With Disney Genie on the Horizon, Will Disney Stop Manipulating Wait Times?

Starting October 19th, Disney will debut their Disney Genie suite of offerings at Walt Disney World and take one giant leap into the future of the guest experience. The baseline Disney Genie offering, which lives within the My Disney Experience app, promises to make your vacation more efficient by planning your next move in the theme parks. Whether it’s redirecting you to an attraction with a low wait time or notifying you of an opening at a restaurant that has been difficult to book, Disney Genie will act as a sort of personal guide for guests visiting the domestic Disney theme parks. 

That said, there’s another angle to the My Disney Experience addition that aims to put more money into the vaults of The Walt Disney Company. It’s when we start to think about how the Disney Genie+ and Individual Attraction Lightning Lane offerings will work in practice that we ask ourselves: will Disney stop manipulating wait times?

Posted vs Actual Wait Times

If you’ve ever visited Walt Disney World or Disneyland, you’ve probably experienced a lower-than-posted wait for an attraction. It’s not uncommon to get into a line for an attraction where the wait time says 45 or 60 minutes only to find out that your actual wait was 30 minutes or less. Since the theme parks reopened in summer 2020, Disney’s ability to properly estimate wait times has gotten better, with more recent wait times (generally) closer to what we’d expect. That said, when the parks first reopened following the COVID-19 shutdowns, posted wait times were often much, much higher than the actual wait times that guests experienced. Part of that had to do with the suspension of FastPass+ (a service that made standby wait times longer), and possibly even Disney’s ability to estimate waits.

Industry watchers often cite a higher guest satisfaction or built in buffers for inefficiencies or downtime when the actual wait time is lower than the posted wait time, but how much of a delta between the two is acceptable? Within 5-10 minutes? Is foul play expected when there is more than a 20 minute difference between a posted and an actual wait time?

Any seasoned Walt Disney World visitor has had at least a fleeting moment (if not more) of suspicion that Disney is manipulating wait times. Whether that means posting a 45-minute wait for an attraction with no line at the end of the night to close up shop quicker, or perhaps a more wholesome reason such as understanding that guests are generally happier if their wait is shorter than what is posted. Either way, the Disney Parks veteran knows that wait times are, to quote Captain Barbossa, “more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules”. 

To be honest, not having wait times perfectly dialed in is okay. There are a variety of factors that go into estimating wait times at any theme park, and a natural ebb and flow of guests is expected. That said, one of Disney’s selling points of Disney Genie is that they have 60 years of data and are in the unique position to be able to provide accurate wait times and allow Disney Genie to plan your day for you. 

This brings us back to the argument of posted versus actual wait times. Disney used to, and maybe still does, collect and store actual wait times. Remember the red wait time cards that Disney used to hand out to guests entering an attraction? Those cards would collect the actual wait time that a specific guest spent in line. This actual wait time data was likely collected by Disney and used to estimate and produce the posted wait time. Nowadays, we’re not exactly sure how Disney collects “actual” waits. Our guess is that Disney uses a combination of MagicBand data and perhaps even some data from guests’ cellphones to try and produce “actual” wait time data. It would seem unlikely that the retirement of the red wait time cards also signaled the end of Disney’s attempts to collect actual wait times, especially given how long the Disney Genie product has been in development. 

So, if we accept that Disney either still has wait time data, or at least has decades of historical data, we’d have to also accept that Disney is manipulating the posted wait time whenever it doesn’t accurately reflect what they know to be the actual wait time (or within an acceptable margin).

Accuracy is Key

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if posted wait times for attractions become more accurate. If Disney Genie is directing you to ride Pirates of the Caribbean at Magic Kingdom because the 60 years of data built into the Disney Genie brain knows that the actual wait is 10 minutes and not the 35 minutes posted on the sign outside of the attraction, Disney will need to be able to accurately relay that information to a guest who might otherwise not ride the attraction if it has more than a 20-minute wait before they rush to find a spot to watch fireworks. In this scenario, Disney Genie could be useless to a guest who will look at the 35-minute wait and make their own determination that they don’t want to wait that long.

In a worst-case scenario, that guest will lose faith in the Disney Genie app for telling them to ride an attraction that has an unacceptable posted wait time and write off the app that Disney is positioning as the future of its theme park experience. 

In order for the Disney Genie system to have value, Disney will need to operate off of actual wait times instead of posted wait times, or at least close the gap between the two.

Reaching For the Wallet

If we accept that Disney will, from time to time, manipulate wait times, or, at the very least, present wait times that don’t accurately represent the line that guests will experience, we have to ask ourselves what that inaccuracy means when guests begin reaching for their wallets. 

As of right now, there are two announced opportunities for Disney to get into your wallet – Disney Genie+ and Individual Attraction Lightning Lane selections. If you want access to most, but not all Lightning Lane-eligible attractions, you can purchase Disney Genie+. This would be akin to the FastPass+ experience that you are probably used to. Of course, Disney isn’t just looking to get $15 per person, per day out of you for Disney Genie+, they’re looking to boost per cap spending. To that end, the most popular attractions at Walt Disney World will not be included in your $15 per person, per day Disney Genie+ offering – instead, attractions like Flight of Passage and Rise of the Resistance will only be available via the a la carte Individual Attraction Lightning Lane purchases. These Individual Attraction Lightning Lane purchases will fall somewhere in the $7-$15 range per person, per ride.

So, with “paid FastPass” coming to the theme parks, we wonder how much longer Disney will be able to manipulate wait times before there is a significant amount of backlash. Let’s examine.

In an April 2021 article, TouringPlans.com compared the actual wait times that users of their app reported versus the posted wait times that the My Disney Experience app displayed. What they found was that actual wait time averages at all four Walt Disney World theme parks were less than the posted wait. Here’s a breakdown of the actual wait versus posted wait:

  • EPCOT: Actual wait was 60% of posted wait
  • Magic Kingdom: Actual wait was 65% of posted wait
  • Hollywood Sudios: Actual wait was 70% of posted wait
  • Animal Kingdom: Actual wait was 76% of posted wait

In an article written just days ago, they examined posted wait time inflation at Magic Kingdom. In short, the attractions that they collected actual wait times for were more than 50% shorter than the posted wait time by Disney.

Honesty is Necessary

There’s a lot riding on the Disney Genie service for Walt Disney World. It will transform the guest experience in the coming years, whether guests like it or not. More than any other change in the Chapek/D’Amaro era, Disney Genie has been met with backlash from Disney fans. When it was first announced, the Disney Genie explainer YouTube videos were met with a wave of negative sentiment. As it stands today, those three videos remain the most downvoted videos of all time on the Disney Parks YouTube channel – receiving more than 44,000 dislikes as of publish time.

Of course, there might be some who say that Disney is not manipulating wait times. We find that hard to believe. If that’s the case and Disney is not manipulating wait times, but simply wrong anywhere from 25-40%, then the Disney Genie app is doomed from the beginning, and Disney’s data is basically useless. Again, we think that Disney is purposely manipulating wait times to inflate their posted wait times against actual waits – for a variety of reasons.

Moving forward, we hope that Disney will be able to more accurately represent their attraction wait times. When guests are asked to pay to skip the line, they need to know what they’re paying for.

As always, keep checking back with us here at BlogMickey.com as we continue to bring you the latest news and photos from around the Disney Parks!

Mike
Mike is the owner and writer for BlogMickey.com. Visiting the parks daily allows him to keep up with the latest Disney news, reviews, and photos from around the Disney Parks. You can reach him at [email protected]

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