Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Attractions to Move From Genie+ to Individual Lightning Lanes?

Back in February, Disney announced that through August 7, certain rides that were formerly under the Individual Lightning Lane (ILL) umbrella would instead be included in the regular Genie+ service.  I wrote about this at the time, but the basic story is that demand was high, and that Genie+ was frustrating to guests given its relative limited selection of rides at all non-Magic Kingdom parks.  This change helped greatly during the busy Spring Break/early summer season, and helped spread out crowds over more attractions.

Disney's announcement at the time said that these rides would be moved until "at least" August 7.  But that date is rapidly approaching, and so far, there doesn't appear to be any change to their plans.  I put the question mark in this post title because things certainly could change (and in this case, there wouldn't be some grand announcement, but rather a quiet change to the wording on their website) but I'm writing this under the assumption that they stick to this plan.

August 3 edit: Disney seems to have quietly removed the asterisk on their website stating that these rides would revert to ILL on August 7.  This would indicate that these changes are indeed permanent (or as permanent as it gets until they decide to change something again).  What follows here in this post is now obsolete, but I'm leaving it for historical purposes and because I spent a lot of time waxing poetic here and don't want to blow it up. Enjoy!

Given that information, I wanted to talk about why they would do this, what it means for the guests and crowd expectations, and whether it is a good idea.  There have also been a couple of changes to the available attractions since the original February announcement, so we'll talk about how those will be affected by this upcoming shift as well.

The simplest reason for this change is the same as it always is - money.  Disney can make more money from people purchasing a la carte ILL attractions, especially if those same people also purchase Genie+.  That's free money, something Disney loves.  These attractions were all the "second best" attractions at their park, and it's likely that guests won't be purchasing them in droves, but any sales are higher than zero, and therefore worth it to Disney.

So what changed between February and now?  Notably, Disney is entering their "off season" (if such a thing exists anymore).  Summers are brutally hot and stormy in Florida, and August and September are often the least crowded months there.  Kids in Florida (and much of the country) go back to school in mid-August, which makes them less likely to visit right after school starts (this is one of the reasons that Labor Day, even as a holiday weekend, is not overly crowded like similar holidays throughout the rest of the year).

In effect, Disney is trying to balance out the (theoretically) lower crowds by upping individual guest spending.  This is fine in a vacuum, though it's another instance of Disney nickel and diming their guests.  But there are some issues here. One is that guests have gotten used to the current system, having five months of these rides being included in Genie+.  Old habits die hard, and the average guest probably wouldn't even know the change had occurred.  If you had a vacation in the last five months and told someone to plan a trip, you would have based that on your experience, which includes these rides as part of Genie+.

The other big issue is that the off season only lasts so long.  Certainly around Thanksgiving at the very least, crowds begin to pick up steadily for the holidays.  But once weather starts to turn cooler in October, crowds generally return.  It wasn't that long ago that October was the "perfect" time to visit, but that sweet spot has noticeably disappeared.  So Disney will be back to having the same problem they had before - crowded parks, and not enough value from Genie+.

It's hard for me to believe that they will change these rides to ILL on August 7, and then revert them back to Genie+ AGAIN only two months later.  But I think they would have to, if they don't want a repeat of last year when guests were increasingly upset and frustrated by this system (the reason for the attraction shift last holiday season in the first place). Last year, this could be blamed on not having enough information about their new system - this year, there's no such excuse.

One of the most interesting aspects of this change will occur at Epcot, where things have been the most fluid in the last few months.  Remy's Ratatouille Adventure opened October 1, 2021 as a virtual queue and ILL only.  On January 10, this got changed as the virtual queue was dropped.  And by February 25, Remy was part of the Genie+ lineup.  This means that for more than half of the time it's been open, Remy has been a part of Genie+.  Going back to ILL will confuse many people here.

Remy was the "number one" ILL in the early days of this system and Frozen Ever After was the number two.  Heretofore, no park had more than two ILL at any one time.  But now Epcot has Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, which opened in May as a virtual queue/ILL only ride.  The virtual queue may be dropped in the coming months (again a product of the lower expected crowds) but even so, that would mean that Epcot has THREE Individual Lighting Lane attractions.  That leaves probably three or four attractions that are worthwhile under the Genie+ umbrella, and three ILL - not a great look.

This would change the entire Genie+ dynamic, especially in the case of a park like Epcot.  Will Genie+ even be worth it there?  Most guests would probably spend their money for a Guardians ILL and not even purchase Genie+ for the minor benefit you would get (remember, when crowds are lower, Genie+ is less valuable).  This is similar to Animal Kingdom, as Avatar Flight of Passage is still disproportionally the most coveted attraction there and Genie+ - without Expedition Everest, which would revert to ILL in this scenario - would be of little value.

For Hollywood Studios, there's probably still enough of a top heavy lineup that Genie+ could be worth it there.  The ride coming back to ILL in this case is Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway, which is a high capacity ride that can be strategized around.  With a few other high demand attractions (including Slinky Dog Dash, which really should be the second ILL, if there is one), Genie+ can still be worth it if for no other reason than to save yourself the headache.  

Magic Kingdom is the park least affected by this change, due to their higher ride count there.  Space Mountain would move back to ILL but again, that one is easy to work around (rope drop would be your best bet most times).  Genie+ still has great value there, as with so many attractions, there is often availability much later into the day than elsewhere.  If Splash Mountain goes down for its usual maintenance (and maybe doesn't return) after the holidays, I could see Genie+ getting a little tighter there. Then again, there's always the possibility that Tron: Lightcycle Run will debut and bump Space Mountain back to Genie+ anyway (this is my expectation).

Ultimately, I see these changes as a negative, if they do indeed happen.  Genie+ loses some value, and that is a bigger long term issue for Disney than trying to capitalize on guest ILL spending.  As we wrote previously, most of these ILL attractions aren't worth purchasing - even if you were predisposed to purchase the "best" ride in the park, most people will balk at spending their money on a second one, particularly when the time savings isn't all that apparent.  

It seemed for a while that Disney's plan of moving these rides over, and leaving only one ILL per park was a savvy move.  It remains to be seen whether they see it that way but with a system as confusing as this anyway, the constant attraction shuffling isn't doing them any favors,  This was a case of something better left alone, and hopefully they realize this before August 7.

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