Walt Disney World is making more changes to Genie+, adding select character sightings with the goal of increasing capacity and variety to the paid FastPass replacement. This post offers a rundown of what’s getting a Lightning Lane, what to expect going forward, and our “wish list” for additional line-skipping access.
This actually isn’t Walt Disney World’s first tweak to the Genie+ system, but it is the first permanent one. Prior to this, Magic Kingdom added Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade to the Genie+ lineup for the peak holiday weeks. Additionally, Walt Disney World moved one attraction per park from the Individual Lightning Lanes to Genie+ access. All of those moves “expired” earlier this month.
Those changes were made to prevent Genie+ from being overwhelmed during periods of high demand–like the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s Eve–which is exactly what occurred in the lead-up to Thanksgiving. That resulted in some of the longest lines in each park being at Guest Relations, countless refunds issued for Genie+ and, if comments on this blog are any indicate, poor guest satisfaction. Things have gotten better since then, so this is more about forward-looking demand plus Spring Break and Easter crowds.
Beginning January 26, 2022, guests will find select Character Sightings have been added as selections for Lightning Lane line-skipping with a purchase of the Disney Genie+ service.
On that date, three Character Sightings at Magic Kingdom and one at Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be added to the permanent Genie+ Lightning Lane lineup. Expect more to be added as more character locations return.
First up is Princess Fairytale Hall in Magic Kingdom.
There, you’ll be able to book a Sighting with Cinderella and a Visiting Princess or a Sighting with Tiana and a Visiting Princess. In other words, these are two separate Genie+ Lightning Lane selections–each with two princesses. (NOTE: Every photo here of us is archival–we don’t have an “publishable” photos of us from the modified sightings. I shot the below photo of Mickey Mouse at the modified sighting, and even that required a decent amount of postprocessing to balance out the light.)
Also in Magic Kingdom, you’ll be able to see the Sighting with Mickey Mouse at Town Square Theater on Main Street, U.S.A.
As a reminder, Mickey Mouse is sporting his all-new EARidescent look designed for the Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary Celebration.
Finally, Disney’s Hollywood Studios will have one Genie+ Lightning Lane character option: Olaf at Celebrity Spotlight.
Interestingly, the Sighting with Minnie Mouse at Red Carpet Dreams and stars of Disney Junior in the Animation Courtyard are NOT part of the Genie+ additions at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. For now.
Also not part of the changes are all of the characters who returned to Epcot over the weekend. In case you missed it, Vanellope and Joy are back in the ImageWorks post-show area at Journey into Imagination (which can also be accessed through the exit without riding).
Additionally, Donald Duck is back at the Mexico pavilion, appearing in the outdoor meet & greet location tucked away to the right of the pyramid.
These character sightings at Walt Disney World offer individualized time indoors for selfies and posed photos, but are physically distanced—meaning no hugs or autographs. Additionally, these offerings occur alongside pop-up cavalcades, motorcades, flotillas, and spontaneous sightings.
My only complaint about these character sightings is that all the ones we’ve done (so far) haven’t had PhotoPass photographers and the resulting photos have been very bad. That apparently changed with the Epcot additions over the weekend, and hopefully these sightings at DHS and Magic Kingdom moving to Genie+ means they’ll add PhotoPass there.
While we aren’t exactly checking character sighting lines and wait times with every visit to the park, we’ve yet to see any appreciable wait times at any of these locations. Even when the parks have been busy, the waits for these character sightings have been relatively short–and moved faster than normal.
We’d attribute this to a few things. First, the lack of PhotoPass. From what we’ve seen, many guests are surprised to find no photographers and move quickly through after snapping a selfie or quick shot. Second, it’s also likely that at least some guests don’t want masked vacation photos. Finally, no hugs and autographs speeds up the process and makes it solely about the photos.
If “line speed” is your sole criterion for measuring character encounter quality, all of this is perhaps a good thing. It’s hard to imagine that being anyone’s sole metric, though.
We’ll gladly take longer lines for normal character meet & greets, once the time is right for it. At that point, you can also expect wait times to increase significantly. (Again, another ‘fair trade’ from our perspective.)
It’ll be interesting to see what impact adding these sightings to Genie+ has on standby wait times at the aforementioned character locations. It wouldn’t surprise us in the least if there’s some degree of induced demand, with the idea that anything scarce or exclusive is better. In other words, people who wouldn’t have done the sightings in the first place might book Lightning Lanes for them due to the perception that they’re “better” by virtue of Genie+ inclusion.
If that results in higher standby wait times–and there’s every reason to expect that it will–this could in turn result in more guests without Genie+ also flocking to these character sightings. This is purely speculative on our part, but there’s certainly precedent. (Anyone remember “Surprise FastPasses” for PhilharMagic or Carousel of Progress in the paper FastPass era?) Walt Disney World vacation planners are highly FOMO-motivated, which is why things like dessert parties book up with ease despite nonsensical price points. Same idea here.
It’ll also be interesting to see where Genie+ goes from here, as more changes are likely on the horizon in 2022. All of the parks that aren’t Magic Kingdom could really use more variety and capacity with the Genie+ service, and adding character meet & greets and entertainment is one way to accomplish this. We saw that with FastPass+ and with the old MaxPass system at Disneyland.
Given the precedent set with the Christmas parade (and FastPass+ before), it stands to reason that Festival of Fantasy Parade will have a Genie+ viewing area when it returns to Magic Kingdom. Same goes for Fantasmic at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
However, that’s purely speculation on our part. Notably, this has not happened with Harmonious. As you might recall, IllumiNations offered a FastPass+ viewing area in the ‘front of the house,’ which was the best viewing area for that fireworks show–and the same is true for Harmonious.
Currently, the ‘front of house’ viewing area for Harmonious is open to anyone (unless there’s a special event/private party). However, given the lack of Genie+ attractions at Epcot, it would make sense to include Harmonious as a value-add to incentivize Genie+ purchases—especially if it doesn’t sell well at first.
Walt Disney World might want to separately monetize that viewing area down the road—either with dessert parties or standalone paid access for nighttime spectacular viewing. Nothing would surprise us. Harmonious viewing might be enough to tip the scales in the favor of buying Genie+ at Epcot.
It should go without saying, but this is not all that’s on our Genie+ wish list for Walt Disney World. It would’ve been nice if Epcot and Animal Kingdom permanently moved an attraction from the Individual Lightning Lane lineup to the Genie+ service (although that’ll effectively happen in a few months when Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind opens).
Beyond that, there are a ton of minor technical tweaks that would greatly improve the feature. Truly, too many to list. The biggest is a modify button along with a generalized “fix glitchiness.”
Ultimately, the addition of character sightings to the Genie+ Lightning Lane lineup is interesting, but doesn’t change the equation for purchasing Genie+ when visiting Walt Disney World. That’s simply because these changes are happening at Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which are the two parks where Genie+ was already worthwhile.
Beyond that, this isn’t a significant value-add as compared to other changes that could be made. Character sightings don’t have much demand right now, and that probably won’t change until they become traditional meet & greets. However, this opens the door for further changes–and we’re curious about when and where those will occur. It’s an inevitability at this point that more entertainment is added, and there are a few options there that actually could move the needle on whether to buy the Genie+ service.
What are your thoughts on Walt Disney World adding character sightings at Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios to Genie+? Hope more entertainment will be added to Genie+ or would you prefer first-come viewing locations? 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!