Disney has done away with free FastPasses in its theme parks in favor of paid Lightning Lanes, and the Unofficial Guide has answers to your questions about this big change to Walt Disney World and the Disneyland Resort.
FastPass was a free system for moderating the waiting time for popular attractions. This program was retired in 2021 and is being replaced this fall with Lightning Lane, an option that allows guests to skip the regular line for an extra fee. Select attractions at Disneyland and Walt Disney World will offer special entrances in addition to their traditional (or virtual) standby queues, called Lightning Lanes. Guests using the Lightning Lane get expedited access, typically boarding the ride in 15-20 minutes or less.
Here’s how it works:
To gain access to the Lightning Lanes, guests must use Disney Genie, which will be integrated into the Disneyland and Walt Disney World My Disney Experience smartphone apps. Genie is a free service that integrates features like park tickets, show schedules, and dining reservations to make customized daily itineraries based on your interests. Disney’s marketing materials are vague about how, exactly, Genie is going to organize your day. Originally, Genie sounded a lot like our computer-optimized touring plans: You tell Genie what rides you want to ride, and Genie tells you the order in which you should ride those rides to minimize your waits in line, based on Disney’s wait time forecasts. But we don’t think Genie is attempting to minimize your waits in line because there’s no language like that in the promotions. Instead, there’s language like “Disney Genie…will maximize your park time, so you can have more fun,” without defining “maximize” or “more fun.” And, unlike our Touring Plans, Genie arbitrarily limits the number of attractions on your daily itinerary.
You’ll need to register for a free Disney online account to use most of these features, create a unique log-in for each member of your traveling party old enough to carry a smartphone, and link all of your tickets inside everybody’s apps so everyone can try for the Virtual Queue boarding passes.
Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lane
The basic version of Genie is complimentary. For an additional fee, Genie+ gives guests the ability to make same-day reservations and skip the regular queue at participating Lightning Lane attractions; a few other rides sell expedited entry à la carte. Each participating attraction will display its current standby wait time in the app, along with the next available Lightning Lane entry window.
Guests can pay $15 at Walt Disney World ($20 at Disneyland) per person per day in addition to park admission for Genie+, which lets them claim Lightning Lane return times for about 16 of the attractions across Disneyland Resort, or about 40 at Walt Disney World. Genie+ users can use participating Lightning Lanes as many times as they like during the day, but they can only claim one return window at a time and must redeem it at the selected ride before picking another. Purchase of Genie+ also includes access to special park-themed audio tracks, plus unlimited PhotoPass digital image downloads for the day at Disneyland or augmented reality camera effects at Walt Disney World.
Genie+ closely resembles MaxPass, Disneyland’s old extra-cost app-based version of FastPass. Occasional cell service snafus aside, we found the experience of using MaxPass to be eerily blissful; on a busy weekend, we used it to knock off a dozen headliners without ever queuing for more than 15 minutes. To be frank, it worked so well that we’re surprised Disney isn’t charging more for its successor, Genie+.
Lightning Lane access is not bundled into Genie+ for two selected rides in each park, but it instead must be purchased individually through the app. Pricing for these rides varies daily based on demand, and you may only purchase individual Lightning Lane access for a maximum of two attractions per day. You don’t have to purchase Genie+ to buy Lightning Lane for individual attraction access, and you also do not have to purchase either service on every day of your trip, or for every member of your party. Lightning Lane and Genie+ are not included in Magic Key or Annual passes, and there are currently no DVC or passholder discounts available off the daily or individual rates.
To use Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, first download the Disneyland or Walt Disney World mobile app, and sign in with your existing disney.com credentials, or create a new account with an email and password. Next, purchase your admission tickets through the app, or scan the bar codes of any tickets you’ve already purchased to link them to your account. Genie+ can be added on at the time of ticket purchase or starting at 12 a.m. on the morning of your visit at Walt Disney World, or upon entering the park at Disneyland. Pre-purchasing Genie+ is the easier option, but paying day-by-day allows you to test the service without committing for the full length of your ticket.
Once you are registered, Disneyland guests must scan their admission and enter the park turnstiles (or Downtown Disney monorail terminal) before making their first Genie+ or individual attraction Lightning Lane selections of the day. At Walt Disney World, all guests can make their first Genie+ selections at 7 a.m. on the morning of their visit, before arriving at the park. Guests staying at on-site WDW hotels can purchase Lightning Lane individual attraction access starting at 7 a.m. as well; all others must wait until the parks’ opening time.
Although the exact lineup hasn’t been released yet, here are the attractions we predict will offer Lightning Lane:
Disneyland Park Lightning Lane Attractions
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
- The Haunted Mansion
- Indiana Jones Adventure
- It’s a Small World
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run
- Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
- Space Mountain*
- Splash Mountain
- Star Wars Rise of the Resistance*
- Star Tours—The Adventures Continue
Disney California Adventure
- Goofy’s Sky School
- Grizzly River Run
- Guardians of the Galaxy—Mission: Breakout!
- Radiator Springs Racers*
- Soarin’ Around the World
- Toy Story Midway Mania!
- WEB SLINGERS A Spider-Man Adventure*
*Denotes rides that sell individual attraction access (not included in Genie+).
Walt Disney World Individual Access Lightning Lane Attractions
We believe most rides that previously offered FastPass at Walt Disney World (excluding some shows and minor attractions) will be included in Genie+ Lightning Lane access, except for the following rides, which will sell individual attraction access to their Lightning Lanes:
- Magic Kingdom: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Space Mountain. Tron may replace Space Mountain when it opens.
- EPCOT: Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Test Track. Guardians of the Galaxy may replace Test Track when it opens.
- Hollywood Studios: Rise of the Resistance, Slinky Dog Dash
- Animal Kingdom: Avatar Flight of Passage, Kilimanjaro Safaris
Lightning Lane should work remarkably well, primarily because Lightning Lane users will get amazingly preferential treatment. As a telling indication of their status, Disney (borrowing a term from the airlines) refers to those in the regular line as standby guests. Clearly Disney is sending a message here, to wit: Lightning Lane is heaven; anything else is limbo at best and probably purgatory. In either event, you’ll think you’ve been in purgatory if you get stuck in the regular line during the hot, crowded part of the day.
Lightning Lane, however, won’t eliminate the need to arrive at the theme park early. Because each park offers a dozen Lightning Lane attractions at most, you still need to get an early start if you want to see as much as possible in a single day. Plus, there’s a limited supply of Lightning Lane return windows sold for each individual attraction on a given day. So if you don’t show up until the middle of the afternoon, you might discover that all the Lightning Lanes for the top rides have been purchased by other guests. Lightning Lane does, happily, make it possible to see more with less waiting than ever before, and it’s a great benefit to those who like to sleep late or who enjoy an afternoon or evening at the theme parks on their arrival day. It also enables you to postpone wet rides such as the Grizzly River Run or Splash Mountain until the warmer part of the day.
Understanding the Lightning Lane System
The purpose of the Lightning Lane system is to reduce the waiting time at designated attractions for guests who are willing to pay extra for the privilege. The system also, in effect, imposes a penalty—that is, being relegated to standby status—to those who opt not to pay for Lightning Lane.
When you use the Disney app to secure a Lightning Lane reservation, it will show you a set of return times for you to choose from, such as “1 PM to 2 PM,” “1:15 PM to 2:15 PM,” and so on. You’ll pick the one that works best for your day, and you can return to enjoy the ride any time within your selected return window. Disney cast members will strictly enforce the 1-hour Lightning Lane windows; FastPass allowed an unpublicized 15-minute grace period and exceptions for ride breakdowns, and we expect Lightning Lane to do so as well. Pay close attention to the time when you receive your Lightning Lane reservation, and plan your return accordingly.
When you report back to the attraction later, you’ll enter a line marked Lightning Lane that will route you more or less directly to the boarding area or preshow area. Each person in your party must have his or her own Lightning Lane reservation and be ready to scan their admission pass or mobile device at the entrance of the Lightning Lane.
You may show up at any time within your Lightning Lane return window, and from our past observations, no specific time will be better or worse. This holds true because cast members are instructed to minimize waits for Lightning Lane users. Thus, if the Lightning Lane is suddenly inundated (something that occurs more or less by chance), cast members will rapidly intervene to reduce the Lightning Lane line.
In the old, free FastPass+ system, Disney would normally allocate 75% to 80% of a ride’s hourly capacity to FastPass+ riders. In practice, that meant that Disney put 3 or 4 people from the FastPass+ line on the ride for every 1 person it took from the Standby Line. But even with a separate line for FastPass+ riders, people often waited 30 minutes or more in the FastPass line once they returned to ride. Disney hasn’t said how much of each ride’s capacity is now for sale. But because Genie+ costs real money, we believe Disney will want to set an upper limit on how long people will wait in the Lightning Lane: for example, something like 25% to 35% of the posted wait for the Standby Line.
Whatever time you obtain a Lightning Lane reservation, you can usually be assured that there will be a period of time between when you receive your time and the beginning of your return window. The interval can be as short as 30 minutes or as long as 7 hours, depending on park attendance, the popularity of the attraction, and the attraction’s hourly capacity. However, at certain times select attractions—including The Haunted Mansion, Buzz Lightyear, Roger Rabbit’s Cartoon Spin, and It’s a Small World—may offer immediate Lightning Lane return times or return times that are significantly quicker than waiting standby.
As a general rule, the earlier in the day you secure a Lightning Lane reservation, the shorter the interval between the time of issue and the beginning of your return window. The exact time will be determined by how many other guests have obtained Lightning Lane reservations before you.
If an attraction is exceptionally popular and/or its hourly capacity is relatively small, the return window might be pushed back to park closing time. When this happens, the app will stop issuing return times. It would not be unusual, for example, for Rise of the Resistance to sell an entire day’s allocation of Lightning Lane reservations by noon. When this happens, the Disney app will indicate that Lightning Lane return times are all gone for the day.
Lightning Lane Guidelines
- Disneyland Resort park tickets must be activated at the park turnstiles (or Downtown Disney monorail station) before being used to obtain Lighting Lane return times, so you can’t send one family member into the park while the others snooze. Walt Disney World guests can make Genie+ reservations at 7 a.m. before entering the park.
- Don’t use Lightning Lane unless it can save you 30 minutes or more at an attraction or if the ride is distributing immediate Lightning Lane return times.
- If you arrive after a park opens, obtain a return time for your preferred Lightning Lane attraction first thing.
- Always check the Lightning Lane return period before obtaining your reservation. Keep an eye out for attractions whose Lightning Lane return time is immediate, or at least sooner than the standby wait.
- If using Genie+, obtain Lightning Lane return times for popular rides as early in the day as practical.
- Don’t depend on Lightning Lane being available for individual attractions (especially Rise of the Resistance, Ratatouille, and WEB SLINGERS) after 12 p.m. during busier times of the year.
- Make sure everyone in your party has his or her own Lightning Lane return time. Reservations are tied to each individual admission pass and may not be transferred.
- You can obtain a second Genie+ Lightning Lane return time as soon as you redeem your first at the attraction’s entrance. If your Genie+ return time is more than an hour and a half away, you may be able to retrieve a second reservation for a different Genie+ attraction 90 minutes after scheduling your first (subject to change).
- Maximize efficiency by always obtaining a new Lightning Lane return time for the next attraction while waiting to board the previous one.
- You may be forced to wait at least 30 minutes between getting return times, so if you get a FastPass that has an immediate return time, you can’t instantly request another one (subject to change).
- Be mindful of your Lightning Lane return time, and plan intervening activities accordingly. You may use your Lightning Lane entry 5 minutes before its start time and up to 15 minutes after it expires. This unadvertised grace period (subject to change) is typically the only exception allowed to your assigned return window.
- Guests with park hopper tickets may only secure morning Lightning Lane return times at the park they have a reservation for. Once park hopping is permitted in the afternoon, Lightning Lane reservations may be made at any park.
- Attractions may not dispense Lightning Lane reservations while they are closed for technical difficulties or special events.
- If an attraction is temporarily unavailable due to technical difficulties during your Lightning Lane return window, your Lightning Lane automatically converts to a Replacement Lightning Lane pass. Replacement passes remain valid for use until closing time at that attraction (if it reopens) or at selected other Lightning Lane attractions in the same park. If the original return window was near to closing time, the Replacement pass may be valid on the following day.
- You may hold only one Genie+ Lightning Lane reservation at a time, and/or up to two reservations for individual Lightning Lane attractions. The only exception to this rule is a Replacement Lightning Lane reservation; there is no limit to the number of those you can simultaneously hold.
- You may want to pick one member of your party to handle everyone’s tickets and Lightning Lane reservations on their phone. Alternatively, each person can create a personal account and attach everyone’s ticket to it, so that you will be able to see each other’s Lightning Lane selections within the app (using the “Friends and Family” feature found in Walt Disney World’s app). This gives your group the option of splitting up but still retaining access to each other’s plans; however, each person must still use his or her own ticket to enter the park or redeem Lightning Lane reservations.
What do you think about Genie+ and Lightning Lane? Will you pay to use the services when they are available later this fall? Let us know in the comments below!
For all there is to see and do at Walt Disney World, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, and get The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando to plan your family’s trip to Universal Orlando. If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and sign up for our newsletter here. Be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube.