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?