By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2020, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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The Basics: Visiting the Disney World Theme Parks and Genie+



By Dave Shute

The best visits to Walt Disney World are built from four key choices:


These last–Disney World’s Early Entry, Genie+, and Individual Lightning Lane programs, all new in late 2021–are particularly important.

Wise use of them can substantially reduce your time spent waiting in line. In contrast to what they replaced, the former FastPass+ program, you can make good plans the day of a visit. However, requirements to stay in a hotel eligible for all key components of them, and to make daily theme park reservations, means there’s a huge payoff to planning ahead, even so.

AN INTRODUCTION TO WALT DISNEY WORLD AND ITS FOUR THEME PARKS

Walt Disney World occupies about 40 square miles southwest of Orlando Florida, making it just a little smaller than San Francisco and almost twice the size of the land area of Manhattan.

It contains hotels, shopping, two waterparks, a campground, and most significantly, four theme parks: Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Magic Kingdom.

Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom

The Magic Kingdom is the quintessential Disney theme park and the heart of Walt Disney World.

Inspired by the original Disneyland, it presents iconic attractions ranging from Dumbo to the Haunted Mansion. Loved by the young and old, it is particularly suited to younger guests.

For those tall and mature enough to enjoy everything in the park, all its best can be seen in two full days—shorter days will suit the youngest visitors.

Epcot

Epcot

Think of Epcot as being two parks combined into one:

  • What used to be Future World, but is now being transformed into “World Nature,” “World Celebration,” and “World Discovery,” somewhat explores ideas, technology, and the planet Earth, and has most of the attractions
  • World Showcase suggests a permanent World’s Fair, with an intriguing mix of attractions, cultural experiences, themed architecture, shopping, and dining.
"France" at Epcot

“France” at Epcot

The favorite Disney World park of some adults, Epcot has recently deepened its attractiveness to children–historically Epcot’s weakest feature. Epcot has opened over the past few years new and newly reimagined attractions aimed at the younger set, including Frozen Ever After, a Frozen Meet and Greet, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, and Harmonious, a Disney-character-oriented evening show.

On May 27, another broadly appealing attraction—albeit one with a 42” minimum height requirement–Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, opened. Also under construction and expected to open in 2022 is a walk-through attraction about water, “Journey of Water, Inspired by ‘Moana’.”

Epcot repays attention and exploration, and for those old enough to get it, takes more than a day to appreciate. The youngest visitors may wish to devote half a day to it.

Tower of Terror Disney's Hollywood Studios from yourfirstvisit.net

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Disney’s Hollywood Studios celebrates movies, music, TV and other popular entertainments via rides and shows.

Recently completing major replacement projects that include new Toy Story and Star Wars lands, Disney’s Hollywood Studios now takes more than a day to see with reasonable waits, especially since many days of the year demand for its rides via Genie+ and Individual Lighting Lane purchases quickly can exceed supply, leading to some spectacular waits for those who are shut out.

Many of its best rides are thrill rides, so the youngest visitors will have only half a day or so’s worth of appropriate things to do, even with the opening of Slinky Dog Dash,  a “family friendly” roller coaster with a 38 inch height requirement, and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, an all-ages dark ride.

Toy Story Land (c) Disney

For folks old enough for its thrill rides, challenges in seeing attractions with reasonable waits make Hollywood Studios best seen over two partial days.

Disney's Animal Kingdom

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Disney’s Animal Kingdom combines the all-ages appeal of the Magic Kingdom with the repayment to intellectual curiosity that used to be a key value of Epcot.

Kiliminjaro Safaris Disney's Animal Kingdom

Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Its rides and shows appeal to almost everyone, but the park best showcases itself to those who also bring an interest in animals—real, imagined, and/or blue.

Before then an easy day, Animal Kingdom visits lengthened with the opening of an entirely new land, Pandora: World of Avatar with two new rides, Na’vi River Journey and Flight of Passage, in 2017.

Animal Kingdom is now an easy two day park and a harder one day park. Only a few of its attractions are inappropriate for the youngest, so target it for more than half a day with the littlest ones.

The Magic Kingdom from yourfirstvisit.net

Those first timers who are able to return for another trip later may come on their first visit with younger kids for just a few days at Magic Kingdom, returning later to both see more of that park and see the other three parks as the kids grow and develop.

First time visitors tall and mature enough to see everything on a once in a lifetime trip should budget the equivalent of seven full days in the parks, divided over eight or nine calendar days—two  at Magic Kingdom, and two minus at each of the other three parks.

THE BASICS OF EARLY ENTRY, GENIE+, AND INDIVIDUAL LIGHTNING LANES

Early Entry, Genie+, and Individual Lightning Lanes (“ILL”) are the principal tools for limiting the amount of time you spend waiting in lines. Each of these is built into my recommended itineraries. There are two other tools that I’ll discuss later.

Early Entry. Guests at 46 eligible hotels—every one of those on this page—get at least an extra half an hour in the parks at the beginning of the day, every day. Most of the time, if you arrive at the park tapstiles 30 minutes (earlier at Hollywood Studios, and earlier still during the most crowded weeks of the year) before Early Entry is scheduled to begin, then you will typically be able to see one to three rides that typically build long waits quickly with little in the way of waits. At the eligible hotels—31 Disney owned, and 15 other hotels—Early Entry comes free with your hotel reservation. More on Early Entry is here.

Genie+ is a paid service. In return for a single daily, per-person fee–$15+ tax at the time I write this—you will be able to schedule return times for some of the 50 or so rides available through Genie+. Think of it as being similar to a restaurant reservation.

You can book only one Genie+ at a time per person, and can’t book another until either two hours have passed or you have fully tapped in for your next Genie+ ride, whichever comes first. With Genie+, you can see in a day with low waits two to half a dozen or more rides that traditionally build longer waits quickly (fewer at Hollywood Studios and during high-crowd weeks; more at Magic Kingdom and during low-crowd weeks). Genie+ is available to anyone but can sell out, and no particular hotel guests have special privileges. More on Genie+ is here.

Individual Lightning Lane (“ILL”) rides are one or two rides per park where you pay a specific price per person per ride to book an appointment on the ride that day. Unlike Genie+, you can select your time from available slots—in Genie+, if you want a specific ride, you must take the next available slot. Guests at the 31 Disney owned hotels, and at 4 others, get exclusive access to ILL bookings beginning at 7a. Everyone else can’t begin booking ILL until the park of that ride crosses its scheduled opening. As a result, guests eligible for 7a bookings can have a huge advantage, as they often scarf up most or all of a day’s allotment of ILL for the most popular ILL rides before other guests are even eligible. More on Individual Lightning Lane rides is here.

All these rides are also available for no additional cost, but at the price of potentially much more time waiting in line or the risk of not being able to join a boarding group.

Lowest wait itinerary design optimally includes 7a booking of ILL, seeing the most popular ride(s) you’d otherwise need to book via Genie+ during Early Entry, and booking the next wave of Genie+ rides to fill out the rest of your day. That’s in general how my recommended itineraries work. And as a consequence, you need to stay in a Disney owned resort, or one of the four non-Disney resorts, that have access to both Early Entry and 7a booking of ILL, to be able to schedule the lowest-wait visits.

There are two other tools available to lower waits, one for everyone, and one for a subset of guests.

Available to everyone is entering lines for rides at the end of a park’s scheduled day. Actual waits typically drop off precipitously in the last hour of operation, at least partly because posted wait times are inflated at the end of the day to discourage guests from filling lines and causing overtime. But you can enter a line as late as a minute before scheduled park close and still ride it, so this is a sound option for seeing one last high-demand ride with a lower wait than you’ll face earlier in the day.

The second tool is “Extended Evening Hours,” available only to guests of 24 Disney World hotels—the Disney deluxes, the Disney DVC hotels, and 4 others. Typically, one night per week Epcot and Magic Kingdom (most commonly Mondays at Epcot and Wednesdays at Magic Kingdom, but it varies) are open an extra two hours after formal park close, with most popular rides operating throughout those two hours. This can be a particularly time-efficient way to see rides at Magic Kingdom. More on Extended Evening Hours is here.

INDIVIDUAL LIGHTNING LANE, GENIE+ AND EARLY ENTRY PRIORITIES AT MAGIC KINGDOM

Splash Mountain at the Magic Kingdom

Splash Mountain at the Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom has both more attractions and a wider range of attractions than any other Disney World theme park. For first time visitors with kids old enough to enjoy everything, favorites will almost certainly include many of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, the Disney Enchantment evening fireworks show, Enchanted Tales with Belle (when it re-opens), the afternoon Festival of Fantasy parade, the Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise, Peter Pan’s Flight, Pirates of the Caribbean, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, and, when it opens in late 2022 or 2023, TRON Lightcycle Run.

All of these rides that are currently open except for the evening fireworks show are accessible via Disney’s new paid systems, “Individual Lightning Lane” (currently Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) or Genie+ (the rest). Among the dozen or so rides not on the list above but also available in Genie+, most notable for kids old enough to enjoy everything are Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, “it’s a small world,” Mickey’s PhilharMagic, and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

Magic Kingdom does Early Entry differently than any other Disney World park. First, only two of its lands are open for Early Entry—Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. Second, almost every ride in these lands is open during Early Entry—in Fantasyland only character meets are not available, and in Tomorrowland only Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor is not open. Since Fantasyland has many very short duration rides just a short walk apart, you can knock off several rides there during Early Entry, so long as you avoid Seven Dwarfs.

Given current guest preferences and wait patterns, the most time-efficient way to visit Magic Kingdom is to

  • See Seven Dwarfs Mine Train via Individual Lightning Lane,
  • See Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, and Space Mountain during or right after Early Entry
  • Then use Genie+ for a few other rides, with your highest priorities for Genie+ being first Jungle Cruise, and then the other more popular rides outside of the Early Entry lands—Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Haunted Mansion.

Genie+ can also save you time at Magic Kingdom on other rides, so long as you pick nearby enough rides that you don’t dissipate the wait saving by extra walking. It can also save time at the Festival of Fantasy parade for those looking for a great viewing spot, as it will permit a good viewing spot without needing to line up along the parade route so early.

INDIVIDUAL LIGHTNING LANE, GENIE+ AND EARLY ENTRY PRIORITIES AT DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM

The best attractions at Disney’s Animal Kingdom are Flight of Passage in Pandora, Kilimanjaro Safaris in Africa, Expedition Everest in Asia, and DINOSAUR in Dinoland USA. In the next group are Festival of the Lion King in Africa, Finding Nemo: The Big Blue… and Beyond and, on especially hot days, Kali River Rapids.

Expedition Everest

Expedition Everest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

All of these rides are accessible via Disney’s new paid systems, “Individual Lightning Lane” (currently Flight of Passage) or Genie+ (the rest). Among the other rides available in Genie+, most notable is Na’vi River Journey—a minor ride, but one whose lines can quickly build due to its propinquity to the wildly-popular Flight of Passage and its recent opening.

A smaller group of these rides is available to those eligible for Early Entry. Not on the Early Entry list are Kilimanjaro, Kali, Lion King, and Nemo.

Given current guest preferences and wait patterns, the most time-efficient way to visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom is to

  • See Flight of Passage via Individual Lightning Lane
  • See Na’vi River Journey during Early Entry, and
  • Use Genie+ for a few other rides, with your highest priorities for Genie+ being Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, Festival of the Lion King, and Finding Nemo: The Big Blue… and Beyond.

INDIVIDUAL LIGHTNING LANE, GENIE+ AND EARLY ENTRY PRIORITIES AT EPCOT

Epcot's Future World from yourfirstvisit.net

The Imagination Pavilion at Epcot

The best at Epcot includes (in alphabetical order) The American Adventure, Frozen Ever After, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, the evening show Harmonious, Mission: SPACE; Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Soarin’ Around the World, Spaceship Earth, and Test Track. Experienced Epcot fans would likely add Turtle Talk with Crush in the Seas Pavilion and both the Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along and Impressions de France in the France Pavilion.

Most of these rides are  accessible via Disney’s new paid systems, either “Individual Lightning Lane” (Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind), or Genie+ (most of the rest—not, though, The American Adventure, Harmonious, or Impressions de France).

Other, more minor, rides are also available in Genie+.

Little in Epcot currently much repays Genie+, with the exceptions of Remy, Test Track and Frozen Ever After. A particular value to Genie+ for Test Track is that the ride not infrequently closes due to weather or other issues, so Genie+ helps with getting a return time if it is closed during your window.

Most of these better attractions are also available during Early Entry, including Remy and Frozen Ever After—although not The American Adventure, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, Harmonious, or Impressions de France.

INDIVIDUAL LIGHTNING LANE, GENIE+ AND EARLY ENTRY PRIORITIES AT DISNEY’S HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS

Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Disney's Hollywood Studios from yourfirstvisit.net

Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

The best attractions at Disney’s Hollywood Studios are Slinky Dog Dash, Rise of the Resistance, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, and Tower of Terror. In the next group are Toy Story Mania, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run (more appealing to deep Star Wars fans than to the general public), Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, and, when it reopens later in 2022, Fantasmic.

All of these rides except the not-yet reopened Fantasmic are accessible via Disney’s new paid systems, “Individual Lightning Lane” (currently Rise of the Resistance) or Genie+ (the rest). Among the half-dozen attractions other than those noted above available in Genie+, none much needs Genie+, although it can be handy for the scheduled shows like Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration, and Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage.

Frozen Sing-Along at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Frozen Sing-Along at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

A smaller group of these rides is available to those eligible for Early Entry. All those listed above as “best” and “next group” are on the Early Entry list, as are the minor rides Star Tours and the skippable Alien Swirling Saucers.

Given current guest preferences and wait patterns, how quickly ILL for Rise of the Resistance and Genie+ for Slinky Dog Dash, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway sell out, and how hard it can be on medium or high crowd days to get more than 2 or 3 high-priority Genie+ bookings, it can be very hard to do the Studios without substantial waits.

The most time-efficient way to visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios is to

  • See Rise of the Resistance via Individual Lightning Lane,
  • See Slinky Dog Dash during Early Entry (when almost everyone else in the park is heading for Rise of the Resistance), and
  • Use Genie+ for a few other rides, with your highest priorities for Genie+ being Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run (if you are interested), Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Tower of Terror, and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.  Fantasmic may join this group after it reopens, if it has Genie+ eligibility.

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