Walt Disney World’s new theme park navigation tools have finally launched, and the Unofficial Guide has your top tips for making the most of the new Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lane options.
Last year, Walt Disney World retired its long-running FastPass+ line-skipping service, and announced a trio of new tools to replace it, known as Disney Genie, Genie+ and Lightning Lane. Those services officially launched on October 19, 2021, and we visited the Orlando parks on day one to test out how the free Disney Genie app, along with the paid Genie+ and Lightning Lane offerings, can best be integrated into your day.
It’s obviously too early to render a final verdict, but on opening day we were able to secure Lightning Lane reservations for well over a dozen attractions, covering nearly every ride in both EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Better still, we never faced a wait of more than 5 minutes when redeeming a Lightning Lane pass, unlike the old FastPass+ return queues which would often get badly backed up.
In some ways, Genie+ is an evolution of the popular MaxPass system previously used in Disneyland Resort, but it features a few twists that make it a bit trickier to use. To help you untie the knot, here are our top tips for making full use of Disney Genie, Genie+, and Lightning Lane during your next Walt Disney World visit.
Get Genie Ready Ahead of Time
Unlike FastPass+, which needed to be booked weeks in advance, Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lane are same-day services. However, you’ll still want to get your free Disney Genie account set up as soon as you plan your trip and purchase park admission. For starters, make sure you have the latest version of the My Disney Experience mobile app, and that your smartphone is running the latest operating system (iOS15 for Apple devices).
Next, log into the app using the same Disney.com account you used to purchase your admission, and ensure that you and all members of your traveling party have park pass reservations for the days you plan to visit. Once this is done, you can follow the Disney Genie prompts to start planning your day by indicating your interests.
Once you’ve made selections for your initial park visit, you can add another park to the same day (for guests with park hopper tickets) or set up another day. You want to have all this done at least a day before your visit, so you have time to contact Disney’s technical support just in case something is amiss with your account.
Decide On Either, Both, or Neither
Disney Genie’s itinerary planning features are completely free to use, but Genie+ and Lightning Lane require extra fees. You can purchase Genie+ for $15 per person per day, which give you one-time access to each participating Lightning Lane attraction in the park. (You also get access to photo filters and audio tours in the app, which are certain to drain your phone’s battery.)
There are also two Lightning Lane attractions at each theme park that do not participate in Genie+. At these rides, you can buy Individual Lightning Lane access for $7-$15 per person (once per ride daily, maximum two Individual attraction purchases per day).
The key thing to know is that you can buy Genie+ Lightning Lane with or without one or two Individual Lightning Lane attractions, and vice versa; you can buy them all, or neither. You don’t have to buy them all at the same time, nor do you have to buy them for every member of your party (if some don’t want to ride) or on every day of your visit.
So how do you know what service to purchase when? Based on early results we think you should buy Genie+ if:
- You are visiting more than one park (park-hopping)
- You are planning on arriving late and staying until park closing.
- You are visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
You may want to pass on purchasing Genie+, or at least wait until you arrive at the park and see how the crowds are, if:
- You are arriving at rope drop and staying all day in a single park.
- You are a local annual passholder who can visit another day.
- You are visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
As for Individual Lightning Lane attractions, you really only need to decide ahead of time if you want one for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance (which will be discussed below). All other Individual Lightning Lane attractions should be easily available through at least midday. Simply monitor the standby wait times, and make a personal calculation how much your vacation time is worth per hour. It probably doesn’t make sense spending $7 to skip a 10 minute wait, but if $15 can save you 2 hours standing in line, it may be a good value considering what you’ve already paid for admission.
The most important thing to know is that all Genie+ and Lightning Lane purchases are 100% non-refundable, so think carefully before you tap that confirm button in the app!
Set Your Alarm for 6:58 a.m.
If you plan on using Lightning Lanes at parking opening, you’re going to set your alarm for a couple minutes before 7 a.m.. That will give you just enough time to reopen the Disney app and confirm your purchase of Genie+ for the day, assuming you didn’t already buy it as an add-on when purchasing your admission pass. This step can be done anytime after midnight on the day of your visit, but since Genie+ itself will never sell out for the day, there’s really no advantage to buying early as long as you’re ready by 7.
Next, if your park pass reservation is for EPCOT and you are interested the free Virtual Queue boarding passes for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, you can try to secure them at exactly 7 a.m.
Otherwise, all guests who have purchased Genie+ can make their first Lightning Lane selection starting at 7 a.m.. For your first ride, you want to pick a popular attraction that usually draws a lengthy standby queue at rope drop; Test Track at EPCOT and Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run at Disney’s Hollywood Studios are good examples. Do not make your first Genie+ pick for a ride that is usually a walk-on in the mornings, like Journey Into Imagination or Star Tours.
In addition, guests staying in Disney’s on-site hotels can purchase Individual Lightning Lane access starting at 7 a.m., while all others must wait until the park opens for the day. This is only really a boon for Rise of the Resistance, which may sell out within minutes after park opening; off-site guests should buy that ride as early as allowed, if desired. Since guests are given their choice of Individual Lightning Lane return times (unlike Genie+, which automatically assigns the next available window) try to schedule your ride during the prime hours of late morning through late afternoon, when other attractions’ lines will be longest.
Rope Drop or Be Fashionably Late
To make fullest use of Genie+, you’re going to want to arrive in time for park opening — or “rope drop” — and stay until the end of the operating day. (Ducking out for a mid-day nap is strongly encouraged.)
If that’s your plan, as soon as the park opens you want to head to the biggest headliner that you won’t be using Lightning Lane for (either because it isn’t offered, or because you aren’t purchasing Individual Lightning Lane access). Alternatively, hit an E-Ticket ride that you know you’ll want to ride again later using Genie+. Ideally you want to pick something that is en route to your first Lightning Lane reservation of the day, which should become valid within minutes after park opening.
For example, if you are starting the day at EPCOT, you could go first to Frozen Ever After (if entering via International Gateway) or Mission: SPACE (if coming from the main entrance) before using a Genie+ Lightning Lane reservation at Test Track. That way, you’d have two of the park’s top attractions out of the way before the park has been open an hour.
On the other hand, guests who choose to arrive later in the day can still make good use of Genie+ by taking advantage of the 2 hour loophole detailed below. Instead of booking your first Lightning Lane at 7 a.m. for the opening hour of the day, monitor the app starting at rope drop and pick the attraction with the latest return time. You want an initial return window that’s around the time you plan to arrive in the park or later; make sure it’s at least two hours in the future. You’ll be able to make another Genie+ selection every 120 minutes, setting you up for a standby-free afternoon or evening!
Look For Instant Return Times
Since you can only use the Lightning Lane once per day at each attraction, you don’t want to waste your privileges in the morning on attraction with short standby queues, so don’t bother booking rides with posted waits under 20 minutes.
However, as soon as wait times start to climb, you should seek out Genie+ return times that are available immediately, or at least significantly sooner than the standby wait.
For example, in mid-afternoon Soarin’ was advertising a 30 minute standby wait, but Genie+ users could grab a return time on two minutes notice and be directed up the Lightning Lane directly to boarding.
By selecting a mix of attractions with immediate return times, alternating with late return times — especially for attractions at another park you plan on hopping to — you can minimize your wait times across the entire day.
Individual Lightning Lane Is Worth It…Maybe?
Whether or not your pay for Genie+, you can chose to purchase Individual Lightning Lane access at up to two selected rides each day. Prices range from $7 to $15 (plus tax) and can fluctuate from day to day, but will be locked in once the day begins.
Without a doubt, the most valuable Individual Lightning Lane to purchase is Rise of the Resistance at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This ride regularly posts two hour standby waits within minutes of park opening, but using Lightning Lane we strolled straight into the first preshow briefing with barely any waiting.
Surprisingly, another attraction where Individual Lightning Lane access is advantageous is Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. That ride currently has no standby option at all, and if you want to use the free Virtual Queue you’ll need to get lucky at 7 a.m. or 1 p.m., plus wait 30-45 minutes in a return queue once your boarding group is called.
On the other hand, Lightning Lane purchasers get to bypass the Virtual Queue scheme entirely, and will go from the entrance to the loading station within moments after scanning in. In our book, avoiding the 7 a.m. lottery stress and the slow return line were well worth the cost. Of course, if you are really rat-crazy, it’s perfectly possible to do Remy’s Virtual Queue and buy Lightning Lane access on the same day!
As for the other Individual Lightning Lane rides, it can be a real time-saver at Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. At Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, however, we waited less than 30 minutes in the standby queue when it was advertised as 50, making us happy we didn’t spend $8 to skip the line. Your best best is to keep an eye on standby waits and make your purchase when the first available return window approaches your preferred ride time.
Don’t Rely On Genie’s Advice
Although Genie is a must-have for arranging your Lightning Lane reservations, along with resort dining and other activities, our early tests indicate you won’t want to rely on it for all your park planning needs.
In particular, Genie’s ballyhooed suggestion feature, which is supposed to intelligently design an ideal itinerary based on your person preferences, isn’t currently all it’s cracked up to be.
To present only one hilarious example, Disney Genie encouraged me to eat at Pizzerizzo, despite being notorious as the restaurant only blogger Alicia Stella could love. I wisely ignored Genie and had shrimp tacos from the ABC Commissary instead.
Better yet, Unofficial Guide contributor Tom Bricker reported being told repeatedly to ride the Magic Kingdom’s Regal Carrousel. In all these cases, the feature that’s supposed to allow guests to “switcheroo” to a different activity is either inactive, of supplies equally unappealing alternatives.
More importantly, much of the information provided in Genie is suspect, starting with the standby wait times. Disney themselves warn guests not to purchase Lightning Lane based on their advertised wait times, and while they don’t appear to be as wildly inflated as they were prior to the debut of Genie+, they are still frequently overestimated.
Availability for Genie+ and Individual Lighting Lane can also fluctuate during the day, so even if a ride says it is no longer available, keep refreshing the app at it may reappear. Be aware that once you have a Lightning Lane reservation, you can’t modify the time, and if you cancel there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to book a replacement.
All these features can be confusing to manage, and Disney Genie’s cluttered user interface doesn’t help matters. If you are looking for the old My Disney Experience page that combined all your park reservations onto a single screen, type “my plans” into the search function.
Until Disney Genie’s designers get their act together — which could be never — you’re still going to want Lines from Touring Plans to optimize your itinerary and get accurate wait times. Then you can use that information to make informed decisions on what to book through Disney Genie, without relying on its recommendations.
Know and Use Your Grace Periods
Now we’re getting into the expert techniques Disney doesn’t publicize. The first is the unadvertised grace period that accompanies every Lightning Lane return window. Although guests are told they must use their reservation within a precise 60 minute window, in actuality Disney’s system will happily scan you into the Lightning Lane up to 5 minutes before your reservation starts, or up to 15 minutes after. (This later grace period may be shorter at some attractions, but we’ve tested it multiple times with success.) If you arrive outside that 80-minute window, you’ll be at the mercy of the attraction attendants, who have been instructed not to bend the rules.
Bear in mind that this grace period only applies to Genie+ or Individual Lightning Lane reservations. It does not apply to Virtual Queue boarding groups at Remy’s, which will be accepted at any time after being called until park closing (despite the claimed one hour limit). It also does not apply to same-day DAS selections, which can also be redeemed any time after they become valid.
TOP TIP: Learn to Love the Two Hour Loophole
Finally, our top Genie+ Lightning Lane is a little too good to be true, so we wouldn’t be surprised if Disney closed this loophole before long. (In other words, your mileage may vary.)
Officially, Genie+ Lightning Lane selections are supposed to be “one at a time,” in that you must use one reservation before getting another. But in fact, there are several circumstances that will trigger users’ ability to make another Genie+ selection:
- Scan into the touchpoints at the Lightning Lane attraction you already hold. This is the typical method, and is usually triggered once you scan at the second checkpoint for those attractions that have two.
- Allow your current Lightning Lane window to expire. If you select a return time that is less that two hours away, you’ll be able to make your next selection as soon as the one-hour window ends; you’ll still be able to redeem the “expired” pass within the fifteen minute grace period.
- Wait 120 minutes after making a Lighting Lane selection, otherwise known as the Two Hour Loophole!
The key to maximizing your Genie+ usage is by exercising the ability to make a new Lightning Lane pick after two hours if your previous one has still not become valid. By repeatedly selecting the latest available Lightning Lane return times, you can stockpile multiple overlapping reservations for the afternoon.
Then, each time you redeem one of those later return times, you’ll immediately be able to make another — even if it’s been less than two hours since your last booking, and you still have other reservations remaining on your schedule. [Note: this element of the 2 hour loophole has been closed, but the following information still applies.]
Here’s an idea of how to make the Disney Genie+ Lightning Lane Two Hour Loophole work for you:
- Make and use your first Genie+ Lightning Lane selection during the first hour you’re in the park.
- Make your second Lightning Lane selection as soon as you scan in for your first, and pick the ride with the latest return time. If none are more than 2 hours away yet, pick one that’s available immediately or experience a standby attraction first.
- Exactly 2 hours after making your previous Lightning Lane selection, reserve another, again picking a return time at least 2 hours away. You should now have 2 scheduled reservations, which may overlap. (Overlapping is permitted but you’ll see a warning.)
- If you wish, wait another two hours and make one more Lightning Lane selection with a later return time. Now you have three reservations, the earliest of which should be ready for redemption. You can continue doing this every two hours for as long as you wish; guests inside the park should visit standby attractions in interim, but this technique is especially useful for those arriving later in the day.
Using this Two Hour Loophole method, you can easily exhaust the available Genie+ Lightning Lanes in a single park by late afternoon. This technique is extremely helpful to parkhoppers, who should place the busiest park at the end of their day.
For example, if your park-hopping plans include Disney’s Hollywood Studios, start your morning elsewhere but be sure to secure a Slinky Dog Dash return time for the end of the evening before they run out entirely, which may happen within a hour of park opening. Two hours later, get another Lightning Lane for Tower of Terror or Rock n’ Roller Coaster to coincide with when you plan on arriving at the Studios. Continue to collect additional return times to fill in the hours in between, and you’ll be able to conquer most of the park’s E-Tickets in a matter of hours.
Thanks go to the team at Attractions Magazine, where you’ll find additional tips from the opening days of Genie+ and Lightning Lane.
What do you think of Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lane? Which options do you plan on purchasing during your next visit? Let us know in the comments!
For all there is to see and do at Walt Disney World, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, or to plan your family’s trip to Orlando, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids. 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.