It is definitely different and I find myself really wishing it was like it used to be. BUT you can still make the best of it and if you’re anything like me, 2 stressful days in Disney are by far and away better than any, even non-stressful day at home/work. And here are some tips/notes on some of the things you’ve mentioned, but if you have any other questions/stressors that we can answer, ask away!
For Wait Times
We are going next weekend and my strategy is to split up the headliners we want to do between rope drop and end of the day, get there as early as we can to tackle 3 or so headliners, move to doing smaller rides after those headliners and then taking it easy doing more walkthrough things/shows/eating/shopping that we all enjoy as well. Midday break if we need it, then come back for the later parade, and find tolerable waits until fireworks and then hit rides hard again after fireworks (especially in DCA) to hopefully cash in on some lower waits in the last 1-2 hours.
If your party can split up you can take advantage of single rider lines and then that means most anything with a single rider line can be done middle of the day.
For Dining Reservations
The app has a mobile Walk-Up list for a lot of locations. It’s not for the most popular restaurants, but it is a good feature that gives you flexibility day of. I would plan early in the day to look for availability. For quick/counter service, if you want to eat at peak mealtimes, look to put in a mobile order ahead of time (you can look at the mobile order times from home and just about get through the whole process from home). The only thing you can’t do from home is mark “I’m here prepare my order” (we mobile ordered from home a suprise treat for a family member who was visiting and she had to show them the mobile order number from the screenshot we sent so they could process it because were home & too far away to get the system to accept our ). So you can get yourself familiar with the timings that things go and plan out a meal or two that way.
For Virtual Queues
As of today, only Rise requires a boarding group to ride. Starting around Nov. 4 Webslingers dropped the requirement for boarding groups and has been a standby line ever since. They do state they plan to use boarding groups for it “as needed each day” but also, they will open it to standby on days that they distribute and call back all groups (I am envisioning that Boarding Groups will only be reserved for the busiest of busiest days like Christmas, New Years). This could change minute by minute with the introduction of Genie+ so I would check any Disneyland sources you follow closely and here might have some intel as well and how Genie+ will work with groups that have a boarding group. So I wouldn’t stress about one boarding group precluding you from the other at all.
Speaking of Genie+…
We still don’t know what day this will drop but my personal opinion is that it will be this week ahead of the busy Thanksgiving holiday crowd that will start coming over the weekend before (my family included). If it doesn’t drop this week, I would expect it the week after Thanksgiving. If you knew used and understood how to work MaxPass, Genie+ is somewhat similar so that might be in your favor. And if you didn’t know how to use MaxPass, I would focus on the fact that, if in your budget and you are not opposed to paying for it, using it will help give you some more certainty about securing a place on the most popular rides -Rise, Webslingers, and I think it was Racers in Carsland- will each be an individual separate cost you pay a la carte for “Lightning Lane” access to one time on the ride and those are called Individual Lightning Lane Selections (or ILLS). Then Genie+ will be like a FastPass/MaxPass for all the rest of the FastPass rides with somewhat similar rules for MaxPass, but there are several great threads in the WDW that explain how it’s been implemented in WDW and Disneyland will have a few small differences (like hopping starts at 1pm instead of 2pm), but is expected to be largely the same.
Disney+ early entry
I believe this was just for the Disney+ day on Fri Nov 12th, but I never actually read anything from an official source on it, so I could be totally wrong on that count.