One of the big complaints about Genie+ is that it “forces” Walt Disney World guests to get up early in order to book their first ride reservation at 7 am. This post will test whether that theory is accurate, with a look at Lightning Lane availability later in the morning and an explanation of when you actually “need” to make first selections for each park.
Before we get going, I want to start with something that has been bugging me with regard to the Genie+ service. No, it’s not the lack of a modify button (this time) or anything about the awful user interface. Rather, it’s the ongoing Walt Disney World fan response to all things Lightning Lanes.
It’s now been about a year since Walt Disney World revealed that free FastPass+ would be permanently replaced by the Genie+ service. (Time flies when you’re having fun, amirite?!) I think we can all agree that the initial announcement, subsequent communications (or lack thereof), branding, user interface, and so much more about Genie have left a lot to be desired, to put it charitably. (You can probably already tell there’s a “but” coming…)
But it does no one any good to exaggerate the system’s shortcomings, problems, and woes. Yes, it stinks that a formerly free service was replaced by something that costs money. It was also an inevitability that was years in the making, and would’ve happened regardless of who was/is CEO. (As we’ve joked before, don’t cry because free FastPass is over, smile because it didn’t happen 3 years earlier, per the original plan. 😉)
It’s also true that, aside from costing money, many of the issues that plagued Genie+ almost a full year ago at launch still haven’t been remedied. This is incredibly frustrating, and we’ve made no attempts to minimize this, or Walt Disney World’s anemic guest satisfaction scores in the last year.
It’s also true at the same time that not everything about Genie+ is awful. Each subsequent change is not bad news. The service is not wholly irredeemable or without value. The sky is not falling.
Among some Walt Disney World fans, there is a seemingly reflexive reaction to announcements or updates on Genie+ that seeks to vindicate their preconceived opinions and validate their anger. Each mention of Genie’s name summons more hostility and outrage. There isn’t even an internal logic to it–if Genie is truly the worst thing ever, it should stand to reason that it’ll likely benefit from tweaking and iteration. Nope. Bad begets more bad.
In part, this just seems to be the way things are nowadays. Everything is either awful or awesome. People form snap judgments and don’t deviate from entrenched positions. They’re either team X or Y, with little middle ground. Obviously, this extends far beyond Disney. Just as it isn’t healthy in other aspects of life…it isn’t here, either.
Again, Genie+ has a lot of problems and shortcomings. This isn’t to minimize any of that. Fortunately, as has been explained in myriad posts, you can either leverage it to your advantage or use alternative approaches and avoid the whole thing!
Admittedly, some of the fault lies with us. Those “myriad posts” about Genie+ have contained countless strategies to leverage paid FastPass for maximum benefit and become power users of the system. Although we’ve repeatedly offered the caveat that such advanced-level knowledge is not necessary for the vast majority of people, the mere existence of so much strategy nevertheless creates pressure.
Even beyond Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, this is something with which we’ve grappled. It might not show from some posts, we but are relatively laid back and spontaneous travelers ourselves when doing things for leisure. The goal with most of our planning posts is to give you the tools you need to think differently and beat the crowds so you can get more out of your vacation and enjoy time with your family. With few exceptions, we’re not presenting strict strategy that must be memorized and followed meticulously…or else! (When I say that I hate spreadsheets, I mean it.)
Ideally, the goal is more “teaching you to fish” than anything–putting you in a position to understand how to approach the parks and Walt Disney World’s many convoluted and quirky policies/systems/etc.
We’re cognizant that it doesn’t always work that way in practice. The FOMO machine drives so much of the mindset behind Walt Disney World vacation planning. The substance of an Early Entry at DHS strategy post detailing why that’s superior to Lightning Lanes might carry less weight than the volume of posts about the Genie+ service.
It’s a tough and sometimes delicate balance. My goal is to present a level-headed and honest look at the good, bad, and ugly of Walt Disney World with minimal sensationalism and hyperbole. In furtherance of that, I tend to think more information is better than less, but sometimes that can be perceived differently.
I’m probably just rambling at this point, so I’ll cut this short and get on with the Lightning Lane availability after 7 am. The whole point here is to relieve some of the pressure Walt Disney World visitors may feel to get up right at 7 am, use speed strategy, advanced stacking techniques, and so forth. Genie+ does not need to be so complicated, or have high stakes. You do not need to get up at 7 am, or even during the 7 am hour.
When Walt Disney World fans assume they must book at 7 am or be at a huge disadvantage, this is often due to a fundamental (yet oddly persistent) misunderstanding of How the Genie+ 120 Minute Rule Works at Walt Disney World.
As a reminder the clock on this does not start ticking at 7 am (or whenever your first early morning ride reservation is made). The clock starts *at* park opening. If you make your first Lightning Lane selection at 7:00 am, booking Slinky Dog Dash with a 2 pm to 3 pm return window, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios opens for the day at 8:30 am, you can make your next Lightning Lane selection via Genie+ at 10:30 am.
Someone who made their first DHS Lightning Lane selection with a return window of 3-4 pm at 8:29 am can also make their next pick at 10:30 am. Both of you are in the exact same position. In other words, the next round for both examples is 120 minutes after 8:30 am.
Accordingly, it follows that the pertinent consideration is Lightning Lane inventory between 7 am and park opening times. If availability is still good for the most popular attractions, there isn’t much of–or any–disadvantage to sleeping in a little and booking during the 8 am hour. That’s what the screenshots here showcase, with commentary sprinkled in.
It’s not entirely fair to say that inventory is the only thing that matters. After all, the way Genie+ ride reservations work is that you can book one at a time, and can either make another selection after two hours (120 minutes) or once you tap into your previous Genie+ selection, whichever comes first.
As such, if you’re able to book a Lightning Lane return time within the first two hours that the park is open, you’ll usually be able to book another as soon as you tap into your first selection. Meaning that if you somehow scored Slinky Dog Dash for 8:45 am to 9:45 am, you could book your second Lightning Lane as early as 8:45 am and get a slight jumpstart on everyone else.
This offers an advantage, but with a few caveats. First, if you prioritize sleeping in on vacation–the whole reason for avoiding the ~6:45 am Genie+ alarm–it’s probably not a paramount concern. You likely wouldn’t make it to the park that early if you’re not up by 7 am, anyway.
Second, truly savvy strategy usually won’t have you returning to Lightning Lanes during the first ~90 minutes the parks are open–that’s prime time for using standby lines to beat the crowds. You’re not going to want to return to Slinky Dog Dash–or any other ride reservation–that early. (Now, 9:45 am at DHS is a different story–lines are starting to get longer by then. So there is still some upside.)
Finally, anyone booking their second Lightning Lane an hour or so after park opening is almost certainly going to have a return time more than 2 hours into the future, thus subjecting that to the 120 minute rule. At best, they have a 30-45 minute head-start and get a slightly earlier return time for attraction #2 of the day.
That’s not nothing, but it is relatively insignificant over the course of the day. That’s especially true at the parks that are not Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where availability for headliner attractions lasts a lot longer.
This also does not take into account Lightning Lane refills, which are going to be a main means of scoring selections at popular attractions later in the day. (See Ride Reservation Refill Rules at Walt Disney World for more on this added availability throughout the day.)
By pure luck/accident, we actually hit one of these while grabbing screenshots for this article. As you can see, Slinky Dog Dash was ‘refilled’ shortly before 8:30 am. This didn’t go quickly, and it still had availability at 8:55 am. (Although not pictured, even past 9:30 am!)
It’s entirely possible–and not at all uncommon–that someone who got up early for the 7:00:00 am Slinky scramble would have a later return time (or miss out entirely) while someone who got up over an hour later would have better success. (To address another misconception: you would have the same success with refills regardless of party size. It does not matter whether you’re a party of 1 or 100.)
In other words, someone who books their first Lightning Lane right at 7 am is not going to be running around the park stacking up dozens of Lightning Lanes while you’re asleep, depleting the ride reservation inventory and rendering Genie+ useless before you’ve even made your first selection.
At best, they will have access to better return times for certain attractions and the ability to tap into their first selection before the park opening 120 minute rule window elapses. That is an advantage, especially when it comes to popular #2 priority attractions that go fast. However, it’s one of degrees and also assumes some speed strategy skill or luck in getting that early return window.
In practice, it often does not work out that way. Anyone who books a 7 am Lightning Lane with a return time over 2 hours after park opening is in literally the exact same position as someone who books 1 minute before park opening. There’s no advantage to booking Jungle Cruise with an 11:00 to 12:00 return time at 7:00 am over Jungle Cruise with a 1:30 to 2:30 return time at 8:58 am. Zero.
Now, this isn’t to say we’d recommend taking a laid-back approach to Genie+ during the week of Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any peak season dates. That’s not a good idea if you want to get as much done as possible, as everything is amplified (for the worse) with 10/10 crowd levels. However, that’s true across the board, and not exclusive to Lightning Lanes. We’d never recommend anyone going over those peak weeks sleep in if they wanted to get a lot done. It simply isn’t a good idea, and for reasons almost entirely unrelated to Genie+.
The actual early riser advantage is the same as it has always been: getting to the parks before the crowds arrive. It’s sort of odd to be quibbling over a theoretical ~30-45 booking advantage for a single Lightning Lane when the park-goers who get up at 7 am will be knocking out attraction after attraction via standby lines during Early Entry and at rope drop. Commando touring strategies beat all other approaches, including the Genie+ service.
That is the real reason we’d strongly recommend getting up early on vacation at Walt Disney World and one that has been discussed in numerous morning strategy posts recently. As always, you’re at a tremendous advantage if you arrive before park opening or stay until park closing. The middle of the day is always the busiest/worst time at Walt Disney World, which is simply a byproduct of behavior of humans on vacation and can’t be “blamed” on new technology. It will always be true that the early bird gets the worm and the night owl gets the…mouse, I guess?
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Does this reassure you at all about using Genie+ when sleeping in at Walt Disney World? Provide clarity about the 120 minute rule in relation to park opening, and why it’s not imperative to make a ride reservation right at 7 am? Have you had success or failure booking your first Lightning Lane closer to park opening instead of right at 7 am? Thoughts on availability around park opening times or later in the day? Are you planning on buying Genie+ or sticking to free standby lines? Do you agree or disagree with my assessment that Genie+ can be a laid back experience if you choose not to stress over it? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!