1-Day Disneyland Itinerary Using Genie+ & Lightning Lanes
This 1-day itinerary for Disneyland with Genie+ and Lightning Lanes offers our step-by-step plan for the park using paid line-skipping. The goal is to illustrate the process of how California’s MaxPass replacement works in practice and cover the best strategy for ride reservations.
This is a theoretical day at Disneyland since there are unknowns that vary from day to day, but that’s true of literally any itinerary. Just like a normal touring plan, there’s a lot here that we can pull from past precedent, historical wait time data, and typical Lightning Lane availability and distribution times. We’ve used Genie+ at Disneyland several times already, and had extensive experience with MaxPass and FastPass before this.
If you have more questions about the basics of using Genie+ at Disneyland or how this overly complicated system works, see our Guide to Genie+ and Lightning Lanes at Disneyland & DCA. In our estimation, it’s easier to understand Genie+ at Disneyland when seeing how it works in practice with a run-through of a day in the park…
Enter this 1-day Disneyland itinerary using Genie+ and Lightning Lanes. If you’re a type A planner, hopefully this will give you some peace of mind about how Genie+ and Lightning Lanes will work on your vacation. With that said, keep in mind that there will likely be some fluidity with Genie+ and Lightning Lanes in the months to come as tweaks are made.
With this, even if you don’t understand all of the many quirks of Genie+ at Disneyland, hopefully you can mimic the broad strokes of this to come up with your own plan for making ride reservations. As a supplement to this, we’d recommend reading our Disneyland Genie+ Lightning Lane Ride Ranks. That’ll be especially helpful if you already have your own standby touring plan in mind, and just want to supplement that with Genie+ throughout your day.
Anyway, on with our 1-Day Disneyland Itinerary with Genie+ and Lightning Lanes…
Rope Drop Arrival – If you can, we recommend arriving at Disneyland’s security checkpoints about 45 minutes before official park opening time or earlier during peak seasons.
As we cover in our Disneyland Park Opening & Rope Drop Tips, Disneyland’s turnstiles typically open well before park opening, at which time guests are allowed onto Main Street. We recommend heading immediately for the Central Plaza, in front of the Partners statue of Walt Disney & Mickey Mouse.
First Genie+ Selection – At Disneyland, you can’t make Lightning Lane selections until entering the park. This makes booking ride reservations easier, but also presents a predicament: do you start booking return times right away upon entering for rope drop, or wait a little bit?
We advise waiting until the return windows are ~30 minutes after park opening. This gives you the ability to do attractions exclusively via standby lines for the first ~90 minutes that Disneyland is open. A good approach for starting the day is by knocking out rides that don’t offer Genie+ (everything in Fantasyland) plus other attractions you might want to do more than once.
Your first pick via Genie+ should be either Space Mountain or Indiana Jones Adventure. Ideally this will be with an 8:30 am to 9:30 am return window, assuming Disneyland opens at 8 am.
Early Morning Attractions: Fantasyland – Don’t listen to anyone who says it’s better to rope drop Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance or Space Mountain. While those individually will have longer wait times than anything in Fantasyland, they also take more time to do.
By contrast, if you start out in Fantasyland, you can knock out at least a half-dozen short attractions that are within close proximity in minimal time. In so doing, your aggregate time-savings will be far greater than what you can accomplish by starting in Tomorrowland or Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Starting in Fantasyland is also a good way to avoid this area in the middle of the day, when it’s chaotic.
Here’s the ideal order of attractions for Fantasyland:
- Peter Pan’s Flight (skip if you’re not near the front of the rope drop pack)
- Snow White’s Enchanted Wish
- Alice in Wonderland
- Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
- Storybook Land Canal Boats
- Casey Jr. Circus Train
- Pinocchio’s Daring Journey
- Mad Tea Party
You should be able to hit ~75% of the attractions in Fantasyland in the first hour Disneyland is open if you’re efficient and crowds aren’t terrible. With that said, if any of these have long lines or posted wait times above ~20 minutes, skip them. If something isn’t high priority for your party, skip it. The goal here is to ‘ride the wave’ of crowds–not to do all 9 attractions on the list.
First in Frontier or Tackle Tomorrow – Depending upon crowds and how quickly you knocked out Fantasyland, you should still have time to beat the standby crowds in either Tomorrowland or Frontier. If you’re heading towards Tomorrowland, the headliners you can expect to accomplish are Matterhorn Bobsleds and Space Mountain. If you’re heading the other direction, it’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain, and Haunted Mansion.
We recommend doing as many of these as possible via standby because Genie+ has a no re-ride policy. Basically, focus on the attractions you might want to do more than once. If there isn’t anything you anticipate wanting to repeat, ignore this step and start using Lightning Lane reservations.
Following that, do your first Lightning Lane selection, and book either the other one of those or Matterhorn Bobsleds. Since Matterhorn is essentially in between the two, it can be easier to knock out will crossing the park.
Set Sail for Adventure – It’s still early, and lines should be short compared to what they’ll be later in the day. Take advantage of this by doing Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean via standby.
While you’re in the area, it can make sense to do Indiana Jones Adventure, either via the Lightning Lane–or standby if the line is still short or you’re visiting during the off-season.
Lunch on the Bayou – Three of our Disneyland’s most iconic restaurants are in New Orleans Square: Blue Bayou and Cafe Orleans (read our full review) are both table service restaurants, whereas French Market (read our full review) is counter service.
The latter two offer good value for money, and nice open-air outdoor seating. You can’t go wrong either way, but if you’re short on time, pick French Market. By contrast, Blue Bayou is overpriced, but arguably worth it for the experience of dining inside Pirates of the Caribbean (note: Blue Bayou will be closed from April 21, 2022 through Summer 2022. We do NOT recommend it before reopening, as there are already scrims inside the seating area.)
Before and/or after lunch, aim to accomplish Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad via Genie+ ride reservations. While in the neighborhood of Splash Mountain, do the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
Alternating Afternoon Attractions – The middle of the afternoon is when Disneyland sees its longest lines, making this a great time to enjoy some of the gems of Disneyland that go unnoticed by most guests while waiting to redeem Genie+ Lightning Lane selections.
Options here include Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and the adjacent Disney Gallery, Disneyland Railroad, Sleeping Beauty Castle Walk-Through, Mark Twain Riverboat, Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes, Tom Sawyer Island, and Sailing Ship Columbia. You won’t have time to do all of these originals, so plan on picking an assortment that are most appealing to you.
From the Genie+ side of the ledger, mix in ride reservations for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Autopia, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, Haunted Mansion, “it’s a small world”, and Star Tours — The Adventures Continue. All of these are low to medium priority, so the order you book them doesn’t matter much.
Blast Off to Batuu – We recommend doing Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at night rather than first thing in the morning for a couple of reasons. First, crowds are actually worst in the morning and get progressively better as the day wears on. Second, because Star Wars Land is simply better at night. The lighting adds a lot to the moody off-planet atmosphere, and makes the experience even more immersive.
Before arriving to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, be sure to book a Lightning Lane reservation for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run via Genie+ (and do that whenever your window opens), visit Dok Ondar’s Den of Antiquities, and have dinner at Docking Bay 7 Food & Cargo.
This brings us to Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, the most popular addition to Disneyland in decades. At present, this blockbuster attraction closes before the rest of Disneyland–usually at the same time as the fireworks. Wait time data indicates that its line is shortest about 60-90 minutes before the attraction closes.
You’re still looking at about an hour in line, perhaps more when it’s busy, but that’s the best time to line up (assuming you don’t want to purchase the Individual Lightning Lane).
Fireworks – If you’re in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, you’ll have a perfect view of Disneyland’s fireworks from the area in front of the Millennium Falcon. This will not include the emotional music, projections, or low-level effects, but it’s a fun and unique vantage that also avoids the crowds.
With that said, nothing compares with watching from Main Street USA with the pyro exploding above Sleeping Beauty Castle. This is the iconic view, albeit one that everyone else wants, too. Check out our Best Disneyland Fireworks Viewing Locations for recommendations and sample photos.
Final Countdown – At the end of the fireworks, there will be a mass exodus of guests, clogging up walkways outside the parks while waiting for trams, buses, or just walking back to their hotels on Harbor Boulevard. Do not be among them.
Most nights, Disneyland should still be open for another hour or two, and this rivals rope drop as the best time of day to do attractions with minimal waits. What you do is up to you–presumably you’ve knocked out all of the headliners, potentially multiple times. Options now include repeating those, or checking out the Best Disneyland Rides at Night.
That’s a wrap on this step-by-step day in Disneyland using Genie+ to book Lightning Lane ride reservations and standby to do Fantasyland dark rides and everything else. Some of what you accomplish will vary by day and desire, but we think this is probably ~75% accurate, and at the very least, should illustrate how a day could look using Genie+ for those who never used paper FastPass or MaxPass.
The point here is to illustrate how Genie+ could prove advantageous for days you opt to purchase the add-on. Personally, I’d buy strategically rather than length-of-ticket, using Genie+ for one full day in Disneyland and one combined day in Disney California Adventure and Disneyland (if you’re not getting the Park Hopper, it’s still worth buying once in DCA). That’s just me, though, as someone who is relatively frugal but also recognizes that “vacation time is money.”
Finally, even with a lot of things you’d be able to accomplish during the middle of the day condensed for the sake of simplicity, this itinerary might look overwhelming. Like all things Disney, it’ll become simpler and more intuitive once put into practice.
Also, this should also illustrate that you don’t need Genie+ and Lightning Lanes–arriving at rope drop and staying until park closing should enable you to use our normal 1-Day Disneyland Itinerary (No Genie+) and still accomplish pretty much everything. The real advantages with Lightning Lanes comes when arriving late, leaving early, or doing repeat rides. If you’re a ‘commando tourist’ who will show up early and stay late, you might be fine not shelling out the ~$20 per person extra.
Planning a Southern California vacation? For park admission deals, read Tips for Saving Money on Disneyland Tickets. Learn about on-site and off-site hotels in our Anaheim Hotel Reviews & Rankings. For where to eat, check out our Disneyland Restaurant Reviews. For unique ideas of things that’ll improve your trip, check out What to Pack for Disney. For comprehensive advice, consult our Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide. Finally, for guides beyond Disney, check out our Southern California Itineraries for day trips to Los Angeles, Laguna Beach, and tons of other places!
Was this 1-Day Disneyland Itinerary w/ Genie+ helpful to illustrate how to leverage Lightning Lanes? If you’ve used Genie+ at Disneyland, were you able to accomplish everything in this touring plan? Do you favor Fantasyland or Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge for rope drop? Have any questions we didn’t answer with the above? Still confused by how Genie+ or Lightning Lanes work? Do you agree or disagree with our assessments? Other thoughts or concerns? 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!
Is this updated? I noticed it’s missing some things in Mickey’s Toontown, like the new Runaway Railway.
Let’s say you scan in at 7:30am and immediately make a LL selection for Indiana Jones for an 8:00am return time (park also opens at 8:00am). However, you continue to modify the Indy reservation backwards to 10:15am. Would you be able to book another LL at 9:30am (ie, 2 hours after you originally reserved the LL), or would you have to wait 2-hours (10am) from the actual 8:00am park opening to reserve your next LL pass (similar to how Genie+ works at Walt Disney World)?
I’m thinking a strategy would be to get the LL for Indiana Jones, spend the first 1-2 hours of the day riding Fantasyland-vicinity standby lines, reserve a second priority LL at 9:30am (say, Space Mountain), and then continue with standby rides until wait times start to jump around 10am. At that point, I can probably swing by Space Mountain (make anther LL afterwards) and then hoof over to Adventureland for the Indiana Jones reservation.
What you describe should work, and would actually be really savvy strategy!
Thanks! I figured the new ability to ‘Modify’ Genie+ LL reservations kind of changes the idea to “don’t bother to do all attractions for the first couple hours of the morning.” However, I did want to confirm and see whether you know whether the second LL can be secured 2 hours after park opening or 2 hours after you make it (assuming that you scan in and book your first LL prior to park opening).
The strategy still sort of works either way, but is slightly more ideal if your second Genie+ LL can be made 2-hours after you scan in to park opening and make a reservation prior to park opening.
CORRECTION: “changes the idea of, “don’t bother to do LL attractions for the first couple hours of the morning.”
Have these itineraries been trialed with the addition of the early entry crowds now coming from the resort hotels? How will that affect your recommendations?
I’m also interested to know how early entry will affect my family’s morning. We are going to Disneyland 11/20 & 11/22, CA 11/21. We will NOT be staying in an early entry situation.
Our last visit in July 2022. At ropedrop we (with 6 year old daughter) headed straight to Fantasyland per your recommendations and did the rides in your order (Snow White, Alice, Mr. Toad’s etc.) and we crushed it.
I read and saw the photos that you went to early entry and did fantasyland first but I didn’t wasn’t clear on how it affected the strategy for regular admission. Or should I just lower my expectations that I will not be able to move as quickly through the rides as I did last time.
Since we have a six year old I suppose that our only option is to do Fantasyland first? If so, would you change the order of the rides at all?
We followed so many of your ideas and advice and you helped make our experience amazing. I enjoy reading your blog and I have turned on many people to you. Thank you!
Just updated our DL rope drop strategy today with commentary about the impact of Early Entry: https://www.disneytouristblog.com/disneyland-morning-strategy-rope-drop-tips/
Same applies to DCA.
Thank you for this great post. I hadn’t been to Disneyland in 20 years and your itinerary was the perfect way to introduce my 6 & 8 year olds to Disney. Also really appreciated all your hotel reviews. We had a great time and will recommend your blog to others!
Thoughts on how the return of early entry for hotel guests may change things? We were planning to rope drop fantasy land this coming weekend, as suggested, but with the return of early entry it looks like Peter Pan had a huge line by the time the rope dropped. Would we be better off trying to do fantasy land stuff in the evening during parades or fantasmic?
I’d also really appreciate this info. We’re rope droppers with Genie+ and only one day in each park so getting rope drop right will make a big difference.
We did this itinerary today, and it worked perfectly! Thank you Tom! I was a little anxious because we’ve never been to Disneyland before. We did 7 attractions with LL. We got everything we wanted to do done by 12:30. My husband and two sons then did standby for Rise around 3:30 – posted wait time of 70 minutes. They said it was worth it, and they aren’t ones to get in long lines. The cast members said it was a busy day, and there were people every where, but it worked for us!
Hi Tom love your blog! We are visiting Disneyland for just 1 full day and we have kids 6,9,and 13. I know your recommendations are to hit ROTR at night closer to closing time but not sure the younger kids will last until closing if we are getting there at rope drop. In that case, do you recommend hitting those rides in Star Wars land earlier?
Jessica I read and loved this article too but really wanted to ride ROTR when I was there in May. I had two days at Disneyland but didn’t get to do ROTR the first day because it kept breaking down. If you only have one day, DO IT AT ROPE DROP. I did it at rope drop the second day and it was the best decision ever! It was not crowded getting on the bus from Pixar Pals (I stayed at the Clarion across the street so I just walked up to the bus) and it was so exciting to be at the front by the rope when everyone is so excited. Yes there are people who run and yes everyone is going to ROTR but there was virtually no wait and since it’s first thing it should be working (perhaps this is most important!). I then walked to Fantasyland and still got on plenty of other rides before it got too crowded and followed pretty much the rest of the strategy. Good luck and have fun and don’t forget to order your mobile food in advance, you can always cancel it without paying!
I brought my son to Disneyland today, and Rope Drop is HUGE. I recommend the second you enter the park do a paid Lightning Lane for Rise Of The Rebellion. It makes it so much easier to just have it set, and you can still schedule lightning lanes until your designated time. We did that, and followed the rest of this itinerary (roughly, this entry helped us start our day, and got us into the flow of things, and everything else fell into place making the day easy.). Thank you Tom for your post, SO incredible helpful!!
Both this and the DCA guide for Genie+ are fantastic. I can’t wait to be there in 9 days! I’m wondering how you think about a late arrival on the first day? We’ll be arriving mid-afternoon (probably 2ish) on the 12th but will have 3 full days after. Our reserved park is Disneyland but we have park hopper. It seems like we could still get a fair amount of value out of a Genie Plus that day – we’re definitely in the “time is money” camp, even with the longer stay, as we’re coming from the East Coast and this might be our only DL trip, so I’m tempted to get it.
I would definitely purchase Genie+ in that scenario. You won’t have the benefit of short wait times at rope drop, so Genie+ is a great option for minimizing standby lines your first day. Only downside is that, unlike WDW, you won’t be able to start making LL selections until you actually enter Disneyland that afternoon.
Hi Tom- If purchasing ROR- what time would you recommend doing it during the day if utilizing Genie+. Thanks!
Leaving DL – if you want to purchase ROR, purchase it before noon/ 1:00. After that, it was sold out.
Hi, I’m going to DL during the day (8am to 8pm only) of a Star Wars Night ticketed event. The mix in time is 6pm and I’d prefer not to pay another $20 on tops of the $20 I already paid for genie plus to ride ROTR. That said I have never gotten to ride everything in Fantasyland so I love this strategy! Maybe I should do standby for ROTR just before 6pm? Or rope drop? Please advise!
I find G+ mostly useless for DL in the first couple hours if I’m parkhopping, so I’ll snag Guardians at entry, and either Soarin or Toy Story next, depending on which one climbs faster. Becomes super useful after the first hour and you can snag some instantaneous DLs like Buzz, Star Tours, Thunder, and Mansion (non-holiday). In the MaxPass days I would get Space first because it was usually pushed out past the first hour of park ops pretty early, but doing so now will get you a window that’s way too early and might take away from your Fantasyland blitz.
Speaking of, it’s good to watch Dumbo when heading from Snow White to Alice because if it’s in a cycle and the grouping area isn’t filled yet, I’d sneak in there first. I’d also do Casey before Storybook just due to Storybook’s duration. And don’t forget the all-important Carrrrrrrrrrrrousel.
Maybe it’s just bad luck, but we’ve encountered some long waits with the Storybook boats since last summer and have not had a similar experience with Casey Jr. But you’re right in theory–I should swap those two by my own reasoning about ride durations.
As for timing Dumbo cycles, that’s some god tier strategizing that strikes me as “too much” for casual, first-time Disneyland guests. It is good advice, though.
The problem with early Storybook is not enough boats, and the problem with early Casey is only one train. You have to try to get the sweet spot where they introduce more boats/2nd train, which is maybe 30-60 minutes in depending on when they opened it in the first place. Perfection if you can nail it though. 10 rides in the first hour is still my record, but I think I might get 11 if I can get the second train to happen on Casey. The missing link.
Thanks, Tom, for the great informative DL article. I have never been, and we are planning a day at disneyland in April. This article helped a lot and is much appreciated. I will also look up some of the highlighted articles on more planning. I think we will try it without Genie. I have an old flip phone, LOL, so I know it won’t handle the app anyway. I can’t wait to experience DL. It sounds magical!
Very glad to see you’re keeping it healthy with the grapes to go with that fried Monte Cristo, Tom 😛
If you know me, you know that was not my choice! 😉
We were in Anaheim in mid March and your blog was a lifesaver. I bought Genie+ every day because I think the photos are worth it. Having read a lot of Florida centric news on the paid fastpasses, I was a bit nervous going in, but the California system is pretty easy to use (even though the app design is atrocious). The only day we had any waits at all was our last day there. It was a 9/10 on the crowds and we slept in. We rode every ride we wanted to every day except one (another 9/10 day and California Adventure was our second park, so I had to sacrifice Soarin for Gaurdians). We did pay to ride Rise of the Resistance, but also used the get there right as it closes strategy on 2 days and waited 15 minutes on a 5/10 day and 30 minutes on a 9/10 day. I would warn people that the Space Mountain “lightning lane”” is inappropriately named. It took us 30 minutes and you have to walk through a lot of maze. You will likely question whether you somehow took a wrong turn and ended up in standby (I asked a cast member to verify 🙂 ) Thank you for all of the advice and entertaining blog posts!
Thanks for sharing your experience. I’ve heard/seen countless reports of Space Mountain’s Lightning Lane backing up, but we’ve yet to experience that ourselves–I’m guessing a big part of that is that we always choose it as our #1 or #2 LL, and I think we’ve yet to do it after ~10 am. That probably makes a big difference.
“…the California system is pretty easy to use (even though the app design is atrocious)…”
This is the most frustrating part of the whole thing at Disneyland. MaxPass worked perfectly fine and didn’t have nearly the amount of problems or glitches as Genie+, and yet, DIsney replaced it with the new system anyway. This was presumably for continuity between the coasts, but it still doesn’t make sense. Why ditch a system that actually worked (and was already monetized!) for one that they had to have known was buggy and clunky.
This is incredibly helpful! I can’t wait to get back there!
Looks great, Tom. In a future post, can you cover doing an itinerary for a park hopper day in both Disneyland and CA with Genie+?
Yeah–I’ll have something like that in the not-too-distant future. For now, this is a decent resource that should be relatively replicable: https://www.disneytouristblog.com/we-did-every-genie-ride-at-disneyland-dca-in-a-day/
Yeah, what Robert said. Please fix the formatting. (The article looks interesting!)
Starts out well but for the weird glitch
Sorry about that–not sure why that happened. Should be fixed now (but might take the cache a few minutes/hours to clear if you’ve already viewed the article).