Make sure your Lightning Lane reservation is all squared away and that you’re strapped in tight, because This Week in Theme Park News is rumbling through Paste once again. After a short break in order to actually visit some theme parks and to pontificate upon Walt Disney World hitting the half-century mark, I’m back with our regular weekly recap of all the latest happenings and mishaps in the world of theme parks. And this week was a real doozy, so let’s get started.
The big news is that Disney Genie, the updated app engineered to make your trip to Disney World as smooth as possible, has finally launched. It opened up to guests at Disney World’s theme parks this past Tuesday, Oct. 19, to the relief of some and the consternation of others. Genie is a free service within the Disney World app that offers a regularly updated stream of recommendations on what to do and where to go throughout your time at the parks. If there’s a certain ride that Genie thinks your party would like that currently has a short wait time, it’ll let you know. If reservations at a specific restaurant have opened up, you might be lucky enough to catch a notification about it on Genie. Genie is a way to optimize your day, while also giving Disney more control into traffic patterns within its parks, and it’s all free.
Genie also has two extra paid tiers, which are getting most of the attention. Genie+ costs an extra $15 per day (it’ll be $20 when it rolls out at Disneyland), and it effectively replaces the old FastPass program. Genie+ gives you access to the new Lightning Lane entrances, letting you schedule a specific window of time at over 40 attractions throughout Disney World’s four parks. This includes some of the best theme park attractions ever made, including the Haunted Mansion, The Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror, Soarin’, and Kilimanjaro Safaris. You can only make a Lightning Lane reservation for the same day, starting at 7 a.m. if you’re staying in a Disney World resort hotel, so the era of waking up early in the morning 60 days before your Disney World vacation in hopes of getting the best FastPasses is officially over—and, frankly, that is incredibly good news in my opinion, as planning ahead was maybe the least fun thing about a trip to Disney.
Lightning Lane doesn’t cover every attraction, though. A Lightning Lane pass for a few of the newest or highest demand rides can only be booked through individual, a la carte pricing, which can range from $7 to $15 per rider, per ride. This list includes two attractions at each park, including Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Hollywood Studios and the brand new Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure at Epcot. If you want to guarantee a ride on Space Mountain or Avatar: Flight of Passage without waiting in the stand-by line, you’ll need to pay for it.
Obviously these new extra add-ons will make a trip to Disney World more expensive than it already is. Other theme parks have long charged extra to skip the lines, though, something Disney World has never done until now, so in a way Disney is just catching up to what other companies have already made a standard part of theme park life. And if you use Genie+ and Lightning Lane smartly, it does seem like you’ll most likely be able to see and do more in a day than you typically would’ve in the past. They’re both optional, of course, and there are stand-by queues for every attraction—and, as several people have pointed out on Twitter this week, the posted stand-by wait times tend to be longer than the actual waits.
I’ll be trying out Genie+ myself in a few weeks, when I head back down to Disney World in November, and will keep you posted on how it goes. The need of a coordinated strategy to get the most out of my trip was probably the biggest change I had to get used to when I became obsessed with Disney parks again for the first time since the early ‘90s, and if Genie+ and Lightning Lane can replace all that prep time and strategy with something that’s a little more spontaneous and open-ended, while still helping me do as much as I can during my time at the parks, it might be a revelation. I’ll find out in a few weeks!
Meanwhile, on the opposite coast, out at Disneyland, a new monster has taken root at the Oogie Boogie Bash Halloween Party at Disney’s California Adventure, and although it might look familiar at first, it’s probably not who you think it’ll be.
It was revealed via TikTok that Zombie Captain America is now haunting Oogie Boogie Bash. The shambling undead corpse of the Star-Spangled Avenger made its MCU debut in a recent episode of What If…? that owed a lot to Robert Kirkman and Sean Phillips’ Marvel Zombies comics, and now it’s dragging its decomposing body all over Avengers Campus. If you want to catch America’s Zombie in the flesh (or what’s left of it), you’ll have to act fast—Oogie Boogie Bash runs through Oct. 31—and, uh, you’ll also have to have bought a ticket several weeks ago, as the entire Halloween party sold out quickly. Maybe you’ll get a chance to come face-to-face with Zombie Cap next year?
Speaking of deadlines: you officially have less than three months left to say goodbye to Shrek 4-D at Universal Studios Florida. The simulator attraction will be shutting down for good on Jan. 10, 2022, with its gift shop disappearing alongside it. Fear not, though, Shrekheads: the big green ogre and his pal Donkey will still be showing up at the Meet Shrek and Donkey meet-and-greet. There’s no word yet on what will be taking the attraction’s place, but it seems like a good bet that the critically acclaimed Secret Life of Pets ride that opened at Universal Studios Hollywood last year could be popping up in Florida, too.
This isn’t breaking news, but it did come out during my brief hiatus, and it greatly appeals to my interests, so I’m going to hit it right now. Better late than never, right? Universal confirmed the longstanding rumors that Super Nintendo World, which opened at Universal Studios Japan during the pandemic, will be expanding with a Donkey Kong-themed add on. The addition will make Super Nintendo World almost 70% bigger than it currently is, and it’ll include a roller coaster, “interactive experiences,” and new themed food and retail options. They hope to open the new area in 2024, which means maybe people from outside Japan will actually be able to check it out when it opens. Other versions of Super Nintendo World will be coming to Universal’s parks in California, Florida, and Singapore, of course, so even if the pandemic never ends everybody might still get to visit Donkey Kong, no matter what country they live in.
And that’s it for another week. If you work at a theme or amusement park and want to keep me and our readers updated on your latest news, feel free to reach out to me via email or on Twitter. And if you’re headed to any amusement parks this week, stay safe and have fun!
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.