When You Should SKIP Genie+ at Disney World!
In the last two months, Walt Disney World has seen huge swings in crowds. Along with that, the cost and experience of using Genie+ and Lightning Lanes has varied considerably. This covers the “top 10” times we’d recommend skipping paid FastPass based on our testing, and the sometimes-superior alternatives to buying line-skipping access.
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 couple of months, you know it’s been quite the wild ride.
After soaring to a new record of $35 per day during the peak weeks before and after Easter, prices have plummeted…and so have standby wait times! As covered in Sharp Slowdown for Shoulder Season 2023 at Walt Disney World, crowd levels have dropped dramatically. In some cases, to lows not seen since Fall 2021. Along with that, Genie+ prices have fallen back to their lowest low of $15 per day.
This dynamic with lower crowd levels and Genie+ pricing will continue to play out prior to the start of summer season. As attendance inevitably increases, so too will Genie+ and Lightning Lane prices. In both scenarios, there are going to be times when it makes sense to skip buying Genie+ and instead opt for other strategy.
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, Almost Always – You know how Walt Disney World has kept base 1-day ticket prices the same since 2018 in order to advertise a lower starting point, but in reality, that’s only at Animal Kingdom? I’m slightly surprised that hasn’t happened with the Genie+ service. If there are days when Animal Kingdom is “worth” $109 and days when Magic Kingdom costs $189, surely the paid FastPass at the respective parks has different values.
Actually, I take that back. You can have as good of time at Animal Kingdom as any other park, on any day. By contrast, Genie+ is pretty much always useless at Animal Kingdom if you’re doing a full day in the park. As we’ve pointed out countless times, Animal Kingdom is the easiest park to strategize. Arrive somewhat early or stay late, and you can knock out everything without Lightning Lanes. That’s true even in 10/10 crowd levels.
The only exception, and why this is an “almost,” is if your plan is to roll up to Animal Kingdom after 10 am and leave before 4 pm on moderately busy or worse days. In that case, Genie+ at Animal Kingdom can be advantageous…but we’d 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. In every way, it’s a really bad approach for Animal Kingdom; basically the opposite of a strategy.
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.
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.
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 $30+ Per Person – Over spring break, I did extensive testing of Genie+ on $29 days with 10/10 crowd levels. I’ve yet to buy it at the $35 price point, and probably won’t until Thanksgiving, but who knows how much it’ll cost then! Judging by wait times, there’s no real difference in crowd levels between the $29 and $35 price; the latter was essentially a price increase, not a reaction to higher attendance or demand.
Regardless, the (rather expensive) lesson I’ve learned from those $30 (after tax) days was that Genie+ is that demand 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. At Animal Kingdom, the needle is not moved by higher prices (see above).
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 $30 (or however much money) is worth it for the number of hours (literally) you’ll save waiting in line. There’s really only one exception to this…
If It’s <$20 Per Person – 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 Genie+ as of mid-2023, the average posted wait time is usually 31 minutes or less when Genie+ is priced at $20 or less. 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 4/10 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 $20 to $25 (and perhaps $29 with the ‘new normal’ pricing). 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 FAQ for 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.
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!
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!
“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.”
So true! I did this in early Nov, our first time back since 2019. I was apprehensive about using Genie+ since I had the FP system down pat, but using Tom’s advice helped enormously. I was not on my phone all the time; I simply waited until we passed the LL checkpoint and looked for the next one. I refuse to crisscross the parks – I have to be in a wheelchair for WDW and it’s a lot to ask someone to push me around like that – so I generally looked for something closer to where we were. I think I only panicked once, when our LL for SDD ended up conflicting with our 50″s Prime Time Café ADR. This was prior to the easier adjustment of LLs, so I was trying to get a later ADR for Prime Time. I lucked out, but we still had to rush to make the grace period of the new ADR. We’re going again in Dec with our son, DIL, and grandson, so the planning will be a little different. I am a planner, and I do use a spreadsheet, but I do it with the understanding that things can and will go sideways at any given time (like the fact that tropical storm Nicole struck Orlando while we were there). The spreadsheet just helps me to see what our overall plans are. On this trip, being able to more easily modify a LL will certainly help! Thank you, Tom, for all that you and Sarah do to help the rest of us!
The main problem I have with Genie+ is you can’t count on it to give you time slots that are workable with your schedule and won’t conflict with other events you might have planned within the park (or times those in your group want to take a pool break).
The half-hour early entry should be a nice perk, but you have to get up so early to take advantage of it. Transportation to parks is slow (when walking is not an option), and the security personnel can vary in their efforts from a casual search to everything but a cavity probe. Our group spent a full 30 minutes going through security, mainly due to items in stroller compartments or bags. Having little kids in your party an make it really special but the items necessary for their needs are heavily scrutinized. My grown daughter was detained for five or ten minutes for having an empty sunglass case on her person. And there were troubles with magic bands and finger printing that completely invalidated our early entry perk. And forget about extra evening hours, as young kids are too tired to stay up. When Magic Kingdom is open until 11 daily, what good are two extra evening hours? Little kids won’t be up until 1…unless they sleep in until noon the next day.
If Disney really wants to give their resort guests a benefit, first reduce the number of eligible hotels that participate in early and late hours, and second, allow them to plan their day better by giving them the opportunity to make ride arrangements a week or month in advance. (I made my park pass reservations months in advance.)
Against my better judgment, we went to Disney Easter week. We did not buy Genie+ at AK. We did take advantage of early entry and also had DAS for my niece. We left about 4:30 for dinner reservations elsewhere but I was shocked at how little we were able to do. I’m not sure Genie+ would have changed that but I was still shocked. We only did Flight of Passage, Navi, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Festival of the Lion King, Bug’s Life, and ate lunch. Basically only one side of the park! We were only able to see the one show and didn’t do any of the trails. We were hampered by rider swap though so that did make FOP take longer as we waited for both groups to go through and, during that time, did ride Na’vi twice. As a frequent visitor, I’ve never not been able to do everything I wanted to at WDW using savvy strategy, even with a toddler, but that definitely wasn’t true in that 10/10 week. Lesson learned! My point: You are so right that on those $35 days, Genie+ isn’t even helpful at most of the parks (and I was even disappointed with how useful it was that week at MK).
Another reason to skip Genie+ is if you are eligible for the Disability Access Service (DAS) at Walt Disney World.
We were there for peak spring break and bought genie+ every day we were in the parks and it was worth every dollar to bypass those 2+ hour waits. I’m not paying thousands to travel all the way to Florida with my entire family, and not spending a few extra bucks to bypass the lines. Did the same at universal for exponentially more than what genie+ costs, and even that was worth every penny. I cannot fathom the concept of going on vacation – especially to an expensive place like Disney – and trying to “save money”.
While I take your point, doesn’t almost everyone visiting Walt Disney World have a budget? Some budgets may be much higher than others, but they’re still not limited. From that, it follows that buying Genie+ comes with an opportunity cost–not doing another character meal, buying fancy lightsabers, etc.
For others who are actually on a tight budget, it can mean having to cut days, downgrading resorts, etc.
“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.”
this every day and twice on sundays.
I think the one wild card for my and likely many families is not knowing how a 3-4 year old will react to waiting in line repeatedly for 30 minutes. For a family of older kids or Adults utilizing Early Entry and the best strategy probably out weighs the cost on the “slower” days for sure. For me and our trip where as you’ve said before I’ve spent thousands already, I’ll spend the extra money for Genie+ on most days to ensure the trip is more enjoyable for all and not dealing with a screaming toddler in line. Since we are doing multiple parks twice may only get it once at Epcot DHS etc. We will be there first week of May and picked that week based upon it being a slower time and was hoping to see the Genie+ prices come back down from the $35 high.
This! We aren’t to Disney World in September of 2022, a supposed “off season”. With three children 5 and under, Genie + was a must. Especially if prices are lower. Even I’m September, wait times for high demand rides were still close to that hour mark. Our children would not have been able to handle that.
Yeah, young kids make this a different ballgame. For adults, reducing 30-40 minute waits to 10 minute waits maybe isn’t worth $100 but if you have a little one? Heck yes. Especially if you’re worried about the dreaded “halfway through the line potty request”.
Very fair point about kids and the unpredictability of bathroom breaks. That’s why this is definitely not one-size-fits-all advice! 🙂
Yes this is my issue, we’re doing a big family trip with 6 adults, and 3 under 5. 2 of them are under 2. So with all the variables we can’t do early entry, or strategize much, genie + feels like the best option. Normally I’d be more picky about it but with the kids and the heat, the less line time the better. I’m still trying to adjust my mindset though and just go with the flow. This is my first trip as a parent—the youngest of the three is mine!
This a million times. With a young child, I willingly paid the $35 Genie+ price to avoid having to drag her out of bed before she was ready, keep her out of bed beyond her bedtime, and long, hot waits she’s not capable of yet. (And twice on LL there were delays as when, say, Ariel lost her dinglehopper and had to take a break to find it.) Def worth it for us. I know the tips here are not one-size-fits-all but also families are not exactly a niche audience–I’m realizing in my research that sometimes I need to go to fam-oriented blogs because the advice of go early, stay late- doesn’t quite work for us yet!
Love the Guardians of the Galaxy pic. I daresay your blog has the best photography of any of the Disney bloggers.
Thanks for the kind words! I waited forever for that area to clear of people, but finally gave up since it seemed like it wasn’t going to happen.
Hi Tom. How about on a party day? I’m helping a friend plan her family’s first trip to Magic Kingdom and they are planning to go in early October on a Halloween party day (during the day, not to the party). I initially told her they wouldn’t need Genie+ that day because crowds would likely be low. Is that solid advice?
That is solid advice, unless they’re Park Hopping (in which case, stacking could be savvy).
I’ll have to remember to do an update to this post in mid-August; for now, consider it part of the <$20 entry, as Genie+ will almost certainly be cheaper on MNSSHP days.