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Theme Park News: Disney Genie launches next week. Here's what you absolutely need to know.

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Oct 12, 2021, 5:00 PM EDT

Hello and welcome back to our weekly catch-all of theme park happenings! There are plenty of new procedures on the way following Disney World's grand celebration, while Disneyland grapples with the first speed bump of its newly revamped annual pass program. From Shrek's demise to Parisian woes, here's everything you may have missed:

DISNEY GENIE IS ABOUT TO EXIT ITS BOTTLE. HERE'S WHAT TO EXPECT.

On Friday, Walt Disney World announced long-awaited details of their Disney Genie program, which will officially debut on Oct. 19. Come next Tuesday, guests visiting Magic Kingdom and beyond will be able to pay their way onto roller coasters and dark rides for more efficiency — and for select, in-demand attractions, essentially throw money towards skipping the line altogether.

Yes, okay, that's an extreme generalization of Disney Parks' new Disney Genie, Genie+, and Lightning Lane individual attraction selection offerings, but I start there because, whew, we're about to get deep into details and it's a doozy.

Disneyland, which will soon welcome the same program to its California parks, has not yet announced its launch date, but Walt Disney World's program launches next week with both free and paid components. Whether or not you use the app to its full potential, you may want to pay attention to the details, because the way you visit Walt Disney World will change for good because of it.

Since Disney World's pandemic-era reopening back in July 2020, its theme parks have operated free of skip-the-line abilities, allowing guests to roam as they please between rides. It was inevitable that expedited entry would return within the parks, and with FastPass+ in the rearview, I gotta say, Disney Genie itself… seems pretty good. The core system — which lives within the My Disney Experience Disney World app, not the website — essentially just tips guests on where to go when, allowing them to maximize their time and shift plans throughout the day. Anyone who'd miss the flexibility and spontaneity granted of the past 14 months in an easy-breezy park that abandoned its 60-day ride selection windows can take solace in the fact that everything, even paid selections, happens same-day without the need for advance planning. (Even if you know Disney people, myself included, are going to gleefully strategize regardless.)

Credit: Disney Parks

One highlight of Disney Genie, the free service offered to all, will be its functionality with in-park dining. The ability to seamlessly blend dining and attraction plans together hasn't fully been harnessed before now, and has potential to make switching your plans to eat sooner or later a breeze — an important feature, particularly when hunger and wait times can derail a family's mood, or sometimes, the entire day.

The success of Disney Genie and its paid offerings will really come down to how well it works, both on the back end as well as when things go awry, like with central Florida's regular afternoon explosion of rain. (We've been told that guests will be given the ability to book a new attraction if outdoor attractions are shut down for weather, but I'm curious what that functionality looks like en masse.) And, now that we finally have the list of attractions for Disney Genie+ — which runs $15 per person, per day at Walt Disney World and $20 per person, per day at Disneyland — we can start to see the worth it could potentially provide.

With 17 Magic Kingdom attractions on the list, you'll wanna pony up for Disney Genie+ if you're hitting that park — but compared to Animal Kingdom's selection of eight attractions, three of which rarely incur true waits (It's Tough to be a Bug!, The Animation Experience, and Feathered Friends in Flight!), that money might be better spent on single "individual attraction selection" passes to skip the line for something like Avatar: Flight of Passage, which regularly has the lengthiest wait in the park.

Credit: Matt Stroshane/Walt Disney World

Previously, guests had access to reserve three FastPass+ selections at the park of their choosing prior to arrival. Now, the only thing park goers need to pre-select is a reservation for which park they'll enter first, given that "park-hopping," or traveling between Walt Disney World's four theme parks, is currently restricted until 2 p.m. With Genie+ costing a $60 per day for a family of four, it can definitely be maximized to its full potential with a park-hopper ticket, and may have its limits for a single-park visit. With the entire system seamlessly taking into account visiting multiple parks per day, guests can definitely get their money's worth by hitting the more in-demand attractions, like Epcot's Test Track and Disney's Hollywood Studios' Slinky Dog Dash, instead of working their way down a single park's list. Take note, too, that Disney Genie+ can be purchased in advance for the length of an entire ticket, or each day — technically, the night before — before use, but since it will never sell out, your best bet is to choose it only for specific days when you're going full-tilt at the park.

This is a whole lot of mumbo-jumbo for a casual theme park fan, so what I'll say is this: if you can swing a small upgrade to avoid waiting in line, holy heck, do it. But if you're willing to put in a little more work to maximize your dollar, there will definitely be ways to jam in Genie+ attractions one day, and take things easier with less-stressful itineraries the next. Disney Genie, the free base service, optimizes the ride selections of one's choosing, so saving the easy stuff for one day and the in-demand stuff for another is, seemingly, easy to do.

Like trying to explain how electricity works or why oil and water don't mix, I'm confident this will all make so much more sense when people are looking at it inside the Walt Disney World and Disneyland apps — head to Disney Food Blog for a peek at its functionality — but judging from the hundreds of questions I've gotten on Instagram since posting even more infographics Friday, people are still pretty overwhelmed by the details, myself included. We'll get more into strategy once this platform launches, but until then, just know this: it doesn't seem as dire as it sounds. I'm giving Disney Genie and its whole suite of products the benefit of the doubt until it debuts, and we'll revisit exactly how things are working when we get our first look at the service once it's out in the world. Stay tuned!

AS FOR DISNEYLAND...

Over at Disney's California theme park resort, Genie+ has more immediate implications. By many accounts, Disneyland was packed this weekend, leading some, like writer Leslie Harvey, to await the return of Genie+'s Maxpass-like system purely to avoid rope drop crowding issues.

Disneyland is a much different resort than Walt Disney World, and Genie+ will have a different kind of impact on a crowd that's majority repeat guests, locals, and yes, annual passholders, for whom the biggest challenge lately has just been getting into the park. Last week, stories of woe were shared by plenty of Magic Key-holders and even by Orange County Register's Brady Macdonald, who reported on the "nightmare" passholders have been facing with Magic Key availability.

Disney Genie and its paid services will allow for some to skip the line, but depending on capacity, the park could still feel busy, even while still in a pandemic. (Worth noting: it can also, at times, be less than busy, causing Disney California Adventure to open up the standby line for Avengers Campus' Spider-Man-themed attraction.) Disneyland's footprint is small, and would often become packed with annual passholders who would casually drop in for a visit, but even now, with restrictions on reservations to all tiers of Magic Key passholders, the parks are still bustling, supposedly having reached 85 percent of pre-pandemic attendance, according to a recent report.

What happens next? Well, we'll just have to wait and see. Less reservation availability means a better experience for everyone else in-park — and less demand on Genie+-enabled attractions — but a crummy experience for folks who paid $1,399 to visit often with access every day of the year and are now shut out on weekends through the fall. Let more annual passholders in, and well, the park will become one-way traffic levels of crowded as it was in the Before Times, making everyone's experience, including theirs, a burden. I've seen passholders suggest an "I've left!" option to alert other locals to "share" reservations, but hey, ‘til then, I'll leave it up to the experts to see if Disney Genie can truly bring a level of top-tier algorithmic planning to make everyone's experience better.

And, if you're a Disneyland Magic Key-holder looking to nab reservations once they're available, I recommend following KeyToTheResort on Twitter — they'll alert you whenever new dates open up!

ONE MORE THING!

We didn't get to this last week, but Disneyland recently announced a new year-round holiday store on Main Street, USA and it sounds glorious!? Not only will the forthcoming Plaza Point holiday shoppe make grabbing a momento to hang on your tree easier than ever, but it'll even celebrate holidays of other cultures year-round, including Lunar New Year and, much to my personal delight, Hanukkah. Disney's limited range of festive goods for that holiday has always drawn ire from Jewish Disney fans like myself — keep in mind, it begins late November and there are only three items for sale at the moment — so I deeply look forward to Plaza Point and its inclusive offerings once it debuts at Disneyland in the not so distant future!

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