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Observations From My First Trip To Tokyo Disneyland

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Tokyo DisneySea is the most beautiful Disney theme park on the planet.

It’s hard not to be hyperbolic when talking about Tokyo DisneySea. It’s amazing, incredible, and jaw dropping, any superlative you can think of applies to DisneySea. There are hundreds of details to discover in every bit of the park, and what’s most impressive is how it all is brilliantly blended together. Whether you’re wandering around the streets of an early 20th century recreation of New York in American Waterfront, exploring a dense jungle in Lost River Delta, or venturing deep in to a smoldering volcano in Mysterious Island, everything flows together perfectly.

Tokyo DisneySea’s Mount Prometheus

A key factor to any Disney theme park is the entrance experience, and DisneySea has one of the best. You start off by walking through a breezeway that goes through the beautiful Hotel MiraCosta. This is where you will catch your first glimpse of Mount Prometheus, the centerpiece of the park. Basically it’s the park’s castle. Mount Prometheus can be seen from almost anywhere in the park, and even though you’re seeing the same mountain, it will look different depending on what land you’re in. So if you’re in Mediterranean Harbor it will look like a towering ominous volcano, but if you’re in the Cape Cod section of American Waterfront it will look like a peaceful mountainside. It’s a very impressive effect.

The centerpiece attraction in Tokyo DisneySea is Journey to the Center of the Earth. It’s part dark ride, part thrill ride and uses the Test Track/Radiator Springs Racers technology from Epcot and Disney California Adventure. The ride takes place in and around Mount Prometheus, so when your vehicle is not taking you through the depths of the mountain, you’ll be seeing some beautiful views of Mysterious Island. The attraction culminates with an encounter with a huge lava monster that is one of the most impressive animatronics Disney has ever created.

Overall, Tokyo DisneySea must be seen to be believed. It’s a must do for all fans of Disney theme parks.

Sometimes you’ll forget you’re in a theme park.

Tokyo Disneyland was way better than I expected.

What’s great about Tokyo Disneyland is that Disney fans can not only experience new world class attractions like Pooh’s Hunny Hunt, but can also enjoy some classic rides and shows from Walt Disney World and Disneyland that are in pristine condition or significantly better in the Tokyo park. Some standout examples of this were Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Haunted Mansion. In Haunted Mansion the graveyard scene was especially beautiful, where every ghost was crisp and clear. For the most part Haunted Mansion is the same ride as in Disneyland and Magic Kingdom, but I saw many details that I’ve never noticed before due to the ride being so well maintained. And that’s what really sets Tokyo Disneyland apart, everything is in tip-top condition. They clearly spend a lot of time and money keeping their parks, rides, and shows in the best condition possible.

You can even walk around the upper level of Cinderella Castle

Tokyo Disneyland is also home to some rides and shows that have been altered or removed altogether in the stateside parks. For example, the original Country Bear Jamboree is still shown in Tokyo Disneyland, along with its long gone seasonal overlays, Country Bear Vacation Jamboree and Country Bear Christmas Special. Snow White’s Scary Adventure is still scaring little kids in Fantasyland, Diamond Horseshoe features two different western theme shows a day, and the Explorer Canoes circle the river in Westernland. One of my favorite moments was seeing that the Star Jets (known as Astro Orbitor in Disneyland and Astro Orbiter in Magic Kingdom) still have the original Saturn V-inspired “USA” color scheme that Disneyland’s had when I was a kid.

When I said Tokyo Disneyland was better than I expected, I didn’t mean that I was expecting it to be bad or anything like that. It’s that I always heard the park was a strange combination of Disneyland and Magic Kingdom. But it all works together really well

The morning rope drop is no joke.

Tokyo Disneyland fans are serious about their parks, and that especially can be seen in the morning when the park opens for the day. Guests are allowed to line up 2 hours before park opening, and thousands of people do so. On one of the mornings of my trip I got to the park about 90 minutes before opening and found huge lines of people already waiting to get in. Luckily the entry process is easy, and the lines moved quickly, but the real insanity began after I got in the park. People run full speed towards the most popular attractions, specifically Pooh’s Hunny Hunt and Monsters Inc. Ride & Go Seek in Tokyo Disneyland, and Journey to the Center of the Earth and Toy Story Mania in Tokyo DisneySea. If you don’t run to these attractions first thing in the morning, you are looking at waits of over 90 minutes and FASTPASS tickets running out around noon.

A line of guests waiting to enter the park. It’s so long I couldn’t get the beginning or end in the picture.

The Tokyo parks are as busy as you’ve heard.

I have always heard that the Tokyo Disney Resort theme parks are busy, but I had no idea just how busy they could get until I saw the crowds for myself. The biggest crowds come on most weekends of the year, where the park can get so busy that ticket sales are suspended. The busiest day of our trip was on Saturday, October 11. By noon all FASTPASS tickets had ran out, and headliner attraction waits ranged between 120 to 180 minutes. Even the popcorn carts had lines over 20 minutes long.

Midday in Fantasyland

As I mentioned before, the parks are incredibly well maintained. This attention to detail extends to park operations, as well. Even with the large crowds in the parks during my trip, guest flow was fast, and crowd control was excellent. This is also helped by the fact that walkways in the parks are large enough to handle the crowds that parks receive. Plenty of cast members were on hand to make sure that queues and crowds moved at a steady pace, without feeling rushed. Merchandise sales are a big part of making the Tokyo Disney parks the most profitable on the planet, so I wasn’t surprised to see the same the same amount of crowd control and large number of cast members in the shops, as well as walkways and attractions.

Wait times as they appeared around noon

Other random thoughts about Tokyo Disney Resort

  • The monorails are extremely efficient and convenient. The three Disney-branded hotels and  six third party hotels located on site are all located within walking distance to a monorail station. Monorails (known as Disney Resort Line) arrive every 4 to 10 minutes, depending on the time of day. The interior of the trains is clean, well maintained, and offers plenty of room. My group never had to wait for multiple monorails, even with the parks being so busy and thousands of people using them.
  • The food at Tokyo Disney Resort is high quality, but comes in small portions. I love food, and I was insane enough to rank all 25 meals and snacks I ate while I was on my trip. I’ve said plenty about the food in that post, so I won’t go in to too much detail here.
  • People really REALLY love Duffy. Duffy may have flopped in Walt Disney World, and especially Disneyland, but Duffy is king over in Tokyo. If I had to take a guess, one out of every five people was clutching either a Duffy, Shellie May, or Gelatoni plush. That was in addition to all the Duffy and friends purses, tote bags, key chains, backpacks, etc. It is an absolute phenomenon.
  • There are hidden gems in both parks that you’ve probably never heard of. There is a boat ride of epic length in Tokyo DisneySea called Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage. It has everything that makes a Disney ride classic and endearing, dozens of animatronics, a beautiful art style, and a wonderful song (written by Alan Menken). It has all those things, but there’s hardly anything about it on the Iinternet, which seems crazy to me. There were many hidden gems like this that I discovered in both parks.

That’s all for my observations. I’m interested in knowing what you thought when you visited Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea. If you haven’t been, do you want to go to the Tokyo parks? Let me know in the comments below.

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Guy Selga Jr.

Disneyland writer for and co-author of the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland. Also a Disneyland local and appreciator of Disney theme park history. Twitter and Instagram: @guyselga

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