It doesn’t take an expert to figure out how to go to an amusement park. However, knowing a little about the park before you go and doing a little pre-planning can make a world of difference in allowing you to make the most of your time. This is particularly important with a place like Disney where the “Happiest Place on Earth” can turn into a lot of frustrating time spent in lines if you don’t have a plan. We hope you find the answers to the questions below helpful in planning your upcoming Disney Adventure! Have a magical time!
Should I Visit Disneyland or DisneySea?
Well, the obvious choice is both (full disclaimer: Dom + I are pretty big Disney fans…I mean, we got married there if that tells ya anything!)! However, if you only have one day we would suggest zeroing in on one park as they are both pretty big.
Disneyland is classic. Simply classic. If you’re crew is looking for all the elements of a fairytale then this is your park. That being said, if you’ve been to Disneyland in California or the Magic Kingdom in Orlando you will have a fairly good idea what to expect. Disneyland in Toyko has a very similar feel with many of the same rides (think: Alice in Wonderland’s Tea Cups, Dumbo the Flying Elephant…you get the idea). Of course there are a few differences, but if you are an old school Disney fan you will feel right at home. If you have really young children (under 90cm tall) this may be your best bet as many of the rides in DisneySea have height restrictions (Disneyland also has height restrictions for some of its rides, but generally they are a smidge lower than some of the ones at DisneySea).
DisneySea is everything you expect from a Disney Park, but nothing like you’ve ever seen before and very unique to Tokyo. Instead of being built around a fairytale castle the focal point is a huge volcano! The rides are a bit scarier compared to its counterpart Disneyland, so perhaps it is geared a bit more towards older kiddos. However, this is not to say that there isn’t anything for the wee ones – check out Mermaid Lagoon and you’ll see what we’re talking about! It features lots of fishermen’s nets to walk through, a galleon graveyard to wander, a sea dragon to explore, as well as a bunch of kid friendly rides. In short, Ariel’s Playground is mind-blowing for little ones. Additionally, it’s all indoors making it a great place to get out of the heat/cold/rain for a little bit. Mermaid Lagoon is also home to an awesome show, King Triton’s Concert, that had both of our kids (and us) completely mesmerized!
Apparently, the Disney Imagineers had a nearly unlimited budget when they designed the park and were encouraged to make it over the top. The park reportedly cost over 335 billion yen (more than 3 BILLION USD) to create, and it certainly shows. From the moment you walk through the gate it really feels like you are in a completely new world. Even though it’s geared to a slightly older crowd, our newly-minted 5-year-old loves DisneySea and his favorite ride is Journey to the Centre of the Earth… a thrill ride!
As you might have inferred, our family prefers DisneySea overall as it’s totally different than every other theme park we have experienced! Bottom line: Both parks are magic and we think you’ll have a great time whichever you choose!
When’s the Best Time to Visit?
It’s an understatement to say that there are a LOT of people in Tokyo, and Disney is a very popular attraction. Thus, it should come as no surprise that both Disneyland and DisneySea can be super crowded! Our advice? Avoid weekends and Japanese Public Holidays if at all possible. Some of the specific times to avoid: Golden Week (end of April to beginning of May), Obon Festival (mid-July to mid-August) and over the New Year. Shoot for experiencing the parks mid-week (if possible) and make sure to consult the Crowd Calendar prior to visiting (just open the Japanese website using Google Chrome so that it will be translated automatically). Park hours vary depending on time of year, day of the week, etc., so also make sure to check the park hours prior to departing for the day!
As great as a trip to Disney can be, it’s even better when the park is beautifully decorated for an event or holiday. It really makes the visit that much more special, and Disney nails it every. single. time. If you’re visiting during the spring we think you’ll love the Easter decor. Fall season? Disney’s Halloween celebration is spooktacular and although it probably goes without saying, if your trip coincides with the winter holidays the Christmas celebration is pretty clutch as well!
Where Should I Buy Tickets?
Tickets are available sometimes at a discounted price at convenience stores (ex: 7-11), as well as Klook. If you opt to purchase from Klook, make sure to check the pick-up location, as it is not able to be changed after confirming your purchase. The most convenient place to pick up is Maihama Station as that’s the station closest to the Disney Resort complex. If you choose to buy tickets at the entrance note that the counter opens up earlier than the parks. Even if you get there early, there will almost always be a line as people are all about getting that coveted FastPass for one of the rides that runs out quickly (We’re looking at you, Toy Story Mania!). Finally, the last option is to purchase tickets at a Disney Resort Hotel. Just head to the check-in counter and you’ll see an area where you can get this done (note: I believe that you have to have a reservation at the hotel to do this).
Park Entrance Ticket Options:
- 1 Day Magic Passport: 7,400yen/Adult, 6,400yen/Junior (12 – 17yo), 4,800yen/Child (4 – 11yo), children under 4years old are free
- 2 Day Magic Passport: 13,200yen/Adult, 11,600yen/Junior (12 – 17yo), 8,600yen/Child (4 – 11yo), children under 4years old are free
- 3 Day Magic Passport: 17,800yen/Adult, 15,500yen/Junior (12 – 17yo), 11,500yen/Child (4 – 11yo), children under 4years old are free
- 4 Day Magic Passport: 22,400yen/Adult, 19,400yen/Junior (12 – 17yo), 14,400yen/Child (4 – 11yo), children under 4years old are free
- After 6 Passport: 4,200yen/Adult, 4,200yen/Junior (12 – 17yo), 4,200yen/Child (4 – 11yo), children under 4years old are free. This pass can be purchased at the entrance to each of the park and is valid from 1800 on Mondays through Fridays with the exception of National Holidays. Since the “After 6 PASSPORT” cannot be used every day we recommend that you consult the Park Operation Calendar beforehand.
What Should I Bring to the Park?
- Backpack/Diaper Bag/Tote to carry #allthethings
- Refillable Waterbottle
- Disney Navigation App (to check those wait times!)
- External Battery Pack
- Mat to Sit on at the Parade (this can be purchased at a DAISO store aka Japanese dollar store)
- Umbrella for shade from the sun or protection from the rain
- Poncho for those rainy days
- Bring lunch as food inside the park can be $$$ (although it is generally much better quality than a lot of other theme park food)
- Stroller for wee ones (although if you live outside of Japan and aren’t planning on traveling with a stroller you can rent one at the park for 1,000yen)
How Do I get to the Parks?
Car: If you are driving from Yokosuka it’s a pretty easy drive and straightforward with Google Maps. Tolls are about $30 to get there, but there is ample parking (even if it is a bit pricey). We suggest using our parking pin and plan on spending 2500yen (weekdays)/3000yen (weekends).
Train: Very easy to get to from both Narita and Haneda Airports. There is a train station right outside the gate. Disney has a great website with details and station names, which does a better job than we could, so read up on all that here!
Bus: Bus transit times are also listed using the link above. We have found Google Maps to be the best method of getting information about bus stops, cost, and times.
What are FastPasses?
FastPasses are free passes that allow you to skip the standby ride line and head towards the front. With a little planning, you can use the passes to save a ton of time by having a much shorter wait on some of the better known attractions and what parent doesn’t like the sound of that? Not all rides offer them, but most of the popular ones do (we’ve listed them below for ya!)! Unlike Universal though, FastPasses are not for sale at Disney Parks.
FastPass machines are located right next to the entrance of the rides that offer them. Head to the machine and scan the QR code on your Park Ticket. The machine will spit out a ride specific ticket with a hour long time span that notes when you should return. Head to the Fast Pass line during that hour and you get to skip the ridiculously long standby queue! Sounds good, right?
A couple things to keep in mind:
- The parks (in our experience) are sticklers for the time noted on the pass, so if your ticket says 1000 – 1100 and you show up at 1105, there’s a solid chance you’ll be denied entrance (same story if you arrive a few minutes before the time noted). Very popular rides like Toy Story Mania! run out of FastPasses FAST. We’re talkin’ within ~45min (or less on weekends) of park opening…ridiculous! So, if you have your heart set on spending some time with Woody and the gang we encourage you to arrive before the park opens and then race to the ride to snag your FastPass! Without the pass you’re looking somewhere between ~90 – 180min wait and ain’t nobody got time for that!
- Each Disney Park offers 8 FastPass ride options and you can only snag 1 FastPass per park ticket every 1.5 – 2hours, so be strategic about which rides you get passes for first. If you try to get another Pass before the noted time on your ticket you’ll be denied.
What are the Best FastPass Attractions?
With 8 FastPass attractions at each of the parks and the obligatory waiting time between obtaining FastPasses there’s a good chance you won’t be able to pick up all 8 before they “sell out.” “Best” is obviously a matter of opinion, but here are the ones our family guns for when we visit! Note: Our son meets the minimum height requirement for all of the rides at DisneySea now, so we can do some of the more intense ones and do the “rider switch” option with our daughter, allowing him to ride twice! If our son was smaller though our favorite ride choices would change quite a bit for both parks.
- Splash Mountain: Single Rider line can save lots of time here if you can’t grab a FastPass. While you may get a splash on you, generally you won’t leave absolutely soaked – a huge plus if you plan on staying in the park the rest of the day without changing. Note: All riders need to measure 90cm to ride this ride.
- Space Mountain: While Disney typically doesn’t have the biggest coasters, this is a Disney Classic that will leave a smile on your face every single time. Note: All riders need to measure 102cm to ride this ride.
- Pooh’s Hunny Hunt: This is an easy ride and takes you through a Disney classic! FastPass kiosks are located across from the ride. This was Penny’s favorite and kept her engaged! The line can be insane for this one, so if your family is looking to ride this attraction grab this FastPass for sure!
It should be noted that one of Britt’s all-time favorites is the Haunted Mansion in Fantasyland which is decorated with a really cool twist during Halloween, buuuttt she got out voted hence why it didn’t make the top-three – Sorry, B! It’s still a great ride though, so check it out!
The Following is a complete list of all of the rides that offer FastPass at Disneyland:
- Big Thunder Mountain (Westernland)
- Splash Mountain (Critter Country)
- Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters (Tomorrowland)
- Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek! (Tomorrowland)
- Space Mountain (Tomorrowland)
- Star Tours: The Adventures Continue (Tomorrowland): FastPass is located in a building to the left of Space Mountain
- Pooh’s Hunny Hunt (Fantasyland)
- Haunted Mansion (Fantasyland)
- Journey to the Centre of the Earth: Our son’s favorite ride! Located on Mysterious Island it’s destined to be cool, right? Everything about the ride is right out of the ridiculous imagination of a Disney imagineer, and the details are insane! This ride was one of the main reasons we came back to Tokyo DisneySea in December 2018! During our first visit to the Tokyo Disney Parks (September 2017) Miles was too short to ride this ride. We promised him that if he ate all his vegetables that he would grow big and strong and when he reached 117cm we would return! And of course, right before Christmas this kid measured up!! Note: All riders need to measure 117cm to ride this ride.
- Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull is located in the Lost River Delta. Our son met the minimum height requirement for this ride, however our two-year-old daughter didn’t (shocking, I know). Anyway, we did a baby switch for the ride allowing our son to ride twice. He loved the experience although did cover his eyes twice during the scarier parts. Really neat effects! Additionally, the ride also has a single rider option, so if your party doesn’t mind splitting up you can fly through the regular line a bit faster if you’re hoping to ride the ride and cannot obtain a FastPass (or if you just want to ride it again!). Note: Children under 7-years-old cannot ride alone and all riders need to measure 117cm+.
- Toy Story Mania: Located on the American Waterfront. The most popular attraction at DisneySea, it almost always has a two hour wait and the FastPasses will sell out anywhere between 10 – 45 minutes after park opening. Honestly, we’ve never seen anything quite like it. So like we mentioned above, if you have your heart set on riding this ride or have an avid Toy Story fan with you, you’ll want to get there right as the park opens and run to get a FastPass for this one (yes, literally run!).
The Following is a complete list of all of the rides that offer FastPass at DisneySea:
- Tower of Terror (American Waterfront)
- Toy Story Mania (American Waterfront)
- Nemo and Friends SeaRider (Port Discovery)
- Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull (Lost River Delta)
- Raging Spirits (Lost River Delta) This ride also has a single rider option.
- The Magic Lamp Theater (Arabian Coast)
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Mysterious Island)
- Journey to the Centre of the Earth (Mysterious Island)
Do Any of the Rides Have Height Requirements?
Yes, and we really liked the way Disney streamlines this process. When you get to the first ride of the day that has a height requirement have your child measured. The cast member will then give your child a wristband that he or she will need to show to prove he/she is the appropriate height for that ride and future rides and goodness they check…A LOT! Our son was asked to show his wrist band 7x while waiting in line for Indiana Jones Adventure!
- Blue Wrist Band: Reserved for children 90cm – 101cmDisneySea Rides:
- Nemo and Friends SeaRider
- Flounder’s Flying Fish Coaster
- Disneyland Rides:
- Splash Mountain
- Gadget’s Go Coaster
- Red Wrist Band: Reserved for children 102cm – 116cmDisneySea Rides:
- Tower of Terror
- Disneyland Rides:
- Big Thunder Mountain
- Space Mountain
- Star Tours: The Adventures Continue
- Green Wrist Band: Reserved for children 117cm and up.DisneySea Rides:
- Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull
- Raging Spirits
- Journey to the Centre of the Earth
There are loads of solid choices at Disneyland when it comes to food, from relatively affordable to expensive fine dining. When possible, we try to pick a restaurant that allows some of the Disney characters to come through as it blows our kids’ minds! In the parks, sometimes the lines to get a picture with the characters are an hour plus long, but if you can do the same while eating you get to accomplish two things at once! Below we have listed our favorite places to stop and grab a bite at both Disneyland and DisneySea.
Crystal Palace ($$): If you get here early, they have a set menu breakfast in which the Disney characters will roam about and take pictures. After this however, it turns into a buffet style restaurant with tons of options, but no characters. Even if you don’t make it to see Mickey for breakfast, the food is great and if you are really hungry it can actually be a decent value.
If you’re needing more of a snack and not digging as heavy of a meal, head outside and enjoy a kawaii (super cute) curry bun post-cruising around on a magic carpet and a cup of coffee (fair warning “large” coffees are small in size)! After make your way over to the double decker carousel!
Popcorn buckets are also available at both parks and range from 1,200 – 3,200yen. They change fairly frequently and once out of stock/unavailable it’s hard to know if it will ever be restocked.
*Just so your mentally prepared, these lines can be super loooonnnnngggg, but in our experience they tend to die down a bit towards the end of the day.*
What is the Best Way to Meet Characters?
There are a few different ways to meet characters at Tokyo Disney. First, make a reservation to dine with them! In Disneyland this can be done at Crystal Palace. We love this option as it essentially accomplishes two goals in one and we leave with both kids and bellies happy.
Second, would be the traditional character meet-up. In both parks there are various places designed for this specific meet & greet. Usually wait times will be posted outside the building that the character is in and a line will form to enter. Although (with enough waiting) this guarantees that your child will meet their favorite Disney character (and you won’t have a million people huddled around you while you get that coveted memory) it’s a huge time suck and as parents we generally try to avoid this option.
Finally, you can just try your chances with the free roaming characters! These characters don’t have specific spots in the park, but rather can be found walking around. Although this is perhaps our favorite type of meet-up it can be a tad frustrating as the characters are usually mobbed. Sometimes lines will form, but many times people will just crowd around the character and the character will pick who he/she would like to interact with next. Occasionally you’ll get lucky and your child will be picked quickly and other times it will seem like forever. We aren’t opposed to waiting a bit, but usually put a time limit on how long we are willing to wait around.
What Park Has it Going on at Night?
If you’re at DisneySea you’ll have both a show and fireworks, so let’s start with the water show first. Fantasmic! airs nightly at 2000 and stars tons of Disney characters dancing on floats throughout Mediterranean Harbor. They are accompanied by laser lights, fireworks, and clips from various famous motion pictures projected onto a wall of water. Our son loved the effects, especially when Mickey battles the dragon! Although similar to the show at DisneyWorld’s Hollywood Studios, it is one of our favorites and we recommend checking it out if in the park.
On the other hand, we have been a bit disappointed in “Brand New Dream,” the fireworks show that begins around 2030 at DisneySea. Perhaps we have been spoiled by the shows at Disney World in Orlando. If you’ve ever seen Wishes at Magic Kingdom then you know they’re awesome! It’s nearly unbelievable that Disney could put on such an amazing fireworks every single night. We showed up for the show at DisneySea expecting a similar experience, only to walk a way a bit puzzled when it lasted barely five-minutes and was MUCH smaller in scale (we’re guessing that this has to do with the fact that the fireworks launching site is relatively small compared to the other Disney Parks due to the urban nature of the park). Yes, we came with high expectations, but if you’re tribe is running low on gas and getting cranky at the end of a long DisneySea day, don’t feel too bad if you choose to head home before the show. At best it feels like a fleeting after-thought. *DisneySea is now showcasing a new fireworks show called, “Disney Light the Night,” so perhaps this show is better? Maybe. We’d love to hear from you in the comments if you’ve been! Duration is still 5-minutes.*
If you’ve spent your day at Tokyo Disneyland you’ll have some options as well for night time entertainment! Let’s start with “Tokyo Disney Electrical Parade Dreamlights,” which rolls at 1930 nightly. From start to finish this parade lasts ~45minutes and throughly captured our little’s attention. As the floats roll down the main drag adorned with tons of LED lights to music and hundreds of dancing characters in costumes in tow. How could you not get into the Disney spirit? It’s simply contagious. As is typical for any parade in Japan, people start lining up way before hand to get a good spot (sometimes over an hour ahead of time). While we wouldn’t necessarily recommend wasting an hour waiting, getting there a little early can be beneficial. *If weather conditions are poor, the show may be cancelled and “Nightfall Glow,” a variation of the show will roll.*
Although we have not seen firsthand the fireworks at Tokyo Disneyland we have seen them from DisneySea as “Disney Light the Night,” takes place in between the two parks, so maybe the view is different, buuuuuttt it’s the same show.
“Celebrate! Tokyo Disneyland,” however is on a totally different level and receives two thumbs up! Although not very reliant on pyrotechnics, the show does a great job of fusing the various lands and rides of the theme park into one thoughtful piece of night time entertainment. Unfortunately, this show was recently phased out (aired from July 10, 2018 – April 26, 2019), so we will be interested to see what the future holds for Tokyo Disneyland on its night time front.
In the mood for a parade? Our vote would be for Disneyland. Looking for an elaborate water + lights show? DisneySea is your best bet. Had “Celebrate! Tokyo Disneyland” still been showing at the time of this update (April 29, 2019) we would probably say we would vote Disneyland Tokyo as the best spot for nighttime entertainment, but without it it’s a toss up.
Any other Helpful Tips?
- Arrive early (like before park opening) and snag a FastPass first thing! If you’re venturing to DisneySea and want to ride Toy Story Mania this should be the first thing you do once inside!
- While we do try to get some food in the Park, it can certainly be expensive. Disney Toyko doesn’t mind if you bring in your own food so definitely bring some with you to cut down on the $$$.
- It’s probably a bit much to try to do both parks in a single day. We definitely recommend having at least one day each. There is a LOT to see and do and even with the crowd estimator you never really know how long the lines are going to be until you get there. We love the rides, but it’s also awesome to take some time and just meander around – Disney does a killer job when it comes to the details!
- If hanging out at DisneySea for the day and need a break from the heat (or cold if visiting in the winter) head to the Mermaid Lagoon. The area is much bigger than it looks from the outside and is an great respite from the weather. It’s beautifully done and has a ton jam packed inside including one of the more impressive Disney shows we’ve seen: King Triton’s Concert. You should check it out even if you aren’t a fan of the Little Mermaid.
Where do I stay?
Tokyo is never a cheap city to stay in, but on the bright side you certainly don’t have a shortage of hotels to choose from. If you are a US military member, the New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo is definitely your best bet. It books out WAY far in advance (we’re talkin’ ~6months), but particularly if you are going during the week you may have some luck in getting a room closer to your date. Prices are a fraction of most other Tokyo hotels, it’s in a good location (easy to get to Disney via the train), has free parking, and the rooms are much bigger than typical Japanese hotels. If you are looking to stay closer to the park, Disney itself has a few options as well. Check out some good options below.
- Ambassador Hotel
- DisneySea Hoel MiraCosta
- Tokyo Disneyland Hotel* (we stayed here during our March 2019 visit – photo above)
- Tokyo Disney Celebration Hotel
Other Official Disney Resort Hotels:
- Sunroute Plaza Tokyo
- Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay Hotel
- Tokyo Bay Maihama and Maihama Club Resort
- Hilton Tokyo Bay
Official Disney Partner Hotels:
We were fortunate enough during our most recent visit to DisneySea (March 2019) to stay the night at Tokyo Disneyland Hotel and we can’t recommend it enough! It is most certainly pricey, but being able to continue the Disney magic even after leaving the parks is worth it (in our opinion, anyway). In addition to the top notch service, killer ambiance, and large rooms there are also some pretty fantastic perks! There is something special about continuing your Disney experience at your hotel after a long day at the parks, and having Disney themed everything **might** be worth the extra cost particularly if you have little ones with you.
The Victorian theme of the hotel is done exceptionally well, and the “Happy 15” policy that allows you to gain entry into the parks 15 minutes before everyone else is a HUGE perk if you are trying to ride some of the busiest rides.
For starters, you’ll be given a monorail pass for the Disney Resort Line. This line is a Disney fan’s dream decked out with all the Mickey touches! The monorail departs every 6 minutes from each station and completes a circle around the park that includes four stops. So, even though Tokyo Disneyland Hotel gives you the easiest access to Tokyo Disneyland Park, you’ll also have wonderful access to DisneySea, Ikspiari Town, all of the other Disney hotels, as well as the JR Station (Maihama) from the Tokyo Disneyland Station (this is the station you’ll arrive at if you take the train to the Disney Resort area). *Paying out of pocket the adult monorail pass (if you choose to purchase one) runs 800yen/2 days.*
As far as the rooms go – they’re super big (by Tokyo standards anyway) and very well appointed! Toiletries (all in adorable packaging, of course), pajamas, and Mickey slippers are in the rooms. Instant coffee and tea (complimentary) are also present.
Where to Eat Outside the Park?
It’s dinner time and your people are hungry. You need a break from the parks and possibly some down-time before heading back in to capitalize on your last few FastPasses and potentially catch the fireworks. Where to go? Well, all of the Disney resorts have options which are generally very good, however, they can err a bit on the pricey side. If you are looking to save a few bucks, however, we suggest heading to Ikspiari Town which is on the Disney Resort Line at the Resort Gateway Station. Here you’ll have a ton of choices which are much less costly and Japanese, Italian, Mexican, Brazilian, and Asian options abound!
Finally, if you’re looking for a kid-friendly area with child seating, Ikspiari Kitchen might by calling your name. This food court has ~7 restaurants that range in their offerings. Open from 1100 to 2000 (last order is at 1930) we decided to check this place out for lunch. Maihama Yoshokuken, which specializes in omlettes served over rice, was worth it and with a kids’ set at just 590yen it was a winner!
So, that’s it! Tokyo Disneyland & DisneySea are really flippin’ cool! Enjoy your visit! And as always…Have a Magical Day!
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