The long-rumored paid FastPass has appeared in Disney’s recent announcement around Disney Genie, Genie+ and Lightning Lane. Disney Genie is software that will, with the assistance of AI, attempt to offer a more personalized experience to the Walt Disney World guest, offering suggestions for touring plans, dining reservations, etc. Lighting Lane is set to replace the previous FastPass+ system, offering either full day use of the “Lightning Lane,” or individual purchases on a per ride basis, both in order to skip the standby line on standard attractions. “Premium” attractions will require an additional fee. The reaction from WDW fans seems to be exactly as expected: some praising Disney World as if they have just offered us the greatest innovation in theme park history, others decrying this as the worst thing Disney has ever done and vowing to never return. These reactions have played out time and time again, and neither seems to be very accurate.
Rumors of this change have been circulating for years, with recent changes at Disneyland Paris being the harbinger of this change at Disney World. Of the many comments that I have read in social media over the last few hours, a few clearly stick out to me.
Those who are embracing this are often doing so by noting that this is less expensive than they were expecting; that other parks like Universal or Six Flags already charge for front of the line access. Another common thread seems to be that they will enjoy this because it will allow them to skip the lines, and they don’t seem to think many others will take advantage of this option. The other major supportive comment on Genie+ this is that it is “optional,” that standby will still exist, and no one is making anyone spend more.
On the flip side, of course, are those decrying this as yet another cash grab from Disney World, after the cancellation of Magical Express, the addition of resort parking fees, and increased prices on food, merch, and ticket costs. Many in this camp seem to suggest this will stop them, or others, from being able to afford to go to Disney, with some painting this as the “last straw” regarding their Disney World vacations. The response generally seems more negative than positive, though there are quite a few forcefully defending this or expressing the approval of this change.
So, what is this really? Let’s call it what it really is: another money grab. There is nothing new really being offered here. With the old FastPass+ system everyone started with 3 FastPasses, and you could book more throughout the day. These allowed you to use the FastPass line (now Lightning Lane). But these were included in your ticket price. The new system actually restricts which rides are included, separating them into regular and premium attractions, and reduces the number of “passes” you start the day with. You are paying more for something that used to be included in your ticket price. The same way parking used to be included in your resort room price, and is now an extra fee, and Magical Express was included in your resort package price, and has been discontinued. Some of the ways this new system will work (ie: same day bookings only, starting at 7am) may be appealing to some, but that could have been done with the FastPass system. This really offers nothing new, other than a price increase, and an inherent unequalling of the Disney guest.
For me, that’s where the rub really is. I don’t get much annoyed by the private tours and hard ticket events (that don’t impact park hours) because they don’t really detract from the value of day guests’ tickets. FastPass was available, included in the tickets, of all guests. Genie+ and Lightning Lane aren’t, and as a result create an unequal playing field; one with a truly disheartening impact on many Disney guests. You see, there are quite a few folks out there defending this change by arguing that it is a choice, if you don’t want it, you don’t have to buy it. It’s just an exchange between the guest and Disney. But the reality is more complicated, and darker in some ways. This is not only between the purchaser of Genie+ and Disney; there are other people involved in the exchange: those folks in the standby lines. What you are really doing when you purchase/use the Lightning Lane is you are pushing back every person who is in the standby lane. If I am in position 100 in the standby line, and then 100 Lightning Lane users show up, I am now in position 200. You are giving Disney money to make your experience better, and make my experience worse. That’s really what is happening in this exchange. The attraction capacity doesn’t change. So you pay money to free up your time, but in doing so, you pass those wait times you are skipping on to everyone else.
Disney could have (and still could) mitigate this by still giving all guests 2 or 3 Lightning passes a day, and unlimited to those who purchase Genie+. While not equal, at least all guests would have some access to Lightning Lane lines; at least this would be closer to the value we already have in our tickets, and as people walk past you as you wait in standby, you’d know you got to “skip” some lines, too. As this system exists now, they want us to pay for something already included in our ticket price, and for those unwilling to do so, don’t worry, you get to pay more, too: you just pay with your time by standing in line longer for those who skipped the line.