Remember when the most important part of any Walt Disney World vacation was making sure to pack sunscreen and comfortable shoes? As the company moves toward more technology-based planning tools, your phone — and more importantly the My Disney Experience mobile app — have proven to be more vital than ever.
After reopening amidst the pandemic, Disney Parks abandoned their long-running FastPass, a way of reserve guaranteed times to ride different attractions, and instead offered guests only one option to visit beloved attractions: good old-fashioned standby queues. Soon after, it was announced that FastPass was never coming back and a new system for reserving ride times was in the works.
Launched in October 2021, Disney Genie is integrated directly into Disney Parks’ existing mobile apps and acts as a personal concierge, offering customized suggested itineraries based on preferences and interest. The add-on, Disney Genie+ is a paid service, running park goers an additional $15 per person per day on top of already pricey park tickets. Genie+ acts much like the defunct FastPass, allowing guests to book expedited access, via a “Lightning Lane,” to attractions on the day of their visit.
Unlike FastPass, which offered attraction bookings up to 60 days in advance, the new system operates on a day-of basis. Attractions can be booked beginning at 7:00 am on the day of your visit and every two hours or after scanning into the current attraction. Some high-demand attractions are excluded from this system and must be purchased a la carte for yet another additional fee, which can range, on average, between an additional $8 to $12 per person, per attraction.
The system’s intention is to add planning ease and a level of spontaneity, but real-world practice has proved to be quite another thing. In its less than one year of existence, the system has been plagued with issues from app problems and attraction breakdowns to limited availability. In the fine print of the paid service, Disney suggests users should be able to ride only two or three attractions a day with the service: a far cry from the former free system which offered guests three guaranteed attractions in advance plus the opportunity to add several more on the day of their visit.
“I originally was unconcerned about the new Genie+ system,” explains Michelle Bullas, a lawyer who has visited Walt Disney World over a dozen times. “I had no problem with them monetizing the former FastPass system, but I have an issue with them making you pay for a system that provides less value than the free system used to.”
Despite arriving at her vacation well-versed in the new system, her experience with Disney Genie+ didn’t exactly go according to plan as it was riddled with issues.
“What I found was that the system has terrible lag time, meaning that I just didn’t get passes onto rides that were my priority,” Bullas explains. “I was up at 7:00 am every morning, meaning I didn’t get to sleep in once on my vacation. The internet in the parks would drop me, so when it was time to get the next pass, I would have to refresh the app over and over again and delay my next reservation — losing more time while on vacation.”
On one day of using Disney Genie+, every party was unable to book attractions until the evening. She spent several hours at guest services with no help able to be offered. “There was nothing they could do, they kept telling me, ‘It’s the app.'”
“It has made me seriously rethink ever visiting the parks,” adds the longtime Disney Parks visitor.
The unreliable system adds unneeded vacation stress to the parent or guest who is looking to create a structured schedule, given the service can be purchased in advance but no attractions can be scheduled until the day of their visit.
Disney Genie+ operates in direct contradiction to Walt Disney World’s dining system, which allows reservations to be made 60 days in advance. Further complicating things, if an attraction time window booked through Disney Genie+ conflicts with their predetermined dining reservations, guests will need to visit guest relations to avoid no-show dining charges, which add up quickly at $10 per person.
The day-of planning necessities become even more convoluted when factoring in not only Disney Genie+ bookings, but virtual queues and the purchasing of attractions a la carte. Despite constant criticism and backlash, Disney has unwaveringly stuck by the system implementing a number of changes in its relatively short life.
And, as we approach the first summer busy season with Disney Genie+ in effect, Walt Disney World has once again changed the rules. Announced on May 18, the paid service will no longer be available for pre-purchasing, with the company stressing the terminology that the service is “subject to availability.”
What does this mean for the planning parent? Purchases of Disney Genie+ begin at 12:00 am on the day of visit. The planner in charge of booking will need to purchase the service late at night, to avoid a potential sell out. Hours later, they will be tasked with preparing for the 7:00 am booking window to open and begin reserving attractions. As of the publishing of this article, the same changes have not been announced for Disneyland Resort’s version of the Genie service.
With the recent news, Micah Goldsberry and his wife, both former Disney Parks employees and longtime regular visitors of the parks, are feeling concerned about an upcoming two-week family vacation with their young children, ages 5 and 7.
“Until the announcement, we would just play it day-by-day with Genie+ and get it some days, and others not,” Goldsberry tells Yahoo Life. “I don’t mind waking up early and getting it on the days we want it, but is it going to be available at that time? Or do we have to wake up at midnight? Is the price going up? As a resort and Disney Vacation Club guest could we be shut out?”
The questions continue to mound for the couple, who are well-versed in visiting Disney Parks. “We are definitely seasoned veterans, and it frustrates us,” Goldsberry shares. “I can’t imagine how people feel going to Walt Disney World for the first time.”
Many have turned to social media to express their concerns, with infrequent visitors feeling completely overwhelmed.
Those planning upcoming Disney vacations have sought out travel planners to help navigate the complex system. Experienced Travel Agent, Jenn Greeneshared that her company has gone as far as creating how-to guides with step-by-step instructions to help their clients use Disney Genie+.
“Overall, my clients have not found this to be a worthwhile experience,” Greene tells Yahoo Life. “I have had a handful, maybe 10 clients, book it, and they all hate it. They hate that you now have to pay for FastPasses, which were free pre-pandemic, they hate that you can’t book attractions until 7 am the day of.”
Paid services for line access are nothing new in the theme park industry. Universal Orlando Resort has long been using a system, deemed Express Pass, that allows for expedited access at nearly every attraction. While pricier than Disney World’s new counterpart, starting at $79.99, it’s long been praised for its ease of use. Universal’s one bulk price covers nearly every attraction, including most high-demand attractions. Instead of booking time slots, guests can freely access the express line whenever they choose to. Additionally, Universal Orlando Resort guests staying at their highest tier resorts, receive the service complimentary.
As someone who visits Disney Parks several times a month, I’ve become well-versed in navigating Genie+, flaws and all. If you’re headed to Disney World and worried about the changes, here’s what I’ve learned about navigating the system and getting the best experience possible.
When the 7:00 am reservation window opens for booking, utilize one device to book standard Disney Genie+ attractions and use another device if you are also looking to book high-demand attractions, like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Avatar: Flight of Passage, that are available only 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. As it’s common to see attractions book up quickly for morning and early afternoon time slots, stack attractions for late afternoon into evening. For example: When the booking window opens in the morning, choose times for the late afternoon and evening. Continue to stack those times every two hours when you have access to book more. (It’s not widely understood that you can hold more than one reservation in the app as long as you follow these guidelines.)
If you plan to park hop (a term used to describe starting at one Walt Disney World park early in the day, then moving to another in the afternoon or evening), stack rides for the second park when the 7 am booking window opens and use standby queues at the first park. It may be helpful to set an alarm for every two hours to make sure you’re taking advantage of booking times.
A widely-known glitch in the app often occurs when guests see an a la carte attraction time that works for them, only to find they’ve been scheduled for a later time once they’ve paid. If this happens, visiting guest services areas (marked by blue umbrellas) within each park can sometimes help, as the employees there have the ability to adjust the time frame for you.
Disney Genie+ proves to be more valuable in use at Disney’s Magic Kingdom Park and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. If you’re looking to stick to a budget, consider forgoing the service when visiting Epcot and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Want lifestyle and wellness news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Life’s newsletter.