For the ultimate global Disney fan, a visit to the Tokyo Disney Resort should be on your trip list. It’s worth the trip across the Pacific.
Located just east of Tokyo in Urayasu, in the Japanese prefecture of Chiba, this expansive theme park on Tokyo Bay has grown from a single park into Japan’s magical showpiece with many lands in Tokyo Disneyland and ports of call in DisneySea — all connected by a monorail.
If you’re ready to plan your first-ever trip to the Tokyo Disney Resort, here’s what you need to know:
What to see at Tokyo Disneyland
Tokyo Disneyland will feel familiar to anyone who has visited its California counterpart. There are six lands beyond the central hub of Cinderella Castle: Adventureland, Westernland, Critter Country, Fantasyland, Toontown and Tomorrowland.
The first thing you notice after entering the World Bazaar (this park’s version of Main Street, U.S.A.) is that it’s covered by a glass Victorian-style conservatory roof to protect visitors from inclement weather.
Throughout the park, you’ll find most of the lands you’ve seen back home in the U.S. with familiar attractions including Jungle Cruise, Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. All the ride dialogue, however, is in Japanese. It’s pretty cool, and English-speaking guests who’ve experienced these rides many times before at other Disney parks will enjoy the twist — I’m pretty sure the talking skull before that first drop on Pirates of the Caribbean is saying, “Dead men tell no tales.”
One of the few attractions exclusive to this park is Pooh’s Hunny Hunt: A delightfully dark ride featuring many elements of the Pooh universe that runs on a trackless ride system. Located in Fantasyland, it’s easily one of the most popular attractions in the park.
Tomorrowland’s Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek!, is a family-friendly interactive ride where riders use flashlights to find various monsters hiding in the dark.
There are character meet-and-greets everywhere. Cast members use them strategically to syphon off crowds from busy areas or when visitors sprint to their favorite ride when the park gates open.
The parade is also a bigger deal here than in the U.S. and Mary Poppins even flies above her float.
This land of adventure in Tokyo is a fusion of experiences with Jungle Cruise: Wildlife Expeditions, complete with a Japanese-speaking boat driver, The Enchanted Tiki Room, Swiss Family Treehouse, Pirates of the Caribbean and Western River Railroad that goes in a short loop to nowhere. No one could explain why this wasn’t located in Westernland.
Essentially like the Frontierland of other Disney destinations, this familiar Old West attraction floats you along the Rivers of America on the Mark Twain Riverboat. Other attractions include Tom Sawyer Island Rafts, a wild roller coaster ride on Big Thunder Mountain, Country Bear Theater, The Diamond Horseshoe Dinner Show, and, of course, a Westernland Shootin’ Gallery, just like in the U.S.
Much like its U.S. counterparts, Critter Country is dominated by a fan favorite — Splash Mountain. And yes, the Br’er animals all speak Japanese. Two of the three songs are in Japanese. This offers the Single Riders line, which I would recommend using regardless of the size of your party as the wait is virtually nonexistent. You can also venture around Tom Sawyer’s Island on the Beaver Brothers Explorer Canoes and end up at Splash Mountain.
Cinderella Castle is the centerpiece for this child-friendly land that is populated by Disney-animated characters like Pinocchio, Peter Pan, Snow White and Winnie the Pooh. There’s also Dumbo the Flying Elephant carousel and Alice’s Tea Party teacup rides. It’s a Small World and Haunted Mansion are especially interesting in Japanese and the latter had a Nightmare Before Christmas overlay while I was there.
Featuring attractions mostly for kids, this land is big on character meet-and-greets and gentler rides, the best of which is Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, based on the film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”
This land of imagination and sci-fi arguably has the best rides for adults including Space Mountain and Star Tours: The Adventures Continue. It also has some family-friendly rides like Stitch Encounter, Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters and Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek! (again in Japanese, but you’ll get the idea of what’s going on).
Although there are no plans for a Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge expansion, two different new lands — one based on “Beauty and the Beast” and another inspired by Big Hero 6 — are currently under construction.
When Tokyo DisneySea opened 17 years ago, it set an attendance record attracting 10 million visitors in the first 10 months. The centerpiece of this unique Disney attraction isn’t a castle or a magic hat or a big silver ball: It’s a volcano that erupts at regular intervals.
Tokyo DisneySea features an overall nautical theme, with ports of call, rather than the lands Disney is known for. The watery layout is centered at Mediterranean Harbor and has six ports: Mysterious Island, Arabian Coast, American Waterfront, Port Discovery, Lost River Delta and Mermaid Lagoon.
Guests can ride Venetian-style gondolas through canals and take in the architecture that mimics an Italian village. The opulent DisneySea Hotel MiraCosta is elegantly integrated into the landscape. At night, the Tokyo DisneySea version of the Fantasmic Nighttime Show takes place on the water featuring boats, lasers, fire, pyrotechnics and, of course, fireworks.
Mount Prometheus, a giant volcano that simulates the fiery bursts of a volcanic eruption, regularly puts on a show as it rises from the middle of Mysterious Island. The two featured rides on the island are based on the Jules Verne novel. Journey to the Center of the Earth, is a thrilling ride right into the volcano (similar to Epcot’s Test Track). There’s some creepy stuff deep under that volcano, but you won’t be there long before you go shooting out the top of it! The other ride is 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It is a submarine-like ride, similar to the older U.S. park versions, but much more realistic. You ride in smaller vehicles suspended from a track like Peter Pan’s Flight.
Essentially the harbor village of Agrabah from the movie Aladdin, this immersive marketplace has great food, shops and attractions, including the massive Caravan Carousel, Jasmine’s Flying Carpets, The Magic Lamp Theater with animatronics, performers and a 3-D movie. The best ride is Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage. It’s a dark boat ride with an original song by composer Alan Menken.
The S.S. Columbia is docked at the American Waterfront, a recreation of the U.S. northeastern seaboard with storylines around Old Cape Cod and New York Harbor. It’s the park’s only real letdown once you realize this massive ship is merely a restaurant and the backdrop for live character shows. The port also hosts the Tower of Terror. This version of the now-classic Disney free-fall ride has it’s own original but somewhat weaker storyline than either The Twilight Zone or Guardians of the Galaxy. But it’s still a thrilling ride. Toy Story Mania!, attracts the largest crowds. After getting on, I realized it’s smaller than the U.S. versions. There’s also a cute little elevated electric trolley ride that takes you to Port Discovery.
There are two attractions here that are great for both adults and kids. Aquatopia is high-tech, with boats running on a trackless course through various water features navigated by a local positioning system (LPS) similar to Pooh’s Hunny Hunt. Nemo & Friends SeaRider, is a family-friendly motion-simulated submarine ride with familiar characters similar to Star Tours at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando. You will never get tired of this attraction because you get a different story each time you ride.
Lost River Delta
Hidden in the farthest reaches of the park is the Lost River Delta, which hosts the awesome Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull, identical in most respects to the California version, except — you guessed it — Indiana Jones speaks Japanese. Next to it, is a really fast roller coaster called Raging Spirits that races through the excavated temple ruins and features a 360-degree inverted loop, dynamic lighting and fire effects. This is one of two rides in the park to feature the huge time-saving Single Riders option.
Here, you’ll discover King Triton’s Palace, inhabited by characters from “The Little Mermaid.” There are a number of charming kiddie rides, Ariel’s Playground and the Mermaid Lagoon Theater with musical stage shows. Just wandering around here is fun. The design of this port really makes you feel like you’re under the sea. Here, you’ll also find also areas for character meet-and-greets.
On July 23, Mediterranean Harbor debuted a new Soarin’ Around the World attraction, called Soaring: Fantastic Flight. In the future, there will be a new port called Fantasy Springs with three areas inspired by the Disney movies “Frozen,” “Tangled” and “Peter Pan.” This is expected to open in 2022.
Who will enjoy Tokyo Disney?
Tokyo Disney Resort is a marvelous experience for people of all ages. You don’t need to read or understand Japanese to follow most of the storylines. Disney does a good job of storytelling through imagery and music. There’s also a lot of stuff in English and most of the staff members I encountered are good at holding a conversation in English.
When to visit
The Tokyo Disney Resort is open year-round. It’s most crowded during the holidays and summer months, particularly Japanese national holidays. It’s unusual to be riding attractions in a parka, but I saw plenty of that when I visited in December.
Admission and how to save
Admission to Tokyo Disney is less expensive than any of the U.S. Disney parks. A one-day, one-park adult ticket costs about $67. A one-park, two-day ticket works out to about $60 per day. There are no park-hopper tickets — unless you buy a three-day ticket. If you buy a three-day ticket for about $161 ($54 per day), you get one day in each park, and then, on the third day, you can park-hop as you like. Park-hopping here is similarly difficult to park-hopping at Walt Disney World in Florida. The park entrances are not near each other like they are in California or Paris. To get from one to the other, you need to take the monorail. So visiting one park per day is a good plan, especially when there are big crowds.
Purchased tickets designate a specific park and day, and should be bought in advance if possible because they occasionally sell out. (A recent rule change makes it possible to change the day or park designation on your ticket.) There’s also an After 6 Passport that offers about a 40% discount for evening entry.
When I visited, there wasn’t much in the way of discounts. I’ve read there are the occasional small ($4) discount coupons available at convenience or grocery stores, but they are time-limited and printed in Japanese. You can’t use a Disney Gift Card at Tokyo Disney because it’s technically run by a different operating company, The Oriental Land Company.
How to minimize lines
Tokyo Disney offers the FASTPASS for selected attractions during busy times. The system is free, but sometimes the lines are still really long.
The best trick for reducing time in line was the Single Riders line. The wait was short and the lines were populated almost entirely by non-Japanese guests with whom we bonded over our fondness for global Disney parks and Japanese food and culture.
Waiting in lines, however, was frequently entertaining for people-watching. One fascinating activity we observed was “twinning,” a popular Japanese fashion trend where close friends dress in identical outfits and wear the same hairstyles.
Dining at Tokyo Disney Resort
You’ll be hard pressed to find American theme-park food at Tokyo Disney. We found a couple of spots for burgers and chicken nuggets, but the restaurants focus on serving regional cuisine. If you and your kids are adventurous eaters, there are many tasty options. If not, we found many flavors of popcorn to tide you over but you’ll have to wait in long lines for the most popular flavors. One of the best is honey popcorn, served appropriately from a cart in front of Pooh’s Hunny Hunt ride. Beer and wine were readily available, and there were many snack carts.
Where to stay
Hotel options abound at all price levels. If you stay off the park property, you’ll need a car, taxi or public transportation to get to the parks. You could travel from downtown Tokyo, but it adds at least an hour each way. It’s kind of like staying in Los Angeles and commuting to Disneyland in Anaheim.
The Disney Resort Line is a monorail that circles the Tokyo Disney Resort. (Photo by Daniel Hank)
Deluxe Disney Resorts
Tokyo Disney Resort has several really cool Disney-branded deluxe hotels near the theme parks. The Tokyo Disneyland Hotel is the closest to Tokyo Disneyland and Hotel MiraCosta is in Tokyo DisneySea with an Italian flair. The Disney Ambassador Hotel is in an area called Ikspiari with lots of shopping and nightlife, right next to the entrance to the resort. The Ambassador Hotel is good for families because it has rooms that sleep up to six adults. Pricing for hotels is much like their California Disneyland counterparts, and typically book up months in advance. They are all connected by monorail, so staying at any of these you will feel the most centered in the Disney bubble. Regular room rates run between $400 to $800 per night, depending on the season. One thing about the monorail system here is everyone has to pay for it. Priced like public transportation at about $2 per ride, it’s clean, comfortable and runs frequently.
Moderate Disney Resorts
These hotels are adjacent to the Disney bubble. They have in-hotel Disney services and are connected by the monorail, but don’t have the theming or charm of the deluxe properties. They are the Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay (50,000 Marriott points per night on standard nights, or guests can use a 50,000-point free-night certificate like the one you get on your anniversary with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express® Card), Hilton Tokyo Bay, the Hotel Okura Tokyo Bay (between 34,000 and 80,000 Hilton points per night, or a free weekend-night certificate like the one you get on your anniversary with the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card) and Tokyo Bay Maihama Hotel.
The Sheraton and the Hilton can be booked on points, which makes them a great option for travelers looking to offset the cost of a Tokyo Disney vacation with points. If you are paying cash at these properties, you’re looking at $130 to $500 per night, depending on the season. I stayed at the Sheraton because the Disney Deluxe hotels were sold out.
Value Disney Resorts
The Sunroute Plaza Tokyo and Tokyo Bay Maihama Hotel Club Resort are similar to the moderate resorts but a bit less expensive. In the summer, a room costs under $100. There’s also one Disney-branded value resort called Celebration. It’s located off the main property and connected by a 15-minute shuttle bus ride.
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If you’re into Disney theme parks and want a fabulous experience, then Tokyo Disney should be on your destination shortlist. Every detail is exquisite, the staff is highly trained and the guest experience is like no other. It’s better and bigger than either of the Disney parks in Hong Kong and Shanghai. I would say it’s certainly as good and, in some ways, better than the parks in Paris. Tokyo DisneySea is particularly special — and no Mickey obsession is required to appreciate these parks. In fact, I’d argue, it is worth crossing the Pacific just for this adventure.
Featured image courtesy of Disneyland Tokyo