Let’s be honest: planning a Disneyland itinerary can be overwhelming, to say the least. Especially now in 2022, when Disneyland had made a host of changes, including park and entry ticket reservations, Genie + and Individual Lightning Lanes (more on that below). Not to mention closely monitored health regulations that can change in an instant.
This is where this guide comes in handy. From everything you need to know about strategizing which attractions to check off first to what time of year is best to visit the park, it’s all here. Plus all the other logistics like where to stay near the park, how to prep for your visit, what you can and cannot bring inside, and even things to do nearby Disneyland when you need a break from it all.
Think of this guide as a highlight reel of the most popular attractions, though you will not be able to do them all in one day. Instead, feel free to mix and match in a way that fits your personal style and that of your group. Most importantly I hope you have fun planning your dream Disney trip. That’s what is most important!
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Best Time To Go To Disneyland
This Disneyland itinerary is created for a less crowded day in the park and is not applicable for those almost-to-capacity days during summer, spring break, and holidays, so take this into consideration.
Especially during the holiday weekends during Halloween Time and Christmas, you will have to cut your schedule in half and endure crowds that are not for the faint of heart.
Speaking of lesser crowds, the off-season after the holidays (January-March) or in early autumn once school begins again is the best time to go for lesser crowds. Early autumn in Southern California is the region’s warmest time, so be prepared for hot and dry weather, when the Santa Ana winds blow in.
It does rain occasionally in the winter in Orange County and can get chilly once the sun goes down, but nothing a warm coat and an umbrella can’t remedy.
Related post: Disneyland For Adults
Getting To and Around Anaheim
If you just plan to go to Disneyland, you can get by without a car and take only rideshare options to/from the airport and Disneyland. Depending on the hotel there may also be complimentary shuttles available as well.
If your itinerary includes days beyond Disneyland, renting a car is highly recommended for convenience if you want to explore Anaheim or further cities like Los Angeles. You can rent a car from SNA (the airport closest to Disneyland) or LAX (about an hour away from Anaheim and much more chaotic but more airline options).
For rental cars, I usually do a search on this site that sorts through top companies like Hertz, Enterprise, and Avis to get the best deal.
What Are Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lanes?
After over a year of shutting its gates, Disneyland reopened to much fanfare on April 30, 2021. There were a lot of changes put into place, including limited capacity, required ticket and theme park reservations, and FastPasses and MaxPasses being suspended.
Genie+ is an add-on feature (not to be confused with Disney Genie, a free planning app) that you can purchase either before your visit or on the Disneyland App after park entry. It’s $20 per ticket per day. This feature allows you to use the Lightning Lane entrances on certain attractions during a specific arrival window and essentially “cut the line” (similar to FastPass).
You can make one ride selection for Lightning Lanes at a time (though you can always cancel your reservation) and only use it once for a specific ride per day. Visitors in the same group can link up their accounts so they can reserve arrival windows together.
Please note that some of the most popular attractions in Disneyland (and Disney California Adventure) will have a separate Individual Lightning Lane option that both Genie+ and non-Genie+ visitors can purchase.
The limit is two attractions per day for both parks with the Individual Lightning Lane feature and ranges from $7-$20 per attraction. Unlike Genie+ reservations, you cannot cancel your Individual Lightning Lane reservation after it’s booked.
Disneyland Genie+ rides:
- Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
- Space Mountain
- Haunted Mansion
- Indiana Jones Adventure
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Splash Mountain
- Star Tours
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- It’s a Small World
- Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
- Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
Disneyland Individual Lightning Lane:
- Rise of the Resistance
There have been a lot of negative reviews regarding Genie+ and having to constantly refresh your phone’s screen to check for updates on available arrival windows, as well as limited ride options at a certain time. If you are visiting on a slower weekday, Genie+ is not necessary, but on weekends and holidays purchasing Genie+ can help you maximize your time in the park.
In this one-day itinerary, I have included options for visiting Disneyland with and without Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane passes.
Essential Disneyland Travel Tips
- Entrance Requirements -Disneyland now requires all guests to purchase both a ticket AND a theme park reservation for guests ages three years and older. Prices start from $104 for a one-day Disneyland pass (ages 10+) and go up depending on the day and month you’re visiting.
- Rope Drop -try to arrive at the park right when it opens at 8 am to make the most of your day. The extra magic hour and Magic Morning are currently suspended for all guests staying on property at a Disneyland hotel. Disneyland park hours can change depending on the season, so be sure to check them before you go.
- Disneyland App – download the official app before you arrive since it will allow you to gain access to virtue queues, ride wait times, make dining reservations, join a mobile dine walkup list, and mobile order food ahead of time. It also allows you to purchase your park ticket and reservation on the app so you can have it easily accessible at the entrance gates.
- Face Masks are now optional for vaccinated guests -for the complete details check out the requirements on the official page here. The exception is in indoor health settings like First Aid, for guests 2 years of age and older.
Where To Stay Near Disneyland
There is a trio of Disney hotels: the Disneyland Hotel, Paradise Pier Hotel, and Grand Californian Hotel, but if you are looking for a more moderate price range these are great alternatives that are close by. If you don’t have a rental car, rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft are great options for zipping to and from the park.
A 15-minute walk to Disneyland (you can see Disney California Adventure across the street), this hotel is a clean, spacious home base. The area is well lit, so you can feel safe coming home from the park late at night. The pool area is a nice retreat with two large pools, two hot tubs, and shaded cabana areas. A hot breakfast is included.
A bit further from the park, this 3-star hotel is modern, clean, and offers spacious suites complete with modern kitchenettes. A reasonably-priced option for families or travelers looking to have the convenience of a fridge, microwave, and stovetop in their rooms. Walking to the park is a bit far (25 minutes or more), but a blink of an Uber ride takes you straight to the front gates.
A mid-range hotel that is a solid choice with amenities that include an outdoor pool, snack bar, and a complimentary hot breakfast buffet. Suite rooms include a separate living room area with a sofa pull-out bed, that is perfect for larger groups. Ask for a back-facing room to avoid highway noise. Disney is a quick 11-minute walk door to door.
Additional Things To Do Near Disneyland
If you want to venture out of the Disney bubble, here are a few fun things to do around Anaheim:
- Anaheim Packing House – a two-story food hall located in the historic Anaheim Packing District, that has indoor and outdoor seating (try The Blind Rabbit)
- downtown Anaheim – a few blocks from the Packing House, there are cute cafes, restaurants and the Muzeo Museum and Cultural Center, as well as the farmers’ market on Thursday from 11 am- 3 pm
- Anaheim GardenWalk – a family-friendly outdoor entertainment and retail district a stone’s throw from Disneyland that often features live music acts and has beautiful murals throughout
- Joe’s Italian Ice – a beloved local institution that serves up Italian ice with creamy vanilla soft serve and is a few blocks from Disneyland
- Angeles Stadium – catch a baseball game at this ballpark that is known to be family-friendly (clean restrooms!), has a good selection of food, and firework shows at select games
- Honda Center – if you’re a fan of hockey, catch the Anaheim Ducks (founded by the Walt Disney Company and based on The Mighty Ducks film) on their home turf
- Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament- technically in Buena Park, this immersive experience is fun for all ages with live sword fighting, jousting, and medieval-style games while guests enjoy a four-course feast fit for a king or queen
1-Day Disneyland Itinerary
In order to avoid the standby line that replaced the former free virtual queue, it’s recommended that you purchase the Individual Lightning Lane pass for this popular dark ride. The earlier you are able to snag a reservation, the better, especially on weekends and major holidays. Remember you do not need to have purchased the Genie+ to buy an Individual Lightning Lane ticket.
If you have small kids and want to go the character breakfast route, Storytellers Cafe in Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is always a hit with the little ones. It’s pricey, but it’s buffet-style, and there are great food choices including a make-your-own omelet station and the classic Mickey Waffles and Buttermilk Pancakes.
The weekend brunch buffet is $51 for adults ($49 for the weekday breakfast buffet) and $29 for children 3-9 years old for both the weekday and weekend breakfast buffets.
If you want a quicker grab-and-go breakfast option, Market House on Main Street offers Starbucks drinks and breakfast sandwiches and wraps, as well as yogurt, applesauce, and juice for kids that you can get once you’re inside the park.
Whatever your breakfast plans, make sure to get to the entrance gates of Disneyland at least 45 minutes before opening since there will be a line that will grow longer as it gets closer to 8 am. If you have Genie+ make the first reservation for Splash Mountain before heading to your first ride.
For your first ride, head to Adventureland and get in line for Indiana Jones, which can get quite long later in the day. Once you’re finished conquering the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, get in line for Pirates of the Caribbean.
If you don’t mind getting wet, Splash Mountain next door in Critter Country should not be missed. Pro tip: the closer you sit to the front, the wetter you’ll get. Make sure to also pose for the camera at the top of the drop.
Afterward, if you are looking for a classic thrill ride, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Frontierland brings you on a memorable trip through the Wild West. For Genie+ visitors, while in line for Big Thunder, make sure to book It’s A Small World for afterward.
An alternative morning itinerary for those who have small kids or want to go the slower, more low-key ride route, is to start out in Fantasyland with dark rides like Peter Pan’s Flight, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and Alice In Wonderland. This land tends to get more crowded as the day progresses so it’s much more enjoyable earlier.
If you have the stomach for it take a whirl on the Mad Tea Party, but if spinning around in circles is not your thing, go straight to It’s A Small World, a classic Disney water ride that is not to be missed and is a great way to escape the heat and crowds for a few minutes.
By now you’re probably getting hungry, so make your way back to New Orleans Square to eat lunch at Cafe Orleans. Sit on their spacious patio with views of the Rivers of America, while enjoying signature dishes like the Monte Cristo Sandwich or Shrimp and Grits.
If you’re looking for something a bit lighter, Bengal Barbeque in Adventureland is a great alternative with quick service options like Bengal Beef Skewers and Outback Vegetable Skewers.
Take advantage of mobile ordering and avoid the line at this popular spot. There is limited seating, and if you cannot find a table, take your kebabs to the benches near the Walt Disney statue in front of Cinderella’s Castle.
For dessert, stop by the Tiki Juice Bar to get a dole whip, or if you are feeling fancy a dole whip float (dole whip in pineapple juice). Mobile ordering is available and recommended.
For a leisurely post-lunch ride, jump in line for the newly remodeled Jungle Cruise in Adventureland or head back to New Orleans Square to board the Disneyland Railroad, which takes guests around the perimeter of the park and also has stops in Main Street, Toontown, and Tomorrowland.
Disneyland naturally tends to be more crowded in the afternoon, so this is a good time to take it slow. Take a breather on Main Street, where you can shop for souvenirs at the Emporium, or take a ride on the Horse-Drawn Street Cars.
If you have smaller children, a fun afternoon alternative is Toontown, where you can meet Minnie and Mickey in their respective houses. It’s also a fun town to walk around in and admire all the quirky details and is an ideal area where kids can be entertained without having to wait in long lines.
For dinner, the Plaza Hotel is famous for its fried chicken platter, grilled salmon, and ornate Victorian interior. It’s casual cafeteria-style dining, where you pick up your food at different stations and then seat yourself at either the indoor or outdoor tables.
Disney PSA: the serving for the fried chicken can easily feed two people, or you can always get a half order. You can also get a side order of the salmon as well.
For a fancier option, the Blue Bayou Restaurant has similar items on the menu as Cafe Orleans, including the Monte Cristo as well as dishes like Jambalaya, but is set next to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The dining room feels like you’ve been transported to an evening on a bayou, and is a memorable experience for the ambiance and a great break from the crowds.
Reservations are highly recommended as spaces fill up quickly.
For Genie+ guests, make sure to make a reservation for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run right before dinner.
After dinner, make your way to Galaxy’s Edge, where it feels like you are on a different planet. Drop by Oga’s Cantina, where you can taste themed cocktails like the Jedi Mind Trick. The evening is an ideal time to visit this land, where crowds thin out as the night progresses and the line for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run is more bearable.
Seeing this land illuminated makes it feel like you truly have been dropped into Batuu’s Black Spire Outpost.
Genie+ visitors can check for an open arrival window for Space Mountain or Matterhorn, depending on whether you like in-the-dark roller coasters or a visit from the Abominable Snowman.
Related post: Disneyland Packing List
If there’s any ride you cannot miss, it’s the Haunted Mansion, which shines especially at night. It has been my favorite since I was a kid, and during the holidays it transforms into a Nightmare Before Christmas overlay.
As it gets later, the main attractions like Space Mountain and Matterhorn have shorter lines, especially closer to the fireworks. You can usually knock out a few rides in an hour’s time versus waiting in line for an hour for a single ride if you didn’t opt for Genie+.
Another one of my favorite low-key nighttime rides is the Storybook Land Canal Boats, which gives guests a tour of different miniature scenes from popular Disney movies all lit up. Note that this ride tends to close to accommodate the firework shows.
There are rotating seasonal Disneyland fireworks on select nights, depending on the season. It’s important to note that shows can get canceled due to weather conditions like wind or rain. Currently, the nighttime shows are Disneyland Forever on Main Street with fireworks over Sleeping Beauty Castle; Fantasmic! on the Rivers of America, and Main Street Electrical Parade, as well as seasonal shows throughout the year. Make sure to get there early for optimal viewing!
Make sure to grab one of Disneyland’s beloved churros at carts around the park right before a show. There’s nothing like having a warm churro while watching the fireworks. There are churro carts near/in Sleeping Beauty Castle, Haunted Mansion, Critter Country, Big Thunder Railroad, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, Casey Jr. Circus Train, and the Small World Promenade.
On your way out on Main Street, stop by the Candy Palace to take care of all your sweet tooth cravings, including seasonal Mickey-shaped rice crispy treats, caramel apples, and cake pops.
Photo source: Haunted Mansion