Wednesday, June 26, 2024

New Lightning Lane Process - Winners and Losers


As discussed yesterday, Disney dropped a bombshell as it relates to their Lightning Lane procedure at Walt Disney World.  We're not going to rehash all of that post, but I encourage you to read it so you have some background on the new line skipping service.  It has a lot of similarities to the former FastPass+ (FP+) system that was in effect until the pandemic, and was eventually replaced by Genie+.

There is only so much capacity that each park has, and the number of guests each day are all competing for that capacity.  Any kind of "beat the crowds" service offered by Disney creates a system where some guests benefit more than others.  That's just the nature of these things.  Disney is constantly trying to find the best way to maximize guest spending while also minimizing bad press and publicity.  The Lightning Lane Multi-Pass (LLMP) and Lightning Lane Single Pass (LLSP) are the latest in a long line of these.

Based on what we know so far (and these things have a tendency to change once they go into effect - think about all the changes to Genie+ in its short life), I put together a list of winners and losers of this new process.  Some of this stuff probably should have gone into my earlier post, but I either didn't know them at the time or things were clarified since I wrote that.  I thought this would be an easy (and fun?) way of looking at things as they currently stand.  

Winners: Planners

As you probably know from reading this blog, I fall into this category.  Why would I spend so much time and energy writing about planning Disney trips if I was just going to wing it when I got there?  I've long said that planning a Disney World trip is one of the most difficult things to plan, and that the more prepared you are, the better your experience will be.  This is true of almost any aspect of the trip planning, and is definitely true about this LL service.

Under Genie+, all guests were on the same playing field to start their day (at least theoretically - planners knew the best attractions to select first, so there was a technical advantage there).  No one could make a G+ selection until 7:00 a.m. on their park day.  Spontaneous guests could get up and book, and not miss out on anything.

The biggest change with the new system is the ability to pre-book Lightning Lanes in advance of their trip.  Sure, it's only a few days (more on that below) but it still allows the time and stress of booking LL's happen at home, rather than at the start of what should be a fun day in the parks.  If you know what park you want to visit, you should have a pretty good idea of what rides you want at what time, and will be able to prepare accordingly.  One of my complaints about Genie+ (I planned on writing a post about this, but it's probably obsolete now!) is that you have to crisscross the park a lot to do attractions efficiently.  If you are able to book in advance, you can line these up (at least three of them) with your dining reservations and where you want to be in the park at any given time.  This is a win.

Losers: Stackers

One of the great benefits of the new system is that you can always hold three LL at one time (more on this below).  But any system comes with a cost, and one thing lost here is the ability to "stack" rides for later in the day.  Under Genie+, there was the "120 minute rule", where you could book another LL every two hours, even if you had not redeemed your first one.  This created a situation where you could theoretically stack a bunch of rides for later in the day and spend a shorter amount of time in lines for a bunch of rides in a row.

We actually utilized this a couple of times on our last two trips.  We like to hit the parks on our arrival day, so I would often purchase Genie+ in the morning, get on a flight and book our first attraction as soon as we had phone signal again.  Then, in the time spent getting our luggage, getting to the resort, checking in, eating, etc., I would continue to book more attractions for later in the day.  We usually had four or five lined up by the time we started really hitting the park in earnest and could have a fun first half day knowing we had rides lined up one after the other.

This is now somewhat negated by the limitation of only having three rides at a time.  But this can be offset by booking this first day, for example, with rides all later in the afternoon.  This will hurt you if you want to book other rides (discussed in a future loser section below) but is a pretty good substitute for the G+ stacking system.

Winners: Early Risers

One of the major complaints about Genie+ was that you had to wake up at 7:00 a.m. to book your first attraction.  That isn't the case anymore, but early risers still have a couple of advantages.  First, the virtual queue (VQ) system remains unchanged.  So if you're looking to ride Tron Lightcycle Run or Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind, your best chance is still to hit that VQ right at 7:00.  

The other advantage is that you can cycle through your attractions quicker and book future attractions as soon as you tap into the first one.  Obviously the earlier you do this, the sooner you can book another attraction, so by doing your initial three rides earlier in the day, you will be able to take advantage of more attractions as the day goes on.  One of the huge differences between this system and FP+ is that under that old system, you would need to tap into ALL THREE of your initial selections before booking any further attractions, where now you only need to tap into one. That offsets some of the early riser advantage but is a big net positive overall.

Losers: Late Arrivers

The flip side of the above is people who like to sleep in and perhaps take it easy at their resort before going to the parks later in the day.  With no more stacking, as mentioned above, you are tied into just your three initial selections until you actually get to the park and start tapping in.  The later you arrive, the more likely it is that there will be no more availability for attractions later in the night, so the value of LLMP would be less for these guests since they will likely experience fewer attractions.

Winners: Walt Disney World Resort Guests

As I said above, Genie+ leveled the playing field for everyone, and that wasn't just about advance booking.  On site resort guests had no advantage over those staying off property.  That was a major point of contention and one that has been rectified here.  Essentially, on property guests are given a head start on non-resort guests, which is another callback to the FP+ days.

The difference between three days and seven days in advance might not seem like that much, but past history will tell you that the most in demand rides will be booked as soon as possible, leaving little to no inventory for everyone else.  The wrinkle here is that the best rides are behind the LLSP wall, and those didn't often sell out immediately on the day of, unless the ride was brand new or there was excessive demand.  

But there are still plenty of the tier one rides that are incredibly popular - off the top of my head, I would say it will be very difficult to get a LLMP for Slinky Dog Dash, Tiana's Bayou Adventure (at least at first), Frozen Ever After and Remy's Ratatouille Adventure unless you are staying on property or can take advantage of ride refills throughout the day.  Many perks had been taken away from on site guests and some are slowly returning.  This is a big one.

Losers: Annual Passholders Not Staying On Property

This is again the inverse of the above.  Guests staying off property are at a disadvantage, but in many cases, money is a factor here and these guests can save a ton by staying at an Air BNB with their whole family, and just deal with the consequences of not being in the "in crowd."

But specifically, this affects Annual Passholders disproportionately.  One of the major complaints about FP+ was that it favored resort guests, not AP's, who should be the most loyal Disney guests.  That issue has returned, and I expect this will lead to lots of complaints from these guests, who are tired of paying Disney so much money and getting a "lesser" experience in return.

Unfortunately, any system that favors one group causes a disadvantage elsewhere and Disney has shown in the past that they have no issue making their AP's angry.  They assume (often correctly) that these guests will grumble, but still visit.  It's also true (in a cold, business sense) that Disney SHOULD favor their resort guests - these guests spend more money on average for their "once in a lifetime" trips than a local Florida resident who stops into Epcot for an evening drink.  That's simply reality.

Winners: Park Hoppers

This may seem like an odd choice here, considering that the "multi-park option" is going away under this new system, and that you have to book your initial LL's all in the same park.  But there are plenty of chances for manipulation here, and it starts with the wording about what happens after you tap into your first attraction.

Disney's announcement made it clear that once you tap in, you can make another LLMP selection at any park, provided you have a park hopper ticket.  This gives guests an opportunity to set up a nice afternoon/evening at a second park, with some LL's waiting for them.  Obviously this depends on availability on the day of, but a savvy user can probably score some of the better attractions elsewhere, as the tier system is off the table on the actual date of your park visit.  In other words, you can ride multiple "tier one" attractions at different parks via LL, where a one park only ticket is limited to one ride on each in their initial park.

Losers: Meet and Greet Fans

One of the oddest decisions made in this new process is the decision to take LL's AWAY from certain experiences, most notably character meet and greets.  If you look at the list of tier two attractions at each park, there are plenty that don't need a LL for access.  They're mostly just there to fill space and allow guests to feel like they're getting something for their money.

On the other hand, meet and greets are often some of the higher wait times at all parks, behind only the tier one type attractions.  It seems strange to me to not only make those experiences standby only (with lots of little kids waiting for a long time) but to lessen the total number of experiences available via LL, which will only serve to make any other option more coveted.  I will note that Disney has done something similar in the past, and they have often brought meet and greets back into the line skipping fold, so that may eventually happen here as well.

Losers: International Guests

This one wasn't even on my radar yesterday, but apparently it came out that guests outside of the United States can't book LL's in advance until they are in this country.  As you might expect, most people aren't going to be here a week ahead of time, which then negates any advantage they would have had.  International guests are often some of the biggest spenders at Disney, so it seems like an odd choice to exclude them in this way, particularly since a lot of the other things they can book in advance (like dining reservations) are still able to be made.

Perhaps this is just an IT nightmare at the moment, and Disney made the blanket decision while they work on fixing the problem.  I have seen people suggest using a VPN, but as I understand it, the LL's can only be booked from your phone and not a computer, negating that as well.  Hopefully this is just a temporary issue, but for now, it is a big problem if you're traveling to Disney from outside of the US.

Winners:  Power Users

You know who you are, reader.  Let's end on this note. If you spend your free time pouring over blogs like this one and learning everything you can about Walt Disney World, you are already ahead of the game when it comes to your visits.  If there are tips and tricks to make your experience better, you know them, or you will find them out. 

That's why, despite initial outcries from some guests, things are going to be okay.  Like any other line skipping service, if there is a system, there are ways to exploit the system.  I already have some ideas for this one, but we will see how it plays out.  The process isn't important - just remember that you are more prepared than the average guest, so if Disney is trying to make a first timer happy with their system, you will be able to do much better than that guest on average, which should theoretically make you even happier.  Based on all of the above changes, LLMP should be far easier to "beat" than Genie+ ever was.  That system was beatable too, of course, but it took some time to figure it out.  The same will be true here.

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