Remember when the most important part of a vacation to Walt Disney World was packing sunscreen and comfortable shoes? As the company moves toward tech-based scheduling tools, your phone — and especially the My Disney Experience mobile app — has proven more important than ever.
After reopening amid the pandemic, Disney Parks ditched their longstanding FastPass, a way to reserve guaranteed times to ride various attractions, and instead offered guests just one way to visit popular attractions: good old-fashioned standby lines. Soon after, it was announced that FastPass would never be back and a new ride-time reservation system was in the works.
Launched in October 2021, Disney Genie integrates directly with existing Disney Parks mobile apps and acts as a personal concierge, offering tailored itinerary suggestions based on preferences and interests. The Disney Genie+ add-on is a paid service that earns parkgoers $15 per person per day on top of the already pricey park tickets. Genie+ acts similarly to the defunct FastPass, which allows guests to book expedited attraction access via a “Lightning Lane” on the day of their visit.
Unlike FastPass, which offered attraction bookings up to 60 days in advance, the new system operates on a daily basis. Attractions can be booked from 7:00 am on the day of your visit and every two hours or after scanning the current attraction. Some high-demand attractions are excluded from this system and must be purchased a la carte for another additional fee, which can range from an additional $8 to $12 per person per attraction on average.
The intention of the system is to add planning-friendliness and a degree of spontaneity, but in practice it has turned out to be something else entirely. In the less than a year of its existence, the system has been plagued with issues ranging from app glitches and attraction outages to limited availability. In the fine print of the paid service, Disney suggests that the service should only allow users to ride two or three attractions per day: a far cry from the earlier free system, which offered guests three guaranteed attractions upfront and the ability to add more on day of their visit.
“Originally, I wasn’t concerned about the new Genie+ system,” said Michelle Bullas, an attorney who has visited Walt Disney World more than a dozen times. “I had no problem monetizing the previous FastPass system, but I do have a problem with them making you pay for a system that offers less value than the free system they used to have.”
Although she came to her vacation well acquainted with the new system, her Disney Genie+ experience didn’t quite go to plan as it was fraught with problems.
“What I found was that the system has a terrible lag time, which means I just couldn’t get passes for rides that were my priority,” explains Bullas. “I got up at 7am every morning, which meant I couldn’t sleep through the night once on my vacation. The internet in the parks let me down so when it came time to get the next pass I had to keep updating the app and delaying my next reservation – I lose more time on vacation.”
On a day when she was using Disney Genie+, her group was unable to book any attractions until the evening. She spent several hours in guest service with no help available. “They couldn’t do anything, they kept telling me, ‘It’s the app.'”
“It made me seriously consider ever visiting the parks,” adds the longtime Disney Parks visitor.
The unreliable system adds unnecessary vacation stress to parents or guests who want a structured schedule, as the service can be purchased in advance but no attractions can be scheduled ahead of the day of their visit.
Disney Genie+ operates in direct contradiction to Walt Disney World’s dining system, which allows reservations 60 days in advance. If an attraction time slot booked through Disney Genie+ conflicts with their pre-arranged dining reservations, guests must contact Guest Relations to avoid no-show fees, which quickly add up to $10 per person.
The day-to-day planning needs are further complicated when considering not only Disney Genie+ bookings, but also virtual queuing and a la carte attraction purchases. Despite constant criticism and backlash, Disney has remained steadfast in the system, which has made a number of changes over its relatively short lifespan.
And as we near the first busy summer season with Disney Genie+, Walt Disney World has changed the rules again. As announced on May 18, the paid service will no longer be available for pre-purchase, with the company emphasizing the terminology that the service is “subject to availability.”
What does this mean for the planning parent? Purchase of Disney Genie+ begins at 00:00 on the day of visit. The planner responsible for booking must purchase the service late at night to avoid a possible sell-out. Hours later, they are tasked with preparing for the 7am opening of the booking window and beginning attraction reservations. At the time of writing this article, the same changes have not been announced for Disneyland Resort’s version of the Genie service.
In light of the latest news, Micah Goldsberry and his wife, both former Disney Parks employees and longtime regular visitors to the parks, are concerned about an upcoming two-week family vacation with their young children, ages 5 and 7.
“Up until the announcement, we just played it with Genie+ every day and got it some days and not others,” Goldsberry tells Yahoo Life. “I don’t mind getting up early and getting it on the days we want it, but will it be available at that time? Or do we have to wake up at midnight? Does the price go up? As a resort and Disney Vacation Club guest, could we be disfellowshipped?”
Questions continue to pile up for the couple, who are knowledgeable about visiting Disney Parks. “We’re definitely seasoned veterans and that frustrates us,” Goldsberry shares. “I can’t imagine how people feel when they go to Walt Disney World for the first time.”
Many have taken to social media to express their concerns, leaving the infrequent visitor feeling completely overwhelmed.
Those planning upcoming Disney vacations have sought trip planners to help them navigate the complex system. experienced travel agency, Jen Greeneshared that her company has gone so far as to create step-by-step guides to help its customers use Disney Genie+.
“All in all, my clients didn’t find this to be a rewarding experience,” Greene tells Yahoo Life. “I’ve had a handful, maybe 10 customers who have booked it and they all hate it. They hate that you now have to pay for FastPasses that were free pre-pandemic, they hate that you can’t book attractions before 7 a.m. on the day of.”
Paid line access services are nothing new in the theme park industry. Universal Orlando Resort has long used a system called the Express Pass, which allows for expedited access to almost every attraction. Although it’s more expensive than its new Disney World counterpart, starting at $79.99, it’s long been praised for its ease of use. Universal’s flat rate covers almost every attraction, including most high-demand attractions. Instead of booking time slots, guests can freely access the express line at any time. In addition, Universal Orlando Resort guests staying at their highest tier resorts receive the service free of charge.
As someone who visits Disney Parks several times a month, I’m well versed in navigating Genie+, bugs and all. If you’re traveling to Disney World and worried about the changes, here’s what I’ve learned about navigating the system and having the best experience possible.
When the 7:00 AM reservation window opens for booking, use one device to book standard Disney Genie+ attractions and another device if you’re also booking high-demand attractions like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Avatar: Flight of Passage are only available as separate a la carte purchases.
Take advantage of the service’s ability to book attractions every two hours by “stacking” your return times for later in the day. Since it’s common for attractions to fill up quickly for morning and early afternoon time slots, stack late afternoon through evening attractions. For example: If the booking window opens in the morning, choose times for late afternoon and evening. Keep stacking these times every two hours if you have access to book more. (It’s not widely known that you can hold more than one reservation in the app as long as you follow these guidelines.)
If you plan to park (a term that describes starting at one Walt Disney World park early in the day and then moving to another in the afternoon or evening), stack rides for the second park when the booking window closes at 7am Opens in the morning and get it waiting queues at First Park. It can be helpful to set an alarm every two hours to ensure you take advantage of booking times.
A well-known bug in the app often occurs when guests see a time for an a la carte attraction that works for them, only to find that they’ve been rescheduled for a later time after they’ve paid. In this case, it can sometimes be helpful to visit the guest services areas (marked with blue umbrellas) at each park, as the staff there have the opportunity to adjust the time frame for you.
Disney Genie+ is proving more valuable in use at Disney’s Magic Kingdom Park and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. If you want to stay on a budget, consider forgoing the service when visiting Epcot and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
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