called Disney Genie (which also includes a leveled up tier called Genie+ and Lightning Lanes), has caused quite a stir among the Disney faithful.

The program will require guests to pay money to skip lines in all four major Disney World parks, whereas the old FastPass system allowed guests the luxury of skipping lines free of charge. Those more familiar with Disneyland do have some precedent for a paid system in MaxPass. Still, uproar or not, the Disney Genie system is set roll out in the fall of 2021. If you are planning to visit the park in that time, you need to become familiar with the system. 

So let’s take a deep dive into Disney Genie vs Genie+ vs Lightning Lanes, starting with how we got here.

The History of Skipping Lines

Long lines have plagued Walt Disney World for the entirety of its existence. To fix the problem, Disney employed a new system in 1999. It was a ride reserve system that offered paper tickets with a designated ride time printed on it. Guests could wander about and simply return at the given time to skip standing in line. There were some limitations: you couldn’t get another pass until two hours had expired or the FastPass time had started, whichever came first. The FastPass revolutionized how guests enjoyed the park.

Untitled” by Theme Park Tourist licensed under CC BY 2.0

Not long after the system was introduced, guests figured out how to work the system to their advantage. There were a number of loopholes, but the most significant one involved the lack of enforcement of end times. Although Disney strictly enforced the start times, guests could still use the tickets any time past the start time. 

Many guests learned to collect FastPasses throughout the day, starting early in the morning, and use them during peak times. Disney eventually caught on and decided to enforce end times—but not for a while. They began enforcing the end times in March of 2012. The program changed only two years later, in 2014.

The 2014 system associated directly with a guest’s card instead of printing a ticket. One of the major updates in this system was that guests gained the ability to edit their time at one of the kiosks. This new system, called FastPass+, allowed for FastPasses at a greater number of rides as well, instead of being limited to only the most popular rides.

Kilimanjaro Safari Fastpass Sign” by Michael Gray is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

In looking through Disney’s history of line-skipping services, it becomes clear that its recent history provides precedent for how the new system will work. FastPass+ was arguably an even more complicated system than the new Genie system will be. It involved various tiers based upon popularity. You could only reserve one FastPass from tier 1 in a day. 

You could only use three at a time, but after they expired, you could use three more. People learned how to use this system but remembering how complex it was helps recontextualize the learning curve we will all soon experience with Disney Genie.

Disneyland has had some version of a paid service for quite a while. Maxpass was a $20 per person feature that was included with the Disney Signature Plus Passport and the Disney Premier Passport. Those with annual passports could pay $125 annually. The rules for Maxpass were very similar to those of the FastPass. The primary difference was that with the Maxpass, you only had to wait 90 minutes for your next pass, not two hours.

Disney FastPass vs Disney Genie

So, do you know what Disney Genie is, and how to use it to plan your upcoming Disney World trip?

What Is Disney Genie vs Genie Plus vs Lightning Lanes

Don’t worry if you don’t–I’m here for you!

We’re going to have to define a lot of terminology, and since Disney is introducing quite a lot as of late So let’s start with the basics–what is Disney Genie, and how does it differ from FastPass? 

Disney Genie forms the heart of the new ride planning system at Disney. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the actual replacement for FastPasses by itself. Disney Genie is the program with which you will plan out your day at the park.

Disney Genie is a service built into the My Disney Experience app. The service is free, though there is a paid portion that we’ll look at in a bit. The Genie service is designed to assist in scheduling your day at Disney so that you can do as much of the stuff you want as possible.

The program acts as a sort of personal assistant. It helps you navigate the wait times, show times, and schedules within the park to optimize your experience. Disney Genie has the ability to not only tell you current wait times, but it is able to forecast wait times throughout the day.

Disney Genie asks you to plug in your preferences for your Disney experience. If you have experience in the park and you know the kinds of attractions you like, you can choose the specific attractions you wish to prioritize. If you don’t know which attractions you want to visit but you have an idea of the kinds of Disney things you like, then you select the categories of things you enjoy from Disney; for instance, you would select if you like princesses, thrill rides, Star Wars, or whatever. 

The app then factors how much you will need to wait for each attraction and when waits hit their lowest. It calculates all the different possible combinations of everything you entered in and then, the program generates an ideal plan for you to pack as much of the stuff you love into the day.

The app can suggest things, such as where to eat, based on where you will be at the time if you follow the itinerary. If you want to know why Disney Genie made its suggestion, you can click on the app, and it will offer you an explanation.

The app provides for a bit of flexibility in its planning. It updates throughout the day to see how conditions have changed since its initial plan. If you want to change your plan later in the day for whatever reason, whether it be for rain or just because you want to, it can make real time suggestions. The app also has a tip board that allows you to see for yourself what the waits for attraction are as well as their forecasted waits.

Disney Genie helps plan your dining experience as well. It’ll give you a rundown of restaurant waitlists, reservations, and mobile order services to make dining easier as well. When arriving for a reservation, you can use your app to check in for quicker seating. The tip board also has a list of the restaurants and allows you to see what the wait would be to be served. You can join a waiting list from the app.

If you need additional help that the app cannot provide by itself, you can ask a cast member by means of its chat feature. 

According to Disney, this new system capitalizes upon the insider knowledge from cast members from over sixty years. They have studies how guests enjoy their park and tried to put that knowledge into the form of an AI.

The FastPass+ system also allowed some preplanning, but not as extensive. It didn’t allow you to plan your entire day around wait times. However, it allowed people at the resort to reserve passes 60 days prior and all other guests to reserve 30 days prior. Guests cannot reserve passes through the Genie app until the day of their visit, so you cannot stake your claim to a ride so far in advance. 

Disney Genie vs Disney Genie+

There’s a lot more to this program than just the planning service. There is a separate, paid portion called Genie+ as well. Genie+ is the aspect of the service that allows guests to reserve the new line-skipping service. This new service will run you $ 15 per ticket per day for Disney World and $20 per ticket per day at Disneyland. 

Genie+ will include line skipping access for around 40 attractions. Disney has named a few of these attractions so far: Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Railroad, and Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run. They have not yet confirmed the inclusion of several of the rides.

You will be able to purchase Genie+ at midnight before your first day at the park. You may also purchase it as a part of a vacation package. Once you have Genie+, you can start reserving Lightning Lanes at 7 am that morning.

You will be able to choose one ride at a time throughout the day. You will need to use one before getting another. As of this writing, there is no confirmation as to how many Lightning Lanes you will be able to reserve during the total.

In Disney World, you will also have access to Disney PhotoPass Augmented Reality lens for your pictures in Disney World. If you are familiar with the game Pokémon Go, in which it appeared as if Pokémon were somehow standing around in the real world, then this is the same basic concept. You will be able to take pictures that have the appearance of Disney characters being in the picture with you. 

For Disneyland users, you will have access to your PhotoPass much like with the MaxPass system. 

Disney+ will have some audio features as well. These audio experiences are themed to the separate parks. They will include behind-the-scenes information from Imagineers and special guests.

Some attractions will not be included, though we still don’t have all the details on which attractions are on Genie+ and which aren’t. You will need to pay for certain high-demand Lightning Lanes separately from Genie+. 

Some of these rides include Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Avatar: Flight of Passage, and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. The cost of these separate passes will vary from park to park and for each ride. You can get two of these per day. For these rides, guests of the resorts will be able to purchase the Lightning Lanes at 7 am. For other guests, they must wait until the park actually opens.

Genie+ vs Lightning Lanes

Lightning Lanes is a new name for a familiar idea. It is essentially the same thing as the FastLanes. These are the physical queues that are shorter than the usual queues. Already at the time of this writing, Disney is working to replace FastPass signs with Lightning Lane signs across the park, so clearly they refer to the same thing.

You will be able to purchase the high-demand Lightning Lanes apart from the app. Because there is no overlap between rides featured on Genie+ and the ones that will cost extra, it is possible that you skip out on buying Genie+ and only purchase Lightning Lanes for those attractions in high demand. 

All Disney World guests will be able to buy individual Lightning Lanes at park open. If you are staying at a resort, you will be able to purchase them starting at 7 am. For Disneyland patrons, you will be able to make your selections once in the park.

Even when listening to Disney employees present this new system, it becomes clear that the use of Lightning Lane has become slippery. One presentation of this new system referred to Genie+ rides and Lightning Lane rides, meaning those rides purchased separately from the app. It would be easy to think that Lightning Lane was a term specifically for those separately purchased Lightning Lanes, but Disney does not seem to have a separate designation for those lanes.

In addition to the Lightning Lanes and stand by queues, Disney will also have virtual queues for certain attractions such as Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance in Orlando and WEB SLINGERS in Disneyland. These queues will allow you to confirm your party one hour before the ride begins boarding. This is a part of the base Genie app, so it is at no additional charge.

Disney Genie+ Backlash

You can reasonably expect public outcry for any kind of change, but this one seems particularly resonate. All you need to do is to roam around any comment section on any platform where Disney discusses the new program. The dialogue surrounding this new system is pretty heated and, as far as I can tell, decidedly favor of the “against” camp.

After all, going to a Disney Park is expensive enough on its own without piling on further expenses. The program costs $15 per ticket per day, so this adds up quickly. If you have a family of three, you now have an extra $45 per day on top of each day. Then, you have to consider that most people visit Disney for more than one day. 

The most common trip to Disney World appears to be four to five days. A four-day trip would cost an additional $180 on top of all of the other expenses you have to consider. That is money that might otherwise go toward a nice meal or shopping. For larger families, say with three to four children, the price escalates by a lot. It might even become prohibitive when that family considers the competition down the road in Orlando that is already considerably cheaper.

A Measured Response

This appraisal of the new Genie system will try to be as objective as possible, considering it is written by a frequent guest of Disney as opposed to someone on the business end. I think it is worth trying to understand the logic of this new system beyond just being another way for Disney to make money, though it surely is that as well. 

By making the line skipping service more exclusive, the more the passes will speed up the lines. By making them cost more, the more likely people are to stick with the regular line and let those who really want to skip lines pay more. 

Disney claims to have listened to what their guests prioritize when fashioning the Genie app. According to them, Disney guests prioritize simple, day-of planning. For these guests, they claim that flexibility is important, because each guest needs to experience the park in a different way.

With that brief defense out of the way, it is hard to see how this doesn’t create inequality in the parks. Some families will simply not be able to budget for the Genie+ program and will have to stick with the ordinary lines.

It will be interesting to see if this kind of budgeting decision forces more people to pay the extra expense for the Lightning Lane, brave the regular line instead of paying extra, or skip the ride altogether. 

For me, the middle option seems the least likely. At this point, I see most people choosing between paying extra to skip the line or to simply avoid the ride altogether. And between these two, many will probably just not go on the rides that force me to pay more. For frequent guests who have experienced most of what Disney parks have to offer, they will prioritize the newest, most popular rides and for them it wouldn’t be worth the trip if they did not. For those, paying the extra cost is a must.

The experience will most likely only improve for those willing to pay for Genie+. For everyone else, it is possible that line waiting could get a lot worse, since more people will be in line. Under the best of conditions, waiting in line at Disney is pain. Now, I can see some people skipping some rides entirely. In my Disney planning in the past, some rides were not worth riding if we didn’t have a FastPass. With rides like the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, guests will have to choose between a wait time that can reach 90 minutes or paying for both the Genie+ service and the additional payment for the Lightning Lane. 

The additional features to the Genie+ paid service don’t really entice me to pay more for them. The PhotoPass filters seem fine, but I don’t think anyone would want to pay any sort of extra money for them were they not tied to the line-skipping program. I don’t think I would use the audio experience at all. Walking around with an audio tour guide feels more like an at home visit to a museum than to an amusement park. These extra features are unimpressive, at least in terms of enticing me to pay an extra $45 a day for a decent-sized family. Perhaps they will roll out more features as the program becomes a mainstay of the Disney experience.

Disney Genie Conclusions

Of course, as an organization, Disney is well within their rights to charge whatever they want to for their services. The don’t owe anyone a line-skipping service. Although, in doing so, they have submitted to the system to the will of the market. With Disney’s brand being what it is, I’m sure they are not afraid of the market; people will go to Disney’s theme parks, and they will pay what they must to do so.

If you are going to use the system, it would be wise to start as early as possible to reserve Lightning Lanes. You may not even want to skip some lines, since a lot of the queues are designed to give you an immersive experience for their respective ride. One possible solution might be to forego the Genie+ app and to only purchase the Lightning Lanes for the most popular rides. You could otherwise rely on the Genie app to streamline the rest of your day and make it as efficient as possible.

As we all adjust to the new system, I’m sure that new ways of making our trips enjoyable and cost-effective will present themselves. Guests might use some combination of standby lines, Genie+, and individual Lightning Lanes to customize their experience, just as we adjusted to previous systems. 

In principle, I am still concerned about the disparity of experience people will have based on how much they can spend. I am confident in the ingenuity of Disney guests to find out how to get the most bang for their buck, and I hope that you can use the information in this guide to best figure out if and how you will incorporate the new system in your Disney vacation.

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