FastPass is dead. Long live FastPass!
For a generation, Disney's iconic FastPass was a famous signifier of the company's premium product and its generosity with its customers.
For no charge at all, visitors to Disney parks since 1999 have been allowed to arrange timed reservations to join special, faster-moving lines at the most popular attractions. Plan your FastPasses well, and you could carve hours of wait time off your day—and believe me, fans derived deep satisfaction from learning every trick they could to game the system.
That's all over.
As part of a drastic behind-the-scenes overhaul that prioritizes increased per-guest spending at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland, Disney is launching a new, pay-to-play system that will charge visitors every time they want to use a shorter line.
Called Lightning Lane, it will (according to a tease announcement by the company) allow guests to secure FastPass-like access for "up to two highly demanded attractions each day" as long as they pay extra.
Pricing will be dynamic, meaning it will change every day according to how busy the park is, which attractions the pass covers, and other factors Disney has not publicly disclosed.
Disney has also not disclosed the planned cost level, but a similar pay-per-ride system launched a few weeks ago at Disneyland Paris charges the equivalent of $9.50 to $17.80 each and every time the short line is used.
That surcharge is levied per person, and it applies to, among other attractions, one of the most beloved family rides, Peter Pan's Flight. So a family of four might pay $71 just to avoid standing in the regular line of a single ride.
That fee is on top of park admission, which can cost as much as $154 at Disneyland and $159 at Walt Disney World for one-day, one-park access.
Lightning Lane will roll out in tandem with Genie, a new algorithmic system built into the parks' official apps that automatically dispenses suggested itineraries to guests.
In no small way, Disney has just figured out how to take one of the biggest criticisms made against it—that planning has become too confusing, too cumbersome, and un-magical—and convert it into a new profit center.
Genie vs. Genie+ vs. Lightning Lane
Disney says the new Genie system will tackle the hassle of planning Disney for you. Granted, now you'll be hunched over your phone even more than you used to be.
Just because Genie puts an activity on a guest's itinerary doesn't mean it will be free. Some activities will be included in the ticket price, but some suggestions offered by Genie will require extra money—which will be collected by the credit card all guests must enter to access the system.
If guests decline to accept an itinerary suggestion offered by the app, Genie will recalculate and replace it with something else. The company also promises Genie will display "current and forecasted future wait times, helping you predict when you might experience quicker entry to attractions."
But the best perks of Genie will cost you. Guests who pay another $15 a day at Walt Disney World in Florida and $20 a day at Disneyland in California (again, on top of what you paid for park admission) will be upgraded to Genie+.
Once the Genie+ feature has been purchased, the app will suggest, over the course of a day, various attractions and diversions that are currently accepting visitors through the faster Lightning Lane—basically, the old FastPass line.
It'll be up to Disney's discretion—or that of its computers, which will presumably be tasked with spreading out crowds throughout the day—to decide which Lightning Lanes are available at any given time.
Genie+ users will only be allowed to hold one such Lightning Lane reservation per person at a time, and not all attractions will participate.
That's right: Genie+ will only grant Lightning Lane access to the lower tier of attractions. The most popular stuff won't come with Genie+. Disney's announcement suggests that excluded experiences will include the immensely popular Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom and Radiator Springs Racers at Disney California Adventure.
For those big-ticket rides, there will be no choice but to pay once again per ride through the general-public Lightning Lane feature to access the former FastPass queue, even if you paid for Genie+.
In other words, Genie+ will get you into the old FastPass queue for some rides, but not all of them. The most popular rides will only offer pay-per-ride Lightning Lane access.
Genie+ users will also receive a few other minor perks such as Disney-themed photo filters at Walt Disney World and downloadable images by park photographers at Disneyland.
If you don't shell out for either Genie+ or Lightning Lane, your only option will be to wait in the standard "standby" lines all day, which will be the longest, but will remain free. (In Paris, even some standby lines are being redirected into virtual "Standby Pass" ones at unpredictable moments—which almost certainly has the effect of making a guest want to pay to just hurry things up—but if the American parks will be doing this as well, the feature has not yet been explicitly confirmed.)
Lightning Lane reservations will be same-day only and open for everyone at 7am. That's a relief, because the free FastPass+ had a system that opened reservations as far as 60 days ahead, and for fans with obsessive tendencies, managing reservations and seeking availability could waste many hours of time.
The new system's specific launch date has not been announced, but it's expected to roll out sometime around October 1, the 50th anniversary of the opening of Disney's first Orlando theme park, Magic Kingdom.
There are still lots of questions, but one thing seems clear: With free FastPass eliminated, customers now have to pay for something that was complimentary for longer than many of Disney's die-hard guests have been alive.
A trip to Disney just got even more expensive. Read our story about all the other benefits that Disney has recently been converting to up-charges, because replacing all these rescinded perks will could send your vacation budget to a level so high even Tinker Bell couldn't reach it.
Confused? Don't worry—in time we'll figure out the ins and outs of this system, just like we did for FastPass. In the meantime, here's a video Disney Parks produced to introduce the huge changes. Warning: Where the video claims the new service is "complimentary," it's only talking about the bare-bones Genie system, which plans itineraries but doesn't offer any Lightning Lane entry.
You may also like: 3 Ways Disney's Paid FastPass System is Problematic
Jason Cochran is the author of Frommer's' award-winning consumer guide to Disney World, Universal Orlando, and Orlando (e-book and paperback).