My Day Using Genie+ Lightning Lanes in Peak Crowds at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Genie+ attraction availability goes quickly at Hollywood Studios, especially during peak season dates at Walt Disney World. With that in mind, I headed to DHS on a 10/10 crowd level day to see how much I’d be able to accomplish using Lightning Lanes to skip standby lines when the system was stressed by high demand and heavy attendance.
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 peak crowd levels, and thoughts at the end about whether Genie+ is still worth the money at DHS. It also includes strategy and other useful advice, plus plenty of useless and random commentary.
This visit came after Walt Disney World moved Individual Lightning Lane attractions to Genie+. That improves the quality of the Genie+ experience, adding availability, and (maybe) how many standard Lightning Lane selections you can score in a day. We’ll also check out how that theory plays out in practice.
As quick background for those who are unfamiliar with it, Walt Disney World’s new Genie+ line-skipping service is the permanent 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+.
One thing I want to note up front is that this is 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 busy day at DHS.
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. We have advice about how you can get as much as possible done in our 1-Day Disney’s Hollywood Studios Itinerary (No Genie+).
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, customized my Tip Board for strategic advantage (see below), and browsed around in Genie to see if anything had changed.
At 7:00:00 am, I refreshed the Tip Board.
My confirmed Slinky Dog Dash Lightning Lane ride reservation was for 9:05 am to 10:05 am.
If you’ve used Genie+ to book Slinky Dog Dash before, you’re no doubt aware that this is a “good” result, and that my return time could’ve been much, much worse. It’s incredibly common to see 9:00 am to 10:00 am on the first screen, but have it jump to 3:45 pm to 4:45 pm on the confirmation. This is a particularly pronounced problem with Slinky Dog Dash and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Most other attractions do not have this issue.
For booking Slinky Dog Dash especially (but really whenever possible–it’s always good practice), we highly recommend following our Speed Strategy for Genie+ Selections.
Being able to book a second Lightning Lane attraction at DHS before 11 am is huge, because that’s the first possible time anyone subject to the 120 minute rule–which is many savvy 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 10:59 am. Return times tend to move slower during that time frame.
Other headliner attractions move quickly, also hitting early evening return times by 7:05 am. The difference is that these will be replenished throughout the morning and early afternoon, with the clock “turning over” on them–meaning that you’ll see morning and midday times if you just wait a bit.
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 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios–and as close to 7 am as possible. It remains #1 on our Disney’s Hollywood Studios Genie+ Priorities & Lightning Lane Ride Ranks, even after the recent changes.
Here’s an illustration of that, albeit not a great one. Note that almost three hours later, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway has a slightly earlier time, while Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run is exactly the same.
This isn’t because the latter held static that entire time or Runaway Railway had cancellations–it’s because availability was added and the clock was reset when that happened.
Here’s another example, from later in the day. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith had been unavailable when I checked just a few minutes earlier, but had a refill (maybe at 1:45 pm?) shortly thereafter.
I wasn’t eligible to make another selection until shortly after 2 pm. By then, it was gone once again.
It’s difficult to offer any hard and fast strategy around this to first-time Genie+ users. Waiting for a lower return time is fraught with peril (who said Walt Disney World vacations aren’t true-life adventures?!), as it’s possible the clock won’t reset or you’ll waste valuable time getting the clock ticking on the next 120 minute rule or you’ll end up spending too much time on your screen.
Generally, I 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.
The reason for this approach is a simple practical reality: you’re going to get stuck with evening return times at Disney’s Hollywood Studios regardless.
Given that and the incredibly low chances of a return time inside 120 minutes, on balance, the upside of booking quickly outweighs the upside of potentially earlier return times. Reasonable minds may differ on that, but it’s my preferred approach–and the easier one.
In this particular case, my next selection was Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. In a perfect world, I would’ve tapped into Slinky Dog Dash as soon I hit a wall with rope drop wait times, which would’ve been about 9:45 am.
In the real world, I was racing to get to the park, didn’t rope drop anything, and just barely made the tail end of my Slinky Dog Dash window. (That extra 15 minutes can be a lifesaver sometimes!)
This is already going to be a long step-by-step Genie+ day, so I’m largely going to leave the “regular” half of my morning out of this. It’s not anything you should replicate, anyway, as it involved a lot of wandering, criss-crossing the park, and getting photos to update other posts. A day in the life of a Disney blogger is incredibly unexciting, I assure you.
One thing I do want to note is that the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is currently receiving a “stealth” refurbishment, with one elevator shaft down. This is expected to be ongoing for several months, at which point it’s possible the other side will go down for the same. The whole process could last through summer, or perhaps beyond. This means the attraction is effectively operating at half-capacity.
It also means that the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is now our #3 Genie+ priority of the day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Wait times won’t be exactly double what they’d be in normal circumstances (due to guest balking points), but they are significantly elevated. (The sign in the photo above shows a wait time of 130 minutes.)
My return time here was 8:10 pm to 9:00 pm. I was not pleased with this because I like setting aside that last hour for doing Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance or other short standby lines. However, I feared that it was late enough in the day and crowds were heavy enough that holding off for a lower time was too risky. YMMV.
One of my top priorities was seeing Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. Even arriving with (what I assumed was) sufficient time before the first performance, the theater was already full to capacity.
Props to the Cast Member holding the sign for posing and smiling. Being in photos or blogs has gotta be awkward and uncomfortable for some of them–it’s often equally uncomfortable for me.
As a consolation prize, I guess, I met Olaf at Celebrity Showcase.
He still doesn’t have a PhotoPass photographer and it’s still a sighting rather than a traditional meet & greet. Given the recent end of the indoor face mask rule, plus the entirety of the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser experience being normal, it’s likely we’ll soon see other awkwardly-modified entertainment and character interactions return to normal.
The middle of my day involved a lot of wandering around and taking photos.
For those who are curious for whatever reason, I focused on the performers and details of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (Batuu is a treasure trove if you slow down and look up). Nothing exciting, but I had fun killing time.
The only ride I did was Star Tours: the Adventures Continue. My actual wait time for that was over 30 minutes, which was a pretty good indicator that actual waits were going to be long for literally everything.
I also arrived at an afternoon showtime of Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular with plenty of time to spare. I ended up taking over one hundred photos that I’ll probably never end up using, so might as well randomly insert a few here:
The rest of my midday at Disney’s Hollywood Studios was largely uneventful. It involved a stop at ABC Commissary for my tried and true favorite, the Buffalo Chicken Grilled Cheese Sandwich. (You can read all about the new-ish options in our latest ABC Commissary Review.)
Other stops included MuppetVision 3D, Mickey Shorts Theater, and Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage. Came very close to also watching the Frozen Sing-Along, but Sarah wasn’t with me and that’s an awkward attraction for a solo male.
When it came time for me to make another selection, Toy Story Mania was my next best option.
I debated waiting for something higher priority (Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run before 7 pm would’ve been great), but the practical reality at this point was that I was staying until closing, and standby lines for everything would be shorter by then.
The reason for all these time-killers was because my Lightning Lane reservations via Genie+ at Disney’s Hollywood Studios were all backfilled into the evening.
My goal with DHS right now is not doing any rides (outside of Star Tours) via standby lines between ~10 am and ~4 pm. This is difficult, but if you do every single show, other entertainment, and eat twice, it’s doable. The midday wait times are why Disney’s Hollywood Studios needs to bring back streetmosphere more than any other park. I could’ve killed a lot of time watching the Citizens of Hollywood.
We make this recommendation elsewhere, but if you’re doing a full day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, consider two table service meals. Maybe the first seating at 50’s Prime Time Café, when everyone in your party is still in the spirit for shenanigans.
Then a late afternoon lunch at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant, when you’re all wanting a dark respite from the sun and heat. Strategically, eating both meals early is ideal. Getting Advance Dining Reservations for both is the tricky part, as that’s about as “easy” as booking Lightning Lanes for both Slinky Dog Dash and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway!
To quickly recap, this is what my evening would look like at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
The overlap is no big deal. It will require 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.
For my next selection, I chose Millenium Falcon: Smugglers Run. However, I did not get it.
This is where my screen time increased exponentially–I had been doing a pretty good job up until ~4:30 pm of staying off my phone. After failing to secure an available time for Smugglers Run, I became obsessed with getting it. I saw the above screen 3 different times, being just a little too slow each time. I could’ve booked Alien Swirling Saucers instead, which would’ve saved some time, assuming I wanted to do that.
I never succeeded in getting Millenium Falcon: Smugglers Run.
Can’t complain too much given my good luck earlier in the day, but it was still frustrating to “have it” only for it to vanish as I clicked through. Too bad there isn’t a temporary lock/guarantee for ~60 seconds from the time you first click through completion of booking.
High crowd levels persisted into the evening at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Expect this to be the case more and more as higher wait times and returning entertainment extend guests’ days at DHS. This will be especially true once Fantasmic returns.
I could have done Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance towards the end of the night, but its posted wait time was still 115 minutes when I headed over there and the overflow queue was in use. I hadn’t paid attention to downtime earlier in the day, so I wasn’t comfortable queueing up.
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 30 minutes or less. Other times, breakdowns make it an underestimate. From the overflow queue alone, I knew this would be much more than 30 minutes.
Since I’ve done this attraction many times, I had no interest in testing and timing the wait. (See our Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance Ride Guide for strategy, best & worst times to do the attraction.) I ended my evening with Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster as a near walk-on instead.
Ultimately, I ended up using Genie+ to secure 4 Lightning Lane selections during this 10/10 crowd day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (plus one for Soarin’ that I didn’t/couldn’t use). For those wanting a little more insight into crowds, it was the 18th busiest day in the last 450 days, with an average posted wait time of 57 minutes.
Based on posted wait times at my return times, I saved 345 minutes with those 4 ride reservations. Even if 100 minutes 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.
However, the argument could be made that a strong itinerary, arriving for rope drop (or better yet, Early Entry) and staying until park closing would’ve yielded similar–or better–results. I wouldn’t disagree with that. I probably could’ve done better following my own strategy for the beginning and end of the day.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios remains the most difficult park for Genie+ from my perspective. While I could’ve done better and scored another Lightning Lane reservation for Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run (or even Alien Swirling Saucers), I also could’ve done much worse. Less tech-savvy guests won’t be able to book Slinky Dog Dash so early (even when following our speed strategy), which could then close the door on Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, too.
That’s the tough and sad thing about Genie+ and Lightning Lanes. “Success” with the system comes at the expense of tech novices or less knowledgeable guests, many of whom will drop $16 per person for next to no advantage. This isn’t just theoretical–we’ve received feedback from literally hundreds of guests at this point who have reported exactly that.
This was also the case with FastPass+, but at least that wasn’t directly monetized and moved at least some of the stress to 30 or 60 days before vacation. There’s no perfect solution, but I certainly hope Walt Disney World is paying attention to guest satisfaction and feedback. Even though Genie+ works well for me (and can for you), it shouldn’t require being a power user who has taken a crash course in the system’s strategy to have a good day in the parks.
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Thoughts on my day in Disney’s Hollywood Studios using the Genie+ service after the Lightning Lane changes? Are you planning on buying Genie+ or sticking to free standby lines 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!
Dear Tom, Thank you for all your advice. Would you recommend ADR for Hollywood Brown Derby at lunch or dinner? I’m leaning lunch so we’re not blocked from reserving lightning lanes at dinner time but others in my party lean dinner so we aren’t in the middle of a line and “have to get out” at lunch time. I’d appreciate your thoughts!
Note to previous question about ADR at lunch or dinner: we will be there during Easter week (4/3) so I’m expecting 10/10 crowds.
Right now Animal Kingdom is opening at 7:30 am. Would it be advantageous have your 1st park be AK and park hop to HS, and only booking LL reservations for HS? Especially since so many LL return times are in the afternoon/evening by mid-morning?
So in theory: I select AK as my park but do not select any attractions for my Tip Board. I tell Genie I am park hopping to HS and select Slinky Dog Dash as my only attraction I want to experience. At 7:00:00 attempt to book Slinky, select a different HS attraction if needed. Return time would automatically be after 2:00. While at AK, book 2nd LL for HS at 9:30 am (2 hours after AK opens), then again at 11:30 and 1:30. Spend nice leisurely morning at AK. Park hop to HS at 2:00.
Could you please write a post on How to enjoy DHS if you’re staying off-site? I believe it would be useful for many followers!
Thanks for all your info!!
This is the strategy I’ve found best for using Genie+. I book whatever has the latest window that I want to ride, and keep doing that every two hours. So throughout the day I do shows and single rider to avoid waiting in lines the sun. Then at the end of the night I bounce around with all my Lightning Lane reservations. I didn’t get to reride as many things as I wanted to while there for New Years. But I only waited in two longer lines (Rise and Flight of Passage) during the entire week I was there. Everything else I did standby during a lull or with Lightning Lanes. Yes, I had to get up early to book but I wouldn’t leave my hotel until around 10 and didn’t feel like I missed out on anything. And the late nights with Lightning Lanes stacked up were much easier to stomach knowing I could take it easy throughout the next day.