Understanding Lightning Lane At Disney: The Complete Guide

Disney has retired its more than two decades-old FastPass and FastPass+ system and replaced it with a tiered paid model, the Lightning Lane. The new digital queueing system is designed to help park-goers save time in line, basically working in the same way as the old FastPass system, which was free for all Disney visitors.

Lightning Lane, however, isn't free, with some users saying it's expensive. "Every ride we went on cost almost as much as taking my whole family out to a night at the movies back home," Steve Davis, a food service manager from Texas, told Bloomberg, after the implementation of Lightning Lane in Walt Disney World.

One Disney employee succinctly summarized the situation with Lightning Lane, which is included in the My Disney Experience app's new Genie itinerary planner, to Bloomberg: "Everyone who bought [Genie+ access] is mad because it doesn't work like they want it to, and everyone who didn't buy it is mad because they have to wait in longer lines." Regarding the criticisms, a Disney spokesperson told the publication they will "continue to listen and find ways to even further enhance this new service and deliver a great experience." Until all the kinks have been ironed out, it's best to learn all you can about the whats and the hows of Lightning Lane so you can make the most out of it. Here's all you need to know about Disney's FastPass replacement.

What is Disney's Lightning Lane?

As mentioned, Lightning Lane is the replacement for the virtual queue systems in Disneyland (FastPass) and Walt Disney World (FastPass+) that allowed park-goers to skip the lines to rides and attractions. While FastPass and FastPass+ were free, Lightning Lane is not. You'll need to have the My Disney Experience app installed on your mobile device to access Disney's new free planning tool called Genie. Genie comes with a paid option, Genie+, which gives you access to Lightning Lane.

At Disneyland, you can choose to use Lightning Lane for the entire day as long as you stick to one attraction at a time. Each Lightning Lane selection comes with a "next available arrival window," which is simply the next available period of time (e.g., 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.) wherein you can redeem your Lightning Lane entry. At Disney World, you can use Lightning Lane entrances for two to three attractions or rides per day, on average, provided you made your first selection early in the day. Note that you can only use Lightning Lane for an attraction once per day, so you'll have to use the regular line to see it again within the same day.

However, Lightning Lane passes for these Disney parks' most popular attractions and rides are not available through Genie+. Instead, you'll have to buy them individually as they are offered a la carte to all park visitors, including those with reservations. So, depending on what you want to see or do, you'll have the choice of paying for Genie+ or the individual Lightning Lane access, or purchase both. Note that you can only buy individual Lightning Lane passes for up to two attractions or rides per day.

Where can I use Lightning Lane?

The Genie+ Lightning Lane is available for numerous rides and attractions including Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Haunted Mansion, and Splash Mountain at Disneyland Park and Magic Kingdom; and Frozen Ever After, Remy's Ratatouille Adventure, and Turtle Talk with Crush at Epcot, among many others.

Meanwhile, individual Lightning Lane access is available for the following attractions: Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disneyland Park and Hollywood Studios, Radiator Springs Racers at Disney California Adventure Park, Avatar Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom, and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at Epcot.

Check out the Disneyland and Disney World websites for a full (and hopefully) updated list. Remember, though, that Lightning Lane availability for a particular attraction, ride, or experience varies by date and even throughout the day. So, if you don't see the attraction, try again another time or day.

How much does it cost?

The price for Genie+ varies by date, though at Disneyland it starts at $25 as of this writing. The latest price reported for Genie+ at Disney World was between $15 and $22, according to USA Today. Disney introduced Genie+ with a price tag of $15 and $20, respectively, at Disney World and Disneyland, but has since raised the rate. It remains to be seen if the prices will increase again.

Regarding these price increases, Disney CEO Bob Chapek had this to say during a CNBC interview: "We read demand. ... If consumer demand keeps up, we'll act accordingly. If we see a softening, which we don't think we're going to see, then we can act accordingly as well." As the steady increase of park tickets over the decades shows, Disney has a history of raising prices on their products as long as they're popular with consumers.

The best place to check for the Genie+ rate is through the My Disney Experience app. As for Lightning Lane availability, it depends on the specific attraction or ride. It's basically the same for each individual Lightning Lane. You'll need to check the app on the day of your visit to the parks for prices and availability of attractions and rides.

How can I buy a Lightning Lane entrance access?

If you're going to Disneyland, you can buy the Genie+ Lightning Lane either before or on the day of your visit. When you buy tickets or a vacation package from Disneyland.com or travel professionals, you can add Lightning Lane as an add-on. On the day of your visit to the park, you can buy it through the My Disney Experience app after entering the park. For the individual Lightning Lane, open your Disneyland app to the My Day itinerary and you can purchase it from there. Or, go to the Disney Genie Tip Board. Access the My Disney Experience app's main menu and then Tip Board. From here, tap on the Individual Lightning Lane experience you want and then follow the instructions that appear.

For Walt Disney World, you can get Genie+ by accessing the My Disney Experience app > My Disney Genie Day > My Day > Get Disney Genie+ for Today. That's it! Disney reminds park-goers to ensure that they have a valid ticket and a Disney Park Pass reservation before buying a Genie+ Lightning Lane access. For the a la carte Lightning Lane, you'll be able to purchase one through the Tip Board in My Disney Experience app.

Important Lightning Lane rules

Here are some rules to remember when using Genie+ at Disneyland. You can select your first Genie+ Lightning Lane once you enter the park. After you've redeemed this or when your arrival window has started, you'll need to go to either the My Day itinerary on the Disneyland app or the Tip Board in Disney Genie, or if your Lightning Lane's arrival window is more than two hours away, you can choose another one. You can use Lightning Lane all day but only one at a time and once per attraction per day. For the individual Lightning Lane, you can buy up to two for that day after entering the park.

At Walt Disney World, you can buy your first Genie+ Lightning Lane after entering the park at 7 a.m. You can only purchase these passes one at a time. To get another one, you'll have to either redeem it or wait for two hours. The Disney World website emphasizes that you need both a ticket and a park reservation to avail of the Genie+ Lightning Lane service. The same goes for individual Lightning Lane. If you're a guest at Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel, Walt Disney World Swan Hotel, or Shades of Green Resort, you can purchase your first Lightning Lane at 7 a.m. If not, then you'll have to wait for the park to open before buying your a la carte Lightning Lane. Again, you can only buy individual Lightning Lane access one at a time for a maximum of two attractions and rides, and use it only once for each attraction per day.