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Disney World Rebrands Genie+/ FastPass, but It’s Still a Miserable, Complex, and Costly Chore

 How did we get here? The casual and relaxing days of Walt Disney World began to die in the 1990s, when Disney purchased the ABC networks and forced its channels to plug the company theme parks in daily programming. 

That corporate-mandated “synergy” resulted in increasingly overcrowded parks. 

How prices spiraled at Disney Parks

Enter FASTPASS, which was a new option designed to help visitors beat the long lines at the busiest attractions. You’d walk up to a ride, grab a paper reservation to come back at a set time later on, and when you returned, you could use a special, shorter line instead of wait in the usual queue that everyone else had to use. Guests were only able to use FASTPASS a few times a day, but doing so was a fun and free perk that set Disney apart.

For the next 20 years, Disney grappled with the ramifications of overpromoting its theme parks by simply raising prices far beyond the rate of inflation. That had the double effect of excluding families without much money (now, nearly half the families who visit Walt Disney World go into debt to pay for it) and boosting a cash flow that the rest of the Disney corporation can use to float other endeavors like streaming TV and purchases of off-the-shelf intellectual property such as the Star Wars franchise. 

When Covid arrived, Disney’s strategy of raising prices collided with FASTPASS. Disney converted the celebrated free FASTPASS into a paid luxury product called Genie+, generating a new income stream. And because the Disney parks are so overcrowded, a huge number of guests feel obligated to pay the new surcharge ($15–30 per person, per day) if they want to be able to ride their favorite attractions at all.

It’s not possible to artificially shorten the wait for one person without making the wait longer for someone else, and we have not been afraid to call Genie+ a scam because it doesn’t really need to exist—it’s just a corporate cash grab. With Genie+, Disney enforced and profited from a two-tiered system for the haves and have-nots. Many Disney guests are not pleased, but felt they had to buy Genie+ or be left behind.

This July 24, Disney tries yet again to revamp the old FASTPASS feature. But the company is not fixing that two-tiered system. If anything, the new changes to Genie+ at Walt Disney World make the system more entrenched and more inconvenient by forcing guests to begin planning to use it days ahead of a visit.

What’s changing with Lightning Lane in July 2024

This is not a simple system for a first-time Disney guest. 

  • Previous system: Genie+ ($15–30 per person a day) allows you to book an appointment time for a shorter line for a list of attractions (but not all of them).
  • New system: It’s now called Lightning Lane Multi Pass; no changes in price have been announced.

  • Previous system: Genie+ lets you choose from a list of attractions, but not all attractions.
  • New system: The list is pretty much the same, but for pre-booking it has now been broken into tiers. Lightning Lane Multi Pass will allow you to start by choosing up to three appointments. Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios divide attractions into two tiers. You may only choose one attraction from the top tier (made up of the more popular rides, of course). Your other two selections have to be from the lower tier of less-popular stuff. 

  • Previous system: Genie+ reservations must be made one after the other, so you’ll be consulting your phone all day to keep making arrangements. Once you use a reservation or if 120 minutes have passed, you may book another.
  • New system: You may hold up to three reservations at a time. Once you use a reservation, you may book another from the Multi Pass list or, if you have a Park Hopper ticket, you can book a reservation in another park.

  • Previous system: The most popular rides aren’t available with Genie+, but ride times can be booked as Individual Lightning Lane reservations (as much as $25 per person per ride).
  • New system: An individual booking is now called Lightning Lane Single Pass. The price is just as high, but you might be forced into paying it anyway (see below).

  • Previous system: Some character meet-and-greets can be booked with Genie+.
  • New system: Character greetings are not longer bookable with Lightning Lane Multi Pass.

  • Previous system: Booking opens the day of your park visit.
  • New system: Booking opens 7 days ahead if you’re paying more to stay at a Disney resort. Otherwise, booking opens 3 days before. If you’re booking the same day as your visit, never mind about all those tiers—they don’t matter for same-day bookings.

  • Previous system: Some popular rides don’t have regular lines you can wait in. You either have to pay per ride for Individual Lightning Lane or try your luck in a game of Fastest Finger with your smartphone in the Virtual Queue at 7am sharp each day. You might get shut out, which would force you to pay as much as $25 per person if you want to ride.
  • New system: No change. You still have to compete for slots at 7am using the Virtual Queue. Only now, that will come a few days after you’ve booked your early Lightning Lane Multi Pass and Lightning Lane Single Pass.

All of this is not included in the price of admission, which is generally $150–$190 per person, per park, per day. Ride reservations must also be made every time you want to go to a Walt Disney World theme park. The system at Disneyland in California isn’t changing, but will adopt the new “Multi Pass” and “Single Pass” terminology.

In the face of loud and pointed criticism about Genie+, Disney World responded by extending your schedule of planning struggles from one morning to up to 7 days. What’s more, Disney has placed a two-tiered disadvantage on anyone who isn’t paying above-market rates to stay at one of its company hotels. The new changes to Lightning Lane make the Disney experience both more inconvenient and more exclusive. 

If anything, in “fixing” Lightning Lane, Disney has managed to multiply the misery of advance planning. What was once something you could handle in a frenzy on the morning of your visit—bad as that system was—has now been spread to include a frenzy of planning for 3 to 7 days ahead as well. And no matter how on top of things you think you are, the people staying at expensive Disney hotels will always get the jump on you.

And how’s this for a fumble: Disney news site reports that booking Lightning Lane passes will only be possible from within the United States. Never mind that Walt Disney World is historically one of the most popular destinations for international travelers—those visitors won’t be able to use the system from their home countries. 

Modern Disney seems to only head in one direction: toward confusion and complication, and away from comfort, relaxation, and the much-ballyhooed “magic” that the marketing department likes to purr about.

“We deeply value the trust families place in Disney to create lasting memories and that is why we are dedicated to making updates that improve and simplify their experience,” read a statement by Disney posted to announce the changes. 

In Theme Park Speak, that’s the equivalent of “thoughts and prayers.”

Disney’s customer experience executives are more concerned with helping the company profit off of crowd control issues than making a visit comprehensible and convenient for a visitor.

It’s just a theme park, for crying out loud. Why do things need to be this hard?

Thank the overcrowding that corporate synergy wrought. 

Source: Disney Parks