Learn my tips & tricks to navigating the parks to maximize your time at Disneyland and California Adventure!
Welcome to the latest Disneyland tips & tricks blog post! As many of you are beginning to plan your vacation to the Disney Parks, I thought it was the perfect time to transfer that live video on Instagram into an easy-to-reference resource.
If you didn’t know, our family has been visiting the parks since 2009 with a hiatus during the height of the pandemic. We finally returned in October of 2022 and to say we were overflowing with joy would be an understatement!
In this post, I will share details on how we travelled, where we stayed and how to best navigate the Genie Plus app. Lets get to it!
How We Travel
Flights in Canada aren’t always cheap so we tend to cross into the United States to fly to other American destinations. We are Alaska Air Mastercard holders so we collect miles that we can then use to book our flights! We absolutely LOVE flying with them- always a comfortable flight and excellent customer service! By racking up the miles we were able to travel to Hawaii for nearly $0! You can read about our Hawaii vacation here!
We flew from Seattle to Los Angeles and from there we chose to get to our hotel in Anaheim via Lyft. LAX has a taxi/Uber/Lyft area thats about a block or so away from baggage claim, so while you’re strolling there you can book your ride! We went with Lyft as it gave us the best deal for a family of 5 with carry on suitcases so I do recommend pre-downloading both Uber & Lyft to compare prices. Overall Lyft came through with the better deals so that was our top pick!
Where We Stay
Ever since our family started visiting Disneyland, we have been staying at the Howard Johnson Anaheim – better known as the HOJO! It is good, clean, retro family fun AND just a short 8 minute walk to the entrance of the Disneyland Parks! It doesn’t get any better than that!
I’m so glad I stumbled across this hotel 13 years ago because it holds so many dear memories for my family and I. On sunny days when we like to take a break from the parks we enjoy Castaway Cove- a fun waterpark right at the hotel. Buildings 1 & 2 have recently been refurbished so you are staying somewhere new and very affordable!
I am so excited to share that I have a discount code with Howard Johnson that offers you 15% off your stay!! Here’s how to use it:
- Visit the Howard Johnson Anaheim website (important that you use this link!)
- Enter reservation date details
- Apply the Corporate Code: 1000022077 (field to the left of the “view rates” button)
- For the best experience be sure that the room you are booking is in either Building 1 or 2
Food Delivery & Eating at the Parks
Each hotel room at the HOJO has a fridge and microwave in them. The easiest way to get food to your door is to use Instacart! It was such a game changer for getting breakfast and lunch items like soy milk, cereal, PB & J, bread, snacks and more! Get $20 off by using code: JDEPAZ2051D7 on your first order!
I don’t know about you, but I find when our family is on vacation our eating habits change. We become grazers vs full on sit down mealers. This works quite well for a Disney vacation since a lot of your time will be spent waiting in line. Everyone had a backpack that had water and snacks in it to keep our “hanger” at bay LOL! When it came down to eating a meal, instead of ordering an individual dish for each person, we’d split a few dishes for all of us to enjoy. This ensured no waste and kept costs down!
On to the most important part of the blog: the Disneyland part! I wish I could give deeper insights like “when is the best time to go” “when is it less busy at the parks” but to be honest, since the pandemic, a lot has changed from pricing to ensuring you have the best experience while in the parks. Our trip had been delayed for 2 years so fortunately for us we were able to redeem our previously purchased Canadian Resident tickets with MaxPass and have them upgraded to a Genie+ pass at no extra charge.
Nevertheless, we too had to navigate the wild west that is rope drop and Genie+ and I’m here to share our experiences so that you can make the best out of your trip!
What exactly is rope drop? Both Disneyland Resort and Disney’s California Adventure (from here on in will be referred to as DR and DCA) have made it so that the “main” lands of each parks are open an hour earlier than the ride areas so that you can come into the park and line up by the nearest rope to the next land before the park officially opens at 8am. I think this is brilliant for 2 reasons- 1: if you want to get some shopping out of the way, you can certainly do it at this hour since most people are heading to the rope drop line ups. 2: You can get to the land of choice quicker which means you can maximize the number of rides you can get on before wait times get too long.
We rope dropped 4/5 days that we were there which meant we didn’t end up staying at the parks until closing. I was fine with that since most rides have extensively long wait times in the evening so I felt like there wasn’t a point to hang around just to spend lots of time waiting in line.
Hot tip: Most blogs will tell you not to bother rope dropping Rise of the Resistance (one of the newest Starwars rides) but *I* will tell you different and say it’s 100% worth it to do that since we were able to get on it twice during our time at DR.
Is it worth it to rope drop? I 100% think so. It sets the tone for the day allowing you to spend lots of pockets in the afternoon soaking up the sights and sounds of the parks. Your wait times in the morning are going to be much more manageable and you’ll feel really accomplished.
What is Genie+ and how do you use it? I think that is the most popular question I’ve received. First things first. If you haven’t downloaded the Disneyland app- I highly recommend that you do. Not only can you digitally upload your tickets for safe keeping, you can also view ride queues in real time and pre-order meals at any of the participating food stands/restaurants throughout the parks.
The Disneyland app offers a FREE Genie service which you can customize by answering a series of questions so the app can plan your day based on your interests (character experiences, rides, shows etc). This can be handy if you’re more of a go with the flow Disney lover.
The Genie+ is a per day per ticket add on which grants you access (see what I did there 😉 ) to Lightning Lanes and Individual Lightning Lanes (LL & ILL). Lightning Lanes (formerly FastPass) is the option to pre-book a return time window to a participating ride to avoid the lengthy Stand By line up. You can start booking your LL as soon as the park opens and every 2 hours after that first booking or after you’ve redeemed a LL – whichever comes first. The app will tell you when you can book your next one!
Note: You can only book LL or ILL once your ticket has been scanned in for the day.
Hot tip: As mentioned earlier, wait times for the regular stand by line ups are much shorter in the mornings, especially when you rope drop. I recommend booking your first LL when you begin to see the return times come up in the early afternoon- 1pm onwards. This means you have the whole morning to take advantage of the shorter lines and possibly go on your favorite attractions more than once!
Remember- you can only book ONE LL per ride per day.
What is an Individual Lightning Lane? This is the opportunity to purchase a ticket (yes a ticket within a ticket) to secure your return time window for a ride. Currently the only 2 rides this is available for is Rise of the Resistance and Radiator Springs Racers. We did end up buying an ILL for each of us to ride the Racers because the queue was over 3 hours long and since we were only spending one day at DCA we felt it was “worth it”.
ILL are limited and once they’ve sold out for the day your only option is to wait in the stand by line up. Because both of those rides are known to break down frequently, it might be worth it to you to purchase the ILL.
Additional Perks of Genie+
While the main draw is the ability to book rides throughout the day and avoid the wait times, some other perks you should take advantage are:
- unlimited photo downloads from rides, photo op locations and character meet & greets! Be sure to ask your photographer to add some Disney Magic as those photos are so fun!
- Audio Tales which allows you to listen to snippets of behind the scenes insights that are available throughout the park!
- Interactive Photo Pass Lenses aka filters are also a fun way to commemorate your time at the parks and also kill time while you’re waiting in line!
An *unofficial* perk of Genie+ is the possibility of a Multiple Experience Pass (MEP). These are offered out typically when a ride breaks down. They can also be offered to those in the standby line up but usually only if you’re just about to get on the ride or have had to evacuate the attraction. The cast member will scan your ticket on the app and add one so you may use it at another ride and bypass the line up.
As a Genie+ ticket holder, if a ride breaks down, your LL will be cancelled and the app will automatically be loaded with an MEP. This means you can book a different LL without having to wait. Cast Members will decide at their discretion how many passes you get but in our experiences they can be redeemed at at least 2-3 attractions! They can also be used at almost ALL attractions, not just ones with LL capability. ILL rides are not included in this.
Hot Tip: Rebook the cancelled LL (the same ride) as the likelihood of it being cancelled again due to the ride not being functional is high. This will award you another round of MEP!
Phew! Well there you have it. I hope you feel confident and equipped on how to navigate the parks at your next vacation. I highly recommend also checking out my other Disney blog post that covers our favorite quiet spots and other details! Feel free to leave any questions in the comments, I’d be happy to help!