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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

13 thoughts on “Observations From My First Trip To Tokyo Disneyland

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  • Is there any time of the year that is better than others for visiting? Talking my wife into getting on a plane for that amount of time is going to be tough so if we ever do go I’d like to do it during a more calm time of the year. Also sounds like it is a good idea to avoid weekends.

    • I’ve read that January and February are mostly slow during the weekdays, but yes weekends throughout the year are extremely busy.

    • Avoid Golden Week (first week of May) and the weeks leading up to the start of the new school year (end of March/beginning of April). The parks will be packed then.

      Early June is not bad for crowds, but I got drenched because I was there at the start of rainy season (which varies but usually hits in June). There is a website with a crowd calendar. Google “Tokyo Disney Crowd Calendar” and you should find it without difficulty.

      Of course, avoid Japanese school holidays and weekends if possible.

  • Thanks for a great review. We have considered going to the park to continue our quest to see all Disney parks. Did you have any language issues?

    • We had very little language issues. Don’t expect to hold long conversations with anyone, but other than that we had no problems.

    • Significant parts of the Tokyo Disney parks are themed to the USA, and part of that is that there are English words all over the place. You’ll also find English menus at all of the restaurants. I actually remember the English words seeming more prominent than the Japanese ones at counter service venues, but I may have that wrong. Aside from the guests, not much at the theme parks really felt “foreign” to me.

      Outside the parks, you’ll notice you’re in a different country, but there are enough English-speaking tourists and enpats that you’ll get by fine in big cities. Mass transit has English signs, and people who want to sell you stuff will find a way to communicate with you. Pointing at written things (like menus) can be a big help. Automated machines (from which you might buy a train ticket) generally have an English mode, too.

  • Loved the review thinking of a trip using DVC points.
    How many day’s did you stay at the resort, did you have enough time?

    • We were in Japan for 9 days total, 5 of which were spent at Tokyo Disney Resort. I think 4 days is the perfect amount of time to not feel rushed.

  • I’m fortunate to have visited Tokyo Disney three times because I’ve gone to Japan for work. I always spend a day in each park.

    Your observations of Disney Sea are right on. It’s simply stunning.

    I especially like how Tokyo Disney parks cater to the Japanese audience. From melon bread shaped like Mike from Monsters Inc. to the super popular omiyage food gifts that are the mainstay of the shops, you can see Japanese culture and preferences. Even park clothing is different; the Japanese love characters and wear all sorts of Mickey clothing, but it’s very difficult to find t-shirts saying Tokyo Disney on them.

    The Japanese spin on attractions is also great. I love the Little Mermaid show when Ariel learns her lesson and returns to her father (as a good Japanese girl would do) and the Tower of Terror with no Twilight Zone.

    Tokyo guests have waiting for parades down to an art. I wish the US parks would enforce the same “no standing” rule and rope off sections of guests waiting. Though the parks are crowded, parade viewing there is very stress free and you’re not jockeying for a spot as much as in the US.

    Visitors should also check Japanese school calendars before visiting. I went one weekend in March and it was horrible with 3 hour waits and massive crowds. That was the week before Japanese schools started the new academic year. However, I also went on a Thursday and Friday in June, and it was great. Then it started raining, and I was able to walk on many attractions.

    I also hope you were able to take your time there to see some of Japan beyond Tokyo. It’s an amazing country.

    • You mentioned the food gifts, that was interesting how the Disney parks had multiple shops of just those gifts. Very cool. I did explore Tokyo and Osaka for three days and I agree, a beautiful and fascinating country. I can’t wait to go back.

      • The food gifts are very Japanese. Every town and area in Japan has its own food gifts unique to that area. Any Japanese person who goes anywhere has to bring back gifts for lots of people (family, friends, coworkers, etc.), so that’s why Disney devotes so much shelf space to those treats.

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