A lot has changed at Walt Disney World over the past two years. From introducing the Disney Parks Pass Reservation system to eliminating free perks like MagicBands, the landscape of Disney parks looks much different than it did before the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the most notable changes has been the implementation of Genie+, a fee-based replacement for the previously free Fastpass+ system. For those unfamiliar, Genie+ can be a little complex to breakdown as it actually encompasses two different systems.
The first, Genie+, allows guests to pay a daily fee per party member (usually around $15 a person) for access to something like the old Fastpass system, where guests can reserve return times to get quicker access to specific rides. The catch is that Genie+ does not include the two most popular rides at each Disney park (like Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and Avatar Flight of Passage). To access those rides, guests must pay an additional fee for Individual Lightning Lane Access.
Yes, it’s convoluted, and yes, Disney may have made it so on purpose.
One of our biggest concerns with Genie+ has been wondering if the service is truly an upgrade—an extra option available to guests who want to streamline their vacation—or if Disney would instead implement a cleverly-disguised upcharge. These two concepts might sound similar, but there is a key difference.An upgrade is an add-on that can improve a trip but isn’t strictly necessary to have an enjoyable time. An upcharge is different—while it may appear optional, in truth, guests can expect added complications during their trip if they don’t purchase it.
As crowds have surged back to Walt Disney World, we have had time to assess the effects of Genie+ on The Most Magical Place on Earth, and the signs we have seen are not good. Disney is doing the exact thing we hoped they would not, pushing Genie+ so hard that it is becoming essential for an enjoyable visit to Walt Disney World. One might even argue that they have set things up in such a way that guests who do not purchase the service may feel like they are being punished for that choice.
Is Genie+ really an improvement over Fastpass+, or has Disney made a mistake that may ultimately cost them guest loyalty? A recent experience at Walt Disney World has us wondering if the latter scenario has already arrived…
A troubling shift
We visited Walt Disney World in February, back before the Spring Break rush, when crowds were steadily increasing but hadn’t arrived in full force. Most of our small party were all Passholders, so we planned to use trusted strategies to reduce our time in line instead of purchasing Genie+. The trip overall was great, but we ran into something unexpected that I have never experienced in 30 years visiting Disney parks.
On three different occasions, we ended up stuck in standby lines with wait times that proved 2-3x longer than the time posted...
Posted wait times aren’t an exact science, but this was inaccuracy on a scale we had never seen before. One queue for the Tower of Terror posted at around 90 minutes and ended up taking three hours. Another for Buzz Lightyear posted at 20 minutes and ended up taking over an hour. The same scenario replayed on Test Track. Three different parks, same results.
In all three scenarios, only one thing had changed from our usual experience at Walt Disney World: the number of people utilizing Lightning Lanes was staggering. In all three cases, we watched as Disney would allow 25-40 Lightning Lane guests through at a time before allowing even a single party through the standby line. It was stunningly frustrating.
I do want to clarify that I’m not picking on people who purchase Genie+. There are good reasons for some families to do so, particularly those visiting from abroad for a rare trip. However, the amount of people in the Lightning Lanes all at once was surprising, and Disney’s handling of the situation understandably left families in the standby queue with ears steaming.
The problem Genie+ was supposed to solve
When Genie+ was first announced, I tried to maintain cautious optimism. People made some pretty convincing arguments that Genie+ could improve the overall Walt Disney World experience by solving the worst problems caused by Fastpass+.
As beloved as Fastpass+ was, it exacerbated a number of issues throughout Walt Disney World. For one thing, it played a major role in badly inflating standby wait times. Every single guest had access to it, and that high demand meant Disney would often allocate 70-80% of ride capacity to Fastpass+ reservations, meaning stand-by wait times increased dramatically. Having so many guests using the system also meant more congestion throughout the parks because fewer guests were “sponged away” into queues.
The argument for a paid Fastpass system was that if people were forced to pay, fewer people would use the system, meaning Disney wouldn’t need to allocate nearly as much ride capacity to it. Guest experience would improve overall as standby times and crowd congestion reduced in comparison.
The problem is both of these benefits have been tossed out the window…
A whole new problem
Genie+ has its benefits for individual users, and at first glance, it’s hard to tell a difference between it and Fastpass+ besides the added benefit that limiting guests to same day reservations has made the system more accessible. Recognizing its flaws, however, requires a closer look.
Instead of implementing a system that could improve overall guest experience throughout Walt Disney World, Disney has done exactly what we feared—overselling Genie+ to the point of actually worsening the original issues with Fastpass+.
According to reports, Lightning Lane attractions have three modes to meet demand. In the first phase, Disney allows approximately 16 Lightning Lane guest through for every 2-4 people in the standby queue. This comes out to about 75% of ride capacity going to Lightning Lane—not great, but still an improvement over Fastpass+.
The problem is if Genie+ demand for an attraction at a given time is higher, the ride moves into phase two, allowing around two dozen guests from the Lightning Lane through before 1-2 parties in standby. This ups the percentage to about 83%. Already at this level, we have a ratio about even or worse than Fastpass+.
The real problem comes when an attraction moves to phase three, and I’m fairly certain this is the scenario we saw play out on our visit. If Lightning Lane demand for an attraction spikes particularly high (a scenario only possible if Disney over-distributes Genie+ return times), ride operators then have around 40 Lightning Lane guests come through before allowing a single party through standby. This amounts to about 93% of ride capacity going exclusively to Genie+.
When you do the math, it becomes clear that Genie+ fails to offer significant improvements over Fastpass+ for improving overall guest experience at Walt Disney World. The only true benefit goes to Disney’s bottom line. It’s just Fastpass+ with a new price tag and exacerbated problems.
With crowds increasing at Walt Disney World, there is no question that Disney has started overselling Genie+ and placing caps far too high for Lightning Lane return times. The result is a system that makes the overall guest experience worse, both in inflating standby wait times (which can now prove wildly inaccurate) and increasing congestion throughout the parks.
The truly frustrating thing about the way Disney has implemented Genie+ is that in its current state, guests who choose not to purchase it end up feeling like they are being punished for that choice. Using the standby queue now seems to mean, “We’ll get to you when we get to you”. It truly is in Disney’s best interest to make standby queues as miserable as possible for the average guest, for that frustration is a powerful spur to encourage impulse purchases of Genie+. We had hoped to see more integrity from a company with Disney’s outstanding reputation for guest service, but it seems that has changed.
I don’t mind guests having access to upgrades to improve their vacation, but there is a difference between introducing an upgrade and an upcharge. In its current state, Disney has stacked the bar so heavily in favor of Genie+, they have diminished the overall Walt Disney World experience just to increase revenue, even if it means alienating longtime fans, Passholders, and families who can’t afford the extra costs.
Indeed, Disney’s Chief Financial Officer recently put it in particularly insensitive terms: “Some people have more money than they have time and others have more time than they have money.” Not the most delicate way to put it…
But what can Disney do about improving it?
We had a pretty brutal experience at Disneyland a few days ago due to this new Genie+ pay to cut system. I'd not been to any of the parks since before covid, a few years ago, and at that time it was the fastpass system. Which was not perfect but at least it was fair since everyone had the same opportunity to pick rides to shortcut. Although I suspect there were some "special" fastpass tickets that had unlimited privileges and these cutters were able to hide among the rest of us.
Anyway, the new system is insane. We showed up with no idea anything had changed, including two adults, an 11 year old, and a 4 year old. The listed "standby" wait times for all rides were fairly tolerable, between 20 minutes and 75 minutes and it seemed like a cool upgrade to be able to view them on the app. But we quickly learned these times meant nothing. We watched as the line merge arbiters allowed 50+ people from the "lightning lane" and then 5 from the standby lane. Sometimes even worse. Predicted wait times routinely went from 40 to 90 minutes, or from 60 to 120 minutes. Pretty much always the riders were 75% to 90% lightning lane people so it was a pretty hopeless cause to be standby. We would stand without moving for 5-10 minutes with zero standby people being allowed in. No fun and terrible with young kids.
Another problem is that many of the rides are designed with beautiful elaborate line areas, rooms transitioning from one cool scene to another and these can often no longer be used because they are not wide enough to support multiple lines from start to finish, so the lines are pushed outside obstructing the park and the long winding rooms are kept empty to race through after the standby merges with lightning line.
Disney used to understand line psychology which is basically that you've got to keep people moving all the time, give them new interesting things to see, don't break their hope by allowing them to see how much line lies ahead, and give them confidence that the line is fair. They apparently forgot ALL of these things because the new system obliterates them all, wasting the cost and work put into building the existing line systems.
Personally I have a moral objection to paying to cut a line so I won't do it, not for $1 or $100. It's not about the cost, it's about the principal. So no more Disney for me until/unless this system is changed. Which makes me sad.
in an attempt to be different from Universal, Disney continues to convolute a fairly easy process, in which they have the financial and technological ability to undertake. But disney wanted people on their phones all the time because they knwo people are on their phones already for Social media posts. Having attended disney since i was young and now special queues to stand in, I waited in lines 2-3 hrs and sometimes rode everything I wanted other times we didnt, but ticket prices were low enough, that that's what a 2nd or 3rd days at the parks did.
Disney needs to eliminate this system, and just charge $50-75 per guest adult, and less for children to get the Genie pass. They will have their dedicated queue, and in rides with double loading capacity, multiple show rooms, or large vehicles. that queue takes up that entire area. This does allows for both lines (genie and standby) to move at the same time.. the paid line will just move faster since, you expect less people to be in it due to the price. For the genie, no reservations, just walk into the ride you want, whenever you want.
Other option is, for those that want to pay to create a tapo tapo system like volcano bay... that guest will receive a wearable device which allows them to sit in a queue virtually with a count down that says you can go to the ride in xxx amount of time.. it can adjust and fluxuate given current wait times. you can have up to 3-5 rides queued at once.. other option is disney should invest in building new rides, and eliminate all paid lines, and go back to just stand by queues
After decades with our kids we moved on to taking our grandkids a couple of years pre-pandemic. The ability to, after securing our reservation at Disney on-site (Grand Floridian), we were able to plan our park days, FastPass ride selections, Dinner reservations, Water Parks etc. We would drop off luggage at airport and find it in our room soon after arrival. With grandkids, no luggage handling was premier and Magical Express was relaxing. WE CAN DO NONE OF THAT NOW. We "are not going to WDW" until and unless the current system is changed. Our idea of each day early in the morning TRYING to get rides at a park 'that we've reserved' is a NO GO. Also, standing in line 1-3 hours are problems of the past that we will not allow to be experienced again. Disney spent decades and billions on hotels and non-theme park rides and attractions. Now there are too many customers chasing too few ride and attraction options. Saw it coming. Disney used to be ride and project construction wonders of the world and yet now it is so slow it is embarrassing. What a mess.
Yes, this is exactly what happened to me. I have been an annual passholder for 10 years and knew quite well how to use fastpasses as well as get around without them. I went a few weeks ago to Hollywood studios and decided not to pay for genie plus. We were completely screwed. The wait time for R&R coaster was 50 minutes and we got done in 60...not bad. We then went to smuggler's run, which showed a 60 minute wait. 2.5 hours later, we finally got on the ride, tired, pissed off, and frustrated. Having to stand for that long with a 11 year old just killed the day.
We decided to eat lunch and just left as the lines were long for everything else.
After that experience, we decided to give Genie + a try. Not really understanding the system my daughter wanted slinky dog really bad so I grabbed that. My first issue, the damn screen showed 10am when I clicked on it but after it returned to my screen it assigned me a 2pm booking. This locked up my ability to get another pass until 2 hours after the park opened. Knowing that you can get a pass every 2 hours, I should have grabbed something else quick and done the old search function over and over to get a better time for slinky. Additionally, for some damn reason, disney doesn't let you modify an existing pass to an earlier time. You have to cancel and then rebook which gives time for the better time to disappear and then you lose your reservation entirely.
for 15 dollar a person, I expected better but unfortunately, Genie plus is the only way to experience Magic Kingdom and Hollywood studios now. The others you can get by without it.
Having worked for several years in Epcot attractions, I can share that, although I agree with the statements and advice in the article, the real issue behind the problem is there not being enough attractions in each of the parks to absorb the number of guests attending. This is very true for DAK and an underlying reason for ToT and Flight wait times. Given the amount of rides in MK, it is less true of that park.