Disney is trying to sell its Genie app as an upgrade to the park experience. Their CEO admits it's a way to rake in cash


  • Disney
UPDATE: Disney announced their Genie app and the removal of FastPass. Our original story, written ahead of the announcement, is below.

As Walt Disney World prepares for its 50th Anniversary celebration, the company is pushing forward with Disney Genie. This AI-based real-time vacation planning assistant was first announced in 2019. The app-based queue management service was originally planned to debut last year but was delayed. Since then, we’ve learned more about how this new service may interact with the likely paid-FastPass program headed to Walt Disney World.

In their recent earnings call with investors, Disney CEO Bob Chapek stated he believes Disney Genie will have “both materiality and transformational impact on our business from a yield standpoint.” Translated from boardroom, this means the app will rake in cash.

“The goal of Disney Genie, which will appear in a user-friendly app, is to create a better, more personalized and customized experience for guests, putting them in control and providing even greater flexibility and choice," he said. "They’ll be able to spend less time waiting in line and figuring out what attractions or dining options are available, and more time having fun.”

During the earnings call, Chapek was quick to note the new app service will “lead to substantial commercial opportunities.”

This aligns with recent rumblings of the paid FastPass program, similar to the one now in use at Disneyland Paris. The paid program is thought to have multiple levels, with Touring Plans’ Len Testa stating he expects it to have more than half a dozen tiers ranging from a per attraction skip the line option up to a “Golden FastPass” style option that allows the user access to the FastPass lanes throughout the day.

The Disney Genie system is just one segment of this overhaul to the current reservation system. Since debuting nearly a decade ago, MyMagic+ has seen a piecemeal approach to ride reservations, boarding groups, dining reservations, and other on-the-go planning needs. As the resort has welcomed millions more guests, the app has struggled with guests regularly complaining about its issues. The pandemic and its corresponding shift to mobile-forward interactions have only exacerbated these issues.

Disney began winding down various aspects of MyMagic+ ahead of the new program’s launch. The most noticeable of these shifts is the removal of complimentary MagicBands. Resort guests stopped receiving MagicBands at the beginning of this year and complimentary ones for annual pass holders ended on August 16.  That shift took place at the beginning of this year, with Disney noting smartphones equipped with Disney’s apps can provide all of the same benefits at the large RFID wristbands.

Both Shanghai Disneyland and Disneyland Paris now offer Disney Premier Access, a paid FastPass style program that allows guests to select which attractions they want to pay for an upgraded queue experience. It’s thought that this name won’t make its way stateside, where the same term to streaming select films on Disney+ while they’re still in theaters. Instead, Lighting Lane has been floated as the rumored name for Disney World’s version of the same program. These enhanced paid queue experiences are believed to be linked to Disney Genie, which will help direct guests to less crowded areas of the park and provide real-time information on in-park offerings.

  • Image via Disney
Disney has relied heavily on boarding groups, a day-of-ride reservation system, to remove long waits from their most recent attractions. A guest must have a park reservation, then at select times through the day, they can try to receive access to the most popular rides, right now it being the Rise of the Resistance ride in the new Star Wars land.

The boarding groups, which typically fill up within minutes, don’t guarantee access to the ride, with the guest relying on notifications on their phone for when their boarding group may be called. The system has allowed Disney to open the attraction while still working on many of its kinks, some of which can cause it to go down for hours at a time. It’s thought boarding group-style ride reservations will be rolled out to more attractions in the coming months. Disney is rumored to be looking to all but eliminate traditional standby queues by forcing all guests into one of many per-ride reservation systems. Even as the system remains just a rumor for the Florida parks, concerns over how it will work have already been raised, with multiple outlets including Len Testa, Brayden Holness of Mickey Views, and Frommers all noting the new system seems to give Disney an incentive to increase wait times with longer waits possibly corresponding to more people opting for the paid ride access.

Chapek remains optimistic that guests will embrace the complex system that will be required to visit Disney parks, calling Disney Genie a “revolutionary new multi-tiered service” and noting, “we’ve made significant investments in sophisticated technology and tools.”

MyMagic+ had many of the same promises that this new system seems to be attempting to achieve. While no specific numbers on how much Disney is spending on the new system have been shared, MyMagic+ cost the company more than $2 billion. As with that system, Disney plans to make their money back on the new system by increasing the amount guests spend while visiting a Disney theme park.

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