Friday, December 16, 2022

Re-Examining Genie+ - Should You Still Buy It?

A while back, I wrote a long post about whether you should purchase Genie+.  I'll save you the trip, if you don't want to read all those words - our general recommendation was YES.  This is in spite of the many flaws the system had.  In our view, it was better to have the service and not take full advantage rather than not have it and regret it (while standing in long standby lines).

Since that time, a bunch of modifications have been made to Genie+.  Some of these have been for the worse, but at least one was unequivocally for the better - the ability to modify your reservation time.  As we approach the busiest week of the year at Disney, I thought it would be worth re-examining Genie+ in the same way I examined it in that original post - how it works compared to its predecessor, FastPass+, and whether the changes made make Genie+ more or less valuable than before.

Disney went out of their way to eliminate the word "fastpass" from guests' vocabulary once Genie+ was introduced. This was made easier by the pandemic - FP+ had not been available upon the parks' reopening, so the change to a new system was not as jarring as it could have been.  But effectively, and with only a few differences, Genie+ is now FastPass+.  Obviously those differences can be glaring, so let's take a look at them.

1. Genie+ costs money, FP+ didn't.

This is the obvious difference and the one that caused the most outrage among Disney fans.  Paid FastPass was in the works for years, meaning it was likely inevitable at some point (the question of whether this was Bob Iger's brain child or whether he was somehow holding it back from being rolled out is up for debate).  

In the initial rollout, Genie+ always cost the same - $15 plus tax per person, per day.  If you add that up, it can be quite expensive over the course of a vacation.  Nevertheless, our recommendation at the time was to purchase it as part of a ticket add on, with the reason being that you were less likely to notice the cost if it was lumped in with all of your other vacation costs.

Right after I wrote that piece, Disney stopped the ticket add on for Genie+.  As they couldn't go back and remove it from tickets of guests who had already purchased it, there were still guests all the way through the end of this year who had purchased it in advance. The full effect won't be noticed until 2023, when this was eliminated as an option.

Our post, and those who purchased in advance, ended up looking prescient when the other big change happened - Disney began using date based pricing for Genie+.  That's right, in addition to your resort and park tickets (not to mention airfare) costing more during busier times, now Genie+ would cost more as well.  At first, Disney said this would only be a few dollars difference, but once we hit Thanksgiving week, the price ballooned to as much as $29 per person per day.

If you thought $15 was a lot, what do you think about $29?  This wasn't the price EVERY day that week, but I can assure you that every one of those days was more than $15.  The $15 price now seems quaint in retrospect, and will probably be reserved for weekdays during the quietest seasons.  If you were to purchase Genie+ everyday now, you would be looking at a pretty hefty bill.  And since you can't purchase in advance anyway and instead have to make the choice each morning, our recommendation is more of a strategic approach, combined with other crowd beating plans.  

As a rule of thumb, Genie+ is most advantageous at Magic Kingdom (due to its quantity of attractions) and Hollywood Studios (due to its "top heavy" lineup and overall crowd levels).  Genie+ will make your day easier, particularly during busy seasons (hence the higher price - more demand leads to higher cost) so it's still beneficial here.  I would do everything I could to avoid purchasing it on Epcot and Animal Kingdom days, however, as the juice won't be worth the squeeze in most cases.

2. You can't book Genie+ reservations ahead of time.

The thing I miss most about FP+ (besides the fact that it was free) is the ability to make reservations in advance.  Guest feedback indicated that this process was confusing to inexperienced visitors (still Disney's core demographic) and that was one of the reasons it was eliminated.  I enjoyed the thrill of selecting attractions before I ever arrived in Disney, knowing that I had at least three things booked each day and being able to plan my day around those.  Plus if there was any stress about not getting what we wanted, we had time to either come to terms with that or adjust before we were in the "Disney bubble."  I'd rather stress BEFORE my vacation rather than DURING, though your mileage may vary.

The ability to modify reservations is a big win, though, as mentioned above.  This isn't exactly the same as being able to book in advance but it does alleviate some of that pressure.  If you get a bad time for your first selection, you at least have the opportunity to change it without losing it (and restarting your 120 minute clock window).  This was an obvious feature that should have been available on day one, and makes it much more like FP+, once you actually make your reservations.


This should work in the same way that ride modifications worked under FP+ - those that are more knowledgeable about what attractions to select in what order, and those that are diligent about checking for better times will benefit greatly.  These were the so-called "power users" of FP+.  Genie+ may cost a lot, but this functionality should hopefully allow guests to get their money's worth (so to speak) by getting more selections per day.  As Disney Tourist Blog astutely pointed out, if you are able to get a reservation in the window between park opening and two hours after that, you will be able to make your second selection before most guests would be able to, and therefore have more inventory available to choose from.  This remains the case for all future selections as well.

And just because Genie+ selections aren't available in advance NOW doesn't mean they won't ever be.  I could envision a scenario in which Genie+ is offered to on site guests as a "perk", perhaps at a reduced price, if purchased in advance with their tickets.  Disney has had no need to incentivize guests to stay on property recently, as demand has been strong.  But as discounts start to creep up leading into 2023, it would not at all surprise me if this became one of them.  Disney actually did something like this in the FP+ days, offering additional selections (at a cost) to guests staying in club level rooms.  There is certainly reason to think they would dabble in this again.

3. You can't select your return time with Genie+

This one is relatively minor in the scheme of things, but is an annoyance and one that would be easy to fix now that modifying selections is available.  In the FP+ days, you could choose what time you wanted to make your selection (as long as it was available).  This was good for guests who wanted to arrive at the park later, as they could set up a few rides for the afternoon and sleep in (I hear some people do that on vacation).

You can still "stack" reservations under Genie+ - we took advantage of this on arrival day on our last trip, knowing we wouldn't be able to get to the parks until after lunch.  I would call this our most successful Genie+ day, to be honest.  The issue is that you don't know until making your selection what time you are getting.  If you WANTED your return time to be 3:00, for example, but times were available earlier, you had to either take that time or wait until more people made reservations and then hope you could make your reservation for the time you wanted later.  This involves too much luck and phone time for most people.

The ability to select a time would be an easy change to be made, going hand in hand with the modify feature.  If you can choose a time to modify to, why can't you choose your start time?  If nothing else, you can now make a selection to "lock it in", then modify to a LATER time at some point in the future.  This is still risky, as it might not be available, but at least you would have something you wanted and have a safety net to play around with the time.

In the old days, a good FP+ strategy would be to make reservations starting around an hour after park opening, and have them back to back to back if possible.  This allowed you to rope drop something you didn't have a reservation for, and get in a few rides before the crowds got too heavy.  Once that happened, you would start using your FP reservations to avoid long lines.  If done correctly, you could go most or all of your day without waiting in a long line.

One thing I didn't mention in this piece (but did in the original) is the fact that the "best" ride in each park is not included in Genie+ but instead must be purchased separately as Individual Lightning Lanes (ILL - as my wife said, it makes you ill to have to spend extra money).  Our general recommendation is to NOT purchase these, but rope drop (with early entry, if you're eligible) is a good way to knock a lot of these out.  This is similar to the FP+ strategy I just mentioned - spend the early part of your day doing something that isn't available via Genie+ before jumping into your reservations.

Genie+ is still a very valuable tool, even as it costs more than ever.  Our recommendation is still to purchase it, but as stated above, this is not a hard and fast rule.  The time of year you're visiting, as well as which park, make the biggest differences in whether you "need" Genie+ or not.  Purchasing it for roughly half of your park days is probably the best "sweet spot" in the current climate.  What I said in that original piece is still true now - you're better off having it than not in most cases.  

Hopefully further changes are in store that make it more guest friendly and not just more profitable for Disney.  Ironically, making it MORE like FastPass+ is probably what will make it better.  I never had the opportunity to use MaxPass at Disneyland, but Genie+ is a lot like that system now, as that had to be purchased on the day of your visit with selections being made in real time.  I guess everything old is new again at Disney, even if they're calling it something different.

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