Along with the release of 2024 vacation packages, Walt Disney World has teased pre-planning capabilities coming to the Genie+ service and Lightning Lanes. This post covers what little we know so far, plus extensive commentary about what this could mean, why it’s happening, winners & losers, and more.
Walt Disney World recently made several updates to add more value and flexibility to vacations, including bringing back free overnight self-parking at Disney-owned resort hotels, adding on-ride photos to the Genie+ service, and more.
Disney indicates that it’s continuing to listen to guests, and has just announced 5 exciting updates coming in 2024 to improve the guest experience. The biggest surprise on this list concerns the Genie+ service…
According to Walt Disney World, the company has heard from guests and is working on ways to help guests plan with the Disney Genie+ service and Individual Lightning Lane selections in response to those requests. This would mean guests being able to make ride reservations before their visit so they can spend more time with friends and family once inside the parks.
No other details are provided about when in 2024 this will happen or what form it will take. It’s our understanding that this is one of several changes being considered for Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lanes, and that an official announcement with specifics is still several months away.
In terms of commentary, it’s first and foremost interesting to see Walt Disney World tease this without a concrete plan or any details. Even though they’re not committing to specifics–or even anything at all–this means that some sort of changes are coming. Walt Disney World would not this kind of non-announcement announcement unless something significant were being planned. It’d be like teasing that the Disney Dining Plan is returning soon only to remain unavailable for another 2+ years. Wait a minute…bad example!
More than anything else, this suggests to me that Walt Disney World has received a lot of complaints about Genie+ from vacation planners. So many that the company feels compelled to signal that “we hear you and will fix this.” This is not the kind of tease that occurs unprompted and out of the blue–that’s not Walt Disney World’s standard way of dealing with this sort of thing.
For those who think this might be a case of confirmation bias or that I simply might be “hearing what I want to hear” in the announcement, that’s pretty far from the case. To the contrary, the many (MANY!) of you who have bemoaned the lack of advance booking with Genie+ and Lightning Lanes have received fairly similar replies from me.
In a nutshell, the conversation has gone like this. Certain commenters have indicated that they could deal with the change from free FastPass to paid Genie+ if they were still able to pre-plan their first couple of Lightning Lane selections ahead of their trips. Many other readers have chimed in to agree with this sentiment, indicating it’s the biggest stumbling block with Genie+ for them. Others still see all of these comments, and conclude that it’s the consensus among Walt Disney World visitors.
In turn, I’ve replied that this is a matter of selection bias. That disproportionately, Walt Disney World visitors reading blogs like this one are ardent planners. That diehard Walt Disney World fans are not representative of the general park-going public, many or most of whom don’t know much about Walt Disney World until arrival.
This might sound like a weird argument I’m having with myself and oddly publishing for the world to see, but I swear that this exchange has played out repeatedly–almost exactly like this–in the comments of past posts about Genie+ and Lightning Lanes. And it’s one that would happen again in the comments here if it weren’t proactively addressed. (It’ll probably still happen.)
Among other things, casual visitors previously did not know you could make ride reservations at all, let alone a month or two in advance under the prior FastPass+ system. They would first learn about FastPass, ADRs, virtual queues, and so many other things upon arrival at Walt Disney World. Unsurprisingly, this led to frequent complaints among first-time visitors about the FastPass+ system.
(Now, many of these same people learn of Disney Park Pass upon arrival, which caused its own problems when capacity was constrained. Many others don’t buy Genie+ until ~9 am, after seeing others use it in the parks or asking a Cast Member at an attraction, “what’s with the ‘fast lane’ over there?”)
All of that was and is true about first-timers and infrequent guests. That’s one of the reasons Walt Disney World moved from FastPass to Genie. The other, obviously, was $$$$$$. But that explanation is hardly a secret to anyone.
Still, if increasing revenue had been the only goal or issue that Walt Disney World was seeking to address, they simply could’ve monetized the existing FastPass+ service. That would’ve been simpler, with less investment and far fewer growing pains over the last couple years. The fact that Disney did not do that should be pretty conclusive that there were other issues at play.
It’s also true that vacation planners really miss the pre-planning aspect of FastPass Plus, and have complained about that to Walt Disney World. Repeat visitors and diehard fans are hardly an insignificant portion of the visitor base, and they are arguably the type of guests that Walt Disney World should want to please most. (The status of the rite-of-passage or one-and-done guests is right there in their name!)
Honestly, this about-face is what I did not see coming. When it was announced, my prediction was that Genie+ “favorability” among WDW diehards would increase over time. To those points, what follows is my original commentary from the announcement nearly two years ago…
The initial response [to Genie+] will be overwhelmingly negative, just as it was at Disneyland when MaxPass was announced. In addition to being upset by something previously being free now costing money, many will lament the loss of pre-planning their FastPass+ selections and having the peace of mind in knowing they have certain popular attractions “locked-in” prior to their trips.
To be sure, there are FastPass+ power users and diehard planners who will remain entrenched in that belief. Those Walt Disney World fans likely are disproportionate readers of blogs like this one. However, that’s a vocal minority of all guests–far from a majority. Most average guests plan days in advance–or even upon arrival–not 6 months ahead of time.
For first-timers, Walt Disney World vacations are a morass of convoluted policies and things to know. These guests will likely favor Genie+ as it levels the playing field to a degree. To them, a paid system will be better than a free one where they’re shut out of most popular attractions because they’re not seasoned on the ins and outs of FastPass booking.
Nevertheless, we’d expect many ride or die FastPass+ fans to eventually give Genie+ a try and come around on it. No matter how staunchly anyone might oppose Genie+ now, history bears this out. At Walt Disney World, the original FastPass was controversial among fans in 1999, before becoming beloved. FastPass+ was likewise a reviled replacement among fans who had mastered the paper FastPass system.
Disneyland’s launch of MaxPass is an even better example given the similarities between Genie+ and that. The initial announcement was met with outrage and complaints, but its use and popularity quickly increased as Disneyland diehards used it in the parks. We know because that was us! After hating it, we actually used MaxPass, were hooked on it, and became MaxPass cheerleaders.
I got at least some of that right, but other parts wrong. For one thing, I underestimated just how half-baked Genie+ would be at launch. My expectation was that Walt Disney World was getting MaxPass, but with a different name. Part of that was on me, as I overlooked the ride capacity disparities between Disneyland and Walt Disney World (minus Magic Kingdom).
Even more of that was on Walt Disney World, though. So many features present in both FastPass+ and MaxPass were missing from the Genie+ service, it was buggy and clunky to use, and so forth. If you used Genie+ prior to late summer or early fall of last year on a moderately busy (or worse) day, you already know all of this. No point in rehashing it.
To Walt Disney World’s credit, plenty of positive changes have been made to Genie+ and Lightning Lanes in the last several months. However, many of those should’ve been present from launch and others have essentially obfuscated issues rather than fixing them. So the underlying problem still exists, it’s just hidden from view.
Oh, and the average price has increased significantly during that time, going from $16 on a daily basis, and is now $20 to $25 on average (with a low price of $15 and high of $35). Given all of that, we probably shouldn’t pat them on the back too much.
From what we’ve seen here, complaints from Walt Disney World regulars have decreased in frequency and volume. That alone doesn’t mean that Genie+ “favorability” among fans has improved, though. People are also less likely to voice complaints about things that are older and more established. (The same reason we’re hearing more complaints about TRON Lightcycle Run’s duration than we do about Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster!)
If you ask WDW planners, many or most of them will still lament the loss of pre-planning ride reservations. It does not seem like, as a whole, this demographic has “come around” and embraced Genie+ or Lightning Lanes in that way. Buying it doesn’t mean people are enjoying it. (Genie+ is unquestionably exceeding original sales forecasts, but that’s also not an endorsement. Many visitors feel they have no other choice and will spend more money to ensure a “good” vacation, as we’ve covered at length in other recent commentary.)
The point of all this is that Walt Disney World is in a tough position between the preferences of planners, who represent a demographic of diehards and repeat customers–and the past complaints of first-timers and infrequent visitors. That the company intends upon making changes to accommodate pre-planning with Genie+ suggests that Disney is hearing their most loyal fans.
That’s great news, and exactly what we expected/predicted when Iger returned. (Everyone who claimed that Iger is “no different” than Chapek might want to reevaluate that stance. Between the 5 changes today and the 3 earlier this year, plus Iger and D’Amaro’s bullishness on future expansion…it’s safe to say that there are material differences in leadership now!)
The unanswered question is whether Walt Disney World will try and thread the needle to make both sides happy, or reverse course and cater to the planners. Frankly, I have no idea. I’m honestly not sure Walt Disney World does either–if there were already a concrete plan, I think we’d be hearing that instead of a tease.
If forced to guess, I think we’ll see a compromise solution that tries to find the middle ground. Booking Lightning Lanes 30 to 60 days out is probably too far in advance. On the other hand, booking at midnight the day before might be insufficient to appease the planners.
With vacation bookings slowing down and resort occupancy decreasing, I think the savviest move would probably be to create an on-site advantage for Genie+ and a separate booking window for off-site guests. I’d be surprised if the longest of those windows is more than a month, with 7-14 days seeming more like a sweet spot. That wouldn’t make everyone completely happy or angry, which is what a good compromise looks like!
Also unknown is the logistics of how this will work. Last year when vacation packages were released, Walt Disney World eliminated the length-of-stay Genie+ ticket add-on. We called this a good move that has improved Lightning Lane availability and the service for those purchasing it same-day, but it was met with considerable fan backlash.
Regardless of whether that was good or bad, it seems like the ticket add-on will necessarily need to return if Walt Disney World is going to allow advance Lightning Lane selections. That would also suggest that date-based prices for Genie+ will be released in advance, becoming less dynamic or responsive to real-time crowd levels. (And they have been to an extent–Walt Disney World has made weekends less expensive as attendance dynamics have changed in the last couple months.)
Suffice to say, there are a lot of moving parts that’ll need to be sorted out between now and January 2024–and it’s likely that these are not the only changes coming! That could explain why Walt Disney World is only teasing a simplified version of Genie+ that allows advance Lightning Lane selections instead of making a substantive announcement!
Ultimately, the solution to all of this is building more attractions. As we’ve said many times before, queueing is a zero-sum game. No approach to lines–not all standby, not paper FastPass, FastPass+ or Genie–changes capacity. The only meaningful way to alter the equation is by actually increasing capacity. That’s done by adding entertainment, extending operating hours, adding attractions, or building new lands. (Obviously, some of those things take longer to accomplish than others, and cannot conceivably occur by 2024!)
Everything else is a matter of rearranging the deck chairs, and having different guests or demographics come out ahead or behind. In this case, the “winners” (air quotes) will almost certainly be the dedicated pre-planners and the losers will be Walt Disney World first-timers and those who take a more spontaneous approach to their visits. Hopefully, the right balance is struck so that the winners don’t win too hard and the losers don’t lose too much, though!
If you have questions about the basics of using–or not using–the paid FastPass service, see our Guide to Genie+ at Walt Disney World & Lightning Lane FAQfor all of the foundational need-to-know info. This whole system is confusing and convoluted, so you might have a question or two-dozen. That answers all of the most common ones we’ve been receiving from readers.
What do you think of Walt Disney World teasing that Genie+ and Lightning Lane pre-booking? Thoughts on our perspective that this is being done due to decreasing satisfaction among Walt Disney World diehards? Any other considerations we failed to take into account or details we missed/got wrong? Will you purchase Genie+ 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!