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: Disney is eliminating a beloved free perk at its U.S. theme parks

Cutting the line at your favorite Disney theme park attractions is now going to cost you.

Disney
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-0.55%

is set to roll out a new planning service, called Disney Genie, for visitors to its theme parks in California and Florida, designed to help guests avoid spending too much time in long lines.

The Disney Genie service will be introduced to Walt Disney World in Florida on Oct. 19, the company announced in a blog post Friday. It will be introduced at Disneyland in California “at a later date,” the company noted.

As part of the change, a new, paid service called Genie+ will replace the free FastPass program at the theme parks in both Florida and California.

FastPass was first introduced in 1999, and it seemingly allowed visitors to Walt Disney World and Disneyland to skip the stand-by lines at popular attractions for free. In reality, FastPass was a virtual queue system: Guests would get a ticket they could use at a reserved time to bypass the regular stand-by line, but essentially they were waiting in a virtual line.

Now to take advantage of those same perks, Disney theme park visitors will have to pay as much as $80 per day for a family of four.

“While the FASTPASS, FastPass+ and Disney MaxPass services will be retired, we’re incredible excited about the flexibility and choices Disney Genie service provides,” the company said in a blog post announcing the changes.

Here’s what Disney theme park travelers need to know:

Say hello to Genie+ and Lightning Lanes

There will be an optional, paid add-on to the standard Disney Genie service, called Genie+, that will enable Disney theme park visitors to skip the stand-by lines at popular attractions. At Disney World, the service will cost $15 per day per person, while at Disneyland it will cost $20 per day per person.

There will be more than 40 attractions available for Genie+ bookings at Walt Disney World, and more than 15 attractions at Disneyland. The list of attractions has not yet been released, but Disney said it will be similar to what was previously available through the old FastPass system.

A look at what guests can expect when they use the upcoming Disney Genie service.

Courtesy of Disney

The FastPass lines at popular attractions will be known as Lightning Lanes. To skip the line, guests will need to reserve a time using the Disney Genie mobile app. They will be able to start making reservations beginning at 7 a.m. the day of their visit to a Walt Disney World park or when the parks open at Disneyland.

Guests will be allowed to have one Genie+ reservation at a time — once a reservation is used, they will be able to make another. Visitors who visit more than one Disney park in a day will be able to use Genie+ at any park they visit.

The Genie+ program will come with some perks. At Disneyland, guests who purchase Genie+ will also get complimentary downloads of pictures taken through PhotoPass, such as photos taken on rides. At Walt Disney World, Genie+ purchasers will be able to try out augmented reality technology on their phones. The service also comes with complimentary audio experiences at both the California and Florida resorts.

Skipping the line on some rides is going to cost people extra — even if they purchase Genie+

The most popular attractions at Disney theme parks won’t be part of Genie+. To skip the lines for these, visitors will need to pay separately. The price will range from $7 to $15 per ride when the new system debuts at Walt Disney World on Oct. 19. “Throughout the year, prices may be lower on some days and higher on other days,” Disney notes on its website.

For instance, a Lightning Lane reservation for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure — a new ride the opened as part of Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary — will cost $9 per person on Oct. 19 and $11 per rider on Oct. 23.

For those traveling to Walt Disney World, this means a family of four could spend as much as $60 to “cut” the line on a single attraction — and that’s in addition to what they might spend to purchase the Genie+ service to get faster access to other attractions and rides.

Disney said the additional charges for Lightning Lane access will apply to up to two attractions at each theme park. Here is the breakdown of which attractions will require this separate purchase to skip the line at Walt Disney World when the new system debuts there later this month:

Magic Kingdom Park: Space Mountain, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

EPCOT: Frozen Ever After, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure

Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park: Avatar Flight of Passage, Expedition Everest

These reservations will be able to be booked starting at 7 a.m. for visitors staying at Walt Disney World hotels. Other visitors at Walt Disney World, and everyone visiting Disneyland, will otherwise be able to make to reservations when the parks open each day.

As with the rides on Genie+, traditional stand-by lines (or virtual queues) will be available for guests who don’t wish to pay for the upgrade. Guests can also purchase Lightning Lane access for these rides and forego Genie+ if they so choose.

Some travel experts believe that the added cost of these perks, which were essentially free in the past, could upset some guests, including annual passholders. The cost of Genie+ is comparable to the cost of MaxPass, a paid FastPass program that was introduced at Disneyland Resort in recent years.

“If you’re already paying $150 a day to get into the park, to tell somebody that you’ve got to pay another $100 for your family to get on the best rides in the park — that’s going to be a hard message to sell,” said Len Testa, president of travel website Touring Plans.

The calculus for families could come down to the value of paying for the ability to skip lines — and that will depend on ride capacity. People with Genie+ reservations will have priority over people in the regular stand-by line. If Disney chooses to allow up to 70% of a ride’s capacity to be set aside for Genie+, that could make it a better value, since that would means longer stand-by lines. (The company said that how the capacity divvies up will be similar to what was in place with the previous FastPass programs.)

“This shouldn’t be that bad because fewer people are going to use paid Fast Pass than they would free Fast Pass,” Testa said. “If they charge $20 per FastPass, relatively few people are going to buy that. So, it won’t impact the standby line as much.”

‘This is something that will be copied and passed around’

Even for visitors who decide against paying to skip lines, Disney argues that the new Disney Genie service will help them avoid spending too much time just waiting in lines.

The new service takes advantage of machine learning technology and algorithms to track where crowds are in the theme parks and then make recommendations to visitors. Visitors can select in advance which attractions they most want to visit, and it will notify them of when they should head to that ride based on the wait times in the park. Guests will also be able to check forecasts for wait times on rides for later in the day based on crowd sizes.

The Disney Genie services will be built into the existing apps for Disneyland and Walt Disney World. In addition to tracking ride wait times, the app can also be used to make dining reservations at table-service restaurants or for mobile ordering at counter-service eateries. It can then give recommendations of rides nearby with low wait times to visit before or after a meal.

“It’s going to be revolutionary for the theme park industry,” said Dennis Spiegel, president of industry consulting firm International Theme Park Services Inc. “This is something that will be copied and passed along to all the operators.”

To Spiegel, the service will allow people to be more spontaneous when they visit a theme park and have to do less advance planning than they once did. Plus, the way that algorithms will track and predict crowd sizes and wait times will give visitors more control over their experience, he argues.

“This is going to allow people to move smoother through their visit,” Spiegel said. “And it’s going to allow them to eat, drink and spend a little bit more — which is going to be great for Disney — because they’re not waiting in line so long.”

Disney shares are down 2.45% this year to date, compared to a 13% gain for the Dow Jones Industrial Average
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and a 17% gain for the S&P 500 Index
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