I saved more than 6 hours using Disney Genie+ at Disney World. Here's why it's worth it.
A lot of Disney fans complained when the parks started charging guests to skip long lines – when FastPasses used to be free.
Disney Genie+ costs $15 per person, per day and Individual Lightning Lanes start at $7 per person, per ride at Walt Disney World. That adds up quickly for families and other large parties.
But Disney isn't alone. Whether it's Genie+, Universal Express Pass or Six Flags' FLASH pass, many theme parks charge guests for access to shorter lines. The question is whether the passes are worth it.
I've visited Disney World for decades and one thing I've learned is whether you pay for perks or wait with the masses, you pay either way – in time or money.
GENIE+ 101: What to know about Disney's ride reservation system
'TAKE IT SLOW': Florida theme parks have accessibility programs but they still require planning
Is Disney Genie+ worth it?
For me, absolutely.
I saved more than 6 hours of wait time with Genie+ and one Individual Lightning Lane at Disney World's Magic Kingdom on a recent visit when the theme park's reservations were maxed out.
Not counting the time it took to walk between rides, which I tried to minimize, I spent a total of 56 minutes standing in line for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Peter Pan's Flight, Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Dumbo the Flying Elephant and Mad Tea Party.
The estimated waited time for those nine rides combined was 7 hours and 8 minutes.
The standby wait time for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train alone would have been 70 minutes. I only waited five minutes with Individual Lightning Lane access, which cost $10, though pricing varies by day and attraction.
All the time I saved afforded me the chance to enjoy even more attractions, several of which only offer standby lines without shortcuts. I waited the old-fashioned way for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, It's a Small World, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Prince Charming Royal Carousel, Mickey's Philharmagic, Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover and The Magic Carpets of Aladdin. It also gave me time to leisurely take in sights, eat and shop without feeling rushed.
Text with the USA TODAY newsroom about the day’s biggest stories. Sign up for our subscriber-only texting experience.
It's worth noting my three kids weren't with me, and it may be harder to book time slots for larger parties, but our family saved time with Genie+ on our previous visit in November. If they had come on this trip, I know the quicker turnarounds would have also spared me several complaints in the 90-degree heat.
Not everyone can secure as many selections as I did, and some might score even more. But I felt like I gained a whole extra park day without the added costs of another day's admission, meals and accommodations.
FREEBIES: 10 things you can get for free at Disney World
DISNEY PRICES KEEP GOING UP: Why die-hard fans keep going back
How does Genie+ work?
The first step is purchasing Genie+ as early as possible and planning out what you want to accomplish. Starting June 8 at Disney World, regardless of the ticket or annual pass type, "you may only purchase Disney Genie+ service on the day of your visit via the app, one day at a time, subject to availability" Disney announced on its official parks blog. That's as early as midnight for night owls or whenever you wake up. Disneyland guests may continue booking Genie+ in advance when they buy their park tickets.
I would recommend buying Genie+ before 7 a.m. the day of your visit because that's when guests staying on Disney property can book their first attraction and first of up to two Individual Lightning Lanes. Guests staying off property have to wait until park opening.
Once you've booked your first attraction, you have two options for booking the next one. If your first arrival window is early in the day, you can book your next Genie+ attraction as soon as you check-in for that ride, which can be up to five minutes earlier than the stated arrival window. If you aren't able to book right after checking in, it may be because that particular attraction has two check-in stations. You'll be able to book your next attraction as soon as you make it through that second checkpoint.
If your first arrival window is more than 2 hours after park opening, you can book another attraction 2 hours after the park opens. This creates a second avenue for reservations throughout the day. There are ways to stack even more attractions late in the day, but that gets to be too tricky for me personally.
If you don't see a specific attraction right away or want something sooner than what you've scheduled, check back and refresh the app to see if anything opens up. You can always cancel an existing reservation if you see something you like better.
Each arrival window is an hour long and you can check in a few minutes late, so it's OK to schedule overlapping reservations, but pay attention to each attraction's location. Your feet will thank you if you avoid crisscrossing the park as much a possible.
There are cast members stationed across every park, ready to help if you run into trouble. Just look for the navy blue Guest Experience umbrellas.
10 TIPS FOR YOUR NEXT TRIP: How to get the most out of Disney World in a day
Picking Disney Genie+ rides
If you see an attraction you want, book it right away because there's no telling if or when it will be available later. My two must-dos for nostalgia's sake were Peter Pan's Flight and Haunted Mansion, but any ride with the word Mountain will also be in demand.
Space Mountain usually requires Individual Lightning Lane access or waiting in standby lines, but for a limited time (through Aug. 7), it's joining several of Disney World's most popular rides as part of Genie+.
Mickey's & Minnie's Runaway Railway in Hollywood Studios, Frozen Ever After and Remy's Ratatouille Adventure in EPCOT and Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain in Animal Kingdom will all be included in Genie+ this summer – though Genie+ for Remy doesn't start until May 31.
Only one attraction at each park will require Individual Lightning Lane purchases or standby waits throughout the summer: Rise of the Resistance at Hollywood Studios, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom, Avatar Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind (when it opens May 27) at EPCOT.
If you want to ride any of those, I would aim for them first.
SNEAK PEEK: What to expect on Disney World's new Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind
What if you don't want to pay?
Of course, you don't have to pay for Genie+ or Individual Lightning Lanes to enjoy attractions, especially if you have more days at the parks or can visit regularly.
There are several free ways to save time in line like "rope dropping" by arriving at park entrances before they open and being among the first guests inside. This is my preferred route for riding Rise of the Resistance without paying for the Individual Lightning Lane.
Guests staying on Disney property may enter parks 30 minutes earlier than nonresort guests. Additionally, guests of Disney's deluxe resorts and several other properties get Extended Evening Theme Park Hours on select nights, when they can stay late, after the parks close to everyone else.
Lines tend to thin out later in the day anyway, when some families with young kids retire for the night. You can walk right onto some rides during parades and nighttime spectaculars.
If you don't mind splitting up from your party, you can also shave off some time in single rider lines at four attractions: Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith and Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run in Hollywood Studios, Test Track in EPCOT and Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom.
I've done all of that except Extended Evening Theme Park Hours, because we don't stay at deluxe resorts. I've also spent countless hours in line through the years. I vividly remember waiting for World of Motion in middle school, before paper FastPasses debuted. It's very doable.
You just have to wait your turn.
DISNEY WORLD VS. DISNEYLAND: What's the difference?
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Disney Genie+ explained and why it's worth it at Disney World