Before 2020, Walt Disney World and I were faithful buddies.
I popped in for a visit several times a year, and Disney rewarded me with a good time and great memories. In fact, in September 2019, I celebrated my 20th visit to Walt Disney World and my first visit without the kids! Yep, my husband and I ditched our offspring for an adults-only vacation. We visited Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and ate around Epcot and took advantage of every minute of extra magic hours. My boys were flabbergasted that we left them behind, but I promised that we’d all be back for our family vacation in March 2020.
MARCH 2020! Oops.
In fact, we didn’t go back, and it would be a full two years – and two cancelled Disney vacations later – that we were finally able to experience the most magical place on earth. In June, we spent five incredible days rekindling our love for classic attractions, enchanting fireworks, over-the-top food and beloved Disney characters.
Was it worth the wait? YES.
Would I do it again? HECK YES.
Was it… different? Yeah, yeah it was.
Listen, I’m just about the biggest Disney fanatic and pride myself of having a higher-than-average Disney IQ, especially when it comes to planning, maximizing experiences and absorbing the magic of a Walt Disney World vacation. However, there is a learning curve to Disney in 2022, and for those planning a vacation in the coming months, here’s what I learned.
1. Get to know Disney Genie, Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lanes.
Take the words “Fast Pass” right out of your mouth because it’s a thing of the past! All Walt Disney World guests now have access to the FREE Disney Genie, whose features live in My Disney Experience, the official app of Walt Disney World. Here, you’ll find personalized itinerary options, touring plans based on your interests, mobile ordering, a virtual assistant, and my favourite: forecasted wait times.
Disney Genie+ is part of Disney Genie as a paid program, completely replacing the previous FastPass+, and allows guests to make reservations for rides, skip the standby line and enter through Lightning Lanes. The cost is $15 per person per day and all the scheduling is done through My Disney Experience.
I used Genie+ twice during our recent vacation and found the process to be seamless. Although we could only schedule one Lightning Lane reservation at a time, we found that Disney kept the flow of rider traffic consistently smooth throughout the day and using the system, we were able to schedule six rides over a 10-hour park day. In between, we used the standby entrance for four rides with a 30-minute or less wait, which means we enjoyed 10 rides at Magic Kingdom. For a former diehard FastPass+ user such as myself, I’d say the new system is not only comparable – it may even be better.
A few select attractions that aren’t included with the Disney Genie+ program can be purchased with an Individual Lightning Lane pass. The prices vary based on the ride and park, but expect to pay anywhere from $7 to $15 per person, per ride. We purchased Individual Lightning Lane access for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance in Hollywood Studios and Avatar Flight of Passage in Animal Kingdom. Both times, it was money well spent as the standby entrance was 120 minutes or more.
All in all, I’m extremely happy with the new system and if you’re meticulous about using the app, you will make the most of your day at Walt Disney World.
2. Budget for Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lanes.
You knew this was coming – as much as I love the new process, it does come at a cost. For a family of four, budget about USD $120-$150 more per day to take advantage of Disney Genie+ and 1-2 rides via the Lightning Lane.
Only you can decide what your time is worth. For us, we gladly paid it, knowing that we were able to spend more time enjoying the attractions and less time waiting in line. I firmly believe that if you include this cost into your pre-trip budgeting, you won’t feel the pinch as much as if you decide to purchase the add-ons at the last minute. Because, as we know with everything Disney, last-minute planning is never the best strategy.
3. Ride Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind.
Read my post for Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, Virtual Queue Strategies and then do whatever you need to do to GET ON THIS RIDE. It’s new, it’s thrilling and it’s unlike anything you’ll find at a Disney park. It’s also one of the largest fully-enclosed coasters in the world! The pre-ride entertainment is also top tier; you’ll tour the Galaxarium, a planetarium-like exhibition showcasing the similarities and differences between Xandar and Earth’s galaxies.
Located in Epcot, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind is a family-friendly coaster and my boys agree – it’s currently the best ride at Walt Disney World!
4. Try as many new foods as you can.
Hand on heart, one of the things I missed MOST about Walt Disney World was the over-the-top, fun food. From Jumbo Mickey Churro Cookies (Fantasyland) to a Banana Fudge Lunch Box Tart (Toy Story Land), there are over a hundred new snacks, meal items and beverages at Walt Disney World. Polkadots and Pixie Dust has an excellent list of all the new foods and the site is updated frequently; consider it your bible for discovering what to eat at Disney.
My favourite time to visit Walt Disney World is during the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival – I’m obsessed with the gorgeous topiaries and of course, smitten with the outdoor kitchens. Check out my reel to see everything we ate in a day.
5. When there’s a smile in your heart, there’s no better time to start.
Apologies for the earworm (I’ve been singing these two lines over and over since I began writing this post), but there’s one thing I want to leave you with: through all the ups and downs of the last two years, Walt Disney World continues to be a source of wonder, happiness and light.
I was worried that after two years, and one life-altering societal change, I wouldn’t feel the rush of bewilderment or embrace the magic as I once did. I’m happy to say I was wrong; as soon as I stepped onto Main Street, ducked into Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and strolled into Pandora, World of Avatar, I not only felt at home – I felt as if I was welcomed with open arms. Walt Disney World holds every bit of enchantment as it once did, and just as I do when I return from every Disney vacation, I find myself ready to plan my next.