new Disney Genie system that's coming to Disneyland and Walt Disney World.Let's unpack Disney's huge announcement this week about the
Like a modern mobile game, Disney Genie is a free offering that comes with abundant upsells. The free part is a day-planning service, a recommendation engine that will suggest what you ought to do next in the parks, based upon your stated preferences and both current and historic crowd levels.
As such, Disney Genie will compete with several recommendation and trip planning services that third-party publishers have been selling for years. And in California especially, Disney Genie will offer an alternative to the itineraries that many experienced Disneyland fans have honed over years of visits to the park.
I am curious to see how different Disney Genie's recommendations will be from the strategies that many long-time Disneyland fans have internalized as reflex reactions whenever they visit. Or will Disney Genie just affirm that Disneyland's self-proclaimed experts really did know what they were doing?
The knowledge gap between experienced and inexperienced Disney visitors helps make it possible for some people to breeze through the parks, hitting all their favorite attractions, while others struggle to extract enjoyment from a crowded, slow-moving day. But what happens if Disney Genie closes that knowledge gap?
Remember when Fastpass started, and people who learned quickly how to use the system could blow through dozens of high-demand attractions while the majority of guests continued to slog through stand-by lines, oblivious to the Fastpass alternative? Eventually, people learned and knowledge of Fastpass no longer provided much of an advantage when visiting the Disney theme parks.
Will Disney Genie level the playing field between those with years of Disney Parks experience and newbies visiting the parks for the first time? I suspect that Disney would love for that to happen if that would help encourage more people to make their first-ever trip to Walt Disney World or Disneyland. Let's not forget that for as popular as the Disney theme parks have been, millions of people have never visited one. As a multi-billion-dollar entertainment conglomerate, Disney is always hungry to expand to fresh markets. I have no doubt that Disney is betting that its new automated Genie will make a visit to its resorts more attractive to people who might have been intimated by the complexity of planning a Disney visit in the past.
I also have no doubt that Disney is betting that its existing customers will figure out how to work with (or around) Disney Genie, just as they have every other change Disney has made to its theme park ticketing and operations in the past. How long will it take for Disneyland's new "Magic Key" holders to figure out alternate strategies that allow them to visit even more attractions with less wait than they can by following Disney Genie? I have no idea, but I am 100% certain that many Disneyland fans will accept this challenge with great enthusiasm.
Of course, the tool that many Disneyland's former annual passholders used to "beat" the park was MaxPass, the mobile Fastpass reservation system that came at no additional charge to guests who held the resort's most expensive annual pass, the Signature Plus. (It was also free to guests who held the Disney Premier Pass that was good at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World.) MaxPass has been reincarnated as Disney Genie+, the first paid upsell option under Disney Genie.
MaxPass cost everyone else $20 a day, which is the same price that Disneyland will be charging for Disney Genie+ when it debuts in Anaheim. Disney Genie+ promises to be an even better deal than the old MaxPass, because there no longer will be a free Fastpass service to draw down the "second queue" attraction capacity inventory that new MaxPass, Disney Genie+, will draw upon.
At Walt Disney World, which did not have MaxPass before, Disney will offer Disney Genie+ at a lower price of $15 a day. Disney World's old Fastpass+ system had grown untenable for both the resort and many of its fans. By allowing guests to book three Fastpasses up to 60 days in advance of their visit, Fastpass+ increased demand without adding capacity, and did so by adding another checkpoint to planning a Disney World trip, one that many visitors found a hassle and that effectively discouraged potential visitors from planning trips with less than 30 days' notice.
With Disney Genie+, standby waits promise to be less for everyone, since Genie+ users may reserve only one "Lightning Lane" return at a time, not three as they could with Fastpass+. (Lightning Lane is the new term for the old Fastpass queues.) And since Genie+ is a paid service, one also might presume that fewer people will use it than used Fastpass+, leaving more attraction capacity for standby queue guests.
The only big losers with Disney Genie+ will be power users of Fastpass+, who booked exactly 60 to 30 days in advance (depending whether they were staying on site or not) to get the most desirable attractions and timed their reservations to obtain more Fastpass+ slots later each day, without ever using long standby queues. Some of those users may choose to pay the $15 for Disney Genie+, and I suspect that Disney believes that any loss of business from those who do not will more than be made up by the $15 from those who do, plus the money from new visitors who book in hopes that Disney Genie will make their stay easier and more enjoyable than it would have been before.
That brings us to Disney Genie's second upsell - those individual-use Lightning Lane reservations. These will allow access to a different set of attractions than those covered by Disney Genie+, including Radiator Springs Racers, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Prices will vary by date, so we cannot yet judge the value nor estimate the popularity of these new "paid Fastpasses." But many fans will see them instead as an insurance policy to guarantee access to popular rides that might not otherwise be accessible.
This is especially true for Rise of the Resistance, which has been available exclusively through a virtual queue that felt more like a lottery on many days. If any potential Disney visitor felt uncertain about booking a trip due to the unpredictability of getting on Disney's top-rated attraction, the paid Lightning Lane alternative erases that. Sure, you can try for Rise's free virtual queue. But if you do not get in, you can buy your way in on the final day of your visit, ensuring that you will not miss what so many fans have called a "don't miss" experience.
Putting it all together, I suspect that with Disney Genie and its upsells, Disneyland and Walt Disney World will see higher guest attendance in 2022 over similar periods in 2021 (and even pre-pandemic 2019), with higher guest satisfaction levels, too. And I also suspect that critics who are calling Disney Genie the worst thing they've ever seen from Disney will continue to find outrage in whatever Disney does next year, too. Stoking outrage among people who are used to getting their way provides the easiest path to driving clicks and viewership in the modern media marketplace.
But for people who just want a good time at Disney, Disney Genie and its upsells may end up providing a more understandable and more useful way to enjoy the parks than the Fastpass and Fastpass+ systems they replaced.
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Right now, Disney is offering California residents deeply discounted tickets to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, but our authorized partner has even bigger discounts available on its Disneyland tickets page. Other discounts are available to non-Californians, as well.
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