My Day Using Genie+ Lightning Lanes in Christmas Crowds at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Genie+ attraction availability goes quickly every single day at Hollywood Studios, especially during the heart of the holidays at Walt Disney World. With that in mind, I headed to DHS to test the paid FastPass service on what I expected would be a moderately-crowded Christmas season day.

However, if wait time data is to be believed, it was actually one of the slowest days at DHS in the last two months, with an average wait time of 38 minutes and a crowd level of 2/10. Conversely, if random reports on our Facebook page are to be believed, it could’ve been the busiest day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in years. Perhaps the worst day ever! So maybe it was a slow day, maybe it was so insanely and crushingly crowded that it’ll make the next edition of Guinness…who’s to say?!

I guess as someone who has spent way too much time at DHS in the last few years, I am. Disney’s Hollywood Studios was not busy by current standards. (Emphasis added as this part is key–no one has a time machine to revisit the good ole days of 2018, so that’s not a relevant comparison.) Don’t make the mistake of assuming Genie+ was not necessary on this day because everything was a walk-on or had wait times of 20 minutes or less. To the contrary, there were rides with wait times exceeding an hour…or two!

On this 2/10 crowd level day at DHS, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance peaked at 145 minutes, Slinky Dog Dash managed triple digits at 100 minutes, Tower of Terror topped out at 90 minutes, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster hit 85 minutes, and three other attractions managed 75 minute maximums.

It seems like Walt Disney World fans have unrealistic expectations for what “low crowds” means at DHS in the current era. It’s all relative, and a crowded day at DHS means 5 attractions averaging triple-digit wait times (with Rise of the Resistance above 3 hours and Slinky Dog Dash between 2 and 3 hours), and many others around 90 minutes.

So this wasn’t exactly a dead day–it just wasn’t nearly as bad as DHS can get during the holiday season.

In any case, this photo report walks you through my step-by-step day using paid FastPass, with my Lightning Lane selections & return times, ride reservation screenshots, what I accomplished using Genie+ during low crowd levels (by 2022 standards), and thoughts at the end about whether Genie+ is still worth the money at DHS.

Despite the low crowd level, Genie+ did help me beat several of those hour-plus long lines, which were fairly common during the middle of the day. Additionally, I was able to test strategy and see how the dynamic with Lightning Lanes has changed since the return of Fantasmic, which has altered attendance patterns at DHS.

Given the 2/10 crowd level, it should be unsurprising that Genie+ cost “only” $16 per person on this particular day. As a reminder, paid FastPass shifted to date-based pricing for the Genie+ service. As always, this is Walt Disney World code for “price increase (most of the time).”

Only a few days before my visit, Genie+ cost ~$31 after tax. Thus far in December, most dates have actually dropped back to pre-increase territory, with only the weekends being above $15. This is despite crowds trending up this week, too. I would hazard a guess that this weekend will be at or above $20 and next week will not drop back to $15, as attendance is only likely to rise in the lead-up to Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Expect prices back in the $15 range after January 9, 2023.

Before we get going, it’s important to note that this is simply my day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios using Lightning Lanes. It’s not a recommended itinerary, Genie+ touring plan, or universally-applicable day that I would suggest replicating. Simply what I did over the course of testing Genie+ during a day at DHS. For those, see the following:

If you’re trying to accomplish just as much in a day without Genie+, an aggressive approach and savvy strategy are required at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s the toughest park to tour at Walt Disney World. There’s no magical formula to sleeping in, rolling up to the park a couple hours after rope drop, not buying Genie+, enjoying the park in a leisurely way, and accomplishing everything.

Anyway, let’s move along to my day using Genie+ and Lightning Lanes at Disney’s Hollywood Studios…

Let’s start at 6:50 am, which is when my alarm went off. I bought Genie+ in the My Disney Experience app and customized my Tip Board for strategic advantage. (We highly recommend following our Speed Strategy for Genie+ Selections for why all of this is important, and how to score an early return time for Slinky Dog Dash.)

At 7:00:00 am, I refreshed the Tip Board. Unfortunately, I was staying at All Star Sports and my room in “Home Run Hotel” was anything but a homerun when it came to internet speed (both WiFi and cellular). Consequently, the refreshing spun and spun for what felt like an eternity (it was more like 7 seconds). I ended up with 12:35 pm to 1:35 pm as my return time. Not my finest work.

In order to “run the table” on headliner Lightning Lanes at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, it’s usually imperative to score Slinky Dog Dash with a return time at or before 10:30 am. Doing so enables you to book a second Lightning Lane attraction at DHS before 10:30 am, which is the first possible time anyone subject to the 120 minute rule–which is most guests–will be able to make another Genie+ ride reservation.

Even though it’s a far longer window, not many people are booking between ~7:10 am and 10:29 am. Return times tend to move slower during that time frame. Unfortunately, I could not make another ride reservation until 10:30.

It was at this point that I made my first critical mistake of the day: following my own advice.

According to my own Lightning Lane rankings (at the time), Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway had climbed to the #2 priority at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This has been accurate for the last several months, but isn’t when Tower of Terror is only operating at half-capacity, which is the case right now, yet again.

I really should’ve known better, as this has been an issue and I saw Tower of Terror with an abnormally high wait time while walking around, but I didn’t connect the dots. Don’t make this same mistake.

Tower of Terror is normally the #4 or #5 priority when it’s operating at full capacity, but jumps to the clear #2 when at half-capacity. An easy way to tell it’s at half-capacity without watching the elevators endlessly is checking out wait times. Currently, Tower of Terror has the third highest wait time (98 minutes) at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in December 2022 after Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance (109 minutes) and Slinky Dog Dash (103 minutes). If it’s in the top 3 (or 4) for wait times during your visit, it’s the #2 priority. If not, it’s not.

As you can see from the screenshot above, Tower of Terror was already gone by the time I made my next selection.

Normally, Toy Story Mania would be the #6 priority at DHS, but I became (perhaps a tad overly) conservative after the Tower of Terror debacle. I noticed Toy Story Mania had higher wait times throughout the morning than the remaining alternatives, so I picked it, fearing downtime was plaguing TSM, too.

I tapped into Toy Story Mania at 2:20 pm.

As a reminder, it’s possible to enter the Lightning Lane up to 5 minutes early or 15 minutes late. There is no need to ask for a Cast Member’s permission to do this–it doesn’t require a computer override. If anything, asking a CM might result in confusion, as it’s possible they might not know about this Lightning Lane “rule.” (No knock at them–there’s way too much to keep track of with Genie!)

As soon as I tapped into the first Lightning Lane touchpoint at Toy Story Mania (the second was disabled), I began searching for Lightning Lane availability. Still no Tower of Terror, but something arguably better: Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run with a return time ~30 minutes into the future.

This had to have been a cancellation or refill, and I jumped on it immediately. Everything before this had been subject to the 120 minute rule–a common occurrence at DHS and why it’s so easy to end up with a backloaded day of Lightning Lanes–so I was really pleased to score this.

Almost as soon as I was done with Toy Story Mania, my window for Millennium Falcon opened. Disney’s Hollywood Studios has a really small footprint as compared the other parks, so I don’t mind some backtracking, but it was nevertheless nice to knock out two nearby attractions in quick succession.

Wait times were “finally” starting to drop by around 2-3 pm (wait times peaked before noon prior to Fantasmic returning–not anymore), which is also good for Genie+ users. Based on what I’ve observed over the last year, Lightning Lane availability and return times are dynamic to some degree. Meaning that if wait times drop or spike, Lightning Lane inventory adjusts accordingly, also going up or down, and pushing return times later or moving them forward. At least, this is my theory–corroborated by dozens of days of use (and many more of observation).

Nevertheless, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror remained unavailable. It also still had a 90 minute wait time, even as other headliner attractions fell below an hour.

My next pick was Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster as a result. With this selection, I had all of the ‘best’ or useful DHS Lightning Lanes, save for Tower of Terror and Alien Swirling Saucers. I did not want priority access, or any access for that matter, to A.S.S.

Throughout the afternoon and early evening, I periodically checked Genie+ for Tower of Terror refills, but no such luck. I won’t pretend that I was diligent about this–I met up with a friend and we had an early dinner, so I didn’t check at all between around 4 pm and 6 pm.

One thing to note is that everything else–minus Slinky Dog Dash on the Genie+ side and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance on the ILL side–continued to have Lightning Lane availability past 6 pm. The significance of this is that even if you were subject to the 120 minute rule the entire day, you could have scored every attraction in the top 7 just by following our Lightning Lane ride rankings.

That’s really one of the big differences between a low crowds and busy day at DHS. While both are going to have hour-plus wait times for the headliners, the crowded day is going to have even worse wait times. No surprise there. However, that becomes less pronounced by mid-afternoon, when many attractions will fall under an hour on the slow day. That won’t happen on a day that’s truly busy.

More important from the Genie+ perspective is that most attractions won’t run out of Lightning Lane ride reservations until very late on a slow day. There’s a ‘tipping point’ of sorts on less-busy days where active users of Genie+ falls below the overall allocated capacity for Lightning Lanes, and makes it really easy for most attractions. This was one of those days. (In my experience, the tipping point for DHS is a 6/10 crowd level day. That level or below is pretty easy so long as you don’t screw up the order. Anything above that and it’s a bit more challenging.)

To that point, I was not on my phone much at all throughout the day. (Check out the progression of my battery life in the screenshots above–at no point did I use my external charger, and I arrived back at All Star Sports with over 50% remaining.) When subject to the 120 minute rule, I set alarms when it was time to make my next selection.

When subject to the tap-in rule, I made new reservations upon entering the Lightning Lane. I did not play the refresh game at all. In fact, I spent less time on my phone than I would have if I weren’t using Genie Plus, as I would’ve otherwise been checking wait times a lot more often and modifying my itinerary on the fly. That wasn’t necessary since I had Lightning Lanes–and also because lower wait times by mid-afternoon made the whole day easier, even what I did via standby.

I could have done Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance after the first showing of Fantasmic, as its posted 40 wait time probably was inflated. On slow days when downtime isn’t bad, a posted wait time under an hour often means near walk-on status.

The end of the night is such a crapshoot with this attraction. Sometimes, the posted wait time is dramatically inflated and the actual wait ends up being 20 minutes or less. Other times, breakdowns make it an underestimate. (See our Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance Ride Guide for strategy, best & worst times to do the attraction.)

It was the exact same story with Slinky Dog Dash. This had a posted wait time, but one look at the queues led me to believe the wait time was about half of that.

The standby line here later in the evening benefits from Genie+ users leaving, doing dinner, or opting for Fantasmic instead of their Lightning Lane reservations–ones made at 7:00:10 am are less likely to go as planned than ones made only a couple of hours in advance.

Regardless, we wanted to take advantage of the low nighttime crowds at Disney’s Hollywood Studios by catching the second showing of Fantasmic. This was incredibly easy–despite only showing up ~10 minutes before the nighttime spectacular started, we were still seated in the Sorcerer Mickey section. It was a perfect view.

At some point, Walt Disney World is going to figure out attendance and crowd dynamics and not schedule two showings of Fantasmic on days when crowds are this low. It seems like the addition of second showtimes was very reactionary, as they–for some odd reason–didn’t realize Veterans’ Day weekend would be so busy and demand would still be high.

As a result, they added second showings for a bunch of weekdays during the holiday season, even ones that have been historically slower. Point being, don’t expect two showtimes on slow days if you’re going sometime in 2023. They’ll figure this out sooner or later.

Ultimately, I ended up using Genie+ to secure 5 Lightning Lane selections during this 2/10 crowd day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I could have run the table and gotten all 7 had I simply booked Tower of Terror with my second selection and had I cared about A.S.S. In fact, I probably could’ve scored 10 Lightning Lanes had I also booked the pointless ones for stage shows and Olaf.

Going by posted wait times during my return windows, I saved roughly 6 hours waiting in line, and probably could’ve saved another 1-2 had I booked more Lightning Lanes. That’s enough to make Genie+ worth the money to me on this particular day. Of course, that assumes posted wait times are accurate (they are not) and that I would’ve waited in standby lines at their peak during the middle of the day (I would not).

In actuality, I could’ve done everything via standby had I arrived for Early Entry or Park Hopped to DHS after ~3 pm and started doing attractions then (while also skipping the second showing of Fantasmic) and saved about the same amount of time versus midday posted waits. For the Genie+ haters out there (who nevertheless have read this 2,000+ word post), this might sound like sweet success, vindication of your pre-existing viewpoint. Hold your horses. 

What you won’t like to hear is that utilizing Early Entry or Park Hopping to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and doing everything via standby would have required more planning, better strategy, and even increased backtracking. Aside from the 7 am wake-up (not that big of a deal to me, and I say this as someone who dealt with a 17-hour time change one week earlier and 3-hour time change two days earlier), using Genie+ during this day at DHS was the laid-back option this particular day!

It allowed me not to worry about posted wait times, stress over accomplishing everything in an efficient order, and it allowed me to see the second Fantasmic when I otherwise would’ve likely needed that time to knock out Slinky Dog Dash. It may not seem like it since you’ve just read a lengthy post–some of which is probably confusing if you don’t have firsthand experience with Genie Plus–but this was the easiest approach to this particular day at DHS.

It won’t always be the case that Genie+ is easier than the alternatives. On busier days, my preference is Early Entry or staying late and doing standby once the crowds start to subside. But the point is that there are multiple “solutions” to beating crowds at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (or any park, for that matter) and no one-size-fits-all answer.

Genie+ doesn’t necessarily need to involve excessive screen time, frantic refreshing, or criss-crossing the park multiple times. Hopefully this day illustrates that Genie+ can be a good tool to have in your ‘park touring kit’ for use when necessary or appropriate.

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+.

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

Thoughts on my day in Disney’s Hollywood Studios using the Genie+ service during the Christmas 2022 season? Are you planning on buying Genie+ or sticking to free standby lines at DHS? Prefer Early Entry, Genie+, or end of 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!

27 Responses to “My Day Using Genie+ Lightning Lanes in Christmas Crowds at Disney’s Hollywood Studios”
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