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.
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?