This week we had some big news that will drastically change how we plan our Walt Disney World trips in the future. Disney has announced they will be retiring the Fastpass program and replacing it with a new paid option, Disney Genie+. There’s lots to know so let’s dive in!
- What happened to Fastpasses?
- Summary of Disney Genie+
- What is the Disney Genie planning tool?
- What is Disney Genie+ and how does it work?
- Other seperate paid upgrades
- FAQ’s on Disney Genie+
- My Thoughts on a paid Fastpass system
What Happened to Fastpasses at Disney World?
Fastpass didn’t return when Disney World reopened last July after closing for Covid19 related shutdowns. It was among many things that didn’t come back when they reopened. So, for the last 13 months, we’ve been without any type of system for shortening wait times. All attractions have been operating with just a traditional standby line with the one exception of Rise of the Resistance which uses a virtual queue system.
Stand by only really hasn’t been much of an issue since the majority of that 13 months Disney World has been operating at less than full capacity and wait times have been unusually low because of that.
There has been much speculation on whether Fastpass would return and lots of rumors about getting a paid FP system. In fact, those rumors have been running around for years, way before the parks closed and reopened.
Disneyland Paris just debuted their new paid system, and Disneyland in California has had its paid Maxpass system for years now. Disney Genie was first introduced back in the summer of 2019 at the D23 expo. We knew even then it would be a way to better manage crowds in the parks and upsell guests on premium experiences. Capacity has been increased this summer which has meant longer wait times and decreased guest experience.
Brief Summary of the Main Points of Disney’s Genie+
- Fastpass plus is now permanently retired.
- The Fastpass plus queue line is now renamed the Lightning Lane (LL)
- Disney Genie is a free planning tool that will be integrated into the My Disney Experience app to help you plan your day while you’re at the parks.
- Disney Genie+ (notice the plus– yes this is going to be confusing as heck for a while) is a paid upgrade that will give you unlimited all-day access to the Lightning Lane for most attractions at each park, which you will “book” through the app one at a time for $15 a person per day.
- Some premium (highly popular) attractions will not be available thru the Genie+ option and instead can be reserved for a separate price, on an “a la cart” basis such as Seven Dwarves Mine Train and Rise of the Resistance. (no price info yet)
So that’s the bare bones of this. Let’s go deeper into each point.
What is the Disney Genie+ Planning App?
Disney Genie is a personalized planning tool built into the My Disney Experience app. (So not a separate app.) Its purpose is to help while you’re at the park. It will suggest what to do next based on your preferences and current wait times and location. This will be free and obviously optional to use. Here’s Disney’s feature list:
- Get Itinerary Updates from Morning to Night: Disney Genie will continue to update your itinerary throughout your day, so you can be more spontaneous and go with the flow.
- Find Your Favorites at a Glance: Create your very own personal tip board to instantly see your favorites. It will display current AND forecasted future wait times, helping you predict when you might experience quicker entry to attractions.
- Enjoy More Flexibility and Fun: Disney Genie brings existing planning features together in one place. Join a virtual queue at certain attractions, make dining and experience reservations, mobile order food at many locations, get help from a virtual assistant and more.
The tool sounds like a great idea. I’m sure it’ll be good especially for those unfamiliar with what’s available at each park. This tool will be available to everyone. How much you decide to use it will be totally up to you.
Now let’s talk about the paid stuff.
What is Genie+ & How Does it Work?
Genie+ will be an optional add-on that allows you to pay extra for access to shorter lines.
(Notice the “+”. This is not to be confused with the Disney Genie which is the free planning tool. Confused? Yeah, these names need some work for sure. But stay with me on this.)
This is the paid upgrade that will essentially replace the old Fastpass system.
Keep in mind that what used to be the Fastpass queue (essentially a shorter line that allows you to bypass the standby line and get to an attraction with a quicker wait) is now called the Lightning Lane.
Each attraction (or show) that used to offer a Fastpass option will now have a shorter, Lightning Lane option. But you will have to pay to have access to this quicker lane.
There are two ways to do this depending on the attraction.
- You can buy the Genie+ option will include most of the attractions in one bundle.
- You can buy direct access to certain premium attractions which will only be offered as a separate “a la cart” price and won’t be available with the Genie+ bundle.
Let’s take the first option, Genie+.
Genie+ will operate very much like the Disneyland Maxpass system used to. You can choose the next available time to ride, one selection at a time all day long. As soon as you ride you can select another one with no limit. Zoom in on that shot above. You’ll see the screen on the right has the current wait standby time listed and then the next time slot for Genie+ listed as well.
So say you’re standing in Tomorrowland trying to decide what to ride next. You pull up the app and see what the wait times are. If you bought the Genie+ add-on then you’d tap on that 11:40 Lightning Lane for Buzz and go ride. Then you can grab the next one, say for Space Mountain, and so on. Allowing you to use this shorter Lightning Lane all day long.
This may sound confusing if you haven’t tried Maxpass, so think of it as a throwback to when we had paper Fastpasses, (except now you don’t have to go to the location to get a pass, you can just do it on the app). When we had the paper ones, you grabbed the next available time slot and pretty much rode fairly soon. Occasionally a ride was more popular and the time slot would be a little farther out. In that case, you would have listed on the paper pass the time that you’d be able to grab another one (usually in 2 hours). They haven’t clarified yet if the new Genie+ will allow that as well, but it seems to make sense that it would. (Maxpass at Disneyland worked this way as well.)
So look again at our example above. After riding Buzz at 11:40 maybe you wanted to ride Space Mountain but the time slot wasn’t until 2:30. You would be able to pull another Lightning Lane selection within two hours instead of waiting until after your ride. So you wouldn’t be stuck not able to use it until after then.
Individual Paid Lighting Lane Access
Now, let’s talk about this other option, what I’m calling the “a la cart” method. Certain premium attractions that will not be included with Genie+. These attractions will have to be purchased separately.
Disney hasn’t given us the pricing or many details on this yet, so it’s hard to really speculate how this will work. So far they have listed Mine Train at Magic Kingdom, the upcoming Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure at Epcot, and Rise of the Resistance as being among the attractions that will be available for optional purchase. That means that those will also not be included with Genie+.
Disney says you can “Schedule a time to arrive at up to two highly demanded attractions each day using the Lightning Lane entrance“. This sounds more like the old Fastpass method, where you have a reserved time slot in your day for two attractions.
Important to note: This is a separate thing from the Genie+. You can buy one or the other, both, or none.
Disney Genie, Genie+ & Lightning Lane FAQ’s
When will this new system start?
We don’t know a date but Disney has said “Fall 2021”.
Will Annual Passholders be able to use this?
Yes. Disney has said that at launch you will be able to buy it as an add-on to their day like any other park guest. While they haven’t mentioned it yet, it seems likely they would eventually have an option for you to add it onto your pass for a flat fee for the year. They had this at Disneyland so that would make sense at some point.
Will this work with park hopping?
Yes, you can use the Genie+ option for the whole day whichever park you’re in. Not sure yet how that will work with the individual premium Lightning Lane purchases. It says two, so it’s unclear if both have to be at the same park.
How will this affect standby wait times?
We haven’t ever had a paid system like this before at Walt Disney World. So we will have to see. But I will definitely test park strategies both with and without it so we will figure out what works best to minimize waits. It’s unlikely this will slow down the standby lines as much as Fastpass did, as there were so many people using that system, and it seems likely this will be fewer people now that it’s not free.
Will you still need Park Reservations?
Yes. Disney has said that the reservation system isn’t leaving however, now that capacity is back to normal getting a pass isn’t really an issue. Aside from highly crowded times like holidays, it’s unlikely you’ll have many issues getting the reservations you’re looking for.
Will there be any perks for those who stay at Disney World resort?
The only one they’ve mentioned so far is that resort guests will get first dibs at those individual Lightning Lane purchases. They can purchase them at 7 am the day of, versus park opening time for everyone else. It remains to be seen how much of an advantage early access will be. I’m assuming there will be a limited amount of those available each day. Maybe with something like Rise of the Resistance, it could be a big advantage. But we’ll have to see how it all plays out.
How many individual Lightning Lane attractions can each guest book (buy) per day?
Looks like the max is two and they have to be different.
Do you have to buy Genie+ to be able to book (buy) the individual Lightning Lane selections?
No, they are separate things and there’s no overlap between them. If an attraction is offered as an individual Lightning Lane selection, it won’t be offered on Genie+ and vice versa so there is no overlap.
My Thoughts on Genie+ & Paid Fastpass
This may be an unpopular opinion, but I don’t see this change as a bad thing. I know it’s another fee for an already expensive trip and I do get that. But I was honestly expecting it to be a lot more than $15 a day. Maybe it’s because of that expectation that I wasn’t shocked by this.
Here’s the thing. No one likes waiting in long lines all day. It just kills the guest experience. Guests don’t like it and Disney doesn’t want it for them either. Demand is higher than ever for Disney World in the past few years and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. People often complain that it’s too crowded and wait times are too high. And I get that. The options we’ve had are to visit during lower crowd times or spend more to buy optional perks. Things like the After Hours parties, the paid extra Fastpasses that you could get at Club level, or really splurge and do something like a VIP tour.
And yes, in a perfect world they would open a 5th park or only design attractions that have really high capacity so wait times weren’t an issue or any of the various things people suggest they do. And maybe some of those will happen in the future, who knows? But for right now, we have high demand and no way to fulfill it all.
As long as people keep coming, attendance keeps growing, and things get sold out despite price increases, there isn’t much incentive for Disney to make things cheaper. And that’s just the hard truth of it. I really hate to think of people getting priced out of going because I want everyone to have the opportunity to visit, and it’s true that it’s getting more expensive.
However, in the context of a Disney trip, this isn’t a massive additional cost. Depending on your family size, it’s likely that for less than the price of one After Hours event you can get all of your family the Genie+ for your trip.
Let me also say that when I first tried the paid pass system at Disneyland I was super skeptical. I didn’t like the idea of paying for fast passes and looked at it as a cash grab. Then I actually tried it. And man was it a game-changer. I was the ideal person that it was created for. The tourist who traveled from far away who was trying to fit everything into a few days. And it allowed me to do just that. With minimal stress and no need to plan my whole day in advance. It worked great for me and I was converted!
Disney considers their Maxpass system to have been a huge home run with guests, and most fans will gladly sing the praises of it. But this was NOT the case when it was first announced. Maxpass was met with a huge uproar from fans when it was first announced, especially locals. Will Genie+ end up the same way? With fans speaking out in anger but ending up loving the new program? It’ll be interesting to see.
Plus there are still lots of things we don’t know. There are ways that Disney can bundle some of these into resort packages, or include them with certain levels of resort rooms, or even offer them free with certain specials the way they do the Dining Plan. This could increase the value of staying onsite since many of the perks (Magical Express, free Magicband) are leaving.
And keep in mind that comparing the Genie+ system to the Fastpass system isn’t really apples to apples. The Fastpass system was used by everyone and while it was great if you could grab one, you often still had a wait. Sometimes the Fastpass line would end up as long or longer than standby.
With a paid system, you’re going to have far fewer people using it. Which means the value of it goes way up. Now instead of just shortening your wait, it could make many attractions a walk on. And being able to use it all day means you’ll be getting far more than just the three initial Fastpasses we got before. Yes, we could get more, but usually, by the time we finished all three of our time slots the day was done.
There’s lots for us to learn and when this launches there will many strategies to test.
But rest assured that there will still be many ways to do Disney without these optional add-ons.
You won’t have to do them if it just doesn’t work in your budget. I’ll be testing park days using none of them, using just Genie+, using just the individual add-ons, and using both. So you’ll have more options than ever to do Disney in the way that works best for you.
And worse case, if this new system is really just garbage and doesn’t benefit the guests at all, then Disney will end up changing it or scrapping it altogether. Let’s at least wait and give it a chance and see what it’s really like before we decide.
Here’s Disney Parks Blog full article on Disney Genie, and inside there they have links to two different videos, one a preview, and one a more detailed video.