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click to enlarge Lightning Lanes are the new FastPass

Photo by Seth Kubersky

Lightning Lanes are the new FastPass

Four ways to stop Disney Genie from nickel-and-diming you at the Most Magical Place on Earth 

It's been just over a month since Walt Disney World celebrated its big 50th anniversary, but now that the excitement of Oct. 1 has evaporated, theme park attendees seem less than elated by the resort's newest additions, which will likely long outlive the 18-month-long anniversary celebration.

For starters, the Magic Kingdom's Enchantment fireworks and Epcot's Harmonious fountain display have both received decidedly mixed reviews, with the general consensus holding that neither show is superior to their long-running predecessors. More seriously, a new trio of services debuted on Oct. 19 that were purported to make planning park visits easier, but have instead sparked an intense online backlash among Mickey's biggest fans. If you thought that spending a day at Disney was expensive and confusing before, hang onto your mouse-eared hat and wallet, because you ain't never had a frenemy like Disney Genie.

After using the pandemic as an excuse to eliminate their popular free FastPass+ line-skipping service, Disney has introduced a troublesome trinity of tools — known as Disney Genie, Genie+ and Lightning Lane — that have twisted even seasoned park veterans into knots. I've spent dozens of hours studying documentation, testing the services in all four parks and even writing a book examining the subject, and I still can't claim to totally understand how it all works. But I do have four pieces of advice on how not to get nickel-and-dimed to death at the Most Magical Place on Earth.

1. Disney Genie is a joke

Let's get this out of the way first: The Disney Genie planning service now found in WDW's smartphone app may be free, but it's still overpriced. Sure, I may be biased, because Genie attempts to provide optimized daily itineraries similar to the ones Touring Plans (a company I'm associated with) has offered for a decade. Luckily for me, the advice Genie provides is so pathetically incompetent, I suspect that someone in Disney's IT department might be a saboteur.

Wait time estimates in the app are often comically inaccurate, and regardless of which rides I told Genie I was interested in, it directed me — a childless adult — to inappropriate attractions like toddler playgrounds. Genie's only really useful feature is the tip board of restaurant reservation availability; do yourself a favor and ignore the rest.

2. Genie+ can be a plus ... in the right park

For $15 per person per day on top of park admission, Genie+ lets users schedule return times for select attractions and bypass the regular standby queue in favor of using the Lightning Lane (formerly known as FastPass). The good news is that Lightning Lanes live up to their name; I saved well over three hours in line during an afternoon at the Magic Kingdom, slashing my wait for classics like Peter Pan and Jungle Cruise by more than 80 percent, and I was finally able to enjoy Slinky Dog Dash at Hollywood Studios without suffering heat stroke.

The catch is that you can only reserve one ride at a time (unless you exploit a loophole I describe below) and the list of participating attractions at Epcot and Animal Kingdom is so skimpy that it's a waste if you aren't planning on park-hopping. On top of that, the two most in-demand headliners in each park are excluded from the package, which leads us to ...

3. Individual Lightning Lanes might be a necessary evil

Apart from the attractions included in Genie+, a couple of the top draws in each park sell access to their Lightning Lanes à la carte. If spending $15 to skip a half-dozen standby lines sounds excessive, paying $7-$15 to bypass only one must seem insane, but if you calculate the value of your time on an hourly basis it might actually be worthwhile for certain rides. For example, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is swarmed daily from the second on-site hotel guests are allowed early entry into Hollywood Studios, with the masses typically baking under Batuu's suns for a minimum of 90 minutes. Epcot's adorable new Ratatouille adventure requires riders to snag a Virtual Queue reservation as early as 7 a.m., then wait 30 minutes or more at their appointed hour. While I wouldn't waste the money on Expedition: Everest or Frozen Ever After, it's worth spending the equivalent of a couple of churros to bypass all the BS and stroll straight into Rey's or Remy's boarding areas.

4. Exploit the two-hour loophole

If you do choose to purchase Genie+, be sure to make the most of it by taking advantage of a little-publicized glitch in the system known as the two-hour loophole. Normally, you must use one Genie+ ride reservation before retrieving another, but an exception is made if the return time you receive is more than two hours in the future. In that case, you'll be able to pick a second attraction after two hours, and you will then be able to hold two simultaneous reservations for the remainder of the day.

By beginning to make bookings in the morning from the comfort of your home and always selecting the latest available return times, you can roll into the park at mid-afternoon with a full schedule of back-to-back ride reservations. Locals who visit the parks often probably aren't going to want to shell out for Genie+ on the regular, especially after already spending so much money on their annual pass. But if you use this trick when friends and family from out of town come to visit, they'll surely think you have "phenomenal cosmic powers."

skubersky@orlandoweekly.com

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