As previously covered, it’s the busiest week of the year at Walt Disney World (so far). While we expected heavy crowds, the high attendance has come as a slight surprise even to us. Nevertheless, we’ve been in the parks a lot this week, working on strategy and touring tips.
Most of this has focused on Genie+ and Lightning Lanes. The first article resulting from our experiences is Speed Strategy for Genie+ Selections, advanced-level advice that would normally be “next level” and optional for getting more bang for your buck with the paid FastPass replacement. This week, it’s pretty much mandatory.
We’ve been enjoying low crowds at Walt Disney World over the last several months, so part of the goal in spending even more time in the parks during a busy week was to “stress test” our strategies. In particular, I wanted to put Genie+ through its paces with the goal of showing just how much time you could save on busy days. That largely has not happened. Instead, it has been one frustration after another.
There are several problems with Genie+ right now, but let’s start at the beginning–what we and other guests are encountering right at 7 am. As noted in the ‘speed strategy’ post, Slinky Dog Dash is booking up for the entire day before 7:01 am.
The same is also happening for the Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance Individual Lightning Lanes. While we don’t purchase ILLs, we’ve heard from several readers sharing the problems they’ve had. Basically, it has been impossible to book both Slinky Dog Dash and purchase access to the Galaxy’s Edge headliner. Even on busy days, I never thought this would be an issue–clearly, I was wrong.
However, it’s not just Slinky Dog Dash and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance that are going fast. Headliners in every park are going quickly during these sold out days during Thanksgiving week.
Here are some screenshots from this morning showing return times within the first 5 minutes that Lightning Lane reservations were available:
At this rate, many popular attractions will be gone not long after park opening. The last several days, there have been virtually no (worthwhile) options by afternoon, meaning that even savvy users of Genie+ are likely only getting 3-4 “good” selections per day. Novices or those visiting parks other than Magic Kingdom could be doing worse.
Keep in mind that Genie+ is still new, and many guests don’t even learn about it until arriving at the park. In previous weeks, we saw many people purchasing it while in the standby line for an attraction, realizing they could save time. Anyone who did that today wouldn’t have a shot at anything on the above list.
In fairness, some attractions do have drop times throughout the day when their Lightning Lane allotments are refilled. It can be better to wait for an earlier time to appear rather than pouncing on a later one–unfortunately, there’s no “modify” feature, making canceling and rebooking fraught with risk of getting shut out completely, or stuck with an even later time.
To assist with this, I’ve been tracking when these refills occur and for which attractions. I put a decent amount of effort into this, and had a post planned, but this week has thrown a monkey wrench into that. Drop times have become more random, and some attractions don’t seem to be receiving refills at all. It’s understandable that Disney would switch things up and make this less predictable so it’s not as easy to ‘hack.’ Totally get that.
Speaking of hacks, remember our Tips for “Stacking” Genie+ Ride Reservations? That explained how to leverage the 120 minute rule in tandem with “last actions.” The normal 120 minute rule still works, as it’s an intentional feature of Genie+ that is there by design.
However, now stacking can only be done in the intuitive, one-at-a-time sense. It’s no longer possible to leverage the last actions in such a way that you can turn a single selection into multiple branches, and grow those exponentially. Again, the normal 120 minute rule still works and regular stacking is possible, just not the advanced hacks. This makes complete sense and we can’t fault Disney for closing what was possibly an unintentional loophole. Definitely a bummer for those who like to hack, but that’s how it goes.
On a related note, if you read the comments to our speed strategy post, you might’ve seen me tease an upcoming post with even more next-level, advanced hacking technique. There was a way to turn an expired Lightning Lane selection into 3 new ones, but that’s also gone.
I’ve been working on testing and researching that for a few weeks, and know I’m not the only one (I received multiple emails about it). I almost posted my strategy guide on Monday, but decided to compile a list of attractions with two tapstiles first. While I’m disappointed that I researched and wrote so much for nothing, I’m also relieved. I would’ve been “blamed” if I shared that on Monday and the loophole closed on Tuesday. (Travel hackers in general are very protective of ‘secret’ strategies and don’t believe they should be shared widely since that often leads to their demise. That’s an unrealistic expectation, but I digress.)
Disneyland fans might be surprised by all of these issues. I don’t recall there ever being any such problems with MaxPass, which is the basis for Genie+ and Lightning Lanes. One of the reasons those loopholes are closing and Genie+ is unraveling under the weight of crowds even without them is because of the eligible attraction roster and capacity.
That’s the biggest difference between MaxPass and Genie+. It bears reiterating that Disneyland has many more attractions than even Magic Kingdom, and despite its reputation, DCA is a solid second gate. The two are also about a football field apart, meaning that Park Hopping is commonplace.
Combined, Disneyland’s two parks have close to the ride roster of 4 parks at Walt Disney World. On top of that, Disney has removed two popular attractions per park for Individual Lightning Lanes and there are no nighttime spectacular or parade viewing areas as possible selections, meaning Walt Disney World’s already thin roster for Genie+ was made even thinner.
Another thing we question is what the Lightning Lane-to-standby ratio is right now. There has been a lot of speculation about this, and the ‘phases’ for determining capacity allocation. Up until now, much of that has been theoretical–and it might still be, depending upon actual distribution levels.
As a reminder, the ballpark FastPass-to-standby ratio was 80:20. This meant that for every 10 parties boarding an attraction, 8 were pulled from the FastPass queue and 2 were pulled from standby. That’s why standby lines moved at a snail’s pace with FastPass, and constantly without it. That 80:20 ratio also meant that a lot of guests were taking advantage of FastPass, which should be no surprise given that it was free.
Anecdotally, I’ve yet to experience anything even remotely like this 80:20 ratio with Genie+ and Lightning Lanes. Everything seems to skew much more strongly in favor of standby. I’ve noted that the attraction with the highest capacity allocation appears to be–to me, at least–Toy Story Mania, which tracks with it having more Lightning Lane availability than most other attractions.
At Slinky Dog Dash, the attraction that has consistently booked up the fastest, I’d be shocked if even 50% of capacity is being allocated to the Lightning Lane. This appears to be a matter of distribution and not policy; Cast Members can only pull Genie+ guests to the extent that they are there. Based upon my firsthand experiences and observations, there’s seldom more than a slow trickle of guests into the Lightning Lane. That frees up more capacity to be allocated to the standby line.
One notable exception to this is when an attraction returns from a breakdown. Then, the priority is to process the backlog of guests with Lightning Lane ride reservations, which often amounts to a far greater allocation of guests coming from the Lightning Lane. This is nothing new to the Genie+ system; FastPass did the same thing.
The part that’s new is Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance being less reliable and more popular than a normal attraction, meaning that it’s possible to get really unlucky with the posted v. actual standby wait if your timing is off. (Conversely, you can get really lucky–it’s far and away the least accurate posted wait time, in both directions, at Walt Disney World.)
The thing about anecdotal observations is that they’re inherently limited and may not reflect broader trends or experiences. When it comes to Walt Disney World, I tend to not take them too seriously–even when they’re my own–because someone an hour later or earlier might encounter something dramatically different. That’s true here, too. The problem is that there’s no good data about Lightning Lane v. standby allocations as the system is still new and this week has been its first true stress test.
One thing I will note is that most of my Genie+ testing this week has been at Hollywood Studios and Epcot. Today was going to be Magic Kingdom day before I abandoned that plans out of futility and frustration. I’ve heard stories of things being different there, with slower standby queues for Peter Pan’s Flight and other rides. Since our experiences are limited and there’s no good data, we’d love to hear from other people who have been in the parks this week–you should have ample time to comment while standing in those long lines! 😉
Whether the current allocation is a problem or not is in the eye of the beholder. If you’re purchasing Genie+, you want as much capacity reserved for Lightning Lanes as possible. Otherwise, the service you paid for is less useful and you’re inclined to have buyer’s remorse, not purchase again, or even request a refund.
If you’re not using the pay-to-play line skipping service, you’re probably pleased to see Walt Disney World not reserve 80% of capacity for paid FastPass. Well, that might be a stretch–I doubt anyone is “pleased” with lines right now. Due to it being the busiest week of the year, standby wait times are also really high. The point is that a normal FastPass 80:20 allocation would make those posted waits so much worse.
It should go without saying, but allocation is subject to change–that all of the complaints thus far can be “fixed” pretty easily. Walt Disney World will almost certainly adjust that upwards to favor Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, because why wouldn’t they? More Lightning Lane capacity means higher satisfaction from guests paying more–and more sales of the paid FastPass service. There’s every reason to believe the allocation scales will tilt towards Genie+ more over time, and every reason not to believe the reverse will be true.
However, it’s not just return times, availability, and capacity that are causing complaints. The Genie system itself has been rife with glitches, errors, and problems…
Some of this is nothing new, and should come as no surprise to anyone who has experience with Disney IT. My Disney Experience is not exactly the gold standard; it’s been buggy for years. Upon launch, we used the free Genie itinerary builder and found it comically bad and totally worthless.
This week, the problems have gotten even worse and more frequent. We’re talking about the My Disney Experience app crashing, Genie system being slow or unresponsive, and sending a seemingly endless number of access codes via email. This last one is especially frustrating, as it always seems to happen at the most inopportune time, right as you’re trying to make a new Genie+ selection.
We’ve had this problem with codes since the beginning, and it’s further exacerbated by the propensity for Disney emails to be flagged as spam (in a way it makes sense–they’re spamming us with these codes). In some cases, we’ve received over a dozen of these codes in a day. One reader reported receiving 56 in one day. That’s the kind of claim you might assume is hyperbole unless you’ve actually used the system yourself. In which case, you believe it without any hesitation.
I’m likely missing some of the tech problems, but only because I’ve probably blocked them out for the sake of my own sanity or haven’t experienced them (yet). All of this is to say nothing about Genie’s absolutely abysmal UI and organization. This is nothing new, but almost nothing makes sense about the way it’s laid out or functions. It very much feels like Genie launched months–or perhaps years–before it was ready. That was more forgivable when it was working reasonably well to help save time. Now Genie+ is just a headache.
Ultimately, it’s very difficult for me to recommend Genie+ right now for any of the parks, even Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios. We expected that to go in the other direction, with recommendations for Epcot and Animal Kingdom only ‘kicking in’ once at a certain crowd level.
That threshold has been reached, but Genie+ has become so frustrating that the case could be made that you’re better off without it. While you will certainly wait longer in standby lines, most of them have been at least reasonably efficient, and don’t mean starting your day out with headaches at 7 am and spending the day glued to your phone dealing with bugs and other problems.
Personally, if visiting for “holistic enjoyment” and not just wait time minimization, I’d opt for a normal rope drop, midday break, late night strategy–pretending Genie+ doesn’t even exist. Again, this comes with the caveat that it’s the busiest week of the year at Walt Disney World. During times like these, there’s no ‘magic bullet’ approach that’ll totally beat the crowds (even some of the Genie+ woes are forgivable in light of attendance and strain on the system), but that should minimize headaches to the greatest extent possible during one of the worst weeks to visit.
From the beginning, we’ve sought to bring you the good, bad, and ugly with Genie, rather than sticking with preconceived notions or the popular sentiment. We were cautiously optimistic when it was mostly outrage, and now we’re in the other camp. We reserve the right to continue changing our minds as circumstances evolve–you know, how opinions should work. My guess is that Genie+ will continue to be tweaked throughout the holiday season, perhaps even this week. Walt Disney World has got to realize that this is unsatisfactory. For those who have used Genie+ this week, consider yourself an honorary Detroit Lions fan, because now you know how it feels! We’ll be in the parks this weekend and next week doing more Genie+ testing, if you want to be notified when we post more updates on Genie, crowds, news, and more–subscribe to our FREE email newsletter for instant alerts!
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If you’re at Walt Disney World for Thanksgiving week, what has been your experience with Genie+ or standby lines? Any success or failures making morning Lightning Lane selections? Have you had success in getting Slinky Dog Dash and/or Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance? What about headliners in other parks? Notice the closure of the stacking strategy or other hacks? Other problems or thoughts to share? 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!