November 12, 2023, 2:57 PM ·

Let’s talk about one big missing piece within Disney’s Genie+ line-skipping service.

In 2021, Disney introduced the free Genie and paid Genie+ services in its official Walt Disney World and Disneyland apps. Both are designed to help you get more from your visit to the Disney theme parks. The free Genie service uses AI – along with Disney’s own internal wait time and usage data – to recommend when to visit attractions that it believes that you will want to experience today. The upcharge Genie+ service replaces the old Disney Fastpass service, allowing you to book return times at select, popular attractions.Disney’s old Fastpass queue are now called “Lightning Lanes,” and you can see the current available Lightning Lane return times under the “Tip Board” section of the Disneyland and Walt Disney World apps. The Tip Board also shows you the current standby wait time for the park’s attractions. If you tap on those standby times, the app will show you a graph that displays the attraction’s estimated wait times throughout the day, to help you decide the best time to ride.The Tip Board is a wonderful tool to use when visiting any Disney theme park in the United States. But if you are thinking about paying for the Disney Genie+ service, there is one very important piece of information that the Tip Board does not provide.Look at those Lightning Lane return times. Contrary to what that information might lead you to believe, those are not the times that you will be experiencing those attractions, should you buy Genie+ and book the Lighting Lane. It’s simply the start of the one-hour window in which you can enter the Lightning Lane queue for that ride, show or experience. You have no way of knowing (from Disney) how long after you enter the queue you will have to wait for you to get into the attraction.And that is the piece of information that fans don’t have, but need, to make fully informed decisions about using Genie+ – what is the current Lightning Lane wait time?

Those waits can be significant. This week, I saw the Lightning Lane queue for Haunted Mansion Holiday at Disneyland extend all the way to the bridge in front of the former Splash Mountain ride. People have reported waits of up to 15 minutes just to tap into the Lightning Lane, plus the time they will spend waiting in that queue to get to the attraction’s load point.Part of the delay in getting people into Lightning Lane results from Disney’s continued use of antiquated barcode scanners for Lightning Lane entry. Especially at Disneyland, guests are using their phones rather than Disney’s MagicBands to show that they have Lightning Lane access. But instead of seamlessly enabling easy tap-in functionality with mobile devices, Disney’s apps display barcodes for guests to scan. That slows the line at Lightning Lane entry points as fans fumble to call up those codes on their screens, adding to the frustration that some fans have felt with the Genie+ program.Many Disney fans also have reported that the Tip Board consistently overestimates the standby queue wait times. Long ago, when I worked as a cast member in Magic Kingdom Attractions and we manually posted wait times, we tried to get it right, but were taught to err on the side of estimating a long wait, so that guests would not be frustrated by waiting longer than the wait time posted. So occasionally overestimated wait times on the Tip Board would continue Disney’s long tradition of trying to underpromise and overdeliver for its guests.But some fans have accused Disney of intentionally overestimating standby wait time – and not by a little – in order to encourage people to buy Genie+ to skip those long waits. Not knowing the corresponding Lighting Lane wait times also makes it impossible for guests to judge fairly just how much time they would be saving with Genie+, which is the key piece of information a consumer needs to decide if the purchase is a good deal for them.The way the Tip Board works now – with often inflated stand-by wait times and Lightning Lane return times that make no mention of a wait with them – helps make Genie+ look like a great deal on many days. As a result, large percentages of park guests are buying the upgrade. Of course, the more people that buy Genie+, the more people there are crowding the Lightning Lanes, extending those unadvertised Lightning Lane wait times.This lack of information plays to Disney’s advantage, at least for now. Lots of people buying Genie+ means big increases in park per-capita spending and revenue for the company, which company executives have noted in quarterly financial reports ever since Genie+ debuted. The more demand for Genie+ there is, the easier it becomes for Disney to raise its price, too, as it has consistently since its launch.But Disney does itself no favors over the long term when it creates products that leave fans feeling frustrated, or worse, duped. Many fans complain about the cost of Genie+, but those packed, overflowing Lightning Lanes suggest that the product might actually be underpriced, given its current demand.I think the real problem with Genie+ is not its price but rather the mismatch between what fans expect from the service and what many of them actually get. Disney can make much of that problem disappear simply by displaying current and estimated future Lightning Lane wait times along with the other attraction information on its Tip Boards. (And by publishing more accurate wait time ranges for standby queues, too.)If that reduces demand for Lightning Lane, well, that lost demand was artificial demand created by Disney’s lack of transparency. Give fans more accurate information about Lightning Lane and then Disney can see the true, well-informed level of demand for Genie+. Third-party apps are estimating this information right now, but Disney needs to be providing it directly to its would-be customers, too.I suspect that fans who buy Genie+ with more accurate expectations for the program would be even more satisfied with their purchase, allowing for healthy growth in the program (and its prices) for years to come. And Disney will have avoided burning any more customers with an overpromised and underdelivered service.* * *
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