When Will Pre-Arrival Lightning Lanes Start at Disney World?

“When will advance booking of Lightning Lanes come to Genie+ at Walt Disney World?” has become a common question, with vacation planners wondering the date in 2024 when they’ll be able to make ride reservations before the start of their trips. This post does not have a definitive answer to that, but we share what we know so far, what we’re expecting to happen, and more.

As you might recall, Walt Disney World first teased pre-planning capabilities coming to the Genie+ service and Lightning Lanes with the announcement of 2024 vacation packages. That was on May 8 of last year and also included the return of the Disney Dining Plan and removal of park reservations for most guests. Subsequent to that, Disney announced a return of all-day Park Hopping. All of those aforementioned changes just took effect–except Lightning Lane pre-booking.

Unsurprisingly, many Walt Disney World fans have been confused and assumed that advance-booking of Lightning Lanes was also debuting in January 2024. After all, the original announcements occurred simultaneously and there was ambiguity about when the pre-arrival ride reservations would roll out. That’s probably why we started receiving more questions as January drew nearer–fans with trips planned this winter wanted to know more and figured the start date was coming soon.

Walt Disney World has only made the one announcement about pre-arrival ride reservations: “We have heard from guests that they would like ways to plan with Disney Genie+ service and individual Lightning Lane selections before the day of their park visit, and we want you to know we are working on ways guests may do this for visits in 2024. Our goal is to give you the opportunity to spend less time planning in the park and more time enjoying your visit with friends and family. While we are not yet able to share specific details, we look forward to sharing more information at a later date.”

Again, that was last May. The company has provided a lot of updates on 2024 at Walt Disney World since that original announcement. When they announced the return of all-day Park Hopping, they reiterated the other changes (Disney Dining Plan, park reservations, etc.) on the horizon. Except there was no mention of pre-arrival Lightning Lanes.

At the start of 2024, Disney shared a list of “24 Oooh-Worthy Things at Disney Experiences in 2024” that included both the Disney Dining Plan and all-day Park Hopping. Guess what it didn’t discuss? Advance ride reservations! Surely that’s important enough to make this top 24 list, which also included a Stitch snacks merchandise collection and Star Wars video game. Obviously anecdotal, but we’ve received exactly zero questions about those two things, and so many we’ve lost count about the Lightning Lane changes.

We’ve been doing this for a while, and normally, nebulous news followed by months of radio silence from Walt Disney World means one of two things. The first is that the plans were never firm to begin with, and the announcement was less an actual announcement and more a fishing expedition to gauge fan feedback.

The second is that a decision was made from on high and the announcement was fast-tracked for…reasons unknown. The decision-makers moved without regard for logistical impediments or hurdles, and those tasked with actually doing the thing had to scramble to figure out how said thing would be done.

If you’ve been a fan for a while, you can probably think of instances of both occurrences. It’s often obvious from the outside, even without the benefit of inside info. Announcements that simply seemed like one of those two scenarios, with corresponding cancellations (usually quiet!) or slow-moving changes that ‘evolve’ from announcement to roll-out as operational realities are discovered in real-time.

The good news is that it’s our understanding that this is not the first scenario. Advance booking of Lightning Lanes is still progressing through development–it hasn’t been quietly killed. The bad news is that, obviously, January 9 came and went without pre-arrival Lightning Lanes being introduced. It’s highly likely that this is the second scenario at play.

For our part, we have heard scattered rumblings about pre-arrival Lightning Lanes over the last ~6 months. The degree to which this info is credible or still accurate is very unclear, but the general “theme” has been that Disney is still figuring it out. But honestly, you could’ve probably guessed as much given the radio silence. That’s not Walt Disney World’s M.O. when there’s a concrete plan that they’re about to execute.

With that in mind, what follows is entirely speculative and not based upon any credible rumors or inside info. These are simply our best guesses based upon past precedent and reasonable timelines. If you aren’t particularly concerned with what we think might happen and only care about official announcements and news, you should probably stop reading–we don’t want to waste your time. You can subscribe to our free email newsletter for updates when Walt Disney World shares concrete dates & details about advance booking of Lightning Lanes.

For now, here are our best guesses as to timelines and other relevant details…

In terms of a launch date, we’ve been predicting for a while now that the most logical internal goal would be to have Lightning Lane advance booking ready for Spring Break, which will arrive in full force on or around March 15, 2024. That’s when several Central Florida counties start their recesses, and there’s consistently a spike in crowds for that week-plus.

Pretty much as soon as schools around Orlando (it’s obviously not just Florida–there are plenty of other major districts with Spring Break in mid-March), even more schools with floating Spring Breaks dictated by Easter (March 31, 2024) will be out of session. Long story short, the second half of March 2024 is going to be bonkers.

This presents a double-edged sword. One side of that is the desire to launch the advance booking of Lightning Lanes prior to that in order to capture revenue from those vacation-goers. But it’s not just about the money (although that is obviously paramount!), it’s also about improving the guest experience and satisfaction, along with key metrics like intent to revisit or recommend. That is precisely why this is changing (again) in the first place–not because a vocal minority of diehard fans left mean YouTube comments on the DisneyParks channel.

The other side of rolling out in time for Spring Break is that it needs to be done right and without hiccups, glitches, or bugs. Walt Disney World won’t see guest satisfaction benefits if the new system launches in the same shape as the original Genie+ did back in October 2021. Accordingly, we’d pretty much expect to see advance booking of Lightning Lanes go live pretty close to March 1, 2024 if the intent is it being show-ready by Spring Break season…and if the system is deemed show-ready following internal tests by February. These are two colossal “ifs” and we have reason to believe they won’t be satisfied.

The debut of Genie+ is actually somewhat instructive here. It might feel like ancient history now, but the original same-day Lightning Lane system debuted on October 19, 2021. That date was revealed on October 8–only one week ahead of time–after first being announced on August 18, 2021.

There are a couple notable wrinkles to this, the first of which is that Walt Disney World purposefully waited until after the 50th Anniversary on October 1, 2021 to launch the first iteration of paid FastPass. In so doing, they left a lot of money on the table from the influx of fans taking 50th trips.

They also avoided a meltdown of the system that could’ve soured sentiment about Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary and cast a cloud overshadowing those festivities. In the end, the 50th kickoff didn’t end up being that busy or popular, but that was not known at the time the decision was made to wait until after the start of the celebration to start Genie.

It’s been a while, but our understanding at that time was that there was an internal push for both an earlier and later launch. That the team actually working on Genie+ had sought a substantially longer runway–rolling it out in 2022 instead of 2021–along with more resources and a bigger budget. Reliable Disney Villain Bob Chapek pushed for it to debut even sooner.

The date after the 50th was ultimately a compromise and, even then, key features were missing at launch and the product felt like beta software that made even Cyberpunk 2077 look like a polished success story by comparison. That’s precisely why it took a full year for tweaks to be made and fairly obvious missing functionality to be introduced to the Genie+ service.

The announcement and lack of details might sound somewhat similar to the scenario for advance booking, except on a more drawn out timeline this go-round. It sort of is, but with one critical difference (beyond the silence measured in months rather than weeks): advance-booking of Lightning Lanes necessarily requires more lead-time between announcement and roll-out than same-day bookings.

There are a lot of lessons that were learned from Genie+ and things that can be gleaned for its rocky rollout. The first is fairly obvious, which is to not rush the launch of a product that isn’t ready for primetime. I strongly suspect that Disney has taken this to heart, and it definitely helps that there’s leadership in Burbank that is more cautious and methodical.

(Even if you hate Bob Iger and think there’s very little daylight between he and Chapek, it’s undeniable that Iger had opportunity after opportunity to introduce paid FastPass during his first tenure as CEO, but never did. He dipped his toes and toyed with it, but never made the plunge. By contrast, Chapek powered forward with the plan at the earliest opportunity.)

Another is not to make a substantive announcement that’ll raise more questions than it answers…unless you’re also ready to answer those questions! Personally, I think Walt Disney World should’ve shared a follow-up about advance booking of Lightning Lanes by now, even if it was just a simple, “this is still coming later in 2024, but it’s not rolling out with the other guest experience enhancements on January 9.” That would’ve put some minds at ease, and would’ve been the courteous thing to do.

But I can understand the decision not to keep teasing what the new program would entail. Once that rubicon is crossed, they need to be ready to explain how it’ll work in full and have answers to every conceivable question. Genie+ was never going to be a fan-favorite simply by virtue of going from free to paid–but it was further doomed by that rocky rollout. Even as Genie+ has markedly improved over the last few years, it is still widely reviled.

Walt Disney World knows that anything short of going back to free FastPass is going to fall short for some fans, but it’s still possible to win people over on the new advance booking Lightning Lane system if the launch is handled well. That’s gotta be the goal here, with every step taken to ensure success. You only get one chance at a first impression, or so my grandma says.

You might notice that we’ve repeatedly referred to the advance booking of Lightning Lanes as a “new system.” This isn’t by mistake. Again, we don’t have any inside info nor have we heard any rumors. But as discussed in Walt Disney World Could Fix the Guest Experience by Improving These Things, we view the Genie “brand” as irrevocably tainted.

Genie+ is a a toxic name on par with Monsanto, Philip Morris, Comcast, or Robert Chapek. While it’s certainly possible that the advance booking of Lightning Lanes will simply slot into the existing Genie+ system that would, frankly, be an awful idea. Break from the past and all of the badwill associated with Genie, and make it something new entirely. There’s gotta be something salvageable from the FastPass+ or MaxPass infrastructure that could be recycled and serve as the foundation for the what’s old is new again (but now paid) system.

To that point, there were other changes made back around when Genie+ debuted and we strongly suspect that will occur again. As we’ve been saying for the last couple of months, we wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Walt Disney World overhauls DAS again–to the contrary, we expect that to happen. It sure seems like the DAS Abuse Crackdown was simply an opening salvo and not the endgame. If this does happen, it probably needs to occur before the Lightning Lane changes.

That’s a lot of background, but we wanted to “show our work” with the predictions. Based on the totality of that, we’ll offer a couple of different predictions for the launch of Lightning Lane advance booking. The first is already mentioned above, which is around March 1, 2024 if the intent is having it ready in time for Spring Break and the system is deemed ready.

With this prediction, there actually isn’t a lot of variance–we’d expect a rollout within a week of March 1, 2024. For one thing, it’s unlikely to be ready any earlier; for another, there will necessarily need to be lead-time between announcement and implementation. We’ll also call this the “race against the clock” timeline, and knowing that unexpected issues are likely to arise, we highly doubt advance booking of Lightning Lanes will be ready by March 2024.

In this first scenario, pre-booking is unlikely to be rolled out later than early March. Pushing the debut into the heart of Spring Break season is just playing with fire. Too much potential for unintended negative consequences.

The second scenario for pre-arrival ride reservations rolling out is on or around April 15, 2024. Tax Day! You’ve probably seen us make this precise prediction before for the return or debut of other things, and that’s because it’s consistently the end of peak Spring Break season. Sure, some stragglers still have time off that week, but it’s mostly done. Same story this year.

If Walt Disney World deems the system not ready for Spring Break and wants a decent amount of time to ‘soft launch’ Lightning Lane advance bookings before summer vacation season arrives, that gives them about two full months of runway. It’s a date that makes a lot of sense, and we could see other additional ‘guest experience enhancements’ on or around that date, even if Lightning Lane pre-arrivals don’t start then.

From what we’ve heard, the second scenario is much more likely than the first. If anything, mid-April 2024 might be overly-aggressive given the work and testing that still needs to be done, and the system might slip into early summer. The goal is still before then, so it should launch during the shoulder season, but even June 2024 is within the realm of possibility. (Heck, if there are major issues with development, pretty much any month for the rest of 2024 is possible.)

As for when we’ll get an announcement, there have been rumors or speculation that it’ll happen as early as this week or next. It’s our understanding that these “rumors” are inaccurate. If Walt Disney World were preparing to make a big reveal, a tease would’ve happened with all of the other early 2024 news and change roll outs. That didn’t happen, suggesting the Lightning Lane changes are still about a month (at least) away.

My expectation is that the announcement occurs roughly 30 days in advance–probably not much more or less. They need to give sufficient time for planners with trips on the horizon to make their ride reservations, but we suspect that’ll be about all the lead-time given.

Pretty much everything else is also unknown about advance booking of Lightning Lanes, including how many days prior to arrival guests will be able to make ride reservations. Under FastPass+, it was a 60 day window for on-site and 30 day for off-site. Our expectation is that it’ll be a much shorter timeframe than that, but far enough in advance that people with weeklong trips can book Lightning Lanes for the duration of their trips ahead of traveling. If we had to guess, it’d be 14 days vs. 7, or perhaps 30 vs. 14. (It’ll almost certainly be a month or less.)

To that point, we do expect there to be an on-site advantage. What’ll be interesting is whether this is offered at launch, or rolls out later once Walt Disney World realizes they need to do more to move the needle on occupancy numbers (a bit of an aside, but Free Dining doesn’t seem like it was the blockbuster promo anticipated).

Ultimately, there are a lot of other unknowns and Walt Disney World fans will undoubtedly have a ton of questions about advance booking of Lightning Lanes. Obviously, we cannot give definitive answers to any of those. What we can say is that our expectation is that advance booking of Lightning Lanes ends up looking a lot like FastPass+ but paid and with different rules (ride tiers, booking timelines, etc). So look back to FastPass+ if you’re wanting some semblance of certainty about the future of Lightning Lanes. Beyond that, we’ll keep you posted and share specifics as soon as we learn more, so stay tuned!

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

What do you think of Lightning Lane pre-booking coming to Walt Disney World? Any other considerations we failed to take into account or details we missed/got wrong? Will you purchase a version of paid FastPass if it allows for pre-planning and making some selections ahead of your trip? Do you agree or disagree with my assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

45 Responses to “When Will Pre-Arrival Lightning Lanes Start at Disney World?”
  1. Judge February 19, 2024
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