Japan Magic – A first-timer’s visit to Tokyo Disney Resort


I’m a big Disney Parks fan. From the detailed theming to superior customer service to impeccable cleanliness, Disney Parks offer great value for the travel dollar. And there is something that strikes a sentimental chord with me when I round the corner at the entry gates and catch my first glimpse of Main Street USA. It’s like I’m a kid all over again.

Every Disney destination has its own attraction. Disneyland Resort in Anaheim is the original – there can only be one “first” park.  Walt Disney World is an immersive resort experience that makes the real world feel like it’s thousands of miles away. Disneyland Paris Resort mixes continental Europe charm with a highly detailed park.

Knowing I was going to Japan to visit Chris, I was incredibly eager to visit Tokyo Disney Resort. Chris had been there a few times before, but I wanted to see the Japanese interpretation of the Disney Parks experience, and a chance to enjoy some time in a magical place!

Know Before You Go

If Tokyo Disney Resort is part of a larger trip to Japan, there are some things you can do to make your park experience start off a bit faster.

Park passes are sold at Disney Stores throughout Japan. There is no price difference between the stores and the gates at the park – but you will save a bit of precious time when getting in to the park.  This can be important on busy days – and colour-coded schedules at the Disney store will let you know whether to expect heavy crowds for the day.

Save time and get your park tickets at a Disney Store location in the city.

Save time and get your park tickets at a Disney Store location in the city.

What you need to know before buying your passes is your itinerary for visiting the parks. When you buy a passport, it is locked in to specific parks for the first two days and park hopping is not allowed during that time. On day one, you will choose either Tokyo Disneyland or Tokyo DisneySea. On day two, you will visit the park you didn’t visit on the first day.

If you purchase a three or four day passport, you’re still required to choose your parks for days one and two, but on days three and four you can park hop.

Multi-day passports for Tokyo Disney Resort will lock you in to one park or the other for the first two days, and then allow you to park hop on the third and fourth days.

Multi-day passports for Tokyo Disney Resort will lock you in to one park or the other for the first two days, and then allow you to park hop on the third and fourth days.

Passport prices are considerably less expensive than in the US – with a three day passport costing ¥13,800 (or roughly C$140) and a four day passport costing ¥16,000 (or about C$170.) By comparison, a three day park hopper for Disneyland will run you US$260, and a four day park hopper US$285. A three day park hopper to Walt Disney World costs US$340 and a four day park hopper is US$360.

Getting to Tokyo Disney Resort

Like anywhere else in Tokyo, public transit is your friend when it comes to getting to and from Tokyo Disney Resort. Maihama Station is serviced by JR Rail’s Keiyō line. Chances are if you’re staying west of Tokyo Disney Resort, you’ll take a train to get to Tokyo Station, and then make a connection to the Keiyō line.

Tokyo Disneyland Station on the Disney Resort Line.

Tokyo Disneyland Station on the Disney Resort Line.

The Disney Resort Line is a monorail-like loop that goes around the resort, connecting you from Maihama station to the Disneyland front gates, DisneySea front ages, and the resort hotels. Unlike the monorail in California and Florida, you will have to pay to use this train, but at ¥1,400 (C$15) for a four-day, unlimited use train pass for this line, the cost is minimal (especially considering what you’re saving on the admission fees.)

If you’re staying near a variety of major train stations, you can also access the resort by bus. The upside is that you’ll have a less cramped experience than taking the train (which can become packed like a sardine can at times), but the downside is your journey to and from the parks will be decided by the bus’ schedule and not your own. Not ideal if you want to stay late in the parks.

Adorable Mickey-themed straphangers on the Disney Resort Line monorail.  You can also buy replicas of these for your car in the gift shop.

Adorable Mickey-themed straphangers on the Disney Resort Line monorail. You can also buy replicas of these for your car in the gift shop.

Tokyo Disneyland

Tokyo Disneyland is the Japanese interpretation of the classic Disney park that is familiar who has ever stepped foot inside the original — but there are differences.

Main Street USA is a covered shopping street called “World Bazaar” (and after a bit of time in Japan, you’ll realize that covered shopping streets are a common sight, which makes World Bazaar truly fit with the localization of the park.)  Reach the end of the street and you’ll enter the familiar hub-and-spoke design of Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom, with adventures in every possible theme of imagination just steps away.

At the middle of Tokyo Disneyland - where do we go next?!

At the middle of Tokyo Disneyland – where do we go next?!

What was striking upon entering the park is how much bigger it feels compared to any of the other Disney parks I’ve visited. Even Magic Kingdom’s wide streets have nothing on the walkways and corridors at Tokyo Disneyland. It’s understandable that it’s so much bigger in an effort to accommodate the large crowds that visit the park every day. (You have to remember that the greater Toyko area alone has a population that is equal to the entire population of Canada, and only about 2-3 million people shy of the entire population of California. That means way more people wanting access to the parks!) Even though the park feels bigger and more spread out in open areas like the hub, once you enter a land you don’t lose that sense of immersion in the theming. Great care has been taken to make the parks big enough, but still detailed.

There is something deliciously retro about Tokyo Disneyland if you ever visited a park like Magic Kingdom in the 80s or early 90s. Tomorrowland retains a bit of the retro-futuristic kitsch that we all loved about the Magic Kingdom version growing up – including a stage in the Tomorrowland Terrace restaurant that feels stuck in a bit of a time warp (but is by no means in disrepair!)

A number of attractions from Disneyland and Magic Kingdom have made the trek across the pacific to be part of Tokyo Disneyland – with Splash Mountain, Mickey’s PhilharMagic, Dumbo, Haunted Mansion, It’s a Small World, all having near-identical replications to the American versions.

Haunted Mansion Holiday is very popular at Tokyo Disneyland.

Haunted Mansion Holiday is very popular at Tokyo Disneyland.

Space Mountain is here, but is by far one of the most surreal experiences you’ll have if you love roller coasters. Unlike the futuristic sounding environment of Space at Magic Kingdom or a rip-roarin’ soundtrack like the version in California, Space Mountain at Tokyo Disneyland is a very quiet experience. No sound effects, no music, and – this is the strangest part – no screaming! Chris and I rode it letting our lungs belt out our best “aaaaaahs” – but we were the only ones.

Country Bear Jamboree is one of a small handful of audio-animatronic shows at Tokyo Disneyland. We saw the Christmas version of the show, and it was entertaining to hear English Christmas carols translated for the performance.

A unique-to-Tokyo attraction which I was really enthralled with was Pooh’s Hunny Hunt – a dark ride which uses a unique trackless system which creates the opportunity to never have the same ride twice. The story is cute, and the technology is pretty awesome.

Queued for Pooh's Hunny Hunt

Queued for Pooh’s Hunny Hunt

As much as visitors to Tokyo Disneyland like the rides, the shows, shopping and dining are just as big of attractions (if not bigger in some cases.)

Mickey  wows the crowd at the close of the 30th Anniversary celebration parade.

Mickey wows the crowd at the close of the 30th Anniversary celebration parade.

I had the good fortune of seeing both the 30th anniversary “Happiness is Here” parade, the Christmas parade, and the nighttime Dream Lights parade (similar to Main Street Electrical.)

Unlike in the US or Paris, visitors sit during the parade rather than stand and depending on the parade, cast members will sometimes visit the crowd in advance of the parade to help demonstrate a crowd-participation portion of the show.

A cast member demonstrates the crowd-participation component of the Christmas parade.

A cast member demonstrates the crowd-participation component of the Christmas parade.

All three parades were spectacular – great costume design, great music, really fun performances.

Unlike visiting Disney Parks in the United States, when you see merchandise you want at a particular Tokyo Disney Resort attraction, you want to grab while you’re there. While Emporium sells the “best of the park,” there are many pieces of merchandise that are only available at one or two stores through the entire park. I was lucky to see the Brer Rabbit keychains as I was leaving Splash Mountain, and promptly handed over my yen to make the purchase, because I couldn’t be certain I’d see him again in the parks.

Eating at Tokyo Disneyland is an enjoyable experience. Lunch is served quite early at places like Tomorrowland Terrace (we had burgers just after 10am one day), and it’s best to try and eat at off-peak hours because the crowds can become quite large. For a nice dinner one night, we headed over to the Blue Bayou which overlooks the Pirates of the Caribbean (and is very similar to the layout of the Mexico pavilion at EPCOT). It was a fantastic meal.

Steak dinner at the Blue Bayou.

Steak dinner at the Blue Bayou.

Tokyo DisneySea

Much like Paris’ “Walt Disney Studios,” Tokyo DisneySea has some very familiar Disney park traits, but is ultimately a very unique experience that isn’t replicated anywhere else.

Like California Adventure, Tokyo DisneySea does not follow the traditional hub-and-spoke design you see at other parks like EPCOT, Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom. Rather, it is a labyrinth that uncovers new and unexpected adventures with every twist and turn of the pathways.

Overlooking Tokyo DisneySea's Mediterranean Harbour at dusk.

Overlooking Tokyo DisneySea’s Mediterranean Harbour at dusk.

Being close to Tokyo Bay, DisneySea brings the experience of port life inland with every land feeling like you’ve taken a trip to some far away destination. Overlooking it all is the classy Hotel MiraCosta – an Italian themed hotel that is built right in to the park (think of how Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel is built right in to the side of California Adventure.)

The theming in DisneySea is exceptional – there is so much detail to soak up and enjoy. Theming is a multi-sensory experience here, with even your sense of smell being tempted with a hint of curry along the Arabian Coast, bright strawberry at Port Discovery, and fresh baking as you pass by the entrance at the MiraCosta.

The colours of Mermaid Lagoon are so rich - it's hard to capture what it looks like, even in HDR!

The colours of Mermaid Lagoon are so rich – it’s hard to capture what it looks like, even in HDR!

Mermaid Lagoon – an “under the sea” experience in the middle of the park – is possibly one of the most visually stunning themed lands I’ve ever seen in a Disney park. You forget that there is a world outside, as rich purples and pinks and blues make you feel you’re about to meet Ariel at any moment.

The centerpiece of DisneySea is Mediterranean Harbour – a large body of water in the middle of the park which plays host to a number of aquatic shows every day including a greeting by characters who ride the coastline by boat.

Characters and cast members get up close with the crowd during the live shows around Mediterranean Harbour.

Characters and cast members get up close with the crowd during the live shows around Mediterranean Harbour.

The Tokyo version of “Fantasmic” which combines the spectacle of Florida’s version with the up-close-and-personal feel you get from the version at Disneyland in California.

Much like dining at Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo DisneySea has some amazing eats. We managed to secure a reservation for a meal at Magellan’s – an observatory-themed restaurant on Mysterious Island. The food was phenomenal, the service was impeccable, and the theming made us feel like we were in a hall of academia, about to gaze at the stars. There’s even a bit of a hidden treasure above the restaurant with a observatory simulator which was very cool.

Many – if not most – of the rides and attractions at DisneySea are unique to the park, but my favourite of the bunch is “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” It uses the same jeep-like ride system you find on Dinosaur at Animal Kingdom or Indiana Jones in California, but takes the whole experience one step further. It is incredibly immersive and is the best implementation I’ve seen of this type of ride yet.

Ikspiari and Bon Voyage

If there isn’t enough shopping in the parks, you can get your fill on your way out.

Ikspiari is often said to be Tokyo Disney Resort’s version of Downtown Disney – but the comparison really isn’t accurate. While it is a shopping district that doesn’t require a ticket to enter, Downtown Disney in Florida and California both feature a great deal of Disney-themed shops. Even Disney Village in Paris has a big Disney component to the commerce that takes place. Ikspiari is nothing like that.

Much like the PARCO shopping centers you’ll find dotting the urban Tokyo landscape, Iksipari is home to numerous small shops, boutiques, and restaurants. A fairly large food court gives creative options for dining that doesn’t include a Disney theme.

The homemade hamburgers at the California Diner in the Ikspiari Kitchen food court are delectable!

The homemade hamburgers at the California Diner in the Ikspiari Kitchen food court are delectable!

And while there is a Disney store in the complex, Iksipari is more about shopping-in-general than it is Disney shopping. That’s not a bad thing – the stores are interesting, and there are some good deals to be found!

Near Maihama Station is a massive Disney store called “Bon Voyage.” Much like “World of Disney” in California, Florida and Paris, it is the last-chance spot to get your souvenirs and merchandise. Despite its large size, you’ll often find yourself shoulder to shoulder with other Disney fans in this store as shelves clear fast of hot and seasonal products and baskets overflow with purchases. You won’t find more exclusive merchandise that is attraction-specific in the store, but rather products similar to what you’d get at Emporium in Tokyo Disneyland.

Final Impressions

There is so much to rave about when it comes to Tokyo Disney Resort – but the biggest compliment I think can be given is that the Disney experience has been seamlessly taken and transplanted in an otherwise loud, crowded urban environment.  Yet, at no time do you not feel like you’re in the middle of “magic.”  The immersive experience that is the hallmark of a Disney park adventure holds true in Tokyo.

Localization of attractions and customization to adapt to local customs does not take away from the Disney experience – and in fact makes Tokyo’s resort one of the friendliest, and possibly the most enjoyable of the Disney experiences I’ve ever had.

In future posts, I’ll dive in to some more details about the parks and the things that really caught my eye.  And planning is already underway to return later in 2014!

I can’t wait to go back.

A passerby snaps a photo of Chris and I in front of Cinderella's castle on our last night in the parks.

A passerby snaps a photo of Chris and I in front of Cinderella’s castle on our last night in the parks.

 

John Himpe is a contributor to FatHobbit.ca and also blogs about travel, technology and media at JohnHimpe.com

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