Following Disney park closures in 2020, Disney discontinued its long-standing free FastPass System that allowed guests to reserve three FastPasses per day. In early 2022, Walt Disney World introduced its new Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane services as a replacement for the old FastPass system. Our most recent trip to Disney World last month was my first opportunity to use Disney’s new Genie + and Lightning Lane services. Keep reading for an overview of these services.
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The first major difference between the old FastPass system and the new Genie+/Lightning Lane system is that the old FastPass system was free. That meant that everyone who visited the park could book three FastPasses for their day and get the privilege of mostly skipping the line on those three rides. It was really nice to know that you would have a few rides every day that you didn’t have to wait in line for. And did I mention it was free?
The new Genie+ and Lightning Lane services are not free. Actually, they are quite pricey. Genie+ costs $15 per person per day (plus tax). So for a family of four spending six days in Walt Disney World parks, this is an additional $360 cost on top of the tickets you already spent over $2,000 on (or more if you purchased the park hopper option). This is a significant additional cost that didn’t exist two years ago. But spending that $15 per day doesn’t get you access to three Lightning Lanes per day; it gets you into one Lightning Lane at a time (more on this later). And even more frustrating is that Genie+ doesn’t work on the two most in-demand rides in each park. Instead, each of these rides has an additional Individual Lightning Lane that is a separate additional charge ranging from $7 to $15 each plus tax (per person, of course). And these Individual Lightning Lanes can sell out (and did on our recent trip).
Under the old FastPass system, there was some stress when booking your fast passes, but it was well in advance of your actual vacation. At 7am exactly 60 days before your trip (or 30 days if you weren’t staying in a Disney resort), you could log into the Disney World website or app and attempt to book your desired FastPasses. This process was a bit stressful, but as long as you had done some research, you could book these with fairly little distress two months before your trip. You didn’t have to worry about any other planning while you were in the park unless you used all three of your FastPasses and had the time and energy to try to book another.
The new system doesn’t allow anyone to book Lightning Lanes in advance. Instead, each morning of your vacation you must set an alarm to be logged into the Disney World app at 7am (or 9am if you aren’t staying on property) to make your Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane selections. But first, you have to make sure that you have purchased Genie+ for that date. You can either purchase it in advance for every day of your trip- or if you only want to purchase it for select dates, you have to purchase it between midnight and 7am on the day you want to use it. And the Genie+ and Lightning Lane selections both open at 7am. So there is a lot of pressure because the early times for some Genie+ attractions and Individual Lightning Lane attractions are gone seemingly instantaneously.
We found it most productive to have one person in charge of booking the first Genie+ Lightning Lane while another member of the party attempted to purchase the Individual Lightning Lanes that we were interested in. My sister ended up having some connectivity problems and on at least one morning after I purchased the Individual Lightning Lane I attempted to book a Genie+ Lightning Lane and was unable to select any time slots for the most in-demand rides before 2pm.
This new process is stressful. Instead of eating breakfast or getting ready for the day, everything has to stop so that you can focus on attempting to make your Genie+ reservation or Individual Lightning Lane purchases right at 7am. This can be further complicated by connectivity problems. My sister (who has a brand new AT&T iPhone) often found that when she tried to make these reservations/purchases right at 7am her app would freeze or take a long time to load. I seemed to have more success. My app worked fairly smoothly (I have a brand new Verizon Samsung Galaxy phone), but it was still incredibly stressful.
For instance, on the morning we visited Hollywood Studios, we planned to use Genie+ and purchase the Individual Lightning Lanes for both Rise of the Resistance and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railroad. Although I refreshed my app at exactly 7am, I wasn’t able to get a Lightning Lane reservation for Rise of the Resistance before 2pm. To further complicate things- we were meeting friends that were staying off-property. Even though they were in our party on the app, I couldn’t make the reservation for them at the same time because they weren’t staying on-property. This process is further complicated if every member of your party isn’t participating in the Genie+ or Individual Lightning Lane reservation. To quote my sister, “It was the most irritating and annoying way to start your vacation day.”
So all of the initial stress occurs at 7am (or 9am if you are staying off-property) in the morning. You would think that once you have your initial Genie+ and Lightning Lane selections booked, you can relax and enjoy the rest of your day. Unfortunately, this is not remotely true because you will want to book additional Genie+ Lightning Lanes throughout the day. What this means is that every two hours from the opening time of the park (and I recommend setting alarms) you can log in and book an additional Genie+ Lightning Lane. You can actually book it sooner than that if you have completed your initial Genie+ Lighting Lane prior to this two-hour interval, but on the days we used it we had to wait two hours between booking each Genie+ Lightning Lane selection.
This means that in addition to the stress you went through at 7am, every two hours you have the same urgency to log on and book your next Genie+ Lightning Lane. If you wait, you might miss getting a Genie + Lighting Lane for a specific ride altogether. But the later you book your each Genie+ Lightning Lanes, the later each subsequent booking can happen. This means that you might be in the middle of a ride when your window opens. Or in the bathroom. Or in the middle of a million different things. But ultimately when the alarm went off we felt that we had to stop whatever we were doing and make our selection immediately. When we waited even a few minutes we noticed the available reservation time windows quickly growing later and later.
One other major difference between the FastPass system and the new Genie+ system is that with the old FastPass system you could spread your reservations throughout the day so that you had time to work your way across a given park from one ride to another. With the new Genie+ system you can only select the specific time offered- which is generally the earliest available. You cannot intentionally book reservations for later in the day, further reducing your control over your day and progress through the park. In our experience, this led to a lot more wasted time back-tracking through the parks. And you will want to make sure that you have a back-up battery pack for your phone. Between all of the Genie+ reservations, dining reservations, and mobile ordering, your phone is in constant use. It can feel a bit like you are missing out on your vacation because you are so busy making reservations on your phone.
The first day we tried out Genie+ in Magic Kingdom and found it extremely stressful. My sister’s phone was having connectivity issues and the rides that we wanted to ride didn’t have any availability for Genie+ (e.g. Peter Pan’s Flight and the Jungle Cruise). The rides that did have Genie+ availability later in the day we had already ridden (e.g. The Haunted Mansion or Pirates of the Caribbean). This was very frustrating. Had we done more research, we might have been able to avoid some of this frustration by selecting a different initial Genie+ reservation (we had initially booked Big Thunder Mountain Railroad).
The second day we used it in Hollywood Studios and found that it went much better. We researched which rides tended to be the most in-demand and booked those for our earliest Genie+ reservations. We were then able to book the less in-demand rides during our later Genie+ windows. Multiple people set alarms so that we didn’t miss any of our windows. And of course, there aren’t as many rides in Hollywood Studios- so that helped a bit.
In general I think that the new service is incredibly expensive. I also think that having to stop repeatedly during the day to make new reservations is stressful. But I found the mad rush at 7am to book Rise of the Resistance and our first Genie+ Lightning Lane to be the most stressful part. I really preferred being able to have all of my FastPasses determined in advance so that I could plan my day and a general route through the park. Well, if I’m being honest, I actually like to schedule out a very specific plan for each day using plans at touringplans.com (I describe this service in depth in my post on the best tools for planning your Disney World vacation). And if you are using these touring plans, you have to enter each of your new Lightning Lanes as they are scheduled throughout the day. This constant updating significantly reduced the effectiveness of our touring plans.
So would I recommend that you purchase Genie+ or Individual Lightning Lanes? I guess the answer is: It depends. First, it depends on your budget. If money is no object, then yes- definitely buy them. If you have a more limited budget, I think that some parks and some rides make more sense. Specifically, I think that you should absolutely purchase Individual Lightning Lanes for Rise of the Resistance if possible. The stand-by wait for that ride is often over 90 minutes. Some other rides, like Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway had around a 60 minute wait in the stand-by lane. We waited 45 minutes to ride Space Mountain in the Stand-by lane.
But you can also avoid these lines if you get to the park before it opens. If you don’t know- this is often referred to as ‘rope dropping.’ Disney will generally let you enter the parks prior to the park officially opening, but will hold you in the park entrance until actual opening time. They often use ropes to demarcate the specific threshold at which they allow crowds to accumulate. At the exact moment of the park officially opening, they will pull this rope back and allow crowds of people to run to specific rides.
Essentially, if you are at the park before it opens and run to one of the Individual Lightning Lane rides immediately, you will be rewarded with a much shorter ride and can avoid spending money on the Individual Lightning Lane. We successfully did this pretty much every day of our vacation. For instance, we rope-dropped and ran to the new Ratatouille ride in Epcot and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in Magic Kingdom.
Secondly, it also depends on your individual party. These additional expenses are more palatable for smaller parties. It is a lot easier to swallow spending $30 for two people to purchase the Rise of the Resistance Lightning Lane than it is to spend $90 for a party of six. It is also less stressful to make these purchases if everyone in your party is either staying on or off property (as opposed to a mix of both) and if everyone will ride the same rides and you aren’t making separate plans for different groups.
I generally found that the new system decreased the quality of my vacation. Not significantly- but notably. Especially on the first day in Magic Kingdom. It seemed like after we made our initial reservation for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, none of the other rides that were important to us had availability before 5pm. This was disappointing and we felt like we had wasted our money. Some additional planning might have helped, but this vacation already requires so much advance planning that it can be overwhelming.
I absolutely prefer the old FastPass system- especially because it was free. But using the Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lanes was easier the second time around. Ultimately, we adjusted to the new system, but it really is unnecessarily confusing and complicated and requires a lot of effort and flexibility.
Have you tried the new Genie+ or Individual Lightning Lanes yet? What was your experience?
If you are planning an upcoming trip to Disney World, check out my review of the new Mears Connect shuttle service to Disney World Resort hotels. You might also want to review my post on my suggestions for what to where in Walt Disney World.
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