Families heading to Walt Disney World for a vacation are looking for every possible advantage they can find. How do you make sure your family is making the best use of its time in the four different Disney theme parks? Is there a way to ensure we ride the most anticipated rides? Basically, can we streamline our visit as much as possible, because this is pretty expensive.
In an effort to help visitors maximize their time in Walt Disney World, the theme parks have introduced a relatively new service called Genie+. The app replaces the concept of the FastPass system, now referring to them as Lightning Lanes that can be reserved throughout your day (via the My Disney app… which is essential) and accessed at a chosen time. There are rules for the Genie+ service, and an additional cost. We visited Orlando in December 2021 and used the Genie+ for our family of four. And because the service had numerous pros and cons, I wanted to lay them out, in case it convinces you to either take advantage of the service, or skip it altogether.
How much does Genie+ cost?
If you want to add Genie+ to your My Disney account, the cost is an additional $15 per person, per day. We spent two days in the parks (one day at Magic Kingdom, one day at Hollywood Studios), so four our four-member family, the Genie+ was an additional $120 on top of what we’d already paid for the park tickets.
Keep in mind, there is a complimentary version of Genie that can be accessed on My Disney. It has a tip board, and gives you the ability to build a daily itinerary. But it doesn’t give you free access to the park’s Lightning Lanes, which, honestly, is the biggest reason you’d want to invest in the service.
Now, here’s the catch… because it’s Disney. There’s usually a catch. The Genie+ does NOT grant you access to a Lightning Lane for EVERY ride. At Magic Kingdom, for example, you can not reserve a time to ride the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster – probably the most popular ride aside from Space Mountain – with Genie+. It will cost you an additional $10 (per person) to book a Lightning Lane for that ride. On top of the $15 per person you already paid.
Before you even ask, yes, this also applies to Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Hollywood Studios. So if you think you want to ride that immersive new experience, be prepared to stand in the normal lines. Before you commit to Genie+, surf the Disney World Website for rides that are not included in the service, because chances are, it’s a ride you were looking forward to getting on.
How does Genie+ work?
You can reserve a Lightning Lane spot on a coveted ride beginning at 7 a.m. on the day you are going into the parks. So your family better have a designated family member who has the My Disney app on his or her phone and is willing to wake up at 7 a.m. to reserve that first ride.
As you might imagine, the most popular rides start to fill up first. Let’s use Hollywood Studios as an example. You can use Genie+ to reserve a Lightning Lane for Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run. And when I logged onto My Disney at 7 a.m., I was able to get the time frame right when the park opened, so in the 9-9:30 a.m. window.
But when I refreshed the app a few minutes later, the next available Millennium Falcon Lightning Lane window was Noon. And a few minutes after that, it was 2:30 p.m. So, be prepared to log in right at 7, if there’s a ride in a park you absolutely want to get on.
Now, here’s the catch… because it’s Disney. There’s usually a catch. You are not able to book a NEW Lightning Lane reservation until you have redeemed the one you are waiting for – or, if two hours have passed. Meaning, if you book a Lightning Lane at 1 p.m. for a 9 p.m. ride, you CAN book another Lightning Lane before redeeming the 9 p.m. ride. But you have to wait until 3 p.m. (or two hours after you scheduled a reservation) to book it. And I can tell you from experience that in that two-hour waiting period, all of the good Lightning Lane reservations are going to fill up. And God help you if a ride in the park breaks – which happened to us each day of our visit. For Magic Kingdom, it was the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, which we wasted a Lightning Lane reservation on, hoping it would open back up. In Hollywood Studios, it was the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith. That, too, shut down early and never re-opened.
What’s good about the Genie+ service?
So long as you are on the Genie+ service right at 7 a.m., the program guarantees that you will walk right on to at least one coveted ride. For us, it was Space Mountain, which had a 75 minute wait when we got to it. Because of the Lightning Lane, we completed the entire experience in 20 minutes. I absolutely said to my wife, “That, alone, was worth the price of the Genie+.” And I meant it. Skipping the line feels incredible at Disney World. (It's worth noting that Space Mountain USUALLY is not available on the Genie+ but happened to be a ride you could choose when we visited the parks, so take note of that.)
At Hollywood Studios, we used Genie+ to get onto Millennium Falcon first thing in the morning, and again… wonderful. You walk right on to the ride. It’s a Disney dream.
If you have really young kids, the Genie+ also unlocks a series of really fun Disney-themed photo lenses that can be used inside and outside of the park. I turned myself into the Genie from Aladdin, and also posed with an animated Mickey Mouse who magically appeared over my shoulder. It’s creative, and should lead to some wild pictures.
Also, if you aren’t in a rush to fit in as much as possible in the theme parks and you just want to wander, the Genie+ service provides you access to Audio Tales that walk you through the theme park and provide historical context and trivia via behind-the-scenes podcasts. Those won’t be for everyone, mind you, but they are there if you think you might use them.
What’s bad about the Genie+ service?
I mean, not giving you access to the best rides in each park is kind of a swift kick to the gut. Disney can have a reputation for squeezing money out of its guests, so asking patrons who already paid for a park ticket and a $15 per person Genie+ fee to fork over another $9 - $11 per person to potentially get onto the amazing Avatar Flight of Passage ride at Animal Kingdom takes the wind out of the sails of the Genie+ service. Yes, it’s very convenient for MOST of the rides. But it should help you access ALL of the rides.
Also, the two-hour blackout window that one has to wait between reserving Lightning Lanes all but guarantees that you can’t get on the best rides in the park of your choice after you have used your first Lane of the day. Because as mentioned, as long as you wake up at 7 a.m., you will get access to your first choice of ride. But by the time you either redeem that ride, or the two hour blackout period has passed, the next open Lightning Lane for the second-best ride in that park probably is around 7 p.m. that evening.
And, you are at the mercy of the rides staying open. Here’s what happened to us in Hollywood Studios. We booked Millennium Falcon for our first ride of the day. We booked it for 10 a.m. Once we rode that ride, we were able to book our next Lightning Lane. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster had a 4 p.m. window, so we grabbed it. Now we had to kill time, because we couldn’t order another Lightning Lane until Noon. Which is fine. There’s still a lot to see and do in the Parks without hopping on the next ride. But soon after we booked the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, the ride “Temporarily Shut Down” for maintenance. At Noon, when it was time to book our third Lightning Lane of the day, the only thing left that we cared about was Tower of Terror… at 9:45 p.m. It was Noon. We would be able to try and get on any other ride we wanted, but we’d be waiting in the normal lines, which were averaging 60-90 minutes.
Also, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster never opened up that day, so that Lightning Lane that we booked at 10 a.m. amounted to nothing.
Is the Genie+ service worth the extra money?
The short answer is no. If you are a relatively small family, and the $15 per person a day is feasible, then you CAN make the Genie+ system work for you, but you aren’t going to get that much beyond early access to a few rides.
There is a way to make the Lightning Lanes work for you, and that’s to use them to access smaller rides people don’t care that much about. When we walked off of Space Mountain in Magic Kingdom, I saw on the My Disney app that the Tomorrowland Speedway had an available Lightning Lane right away. So we reserved it, rode the cars, and then were free to book the next Lightning Lane. If we wanted the Mad Tea Party, we probably could have walked right on, as well. If we wanted It’s a Small World, we probably wouldn’t have been able to reserve a spot until 5 p.m., or later.
This basically means that patrons who frequent the parks and aren’t overly concerned with getting onto every coveted ride will make better use of the Lightning Lanes offered by the Genie+ service. But if you are a parent thinking that Genie+ is going to automatically get your kids to the front of the lines on every ride they want to access, that is not how this works. So do your research on the rides that are blocked from Genie+, decide your best strategy for your day in the park, and then weigh the reality of whether Genie+ is worth the cost it will add to your family’s Disney Parks visit.
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Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Sean created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.