Paid Lightning Lanes & Genie+ Replacing Free FastPass at Disney World

Walt Disney World officially announced free FastPass+ is permanently retired, to be replaced by paid Genie+ and Lightning Lane line-skipping access soon. This post shares what WDW has revealed is coming to Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Plus, our commentary on impact to crowds & standby wait times, winners & losers, and comparisons to MaxPass, Premier Access, and more.

There’s a ton of ground to cover here, so we will very quickly recap what has happened in the last year with FastPass+ at Walt Disney World. Prior to the reopening, Disney temporarily suspended FastPass and a range of other things, many of which have since returned. Officially, the explanation given was to utilize the queue space for physical distancing.

That’s not quite how it worked in practice, but that’s immaterial to this post. For the last several months, physical distancing has been gone, with skyrocketing crowds and wait times over the summer–and similar forecasts for October through December. As such, Walt Disney World has announced a permanent paid replacement for free FastPass+, which will launch around the start of the World’s Most Magical Celebration for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary on October 1, 2021. (As always, see our Guide to Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary for more info!)

Per Walt Disney World, the Genie app is coming in Fall 2021 as a complimentary and convenient new digital service designed to make planning easier, offer more flexibility, and better tools to help you make the most of your visit. Walt Disney World has made significant investments in this new technology, which guides you through the theme parks with tips that can help you reduce time in lines, discover new things, and take the guesswork out of your day.

Built right into the My Disney Experience app, the Disney Genie service will maximize your park time, so you can have more fun. It includes a personalized itinerary feature that will quickly and seamlessly map out an entire day. From specific attractions, foodie experiences and entertainment, to general interests like Disney princesses, villains, Pixar, Star Wars, thrill rides and more – just tell Disney Genie what you want to do and it will do the planning for you.

Here are a few more features of the Disney Genie app feature in My Disney Experience:

  • Get Itinerary Updates from Morning to NightDisney Genie will continue to update your itinerary throughout your day, so you can be more spontaneous and go with the flow.
  • Find Your Favorites at a Glance: Create your very own personal tip board to instantly see your favorites. It will display current AND forecasted future wait times, helping you predict when you might experience quicker entry to attractions.
  • Enjoy More Flexibility and Fun: Disney Genie brings existing planning features together in one place. Join a virtual queue at certain attractions, make dining and experience reservations, mobile order food at many locations, get help from a virtual assistant and more.

For even more convenience and flexibility, there are two other options for enjoying the four Walt Disney World theme parks, through the Lightning Lane queue, which will replace FastPass+ queues at Walt Disney World:

  • Disney Genie+ service (available for purchase): For the price of $15 per ticket per day at Walt Disney World Resort, you can choose the next available time to arrive at a variety of attractions and experiences using the Lightning Lane entrance. You can make one selection at a time, throughout the day – from classics like Haunted Mansion to thrill rides like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and newer favorites like Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run. This convenient option is the next evolution of the fan-favorite Disney MaxPass service. Disney Genie+ will also include Disney parks-themed audio experiences and photo features to capture your memories, such as augmented reality lenses that transform objects at Walt Disney World.
  • Individual attraction selections (available for purchase a la carte): Schedule a time to arrive at up to two highly demanded attractions each day using the Lightning Lane entrance, like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom (subject to limited availability; attractions not included with Disney Genie+). Pricing for this option will vary by date, attraction and park and will be announced closer to launch.

Lightning Lane selections will be made on the same day of your visit and can be used across multiple theme parks, and will support the Park Hopper option. Guests staying at a Walt Disney World resort hotel will be able to purchase and schedule an individual Lightning Lane attraction at 7 am, ahead of off-site guests, who will be able to do so when the park opens.

All guests will be able to make their first Genie+ selection at 7 am on the day of their visit, regardless of whether staying off-site or on-site. Subsequent selections will follow the legacy FastPass “rules.”

Annual Passholders will be able to purchase Lightning Lane or add Genie+ on a per-day basis, just like regular theme park ticket holders. At launch, there will not be a yearly add-on option for Genie+ for Walt Disney World APs. (That seems likely to come at some point in the not-too-distant future, though.)

In addition to the Lightning Lanes, all attractions will continue to offer a traditional standby queue or a virtual queue, available at select attractions like Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure once that opens in Epcot on October 1, 2021.

While unclear from the official announcement, it’s our understanding that the 2 most popular attractions in each park will be sold a la carte and not available via Genie+. All other previous FastPass attractions will be exclusively available via Genie+ and not sold individually (so it’s an either/or thing).

With Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lane, FastPass+ will be retired. You can choose from all new options, a mix of them or none at all, and continue to have a great experience no matter how you decide to plan your day at Walt Disney World.

Walt Disney World is also making some enhancements to the Disability Access Service (DAS) program, including new options to enroll in the program pre-arrival and for DAS participants to select attractions directly in the app. These options will be available in addition to the existing, in-person DAS program.

This all might sound confusing, and it is. We’re going to distinguish between Genie+ and Lightning Lanes as if they’re two separate products (and disregard the free Genie app feature entirely). In reality, Lightning Lanes are the replacement for physical FastPass queues, and are accessible via the flat-rate Genie+ app feature or a la carte purchases. For now, it’s simply easier and clearer to refer to one as Genie+ and the other as Lightning Lanes. We wouldn’t be surprised if that becomes the common practice among fans and the general public, as well.

With that out of the way, here’s how we feel about Lightning Lanes, both via Genie+ and a la carte purchases…

Our Commentary

Before sitting down to write the commentary, we combed through the most controversial Walt Disney World news stories of the last decade-plus that we’ve been writing this blog. Judging by reader reactions, the single biggest “tipping point” was when Walt Disney World first introduced overnight parking fees for its resorts.

While a lot of internet angst is bluster, that decision actually led to plenty of fans staying off-site. We personally know a few people who visit annually and have sworn off on-site hotels ever since. Outrage over the introduction of paid FastPass–and the number of fans for whom this truly is the last straw–will likely surpass the introduction of per-night parking charges.

With that in mind, we’re approaching this commentary delicately, treading as lightly as possible. We know so many loyal and lifelong Walt Disney World fans are going to be devastated by this news. Genie+ and Lightning Lane might be the end of the road–or at least result in lifelong visitors going through the five stages of grief. With that said, one thought has kept running through our minds since hearing the details of Genie+ and Lightning Lane.

This could have been so much worse.

That’s not to minimize any anger or try to spin this in a positive light. Even if I wanted to do that (I don’t), that would overlook one of life’s most fundamental principles: money talks, BS walks.

You know that the Genie+ system, no matter how magical the marketing puffery, will cost money and FastPass+ was free. That’s it–bottom line–period.

It’s only to say that paid FastPass has been an inevitability at Walt Disney World for a while–long before the closure and “temporary” suspension of FastPass+ we’ve been warning readers that this would happen and urging people to prepare for this day. The writing has been on the wall for almost 4 years, with the first trial run being offered to Club Level guests. During that time, Disneyland launching MaxPass to great success, and other parks sold FastPass bundles.

Then came the D23 Expo two summers ago, and the announcement of the Genie app for Walt Disney World. While pitched vaguely, the purpose of Genie was to up-sell guests and assist in crowd management. There was no other reason for Disney to invest in yet another new app unless it will offer direct ROI.

Over the last several months, there have been credible rumors of competing proposals for paid FastPass, including the system now in use at Disneyland Paris. In recent weeks, we’ve heard specifics on several, and all were worse than this, offering fewer benefits and higher price points. In fact, whether you’ve been closely following the paid FastPass rumors or have just assumed free FastPass+ would return probably strongly impacts your initial response to this.

Those in the former camp might be breathing a sigh of relief or thinking paid FastPass is not as bad as you feared. By contrast, Walt Disney World fans who expected free FastPass+ to be reinstated might be heartbroken right now. Different stages of grief and all that.

We have processed this grief before, as Disneyland locals back when MaxPass was first announced. At first, we were vehemently opposed to MaxPass on principle. Among other things, we feared the introductory pricing would increase and MaxPass would put those not paying the upcharge at a distinct disadvantage. It felt like a cash grab.

Then we used MaxPass and were hooked. All of those concerns didn’t magically vanish, but in practice the system worked very well, while offering strategic benefits to tourists with limited time who were willing to make a relatively minor splurge (in the grand scheme of a Disneyland vacation). On balance, MaxPass struck us as a net positive, albeit a “warts and all” one.

While there are obvious similarities between Genie+ and MaxPass, there are also glaring differences. Namely, MaxPass had a free alternative–legacy paper FastPass that anyone could use. It didn’t offer quite the same upsides, but with a bit of hustle, Disneyland guests who didn’t pay extra could still put in the “work” and beat the crowds.

That’s a distinction that absolutely cannot be overlooked. Most Walt Disney World fans could probably stomach some form of paid FastPass if it didn’t come at the expense of the free system. Or if there were legitimate and worthwhile perks for on-site hotel guests. Making FastPass upcharge or nothing means a very different response.

As for how Genie+ and Lightning Lanes will impact standby wait times and the guest experience at Walt Disney World, that depends on how many guests make those purchases. As a reminder, the ballpark FastPass-to-standby ratio was 80:20–meaning that for every 10 parties boarding an attraction, 8 were pulled from the FastPass queue and 2 were pulled from standby. This is why standby lines moved at a snail’s pace with FastPass, and move 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.

In our most recent analysis of Premier Access at Disneyland Paris, we discussed utilization rate of that, predicting that only a small percentage of guests (5% for some attractions) would purchase the a la carte upcharge as compared to those who utilized the free FastPass system.

Walt Disney World charging individually for only a couple of headliners in each park changes the equation a bit. It’s a smart move on Disney’s part to make those the only a la carte upcharges and bundle everything else. Those attractions are the ones first-time and infrequent guests are more likely to splurge to experience. The more competitive (as compared to Paris) price range also suggests to me that Walt Disney World will have a greater degree of success in upselling the a la carte Lightning Lane.

However, I’d still expect fewer than 20% of all guests to buy individual Lightning Lane access. Of course, it’ll vary based on posted wait times, season, etc. If the ratio is 20:80 (essentially flipping FastPass numbers), that’ll mean shorter standby waits in constantly moving lines. I don’t want to rehash that entire analysis since this is already going to be long, but buying individual line skipping access is going to be a non-starter for the vast majority of guests for a variety of reasons.

Genie+ is a different ballgame entirely and will undoubtedly be purchased by a significantly higher percentage of guests. As discussed in that same prior analysis, we predicted that Walt Disney World would use some form of bundle because it obfuscates per attraction costs and since all-inclusive packages are incredibly popular with Walt Disney World’s guest demographics. Genie+ is that bundle, and it’s a savvy one.

Again, the comparison to the former MaxPass system makes sense. Prior to the price increase on MaxPass early last year, I had heard MaxPass was viewed as an incredible success by the company due to its high adoption rate, which was still under half of all guests. This was with every attraction included in the system, and Disneyland having far greater ‘ride density’ than three parks at Walt Disney World.

Moreover, Disneyland’s demographics are incredibly different from Walt Disney World’s. In addition to significantly more Annual Passholders, the average length of visit is significantly shorter, and per guest spending is lower because the overwhelming majority of visitors stay off-site, tourists included.

It’s thus much more palatable for a family to splurge on efficiency if the total cost is an extra $160 for the duration of a shorter trip–especially when that family only spent $150 per night on a hotel within walking distance of the parks and can easily eat 2 meals per day off-property.

At Walt Disney World, guests are generally visiting for significantly longer periods of time and spending more on accommodations and food. The surcharge for duration-of-trip efficiency via Genie+ would be $300 for the average family, and could be $420 or more for those doing longer vacations. Again, that’s on top of higher base vacation costs, meaning many families will already be nearer their budget limit and either need to reallocate spending or splurge even more.

It’s easy to say the total trip cost for Genie+ is still less expensive for a family than a single After Hours event, and those have been selling out. That’s definitely a valid (and selling!) point. However, that’s still a comparatively niche offering with significantly smaller potential market than a service like Genie+. It’s very difficult to predict how many guests will initially purchase and use Genie+, but my ballpark guess would be about 33% on any given day with variances based on crowds, etc. Probably generally higher for Magic Kingdom and lower for the other parks.

This is an initial adoption rate, with my prediction being that Genie+ use and “favorability” will increase over time. The initial response 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.

The lazy commentary here would be that “Disney fans are resistant to change.” While true, there’s (again) the critical distinction that something free is being lost and replaced by a paid-only option. (Even with MaxPass, there was still a very viable free alternative.) Nevertheless, the best and easiest way for Walt Disney World to dispel a lot of complaints would be to bundle “free” Genie+ into hotel discounts this fall and winter. There’s no better way to win skeptics over and get fans “hooked” on Genie+.

Finally, there’s how this impacts on-site guests. We’ve been discussing Walt Disney World’s Disappearing On-Site Advantage for years now. Several changes have been announced in the last several months–end of Disney’s Magical Express, Extra Magic Hours transforming into early entry and extended evening hours, no free MagicBands–that will push more guests off-site.

It’s too early to say how the ~2 hour advance booking window for individual Lightning Lane attractions will change that equation. This is obviously a much shorter timeframe than in the past under FastPass+ and will essentially offer a one ride head-start…assuming there’s so much demand that Lightning Lane attractions sell out, which I doubt will happen.

I’m inclined to predict the totality of the aforementioned changes will negatively impact on-site occupancy in 2022, but not immediately. Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary will buoy bookings for at least October through December.

Personally, if it came down to splurging on a Disney hotel or staying off-site and using the money saved on lodging for things like Genie+, nicer meals, special events, etc., that’s what I’d do. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to justify the prices Walt Disney World is charging for its resorts. (Then again, Disney could quickly “correct” this by rolling out Free Dining or other deals if occupancy numbers slip in 2022.)

Regardless, if you’ve never even considered venturing outside the “Disney Bubble,” we would strongly encourage you to rethink that and check out our Off-Site v. On-Site Walt Disney World Hotel Comparison for a balanced assessment of the pros & cons. We are in the process of doing stays at every Universal Orlando resort, and will have those reviews starting in the coming weeks.

Ultimately, that’s a lot of analysis for something that hasn’t even launched yet and is still a developing story. We’ll have more follow-up commentary based on new details that will inevitably emerge, reader questions & concerns, and more. In the meantime, our past articles about the return or replacement of FastPass+ and Premier Access announcement contain a lot of relevant commentary.

Personally, I don’t think Genie+ or Lightning Lanes will be cataclysmic or have as negative of consequences for those who don’t buy the “paid FastPasses” as many fans anticipate. To the contrary, I think this will result in a better standby line experience with constantly-moving lines and (generally) shorter wait times for most guests. Similarly, Genie+ will be a superior system for those who were not FastPass+ power users–so again, most guests.

My biggest disappointment is that Genie+ and Lightning Lanes are entirely paid, replacing something that was entirely free. That’s impossible to overlook. Moreover, this seems like a continuation of upcharge and nickel & diming practices that I hate. There’s also the reality that Walt Disney World is selling solutions to problems it has created. Over the years, fans have bought into the lie that Walt Disney World is raising prices to reduce crowds; as with ticket price increases, that’ll likely be one “positive” narrative that emerges from this.

However, Walt Disney World has also slashed park hours while attendance has increased by several millions of guests per year, cut entertainment and other crowd-absorbing offerings. If Walt Disney World really were concerned with controlling crowds (they aren’t), increasing operating hours, improving ride capacity, bringing back entertainment & shows, or opening more attractions would be the best solutions. Genie+ and Lightning Lane will offer a better experience for some guests, but it’s hard to muster much praise when the more obvious solutions that would improve things for everyone are not being undertaken.

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

What do you think of Genie+ and Lightning Lanes? Better, worse, or about the same as you expected? Will you purchase the bundled access, a la carte line-skipping, neither, or both? Do you prefer fast-moving standby lines only, or the FastPass and standby combo? Interested in how Walt Disney World will implement the new system? Agree or disagree with our assessment? Other thoughts or concerns? 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!

290 Responses to “Paid Lightning Lanes & Genie+ Replacing Free FastPass at Disney World”
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