Walt Disney World’s new free Genie service creates customized and dynamic 1-day itineraries inspired by your party’s top interests, best times to do attractions based on wait times, walking distances, and more. This review covers how our experience testing the complimentary Genie planner measures up to what was promised.
Let’s start with the pitch for the ambitious new Genie service. Walt Disney World stated that this complimentary and convenient new digital service was designed to make planning easier, offer more flexibility, and better tools to help you make the most of your visit. The company indicated it had 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 into the My Disney Experience app, the Genie service aims to maximize your park time. It offers a personalized itinerary feature that will quickly and seamlessly map out an entire day, so you can have more fun. From specific attractions, dining, and entertainment to general interests like princesses, villains, slow rides, thrill rides, and more–just tell Disney Genie what you want to do and it will do the planning for you. Then throughout the day, Disney Genie will work hard behind the scenes to offer new suggestions and continuously update your “My Day” itinerary, so you can make the most of a visit to the parks.
In addition to the sales pitch via marketing materials, Walt Disney World provided more details about the system during a tech demo that explained the free Disney Genie service in plain language. During that, Disney stated that the goal is to match guests’ desires with best available capacity. The system will recommend experiences aligned with guest interests, optimized at the best times with the lowest waits.
A comparison was also offered, with the free Disney Genie service being likened to a navigation app on a phone, taking into account dynamic traffic patterns and real time conditions in the park. Just like Google Maps, for example, Genie would adjust for operational changes, including unexpected operational downtime or wait times that extend longer than what was previously forecast. We’re going to come back to this comparison in our analysis, as it’s both a logical and relevant one.
Per Walt Disney World, Genie is not a static itinerary–it’s dynamic. In addition to automatically adjusting for on the ground changes, Genie can be modified by guests to account for changes in their priorities or desires–like wanting to eat earlier. The idea is that Walt Disney World compares user preferences with its consumer insights and experience ratings, checking the availability of experiences, and whether guests have existing plans.
In creating the “My Day” itinerary, Genie will evaluate hundreds of thousands of combinations of a potential day at Walt Disney World. The algorithm will score each iteration against priorities that make a great day, taking into account the aforementioned consumer insights and ratings, Park Hopper & other existing guest plans, identified priorities, walking distances, idle time, and more. It also factors in recommendations made to other guests, so it’s not sending everyone to the same place at the same time.
On the backend, the Genie’s algorithm will quickly crunch all of that data to achieve all competing goals (or as many as possible), making a series of compromises, and assigning a score to the various permutations of a given itinerary. All within seconds, the algorithm will then provide the “My Day” Itinerary to guests, which can be further customized in the My Disney Experience app.
The free Disney Genie itinerary offers transparency, explaining to guests why certain recommendations were made to them–with rationales ranging from it being a good time wait-wise to the venue offering air conditioning–with a click of the “Why This” button.
We’ve been skeptical of the free Disney Genie service since it was announced back at the D23 Expo three years ago (above screenshot fromthat). We barely even analyzed it at the time, mostly dismissing its promises with a short paragraph: “Those are mighty high hopes to have for the company that gave us My Disney Experience, an app that still feels like it’s beta-testing software some 7 years after it debuted. If this Disney Genie software works as promised, it could be great. I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Our attitude in the time since has been a mix of skepticism and pessimism, avoiding much analysis because we felt what the company promised and its true intentions and capabilities with the free Disney Genie service might be two very different things.
Disney IT doesn’t exactly have the best of track records–a mild understatement–and Walt Disney World has a vested interest in making suggestions that are most advantageous to it from an operational perspective. Honestly, part of me questioned whether Genie would ever see the light of day as announced, or morph into something totally different.
With all of that said, I have to admit that after the impressive tech demo, I was second-guessing my own skepticism. Could Walt Disney World actually pull this off and produce a dynamic itinerary builder that would revolutionize visiting a Disney theme park and be mutually beneficial for Disney and guests?!
So far, the answer is a resounding no.
Our original plan for the launch of Disney Genie was for Sarah to use the paid Genie+ service while I tested the free Genie service against that to see just how much its suggestions would enable me to accomplish. However, the recommendations were so bad and/or nonsensical that this plan was abandoned before even arriving at Magic Kingdom. Instead, I used my own plan to “compete” with Sarah and Genie+ (full reports on those results coming later today).
Throughout the day, I kept tinkering with the free Genie service to see if I could “game” the system to give me something useful. First, I tried simply swapping out attractions on the itinerary that were recommended based on my actual interests.
That wasn’t yielding any useful results, so after clicking “Why This” on a few attractions, I went back and removed certain interests to build an entirely new day. That didn’t prove any more fruitful, so I removed all interests, only specifying the 8 attractions I wanted to experience. That also did not work.
My fun with Prince Charming Regal Carrousel didn’t end there.
For a while, no matter what I did, Prince Charming Regal Carrousel was my top recommendation. Even after I removed all of my interests and specified only 8 attractions that I wanted to do–none of which were Prince Charming Regal Carrousel, for the record–it still came back as my next thing to do.
Clicking Genie’s “Why This” rationale for the recommendation provided some needed comic relief. (Then again, maybe Disney’s algorithm is so advanced that it knows I’m a huge toboggan enthusiast?!)
As I continued to build new itineraries, Genie briefly stopped recommending Prince Charming Regal Carrousel. Instead, it started giving me Tinker Bell & the Lost Treasure and Swiss Family Treehouse. Hey, variety is the spice of life!
In addition to these suspect recommendations, I found that when I stopped adding my dining interests, it sent me exclusively to unpopular restaurants. Tortuga Tavern was a staple of my afternoon. I don’t necessarily have a problem with that, but the why of that recommendation is pretty transparent.
In fairness, Disney Genie did produce some worthwhile recommendations from time to time. In fact, it repeatedly recommended Haunted Mansion mid-morning, which was savvy advice given what the day held. There were other good picks from time to time, too.
The problem is that Genie didn’t produce a single complete itinerary that was good and without at least a few puzzling results. Anyone with modest knowledge of Magic Kingdom would’ve been better off following their own intuition rather than the entirety of the itineraries.
In playing around with the free Genie feature, one specific quibble I have is that it’s clearly giving way too much weight to walking distance. Most of my recommendations were near one another, and the majority of the time that I tried to do a “Swaperoo,” the recommended alternatives were either close by or unpopular.
I had plenty of other specific issues, errors, and problems with the free Genie service, but I don’t see the point in fixating on all of that too much. Rather, I have one ‘big picture’ complaint that encompasses many of those…
The free Genie feature is ultimately not nearly enough like a navigation app. Google Maps and Waze offer a variety of route options that effectively empower users to choose how “aggressive” they want to be in using the fastest or shortest routes.
There are options for selecting a time to depart or arrive, options for choosing arrival and departure times, adding stops, and more. On their face, most navigation apps are simple and straightforward–but offer a powerful tool kit for advanced users who want more control.
The free Disney Genie service needs this. It’s nice to be able to toggle height and accessibility, but there should be a lot more of this. At a minimum, arrival and departure times are necessary.
Beyond that, the ability to give weight to walking, idle time, and other things the algorithm is taking into consideration. It’s understandable that certain guests might want to minimize distance between attractions; conversely, I am more than willing to walk all the way across the park to save 10 minutes.
Our biggest source of pre-debut skepticism with the free Disney Genie service was that it would disproportionately benefit the company, redistributing crowds to places where they’re low and attractions that are underutilized. This is nothing new–back in the paper FastPass days there were the ‘Bonus’ or ‘Surprise’ FastPasses given out for Carousel of Progress and other unpopular attractions. Those were shockingly effective in getting guests to see certain shows–we noticed a visible increase in the audience size at Carousel of Progress when those surprise FastPasses were given out at the Space Mountain FP machine.
The FastPass+ era had its own version of this, with the “consolation prize” FastPasses for shows and attractions that were in no way popular. This produced the exact same result, as there’s a certain satisfaction in securing a FastPass, even an unnecessary one, to anything. Once guests have those (unnecessary) FastPasses, they are more likely to use them.
The free version of Disney Genie is like a caricature of its predecessors. At least those were giving you something–the ability to skip the line somewhere–and confined to only a few line items on an itinerary, at most. In my testing, Genie usually offered poor recommendations, pushed guests towards unpopular attractions, and offered nothing in the way of line skipping. Pure operational upside for Disney, pure downside for guests.
The severe imbalance is a problem–and not just for guests. If I were a first-timer who followed these recommendations and focused my day prioritizing flat rides, walkthroughs, and stage shows–and then did a handful of headliners with long waits, my satisfaction would’ve been lower. It should go without saying, but that’s not good for Walt Disney World in the long-term.
If I were an experienced guest or had done any degree of research, I would’ve dismissed the free Genie itinerary out of hand and not done any of its recommendations. Most guests aren’t going to try “hacking” Genie to get it to spit out something useful–they’re going to give up on it after 30 seconds. This is also not good for Disney, as the capacity reallocater isn’t particularly effective if no one is using it.
There’s an opportunity for balance, and some mutually beneficial suggestions. Imagine if the free Disney Genie service recommended I start my day by bypassing Fantasyland and walking deep into Frontierland for those two mountains. I would’ve saved a ton of time, been very satisfied, and more inclined to follow Genie’s subsequent recommendations. On top of that, Magic Kingdom’s capacity allocations would’ve benefited from pushing some guests deeper into the park. There need to be at least some win-win scenarios like that, otherwise this is all totally pointless.
Ultimately, the free Disney Genie service is pretty much useless at this point, and it’s tough to see any viable circumstances or use cases for it. The recommendations are flawed at best, and total nonsense at worst. (Seriously, there should’ve been an invite-only beta test–this doesn’t feel like it was ready to be released to the general public.) Even if that weren’t the case and the itineraries were okay, there aren’t enough options for customization to tailor it to actual guest preferences and plans.
With that said, there are good ideas in the free Disney Genie service and it has a ton of untapped potential. “Google Maps but for Walt Disney World itineraries” is an excellent idea (and not exactly an original one given the great work done on that front by the team at TouringPlans). If Disney combined that concept with working technology and its own internal data, it could be a total game changer–something mutually beneficial for operations and guests, making the parks more efficient for everyone. Unfortunately, the free Genie service falls well short of that for now. Here’s hoping the team behind it continues to iterate on the idea and the function improves over time.
What do you think of the free Genie service? Planning on using it to build your itinerary, or do you think it won’t be useful? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? 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!