Is it worth upgrading to Genie+? Testing out Disney Genie as it debuts at Disney World

Britt Kennerly
Florida Today
  • Disney's much anticipated Genie, which debuted Tuesday, is not an app itself, but a tool built right into the My Disney Experience app.
  • There are two versions of the tool: Genie, which is free, and Genie+, which costs $15 daily per person.
  • There's a Lightning Lane per-use option, at $7 to $15 depending on the day and the attraction.

The Genie is out of the bottle at Walt Disney World, granting let-me-skip-that-line wishes and meet-and-greet dreams.

Customers have taken to social media to discuss the pros, cons and first-day kinks of the new Genie system.

Disney's much anticipated Genie, which debuted Tuesday, is not an app itself, but a tool built right into the My Disney Experience app (which boasts a new icon).

There are two versions of the tool: Genie, which is free, and Genie+, which costs $15 daily per person. Either version is a planner's dream, allowing the building of a personalized itinerary from the ground up with Genie doing a lot of the work and, hopefully, saving time in the process.

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Travel specialist and Disney pass holder Stacey Cox and her husband, Danny, use an AR filter to time-hop 25 years ago on Walt Disney World's new Genie tool. Built into the My Disney Experience app, it allows users to take a selfie in front of old versions of Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom as part of Walt Disney World's 50th-anniversary celebratoin.

Stacey Cox and her husband, Danny, were at Magic Kingdom early Tuesday. She's a travel specialist with My Mickey Vacation Travel and wanted to see how Genie works and how it can best benefit her clients. The couple paid the $15 each for Genie+ and headed out from their home in Orlando, Florida.

"At 7 a.m., we were able to book our first attraction," she said. "We chose Haunted Mansion, and the time we got was 9:30," she said. "So we got here at 9 a.m., went to Haunted Mansion and were on the ride within 90 seconds – it was very quick." 

Genie+ immediately offered the option for the next ride.

"One was available right away, and it gave suggestions, too," Cox said. "Once you use those one time, you can't book that again the rest of the day, but it gave options based on what you've put in as your interests. I'd put in pirates, princesses, characters, Halloween, and it suggested Pirates of the Caribbean next."

How does Disney Genie work?

In a nutshell, you can go with the free Genie to help chart your course, inputting information that helps the tool construct a suggested "My Day" itinerary, with dining options, character meet-and-greets and up to eight desired attractions. As the day progresses, Genie will update with times of cavalcade, standby wait times for every ride, optimized plans based on the park, and users' selected preferences: Pirates? Princesses? Food? 

Or, you can opt for Disney Genie+, a paid upgrade that allows guests to get shorter waits for many attractions by using the new "Lightning Lane" – that's the dearly departed (and free) FastPass queues. The upgrade can be paid directly from your phone. Users can make their first Disney Genie+ Lightning Lane selection the day of their visit at 7 a.m. EDT.

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For all users, there's a Lightning Lane per-use option, at $7 to $15 depending on the day and the attraction (and there are more than 40 eligible experiences across Disney's four parks). Guests without Genie+ may purchase and select an arrival window, one at a time, for up to two attractions a day.

Cox said she loved the fun aspects of Genie, like an AR filter that allows users to snap a selfie in front of old versions of Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom.

She thought the cost of Genie+ is worth it, especially for guests who need to get the most out of the day.

For those who want the most out of a trip, she said, "I think it'll be 100% worth it, the best thing for those people," Cox said. "This is going to cut so much time off their day – they're not going to be standing in lines so much, and can really plan their visit."

Mixed reviews of Disney Genie

But even for the savviest Disneygoers, Genie's usefulness was in the eyes of the beholder. Words like "flop" and "disappointment" were sprinkled across Twitter and Facebook. Many annual pass holders on Disney-centered Facebook pages were blunt about the paid Lightning Lane options, especially as they come on the heels of a hike in annual pass prices.

"There is no easy menu to see all your park days in a row," @AliciaStella tweeted. "You must go back to the calendar every time and select a day manually to view additional reservations. Disney World took something as simple as My Plans, with a scrolling list of reservations, and made it convoluted and hard."

Some details might take a number cruncher to figure out until users are familiar with the system – like the rules on booking those Lightning Lane selections.

Disney Genie shows the standby wait times and Lightning Lane pricing for two of Magic Kingdom's most popular rides on the morning of the new planning tool's debut at Walt Disney World.

WDWMagic.com explains it like this:

Suppose your first Lightning Lane selection is further out than two hours from park opening, for example, 2 p.m. In that case, you can make a second Lightning Lane selection 120 minutes following the official park opening time. Example: At 7 a.m., you book a Lightning Lane selection for Haunted Mansion at 2 p.m. in Magic Kingdom. The park opens at 9 a.m. so you are then eligible to make another Lightning Lane selection for a ride time from 11 a.m.

Some Disney fans are willing to give it a chance.

Danae Still, a local pass holder, is the mom of a 1-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.

On Genie's first day, Still's husband and their son headed to Disney's Hollywood Studios as she navigated Genie possibilities from home.

She could see the advantages of Genie+ for planners, but as a frequent parkgoer, she preferred seeing where the day and attractions take her and her family.

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"I think the struggle with short visits is that you have to fit a lot into the day," Still said. "I just wanted to have a casual schedule with a few things to do, but it didn't even schedule everything I wanted. Instead, it gave me dining recommendations I didn't want."

Her family "definitely" won't be paying for Lightning Lanes, she said.

"We live locally, and I don't see any reason to pay that kind of money regularly to ride rides we've already been on hundreds of times," she said. "My son is actually tall enough he can ride almost everything. I think for the big attractions, we'll ride them if the wait time is good. If not, oh well."

Contact Kennerly at bkennerly@floridatoday.com. Twitter: @bybrittkennerly