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How Do Genie+ Return Times Shift Throughout the Day? Part 1

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Last week we took a deep dive into when you could expect Genie+ return times to “sell out” under various crowd conditions. And that’s an excellent start for your purchasing and planning decisions. But it’s only step one, especially if you’re a hyper-planner like me. I don’t just want to know that Peter Pan’s Flight will probably be sold out by noon. I want to know the likely impact on return times if I book at 11 am instead of 7 am. So this week we’re going one layer deeper and looking at Genie+ return time trends for each eligible attraction. How do those Genie+ return times shift throughout the day?

In the hour that you spend staring at the Beacons of Light after sunset, how much Genie+ availability has disappeared? (Trick question – it doesn’t matter because you’re mesmerized and stuck watching this for the rest of the night)

Today’s post will explore the return time distributions at Animal Kingdom and at EPCOT, and then in tomorrow’s post (two days in a row of Stats With Becky!) I’ll overwhelm you with all of the data from Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom!

Explain the Math

The data for today’s post is NOT simple. It is messy and new and raw. If you’re wondering why Lines doesn’t yet support suggestions for which Genie+ reservations to make and when, this is part of the reason why. We need data on these return times, and we also need data on wait time savings. That means you can help by submitting your Genie+ and standby wait times if you’re in the parks.

But if we choose to simplify our math today down to the very basics, we’re looking at two data points:

  1. Time – This is what we’re calling the time that you scroll through MDE and decide which Genie+ reservation to make.
  2. Return Time – This is the return time window you’re given once you book your Genie+ reservation for an attraction. In this case, it’s the time at the beginning of the hour you have to arrive at the attraction to enter the Lightning Lane.

So with those two data points, we can make some cool little plots of time that you make the reservation and time that you can return. But that’s where things start to get complicated. Each attraction has a different plot, and each day has a different plot. To get really predictive, we have to combine all the days together and extract some meaning out of them. And on top of all of that, the data is pretty dirty. Most of the time return times will follow a pretty nice curve or line of some sort, but any time that a guest cancels one of their return times, that one shows up as available and then the curve or line gets jagged and not as clean.

That means that for today I’m doing some really really exciting data cleanup to present just a peek into some trends and what you might be able to expect. We’ll loop through each park on three different days to see if the lines and curves change. Then we’ll be able to see if you can use this little preview to already help inform some strategies and expectations.

Genie+ Return Times at Animal Kingdom

October 27th – Crowd Level 1

Return time distribution for Animal Kingdom Genie attractions on October 27th (Crowd Level 1)

A couple of notes on how to read these graphs – the X axis shows our Time variable – that’s when you’re opening up your app to make a Genie+ reservation. The Y axis shows our Return Time – that’s the return time that the app was offering when you opened the app to make your reservation. The black dashed line shows when Time = Return Time. So if a dot appears on that line, you could immediately get and use a Genie+ reservation for that attraction. If the dots appear above the line, the attraction is booking out ahead of the current time (to be expected). If the dots appear significantly below the line … well, Genie is broken. You shouldn’t get a return time in the past. So what can we learn from this graph?

  • Early in the morning (7 am-ish), there is the most demand for Kilimanjaro Safaris, followed by Na’vi River Journey. Almost no one is getting reservations for DINOSAUR or It’s Tough To Be a Bug at 7 am. Can you blame them?
  • By noon, the only attraction that doesn’t have the Genie+ version of walk-up availability is Na’vi River Journey, and even that is only about one hour ahead (giving out 2 pm return times at 1 pm).
  • By 3 pm, all four major Genie attractions are book now/ride now – you could use Genie+ at another park in the morning, hop over to Animal Kingdom, and then just make and use Genie+ reservations at each attraction as you get to it. (At this very lowest crowd level, that is.)

November 22nd – Crowd Level 6

Return time distribution for Animal Kingdom Genie attractions on November 22nd (Crowd Level 6)
  • Aha! Things get much more interesting during holiday weeks with their crowds. Even “just” at crowd level 6, those Genie+ return times look much different.
  • It’s a little hard to tell in both graphs, but Kilimanjaro Safaris stops offering return times half an hour before sunset (compared to half an hour before park closing for all other attractions). So it has less overall availability than the other attractions, and is booked up for the day around 11 am.
  • Otherwise, Na’vi River Journey was “sold out” by around noon, followed by DINOSAUR by 1 pm and It’s Tough To Be a Bug at 2 pm. Ouch.
  • So compared to a crowd level 1 day, where saving up any Genie+ reservations for the afternoon and then making them immediately when you want to ride could be an ideal strategy, if you wait until the afternoon on a crowd level 6 day, you might not get to book … anything of significance.
  • Another thing to note is that depending on whether you chose Kilimanjaro Safaris or Na’vi River Journey at 7 am, if you couldn’t make your next Genie+ reservation until 10 am (2 hours after park opening), you would have to wait until 3:30 to ride the other attraction that you didn’t pick early. Not ideal if you’re hopping away from Animal Kingdom. So that first choice is remarkably important depending on what you want to ride and how long you want to stay.

December 3rd – Crowd Level 3

Return time distribution for Animal Kingdom Genie attractions on December 3rd (Crowd Level 3)
  • Nice, a happy medium. It’s only slightly concerning that the happy medium occurs at crowd level 3 (out of 10). But that’s a worry for another day.
  • DINOSAUR and It’s Tough To Be a Bug both stick pretty close to walk-up availability for most of the day, other than during the mid-afternoon sweet spot where most Genie+ users have probably already reserved Kilimanjaro Safaris and Na’vi River Journey and are all forced to compete for the same reservations at the other two attractions.
  • Kilimanjaro Safaris sells out a little before 2pm, and Na’vi River Journey follows at closer to 3 pm. Still not an overwhelming amount of availability in the afternoon. And by 11 am, return times for both are between 2 and 3:30, which means some significant planning in advance.

Genie+ Return Times at EPCOT

October 27th – Crowd Level 1

Return time distribution for EPCOT Genie attractions on October 27th (Crowd Level 1)
  • Well hey, looks like only one attraction at EPCOT actually books up in advance, and that’s Test Track! If you read last week’s article, this should come as approximately 0% surprise. On this lowest crowd level day, by 11 am every Genie+ attraction is book now/ride now. Other than Test Track, which is booking up to 4 hours ahead.
  • Early in the day (pre-park-opening), it looks like there is also some demand for Soarin’, but it quickly gets to walk-up availability.

November 22nd – Crowd Level 9

Return time distribution for EPCOT Genie attractions on November 22nd (Crowd Level 9)
  • Yikes! On one of the most crowded days at EPCOT, Genie+ return time distributions don’t look particularly great. If you don’t select Test Track as your first reservation, it is sold out before you get a chance to book it as your second choice.
  • By the time the park opens at 10 am, Soarin’ return times are already out to 4:30 pm. And then 2 hours later, when you’re eligible to make another Genie+ reservation at noon, Mission: SPACE return times are close to 5 pm.
  • The next attraction to sell out is Spaceship Earth, and by the afternoon it is booking out 4 hours in advance. Even the least-popular Genie+ attraction, The Seas with Nemo & Friends, is booked out about 2 hours in advance in the afternoon. No book now/ride now happening at EPCOT on busy days. Even at attractions where Genie+ is likely not going to save you much time at all, and where any reservation you make will typically create more walking across an already spread-out park.

December 3rd – Crowd Level 4

Return time distribution for EPCOT Genie attractions on December 3rd (Crowd Level 4)
  • Back at crowd level 4, things aren’t as dire as they were during the Thanksgiving holiday. By noon almost every Genie+ attraction at EPCOT is a book now/ride now option.
  • The only two exceptions to that rule are Test Track, which sells out slightly after noon, and Soarin’, which actually never sells out for the day, but starts booking out 2 or 3 hours in advance during the afternoon.
  • Still, at this medium crowd level it’s very apparent that there are really only two attractions that merit the additional hassle of Genie+ at EPCOT. And then you’re paying $16 to skip standby just at Test Track and Soarin’ – it’s almost like buying two Individual Lightning Lane Access attractions.

What Does This Mean For You?

  1. I’ll get on this soap box every chance I get – don’t buy Genie+ at EPCOT.
  2. At Animal Kingdom, your selection of your first Genie+ attraction is key. You’re going to save the most time in line by booking Kilimanjaro Safaris or Na’vi River Journey. And under most conditions, whichever one you don’t select is likely to be booking out into the afternoon by the time you have a chance to make your second selection.
  3. If you do purchase Genie+ at EPCOT (or have it for your entire length of stay anyway), you almost certainly have to book Test Track as your first selection. There is a big chance that it will be sold out for the day by the time you’re eligible to make your second choice.
  4. Unless an attraction is dependably book now/ride now, its return time distribution almost never follows anything resembling a straight line. Demand ebbs and flows, and many attractions often see short periods of time when their return windows book out almost immediately by an hour (or two). This often happens at those 2 hour increments after the park opens when many people hit their “2 hour rule” at the same time.
  5. Demand for Genie+ reservations is highest in the middle of the afternoon, when popular attractions have already sold out for the day. But then again near the end of the park day, more attractions have more immediate availability.

Have you already used Genie+ at one of these parks? What were your impressions and experiences? Do any of the return time distributions surprise you? Do you have predictions for Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom? Let us know in the comments!


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Becky Gandillon

Becky Gandillon was trained in biomedical engineering, but is now a full-time data and analytics nerd. She loves problem solving and travelling. She and her husband, Jeff, live in St. Louis with their two daughters and they have Disney family movie night every Saturday. You can follow her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/becky-gandillon/ or instagram @raisingminniemes

17 thoughts on “How Do Genie+ Return Times Shift Throughout the Day? Part 1

  • We visited the parks only 3 weeks after Genie+ came out, and I told my family this was exactly the data we needed! Any updates on these data sets with all the recent changes in ILL structure and the additions to character meets and EPCOT attractions in particular? We’re going again in a month and I’d love some new insights!

  • This article was posted back in December and it looks like Disney has done some tweaking to it’s “refill” strategies between now and Dec. It’s 4:00pm right now, and (Im not at the parks–traveling there this summer), but in AK (predicted level 4) right now all Genie+ options have return times! The only thing sold out of course is ILL pandora. Glad to see some progress being made for those that pay the $$

  • Love love love all this data. Thank you 🙂 This is why I always swing back to this blog.

  • I’d like to see a third variable. Standby Wait at Return Time. Say I throw caution to the wind and buy Genie+ for the day I am at Epcot. Say it is a crowd level 10 day. If I can save a half hour of wait time on each of Test Track, Soarin’, and Spaceship Earth, then I have “paid for” the price of Genie+.

    • Excellent point – and that’s something that we’ll be starting to layer in. There are (obviously) nuances between posted wait and actual waits to compare. But also we need data on how long the Lightning Lane waits are at each attraction to really get that “savings” metric. But you’re on the right track!

  • When do you anticipate the online touring plans’ Genie+ and ILL buttons being activated so we can utilize them in our planning?

  • Will Touring Plans be adding Genie+ selections into the customized touring plans?

  • We went to WDW the last 2 weeks. Obviously it was all very busy during Thanksgiving week but we have NEVER seen it as busy the week after that and were really surprised that Touring Plans had rated the crowd so low. We noticed that some parks were fully booked so accepting no further reservations only to look a day or two later to see all parks were available for reservations. Either a lot of people had cancelled their reservations or Disney has decided to increase the park capacities. We didn’t buy Genie+ and waited about 50 minutes for a couple of attractions but didn’t wait very long for the rest – which surprised us because the parks were so busy!

    • This is something that we’re seeing (and getting called out on) regularly. The parks are CROWDED. Yes. They are. Agreed. But wait times haven’t just exploded back to levels that we previously considered 8/9/10 (other than at EPCOT) … yet. The wait times aren’t correlating with the “feels like” crowds as much as they did in the past. I don’t know what’s behind the disconnect, but it’s pretty fascinating.

      • Speculation: Fewer people are paying for Genie+ than were using the free Fastpass+ service. That is shrinking the standby queues.

  • Love this content! TP is the best! Can’t wait for more analysis. Going on a once in a decade trip to celebrate the 50th and my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Pouring over all genie+ data!

  • Is it possible that AK crowd levels need to be recalibrated? If this busiest day lately has been a 6 or 7, maybe it’s not because it was less busy than a 9 or 10 in past years, but because the line for Flight of Passage used to be inflated due to FastPass Plus (as well as novelty) causing 3 hour+ waits, which Lightning Lane may not replicate due to the paid factor.

    • Hi Jeff. Short answer is yes, everything needs to be recalibrated. Long answer is that deciding when to do the recalibration is tricky. We only have a few weeks of Genie data collected so it’s hard to know what the distribution of Animal Kingdom crowds will look like in July 2022, for example. For now, we will keep the current groupings for our 1-10 scale recognizing that the relevance to the “olden times” is becoming weaker and weaker. The good news is that the calendar is still to be used in the same way – choose days based on the relative crowd level. Lower is better, no matter the scale.

      • Thanks! That makes sense.

  • Wow! This was a very useful article! Would you recommend just skipping Genie+ at animal kingdom too, and just buying a flight of passage ILL, or does the time saved on 2 (maybe 3?) attractions justify the $16?

    Also, Disneyland just announced Genie+ starts tomorrow (!). But I noticed there are some real differences with WDW (have to be IN the park to make first reservation, no Jungle Cruise or Peter Pan, etc). Do you have any guesses on what would be the most important first few reservations to make? Also, What are the chances for a Disneyland touring plans update that allows for Genie plus reservation input in the next 2 weeks? Not recommendations, just input. I’m a mega planner too, and I’m more grateful for touring plans tools now than ever.

    • If you’re spending a full day at Animal Kingdom, will ride at least Flight of Passage and Kilimanjaro Safaris, and it’s a pretty heavily crowded day, I think Genie+ could save you some significant time. If it was Becky and her touring party, we would save that $16 per person, instead just buy the FOP ILL and rope drop NRJ + Safaris in some order.

      Yeah … fun surprise announcement, right? I am personally not a Disneyland expert (I’ve never been! Gasp!), but I know that Guy plans on posting some initials experiences and thoughts later this week.

    • seconding the request for DLR suggestions. Hitting the park on 12/24 and now in full panic mode due to this last minute rollout. LOL


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