How October 1 Will Change Walt Disney World Visits Forever

September 18, 2021, 4:53 PM · 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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Replies (24)

September 18, 2021 at 6:47 PM

Those 30 minutes are tempting but not enough to convince me not to book at Universal Orlando(I get a discount as an USH employee).

September 18, 2021 at 11:48 PM

Clear as day with the analysis, it is about to get more expensive to have an enjoyable Disney World visit. Key word, enjoyable. You can still attend Disney World but unless you are staying at a resort (Deluxe at that) or paying lightning lane you will spend most of your trip in The Hall of Presidents and at O Canada (Both enjoyable attractions at that) Lightning Lane isn't too cost prohibitive like a Deluxe resort stay. It will be a must no doubt. I even predict it selling out on certain days. Imagine waking up early like in the old Fastpass+ days to secure your lightling lane for your prospective vacation. Waking up early to give Disney even more money. Hahaha, that is the price to pay for being a Disney World fan. Trust me as much as we all want to say boo Disney and they're going to lose guests, truth of the matter is... Nope, they'll continue to make boat loads of money. Oh well that's capitalism right there.

September 19, 2021 at 12:22 AM

When I go to WDW, I tend to go to attractions that are not cloned anywhere else(Unless there’s a huge difference) or attractions that I have no interest in(*Cough* Hall of Presidents *Cough*). I will most likely pay for Disney Genie next year due to I would like to hit all the must go/unique attractions.

September 19, 2021 at 1:36 AM

How will it work with a family of 4, do you need to buy a Genie+ pass for each member of the family? That is soon going to add up over a week-long holiday

September 19, 2021 at 3:41 AM

Yes, Genie+ is per guest. The reason I will buy it it’s because I’m not a local to WDW and I would love to have a chance to ride some of the newer attractions I have yet to ride.

Though I’m not buying it for Disneyland because I’m a Key Holder and I just mostly go to hang out with friends and do some cafe drawings to increase my drawing skills.

September 19, 2021 at 9:39 AM

We could foresee this money grab coming starting with the overnight parking fees at WDW’s resorts. It is what it is. I just hope they have the WDW Railroad up and running sometime during the 50th celebration. Disney and trains go hand in hand and we need the train circling The Magic Kingdom SOON! If we can’t get Tron, can we at least get the RR.

September 19, 2021 at 3:57 PM

For a company who thinks it's the standard-bearer for social values and equality it again creates elitism of "them and us" with everything it does. When are people going to wake-up and stop yielding in to their incessant up-charging to try to get an experience they have already paid serious $ to have. I'm finished with them!

September 19, 2021 at 4:03 PM

I don't begrudge Disney for using the tools at their disposal to squeeze additional revenue out of guests, especially after what has happened the past year. They're a business, and ultimately the goal of any business is to maximize revenue. That said, the changes will definitely impact the way I choose to visit the resort for future trips, mainly by reducing the time spent at the resort. In the past, I'd typically do a five day trip for Walt Disney World, but due to the increased cost per day I'll likely cut my next trip down to just two or three. It will be interesting to see whether others choose to adjust trips to fit old budgets or adjust budgets to fit old trips. I'm sure Disney is hoping for the latter, but I wouldn't be surprised if the result ends up being the former, especially among more frequent visitors.

September 19, 2021 at 6:01 PM

ProfPlum: "I'm finished with them!"

"You'll be back, soon you'll see.
You'll remember you belong to me."

September 19, 2021 at 6:28 PM

My wife and I are heading to Orlando in 2 weeks. We go about every 2-3 years and have watched our visits slowly slide in the direction of Universal. We love Disney World and our favorite park is still EPCOT. However, in the past our trips consisted of 6 to 7 nights with the Mouse and no where else…now we find our trips split between Disney and Universal with us spending 3 nights at Universal. We get a lot more bang for our buck there and in all honesty it seems like Universal is trying harder than Disney is to get my business. Once Epic Universe opens we’ll probably be staying onsite with Universal and making Disney just a number of day trips. We can’t be alone here.

September 19, 2021 at 8:01 PM

Hopefully another option of “pay to see” is added - I only want to ride or see certain things not old tired “classics”. I shouldn’t have to pay for attractions I have no interest in. So, for example, if I only wanted to ride Tron at MK, I should pay one fee for Tron plus a “grounds pass” fee to get in. Likewise, if I didn’t want any rides I could get only a “grounds pass” to get in the park prohibited from any rides.

September 19, 2021 at 9:42 PM

I’d personally like the option to visit the Hall of Presidents and only pay to hear certain names called out. Heroes like William Henry Harrison and the like… Maybe they could issue some noise cancelling headphones that give me a calming dull hum, followed by a quick, squawking “WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON” blasted into my headphones as his animatronic visage nods eerily in acknowledgement. Hey, it’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow already Disney, make it happen!

September 20, 2021 at 7:32 AM

since my student travel business was pretty non-existent last year, i took full advantage of masking up and hitting the parks hard, knowing i would never have the chance again. i rode things i hadn't ridden in eons (*cough cough dumbo, astro orbiter *cough cough). space mountain was a walk on and i rode 4 times in a row. i kept thinking if my 16 year old self had been able to be there, it would have been 40 times! so glad i was able to do that.

@fattyackin, that's hilarious and a great idea! i will say i have someone new to orlando and new to the US so they wanted to see HOP recently and after not having seen it in a very long while, i have to say i enjoyed it more than i expected. it is still impressive to see all of those animatronics in one place and i found i enjoyed the history lesson more than i remembered. then, of course, we dashed off to thunder mountain as soon as it was over.

September 20, 2021 at 8:41 AM

We all know Disney is in it for the money and wants to squeeze us like oranges. We just don't need them to rub our noses in it this blatantly.

September 20, 2021 at 10:21 AM

I don't think October 1 represents that much of a sea change for Disney as it is another waypoint along Disney's journey to optimize WDW revenue. Disney has been tweaking rules and policies for decades, and over the past couple of years in particular they have gotten more aggressive in extracting more and more disposable income out of guests' pockets.

WDW resort hotels have always been expensive, but guests have always gotten a return for those increased prices in quality, proximity, theming, and/or other perks to combat an increasing inventory and competitively priced of off-site hotels. It's almost like Disney has thrown up their hands in competing with off-site hotels, relying on the brainwashing they've done to the Drones over the past 2+ decades (along with the highly lucrative DVC). Disney isn't even trying to compete in the hotel market anymore, with WDW rooms regularly 30-50% more expensive than comparable off-site hotels. Free parking (which extended to the theme parks), EMH, DDP, Magical Express, FP+, and other perks were the ways Disney leveled the playing field and encouraged guests to book on-site rooms instead of reserving cheaper off-site lodging. In most cases if you did the calculations, you could offset the higher on-site rates with the savings guests received through the various perks.

However, Disney started to realize that many guests saw value in staying on-site simply for the convenience and blind trust in the Disney brand, so they've been slowly rolling back those perks over the past 3-5 years to the point when the parks reopened last year with very few on-site benefits remaining. The pandemic gave WDW the opportunity to truly test the power of the Disney brand, and for the first few months following the reopening, Disney was able to fill resorts through a slow and deliberate increase of available inventory combined with pent up demand from guests that either had vacations cancelled/delayed last summer or simply were seeking a "safe" vacation destination for their families under the watchful eye of a trusted brand. However, as that demand waned and inventory increased to near pre-pandemic numbers, the only remaining perk to staying on-site aside from the convenience was Magical Express, which will be discontinued in January, so Disney, facing reduced demand for greater supply, had to figure out a way to not only increase the perceived value of staying on-site, but instead of making it a real benefit to on-site guests, they are just making it less desirable to stay at an increasing pool of quality off-site hotels (including Universal's booming inventory of value-priced rooms).

Disney's goal is no longer about giving on-site guests perks, it's about making off-site guests' visits less appealing. With FP+'s replacement Genie+ available to on-site and off-site guests alike, with no advantage given to on-site guests, the new early entry perk represents the only quantifiable advantage given to WDW resort guests. However, at just 30-minutes, that advantage isn't really that much of a perk as it is a way to degrade the experience for off-site guests. Where Disney used to create perks and benefits for on-site guests to get them to book WDW hotel rooms, they are now instead gearing those perks and benefits to make an off-site hotel less desirable. Disney no longer cares about giving loyal guests benefits, the belief is they'll come regardless of the value because of the Disney brand, it's about trying to undermine and devalue the experience for guests who choose to stay off-site. It's a subtle, but yet important change in thinking for WDW - more ruthless and maniacal than they've exhibited in the past, despite their obvious thirst for revenue.

September 20, 2021 at 11:47 AM

@Beacher....ha, ha, ha! As I have the will power of a sugar addict in a candy store you may be eventually right.............but I am going to try to resist with every sinew.

September 20, 2021 at 12:20 PM

Between the loss of EMH, DME and free FastPasses, we no longer have a reason to stay onsite. Last month's trip will probably be our last onsite stay since 2005. We can stay at a cheaper hotel and use their shuttle to Disney, and since we go just about every year, we probably won't miss rope drop that badly.

September 20, 2021 at 1:03 PM

Since 2010 my family and I have made 3 trips to Orlando with the last one being in 2019 and we have never stayed on site. We find that Disney may have provided the extra magic hour but by staying off site we could stay for 10 or 11 days instead of 7 staying on site so the extra hour wasn't much incentive.

September 20, 2021 at 1:11 PM

It's been rumored for years that Disney, sooner or later, would introduce some kind of paid Fast Pass. This is not a shock, it was probably inevitable. One way or another, theme park vacations will become more and more expensive -- otherwise, why would they keep plowing billions of dollars into their parks?

On that topic, I was a bit shocked when I took a look at Universal's ticket prices recently. The last time we went (albeit in 2016) I think we paid about $60 per day for a three day one park per day ticket. Now it's about $100/ day.

September 20, 2021 at 1:37 PM

I don't know about the majority of folks but this is going to push me to stay off site. There are just no perks left for onsite other than "atmosphere" but like Robert says, there are plenty of other great hotels in Orlando.

So the question is will a lot of folks do the same? If so then Disney isn't going to see the uptick in revenue that they hope and in that case I predict Genie+ soon becomes "free" to resort guests.

September 20, 2021 at 3:16 PM

How long before we are back to where we started and genie+ becomes an up to date version of the old ticket books. The big difference here is that the cost of entry isn’t nominal anymore!

September 20, 2021 at 5:12 PM

To me, Disney has become an exercise in "How we can keep you from using our product once you've paid for our product..."

Want to price me off your property, no problem.
Want to price me out of your parks, already there.
Want to price me out California or Orlando, horary for us you don't control that.

Travel tastes are going to shift, you're going to hit a gap in a decade or so as the loyal Disney product users age out. The generations you are pricing out now, they are going to give there families entirely different appreciation for travel experiences.

Our last 3 trips have been entirely different and have not involved theme parks.

14 day trip Hawaii (multi island visits),
11 day road trip, CA/OR/WA/ID, (including 2 nights in beach resorts in OR)
7 day trip California Beaches and Hiking.

With the exception of the 11 day road trip, All were cheaper then a 7 day Disney Park and resort experience.

I was researching a WDW visit for my niece, I recommended 3 days Universal, 1 Day Sea World, 2 days Disney (w/Park hopper) . After should looked at everything, she skipped Disney. The 675 dollars savings got here an upgraded room off property between Sea World, USO, & Gatorland. It also covered all her transit for a week and allowed her to upgrade her airline class on return. Who's not going to look at that and say I should take a harder look at the other parks in Orlando.

September 23, 2021 at 11:28 AM

This approach in the business model it's going to cost Disney some loyal fans, but we already had this debate, and bottom line is that Disney loves your money more than Your affection, so they don't care about a dent in the brand. Just keep stock holders happy.

September 24, 2021 at 11:53 PM

But Augustin you'll only get mid-tier rides with Genie+. You'll have to pay per ride for the "big ones"...and you'll only get 2 of those.

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