It didn't take long for Walt Disney (DIS -0.24%) to lets its new Genie out of the bottle. On Oct. 19, the theme park giant is upgrading the way its guests lean on its app to optimize a day at Disney World in Florida. Disneyland's app is getting a similar update.
I had a hands-on demo of the new app at a media event on Thursday at Disney World, ahead of Friday's official announcement. It was impressive, and I'm a pretty tough customer to please. Despite the social media uproar this summer about premium add-on features, the free version of the platform is in itself a dramatic upgrade to the current My Disney Experience. Guests are going to like it. Shareholders? Well, yes, they're going to like it even more.
A wish is a dream your app makes
We'll get to the premium stuff shortly, of course, but the new Disney Genie will still do a lot for folks who don't want to spend money to milk more out of the experience. The current app is slick and relatively easy to use, but it's ultimately a passive experience. It waits for you to explore dining reservations or initiate mobile ordering at select quick-service locations. In the pre-pandemic days -- when the FastPass+ system was still a thing -- guests would cherry-pick one-hour return windows for up to three attractions for access to expedited queues. There wasn't a lot of guidance. There wasn't much of a recommendations engine, and here is where Disney Genie raises the bar.
Guests can enter up to eight attractions they would like to hit. Are there any dining establishment faves they would like to check out? Are they interested in character meet-and-greets or specific Disney franchises? The more input users give the app, the better it can use years of customer insight and machine learning algorithms to crank out a suggested itinerary for a visiting party.
Disney Genie will optimize the game plan based on when desired rides and attractions are expected to have optimal wait times, naturally also taking into account the need to navigate the target park itself. If a desired restaurant requires a reservation -- and there's availability -- the optimal window will be there for the booking. Heat maps showing historical wait times for rides are the kind of info that Disney never made public in its official app until now.
The new platform never sleeps. It's perpetually monitoring what the guest does as well as its own operating factors. If an upcoming ride is down as a result of a weather delay or a mechanical hiccup, the app will provide alternatives that its algorithm feels will appeal to that particular guest. If a guest strays from the plan and knocks off a future ride early, the itinerary will update accordingly.
Disney Genie doesn't offer free access to expedited queues like the pre-pandemic platform, and that's a pressure point for a lot of theme park enthusiasts. However, Disney World's new app is optimizing the navigation of standby queues, dining, and in-park experiences in a way that makes the entire experience better. There will continue to be consumer demand for third-party planning platforms like TouringPlans.com. The market will always need that kind of outsider objectivity. However, Disney Genie is a material update that respects a guest's time in a way that the technology never did before.
An app is a wish your dream makes
Let's dive into the pay features, as this is what will ultimately make shareholders happy. Just as toll roads and express lanes can save time for a driver, Disney Genie has some pay features to improve efficiency in the navigation process. Anyone can pay $15 a day per person for Genie+, an enhanced version of the original FastPass+, to access the rebranded Lightning Lane queues with shorter waits than the standby lines.
This isn't the only way that guests can pay more to make the most of their time on rides. At its Oct. 19 launch, each of Disney World's four parks will hold back two of its most popular rides from Lightning Lane availability within Genie+. This will be another profit center for the House of Mouse, as these rides will have Lightning Lane+ expedited queues that guests can pay for separately. Pricing may fluctuate over time, but for the first week, access to these eight rides will cost between $7 and $15 per ride. Visitors won't be able to pay for more than two one-time Lightning Lane+ experiences.
Pricing will vary in some cases. Epcot's Remy's Ratatouille Adventure will be $9 on its debut weekday on Oct. 19, but that will bump up to $11 on the busier Saturday of that week. Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disney's Hollywood Studios will stay at $15 throughout the first week.
No one likes paying for something that was free before, but it won't be as bad as the naysayers think. Since a lot fewer than 100% of the guests will be paying for Genie+ and there are even more limitations for the Lightning Lane+ attractions, the standby lines should be moving at a headier clip than they did in the FastPass days.
The free Genie platform will also be a bar-raising upgrade to the experience for those who don't want to pay for Genie+ or Lightning Lane+. Beyond the perpetually updating suggestions and tip boards, there is a lot to like here. The hungry finally have a single destination where they can make dining reservations, place mobile orders, and even get on waitlists from the same page. There are some new treats, like Snapchat-like Disney filters for selfies and recorded clips. There are even audio tours, though they're just brief audio descriptions of places throughout the park.
A lot of Disney Genie critics will be pleasantly surprised come Oct. 19. Shareholders in the travel and tourism stocks bellwether won't mind that one bit.