Visiting the parks at Walt Disney World has changed dramatically since the pandemic. To say it’s become a sometimes frustrating chore just to go to a theme park is an understatement!
Park reservations are required. Even if you have a ticket, if you don’t have a park reservation, you aren’t getting in. Reservations are required for everything! Quite frankly, the last time I was in Orlando, I didn’t even bother going into a WDW park – I didn’t feel like going through the hassle of it all! I rarely, if ever, used FastPass when it was free. Now having to pay for it for some attractions just annoys me. To me, going to a WDW park using Lightning Lane and Genie+ just adds too much planning and stress to a visit.
Well – that’s just me. There are many Disney fans willing to continue to fork over their $$$ no matter how much Disney raises the prices or how many things they start adding additional charges for, or how many hoops you have to jump through for a family vacation. There are many that don’t feel it’s a hassle to go through all you need to go through to get to have a day at the park.
The complimentary Disney Genie service creates your Disney day inspired by your party’s top interests. It also grants you planning features, including a personalized itinerary creator that seamlessly and smartly maps out your visit with updates that continue from morning to night. And, Disney Genie can even remind you when you’re eligible to make dining and activity reservations in advance.
Because Disney can’t just give you a full service for free without adding on a cost – In addition to getting all of the features that come with the complimentary Disney Genie service, purchasing Disney Genie+ service will offer more convenience and flexibility, for $15 plus tax (USD) per ticket per day (because the cost of a ticket into the park isn’t already too high).
You can add Disney Genie+ service to an existing ticket or package—or select Disney Genie+ service as an add-on option for a new ticket purchase.
WDW Park Using Lightning Lane
A Lightning Lane entrance is a new queue available at select attractions and experiences through options Guests can purchase to save time in line. To use a Lightning Lane entrance, a Guest must select an arrival window through the My Disney Experience mobile app before embarking on the attraction or experience.
There are 2 ways to purchase and select arrival windows for Lightning Lane entrances—through Disney Genie+ service and as an individual purchase. The selection of available experiences with Lightning Lane entrances differs for each option.
Option #1: Through Disney Genie+ Service
Guests who have purchased Disney Genie+ service may select the next available arrival window for its Lightning Lane entrances, one at a time, throughout regular park hours. More than 40 attractions and entertainment experiences across the Walt Disney World Resort theme parks are included in the service. Disney Genie+ service costs $15 per ticket per day.
Option #2: By Making an Individual Lightning Lane Entrance Purchase
Lightning Lane entrance as an “á la carte” purchase will be offered at a few of our most popular attractions. Pricing will vary by date, attraction and park. This option can be purchased by all Guests—with or without the purchase of Disney Genie+ service—and lets you choose a time to arrive at the Lightning Lane entrance at up to 2 attractions each day (purchased one at a time).
How to Use the Services
So now that I’ve given you the info about these services, here are some tips on the best way to utilize them in each park.
One Day at the Magic Kingdom
Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom is an Icon. For many Florida guests, Walt Disney World’s flagship theme park is the symbol of all Disney theme parks. Although it’s not the original park, it is certainly much larger. It sees more visitors every year than Disneyland could hope for. Due to its size and popularity, you may be surprised that you can enjoy the park in just one day. Unfortunately, you can’t do everything in the park. However, you can have a well-rounded experience by visiting each land and the top attractions.
Here are the best strategies for approaching the Magic Kingdom in one day when you include Disney’s new premium Genie Plus and Lightning Lane services.
Rope Drop and Other Early Entry
If you want to experience as much of the Magic Kingdom in one day as possible, part of your plan must include “rope drop.” Simply put, rope drop is the term used for the early arrival time for resort guests. You can enter the gates of the park and venture down Main Street USA thirty minutes before the official opening time.
Being among those first guests when the roped-off area is officially opened is key to getting more out of the park’s attractions before the park becomes crowded. Morning and evening are the best times for attractions so if you like sleep, consider taking a midday break after hitting it hard for the first four hours and return to the park later.
Another way to get early access to the park and get more from Magic Kingdom in one day is by making a dining reservation that is available one hour before the official park hours. This can also be a good way to fill up on food and meet several Disney characters all in one place. It’s a huge time saver if characters are part of your ideal Disney experience.
Lightning Lanes are the new Fastpass lines. But not all Lightning Lanes are accessible through the Fastpass+ replacement, Genie+. Some attractions are set aside for a la carte purchase of Lightning Lane access. Until February, Each Walt Disney World theme park had two major attractions set aside for this individual purchase option. Now through August, one of Magic Kingdom’s Lightning Lane attractions, Space Mountain, is included with Genie+. The other Lightning Lane attraction, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train remains an a la carte attraction.
When purchasing Lightning Lane attractions, be aware that you can only select the next available entry time. You won’t be able to pick and choose when you want to visit the attraction – so early morning you may be given a return time for the attraction sometime in the evening. You also need to reserve your return window fairly early on.
Popular rides with long wait times fill up quickly. Although trains are high-capacity vehicles that lead to typically shorter wait times (compare Big Thunder Mountain to the other Mountain attraction wait times), the addition of Lightning Lane’s preferred access slows down the standby line considerably on busy days.
You can have a lot of fun using the free Genie app, but it will never deliver the best way to do Magic Kingdom in one day. It’s better for long-time visitors/annual pass holders who have done everything and would find the side quests and suggestions refreshing and new. If you use it on your trip, be prepared to walk a lot. You may not always get the best time-saving suggestions and you will frequently be sent on inefficient courses. You’ll also get frequent ads to promote upgrading to Genie+.
When you use Genie+ you have access to most Lightning Lanes in the park. You can always reserve the next available return window for a Lightning Lane attraction. However, you can only do one at a time or wait 2 hours to make another. That means the farther out you reserve a Lightning Lane that’s more time using standby lines until you get to that point.
You can stack Lightning Lane reservations by waiting two hours and scheduling two rides with overlapping windows. This “hack” allows you to schedule later Lightning Lane reservations without worrying too much about losing an advantage. The only trouble is, that you are putting a lot of pressure on the end of the day. Pacing your day is usually the better of the two options.
The best thing to do is schedule Lightning Lane first thing for late morning/mid-day, knock out a few of the big ones with Standby early on and then start using Lightning Lane when crowds get heavy. In the case of the Magic Kingdom, try hitting Big Thunder and Splash Mountain right away. You can visit other big attractions like The Haunted Mansion, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and Space Mountain at night. The standby lines should be tolerable then if you can’t reserve Lightning Lane for these attractions earlier.
One Day at EPCOT
EPCOT is the second-largest park at Walt Disney World n(Animal Kingdom is the largest). EPCOT was actually conceived of as two separate parks before they merged into one large one. Now Future World and World Showcase have embraced a more unifying theme. I have to admit, it’s really hard for me to do EPCOT in just one day. Two days is even short when you consider everything you’ll find in this park. However, completing EPCOT in one day can be done very easily in terms of being sure to visit each of the park’s themed areas.
One key to doing EPCOT in one day is to take a figure 8 approach to explore the park. Start with World Nature on the west side of the northern entrance. Then Cross through World Celebration and circle World Showcase starting with Mexico and Ending with Canada. Then cross over again to World Discovery. You can also do a peanut shape, beginning with the west side of the World Showcase, to save steps. For me though, it always feels like traffic flows better clockwise around the lagoon. You can start with World Discovery in the East and end with World Nature, too, if you like. I just prefer to end the long day with the thrill rides, and I enjoy the nighttime atmosphere in World Discovery.
Rope Drop and Other Early Entry
You definitely want to show up before opening and stay until close if you hope to get the most out of EPCOT in one day. Be at the gate at least 30 minutes early. They open the front of the park at that time and you can position yourself for when they drop the ropes. This is a good chance to tackle a couple of attractions early before any real lines form. In this regard, you may head over to World Discovery for the biggest thrill attractions in the park. However, you can also use the time to casually enjoy the Seas and Land pavilions, because they can get really busy too.
You can also make a dining reservation for one hour before opening. When you do this you can benefit from a big breakfast and a lot of character interaction so you won’t have to wait in character lines later.
There are usually two Lightning Lanes for every park that you can’t get with Genie+. You must purchase them a la carte. In February, however, Disney moved to include Frozen Ever After in Genie +. At least until August, the only individual Lightning Lane attraction is Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. Frozen is in Norway near the eastern entrance to World Showcase. Ratatouille is in France, on the other side of the lagoon. If you enter the park through the west gate near the Disney Skyliner station and Beach Club resort, it will be the first pavilion on your right.
Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure is the newest Walt Disney World attraction, so it could be a good idea to purchase Lightning Lane just for that ride. Just be aware that you cannot make other Lightning Lane reservations without either canceling your reservation, using your reservation or waiting two hours before making another reservation. You can make your reservation as early as 7:00 a.m., so by the time the park opens at 9:00 a.m., you will be able to make another Lightning Lane reservation through Genie+ if you time it right.
When you use Genie+, always remember you can only select the next available time for any given attraction, but more popular attractions fill up quickly, so your first selection may be later at night depending on how crowded the park is. If you make a reservation for several hours ahead, you will not be able to make another selection until at least two hours goes by or you cancel the reservation.
The 2-hour holding period makes it difficult to schedule one ride right after another, but it does enable ride stacking which means that you can load the end of your day with rides in overlapping windows. Both strategies are valid for visiting EPCOT in one day. However, I would not get too obsessed with scheduling Lightning Lane for attractions that are way out of your range in this massive park.
One Day at Animal Kingdom
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the largest theme park in Walt Disney World. But don’t be fooled by its size. It’s one of the easiest parks to finish in a single day. In part, this is because nearly 1/5 of the massive park is given to Kilimanjaro Safaris. This single attraction is the park’s number one draw – Pandora: The World of Avatar notwithstanding. In addition to that huge cut to your total walking distance, the park is the easiest to navigate and explore in a short time.
However, that doesn’t mean there’s little to do. You need an Animal Kingdom one-day plan. Animal Kingdom features all kinds of tucked-away trails and in-plain-site exhibits to keep you entertained at any pace you prefer. These self-guided attractions make up the bulk of your experience at Animal Kingdom, but there are a few shows and a smattering of rides.
Rope Drop at Animal Kingdom
Part of any good single-day strategy should be rope-drop. That goes for Disney resort guests with an Animal Kingdom one-day plan. Get to the park before it opens. Be among the first to enter the park gates before the official opening time. When they open access to the rest of the park, you will have virtually no wait for the first couple of rides you attack. Be sure to arrive at the gate at least 30 minutes before opening.
The first thing to discuss for an Animal Kingdom one-day plan is what are the hottest attractions and which of those is Lightning Lane. Up until February each of the Walt Disney World parks had two major attractions set aside for individual Lightning Lane purchases. That meant that these rides weren’t included with Genie+ and would have to be bought separately if you wanted Lightning Lane access to the rides. The changes affect all but Animal Kingdom, which still has Lightning Lane for Flight of Passage and has made no announcement about incorporating Expedition Everest into Genie+. One explanation for this could be that Everest is currently down for refurbishment.
If you plan to visit Animal Kingdom this summer, you may find Expedition Everest has been added to the list of Genie+ attractions – only time will tell.
When you purchase Lightning Lane for an attraction, you can schedule your arrival to the Lightning Lane queue. However, like other Genie+ attractions, you can only choose the next available time. Some people like to hack their way through and play around with arrival times. However, I’d discourage you from playing games with these added cost tickets. These attractions should be anchors you build the rest of your day on, not the other way around. If you don’t buy Lightning Lane and want to avoid heavy wait times, make these your first attractions of the day starting with Flight of Passage.
To speed things up at Everest, you may split up and use the Single Rider line if that makes sense for your group.
Genie+ lets you make reservations for attractions only at the next reservation window available. Moreover, you can only pick one reservation at a time. This isn’t as big a deal for an Animal Kingdom one-day plan, since there are so few attractions with queues.
The best strategy is to focus on your immediate area and schedule the reservations that are nearest to your current time. Popular rides fill fast on busy days, so keep an eye on important rides to see how far out those reservations are getting. You may have to sacrifice some Lightning Lane access to snag a really good ride later in the day.
One Day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Every Disney Park has some quirk that makes it a little bit difficult to manage. Although Disney’s Hollywood Studios seems pretty small, it’s still fairly large. It’s also the trickiest park to navigate with its switchback layout, multiple alleyways, and tucked-away pockets.
Despite the relatively low number of attractions at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the park boasts many of Walt Disney World’s most popular thrill rides. Rock ‘N’ Rollercoaster Starring Aerosmith, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Rise of the Resistance, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, Star Tours, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Toy Story (Midway) Mania, and Slinky Dog Dash all call Disney’s Hollywood Studios home. With so many potentially long standby times, doing Disney’s Hollywood Studios in one day can be challenging. Especially with so much Star Wars for the Jedi (or Sith) among you.
To make sure you do all of Disney’s Hollywood Studios in one day, make sure you are there when the gates open – 30 minutes prior to the posted schedule. This is a privilege of resort guests and it gives you a nice advantage to be one of the first on a major attraction. You can eliminate the need for one or two Lightning Lane reservations, just by being on top of your game in the early morning.
Sadly, Lightning Lanes have definitely hurt the standby experience at Disney Hollywood Studios. You may be able to get away with doing standby in other parks on a given day, but Disney’s Hollywood Studios is posting wait times over two hours for Rise of the Resistance and Tower of Terror, with waits well over an hour for the other attractions in the park. EPCOT’s biggest attractions right now are comparatively about 80 minutes. This is all late afternoon on a Wednesday.
Some of that can be attributed to spring break, but It’s also fairly indicative of the importance of purchasing Lightning Lane or using Genie+, especially if you want to ride everything at Disney Hollywood Studios in one day. Be sure to snag (if you can) your Rise of the Resistance Lightning Lane bright and early at 7:00 a.m. prior to your arrival at the park. You can make your next reservation at 9:00 am. if you have Genie+.
By using the stacking strategy, you can play both sides of the fence with Lightning Lane and standby. Schedule a popular ride that’s filling up fast. That means the next available window is late in the day. Secure it and then go about your morning with manageable standby wait times (under 40 is good in my opinion). After waiting and getting a few rides in over the first couple of hours, you can make another Lightning Lane reservation through Genie+ with a window that overlaps with your first selection. So the top of your day can be casual and the end of your day can have Lightning Lane reservations racked up.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios is also unique for the number of shows they have. There are five shows, plus Fantasmic! which is coming back later this year. Since Lightning Lane reservations are limited, do not waste them on a show. Lightning Lane, like Fastpass+, has little to no relevance when it comes to shows, as they are very unlikely to fill a theater with guests for any given performance.
Pick a Park!
So there you have it. The days of getting up in the morning and deciding which park to visit are over. It feels like every single minute of your day needs to be strategized, planned and reserved. In my opinion, it adds stress to a family vacation.
To be honest, I was an annual pass-holder for years. The third time I couldn’t get a park reservation as a long time pass-holder, I decided not to renew my pass. The prices had sky-rocketed and holding an annual pass didn’t even guarantee entry into a park.
How are you feeling about all these new WDW services?