Genie+ has sold out in record time at Walt Disney World for the week leading up to Christmas, with peak season attendance arriving early at Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, EPCOT, and Animal Kingdom. This post covers wait times, the likelihood of the line-skipping service selling out additional days between now and New Year’s Eve, and other commentary on crowds and paid FastPass.
For starters, let’s talk crowds. It’s not going to surprise anyone that this is going to be a busy week. Crowds always build in mid-December, and it’s typically the case that the weeks leading up to Christmas and New Year’s Eve are two of the busiest of the year. More of a surprise to a lot of people is that the first full week of January is often just as busy, which is due to the confluence of winter break for Central Florida schools, lifting of Annual Pass blockouts, and WDW Marathon.
The most variable of those when it comes to crowds is actually this week, with attendance driven by the day of the week of Christmas. This year, it’s on a Monday. As a result, we expected this week see the Christmas and New Year’s crowds consolidated into next week. Last year, Christmas was on a Sunday; crowds started increasing from seasonal lows on December 17, hit peak season numbers on December 19, and stayed there until January 6.
Following last year’s trends (adjusted for Christmas 2023), we previously predicted that peak season crowds would start on December 18. That was accurate–crowd levels hit 9/10 on Monday. However, we also expected crowd levels to level off or even drop slightly on subsequent days this week, rather continuing to increase. Our money was on December 22, 2023 being the arrival of true peak season crowds, and the start of a 2-week stretch of the worst dates since this January–which would mean it’s busier than Easter.
The jury is still out on that prediction. Yesterday (December 19, 2023) was also a 9/10 crowd level and was technically 1 minute worse (53 minutes vs. 52 minutes) than Monday. So technically, the ‘level off or even drop slightly’ part was incorrect. But I still wouldn’t bet against today or Thursday being slower.
Honestly, it’s difficult to know what to expect for the next few days. Annual Pass blockouts are starting to hit harder and weekend pricing is higher, so it’s entirely possible that Saturday and Sunday will continue the trend of weekends being less busy than weekdays. That’s relative, though; December 22-24 will be some degree of bad no matter what.
My expectation is that school breaks and people starting Christmas vacations at the end of this week are enough to more than offset all counterweights. Hence the prediction of peak season crowds arriving December 22, 2023. It might feel like the parks are already there–after all, is there really that much of a difference between 9/10 and 10/10 crowd levels?
Well, it depends. Technically, there can be as little as 1 minute in average wait times that separates 9/10 and 10/10 crowds. That’s necessarily the case with all crowd levels–it’s how numbers work. But that’s only on the low end. On the high end, the sky is pretty much the limit on 10/10 crowds.
That may not make complete sense, but last year’s peak week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is a good illustration. December 20 was a 10/10 crowd level day with an average wait time of 54 minutes–that was only one minute higher than yesterday’s 9/10 crowds. By contrast, December 29 was the worst day of last year, also with a 10/10 crowd level but an average wait time of 67 minutes.
That’s a 13 minute spread–which is absolutely massive–but the exact same crowd level. Nowhere else on the scale (except, I guess, 1/10 since it could theoretically start at 0 minutes–but that never happens in practice) has that range. Usually a crowd level has a range of a few minutes before it moves up or down. Not 10/10. It can be 54 minutes, 67 minutes, 80 minutes, etc. That’s why we sometimes refer to dates like those between Christmas and NYE as 10+ days.
Hope that makes sense. Even if not, the salient point is that there are varying degrees of ‘bad’ crowds and that 10/10 isn’t a static level of awfulness. Right now is pretty bad, but next week will almost certainly be way worse. On the plus side, the parks will be operating in ‘maximum efficiency’ mode, which presents more opportunities for beating the crowds if you’re willing to work a bit.
We’d highly recommend reading Making the Most of Midnight in Magic Kingdom & Beating Peak Season Crowds! That’s a recent post that I put a ton of work into based on my midnight experience, and it was relatively overlooked by readers (I probably should’ve done the hours updates separate from the strategy. Live and learn.) In any case, the tips there can save you a ton of time and stress if you’re visiting Walt Disney World in the next few weeks.
Against that backdrop, here are the prices for Genie+ at Walt Disney World on December 20, 2023:
Multiple Parks (valid with Park Hopper tickets): $29
Magic Kingdom: $29
Disney’s Hollywood Studios: $26
Animal Kingdom: $18
Curiously, these price points are well below peak season rates, which max out at $35. (Before the hate mail comes in, I’m not saying these prices are “cheap” or anything like that. They just are not commensurate with current crowd levels.)
It’s not particularly surprising that Magic Kingdom and Multiple Parks sold out faster than ever, in less than one hour after park opening.
What is surprising is that Magic Kingdom is only open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. today. This is absolutely baffling for a few reasons. First, because it’s the week before Christmas–having those hours never made sense divorced of any context.
Second, once you add context it makes even less sense–today is the only day in a 4-day stretch when Magic Kingdom is not closing early for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Magic Kingdom closes at 6 pm on party days, which causes crowds to consolidate into the days when the event is not being held. Having 3 out of 4 days be MVMCP is a bad idea always, but doubly so during a busy week like this. A really guest-unfriendly scheduling decision, if you ask me.
What’s much more guest unfriendly is 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. hours on the lone day that the park is open late! Even if the original internal attendance projections didn’t call for heavy crowds today (there’s no way they didn’t–and if they did, it’s time for new models), it would’ve become patently obvious over the last 2 days that crowd levels would be heavier than anticipated and a last minute extension was warranted. (It’s not too late for a same-day extension to the closing time, Walt Disney World!)
That would explain why Genie+ sold out so quickly today for Magic Kingdom. Heavy crowds due to MVMCP on Dec. 19 and 21-22 coupled with shorter hours. It’s a recipe for disaster.
This is not to say Genie+ won’t sell out the next two days or that crowds will be light in Magic Kingdom. During Thanksgiving week, Genie+ also sold out on party shortened days at Magic Kingdom. Even though crowds should be lower on Dec. 21-22 in Magic Kingdom, they’ll still be bad–it becomes difficult to plan around MVMCP when it happens so often. Not only that, but fewer operating hours means less Lightning Lane capacity to sell in the first place.
Bottom line, expect Genie+ selling out to become the rule rather than the exception for the next couple of weeks. We’d also expect an overnight jump to peak season ($35) prices starting tomorrow. Once next week arrives, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Magic Kingdom and Park Hopping hit $40, Disney’s Hollywood Studios costing ~$37, EPCOT at ~$35, and Animal Kingdom at ~$30. If that doesn’t happen and $35 stays the max, it’ll be a small victory.
Ultimately, there’s no easy fix to this issue for Walt Disney World. In the near term, capping Genie+ sales is the best solution. In the medium term, our expectation is that Walt Disney World’s crackdown on DAS abuse will accelerate in 2024, and that alone should free up a lot of Lightning Lane inventory. (Seriously. Judging by the comments to that post, many of you massively underestimate just how much abuse–not just proper use–of DAS is occurring.)
The move to advance-booking of Lightning Lanes will also change things, but that will not increase Lightning Lane availability, because it cannot. It’ll be a reallocation. (It can, however, have the appearance of an improvement if paired with a DAS crackdown…) Longer term, the solutions are restoring all entertainment that is still (STILL!) missing, repurposing underutilized areas of each park, reimagining rides that are unpopular. Oh, and of course, park expansion and building more new rides.
It’ll be really interesting to see how many days Genie+ sells out between now and January 6, 2024. Almost all dates between now and then will be busier than Thanksgiving or Easter, when Genie+ was priced at $35. If it does continue to sell out this week, will Genie+ hit $40 between Christmas and New Year’s Eve?
My sincere hope is that guests have finally reached their breaking point. With the pullback we’ve seen in all other forms of spending, that may finally be the case. In that scenario, $35 might stand as the record-high price for the line-skipping service at Walt Disney World–and prices might finally start to recede. (Just as they have for Walt Disney World’s resort hotels, which are actually down year-over-year due to dramatically better discounting this holiday season!)
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 current pre-Christmas crowds and Genie+ selling out in record time? If you’re visiting during the weeks of Christmas or New Year’s, what’s the maximum price you’ll pay for the line-skipping service? Any other considerations we failed to take into account or details we missed/got wrong? 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!