Conquering Tokyo Disney: Disney in Japan

Tokyo Disney Resort has long been on the bucket list for many Disney Park fans.  The theme parks are considered the best in the Disney portfolio with top notch theming, incredible rides, and customer service that is second to none.  The resort is in Urayasu Chiba, which is a short metro ride east of Tokyo on reclaimed land overlooking Tokyo Bay. 

Tokyo Disney Resort is owned and operated by the Oriental Land Company who pays a licensing fee to Disney.  The two struck a deal in 1979 and Tokyo Disneyland opened in 1983 as the first Disney theme park outside of the United States.  Since then it has become a full resort with two theme parks, a shopping mall, and multiple hotels on site.   

Tokyo Disneyland is a combination of a best of Disneyland and Magic Kingdom park along a couple of unique rides.  Tokyo Disney Sea is considered by many as the best theme park ever created.  Incredibly detailed theming, wonderful rides, and incredible shows.  This park has it all.        

When To Visit And How Long To Stay

Tokyo Disney is one of the busiest resorts in the world.  The theme parks often close due to overcrowding on weekends and holidays.  If at all possible do not go on any weekend or Japanese holidays such as Golden Week.  The lowest crowds occur during the week when school is in session.  The best weather is in the spring and fall.  Winter can bring snow while summer is hot, humid, and rainy.  Due to its location on the Bay, mornings and evenings can be cool throughout the year.

If you plan on visiting both theme parks it is recommended you spend a minimum of two full days and most will want to spend three or four days.  There is a lot to do and you won’t see everything in one full day at each park.

Money and Tickets

The currency of Japan is the Yen.  Credit cards are accepted at many locations around the resort, but food carts only accept cash.  There are currency exchanges at both parks and in the hotels but offer a poor exchange rate.  There are few ATM’s at the resort that accept foreign cards.  It is best to get cash at an ATM in Tokyo before coming to the resort. 

Tickets can be purchased at the theme parks, on site hotels, at select Disney stores around Tokyo, select convenience store, and online.  Ticket are available as 1 day through 4 days along with annual passes.  You cannot park hop with 1 or 2 day passes.  With 3 and 4 day passes, you can only park hop on days 3 and 4.  Multi day passes must also be used consecutively.  There are also special after 6 and Starlight tickets available.      

To save a little money you can purchase tickets through an authorized reseller like Klook.  Tickets purchased online will print out a voucher with a bar code.

Language Barrier

While improving, most Japanese do little to no English.  Younger Cast Members are more likely to speak English, but learning a few words and phrases in Japanese will go a long way.  Customer service in Japan is extraordinary and even with a language barrier you will be well taken care of.

Most signs around the resort will be in Japanese and English.  Kiosks will have an English option.  Attractions in shows are usually in Japanese language only with some exception like Big Band Beat which is entirely in English.  Several attractions offer story cards which will explain the story of the attraction in English.  You can pick them up at guest services or ask a cast member at the attraction.  They are a fun free souvenir.  Most food locations have models of the food so you can see what you are getting before purchasing.    

Getting To Tokyo Disney Resort

Tokyo Disney Resort is located a short distance east of Tokyo overlooking Tokyo Bay.  Do not worry about driving to the resort.  Most locals arrive by public transportation and you should too.

Airport

Tokyo has two airports.  The primary international airport is Narita located well outside the city.  You can take the Narita express train to Tokyo Station and then transfer to the JR Keiyo Line.  Your exit is Maihama Station.  The better option is to take a bus directly from the airport to Tokyo Disney resort.   

Haneda Airport is in Tokyo but primarily serves domestic traffic.  If you can fly into Haneda jump on it.  Bus is again the easiest wit ha direct route available.  By train you can take a monorail to Hamamatsucho Station.  Transfer to the JR Kehin-Tohoku/Negishi line to Tokyo station and then transfer again to the JR Keiyo Line and exit Maihama Station.

Tokyo

From anywhere in Tokyo you will want to get to Tokyo Station.  From there take the JR Keiyo Llne to Maihama Station.  The theme park entrance is a short walk from the station.  A note about the JR Keiyo line.  It is a long walk from the rest of the Tokyo Station lines.  Count on 15 minutes if you don’t get lost.  The ride from Tokyo Station to Maihama Station is about 15 minutes.

     Resort Overview

Tokyo Disney Resort has two theme parks, four Disney branded hotels, several official non Disney branded hotels, and a shopping mall on site.  While you could technically walk everywhere the best way to get around is by monorail which has stations for each theme park and ways to get to each hotel.  As a note, the monorail is not free like in the United States.  It is cheap though and well worth it in the time savings of having to walk around.

Hotels

Of the four on site hotels the MiraCosta is by far the best and most expensive.  It is built into Tokyo Disney Sea.  The Tokyo Disneyland Hotel sits right outside the entrance of Tokyo Disneyland.  The Disney Ambassador Hotel is a bit cheaper but a little further away from the theme parks.   The Tokyo Disney Celebration Hotel is considered a value hotel and sits the furtherest away from the parks but still a short bus or monorail ride away.  Advantages of staying in an official Disney Hotel include guaranteed admission even on closed due to capacity days and 15 minute early entry to the parks.  That may not sound like much, but it is.

The best official hotels on site are the Hilton Tokyo Bay and Grande Sheraton Tokyo Bay.  They overlook the bay, are a 5 minute walk from the monorail station and as American branded hotels, cater to an English speaking clientele.      

Resort Layout

As mentioned before, Tokyo Disney resort sits on reclaimed land overlooking Tokyo Bay.  Maihama Station the Ikspiari Shopping Mall, Tokyo Disneyland, and Tokyo Disneyland Hotel represent the front of the resort.   The theme parks sit side by side.  It is possible to walk from one park to the other, but it is much quicker to take the monorail.   The official hotels are behind the theme parks overlooking Tokyo Bay.  

           

Attractions

Tokyo Disney Resort has some of the best Disney attractions in the world.  Some are clones of Disney parks around the world, while others are exclusive to Tokyo.   Some of the highlights in each park include:

Tokyo Disneyland

  • Pooh’s Hunny Hunt the first trackless Disney ride takes Fantasyland style dark rides to a new level. 
  • Monster’s Inc Ride and Go Seek  Unique interactive dark ride that allows guests to use a flashlight to trigger effects in the ride.
  • Splash Mountain Classic flume ride
  • Country Bear Theater Who doesn’t want to listen to talking Bears speak and sing in half Japanese half English?
  • Haunted Mansion classic ride is similar to the Magic Kingdom version but in better shape. 
  • Jungle Cruise: Wildlife Expeditions Somewhat similar toe the Magic Kingdom version of the Jungle Cruise but with some upgrades including after dark effects.  Sit awkwardly while everyone laughs at jokes you don’t understand if you can’t speak Japanese.    

Tokyo Disney Sea

  • Journey to the Center of the Earth superb dark ride with a high speed ending shooting out the side of a volcano.
  • Tower of Terror Uses the same ride system as California’s Guardian’s of the Galaxy Mission Breakout but with a unique storyline to Tokyo. 
  • Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage  If It’s A Small World was adventure themed and had a less annoying song, you have Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage.
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Take a submarine and explore Jules Verne’s classic tale. 
  • Indiana Jones: Temple of the Crystal Skull Somewhat similar to Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland, but with notable and exciting differences. 

Shows and Entertainment

Tokyo Disney Resort has some of the best shows in the Disney theme park universe.  It excels in parades both daytime and nighttime.  It also has some top quality stage shows.  Another strength is the seasonal offerings during Christmas, Easter, Summer, Halloween and more.  The one weakness is nighttime spectaculars.  The fireworks show is lackluster and is often cancelled due to wind. 

Due to popularity a few shows employ a lottery system to avoid camping out.  Insert your park ticket and the number of people in your party and see if win tickets to the show.  The first show usually doesn’t have a lottery system.  Shows with the lottery system include Big Band Beat, One Man’s Dream, and Once Upon a Time. 

Some of the best shows at the resort include:

Tokyo Disneyland

  • Dreamlights Electrical Parade Sorry Paint the Night, Dreamlights is the best nighttime parade Disney has. 
  • Once Upon a Time Nightime spectacular that takes place on and above the castle. 
  • Happiness is Here daytime parade that is the best one Disney has running today

Tokyo Disney Sea

  • Big Band Beat Mickey on the drums, need we say more! Wonderful jazz inspired stage show.   
  • Fantasmic! Nightime spectacular similar to those in the United States parks.
  • King Triton’s Concert Stage show themed to the Little Mermaid
  • Out of Shadowland Original aerobatic stage show

Food and Shopping

When it comes to food, Tokyo Disney is known for its snack game.  In fact you can get a map dedicated to snacks.  Many are seasonal so it is recommended to check out what’s available when you arrive. 

Magellan’s at Tokyo Disney Sea is the top rated restaurant on property.  Be sure to also check out  the Hungry Bear,  Casbah Food Court,  Vulcania  and Queen of Hearts  Banquet Hall.

Overseas visitors maybe disappointed in the merchandise selection.  You will be hard pressed to find attraction or park branded items.  Characters are big business and almost everything has a Disney character on it. Duffy never caught on in the United States but Duffy and friends are arguably bigger than Mickey Mouse in Japan.    

Park Strategy

The parks can get extremely crowded and the Japanese seem to have no problem waiting in long lines.  They are also well organized.  Rope dropping is important at most parks because you may have a few hours of relatively low crowds.  That won’t happen here.  If you don’t show up an hour before park opening you will be waiting in a long line to enter the park and be well behind the eight ball in terms of Fastpasses.  Speaking of which they use the old paper Fastpasses and key attractions like Pooh’s Hunny Hunt run out fast.  While they try their hardest to curb it, people run at rope drop to grab their first fast pass and get in their first line for an attraction.  Failing to arrive at rope drop on even a semi busy day will mean you will fail to get more than a couple of the most popular Fastpasses.  The order you will want to prioritize Fastpasses for each park are as follows:

Tokyo Disneyland

  • Monster’s Inc.
  • Pooh’s Hunny Hunt
  • Splash Mountain
  • Haunted Mansion
  • Space Mountain
  • Big Thunder Mountain
  • Star Tours
  • Buzz Lightyear

Tokyo Disney Sea

  • Toy Story Mania!
  • Tower of Terror
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth
  • Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull
  • Nemo & Friends Sea Rider
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  • Raging Spirits

  

Final Tips

  • Wifi is available in the hotels to guests, but not in the parks.  If you want data either get a mobile hotspot or SIM card if you do not get international data.
  • Sitting for shows and parades is usually required
  • At food locations there is a dish next to the cashier.  Put money or credit card in the dish.  Do not hand it directly to the cashier. 
  • Use Single Rider lines to save lots of time.  As most locals do not want to ride without friends of family hour plus long waits can become walk on’s.  Available at Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones, and Raging Spirits.  Say Single Rider to a Cast Member at the ride entrance and they will direct you.   
  • As soon as you are eligible for a FastPass get one.  Some FastPasses sell out by mid morning.


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