I’ve long been a fan of Disney theme parks and have been fortunate enough to visit several across the globe when my son was young enough to appreciate. So when I received the invitation to Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea, my bags were packed quicker than you could sing the words to ‘It’s a small world’!
One of the truly wonderful things about Disney theme parks – aside from the magic feeling you get when you walk though the gates and the host of characters making youngers wishes come true – is that the layout and attractions are pretty universal across all destinations. This makes them incredibly easy to navigate and explore – perfect for when you’re visiting one in a country where English isn’t the first language.
Walking through the gates of Tokyo Disneyland, it’s comforting to be greeted by the ubiquitous main street, with Disney’s Castle straight ahead. Watching kids, big and small, young and old, interacting with Disney favourites brings a warm glow.
Just walking around the park would be enough to keep most children happy. The sights and sounds – both from the official Disney characters and the colourful locals who, by all accounts, are Disney disciples – have my head spinning this way and that. But of course, a visit to any Disneyland isn’t complete without taking in one of the many parades, performed throughout the day, and a ride – the scarier the better.
Although my time in Tokyo Disneyland is short, I did manage to have a quick walk around the park the night before and scored a ringside seat to the nighttime entertainment, Once Upon a Time. Even with no small child to share my enthusiasm, I felt that familiar sensation of happiness wave over me as the Disney characters twirled and fireworks sparkled in the night sky. It’s all I could do to stop myself from singing and dancing along!
Tip: space to watch the show fills up quickly, so grab yourself a snack and drink, and secure your spot at least 30 minutes before the 2050 start time. It’s also a great opportunity to have a rest, especially if you’ve been in the park all day.
I have also earmarked Star Tours: The adventures continue and Splash Mountain (an oldie but a goodie) as my thrill rides of choice: Star Tours is what is commonly referred to as 4D, where movement and visual effects transport you to the Galaxy, on a wild ride beside R2-D2 and C-3PO as they battle the might of Darth Vadar’s army. And, if you’re heading for Space Mountain, prepare to get a little wet.
Tip: even though the Japanese are happy to form an orderly queue, these can be quite long for popular rides, so utilising the FastPass system is the best way to make the most of your time. Simply look for the FastPass machines beside the most popular ride, insert your ticket and you’ll receive a pass that gives you an allotted time to return – essentially avoiding long queues.
If you’re lucky enough to be travelling with some littlies, Pooh’s Honey Pot, It’s a Small World and Dumbo the Flying Elephant make great substitutes.
There are plenty of eating options around the park, from buffet restaurants to ‘fast food’ outlets and concession stands – you certainly won’t go hungry.
Tip: as with many theme parks, the cost of food and drinks can be expensive. By all means have a hearty breakfast at your hotel and pack some snacks with you to keep you going throughout the day.
I’m spending the afternoon at DisneySea, a park unique to Tokyo and one that is currently celebrating its 15th anniversary. It’s a handy five-minute trip on the Disney Resort Line – a delightful monorail that travels between the parks, hotels and the nearby Ikspari Town shopping mall.
Tip: try to get a snap of your grandchildren, or any other travel companion, with a Mickey Mouse shaped window behind them – a bit of holiday hilarity!
Running from April this year to 17 March 2017, DisneySea’s 15th anniversary brings with it the very special tale of Crystal Wishes Journey. Performed around the park’s lake, most of the show is performed in Japanese, but really, it’s all about the spectacle of colour, dance and music.
Tip: it’s actually worth seeing this show earlier in the day, as shade is limited and it can get quite warm in the sun, depending on the time of year you’re visiting, so plan your day at the park around show times.
DisneySea takes you on a journey around the world, with the canals and piazzas of Venice, the gritty streets of New York and even back to the Mayan ruins, where burning volcanoes sporadically erupt. My first ride of the afternoon is the Tower of Terror, where the back-story you experience as the queue snakes its way around is all part of the experience. This is one ride where it pays not to have eaten immediately before – it’s a jaw-dropping experience to say the least!
Tip: when you first enter the queue, grab an English-language card to explain the story – it really helps!
It’s a hot day in Tokyo and several kids take the opportunity to jump in and out of the spouting water fountains – oh how I wish I could join them. Instead, I head inside, where it’s a little cooler, for some more adult entertainment. Now, before you exclaim that “Disney doesn’t do that kind of fun”, it’s actually the Big Band Beat I’m talking about, one of DisneySea’s most popular shows. You’ll be taken back to the heady days of the 1930s and 40s with this musical masterpiece. As well as featuring incredibly talented singers and musicians, many of the Disney favourites make an appearance, so younger members of your travelling party should still be entertained.
Tip: this is a 30-minute show so it’s a good chance to rest and refresh with a drink while you toe-tap along.
There’s plenty to keep you entertained at DisneySea until 8pm when the highlight of the nighttime entertainment – Fantasmic, which is of course, based on Disney’s classic Fantasia – kicks off. But if you’re looking to take a little break from the park, you can jump on the Disney Resort Line and head to Ikspiari Town. This shopping mall is indoors and outdoors and spread over four floors. Offering several international retailers, as well as some local ones, different bars and dining options, including an Aussie favourite, Pie Face, and a cinema, you could easily spend a day here. I don’t have that much time but I am keen to try some traditional Japanese takoyaki. These burning-hot fried balls are filled with a little octopus, served with their own special sauce and topped with bonito flakes. Inexpensive and tasty, you can find them freshly cooked in most food courts and that’s exactly where I score mine. They’re every bit as tasty as I could have imagined.
Tip 1: eating in Tokyo can be expensive, so don’t be afraid to visit food courts and give things a go – a little research beforehand obviously helps!
Tip 2: if you’re planning on doing a little shopping while at Ikspiri Town, stop by the visitor centre and pick up a savings card. Many retailers offer discounts when you show this card.
Fed and watered, I head back to DisneySea for the last show of the day, the aforementioned Fantasmic. Mickey and friends come to life on the water, with water fountains, lights and fireworks all dancing along. It’s a great way to end a truly magical day.
Staying at Disney
Staying in a Disney hotel at Tokyo DisneyResort is the perfect place to base yourself to ensure you can maximise your time at Tokyo Disneyland, DisneySea and Ikspiari Town during your stay. There are four to choose from, depending on your budget: Disney Ambassador Hotel, Tokyo DisneySea Hotel Miracosta and Tokyo Disneyland Hotel all fall within the deluxe option. Tokyo Disneyland Celebration Hotel, which only opened in June this year, offers a budget-friendly alternative.
All hotels offer a vacation package where you can book your accommodation, park tickets and other extras online. Visit TokyoDisneyResort.com for more information.
There are several hotels within a 10-15 minute shuttle of the resort. I stayed at the Hotel Emion on Tokyo Bay, which is only a 15-minute ride by free shuttle.
Staying in Tokyo
If you’re staying in Tokyo and heading to the parks for a day, then you can catch the train, which takes about 35 minutes from the city.
Debbie was a guest of Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea and travelled from Sydney return with Japan Airlines.