In the five days starting October 19th, our in-parks testing team spent the equivalent of 15 park-days in the WDW parks testing out Genie+. They park-hopped, they rope dropped, they waited way too long in many lines, they live-streamed, and they answered hundreds (hundreds!) of questions. It wasn’t an easy week, and at times it was pretty miserable. But it was a lot of fun too! And we learned a lot. So today we’re going to share the most important things that we’ve learned. Not all of the details, because there will be plenty of FAQs popping up handling that. And not the steps of each of the tests that we’ve run. You can see some information about days one, two, three, and five in earlier articles on the blog. This post isn’t about any of that – it’s about the things that we learned that we think will be the most impactful and help you most in your decision-making about Genie, Genie+, and Individual Lightning Lane purchases.
Pay-Your-Way Performs Nicely**
In our Genie+ vs TP head-to-head at Hollywood Studios on Saturday, we saw an excellent display of how to use Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane Access (ILL) to complete a lot at Hollywood Studios very quickly. And it “only” cost $40 on top of park admission. $40 doesn’t seem like a lot – people can justify it as “worth it” to do everything in Hollywood Studios in less than 7 hours, even while having a slow start to the day.
But this performance comes with two asterisks that we haven’t covered thoroughly. The first is that in order for the pay-your-way strategy to pay off, it requires strategy and quite a bit of brain power. You have to know which return times to reserve first and second to make the most of your day, and what to scoop up as you go along. And then Genie doesn’t remind you when your return time windows open, so you have to plot out how to go about using everything and not forgetting everything. You still need information and knowledge about what to get, what to use, and what attractions or shows to do while you wait for your return times to open. We’re building up that knowledge base and will have more recommendations to make as we gather more data.
The other is that the $40 per day is based on current costs, and it’s for a single person. Specifically at Hollywood Studios, the Rise of the Resistance ILL is selling out around 9 am every day. And this is in low crowd season. Disney could easily raise the price (significantly) on this single ride and make a lot more money while still probably selling it out every day. Supply and demand. Demand is huge, and Disney has room to move the needle. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did it. And then there is the matter of party size. I have a family of four. So I have to multiply those costs by four every time. If Disney bumps up the ILL for Rise to $25, that means a pay-your-way $50 day turns into a $200 day for my family (plus tax!!). I could do family breakfast at Topolino’s Terrace for that. We had a question about a party of 25 being able to make return times together. That’s a $1,250 day (on top of park tickets). We’ll be doing a fun chart of Genie+/ILL costs and party sizes with other Disney experiences of equivalent cost to help you think through the trade-offs.
Genie+ Usefulness at Each Park
It’s only been a week, and crowds have been pretty mild, but we’ve started to see some patterns that can help inform which parks might be more suited to Genie+ use than others.
At the bottom of the list is Animal Kingdom. Easily. By a long shot. I would personally never pay for Genie+ and Animal Kingdom, unless I was visiting on a Crowd Level 10 day. Which I wouldn’t do. I can definitely see a case for purchasing ILL for Flight of Passage in a variety of conditions. But the attractions on Genie+ that attract long waits under normal conditions are … Kilimanjaro Safaris and Na’vi River Journey. I’ll time my visits to those attractions carefully, and leisurely visit the rest of the park.
Next would be EPCOT. We already know that the strategy of which Genie+ return times to get and remembering when to use them is tricky. Multiply this by the long walking distances between attractions at EPCOT. You don’t want a 2 p.m. return for the Seas when your Remy boarding group gets called at 1:30. That’s a LONG walk, and potentially something that you can’t control. It can be helpful on higher-crowd-level days. But I’m personally still not balking and buying until something like a crowd level 7 or above.
Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios are in their own tier. We’ve already demonstrated that you can save a significant amount of time in line at Hollywood Studios even on a crowd level 1 day by purchasing Genie+. But we also showed that it wasn’t totally necessary – we accomplished the same thing with strategy and a touring plan. And at Magic Kingdom, there are so many Genie+ attractions to choose from, that it might be worth it just for the variety. I probably wouldn’t purchase it for my family at Hollywood Studios until a crowd level of 4 or 5, and at Magic Kingdom a 5 or a 6.
Which Return Times to Book First
Let’s talk high-level 7 am strategy first. If you’re a resort guest, here’s what my priorities would be, assuming you’re trying to book every possible thing:
- Try to join the virtual queue for Remy (if applicable)
- Book your first Genie+ return time
- Book your first ILL
- Book your second ILL
That same strategy holds if you’re not a resort guest, but you won’t be eligible for step 3 until the park you’re visiting opens for the day.
What about some specific attractions?
- Rise of the Resistance has sold out early almost every day. Most days it doesn’t last much longer than park opening (when off-site guests become eligible to purchase). If you want to purchase its ILL, you need to do it as soon as you’re eligible.
- The two Genie+ attractions that go through return times the quickest are also at Hollywood Studios – Slinky Dog Dash and Millennium Falcon. Normally I recommend trying to grab earliest available return times so that you can churn through reservations more quickly, but both of these attractions have great time savings with Genie+. So if you want to ride them that day, make that your first priority for the day.
- At Magic Kingdom, Jungle Cruise and Peter Pan’s Flight are the two most popular Genie+ attractions, so they are good options to try to book first.
In our Genie tests at Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, we got pretty frustrated with the “free Genie” day plans. They weren’t intuitive. But that meant that our team of clever humans figured out some tricks for forcing Genie to be slightly less awful.
- Swaperoo!! Maybe this isn’t a hack, but keep in mind that you can try a swaperoo if there’s something that you don’t like. We recommend yelling “Swaperoo!” as loud as you can when you do this option. Genie will then attempt to give you some alternate options regarding how to spend that time in your plan.
- Another trick is to not wait for the times that Genie tells you. This isn’t a great option, because it likely means that you’re going to start running really far ahead of plan. But in our experience, that hasn’t produced any really terrible results. It’s better than frittering away your time.
- The biggest “hack” is step deletion. If you start running ahead and Genie doesn’t update your plan, or if you’re displeased with what your plan looks like, start deleting steps instead of doing a swaperoo. Once your “gap” in the schedule gets too big, Genie will fill it back in. This is unfortunate if there are steps that you want to do, but as of now, there’s no other way to force any sort of reoptimization or refresh.
Evaluating Genie Based On Its Claims
Back in August, when Genie was “officially” announced, there were a lot of lofty claims made about what it did. We’ve only gotten a few days of testing in, but we can start to make some initial evaluations of what it claimed and how it’s working in the real world. All quotes here can still be found on Disney’s Genie site as of October 25th.
- “Our complimentary Disney Genie service creates your best Disney day inspired by your party’s top interests.”
Well, it is complimentary. I’ll give them that. But the second half of the sentence is already straying. Inspired by your top interests? Our Magic Kingdom tester listed 12 top interests and got to accomplish 2 of them (and then a third when we did the mass delete hack). Our Hollywood Studios testers both got almost the exact same steps in their initial plans when they had different initial input. If there’s any inspiration happening, it’s probably given about a 5-10% weight in whatever algorithm they have making recommendations to you.
- “It also grants you new planning features, including a personalized itinerary creator that seamlessly and smartly maps out your visit with updates that continue from morning to night.”
Seamlessly and smartly maps … okay, if that means keeps you from walking a lot. Sure. It’s definitely doing some prioritizing based on location, at least in the Magic Kingdom. Actually, they seem to be weighting location more than interests. But the updates that continue from morning to night – I’m calling that bluff. Our Magic Kingdom tester’s plan updated once. When the attraction she was sent to was closed. Our Star Wars Hollywood Studio tester’s plan never updated all day. Our blank-slate Hollywood Studios tester’s plan updated twice (just by swapping out one attraction for another) – once when at attraction went down, and once for no apparent reason. There is no continuous updating. There might be some discrete updating. But its minimal. [Note – on the site linked above, continuous updates are mentioned at least three times. This is probably the most misleading claim.]
- “And, Disney Genie can even remind you when you’re eligible to make dining and activity reservations in advance.”
I guess we haven’t tested that part. But it doesn’t remind you when your reservations are opening unless you physically pull up the itinerary and remind yourself. So maybe it’ll push notifications to get you to reserve opportunities to spend your money. But probably not much else.
- “It even suggests a good time to go to an experience and an idea of the forecasted wait.”
Well, it says things like “good time to go”, but that can be followed with information that tells you the wait time when it’s a “good time to go” is going to be high. In fact, we’ve found examples of it being a good time to go with a low wait and a high wait. Is that helpful? I don’t think so. I guess it’s a good time to go when Disney wants you to go, no matter what the wait is. And an idea of the forecasted wait? If you follow us on Twitter, you’ll know that the forecasted wait is on an un-labelled graph, so you don’t know the actual wait, and you can’t compare it to any other attraction.
- “You’ll also be able to virtually chat with a Cast Member who can help answer any questions that arise.”
Wait times for chats with with Cast Members in the first few days after Genie’s release were in double-digit numbers of hours. And when responses came in, they were unhelpful. But they at least looked nice because the text was centered, like a poem. This might change in the future when there are less questions, but don’t depend on immediate virtual help. You’ll have to wait in line at a blue umbrella or Guest Relations.
Overall, there have been positives and negatives in our testing this week. Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane Access can most certainly be useful (if expensive), but free Genie is going to be hard to defend. Did you experience either in the first week? Or do you have questions that you’d like us to answer? Let us know in the comments!