Even on a cold, rainy winter weeknight you’ll still inevitably face the most despicable of all Disneyland rituals: waiting in line. Enter Disney Genie+, the park’s app-based ride time reservation system. It’s the third iteration of such offerings, and unlike the free FastPass originator, this one will cost you.
Within the Disneyland app, you’ll find Disney Genie, a free digital assistant that’ll take your interests, location and pre-existing reservations into account to serve you with attraction and food suggestions throughout the day. Within that, the paid Genie+ service (starting at $25 per day, per ticket) is what actually allows you to make ride reservations: Scroll through the list of attractions and you can secure an hour-long return window at a specific time that’ll allow you to skip much of the standby line via expedited entries dubbed Lightning Lanes. Once you’ve made a reservation, you can make another after two hours or the start of your recently booked return window, whichever arrives first.
Most but not all of the rides have Lightning Lanes, and to complicate things even further, two of the parks’ biggest attractions are excluded from Genie+ but have their own separate ride reservation systems: individual Lightning Lane reservations for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance in Disneyland and Radiator Springs Racers in Disney California Adventure. These work effectively the same as the Genie+ reservations, except that they each have a standalone cost (up to $25 per ride, based on current demand) that don’t require you to have purchased Genie+. Despite the high price, these are both remarkably popular rides that otherwise have multi-hour standby waits, so these Lightning Lane reservations do tend to get snatched up quickly.
With Genie+, maximizing your time becomes a numbers game, and if you’re comfortable spending the money, it’s one you should absolutely play. So where should you start? If you have your heart set on a certain ride, you might be inclined to begin there; return times for beloved attractions like Indiana Jones Adventure and Space Mountain quickly tick up into the afternoon and evening hours before they’re entirely booked for the day. But if you’re up for a bit more flexibility—and admittedly a lot of app refreshing—we’d suggest always aiming for the soonest return time. If it’s noon and you book a ride with a 4pm return time, you won’t be able to make another reservation until 2pm. But let’s say you find something with a 12:30pm return time? You can book another ride in just a half hour.
There’s also a maddening amount of value in frequently refreshing the app. During a busy holiday visit, we found that both Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Space Mountain had Genie+ return times for more than four hours later in the day. But after persistently refreshing the app, we lucked out and found return times for each only about a half hour later. Is constantly staring at a smartphone app the best way to spend a day at Disneyland? Absolutely not. But might it squeeze more value out of your ticket? Absolutely—albeit at the expense of some extra battery drain (see tip #3).
Whether or not each of these extra expenses is worth it depends on your personal preference and budget. You could always get in the standby lines for Rise or Racers right at opening or just before closing for a somewhat more bearable wait. As for Genie+, on all but the quietest days (an increasing rarity) you’ll simply get on way more rides if you can stomach the extra cost.
Pro tip: Struck out with Lightning Lane reservations for the major thrill rides? Consider using the single rider line if you’re okay being split up from your group. On Radiator Springs Racers especially, this can sometimes knock the line down from over a two-hour wait to about 30 minutes. Check out Disneyland’s site for a full list of single rider attractions.