A client for our Travel Agency recently asked some questions about a trip to Disney World that touched on a number of topics that are worth answering here. Here are some of the things you need to know about a trip to Disney World.
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A client for our travel agency recently submitted questions about an upcoming Disney World trip and there are a lot of good questions I’d like to answer for our readership. As a former Walt Disney World Resort Annual Passholder, frequent Orlando theme park visitor, and travel writer, here are my insights.
What’s Up With Fast Passes? They No Longer Exist But What Replaced Them?
Disney’s Genie+ app has replaced the Fast Pass system but that comes with many caveats – it is not the same thing. It sounds like your clients are familiar with Disney already but it is… “A whole new world” (I couldn’t resist.) This app is $15/day/guest and all guests must have paid for the app on the day of their visit to be able to use the features.
The Disney Genie service has additional features like Disney Photopass which digitally uploads images taken by Disney photographers for your own personal download, distribution, or printing (through their photography store or anywhere else.)
Lightning Lane Included
Like Fast Passes of recent years, Lightning Lane offers guests the ability to avoid the majority of the line when designating a ride window. The guest can’t control which rides will have availability on the day or park they visit, but there should be a reasonable selection of options. Guests have the ability to ride within a one-hour window of their selected Lightning Lane. Unlike Fast Passes, individual lightning lane selections make it possible to select more than three rides for this daily but unlikely with current crowd conditions. The most popular rides are excluded from the complementary list.
Lightning Lane offer a kind of virtual queue, allowing visitors to skip the standby line (traditional experience) and come back at a designated return time bypassing the line by entering the Lightning Lane entrance. Most rides that do not offer extensive wait periods like “It’s A Small World” are available on the list.
Lightning Lane A La Carte
Disney has added the ability to purchase access to its most popular rides through a paid service, Lightning Lane a la carte. This service offers a variable price based on line length, park attendance and popularity.
Prices can range from $8-15/guest/ride. For example, if you have just one day to visit the parks and split your time between Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, you will pay for each guest in your party to ride Flight of Passage (Avatar) and Rise of the Resistance (Star Wars), and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure if selected. Despite the ability to pay for these rides, some days these options may not be available so even with the additional cost of the app and the ride fee, some options may not be offered on the day of the guest’s visit.
Is Disney Genie Plus Worth It?
Annual pass holders that used to get these benefits included in their four-figure annual memberships lament the additional cost. However, for the once-in-a-while or even the once-in-a-lifetime Disney visitor, Genie+ is absolutely worthwhile. It’s an expensive surcharge reminiscent of paying for seat assignments on an airplane but nevertheless will make the trip far better and more complete.
What About Transportation? Car Seats
Disney offers buses in between Disney parks but if you have more time than money or want to experience the park in a new way, you can access Hollywood Studios by cable car which runs to some resorts and then to Epcot (Canada). At Epcot, you can switch to the Monorail which runs to Magic Kingdom.
Bus options are the only easy way to access Animal Kingdom but buses don’t necessarily operate regularly from every park to every other so on days where you’re visiting Animal Kingdom I suggest you rent a car or hire an Uber. Some Ubers allow you to select that you need a car seat and many offer them simply because they depend on family travelers to provide their service.
From the perspective of an annual passholder, we would take Ubers or drive to avoid the “convenience” of the systems mentioned above. It’s quicker, and if you’re on a limited timeline, the few extra dollars paid to an Uber driver or taxi is well worth it. From Hollywood Studios to Magic Kingdom by the ways I mentioned before would likely take about 45 minutes for a small family from lining up to boarding to riding, to switching, to arrival. An Uber makes that trip about eight minutes long.
Do You Believe They’ll Bring Back The Dining Plan Before Spring?
On this topic, I am really unsure. There has been wide speculation but the usual rumor mill that points to this coming back has been mum on the topic for some time. I would plan on this not being an option. That said, if we revert to the park switching examples above, this is one more incentive to rent a car. Orlando has everything on offer and while some meals in the parks are an absolute must, every meal in the parks can grow tiring too.
Now, Guests Are Required To Make Park Reservations, So What’s The Point of The Park Hopper?
Cost savings and ease. Park Hoppers are generally less expensive than two one-day tickets and there is an option to schedule more than one park in the same day after 2 PM. However, Disney has relaxed even the limitation of just two parks per day (COVID policy) leading to a better experience though not as it once was.
If you start your day with a rope drop at Animal Kingdom but find that everyone else wanted to be there too, you can switch after 2 PM to Magic Kingdom and enjoy Extra Magic Hours. Let’s say that you didn’t know Abba was performing at Epcot on the day you booked your tickets but the rest of the world did, switch parks so you’re not singing “Mama Mia” for the rest of the trip.
What About Extra Magic Hours (EMH)? Who Has Access To These?
Guests that stay in either a Disney-owned property OR a Disney Good Neighbor property have access to Extra Magic Hours. Depending on the day and park, EMH might be just an 8 AM start instead of 9 AM at Hollywood Studios, or it could be – and this is my favorite – 9 PM-Midnight at Magic Kingdom (more on that shortly.)
Good Neighbor Hotels are properties like the Waldorf-Astoria, Hilton, or Holiday Inn Orlando hotels. There are dozens of them at all price ranges and frankly, we rarely stayed in Disney-owned properties because the character breakfasts bring in so many guests that rates were rarely comparable to the outside world. I’d rather have an elevated experience for less money than pancakes with Mickey and Minnie.
On the EMH, the reason why I always prefer late blocks rather than early opens is simple. The vast majority of guests leave after the fireworks making it easy to ride anything you might want. On one memorable visit, we found that we were able to ride 2x more rides in just three Extra Magic hours than we had the entire 12 hours prior. We don’t love 15-hour days at Disney, but for us, it made more sense to have a late sleep-in, a restful day at the hotel, the pool, or even just casually go through whichever park was least busy and then arrive to the Magic Kingdom about an hour before the fireworks. Once staff starts clearing the streets for the parade, the lines empty and the fun begins.
Are There Still Magic Bands? Is Everything Through The App?
There are still magic bands (collector ones are still available for the 50th anniversary from this year) and they are very helpful. They now charge for the magic bands rather than sending them out for free. It’s not expensive to get a personalized one rather than the generic and I recommend using them.
There are two apps to download to navigate your Disney experience. The first is Genie+ which I mentioned above, but the second is the Disney Experience app which is incredibly instructive for choosing that second park reservation of the day. All of the wait times are listed on the app and it’s shockingly accurate (if airlines had the same technology, we would never be surprised at the airport.)
Use the app in advance of your trip to familiarize yourself with the park layout, highlight rides you want to visit, and places you don’t have an interest in seeing. You can set alerts as well. For example, if the line gets below 60 minutes on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train it will notify you (if you’ve set that alert) because those lines are usually much longer. Whereas Star Tours may only warrant an alert if the wait drops to 15 minutes or below.
There have been a number of changes over the last few years to the overall Disney experience. Arguably, for those visiting for the first time or for the first time in a while, it’s easier to have an elevated Disney World experience through the Genie+ app and My Disney Experience app. Despite being an annual passholder, my family has never been able to ride Flight of Passage so at this point, I would probably find myself happy to pay an extra $15/person for the privilege to do it at least once without standing in a four-hour line. That said, just as the rest of the travel world has been unbundled, the ticket price is no longer reflective of what most visitors pay for a day or two at Disney and visitors should be aware.
What do you think? Do you have questions about your trip to Disney World? Have you used Disney’s Genie+ app?
I havent been there since 1997 or so and I think back then you just showed up and took the rides. I tried making sense of this and am glad I havent been back and have no interest in going back there – all this crap you have to put up with just to get on a ride is a major turn off.
Me to. We live about an hour away from Disneyworld and 20 years ago when my kids were about 10 we bought the 4 day resident pass for $99 each for all 4 days (with exclusion dates). Simply 4 days, 4 different Disney parks, good entertainment, but the memory is also of long lines, with overpriced parking, water and food. Reading this, I am so glad my kids have grown and I have no interest in going back, and feel sorry for young families.
Why is Disney (and other attractions) trying to perfect the “reach all the way into the customers pocket and empty it every day” business model ?. I assume they are counting on no one going home saying to there friends “it was OK, but basically a rip off”. Sad.
haha. to your last point, I have a colleague who took his family there a few years ago, and when he came back he said he had paid around $10k for a week for his family and he said “never again!”
You kinda missed out actually… I worked at the parks for 2 years in the 90s. The 90s were probably one of the worst times to go for the reasons that you have described.
I remember waiting 4.5 hours to ride space mountain for the first time. Half the day spent in line for one ride.
What happened after that was they came up with a system called “fast pass” and its initial days it was like a way to make a reservation to go on a ride later in the day. Once you learned the system you could do pretty much everything in a day with much less time waiting in rides– maybe 20-30min per ride kind of thing. It was way better.
Sure, there was strategy involved and it didn’t always work out perfectly, but it was light years better than the 90s, and frankly light years better than Busch Gardens, Sea World, Universal, etc…
The system evolved over time, but the general concept was the similar. It transitioned over time from paper tickets to RFID wrist bands (fantastic really), and the rules changed some. Recently things have changed a bunch, and that it what the article is getting at.
It’s hard to tell if this will be an improvement or not, but the past 20 years the Disney parks have actually been very enjoyable for those who know how to do them. Believe it or not, the initial phases of the Covid reopening were absolutely fantastic.
The new changes that have just come online have made a lot of Disney Park lovers look at the whole thing and wonder if they’ve ruined it. It certainly looks like even more of a cash grab than it was previously, and worse now you’re not sure if for all of the cash that you’ll actually get to do what you want to do.
The last thing I’ll mention that has trended in the wrong direction is phone use. Naturally there is a phone app that you use to navigate the parks. It started out as a good thing– you can see what the wait time is for a ride on the other side of the park without walking there, or get a fast pass without walking there. Numbers suggest that now guests will spend 4 hours or more on the phone during a single day visit to plan the visit, order food, book rides, etc… This is a big problem IMO.
I’m not trying to be mean or snarky, but ironically what I’m saying is– you’re probably right to stay away at this point. There was a better period of time, and it was unfortunately between your last visit and now.
I appreciate your insights. I think both times I went with my family was in January, post holiday rush, so I dont really remember long lines, but can certainly imagine they would be there during many times. Agree with your assessment entirely, and I thank you for your thoughts and your explanations. I certainly hadnt followed the trajectory of the reservation system, etc, but can definitely see imagine how they were trying to improve thigns… now it just seems like a time consuming and confusing cash grab. I dont have kids and am not enamored with Disney so I cant imagine myself every returning.
Disneyland is Basically for tourists and for people from other countries. Do Californians get a discount?
They usually do, but annual passes have been restricted. Smaller 3-4 day deals still exist in Florida but I can’t speak to California.
FYI, the evening extended hours are now only available to those saying at a Disney Deluxe resort (the most expensive tier, usually starting at $500/night going to upwards of $1,000 per night for a standard room at peak times), a DVC resort (the Disney time shares), the Swan/Dolphin/Swan Reserve (technically off-site, but points hotels that are closer to some parks than Disney hotels), or Shades of Green (only available to military or ex-military guests).
None of the Good Neighbor hotels except the 4 above get evening extended hours anymore, nor do the Disney Moderate and Saver resorts.
See Disney’s description here: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/guest-services/extended-evening/
Disney could very well make flop after flop after flop and still survive bcause of the insane shakedown they do on tourists’ wallets here.
Haven’t been for 10 years but plan to go with the grandkids in the spring. And it’s only because of the discounted gift cards I purchased that makes this possible. Otherwise I wouldn’t care to go. Almost can’t wait to get it over with. It will definitely be My last trip There
Puy du Fou is much better. I’ve been to Disney Land and World and find them tacky and boring.
I am going for the first time. I will download the Genie+ app and My Disney Experience app for a smoother visit. Thanks for sharing all of this.
Like a lot of people who are older now, I have a lot of fond memories of Disney World. As kids we didn’t do fancy vacations and mostly stuck around Maryland, doing the beach thing. We did visit DW somewhat frequently because we had grandparents in FL although they were a good 90+ minutes each way from DW.
I was elementary school age when we first went shortly after its opening in 1971 or 72. As an older I rarely went except for a trip with my uncle when I was maybe later 20s and we had a good time. Honestly can’t recall why we went but glad we did.
More recently my wife and I went back in 2017 or 2018 during a supposedly slow time (November) and it was a zoo. Crowds everywhere. We ended up paying extra for access to the evening holiday event they had and at least at that point we had easy access to the rides that were opened since the crowd was much smaller.
With the stuff I read in this article it does sadden me how much of a money grab Disney has become. I find it amazing that parents pay so much for it. Even in 2018 when we went we chatted with a couple with a couple of kids and at that time they were paying around $5-6K for a week at Disney. Wow. I make good money but I would never pay that for the crowded experience and overpriced food.
Of course it isn’t only Disney but hotels, airlines, etc. that continue to downgrade service while increasing fees. We’ve hit a declining standard of living that I believe will continue to occur.
While I would like to go back with lower crowds I doubt I will return. I have nothing against technology (work in the field) but needing multiple apps just seems bizarre and paying for the use of them isn’t my thing.
Lots of things to see and do in life that cost nothing or much less than Disney.
$5-6k a week? I bet that’s enough to do a Zurich-Lucerne-Lauterbrunnen tour, and that’s way more magical than any Disney park is ever going to be!
I think the most important thing in a trip to Disneyworld is the date. Not even for free I would return in the summer, between Christmas and New Year and in the Spring Break. It’s an expensive torture!
By far the best time, with Disney and Universal not so crowded and the weather nice, is the first half of December. Even the third week, until the Christmas weekend starts, is nice, plus all the Christmas atmosphere.
I find the Disney parks prettier, but the Universal ones more entertaining. The problem is that it got too expensive. After having gone a few times, although I loved it, it is no longer a priority to return.