Have you been reading about Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, reviewing the numbers and estimated booking times? Do you think it’s awfully complicated, and you’re just not sure you want to do so much work on your vacation? If you feel like there has to be an easier way to get value out of Genie+, then this article is for you.
Even if you’re a data junkie and a down-and-dirty data dive doesn’t ding the satisfaction of your very expensive Disney World visit, you might find value in the simple guidance here. Every day, people who have made plans around the 4 p..m. “average” opening return time for Slinky Dog Dash find themselves staring at 9:30 a.m. after they book. You need to be able to adjust on the fly.
Here at TouringPlans, we have a very diverse audience. Some people, you give them a simple rule and they’re like “Great!” Some people are like “OK but … tell me why it works.” And some people (you know who you are) are like “OK, tell me why it works, and then really convince me that it’s at least three orders of magnitude better than what I’m currently doing.”
For the “just give me the rule” people, here it is:
The Simple Strategy
When you reserve a Lightning Lane, you’re “blacked out” from making another one until you redeem it, or until 120 minutes have passed since you booked it. (LLs that are booked before park opening behave as if they were booked the instant the park opened.) Here is the rule:
Do not book any Lightning Lane unless it saves at least 10 minutes of wait time per hour of blackout.
If you can’t find any LLs that meet that rule, then book away whatever you want with impunity. You’re down in the dregs anyway, and what you want to ride will probably make more difference to your total savings than which LLs you book.
That might sound more complicated than it needs to (because everything about Genie+ does), so here’s a different way to say it. If you won’t be able to book a new Lightning Lane for an hour, then you need to save at least 10 minutes. If you won’t be able to book for half an hour? Five minutes. If you’re going to save 2 minutes then you’d better be able to redeem that Lightning Lane in under 10 minutes from when you made it.
Estimating how much wait time you’ll save without a cheat sheet turns out to be one of those things that takes a lot of words to describe (and the rest of this article is devoted to it) but isn’t that hard to do. If you’ve spent a bit of time at the parks in the past, you probably already have a feel for it. If not —again, this diverse audience thing— read on.
If you’re the person who wants to know why the rule works, that’s covered in a separate article. But the “doesn’t really quite cover it” quickie explanation is that it keeps you from picking things where your LL actually costs you time instead of saving it.
Estimating Your Time Savings
This might seem obvious, but you can’t save 10 minutes with a Lightning Lane if the standby line is only 8 minutes long. What might not be as obvious is that you often can’t save 10 minutes with a Lightning Lane even if the standby line is 15 minutes long.
- There might be people in the Lightning Lane ahead of you.
- Even if nobody is ahead of you, most Lightning Lanes join the regular line very close to the front at the “merge point”. You’ll still have to do that last little bit of waiting after the merge point.
- If it’s a show, you’re going to have to wait until the previous show finishes no matter what.
As a general rule, you can guesstimate by subtracting 10 minutes from the standby wait at the time you plan to ride. This doesn’t work for shows, but you should assume that shows are almost never a good pick. The next question, of course, is how to look into the future and see what that wait will be. There are a few ways.
If the Park Is Open
If it’s already the middle of the day, then the current wait time is often a pretty decent approximation. You can check this from the Tip Board in the My Disney Experience app by tapping on the ride and viewing the forecast for the day. This graphic makes me wince because there isn’t a consistent scale, but it will give you a rough idea, and that rough idea will be plenty good enough. If you’re a TouringPlans subscriber, the Attraction List in Lines lets you view the forecast and hints as to whether lines will be steady. The images in the gallery below (click to browse through) show what these look like.
If it’s the beginning of the day and lines are still building then these methods still work. You’ll just need to be more careful about looking at the forecasts, because the current wait is less likely to be a good indicator.
Before the Park Opens
If you’re willing to wait until two hours after park open before booking your next LL, you should consider just consulting a cheat sheet. With just a tiny bit of research, it’s not too hard to figure out which LLs are the hot tickets. You can also check out the Tip Board in MDE. If you open it up for a few mornings in advance of your vacation, you’ll quickly get a sense of what’s hot and what’s not.
One of the advantages of the Simple Strategy as that it’s friendly to making your first pick much closer to park opening and offers success even if you don’t start with a cheat sheet. This might be especially meaningful to you now that you can no longer see return times on the Tip Board between 7 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. But this can make your first pick a little more challenging.
For those who have visited before, you may be able to rely on prior experience. If you are a TouringPlans subscriber, you can view the forecasted wait times page like the one shown below for a quick overview. Or again, before your visit, you can check out morning wait times in MDE for a few days to get a sense of how things roll.
All else failing (or if you don’t want to look at anything in advance), take your cue from everyone else. If it’s half an hour before park opening and you can get a return time for less than an hour after opening, it’s probably not a good pick unless it’s a very low crowd day. Cancel your reservation and try again.
It’s 8:15 a.m., and you can get a 9:30 a.m. return time for the Short Film Festival at EPCOT. The park opens at 9 a.m.
People have been booking Lightning Lanes for over an hour already and nobody seems to be in a hurry to bang one down for this. That should be a clue to you – you can do better. If people have already been booking for quite a while, look for something at least an hour after park opening. In this case, that means later than 10 a.m.
It’s 11 a.m., and you can get an immediate return for Journey Into Imagination. The line is 10 minutes long, and you’re at Mission Space.
That’s a no. You might end up saving a minute or two, but it will take you at least 5 minutes to get there and redeem your LL. If you’re only saving a couple of minutes, you need to be standing next to the tapstiles when you book.
It’s 11 a.m., and you can get a return time at 12:30 p.m. for Under the Sea. The standby wait is currently 20 minutes long and looks to be steady throughout the day when you check the forecast in the Tip Board.
That’s a no, unless you can’t find anything better. You’ll probably save 10 minutes or maybe even a bit more. But you’d need to save 15 minutes to come out ahead on the hour and a half that you’d be blocked from making any new reservations. If it was an 11:45 a.m. return time, or even noon, then you’d be free to hop onto that!
It’s 10:30 a.m., and you can get an 11 a.m. return for Living with the Land. The line is 10 minutes now, but checking the Tip Board you can see that it goes up around 11 a.m.
That’s a yes, if you want to. If you arrived now you wouldn’t save any time with a Lightning Lane, but by the time you can redeem it in half an hour, you should be saving at least 5 minutes. Just don’t sit around on this one when your window opens, because it’s right on the borderline.
To see an example day at each park that uses the Simple Strategy, click here.
Is That Really All?
OK, it’s not. But it is mostly all you need to know to execute the basic strategy. The hardest thing about Genie+ is that the blackout rules sound so complicated to explain, and it does take a little bit to get the hang of that. But it turns out that even without sticking your face in the phone all morning, it’s pretty easy to see what everyone else thinks is popular.
Once you’ve spent a couple of hours using it, it will be obvious which LL return times are rising quickly and which ones are just kind of keeping pace. This is not the time to zig when everyone else is zagging. If it looks like Tower of Terror is going to sell out, and everything else seems to have plenty of availability, then I think you’re going to figure out what to do. There’s a more advanced version of the rule:
Book the Lightning Lane that saves the most time per minute of blackout, keeping in mind other factors like how late you want to be in the park, LLs that might sell out, etc.
That sounds super-complicated, but most people following the simple rule will naturally extend it to the advanced rule all on their own as they grow comfortable with using Genie: they’ll use it to pick between two choices that both meet the simple rule. And they won’t be hauling out a calculator to do it; most of the time the better choice (if there is one) will be quite obvious.
(Note for nerds: One reason why people will tend to naturally drift to the advanced rule is that it is a type of greedy algorithm, and humans are often excellent at using and refining those types of workflows. We’re so good that we do it even when it doesn’t turn out to be a winning idea. “Penny wise and pound foolish” describes a greedy algorithm that doesn’t work — and we all know how common that is.)
What the Advanced Rule Adds
One thing that the advanced rule adds is that it can “compare” LLs with short and long return times. That means that it can:
- Be used for a hybrid strategy that isn’t focused solely on stacking or quick returns; it will tell you if one or the other is clearly better.
- Be used if you are planning to hop; it will tell you when it might be a good idea to get an LL for the park you are in instead of the one you’re hopping to.
Does It Work?
This simple rule mostly aims to prevent you from choosing Lightning Lanes that are big mistakes. It’s not targeted at seeking out the big winners. So does it work?
I did the same kind of virtual run-through that Becky did with a strategy based on a solid first pick and subsequent picks mostly using the simple rule. Her “Use it or lose it” team behaved in a way that could be realistic for a Genie+ novice who hadn’t done any reading about how to use it. But they made a lot of bad picks by focusing only on short return times.
The best way to show how effective ditching the bad picks can be was for me to stick to a similar strategy while avoiding those bad picks, so I tended to focus on short return times as well in my example day. But my team was allowed to notice that LLs were in danger of selling out, and book accordingly. And they were allowed to use the advanced rule if choosing between attractions with return times of more than 2 hours.
My virtual team saved 245 minutes in the Magic Kingdom, 119 minutes in EPCOT, 201 minutes in Hollywood Studios, and 146 minutes in Animal Kingdom. Those numbers are in line with the expected averages, and very similar to what Becky’s “Stacking” team achieved. Of course, it’s still a single example — but if I couldn’t produce even one, that would be a problem. One of the most interesting things, to me, is that in every park they got those results with an LL booked later than 7 a.m.; in most cases very close to park opening. At least on medium-crowd days, you don’t need an itchy trigger finger to have success with Genie+.
What to Take Away
The basic tension of Genie+ strategy comes from not being able to book a new one until you’ve used the one you have. (Or until 120 minutes have passed). Is it better to save less time and book a new one sooner? Or wait two hours for a big reward? Either one can be the right answer, but making a reservation that doesn’t save any time really hurts. It uses up opportunity and you get nothing in return. Simply staying away from bad choices can be very effective at getting close to the average savings.
Looking at how much time you save compared to how long it will be until you can make a new reservation is a key metric. Saving at least 10 minutes for each hour of “blackout” with your early picks will keep you away from poor choices and help you get the most out of Genie+.
What do you prioritize with Genie+? Do you like seeing different approaches, or do you think it just adds to the confusion? Let us know in the comments!