These days, planning a Walt Disney World vacation might feel like you need a degree in all things theme parks to make the most of your trip– Especially when it comes to things like virtual queues, Lightning Lanes, and Genie+.
As the paid replacement for Disney’s previous FastPass+, Genie+, and Individual Lightning Lanes are some of the easiest ways to shorten your time waiting in line for popular attractions, but they do come at a cost, and this may have you on the fence about buying into the system if you’re not quite sure everyone in your party will want to ride the included attractions.
We recently experienced this exact scenario on a recent trip to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, so we’re able to fill you in on what we recommend, Disney’s official policy, and what could work if you find yourself with an unusable Lightning Lane.
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How do Lightning Lanes work at Walt Disney World?
If you have not been to Walt Disney World since Disney Genie was introduced in the fall of 2021, you may need a quick refresher on the new process within the My Disney Experience app:
Disney Genie is the free version of the new service that everyone using the app has access to. This basically includes the tip board tab of the app, which shares information like attraction wait times and picks for what you should do next while in Disney Parks based on which attractions, shows, and characters you selected as your favorites and current crowd levels.
Disney Genie+ comes with a fee ranging from $15-35 per person depending on the date of your visit. This service allows Guests to book Lightning Lane access to select attractions across all four theme parks in a process sort of similar to FastPass+, but with selections only able to made the day of your visit for the next available time slot.
Individual Lightning Lanes are just the name for those attractions that have Lightning Lane entrances but are not included in Disney Genie+ and therefore come at their own additional cost. These attractions include Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and TRON Lightcycle / Run at the Magic Kingdom, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at EPCOT, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Avatar – Flight of Passage at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
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Another major difference between Disney Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lanes: Selections made within Genie+ can be canceled or modified, but Individual Lightning Lanes cannot.
For instance, if you make a Genie+ selection for your whole family to ride Space Mountain, but one of the kiddos is not quite up for a roller coaster when the time comes to ride, you can modify their selection, cancel altogether, or even simply continue on using the service at other rides for the rest of the day whether or not they actually rode.
With Individual Lightning Lanes, no modifications can be made, so once you make your purchase and select a time to ride, you are locked in. As a result, you may be hesitant to book a Lightning Lane reservation with little ones who may change their mind at the last minute, depending on the attraction at least. Here’s what we recommend if you find yourself in this situation.
Disney’s official policy
The short explanation of Disney’s official policy on changes to Lightning Lanes are that modifications are only available with attractions selected through Genie+, not Individual Lightning Lanes. This point is actually not spelled out on the official website, but it will be made clear to you in the My Disney Experience app when you go through the motions of purchasing an Individual Lightning Lane.
Earlier this year, a Guest did ask a planDisney panelist about our exact concern. A Guest from Utah, reached out to Disney’s official expert planners to ask, “If I purchase a lightning lane for my grandson and he is too scared to ride it can I get a refund of the amount paid?”
The planDisney panelist response offers an attempt at a solution within the confines of the “no refunds” rule, and instead offers a tip at how to decide if the Lightning Lane should be purchased for the child to begin with:
Pricing for Individual Lightning Lanes varies by date and attraction, and once you purchase an Individual Lightning Lane, it is non-refundable.
To help ensure your grandson doesn’t change his mind after you’ve made a purchase, you might try having him watch guest ride videos posted on social media channels. I prepped my little boys for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance by watching videos. If they’d been hesitant after watching, we would have skipped the Individual Lightning Lane, but my little Jedi Knights ended up loving the attraction, and purchasing the Individual Lightning Lane was a huge convenience for our family.
As anyone with young kids knows, things sometimes just don’t go according to plan. So if your little one initially seems confident that they’ll ride, and you have Lightning Lanes purchased only for them to change their mind, here’s what could happen.
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What to do when plans change
Officially, you’ll be out the cost of your Lightning Lane purchase for the Guest who will no longer be writing, as the terms of the program state that there are no refunds.
Unofficially, we ran into this at Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance during our last Disney vacation when one member of our party decided just before our return time that the drop was not for him. When I entered the attraction at the Lightning Lane entrance, I spoke to a Cast Member who recommended that we stop by Guest Relations.
According to the Cast Member we spoke to, the app and the software on the Cast Member’s end at the attraction does not allow for changes or refunds, but Guest Relations would have more control over making changes when purchasing something through the My Disney Experience app.
Presumably, because the official policy is “no refunds,” and because the Cast Members at the rides cannot modify Lightning Lanes anyway, we want to note that in this situation, you are not guaranteed a refund, but if you find yourself with unused Lightning Lanes due to little ones changing their minds, it never hurts to check with Guest Relations.
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What we recommend
Since a refund is not guaranteed if you change your mind on an Individual Lightning Lane purchase, we have to follow the planDisney guidance of watching ride videos ahead of your trip and trying to make the most informed decision possible before purchasing.
If some of your party will want to ride either way, we recommend skipping the Lightning Lane purchase and either rope-dropping the ride or hopping in line at the end of the night (or joining the virtual queue if you can, as this is free so you won’t lose out if someone decides not to ride.) If you go this route, you might need to use rider swap if the Guest skipping the ride is a child, but you at least will not have to deal with a pre-paid experience going to waste.
When we ran into the unused Lightning Lane issue at Hollywood Studios, we opted to skip the stop at Guest Relations. Since we only had one day in the Park, and it was only one person who did not use the Lightning Lane for Rise of the Resistance ($20), we looked at it as a time vs. money situation and felt the better value for us was simply to continue on with our trip. If we had more time in the Parks, however, or if it were multiple members of our party who decided not to ride (and more than $20 was at stake), we probably would have stopped at Guest Relations.
If a stop at Guest Relations becomes a part of your next post-Lightning Lane experience, we strongly recommend going there before the end of the day. When Parks close, lines for Guest Relations can be quite long so your best bet at speaking to a Cast Member there without taking up too much time from the rest of your vacation will be to stop by before the rush of Guests leaving the Park at closing time.
Genie+ and Lightning Lanes can be confusing (and we didn’t even cover virtual queues in this article!) so we hope these tips help you prepare for what to do when it comes to Lightning Lanes and little ones during your next trip to “The Most Magical Place on Earth.”