There are a lot of complaints about Genie+ at Walt Disney World, with one of the biggest being that return times at Hollywood Studios are frequently in the afternoon and evening. With that in mind, I tested a DHS Park Hopping day to see how much I’d be able to accomplish using Lightning Lanes to skip standby lines after 2 pm.
This walks you through my step-by-step late arrival afternoon using paid FastPass, with my Lightning Lane selections & return times, ride reservation screenshots, and what I accomplished using Genie+ after midday. Plus, thoughts at the end about whether Genie+ is worth the money at Hollywood Studios in such a scenario. (I guess the post title is a “spoiler” of sorts when it comes to that question.)
The idea is to determine whether you’re potentially better off not rope dropping Disney’s Hollywood Studios if you plan on using Genie+ and Lightning Lanes. You’ll definitely get more done if you’re in the park all day–that should go without saying. Nevertheless, if you want a relaxing morning, pool time, or want to start your day in Disney Springs or some other parks, this could be a good approach for efficiently beating the crowds at Disney’s Hollywood Studios…
Before we get to that, we’ll start with some background for those who are unfamiliar with it, which is totally skippable if you’ve already read one of our other Genie+ posts. Walt Disney World’s Genie+ line-skipping service is the replacement to free FastPass+ for select attractions in each park. Genie+ costs $16 per person per day and excludes the most popular ride per park. It’s a basically a digital version of the paper FastPass system from the “old days.”
For more info and answers to common questions, see our Guide to Genie+ at Walt Disney World & Lightning Lane FAQ. We’ve already updated that several times, and it’s a great jumping off point if you’re confused, overwhelmed…or fully understand the system, but want some next-level strategy to better leverage Genie+.
This is not a recommended itinerary, Genie+ touring plan, or universally-applicable day that I would suggest replicating. Simply a sample of what’s potentially possible with Genie+ during an afternoon at DHS. While this is a good approach to outsmarting the crowds at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, it’s one of many options. Viable alternatives are covered in the following posts:
Anyway, let’s move along to my day using Genie+ and Lightning Lanes at Disney’s Hollywood Studios…
Like clockwork, my morning started at 6:40 am, which is when my alarm went off. I bought Genie+ in the My Disney Experience app and attempted to customized my Tip Board for strategic advantage, which is where I ran into my first problem.
As it turns out, you cannot do this for your Park Hopping destination. Or at least, I couldn’t. Meaning that since my reservation was for Magic Kingdom, I could only make selections in that park. It wouldn’t let me change to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, claiming that I didn’t have a linked Disney Park Pass reservation. I wasn’t aware of this problem before, and I’m probably a relatively unique use case as someone who had no intention of making Magic Kingdom Genie+ selections despite starting there. In any case, it put me at a disadvantage in the Slinky Dog Dash Lightning Lane dash.
At 7:00:00 am, I refreshed the Tip Board.
Without being able to pin Slinky Dog Dash, I instead used a different technique: clicking on the attraction name followed by the Lightning Lane logo. Then I tapped the top of the screen and pulled down. Upon refreshing, My Disney Experience auto-scrolled for me (this is a feature, not coincidental). I’m sorry if this is difficult to follow–I can’t think of a better way to explain, and I didn’t stop to take screenshots since time was of the essence.
My confirmed Slinky Dog Dash Lightning Lane ride reservation was for 9:30 am to 10:30 am, but that was automatically shifted to the start of Park Hopping: 2 pm to 3 pm.
As always, Slinky Dog Dash Lightning Lane reservations via Genie+ go fast. It’s possible to get lucky with a refill or cancellation, but you’re strongly advised to make Slinky Dog Dash your first pick–or else you probably will not get it. It remains #1 on our Disney’s Hollywood Studios Genie+ Priorities & Lightning Lane Ride Ranks, even after the recent changes.
I wasn’t eligible to make another selection until 10 am. This is due to the 120 minute rule, coupled with an 8 am official park opening time for Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Throughout my day, all of these reservations would be 2 hours apart since I had an afternoon arrival.
However, this would’ve been the case pretty much regardless. This is a phenomenon unique to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where all of the return times are quickly pushed into the afternoon and evening. At all three other parks, it’s possible to get return times within 2 hours throughout the day. This is also why afternoon arrival makes more sense at DHS than the other parks.
As previously covered, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is receiving a “stealth” refurbishment, with one elevator shaft down. This is expected to be ongoing for several months, through Summer 2022 and perhaps beyond. Consequently, the attraction is effectively operating at half-capacity.
This means that the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is now our #2 Genie+ priority of the day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Wait times are significantly elevated, with it currently averaging a triple digit wait (it didn’t drop below 120 minutes until late in this particular day). Based on what I’ve been seeing lately with Tower of Terror, you won’t get it if you don’t select it second.
My return time here was 8:10 pm to 9:00 pm. As always, I like to save this last hour for doing Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance or other short standby lines, so this wasn’t ideal. There was no other option, though.
When my noon Lightning Lane booking window opened, I tried to snag Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. I got the dreaded error message: “Currently Unavailable: The Lightning Lane entrance for this experience is not available to book at this time. Please check back throughout the day or try selecting a different experience now.”
Typically, this happens when you’re trying to book a Lightning Lane that someone else cancelled, and either your party is too large (guest number mismatch) or someone else beat you to the punch. As a party of one, this had to be the latter.
Of the attractions that actually had Lightning Lane availability, Toy Story Mania was my next best option.
I wasn’t wild about selecting this third, as usually Toy Story Mania is the last “good” Lightning Lane attraction available. In this case, there was just a ride reservation refill, so I was happy to get an earlier time here, closer to my Slinky Dog Dash return window. Except I didn’t–the system shifted my return time to 6:15 pm to 7:15 pm. I debated cancelling, but just stuck with it.
One thing worth noting about this particular day (and the one after it…and after that…) is that Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith was down the entire day.
This meant one popular, high capacity attraction was out of commission and didn’t have any Genie+ inventory in a park that struggles with capacity even on a good day. Disappointing, but probably “good” for my run-through as this type of thing has been happening frequently.
For my next selection at ~2 pm, I chose Millenium Falcon: Smugglers Run.
This was a no-brainer, as it had Genie+ times replenished right as my 120 minute window opened. As covered in Ride Reservation Refill Rules at Walt Disney World, one of the more common times for this is a few minutes after the hour or half hour. Note that with these replenishments, party size is irrelevant. Walt Disney World is just dumping a ton of inventory, not trying to match that to certain party sizes. Except in the case of cancellations, the Genie+ system is not like ADRs.
As of 2 pm when I could enter Disney’s Hollywood Studios, this is the slate of Lightning Lanes I had lined up for the afternoon and evening.
Although I have an excessive amount of (misplaced) pride in my ability to book Slinky Dog Dash Lightning Lanes quickly, I definitely would’ve been better off with a later window for that so I could’ve arrived at DHS later. The problem is that there’s no good way to try for that. Pause too long, and you’re liable to miss it entirely.
I don’t have screenshots for the process and failures (since I was trying to do this quickly), but my next Lightning Lane selection at ~4 pm was a challenge. There were only a couple of attractions I wanted at this point, and I kept refreshing to see if there was a refill or cancellation.
My personal “policy” on this is to just book my first 3 selections of the day ASAP. No waiting, excessive screen time, or overthinking it. I just set an alarm for my next eligible time and book my highest priority as soon as I’m eligible–taking the sure thing over the risky one. For options after that, I have a 5 minute rule during which I’ll refresh and wait for something good. Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway opened up at the very end of this (via a cancellation, not a refill), and I scored it.
Not long after, I received a message that Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway was down, giving me a Multi-Experience Lightning Lane. Hooray!
…Or perhaps not, given everything that was excluded (see far right above).
Even in the late afternoon and evening, wait times were high at Disney’s Hollywood Studios for the headliners. These are all inflated to varying degrees–especially after 7 pm–but they’re still not short.
Fortunately, the lower profile attractions all have minimal waits and last performances of stage shows don’t fill up far in advance. You could easily do Star Tours, MuppetVision 3D, Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy, Mickey Shorts Theater, Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage, and even Alien Swirling Saucers after 5 pm with little to no wait.
No Lightning Lanes necessary, which is good, because none were available for anything worthwhile when my next booking window opened at around 6 pm. (There were good options at both Magic Kingdom and Epcot, but it’d be pointless to reserve those, since my schedule locked me in to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.)
Ultimately, this is what my evening would look like at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, with Slinky Dog Dash already knocked out at ~3 pm. It requires criss-crossing the park, but thankfully, DHS is no Animal Kingdom. Bouncing around doesn’t require nearly as much walking–and is definitely worth it for the time savings. A little bit of extra walking to knock out every single headliner (minus the down-all-day Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster) seems like a reasonable tradeoff.
I ended up using Genie+ to secure 5 Lightning Lane selections during this afternoon and evening at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which I think is pretty good. Notably, I was not at any disadvantage by only doing a late arrival half-day at DHS. I could not have booked a single additional Lightning Lane had I arrived at park opening. (Pretty wild that it makes no difference whether you arrive at 8 am or ~2 pm, right? But this is consistent with my past testing at DHS…which is why I tried this strategy in the first place.)
Based on posted wait times at my return times, I saved over 6 hours with those 5 ride reservations. Even if 2 full hours were knocked off that due to the disparity between posted v. actual wait times at Walt Disney World, I still would’ve saved 4 hours of waiting in line. Given the $16 cost, that’s roughly $4 per hour, making Genie+ “worth it” in terms of the time v. money cost calculus from my perspective.
However, it’s fair to say the Genie “granted my wish” and I got lucky with the Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway cancellation. Heck, the same could be said for the Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run reservation refill. So, let’s take both of those out of the equation, dropping my total down to 3 Lightning Lane reservations. That’s an average amount, and I know a normal guest could have booked 3 ride reservations on this particular day. That’s still over 3 hours saved, or just over $5 per hour. Given that, Genie+ is still worth it at DHS from my perspective.
Of course, that’s assuming you want to do morning somewhere else and couldn’t devise your own end-of-night strategy for tackling most of these attractions with significantly shorter wait times. Personally, I still think the best approach is to do Early Entry at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and then come back another evening for the last two hours of the night. I could’ve done more (including Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance via standby, probably twice) during those first and last 2 hours of the day–and it wouldn’t have cost $16.
With that said, those ideal morning/night times at Walt Disney World are finite, wait times are high everywhere during the afternoon, and you’ve gotta spend that time somewhere. If you’re going to do it at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, using Genie+ to beat the lines is pretty much the optimal approach.
Thoughts on my optimal late arrival Disney’s Hollywood Studios day using the Genie+ service to book Lightning Lane ride reservations in the afternoon and evening? Would you use Genie+ during a half-day at DHS? 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!