October 1 isn't just the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Walt Disney World Resort. That also is the start date for a new operation at Disney that will change the way that people visit the world's most popular theme park resort.
Starting October 1, guests staying at hotels on Disney property will get 30 minutes of early entry to all four Walt Disney World theme parks, every day. The Disney parks used to offer Extra Magic Hours to guests at select parks each day, but Disney dropped that perk when it reopened the parks last year.
Back when Extra Magic Hours were a thing, we had recommended that Disney park guests not staying on site pay attention to which park had Extra Magic Hours on a given day and to start their day at a different park. That way, those off-site guests could enter a truly empty park first thing in the morning, allowing them to get on popular attractions with no wait. Starting at the Extra Magic Hours park meant finding queues already filled with Disney's hotel guests. Ugh.
The new Early Theme Park Entry provides only a 30-minute head start, but since it covers all four parks every day, that means there no longer will be any truly empty parks for day guests, starting October 1. If you don't pay extra to stay at a hotel on Disney property, you might never again will be able to walk into an empty Walt Disney World attraction queue first thing in the morning.
Obviously, Disney is hoping that this change will drive more of its visitors to upgrade to an on-site hotel when planning their next Walt Disney World vacation. But staying on-site and getting up early for those 30 extra minutes each morning won't be the only way that guests can avoid long standby queues in the parks.
Disney also is about to introduce its Fastpass replacement, Disney Genie+. A $15 a day upgrade to the new Disney Genie planning service on the official My Disney Experience app, Disney Genie+ will allow a guest to reserve a time to enter the shorter "Lightning Lane" queue for a selected attraction. Disney Genie+ works much like Disneyland's old MaxPass, allowing you to hold one Lightning Lane reservation at a time.
In addition, for exceptionally popular attractions such as Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance that will not be included on Disney Genie+, guests can buy one-time access to the Lightning Lane for an as-yet-unspecified charge. There will be no free access to the Lightning Lanes, which are the old Fastpass queues. If you want to avoid standby lines, you either need to stay on site to get empty queue in the morning, or pay for Disney Genie+ or direct Lightning Lane access.
Disney Genie+ would cost $60 a day for a family of four, plus whatever extra the family might pay for direct Lightning Lane access on the most popular rides. But that's still less than the hundreds of dollars a night that Disney's hotel rooms often cost in comparison to similar rooms off site.
Yes, you are paying for the proximity to Disney's theme parks, in addition to the early access, when you stay on property. But Disney is surrounded by some world-class hotels that offer top-quality service and amenities, so it's not like Disney has an exclusive on providing a "magical" hotel experience. Since Disney World reopened its parks while suspending many perks for its hotel guest, many Disney visitors have discovered the value of staying off site. Early Theme Park Entry might win back some of those fans. But the extra cost of staying on site might just push other fans toward Disney Genie+ and paid Lighting Lane access, instead.
Wait a minute, some of you might be thinking now. Isn't Disney making extra money from its guests either way?
Correct. Extending Early Theme Park Entry to all four theme parks every day is designed to push Disney visitors to pay extra for an on-site hotel room or a line-skipping pass if they want to enjoy the short attraction waits that they used to be able to experience for no extra charge by getting up and getting to the parks early. Whether you choose the hotel room or the Disney Genie+ upgrade doesn't matter. Either way, Disney makes more money. And the Disney Genie+ option protects Disney's extra revenue opportunities should the resort get back to the point where it fills all of its hotel rooms and fans cannot upgrade to an on-site stay.
So what can you do if you do not wish to pay extra for either of these ways to minimize your wait times? Well, Disney is hoping that you will turn to its free baseline Disney Genie service. That section of the official My Disney Experience app is designed to help steer you toward low-wait attractions during your Disney World theme park visit. Of course, to use it means you will have to use Disney's official app, which means registering with Disney and then getting a suggestions for mobile ordering at restaurants, shops, and upcharge activities during the day.
That gains Disney a bunch of consumer data and opportunities for suggestive sales, which, in aggregate, mean more money for the Mouse. So almost any way you play it, Disney has positioned itself to make more money from your next Walt Disney World vacation.
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