How to Maximize a Trip to Disneyland

When my family took a trip to Disneyland this past August, I was initially a little apprehensive about going after the pandemic. Don’t get me wrong, I love theme parks and we’re all big Disney fans, so you’d think I’d be very excited to return.

There were some big changes since our last visit, such as getting rid of the legacy FASTPASS and MaxPass systems. If I wanted to ensure my family and I made the most of our holiday, I had to relearn the best ways to go about our visit.

In the end, we had two fun-filled days at Disneyland and California Adventure Park. Here are some tips and tricks that I discovered along the way that may help to make your next trip to Disneyland a little easier.

In This Post

Buy Tickets and Make a Reservation

As you’re planning your trip, the first order of business is to head to the Disneyland website and sign up for an account. Once you’ve created one, you can view your tickets and park photos, as well as easily manage all of your resort, park, dining, and activity reservations on the dashboard.

If you purchase tickets directly from Disney, they’ll automatically show up under your profile. If you purchase them from a third-party vendor, you can link your tickets on your online account or by using the Disneyland app. 

Note that buying a ticket alone will not get you into the Disneyland parks. After you purchase a ticket, decide on which dates and parks you’d like to visit, and then make a reservation.

Park reservations are subject to availability, so if you’re visiting during a busy time of year and go without a reservation, you could be denied entry if all the reservations are booked for the day.

If you purchase your tickets directly through Disney, you will already have made a reservation when you completed the purchase. If you purchase your tickets from a third-party vendor, you’ll need to link the ticket to your profile first, and then make a reservation separately.

How to Book a Trip to Disneyland on Points

Get to Know the Disneyland App

The Disneyland app is your best friend when you’re at the park. Be sure to take some time to familiarize yourself with the app, as it will come in handy once you’ve finally arrived and are ready to make the most of your holiday.

Other features of the app allow you to make mobile dining orders, manage Genie+ return times, receive notifications for rides that are down, view a map of the parks, and see current attraction wait times and height restrictions.

As you’re planning out your day, use the app to see which attractions are available, the entry requirements, and where they’re located in the park. By visualizing where everything is and checking the height requirements, you can avoid disappointment in advance and save everyone from needless running around.

Pay More to Save Time

You’ll likely read about Genie+ during your preparations, which is a paid service that gives you access to shorter lines in Disneyland and California Adventure Park. Using Genie+ will afford you and your family more time enjoying the attractions and less time standing in long lines, but it comes at a cost.

Before diving into the intricacies of Genie+, you’ll need to understand the differences between Genie and Genie+.

What Are Genie and Genie+?

Disney Genie is a feature of the free Disneyland app that displays your daily itinerary, including any reservations you have, and gives up-to-date suggestions on which attraction to visit next, based on your preferences and location in the park. It also displays height restrictions and wait-time estimates for all attractions, which helps you plan your day accordingly.

On the other hand, Genie+ is a paid ride reservation system that allows you to use separate, shorter lines. In the past, this was a free service, but, unfortunately, that’s no longer the case.

If you wish to skip the longer queues, Genie+ will cost you $25 (USD) per person per day, if bought in advance. Same-day purchases are variable in price, and start at $25 (USD), depending on the demand for the day.

Should you be travelling with a group of people, you can easily link tickets across profiles. To link tickets, go to the “Tickets and Passes” section of the app, and scan the tickets of the other members of your group.

This way, if you’re trying to book a Genie+ reservation, one person can book it for the whole group, rather than everyone scrambling to book for the same or similar return time.

How to Use Genie+

The Genie+ service allows you to choose the next available arrival return time at 11 participating attractions at Disneyland and eight participating attractions at California Adventure Park. You can only have a Genie+ booking for one attraction at a time, and only one booking per day can be made for each attraction.

A return time is a specific period for you to come back to an attraction and not have to wait in the standby queue. Rather, when you arrive at your scheduled return time, you’ll get to use the express queue, known as the Lightning Lane entrance (previously known as the FASTPASS line), therefore skipping the regular queue.

In Disneyland, Genie+ reservations can be made on the following attractions:

  • Autopia
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  • Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
  • Haunted Mansion
  • Indiana Jones Adventure
  • “it’s a small world”
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds
  • Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
  • Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
  • Space Mountain
  • Splash Mountain
  • Star Tours – The Adventures Continue

At California Adventure Park, Genie+ can be used on the following attractions:

  • Goofy’s Sky School
  • Grizzly River Run
  • Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!
  • Incredicoaster
  • Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!
  • Soarin’ Over California
  • Toy Story Midway Mania!
  • WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure

To give you an idea of just how much time can be saved with Genie+, most wait times were less than 10 minutes using the Lightning Lane entrance during our visit, as opposed to waiting upwards of 60 minutes or more in the standby queue. This allowed us to visit other areas of the parks, when we would have otherwise had to stand in line.

How to Maximize Genie+

Genie+ is activated the minute you enter the park. So, as soon as you walk through the gates, be sure to book the Lightning Lane for your first attraction.

Once you’ve booked an active return time, you can only book the next one in one of the following situations:

  • Two hours have passed since you last booked.
  • You’ve tapped into the Lightning Lane for an attraction.
  • Your return time window has passed.

Generally speaking, a good strategy is to book the closest available return time, tap into the attraction, and then book the next one right away. Doing this will minimize your wait times, and help you pack the most into a day.

Although Genie+ officially gives you a one-hour window to return, grace periods of five minutes beforehand and 15 minutes afterwards are given. So, you could potentially go a bit earlier to your ride and score the next Lightning Lane reservation a little quicker.

Cast Members usually start scanning guests into the parks 30 minutes prior to the park’s official opening time. If you go early, you could squeeze in an extra two or three rides with short standby queues, before utilizing your first Genie+ return time.

When we visited, we literally walked off of one ride and onto the next. The later you arrive, the later the return times will be, as more people will be competing for them.

Consider staying at a nearby hotel, such as the Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park Entrance, to make the morning commute easier. Guests staying at a Disneyland resort also have an early entry benefit, where they can enter Disneyland parks 30 minutes earlier than guests staying elsewhere.

Using Genie+ allows you to spend more time visiting other attractions

Genie+ reservations are subject to availability, so it’s best to prioritize high-demand attractions first, as they’re likely to sell out before the end of the day.

In Disneyland, consider prioritizing the following attractions with Genie+:

  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  • Indiana Jones Adventure
  • Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
  • Space Mountain

While in California Adventure Park, consider prioritizing the following attractions with Genie+:

  • Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: BREAKOUT!
  • Soarin’ Over California
  • Toy Story Midway Mania!
  • WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure
Toy Story Midway Mania!

Individual Lightning Lane Purchases

Genie+ does not include the high-demand attractions Radiator Springs Racers at California Adventure Park or Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disneyland. Rather, these rides require separate, individual Lightning Lane purchases, regardless of whether you’ve purchased Genie+ or not.

Radiator Springs Racers at California Adventure Park

If these rides are on your hit list, then I would highly recommend making the purchase. Standby queues for these rides can be more than 90 minutes, which really eats into your day.

Pricing for each Lightning Lane varies, and can only be purchased once you’ve entered the park. Prices start at $12 (USD), but we paid $15 (USD) for Radiator Springs Racers and $20 (USD) for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance during our stay.

Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disneyland

There are a limited number of passes available each day, so don’t wait too long if you’re on the fence about it. On the days we were there, Lightning Lanes were sold out by 4pm, and these weren’t even on busy days.

Individual Lightning Lanes are not subject to Genie+ time restrictions, which means they can be booked at any time during the day for the next available return time. Note that they can be purchased once per ride, per day.

If you choose not to purchase an individual Lightning Lane for these attractions or they’re sold out, the next best way to catch them is either at the beginning or end of the day. As long as you can make it into the standby queue by closing time, you’ll get on the ride.

The standby queues have usually thinned out the the latter part of the evening, so wait times tend to be shorter.

Genie+ and PhotoPass

PhotoPass is Disney’s photo-taking service. If you’ve ever been to Disney World or Disneyland, you’ll notice that there are Cast Members located at certain locations and attractions throughout the parks snapping photos for guests.

At Disney World, you either need to pay to download these photos individually, or purchase a Memory Maker package for unlimited digital downloads. At Disneyland, purchasing Genie+ includes unlimited Disney PhotoPass downloads for the entire time in the theme parks.

It’s a great benefit that comes along with Genie+, as this service normally costs $69 (USD) per day at Disney World.

Be sure to take advantage and allow Cast Members to capture those special moments for you. All you need to do is let them take your photo and scan your PhotoPass code on the app.

Get Genie+ at Disneyland to enjoy unlimited photos from your visit

If the photo is taken as part of a ride, take note of the eight-character Attraction ID on the photo monitors at the end of the ride to link them to your PhotoPass.

Other Tips & Tricks

Once you’ve planned out your visit to Disneyland and California Adventure Park, there are a few other considerations that will help you and your family maximize your time.

Use Single Rider Lanes

If your kids are older, you don’t have a Lightning Lane, or don’t mind riding separately, it may be quicker to hop into a single rider lane, which is available on select rides. I’ve seen single rider lanes move quite quickly compared to the standby queue, so you might wind up saving some time this way.

Rider Switch Service

Sometimes young children may be too scared or too small for a ride, so someone has to stay behind to watch them while the rest of the group rides. Disneyland offers a Rider Switch service, where the supervising guest can hop onto the ride once the other riders return, without having to wait in line again.

Better yet, when the supervising guest goes on the ride, they can bring another two guests with them, potentially allowing some group members to ride twice!

This service is only available on select rides, which can be found on Disneyland’s website.

Alternatively, if this service isn’t available for a particular ride, you could book a Genie+ Lightning Lane for the non-rider(s) and allow other members of the group to use it. All you need to do is scan the non-rider’s ticket for that booking.

Ride Breakdowns and Multiple Experiences Passes

If a ride is down during your return window, you’ve hit the jackpot. Not only can you immediately book a new return time to any other available ride, but the Genie+ system automatically issues you a Multiple Experiences pass that can be used on almost any ride in the park, aside from rides with a paid Lightning Lane. 

If this happens, you’ll get a notification through the app, which will display the following:

Tap on it, and you’ll be shown which ride it replaces and the tickets involved.

The Multiple Experiences pass is valid for use any time at either park for one ride, without any time restrictions, right through to the end of the day. You could wait for your originally booked ride to open up again, or ride a second time on one for which you’ve already redeemed a Genie+ reservation.

Virtual Queue for World of Color

You’ll notice in your Disneyland app that there is a Virtual Queue section. Initially, I had no clue what function this served.

On the day we visited California Adventure Park, I clicked it out of curiosity, and discovered it was a way to reserve seating for the World of Color outdoor evening spectacular.

You can join the virtual queue beginning at 12pm daily, subject to availability. Approximately 45 minutes prior to the show, guests with a Virtual Queue will be sent a notification from the app to proceed to the viewing area.

Although it’s not required to view the show, I would recommend joining the queue, as it will grant access to reserved viewing areas which offer a closer and much better view. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite make it in time, so we watched the show from behind the reserved area.

World of Color at California Adventure Park

Beating the Heat

We visited Disneyland at the end of August, and while temperatures weren’t scorching, it was still hot. Break up your day with indoor attractions, as they have air conditioning and offer a nice retreat from the heat.

For example, in Disneyland, visit the Enchanted Tiki Room for a musical presentation, or take a sketching class at the Animation Academy in California Adventure Park.

Break up the day with indoor attractions to keep everyone cool in the heat

When you’re outside, be sure to pack a cooling towel that can be wrapped around heads and necks. Of course, bring a water bottle, and look out for one with a misting function, too.

Aside from keeping them cool, my kids had fun with them, which also helped to distract from the heat.

Conclusion

Planning a visit to Disneyland may not be as challenging as planning a visit to Disney World, but there are still plenty of things you can do beforehand to prepare and ensure a smoother experience. Read up on the parks, check out the app, and prioritize your attractions.

If you need assistance planning the flights, accommodations, or purchasing your tickets, check out my previous post. Whether it’s your first time visiting Disneyland ever or just since the pandemic, hopefully these posts will help your visit be a magical one.

2 Comments
  1. Max

    One thing to keep in mind if trying to catch Rise of the Resistance at the end of the day is that it usually closes at 9 pm, well before the closure of the park.

  2. Sam

    Great tips Amy, would love to see one for Disney World also.

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