Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Breaking: Pre-Arrival Lightning Lane Booking Coming Soon


Disney has once again overhauled their "beat the line" system.  In a throwback to the old FastPass+ days, Lightning Lanes will be available to book in advance at Walt Disney World starting on July 24.  As we're still absorbing this news and all the implications, you can take a look at the official announcement here and then we'll dive into what this means for your future trips.  This is a big one.

On a technical note, this announcement signifies the end of Genie+, or at least the name.  I understand why Disney wanted to get away from the name "Fast Pass", as that was a free service and Genie+ was paid.  But they took years of goodwill associated with that name and flushed it. On the other hand, Genie+ was mostly derided, so there's no great loss there.  Instead, the service will now just be known as "Lightning Lane", a term they were already using in conjunction with Genie+

In fact, the new terms SHOULD be simpler, once people get used to using them.  The old Genie+ / FP+ style system is now known as Lightning Lane Multi-Pass (LLMP) which will ensure that I always think of this when I see the name.  The a la carte service formerly known as Individual Lightning Lane is now called Lightning Lane Single Pass (LLSP).  I for one will mourn the death of the acronym ILL, as that's how I feel when having to put in my credit card number to purchase one ride. But I digress.

I mention all of this boring stuff up front, because Disney loves their terminology, and I'll have to refer to these things by their new names from here on out so I guess we'd all better get used to it.  Real ones who remember FP+ will see a lot of similarities in this new system - Disney even uses the term "Fast Pass" in their press release, which is wild because I can't remember the last time that was used in official channels.

I said that this was similar to the old FP+ system.  If you aren't familiar with how that used to work, essentially it just meant that you could pre-book times for selected attractions in advance of your trip, allowing for peace of mind, especially for hyper planners (raises hand).  FP+ could be booked 60 days in advance at a Walt Disney World resort and 30 days in advance if you were staying off site.

Those numbers have been significantly reduced under the new LL system, as you can book 7 days in advance if staying on property and 3 days in advance if off property.  This is a compromise between the planners and the spontaneous guests - you can still book in advance, but you don't have to think about what park you'll be in or what you want to ride two months ahead of time.  Personally, I prefer the longer lead time, but the advanced part is the important part, no matter how many days it is.

I say this because the same advantage on site guests used to have will be apparent here - all of the most coveted rides will likely be booked up well in advance, and probably before off site guests have a chance to access them.  Genie+ leveled the playing field by not allowing anyone to make a ride reservation until 7:00 a.m. the morning of your park day.  That field has been tilted again in favor of on site guests.  Some may call this unfair, but Disney should be prioritizing its resort guests.  Many perks have been taken away, and though some have returned, this is a big one that is designed to get guests to book with Disney resorts.

All hope is not lost for offsite guests, however.  One major difference between LL and FP+ is that the best rides in each park are still gated, in this case behind the LLSP.  This is the first time a la carte rides can be purchased in advance, but I suspect that these actually won't sell out as fast as the "lesser" rides.  For one thing, some of these rides are still rides that also use a virtual queue (VQ), which can only be booked on the day of your visit.  Many guests try for the (free) VQ and if they miss out, only then do they decide to purchase the LL.

I don't know if people will be willing to plunk down a lot of money for one ride, when there are other (and better) options available.  This is one of the most fascinating aspects of this new system, as the structure is essentially unprecedented.  In the past, the best rides would be available under FP+, but they would be considered "tier one" rides, where you could only book one of those in advance (as opposed to two "tier two" rides).  In this case, there is another layer outside of the LLMP - a "tier zero", you might say.  But since the vast majority of rides will still fall under LLMP, I think guests will gravitate towards that service and play the LLSP by ear.  I'll be watching that one closely.

I actually don't love the pre-booking option for LLSP.  I hesitate to buy a la carte rides unless necessary, and I don't necessarily want to think about that in advance.  The bigger problem with this structure is that tiers are back, but this time, they're missing the biggest rides.  According to Scott Gustin on Twitter (the first person I've seen with this list), these are the tier one rides for each park:

Magic Kingdom:

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Jungle Cruise

Peter Pan's Flight

Space Mountain

Tiana's Bayou Adventure


Frozen Ever After

Remy's Ratatouille Adventure

Soarin' Around the World

Hollywood Studios:

Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway

Millennium Falcon Smugglers' Run

Rock N Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith

Slinky Dog Dash

There are currently no tiers at Animal Kingdom.  The only ride worth purchasing there is Avatar Flight of Passage, which remains a LLSP.  This will likely change once Tropical Americas opens, but that's years away; this whole system could be changed again by that point.

Looking at that list above, I can actually see this advanced purchase option being a downgrade in some ways from the current system.  If you were fast and smart, you could likely book two of these tier one rides as your first two LL of the day.  Now that is not the case, though there is some good news on that front (discussed below).  A lot of the tier two rides look like the old FP filler days - if you NEED to book something, you just pick from that list, though they likely won't be in high demand most days.  We'll likely talk about prioritization of these attractions another time.

The good news I mentioned above is that once you tap into your first LLMP, you can book another one.  Disney allows you to hold three LL at the same time.  This is also different from the old FP+ days, where you had to use all three FP before you could book a fourth. Now as soon as you use one, you can book a fourth so that you still are holding three.

I don't know if it specifies yet, but I assume that you can only hold one tier one ride at a time, and two tier twos.  If that's the case, the best strategy from a maximization point of view is to try to get your tier one ride as early in the day as possible, allowing you to "replace" that ride as soon as you tap in.  I'm sure there will be some great tests done with this in mind, and I can't wait to see this in the future.  Power users (likely anyone reading this) should be able to get a lot of LL done in one day as long as they plan correctly.

One other interesting note about the fourth LL and beyond - those can be made at any park, provided that you have a park hopper.  So if you book Magic Kingdom rides in advance, as soon as you tap into Big Thunder Mountain, for example, you can book Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway at Hollywood Studios if you plan to hop there later.  That of course is pending availability.  What's interesting about this is that currently Disney sells Genie+ by park, but also has a "multi-park option".  I assume that's out the window now, since all three advance LL selections must be made in the same park.

That leads into pricing.  It will be interesting to see how these are structured - as of now, the multi-park option is priced the same as the highest single park for the day (usually Magic Kingdom).  Will Disney change (read: increase) the LLMP price to try to achieve the stasis they've been looking for?  The always great Disney Tourist Blog talks about pricing as a construct of availability - if the most desirable attractions "sell out" before guests even arrive, will anyone purchase LLMP the day of if they have nothing "good" to ride?  Will raising the price make guests balk at booking ahead of time?  Will there need to be more availability per attraction, and/or ride refills throughout the day in order to justify this increase?  This will be something else that is fascinating to watch.  Remember, FP+ used to be free.  So even if this service is similar, it is now paid.  Guests are less likely to be forgiving of having few options if they've paid a premium for this service.

Disney Tourist Blog speculates that there has to be more availability by necessity to meet the demand this new system will cause.  He also talks about the recent overhaul of the DAS system, as Disney has cracked down on the abuse of Lightning Lanes by those who wouldn't normally be eligible for these services.  Hopefully those changes have made a difference in capacity; perhaps Disney wanted some time to analyze that data before making this current change.  But a combination of that and simply more LL availability is needed to make sure the better rides can still be utilized throughout the day.  Again, power users should be able to do very well under this system.

A lot remains to be seen about how this new system will work, but FP+ should be a pretty good starting point.  One of the other benefits of pre-booking rides is that guests don't "have" to wake up at 7:00 a.m. on their park day in order to make selections.  I "fondly" remember setting an alarm to make a LL selection and then going back to sleep.  Now you'll still have to wake up early to do this - but it will be a week before your trip and not on your actual vacation.  That IS an advantage, at least to most people.  You should also be able to modify your selections in the days leading up to your trip, rather than having to do it on the fly.

As a planner, I love pre-booking things for Disney.  I have some issues with this new system, but on the whole, I think it is a big positive.  The more things change, the more they stay the same - this system looks more like FP+ than ever before, following on the heels of being able to modify your ride times and see what times are available, features that were added after the Genie+ launch.  There will be a lot more to say about LLMP and LLSP in the future, so stay tuned here once the system goes live.

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