Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Should You Purchase Genie+?


 

I've written a bunch about Genie+ already on this blog, with an overview post as well as some things about Individual Lightning Lanes (ILL).  Most of my recent recaps, guides, strategies, etc. involve Genie+ in some way or another (either how to use it effectively or what to do if you don't have it).  So why another Genie+ post?


I wanted to look at how Genie+ works, especially as it compares to the old FastPass+ (FP+) system that was in place for years.  Most of you are probably more familiar with how that system worked if you haven't been to Disney recently.  So I thought it was worth examining what these two systems have in common and more notably, where they differ.  Then I'm going to attempt to answer the most important question - should you purchase Genie+?  Once you understand the basics, if there is one post on this blog that you're going to read about Genie+, this is it.


At their most basic, FP+ and Genie+ are both "line skipping" systems that you can use at Walt Disney World.  They both give you an opportunity to skip the standby line and enter through a second queue (formerly called the FastPass lane, now renamed the Lightning Lane).  That second line, of course, would most likely be shorter than the standby line for a given attraction.  And guests entering through the Lightning Lane are prioritized over standby guests, meaning that the ratio of people let in through the faster line is higher than the regular standby line.  Not a bad deal if you have it, right?


As an aside, I contend that the best line skipping service around is Universal's Express Pass Unlimited, which allows you to enter through the faster line at almost every ride, as many times as you want throughout the day.  The price can be steep, but it is included in their deluxe resort tier as a perk, which really changes the math.  Smarter people than I say this type of system isn't feasible for Disney, though with the success of Extended Evening Hours, I'm not so sure.  In any case, that isn't particularly relevant here, but the point is that Disney doesn't always do it better.  


In any case, where FP+ and Genie+ differ is really where things get interesting, and that starts with the most obvious difference:


Cost:

FastPass+ used to be FREE - I usually use the word "included" here, rather than free, but free is how it was marketed.  There were actually people that didn't know this in the past - they thought it was some kind of upcharge that you could get through Disney. But no, this was a free service.  And Genie+ is ... well, not.  There had been rumors of paid FastPass for years, and Genie+ is finally the culmination of that.  Genie+ costs $15 per person (plus tax) per day.  Four a family of four, that's $60 per day.  That can add up quick if you're on a week long vacation.  


Since everyone had access to FastPass+, you can assume that almost everyone used it.  With Genie+, obviously not everyone will pay for it.  On the earnings call for the Walt Disney Company, it was reported that one third of guests purchased it for the first quarter (in Disney's fiscal year, this is October through December) but that number rose to 50% for the (busier) holiday season.  I suspect the adoption rate has gone even higher since then, but there hasn't been a second quarter earnings call yet.  Regardless, every dollar spent there is just money in Disney's pocket.


Booking Window:

Besides cost, this is the biggest difference between FP+ and Genie+.  Under the FP+ system, guests could book up to three rides per day in advance of their trip.  Resorts guests could book up to 60 days (plus the length of their trip) ahead of time, and off property guests (and annual passholders, etc) could book 30 days in advance.  This was a major perk associated with staying on property.  Most of the headliner rides would be gone well before other guests had a chance to reserve them, and often you could only get the best and newest attractions at 65 or 66 days (so the longer you stayed, the better your options were).  I definitely remember the days of leaving Animal Kingdom for the end of our trip just to get a FP for Flight of Passage.


Genie+ solves this problem by not allowing advance reservations.  All attractions must be reserved the day you go to any particular park, and you have to repeat the process each day.  The booking window opens at 7:00 a.m. regardless of whether you are staying on property or off, so there is no advantage there. You can only book one at a time, and you are allowed to book another one once you have tapped into your first ride OR every two hours, whichever comes first.  



There are multiple problems with this system.  First as it relates to "fairness."  I know a lot of people complained about not being able to get the rides they wanted under the old FP system.  This is a valid point but the reality is that Disney can't cater to everyone.  It made sense to give an advantage to those staying on property, and it makes me wonder why such an advantage doesn't exist with Genie+.  My "solution" to this would be to allow resort guests to book their first attraction in advance - whether that's a day, a week or a month in advance is up for debate.  I don't think Disney has any appetite to do this, though, or it would have been instituted at launch.  But we shall see.  


One other issue with this new system is the constant need to be on your phone while at the parks.  Perhaps you already would have been - under the FP+ system, you could constantly refresh the app to try to get better attractions or change your time (much more on this below).  But now you have to check your phone constantly in order to maximize the use of Genie+.  I know FP+ frustrated many people, but I would much rather stress about my attractions at a time when I'm NOT ACTUALLY IN THE PARK.  Disney's IT department doesn't have a stellar track record either, and FP+ gave you more opportunity to fine tune your selections before you ever arrived as opposed to having to angrily force close and reopen the app only to find that the time you wanted for your ride isn't there anymore (not that I say this from personal experience or anything ...)


Select Return Time:

One of the better (and more intuitive) features of FP+ was the ability to select the time you wanted to return to your attraction. This had limits, of course, like if there was nothing available at that time.  But it helped people plan around things like meals, other reservations and breaks.  It especially helped people who didn't like to rope drop - they could select all their FP's for the afternoon and arrive knowing that they would have at least those rides lined up.


Similarly, this meant that you knew you had at least three attractions in one day that you didn't have to use the standby line for.  With Genie+, this isn't a guarantee.  You SHOULD be able to get that many (Disney even updated the language on their website to say as much) but you don't know when those will be until you redeem the first one or wait two hours.


To my original point, under Genie+, there is no way to select a time or even see what times are available in the future.  You are just given the next available time, according to the app.  This can often lead to having to make a quick decision - does it conflict with your existing plans?  If I don't take this attraction, what else can I get instead?  To me, this is too much to play around with while you're trying to enjoy your park day.  I will say, though, that Genie+ will tell you if you have conflicting plans but will allow you to book anyway - FP+ didn't do that.  If you have two Genie+ reservations in the same hour long window, you should easily be able to do them both; it would be silly to not allow you to book them both.  Just beware that you are responsible for your own time management.


There's no reason that a return time selection shouldn't be a feature of Genie+.  They had this system with FP+, so obviously it can be done.  It would simply allow for an easier time planning your day, which is something I think most people could get behind.


Ability to Modify:

This is similar to the section above.  Under FP+, once you had an attraction booked, you had the ability to go into your selection and hit the "modify" button.  Then you could look at other times that were available. Since you had your attractions booked in advance, you could spend the time leading up to your trip trying to get better times, or have them line up a certain way.


One of the best uses of modify was when you were actually in the parks.  If you had an FP at 4:00, you could start checking earlier in the day to see if you could move your time up.  Often on the day of a visit, times would pop up periodically, either through people canceling or modifying their own reservations, or via  a replenishment that Disney would release to open up more ride inventory.  Of course, this led to the FP "power user", who could burn through their original three attractions in the morning, often by modifying their times as soon as possible, and then picking up additional FP selections throughout the day.


I think this is something Disney was trying to get away from with Genie+ - one of the complaints with FP was that it was too difficult for the average person to use and allowed savvy guests to get more than their fair share of rides.  This is a valid point, but there was nothing inherently wrong with taking advantage of the system as it was created.  The closest thing you have to this option with Genie+ is the ability to "stack" reservations for later in the day.  But it's not nearly as beneficial as the old FP system was to someone who understood how to use it.


There should have been a way to cut down on the power user with Genie+ without eliminating the modify button altogether.  Again, this was already built into their system so it could have been used with Genie+ - I mean, dining reservations still give you this option to this day, so there's no reason this couldn't have been done here.  Much like selecting your time, I hope this is something Disney is looking to bring back.  These two simple changes alone would make the system much more user friendly.


"Headliner" Attractions:

The biggest surprise to many guests who purchase Genie+ is that not every big attraction is part of their purchase.  In fact, the most popular ride at each park is behind a separate paywall - the Individual Lightning Lane (ILL), where you have to purchase the shortcut for that ride separately (whether you purchased Genie+ or not).  Most times, there are TWO attractions at each park that are part of the ILL, but Disney has removed one of them and put them into Genie+ through at least August 7.  


This makes it easier to navigate one ILL by rope dropping or doing it at park close but it's still a tough pill to swallow that you have to pay two separate charges if you want to use those AND Genie+.  Remember, FP+ was free.  It also makes the actual use of Genie+ more difficult at parks where there are fewer attractions (Animal Kingdom comes to mind) because everyone has fewer to choose from and therefore by midday, there are a lot less appealing choices available.


FastPass+ was by no means a perfect contrast to this either.  At every park but Magic Kingdom, FP's were divided into tiers - meaning, the headliner attractions were in tier one and everything else was in tier two.  And you were only allowed one tier one attraction per day.  This necessitated a strategy for each park and often led to people making FP selections for things in tier two that you wouldn't need an FP for just to use them.


As I said, both systems had flaws here, but it goes back to money.  In order to have the same functionality as FP+, you would need to purchase both Genie+ and ILL, which can become quite costly.  This is not necessarily our recommendation, but it's the closest to an apples to apples comparison we can make.  If they were going to a paid system, I wish they had just stuck to Genie+ and put all the attractions into that.  Yes, it would still be hard to get the headliner rides, but it would allow more availability for everything to spread later into the day.  This is why Genie+ is more useful in Disneyland, where there are only two parks but more attractions in each.  At WDW, most parks have a lack of good attractions after you make the first couple of selections.



Should You Purchase Genie+?

So after all those words, we're finally getting to what people probably want to know - should you purchase Genie+?  You may be surprised by this, but in almost all cases our answer is yes.


Now you might be saying to me, "you spent all that time above basically slamming this system.  How can you possibly recommend it??"  This is a good question, and one I've thought a lot about.  The simple answer is that you're better off having it than not having it.  FOMO is a real thing, and watching all these people pass you in the LL while you stand around the standby line for seemingly hours can have an effect.


Disney Tourist Blog talked about the "sweet spot" for Genie+ being in the 6-8 crowd level (on a scale of 1-10). The idea is that anything lower and you probably wouldn't need to purchase it since you could do everything standby, and anything higher and you would barely get to use it and probably wouldn't get your money's worth.  These are valid points and have been my rule of thumb before we actually went on our recent trip.


But here's the thing - you don't always know what your crowd level will be on any given day.  We were supposed to have a lot of 5's and 6's, for example, and ended up with a bunch of 7's and 8's.  If I had chosen not to purchase Genie+ on a day that was supposed to be a 5 but then realized it was actually a 7, it would already have been too late to start making good selections.  The better option was just to have it ahead of time and start using it.  If the crowds were lower, then you'd at least get more attractions done in one day, thereby making it "worth it."


Our recommendation up until now had been to purchase Genie+ for Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, but not Epcot or Animal Kingdom.  This would necessitate NOT purchasing tickets with Genie+ as part of them, but instead purchasing Genie+ individually on days you wanted it.  This would save you some money!  That was our reasoning anyway.


But to be honest, we ended up using it more often than we had thought, and then it became a hassle to have to purchase it each day.  And worse, seeing it on my credit card bill when we returned home was not pleasant!  Side note here, but in general, I prefer to have most of my trip paid for in advance, leaving almost nothing to pay for once we get back.  That's often difficult, but it really ruins the mood when you come home to a textbook sized credit card bill.  It's like Jerry Seinfeld quipped about paying for a restaurant meal after you've already eaten - "I'm not hungry, why am I paying for all this food?"


So my official current recommendation for Genie+ is this - purchase it as an add on to your tickets when you book them.  This will of course cost MORE money ultimately.  I spent most of this post comparing Genie+ to FP+ but I wanted to put it in perspective of another Disney upcharge here - the park hopper ticket.


Think about the park hopper, a Disney staple.  In general, I recommend the park hopper - it provides more flexibility for your trip and gives you a safety net to come back to a park if you missed a ride because it was down, for example.  Many people go this route - better to be safe than sorry, even with the new 2:00 p.m. start to park hopping.  But how often do you actually USE the hopper?  Is it every day?  I would guess not.  But there's no way to pick and choose the park hopper ticket - you either buy it or you don't.  So if you're not using it every day, effectively you are "wasting" that money on a hopper.


On the other hand, how often would you use Genie+?  If you had it as part of your ticket, the answer is every day.  You might not get a maximum use out of it each day but having it provides the same safety net and flexibility as a park hopper.  It also comes back to what I said about paying for something in advance.  Let's face it, a Disney trip is expensive. But if you're laying out thousands of dollars on park tickets and a resort stay, what's another few hundred to buy the Genie+ tickets?


I say this a little too tongue-in-cheek here, I know.  But I'd rather pay for it in advance rather than come home to a bill showing all the times I purchased it on my trip.  Maybe that's just me, but after seeing it in action, I think having Genie+ is better than not having it in almost all circumstances.  I hate to say this, truly.  I don't want to give in to Disney's greed, as they squeeze more money out of you.  I try to save money where possible. But in this case, your money is worth more than your time, which is the tradeoff when waiting in line.  Disney wins again, but you lose if you can't get anything done via standby on your trip.


I took a quick look at a random week in June (6/19-6/25) via Undercover Tourist to price out various ticket options.  The difference between a park hopper ticket without Genie+ and a base ticket WITH Genie+ is only about $22.00 per day in this case.  I'd contend that Genie+ is more valuable than a park hopper most days if you have to choose.  Of course, you can get both but obviously those tickets will cost substantially more than a base ticket.


This advice is not one size fits all.  But after seeing this system in action, I came to the conclusion that you should almost always purchase Genie+ - pay your money and just consider it a perk that you have while on vacation.  There are MANY things Disney should do to make the system more useful to the average guest but even as it currently stands, there is a direct benefit to you to have it.  Do your best to master the system and try to "put one over" on Disney if it makes you feel better. The FP days are gone and there's no use pining for them - this is what we have now, and playing along with Disney is generally your best bet even if you have to grit your teeth while putting in your credit card number.


May 18 edit: Of course, as soon as I make this impassioned plea, Disney changes things again.  Starting June 8, you will no longer be able to purchase Genie+ as a ticket add on for the length of your stay, but instead, you have to purchase it individually each day.  I'm not sure about the wisdom behind this but perhaps they will limit sales on busier days.  As always, we'll have to see how it plays out.  The advice, especially during more crowded times, stands, but unfortunately the "pay in advance" feature is out, at least for now.  I'll edit again if (when?) this changes.

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