Disney’s New Line System Is Driving Parkgoers Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Bonkers

Disney’s New Line System Is Driving Parkgoers Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Bonkers

In the five months since Walt Disney Co. announced the replacement of its 22-year-old FastPass system with the app-based Genie+, the Magic Kingdom has gone for some guests from being “the happiest place on earth” to one of the angriest ones. 

Genie+ is meant to help visitors cut down on the parks’ famously long wait times and is offered at both Walt Disney World in Florida and Disneyland Resort in California. But the verdict from vocal parkgoers so far is that the service is too expensive, creates longer wait times for nonusers, is riddled with technical issues, and requires users to be glued to their phones to reap any benefits. 

A family of four can expect to pay an additional $60 to $240 per day on top of the price of admission simply to cut a few lines—a perk that used to be free with the former FastPass system.

“I know it’s supposed to make my trip easier, but this app has made my life a living hell,” says Ava Martinez of Hoover, Ala., who visited Disney’s Hollywood Studios recently with her husband and two children.

She wasn’t the only one complaining.

The service has drawn objections on social media  since its inception, with more than 100,000 people signing a petition seeking to oust Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Chapek within weeks of the service’s launch in October 2021. Since then, a bevy of issues have been well documented by travel agencies and savvy Disney bloggers—two groups that ordinarily support the beloved brand. 

Bonnie Sawyer, a travel agent in Phoenix who has long specialized in planning Disney vacations, says the product is “very unpopular” among her clients for many reasons, foremost being the steep price tag. 

“Disney has been creatively nickel-and-diming their loyal customers for many years,” she says. “But for most people I talk to, Genie+ has been the final straw.”

The Genie’s Technical Issues

Disney’s New Line System Is Driving Parkgoers Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Bonkers

Here’s the quick primer on how Genie+ works. Anyone who downloads the Disneyland or Disney World app on the iTunes or Google Play stores gains access to a free service called Disney Genie, which helps guests navigate the parks with location-based dining recommendations and real-time updates on wait times for attractions. The paid Genie+ add-on costs $15 per person per day at Disney World and $20 per day at Disneyland, and is the ticket to actually cutting those queues via its so-called “Lightning Lanes,” formerly known as “FastPasses.” Signup for Genie+ happens daily within the app.

In practice, the fact that Genie+ is activated on a day-by-day basis forces parents—and other, less-bedraggled adults—to plan on the fly, through the day, starting early in the morning. Lightning Lane reservations open at 7 a.m., and users can secure them for only one ride at a time. A second reservation becomes available two hours after the parks open to the general public, at 9 a.m. Lightning Lane bookings can then be made every two hours, or after the previous one has been redeemed, whichever comes first.

Sound complicated? It’s also the starting point for a lot of things to go wrong.

For starters, not all Lightning Lane reservations are included in the base Genie+ price. Cutting the line for popular attractions can cost an additional $7 to $20 per person, per ride, depending on when you travel and which park you’re visiting. While you’re allowed to hold up to two of these “premium” reservations at a time, they tend to sell out almost immediately after becoming available. 

As such, this is a system that requires not only time and money but also luck.

Disney’s New Line System Is Driving Parkgoers Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Bonkers

“I was ready to go before the sun came up—and refreshed and refreshed because the app wasn’t working,” says Sandy Chapman, a cosmetologist from St. Petersburg, Fla. “By 7:03 [a.m.], all the big rides were gone.” 

“The only way I got any fast passes was by babysitting the app all day long to snag rides as they became available. It was exhausting,” Chapman adds.

Mark Williams, a software engineer from Nashville, had other technical struggles. “It wouldn’t load any times or let me select any members of my party,” he explains. (The issue persisted through his multiday visit, although Disney offered a partial refund for one day.) 

Adding salt to the wound for many is the fact that the previous system was user-friendlier and didn’t cost a penny. “I spent $120 for my family to get access to the same FastPass system that used to be free, and all I got to show for it was a shorter wait time at Winnie the Pooh and Aladdin’s Magic Carpets,” says Amy Turner, a mother of three from Fresno, Calif., who visited the Magic Kingdom last month with her sister’s family.

Disney’s New Line System Is Driving Parkgoers Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Bonkers

What’s more, inaccurate wait time estimates on the app have caused some to purchase Lightning Lane passes for rides whose lines may not have been very long to begin with. 

Multiple parkgoers said the costly early mornings and the inability to have anything substantial to show for their efforts started their days off on the wrong foot. “You know it’s going to be a rough morning when you haven't even gotten into the park yet and you’re already pissed off," says mother-of-two Martinez.

Asked to respond to the criticisms, a Disney spokesperson tells Bloomberg: “After just five months, we’ve received great guest feedback but continue to listen and find ways to even further enhance this new service and deliver a great experience.”

Escalating Costs

Disney seems to be listening, if the company’s service adjustments are any indication. The spokesperson tells Bloomberg that beginning last week through Aug. 7, Disney World would be including three attractions in the basic  Genie+ fee that had previously required an additional fee: Space Mountain, Frozen Ever After, and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway.

However, many of the parks' most popular attractions are still priced a la carte: $15 per guest to skip the line of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, $14 per guest for Avatar Flight of Passage, $10 per guest for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and $9 per guest to bypass the line at Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure.

And those are dynamic prices. When the parks are particularly busy during holidays and weekends, passes can climb $2 to $5 apiece to reach as high as $20 on select rides such as Radiator Springs Racers at Disneyland. With Disney anticipating peak crowds over spring break and beyond, those “peak” figures will likely become commonplace charges. 

Disney’s New Line System Is Driving Parkgoers Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Bonkers

Steve Davis, a food service manager from Plano, Texas, says he spent nearly $600 on the base level of Genie+ over the course of a week for his family of five, plus $300 on a la carte ride reservations. “Every ride we went on cost almost as much as taking my whole family out to a night at the movies back home,” he says. The alternative—waiting in line for two to three hours per attraction—wasn’t feasible. “I already paid a fortune to get my family to [Disney World]. I didn’t want to waste it standing in lines all day,” he explains.

Those costs add up for Disney, too. In the company’s fourth-quarter earnings report in November, Disney boasted a revenue increase in the parks division of $5.5 billion, up from $2.7 billion from a year earlier. On the company’s most recent earnings call, CEO Chapek cited higher park attendance, hotel room rate increases, and “the introduction of Genie+ and Lightning Lane” as contributing to the increase. One Disney blogger’s back-of-the-envelope calculation is that Genie+ alone might rake in $300 million for the company this year. 

Few Are Happy, Except the Shareholders

Even for Disney employees and customers who don’t buy in, Genie+ can create headaches. Guests without the fast passes, for instance, might jump into an apparently short line, only to be bypassed by hordes of people arriving with Lightning Lane passes, and staff funneling both sets of customers into a single line. One Disney employee who was advertising a 130-minute wait time for the popular roller coaster Slinky Dog Dash at Disney’s Hollywood Studios put it this way: “If it wasn’t for the Lightning Lane, this would only take half an hour, but the standby line is constantly interrupted by a stream of people with [virtual] return times.”

Disney’s New Line System Is Driving Parkgoers Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Bonkers

Park employees end up dealing with the angry aftermath. “I thought guests were angry about having to wear [face] masks all last year, but that was nothing compared to the complaints I hear all day about Lightning Lane issues,” says an employee working near the Avatar Flight of Passage attraction at Disney's Animal Kingdom, who requested not to be named for fear of reprisal.

“Everyone who bought [Genie+ access] is mad because it doesn’t work like they want it to, and everyone who didn’t buy it is mad because they have to wait in longer lines,” the worker continues. “Pretty much the only people not angry are the shareholders."

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.