Magic ain't gonna make itself!
Theme Park Tourist’s new Genie+ 101 mini-series is meant to help you make the most of your Disney Genie+ service… and more to the point, to get your money’s worth. After all, Genie+ is an untamed upcharge with a whole new learning curve and a lot riding on it. Though it adds back the flexibility and day-of spontaneity that FastPass+ lacked in the 2010s, it also means that one wrong choice can leave you spending your day stuck in slow-moving, swampy Stand-by queues watching Lightning Lane guests race past.
It probably shouldn't take a 1,500-word How-To guide to get your time and money's worth from a paid-for service at Walt Disney World, but here we are... So let's dig into our Genie+ 101 strategy for making the most of a day at Disney's Animal Kingdom... and why you might be better off skipping the upcharge entirely for your day at Disney World's fourth gate...
Step 1. Understand Genie+
If you're like us, you probably find the almost-nonsensical naming of Genie, Genie+, Lightning Lanes, and Individual Lightning Lanes to be pretty baffling... almost like Disney intentionally made their new suite of services confusing and counterintuitive... In any case, step one in making use of Genie+ is to know what you're paying for, so swing by our glossary of Genie terms for the basics, and our tips & tricks article for more.
Step 2. Buy Genie+... or DON'T?!
Here's the first place where our guide to using Genie+ at Animal Kingdom diverges from our Genie+ plan for Disney's Hollywood Studios. Because frankly, you don't "need" Genie+ to have a decent day at Animal Kingdom... and even if you have it, you might not want to use it... at least, not in the way you're probably expecting to.
Basically, a good Touring Plan can ultimately save you about as much time waiting as Genie+ can, and making use of Animal Kingdom's Early Entry, "rope drop," and sparsely-crowded evenings mean that even on busy days, you can probably get every major attraction at the park checked off – with plenty of time for animal experiences! We won't comment on whether or not that makes Animal Kingdom a dreaded "half-day park," but it's certainly true that if you use Genie+ at Animal Kingdom the way you would at Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios, you may find yourself without much to do after lunch.
It's worth noting that some guests opt to forego Genie+ for their Animal Kingdom day (you can only "skip" a day of Genie+ if you buy the service daily, "a la carte" style – one day at a time, each morning) and redirect the $15 per person to buying Individual Lightning Lane access to the park's headlining ride. (Skip to Step 4 to follow that trajectory!)
That said, most guests who access Genie+ probably added it to a multi-day ticket for the flat, all-at-once $15 per day rate. Just like the Park Hopper ticket add-on, that means that you've got the service even if you don't necessarily need it, and if you've got Genie+ anyway, you might as well get your money's worth. So here's our advice...
Step 3. Log on for "digital rope drop"
Every guest with Disney Genie+ can make their first ride reservation selection in the My Disney Experience at 7:00:00 AM on the dot. At some Disney Parks (see, Hollywood Studios), you have less than a minute to secure the park's hottest Lightning Lane-equipped ride before its Lightning Lane capacity is "sold out" for the day and you have no choice but to wait in a slow-moving Stand-by line to ride it... which is a pretty bad start to getting your money's worth.
In general, things are much, much more relaxed at Animal Kingdom. You should still be ready to make your first selection at 7:00 – our recommendation is NA'VI RIVER JOURNEY – but Lightning Lane availability for that ride will likely last through the early afternoon. The benefit to booking right at 7:00 in this case is that your return time for Na'vi River Journey is likely to be shortly after the park opens (when its Stand-by wait is at its highest), which is a good thing in terms of securing your next Lightning Lane (see Step 6)!
But as we'll also detail, if you're visiting with a first-timer or spending the whole day at the park, you may not want to race headlong into Pandoran crowds to start checking off rides first thing in the morning! In that case, you may want to just refresh Genie's Tip Board every few minutes after 7:00 until you see a mid-morning return time for Na'vi River Journey instead, giving yourself a chance to enjoy the quieter hour post-opening to ride things stand-by, grab a coffee, or meet some animals. Ah, flexibility!
Step 4. ON-SITE: Purchase any Individual Lightning Lanes
Just to add a little extra dose of confusion, Genie+ doesn't get you into every Lightning Lane. Disney's Animal Kingdom has two rides that require separate, a la carte "Individual Lightning Lane" purchases.
The first is Expedition Everest, which is likely to be a walk-on after rope-drop and return to manageable waits in the evening. We don't recommend buying an "ILL" for Everest unless you miss the early morning lull (for example, by being trapped in Flight of Pasasge's queue) and will miss the evening lull (probably because of Park Hopping), meaning you have no choice but to ride when its wait is the longest and have the kind of expendable income to not. (We expect that once Everest closes for its half-year refurbishment in January 2022, the park will simply offer one ILL ride rather than promoting another to the paid-for tier, but hey, it is Disney...)
If you're going to buy an Individual Lightning Lane at Animal Kingdom, you know which we'd suggest... and in fact, some guests skip Genie+ on their Animal Kingdom day entirely and instead spend the money on...