Crowds, plus the cost and experience of using Genie+ and Lightning Lanes all vary considerably at Walt Disney World. This covers the “top 10” times we’d recommend skipping paid FastPass based on our testing, and the superior alternatives to buying line-skipping access. (Updated January 22, 2024.)
Let’s start by briefing addressing crowds and pricing, as this is likely to be the most important consideration for you–and it’s the motivation behind this post in the first place. If you’ve been following the roller coaster of Genie+ prices and crowds in the last year, you know it’s been quite the wild ride.
Last summer, Walt Disney World rolled out per-park pricing for the Genie+ service, which is effectively a price increase based on guest behavior (prices for the parks where people are buying Genie+ vs. prices where they aren’t buying it). Prices gradually increased, hitting highs of $39 for the Magic Kingdom or multi-park option at the end of last year and in early 2024.
Fast-forward to today, and prices are down for Genie+ fairly considerably as compared to the highs of the holiday season even though crowd levels remain fairly elevated for the winter “off-season” at Walt Disney World (big air quotes). Between this discrepancy and a why other changing trends, there are new scenarios where you should and should not purchase the Genie+ service.
As the title suggests, that’s precisely what we’re going to cover here. The goal is to help you determine when it does and doesn’t make sense to purchase Genie+ at Walt Disney World, so you don’t waste time and money, or subject yourself to unnecessary stress and pressure when it really isn’t necessary or advantageous. With that in mind, here’s a rundown of when to skip Genie+ at Walt Disney World…
On a Tight Budget – Although we’re frugal by nature, we have no hesitations about spending extra for memorable experiences or add-ons that will include the quality of our vacations. To that point, our list of the Best Value Splurges at Walt Disney World is filled with a range of enhancement options, from character dining we love to Club Level hacks. It also has exactly one entry for Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, and that’s (spoiler alert) at Magic Kingdom.
Perhaps more important than anything else, it warns against decisions driven by FOMO. That’s worth reiterating here, as no enhancements or up-charges are necessary to have a great trip to Walt Disney World. When it comes to online trip planning and social media, there’s a pervasive sense of FOMO that drives many people to spend on unnecessary experiences. This is exacerbated by certain popular experiences booking up quickly or selling out.
When it comes to Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, we’ve repeatedly argued that demand for Genie+ is relatively inelastic at incrementally higher price points because it’s still a relatively minor expense in the grand scheme of the price of a Walt Disney World vacation. If a family spent $8,000 or more for a vacation, what’s another ~$80 more to “ensure” the experience is fun and the whole trip wasn’t a waste of money.
The problem with that thinking is that it presupposes two things. First, that Genie+ will guarantee a good day. It will not. Second, that without experiencing a certain number of attractions, a visit to the parks will be bad. Also untrue. The most important thing you can do to have a great Walt Disney World vacation is reject this line of thinking. Not just with Lightning Lanes, but as a whole. It’s a recipe for stress, pressure, tension, and adult meltdowns. Reject it and you’ll leave happier, more satisfied, and with a fuller wallet.
At Animal Kingdom, If Arriving Late or Leaving Early – This is one that we’re “softening” up considerably for 2024, as prices of the Genie+ service remain depressed but its utility increases and availability remains pretty good. It now might be the case that you can score Lightning Lanes for Na’vi River Journey, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Dinosaur, Expedition Everest, and more–and save hours in line as a result. On busier days, even the stage show Lightning Lanes can have value.
If you’re instead showing up late and would like to leave early, Genie+ at Animal Kingdom can be incredibly advantageous. We’d still strongly recommend not doing only the peak hours of the day in the park. Not only is it when crowds are worst, but it’s also when the park is hottest and least comfortable. But this is how most people approach the park–and there are good reasons to arrive late and leave early–so Genie+ is a great option in those scenarios.
If Wanting a Tech-Free Trip – We strive to be frank here, even if that means holding unpopular opinions or telling you things you might not want to hear. In that spirit, I think the complaints about screen-time with Genie+ are massively overblown. Sure, you can spend all day with your head buried in your phone playing the refresh game or trying to time Lightning Lane drops. But none of that is necessary to use the Genie+ system to most of its potential.
The screen-time complaint strikes me as coming from fans of FastPass+ who want to ‘pile on’ with reasons the replacement is worse. Personally, I don’t think that helps the argument, and instead dilutes or undercuts legitimate grievances. That’s especially true given that FastPass+ worked very similarly when it came to refreshing and same-day drops.
Nevertheless, I can empathize with the spirit of the complaint. That’s because Walt Disney World has leaned so heavily into technology and in-app features in the last several years, the totality of which do more or less necessitate screen time. It’s still possible to go tech-free, but you’re unquestionably at a disadvantage when not Mobile Ordering, joining virtual queues, etc. If you want to reduce your screen time, it thus makes sense to not purchase the Genie+ service.
As a compromise, consider instead embracing a “set it and forget it” approach: make a Lightning Lane selection, and then set an alarm for 2 hours later (assuming you’re subject to the 120 minute rule) or quickly make your next selection while in line after tapping into the Lightning Lane return. Simply opting out of the compulsive checking for “better” times and ride reservations will dramatically reduce your screen time, and your experience will still be good.
Eligible for Early Entry – Too many Walt Disney World visitors underestimate Early Entry. Many don’t use it at all, dismissing it as “only” 30 minutes and thus not worth the time. Another common occurrence is starting at Magic Kingdom and prioritizing Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and reaching the (erroneous) conclusion that Early Entry will be useless elsewhere.
To be sure, Early Entry is not that great at Magic Kingdom. That’s the one park where Genie+ makes the most sense and regular rope drop is just as good (albeit for different lands) as Early Entry. However, at 3 of the 4 parks, Early Entry is incredibly advantageous.
Between it and regular rope drop, you can often accomplish and save more time than an entire day with Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, and without spending any extra money. We just overhauled our step-by-step strategies for Early Entry and park opening, which you can find via our Guide to Early Entry at Walt Disney World.
At EPCOT, Sometimes – Since launch, Genie+ has improved considerably at EPCOT. It went from being the worst park to a fairly strong option on some days and for some parties thanks to the addition of Frozen Ever After and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure to the regular Lightning Lane lineup.
I still have a tough time getting Genie+ to work how I’d like at EPCOT. In my personal tests, I’ve found that on less busy days, Genie+ is not really necessary to experience the headliners efficiently. On busier days, there isn’t enough Lightning Lane inventory to score ride reservations for more than 3 of the 4 headliners–sometimes just 2 of them.
Compounding matters is the layout of EPCOT. If playing Theme Park Tycoon with the goal of maximizing walking distances, for who knows what reason, you’d drop EPCOT’s marquee attractions exactly where they are. This is not a huge deal when you’re taking a linear approach to the park, but it can become a serious issue with Lightning Lane return times, which can necessitate considerable criss-crossing and backtracking.
Depending upon your walking speed and actual wait times, you might actually waste more time with Genie+ than it’s worth at EPCOT. This is very much a ‘your mileage may vary’ thing–both literally and figuratively–so we are far less inclined to write off Genie+ across the board at EPCOT. We’ve determined that it’s not for us except in select circumstances, but it may work out far better for you. This is especially the case now that per-park pricing often puts EPCOT at $18, which is arguably a “discount” as compared to moderately busy days in the past.
Able to Stay Late – As indicated above, Genie+ is not all that necessary if you stay past the afternoon at Animal Kingdom. The same is also true at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We expected the tides to turn on this strategy with the return of Fantasmic, but we’ve field-tested strategy about a half-dozen times since then, and it still works about the same as before. (It’s almost inexplicable the crowd patterns haven’t shifted at DHS.)
This doesn’t work quite as well at EPCOT or Magic Kingdom, but wait times do drop in the evening hours at both. That’s especially the case in the former Future World neighborhoods at EPCOT, and as many guests start staking out spots for the Happily Ever After fireworks at Magic Kingdom. By the last half-hour of the night, actual wait times are minimal. (Posted wait times for headliners are usually massively–and purposefully–inflated to discourage guests from jumping in line at the last minute.)
Eligible for Extended Evening Hours – This is like the best of both staying late and Early Entry, a longer-lasting on-site perk for an even more select audience. Extended Evening Hours last 2 hours (as opposed to 30 minutes) and provide a chance to pretty much run the table on the most popular attractions at Magic Kingdom and, to a lesser extent, EPCOT.
Unless you want to repeat favorite attractions, it’s unnecessary to buy Genie+ if you’re taking advantage of Extended Evening Hours. This is faster and easier, while also being more fun and efficient. See our Guide to Extended Evening Hours for strategy and other info.
If It’s at Peak Per Person Pricing – Once Genie+ breaks the $29 threshold for Park Hopping or Magic Kingdom, that typically means 10/10 crowd levels. The (rather expensive) lesson a lot of guests learn from those days is that demand for Genie+ is highest when prices are highest, which means less ride reservation inventory and also longer Lightning Lane return lines.
The issues at Disney’s Hollywood Studios are similar to those at EPCOT, which is simply fewer high-value Lightning Lane reservations despite higher prices. Same goes for Animal Kingdom, which has so few major rides that once it reaching its ‘breaking point,’ you won’t be able to score more than a few worthwhile Lightning Lanes.
Even though this is a list of circumstances when you should skip the Genie+ service, we’re not necessarily saying that about this scenario. Rather, that you should adjust your expectations. A lot of planners expect Lightning Lanes to be the perfect or only “strategy” necessary. If you’re visiting the weeks of Presidents’ Day/Winter Break, Easter/Spring Break, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, etc., this is absolutely untrue. Those peak weeks are Genie+ and ___ situations. Whether that blank be arriving early, staying late, or having an aggressive standby strategy is up to you. Just don’t simply rely on Genie+ as your silver bullet for cutting through crowds. It won’t be.
The one exception to this is Magic Kingdom. Due to a far more robust ride roster, Genie+ almost always is worth it at Walt Disney World’s flagship park. Even when starting late and taking a more laid back approach to making selections, the math still works in its favor. The $35 or $39 prices (or however much money) are worth it for the number of hours (literally) you’ll save waiting in line. There’s really only one exception to this…
‘Value Season’ Pricing – The reverse of the above is also true, for precisely the same reason. Demand is highest when prices are highest, and demand is lowest when prices are lowest. That’s because, quite simply, Genie+ is not all that necessary on slow days. With the ‘new normal’ pricing for the Genie+ service, the average posted wait time is usually 31 minutes or less when Genie+ is priced at $20 or less for any of the parks except Animal Kingdom (it can be useful there even when as low as $17). Keep in mind that the average posted wait time is usually inflated by 25%, so actual wait times are even lower than that.
On crowd level 1/10 to 3/10 days, Genie+ is not going to save you much time over savvy strategy or an efficient Walt Disney World itinerary. You can either plan your trip around these days by consulting Walt Disney World Crowd Calendars…or look at the price of Genie+ on the day of your visit, to see if it’s under $20. If so, that’s a strong sign (but not quite conclusive) that Walt Disney World is forecasting a slower day.
The corollary to these last two entries is that the “sweet spot” for buying Genie+ is when it costs $23 to $29. Our testing has consistently found that to be when Genie+ is most useful for EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. (Again, higher pricing still works out at Magic Kingdom. Lower pricing can also work there if you want a very ride-heavy day or to repeat your favorite attractions–once via standby and once via Lightning Lane.)
Prioritizing Experiences Over Attractions – Bringing this full circle from the first point, we also want to stress that approaching Walt Disney World’s theme parks “checklist style” is a recipe for disappointment. Not only that, but it misses the point. If you only care about “accomplishing” a list of rides, Six Flags or other regional parks are significantly cheaper and a more efficient way of riding the rides.
Walt Disney World charges premium pricing for a premium product. A core component of that is the atmosphere and ambiance. Simply being there. This is a big part of why our itineraries are more laid back with time to stop and smell the roses, why we’re averse to spreadsheets, and strong advocates of ‘planned spontaneity.’
In addition to that, there are some days when you might have multiple Advance Dining Reservations scheduled, plan on going slower to see stage shows and atmospheric entertainment, do a relaxed afternoon, or graze around World Showcase (or elsewhere) prioritizing something else over high-wait attractions. These are some of our favorite ways of doing Walt Disney World, and Genie+ is a non-factor for most of them.
Honestly, it took us a long time to get to this point, so we can understand the self-imposed “pressure” to knock out a certain number of attractions per day, especially given the high cost of a Walt Disney World vacation. I still remember the first time we did a ride-free day in the parks; it was a little over a decade ago, and I actually felt a little guilty about it for some odd reason. That feeling faded fast when thinking about much fun we had in a totally different way than normal–but it still was admittedly an odd feeling at first.
Ultimately, that’s our perspective on when to skip the paid FastPass service at Walt Disney World. Even with all of this said, it’s worth reiterating that these are not hard and fast rules, and you might want to ignore our recommendations and buy Genie+ more often, or add your own ‘must-skip’ scenarios. There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all advice for Walt Disney World.
At its best, Genie+ can free time for slowing down and savoring the parks. At its worst, Genie+ feeds into guests’ worst impulses to go go go, beholden to a strict schedule of rides and other reservations. So again, even this is a ‘YMMV’ thing where Genie+ will empower some guests to have a more relaxed day while burdening others with stress.
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 skipping Genie+ at Walt Disney World? Are there days when you don’t feel the need to use Lightning Lanes, or is it always a must-buy for your vacation days in the parks? Thoughts on any of our ‘skip scenarios’ listed here? Any other considerations we failed to take into account or missed/got wrong? Do you agree or disagree with our 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!