Ride Reservation Refill Rules at Disney World

As “competition” for Lightning Lanes increases with more guests purchasing the Genie+ service, we’ve been sharing new Walt Disney World strategy for getting more done. That brings us to today’s installment about ride reservation refill rules, which is the latest in our advanced-level Genie strategy.

To that end, there are three other advanced strategy posts you should read first for fully leveraging the Genie+ system: How the Genie+ 120 Minute Rule Works, Tips for “Stacking” Genie+ Ride Reservations, and Speed Strategy for Genie+ Selections. None of this is explained by Walt Disney World on its official sites, and probably for good reason–these tips can be confusing and overwhelming. However, if you take ~30 minutes to learn those ins and outs, you won’t just be above average–you’ll be a top 5% Genie+ power user.

Today’s post puts you in the top 1%, perhaps even top .5%. Before we dig into the details, a couple of warnings are in order. First, this will absolutely increase your screen time. I know that’s a major concern with a lot of Walt Disney World vacation planners, and some of our other advice avoids being glued to your phone. This does not. Second, this is going to be confusing or intimidating at first and it will likely require several hours of your own “hands on” research before your trip. While you can comprehend the contours by reading, you really need to learn this one by doing.

If you’re so inclined, it’s worth mastering these ‘advanced’ Genie ride reservation refill rules as they will improve your day tremendously. If it were easy, everyone would do it. But it isn’t, so the vast majority of planners–even those who read this post–won’t follow the tips & tricks. Never mind the 98% of park guests who will neither read nor accidentally implement this advice. That’s okay–different strokes for different folks.

The salient point is that this is graduate level and beyond what 99% of guests will do or even need. In other words, these are not the basics of Genie+ and Lightning Lanes at Walt Disney World–feel free to skip this without worrying that you’re missing out on something essential about the Genie+ system. This is pretty far from that.

With that preface out of the way, let’s get down to brass tacks and discuss what the heck ride reservation refill rules even are. And for that, we rewind to March 2020, in the halcyon days of FastPass+ at Walt Disney World…

There’s a reason we’re calling this “ride reservation refill rules,” and it’s not just because I’m a sucker for a good alliteration. It’s because this is nothing new, and was something Walt Disney World had been fine-tuning in the final days of FastPass+. I don’t remember precisely when they started, but it became a more pronounced practice in 2019. (Or so it seemed to me.)

Walt Disney World would add same-day FastPass+ ride reservations for headliner attractions “at random” throughout the day. Except it wasn’t really at random, it was based on a set schedule. The whole purpose of this was to throw a bone to guests who didn’t realize ride reservations were booked 30/60 days in advance, and showed up at the parks with nothing in hand. Essentially, it was an attempt to remedy guest complaints about FastPass+. Except, like all things, the predictable process was reverse-engineered and it was better exploited by the savviest planners than ill-prepared first-timers.

Almost identical ride reservation refill rules were built into the Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane systems. I’ve mentioned these in passing in a variety of posts, and even explained this in our ~4,500 word Guide to Genie+ at Walt Disney World & Lightning Lane FAQ.

However, I’ve never really elaborated on it. In part that’s because I don’t want to ruin a good thing, and in part because it’s complicated, not easy to follow, and subject to change. (The latter should cancel out the former, to some degree.) Here’s everything else you need to know about ride reservation refill rules…

Refills v. Cancellations – It should go without saying, but these are not the same. If one party cancels a ride reservation, that single reservation returns to the system along with its exact time slot. There are a lot of guests all using Genie+ at the same time. Let’s say that 9 different parties all see and attempt to book one reservation for Slinky Dog Dash. Obviously, only one can–and that happens in milliseconds, before Disney’s systems can reflect that it’s gone to everyone else. Making matters worse, all can initiate the booking process and it will disappear out from under 8 of you.

Cancellations can become easier to identify over time because they will be for some random time. Once that’s booked, the return time clock jumps back to wherever it was in its cycle before (or goes unavailable, as the case may be). By contrast, reservation refills restart the clock and advance incrementally over the course of a few minutes (sometimes less, sometimes more) before booking up.

Party Size Does Not Matter – This is really only a tangential point, but it’s something that comes up a lot, and relates to the first point of confusion. If you see a cancellation, but are one of the disappointed parties that were too slow to book it, there might be the assumption that it’s because your party was too large. Truthfully, I don’t know whether that’s the case with cancellations–if it shows for everyone despite not being a fit. Nothing would surprise me, but I do know that even as a party of 1, I am routinely have the cancelled reservation rug pulled out from under me.

What I also know is that party size doesn’t matter with ride reservation refills. Lightning Lanes are not like Advance Dining Reservations–Walt Disney World is not trying to match attraction vehicle seating with hourly capacity. That’s not even remotely feasible. It’s a pure numbers game: X number of ride reservations are released, and that number can be booked in any permutation possible.

No Modifying – Unlike FastPass+, there is (still) no modify button in Genie+. Making matters worse, cancelling is a tedious, time-consuming process. If you’ve already booked a Lightning Lane and are watching for something better, by the time you cancel and attempt to book that, it’ll likely be gone.

As such, it’s better if you simply don’t book anything and wait for a refill. That’s obviously higher risk and the temptation to hedge is understandable, but this is one of the big reasons why we recommend doing a trial run at home so you see for yourself how the refills work in practice, and can develop a rhythm.

Refresh Aggressively – It’s always better to force refresh Genie rather than to wait for it to do so on its own. There are several ways to do this, but I prefer the pin and pull-down method described in Speed Strategy for Genie+ at Walt Disney World.

Booking reservation refills isn’t really about speed (this is arguably an antidote to the 7 am mad rush, as explained below), but the same principle applies.

Refills Bring Stability – Another big complaint we’re seeing from those doing the aforementioned 7 am mad dash is that their confirmed Lightning Lane time is often hours later than what they saw earlier in the booking process. Like the lack of a modify button, this is yet another design oversight. This one results from a surge of people all trying to book the same ride reservation right at 7:00:00 am.

If you wait and do one of these ride reservation refills–especially the first one of the morning–the times are more stable and it’s less likely that you’ll see 9 am and get 2 pm (or whatever).

Refilled Ride Roster – Now we’re getting down to business. Here are the attractions that we’ve seen get reservation refills at one point or another:

  • Magic Kingdom: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion, Peter Pan’s Flight, Pirates of the Caribbean, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain
  • Epcot: Frozen Ever After, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Soarin’ Around the World, Test Track
  • Hollywood Studios: Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, Slinky Dog Dash, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Toy Story Mania, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
  • Animal Kingdom: Avatar Flight of Passage, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Na’vi River Journey

Do These Ride Reservation Refills Always Happen? – Nope. Some attractions have their Lightning Lane availability replenished like clockwork at set times every day, others happen on rare occasion, and most are somewhere in between the two extremes.

Again, this is another reason to set aside a morning before your trip (ideally as close to your travel dates as possible) and do a dry run. You don’t have to pay for Genie+ to see the refills (in my many mornings of researching for this article, I didn’t) and it’ll give you an idea of what’s happening currently. I could share a bunch of refill times here today, and they could be wrong tomorrow, next week or month.

What Are Those Potentially Wrong Genie+ Ride Reservation Refill Times? – I want to, once again, stress that there are no guarantees. (There’s a reason I’m “backloading” key details like times towards the end of the article–I want anyone who simply wants a quick and easy hack to have given up and closed the browser tab by now.) I’ve been watching these refills since last November and the one thing that has been consistent is the inconsistency. There is risk in this approach.

With that said, I’ve found that the first Genie+ Lightning Lane refill typically occurs at 7:08 am (see progression in screenshots above). This is not always on the dot, and I’d recommend starting to refresh around 7:05 am and (potentially) continuing until 7:25 am. That’s right–you could be spending the first half-hour of your morning obsessively refreshing the My Disney Experience app. I hope you’ve had your coffee.

After that, Genie+ Lightning Lane refills tend to occur throughout the day, usually shortly after the hour or half-hour (e.g. 9:02 am, 9:33 am, 12:02 pm, 1:32 pm, 2:03 pm, etc). Those are examples, not exact times. Actual ride reservation refill times vary by day, park, crowd levels, and attraction downtime.

Beyond that, all of this is subject to change. I’m just one person monitoring this (and not a very organized one, so my notes aren’t the best) without the use of data scraping or fancy technology. I could be missing some attractions, drop times, etc. With that said, I’ve never seen any refills in the 8 am hour or after the 3 pm hour. To the best of my knowledge, most occur between 9 am and 1 pm.

What About Potentially Wrong Individual Lightning Lane Ride Reservation Refill Times? – This is actually one that has happened with a greater degree of consistency, and that’s Individual Lightning Lanes starting at 7:17 am (see progression in screenshots above). At one point, this was primarily just Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, but I think that was probably because it was the only attraction selling out quickly.

In more recent weeks, I’ve noticed all ILL attractions being refilled at 7:17 am (see recent refill availability in screenshots below). As an added bonus, the clock progresses much more slowly with this refill than the initial stock, making it easier to book the return time you actually want.

Where Does This Matter Most? – There’s a good chance this will be overwhelming or too much work if you are the type of person who goes on vacation to, ya know, vacation. If you want to spend time gazing at your family’s smiles and enjoying time with them at Walt Disney World and not glued to your phone, we would recommend only embracing this approach in one park and being more laid back with the rest.

Without question, that park is Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Distilling all of this down to its key components, you could (theoretically) sleep until 7:06 am, then book Slinky Dog Dash for an early return time during its first drop, followed by Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance during its first refill. Unlike the 7:00:00 am mad dash, this would not require two adults and would thus be easier since these times are staggered (for now, at least).

If you don’t plan on buying the ILL, you could sleep in even later, booking Slinky Dog Dash during its next refill (see half-hour progression screenshots of Slinky Dog Dash above). You could then use that when eligible, reserving your next Lightning Lanes as normal pursuant to the 120 minute rule, and then trying to score a couple ride reservation refills with your early afternoon slots.

That’s not really a ton of screen time (these reservations are literally occurring at least 2 hours apart) and has the potential to save you a tremendous amount of time waiting in line at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Although you can better leverage refills at Magic Kingdom, I just don’t think it’s necessary most days unless you’re doing this for sport or plan to Park Hop. Even then, the cost in stress and time spent refreshing is too high for my liking.

As yet another reminder, Genie+ is not the end-all, be-all of park touring strategy. Our Genie+ v. Savvy Standby Strategy at Walt Disney World covers the best and worst ways to beat the crowds right now and Genie+ and Lightning Lanes are not the best (and certainly not the easiest) way in 3 of the 4 parks.

The only park where Genie+ was the clear-cut winner was Magic Kingdom. Everywhere else, there were superior strategies for saving time waiting in line. Following these ride reservation refill rules and accompanying strategy bridges the gap, and makes Genie+ more viable for DHS, as well.

If you’re overwhelmed by all of the recent changes, crowd reports, and everything else, the aforementioned post is the most succinct resource for current strategy. (Seriously, if you only read ONE strategy post prior to your trip, make it that. The advice there is definitely more practical than this post for most.)

Ultimately, a lot of you will likely leave this post even more confused or frustrated, and perhaps further infuriated that Genie+ and Lightning Lanes are so unnecessarily complicated. In general, we agree with that sentiment. However, in this specific case, that doesn’t really apply. This isn’t really a loophole exploit, but there is a reason why Disney doesn’t publish this info itself. These ride reservation refills are not meant to be understood or common knowledge–they’re supposed to be a ‘relief valve’ of sorts for guests who don’t know all of the ins and outs, and are just randomly looking for availability. That’s true with a lot of Genie+ hacks–it’s leveraging the system in a way that wasn’t intended.

This is also why we’ve included so many caveats throughout this post about all of this being subject to change, inconsistent, and so forth. Walt Disney World will toy with these times to keep power users on their toes, meaning there are no guarantees and all of this is risky to put into practice. You really need to understand these pitfalls going in–this is not for the faint of heart, especially without the safety net of a modify button. This is a perilous approach, but to quote the great Indiana Jones (Adventure): “Real Rewards Await Those Who Choose Wisely.”

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

Do these ride reservation refill rules make sense to you or is it too overwhelming? Will you use this strategy for scoring Genie+ or Individual Lightning Lane selections? Have you had success in getting Slinky Dog Dash during one of these refills? What about headliners in other parks? Thoughts on leveraging Genie+ refills versus other strategy? Do you agree or disagree with my assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

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