Our primary reason for visiting Japan was to attend a friend’s wedding. We were in the country for two weeks. We had an amazing time and can’t wait to go back.
Prior to visiting the Tokyo Disney Resort, my wife and I have visited all the Disney parks in the US, as well as Disneyland Paris. This was our first visit to Japan. We brought along our 13-month-old daughter. We spent July 14-17 in the Tokyo Disney parks, which was “Regular Season” (Scale: Value / Regular / Peak / Top) because school summer holidays had not started yet. July is the rainy season, but our days in the parks were hot (highs of 30 to 35 C or 86 to 95 F) and sticky (80 to 100% humidity) with virtually no rain.
I’ll review the parks and attractions first, and then discuss touring with children, dining, Hotel Miracosta, and general experiences in Japan.
Tokyo Disney Sea
I’ve read other trip reports and blogs about this park before we arrived. The rave reviews are deserved. It carries its themes perfectly. The depth of theming and the contrast between each of the seven themed areas are significant, comparable to Universal Islands of Adventure or Epcot’s World Showcase, but without the across-the-water views into other themed lands. Inside Tokyo Disney Sea, guests can usually only see one theme, with a handful of transition locations where two themes are visible, and rare places where three different themes are visible.
Mediterranean Harbor – at the park entrance, it’s an Italian styled area including a well camouflaged hotel, a castle (way more cool than Fort Langhorn), restaurants and a huge waterfront for shows. BraviSEAmo is spectacular, perhaps even better than Fantasmic. (I watched it twice.) This large harbor also hosts other water shows, including Chip and Dale spraying everyone with fire-hoses – a summer treat for the park guests.
Mysterious Island – this is a sensory feast for every Jules Verne fan. The Mysterious Island is accessible by tunnels into the caldera (bowl) of the volcano. Inside, guests experience geysers, volcanic eruptions, steam venting, interspersed with vehicles from Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Journey to the Center of the Earth is a headlining action-adventure ride, 4/5. 20,000 Leauges Under the Sea is a bit slower paced, but still captures the wonder of Jules Verne, 3.5/5.
Mermaid Lagoon – the theme and attractions are based on “The Little Mermaid.” Everything is orientated to children, but even adults will appreciate Triton’s Kingdom: an indoor air-conditioned mini-theme park with four kiddie rides, Mermaid Lagoon Theatre (a musical puppet/circus performance – similar in scope to Festival of the Lion King at Animal Kingdom, 5/5), character greeting area, a restaurant and gift shop. We used the attractions here to test our daughter’s courage before taking her on more intense attractions. We skipped Flounder’s Flying Fish Coaster and other outdoor attractions here because it was scorching hot and our little girl was too small for coasters.
Arabian Coast – A themed land right out of Aladdin. Stuck off in a corner, it seems to be the most remote and easily missed area of the park. Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage is like a miniature Pirates of the Caribbean, or a more sophisticated version of It’s a Small World, depending on your perspective. While the song is Japanese, it’s catchy and I found myself humming along (3/5 for adults, 5/5 for babies). Our daughter loved all the colorful images and action, especially if it involved Chandu, Sindbad’s tiger kitten companion. Regretfully, we missed The Magic Lamp Theater.
Lost River Delta – The whole area looks like an Indiana Jones movie, with thick jungle, ruins, plane wrecks, and seedy looking shops. Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull is a top-notch action-adventure, with spectacular queue theming (5/5). Raging Spirits is a looping roller coaster, which appeared to be the same design as Disneyland Paris’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril. While the Disneyland Paris coaster banged us up, Raging Spirits at Disney Sea was a very smooth and enjoyable ride (4/5). The Japanese crew dispatches the coaster saying, “Adios amigos!” :) There’s also a Mexican themed restaurant here – it’s not as Mexican as we hoped.
Port Discovery – This futuristic land is relatively small. The Storm Rider simulator attraction is OK, but not great (3/5). Spoiler alert: the aircraft crashes in a storm and guests get rained on. Aquatopia is a surreal little water ride, with a dry and wet course. Aquatopia ride vehicles skim around a large shallow pool in seemingly random patterns, with near collisions with water effects and other vehicles. While it was fun to ride (4/5), it is almost as fun just to sit on the sides and watch. The Disney Sea Electric Railway is a simple streetcar tram that travels between Port Discovery and the American Waterfront. Despite it’s apparent height, most views are blocked, and you can walk almost as fast as it takes to ride (2/5).
American Waterfront – This large “land” is in fact two different areas, Cape Cod, and New York. The Disney Sea Transit Steamer Line leaves from the dock in Cape Cod. Normally it loops around the park, but we rode it as BraviSEAmo was being set up in Mediterranean Harbor, so it went to Lost River Delta instead (2/5). The ride was nice and relaxing, but we could have walked there faster. The Hightower Hotel / Tower of Terror anchors the New York waterfront. The Tower of Terror preshow is amazing – I can’t figure out where the statue goes! The story, without Twilight Zone references, actually makes more sense than the Disney Studios or California Adventure versions. The ride drop, looking across the park towards Mount Prometheus, is just as fun as it is everywhere else (5/5). The SS Columbia is a large ocean-liner that contains restaurants and a show stage. The real Tokyo Bay (with real ships) behind the SS Columbia adds to the depth of Disney Sea’s seamless theme design.
Tokyo Disneyland is the more popular of the two theme parks. During our stay, it was the only park that offered early entry for resort guests. The Japanese people we spoke to thought that it was more kid friendly and had more attractions than Disney Sea – if they only had one day, they would only visit Disneyland. However, I must admit that I prefer the originality of Disney Sea. Since Tokyo Disneyland is so similar to other Disneyland (and Magic Kingdom) theme parks, I will only discuss the unique attractions and areas that we experienced during our visit.
The newest attraction was Monsters Inc. Ride & Go Seek!, which opened in April. This is different than Monsters Inc. Mike and Sulley to the Rescue in California Adventure. The story is that guests are playing flashlight tag with several monsters plus Boo. Instead of just riding through movie sets like the California Adventure version, the Tokyo Disneyland ride vehicle includes flashlights that can be used to illuminate monsters or Boo hiding in the set pieces. While the story and animatronics do not react to the guest flash-lights, this little bit of interactive play makes the ride very, very popular. (Flashlight tag appears to be more popular in Japan than in North America. We saw kids playing with flashlights in dark parks a few times during our trip.) With resort guest early entry, we arrived at 8:40 am and got Fastpasses for 1:35 pm. The park opened to the public at 9:00 am. When we returned at 10:00 am, all remaining Fastpasses were gone and the standby line was 3 hours! (Unlike “extra magic hours” at Walt Disney World, the Fastpass machines were not reset when the park opened for regular park guests. Resort guests got the bulk of all Fastpasses issued for the day.)
Space Mountain just re-opened after a refurbishment. This version has the side-by-side seating arrangement like Disneyland (California), but without the on-board audio system. Despite this, the dark “flight” through the cosmos was just as good as other Disney parks (5/5).
Toontown hosts Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, just like the original Disneyland (4/5). This attraction is very popular with children, even those not familiar with Roger Rabbit. Will it ever be added to Magic Kingdom?
Mickey Mouse is a very popular character. Rather than meeting him at the Judges Tent, you meet him on the set of Silly Symphonies. The meet-and-greet opened at 9:00 am, when the park opened to regular guests. By that time, resort guests with early entry had created a 60 minute queue. So, no matter when you arrive, you probably will wait an hour to meet the famous mouse actor. However, it is possible to ambush characters as they move about the park. Characters walk through the park to get to the castle for stage shows. If you’re on the path between Fantasyland and Cinderella’s Castle 15-20 minutes before a show, you can meet a lot of characters without waiting. Characters including Mickey will also appear periodically near the park entrance.
Pooh’s Hunny Hut is a spectacular ride (5/5). The Walt Disney World version is very good, and the Tokyo Disneyland version matches the magic in the queue and bouncing with Tigger scenes. However, Tokyo Disneyland went all out designing their ride vehicles as well as the heffalumps and woozles scene. It was worth repeating.
The queue for Dumbo, Alice’s Tea Party and Cinderella’s Carousel were surprisingly short. Based on the people walking around Fantasyland and the crowded stroller parking, I expected queues to resemble Magic Kingdom under similar conditions, but the waits were 1/3 of what I saw on my last visit to Florida. Alice’s Tea Party was a walk on!
Snow White’s Adventures is scary. That witch pops out everywhere! Our daughter took it in stride, but I could see where most other kids would get freaked out. I read about the scary version at Magic Kingdom, but only experienced it after Disney reworked it and toned it down significantly. I’m not sure why they haven’t done the same in Tokyo Disneyland.
Splash Mountain is an attraction that relies heavily on story. We found that without the English dialogue, this attraction was not as enjoyable as in Disneyland or Magic Kingdom (4/5). However, Splash Mountain was still the favorite of our friend’s 8-year-old daughter. (She has visited Disney World as well, but she speaks only French. Perhaps The Splash Mountain story was equally incomprehensible at both locations. If she ever visits Disneyland Paris, she’ll be blown away!)
While not a typical attraction, the animatronic pizza maker at Pangalactic Pizza Port was very entertaining, especially for my daughter. After carrying her stroller up to the second floor dining and viewing area, we discovered that there is an elevator on the outside of the building.
Big Thunder Mountain seems bigger in Tokyo Disneyland than in Magic Kingdom or Disneyland. The ride isn’t much different (5/5), and we spent a day with a couple 11-year-old boys who would have spent their entire days just riding BTM over and over again.
The Jungle Cruise relies heavily on the story and guide narration. It’s just not the same when you don’t understand the language (3/5). Our skipper was enthusiastic and apparently told jokes just as cheesy as Disneyland and Magic Kingdom cast members, I just wish I knew what he said. My favorite moment was when our skipper’s gun didn’t go off and he mimed throwing it at the hippos. :)
Western River Railroad is a terrific attraction (4/5). There’s so much to see in this little loop through Westernland and Adventureland. There was also narration in both English and Japanese. Unlike the train rides in other Disney parks, the ride isn’t mostly views of the back side of attraction buildings. In fact, the indoor dinosaur scenes were impressive and interesting – I was tempted to ride again, but never found the time.
The Enchanted Tiki Room: Stitch Presents “Aloha E Komo Mai!” My daughter and I loved this show (5/5). Yes, it is cheesy animatronics with lots of Japanese dialogue, but the songs were familiar and catchy (opens with Hawaiian Roller Coaster), while Stitch was a lot of fun (no disgusting chili-breath). My daughter was so captivated by the show, we experienced it twice. I hope that Magic Kingdom replaces Iago (the rude parrot) with Stitch at the Enchanted Tiki Room.
Pirates of the Caribbean surprised me. The animatronic characters had Japanese dialogue, but the singing was only in English, so I could sing along. The Disneyland Paris version had me muddled since every other verse was in French. This ride is a lot of fun (4/5), and maybe next time I’ll dine in the restaurant inside the attraction.
Other attractions we experienced that were similar (if not identical) to Disneyworld or Disneyland versions: It’s a Small World, The Haunted Mansion, Peter Pan’s Flight, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Grand Circuit Raceway, Star Tours, MicroAdventure! (Honey I Shrunk the Audience).
I’m also reserving comment on attractions that were closed for refurbishment or we did not have time to experience: Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters, Gadget’s Go Coaster, The Mickey Mouse Review, Beaver Brothers Explorer Canoes, Mark Twain Riverboat, Tom Sawyer Island, Country Bear Theater, and Swiss Family Treehouse.
Tips for touring with children:
• Use an umbrella stroller. Larger strollers are rare in Japan and not as easily accommodated as in Disney World. Even the rental strollers are umbrella style. Also, while Disney elevators were large, most elevators in train stations and stores are very small.
• Infants must be able to sit on their own to ride many attractions. Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea do not allow infants on laps on any attractions, even on It’s a Small World. However, a couple times we broke the rules and picked up our daughter after the ride vehicle left the loading platform. No one stopped the ride and yelled at us, but we probably looked like ignorant tourists...
• Use the “switch” option for attractions where children cannot ride. It’s like Disneyworld’s “Baby Swap” program, but better. In Tokyo Disney resort, cast members do not use the term “baby swap”, but use the term “switch” instead. They give the non-rider a special ticket to present when the first rider returns. Rather than using this ticket to access the Fastpass line (may be up to 20 minutes), cast members escort the ticket-holder through exit or staff entrances directly to the loading platform. At Big Thunder Mountain, I was offered my choice of seats, anywhere on the train. This much faster than Disneyworld’s Baby Swap Fastpass system, as it totally eliminates waiting in the Fastpass queue. The cast member service is excellent!
• If you can afford it, stay on resort, especially if you’re visiting during hot weather. The Tokyo Disneyland Hotel is just outside the Disneyland park gate, on the other side of the monorail station. The Hotel Miracosta is inside Disney Sea, but still accessible from the monorail without going through a park gate. Both of these hotels allow guests to easily walk to their room for a nap and to bask in air conditioning. None of the Disney World resort hotels are as close to the parks as the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel and Hotel Miracosta, not even the monorail resorts.
• Confirm your hotel pool policy when you make your reservations. Many hotels charge extra for use of the pool. To use the pool at the Hotel Miracosta during our say would have cost an extra $30 per day. If you decide not to use the pool, make sure your kids know your decision before they see it at the hotel.
• There are baby care centers in each park. They are well equipped for just about anything you could need and will sell you anything you forgot.
• Baby change tables are in all women’s washrooms. They are slowly being added to the men’s washrooms as well (40% so far). Even more convenient are the handicap bathrooms which almost always have large change table. These big change tables are intended for caring for disabled guests of all sizes, but work great for dads when there is no change table in the men’s room. Another feature common in public bathrooms around Japan is the child seat. It’s like a high-chair seat that holds your baby or toddler in the corner of the stall while the parent uses the toilet. Very convenient.
About the Hotel Miracosta:
• Staying on Disney property was very convenient, but also very expensive.
• The hotel is beautiful, with lots of sculpture and murals throughout the hotel.
• The rooms were tastefully appointed. Our room had two single beds plus a trundle bed. Cribs were available, but only for babies under one year old. While they provided bed rails, they were ineffective in controlling my energetic 13-month old little girl. It was the first time she slept in a real (trundle) bed by herself – we were nervous, but she loved it.
• While very classy, we were a bit surprised that the Hotel Miracosta did not have some of the features found in other 4-star hotels we stayed at around Japan. The Hotel Miracosta lacked a bedside table floor light, wall-mounted toilet flush controls, and fog-free (heated) bathroom mirror. While I wouldn’t consider these typical features of North American Hotels, they were included in three other Japanese hotels where we paid an average of 1/3 of the nightly price of the Hotel Miracosta.
• Like all Japanese hotels we visited, the Hotel Miracosta does include a hot-pot, which was very handy for making instant noodles for our daughter’s late-night snack or breakfast.
• All the Japanese hotels we visited had free in-room green tea, but few had good in-room coffee. Hotel Miracosta’s coffee was a package of instant coffee pre-mixed with a bit of creamer and way too much sugar. Lucky for my coffee-addicted wife, good strong coffee was served in virtually all restaurants.
• My wife collected all the Disney complementary toothbrushes, toiletries, slippers, children’s cups, etc. They will likely become stocking stuffers next Christmas.
• The most expensive rooms look out over the Mediterranean Harbor, and have an unobstructed view of BraviSEAmo. Our room wasn’t in that price range and faced the monorail station and the giant globe. It was still a very nice view. Regular park guests walked past the globe and under our room to enter the rest of the park.
• There is no lobby or public space to view BraviSEAmo from inside the hotel. Guests can view the show from the hotel restaurants, from rooms that face Mediterranean Harbor, or a somewhat obstructed view from the landing of the stairway that leads between the hotel park entrance and the main lobby.
The most challenging factor we found was that each dining location specialized and menu items were available at one location only. For example, in Disneyland, hamburgers, hot dogs, fried chicken and pizza must be purchased at four different counter-service restaurants. Each is the only restaurant that sells that item in the park. It’s not just western food that is allocated this way, but local foods as well. (There’s only one place for noodles, sushi, meat patties, pastries...) You almost need to design your park visiting around what kind of food you want to eat. That said, the food was always delicious.
Don’t expect to find a lot of authentic Japanese food inside the parks. Instead you will find a lot of familiar American, Italian, or Chinese foods, each with a little Japanese twist. For example, hamburgers are often topped with fried egg (tastes better than it sounds). A “normal” bacon cheeseburger is available, but it’s buried half-way down the menu. The most common pizza was shrimp and broccoli, not pepperoni. An Italian themed restaurant will likely serve a variety of pastas, but some may not have coffee or desserts. The pastries shops have croissants and cherry turnovers, as well as pastries filled with corn chowder, pork sausage or red bean paste. There are no Mickey ice cream bars, but there are Minnie-shaped frozen pineapple treats. Experiment a little and you may be surprised. My favorite treat was a Mickey waffle with green tea mouse, red beans, and brown sugar syrup.
Japanese style breakfasts are very filling and good to pre-load calories for a big day in the park. However, they are usually a buffet including both western and Japanese breakfast items. (We paid about $30 per person for the breakfast at Ocean’s, inside the Hotel Miracosta.) I would typically fill my plate with grilled salmon, rice, seaweed, noodles and green tea. My wife tended to eat more western food croissants, sausage, fruit salad and coffee. We fed our daughter from the buffet (for free), usually with scrambled eggs, noodles, fruit, yogurt and milk.
Lucky for us, our daughter eats practically anything. Even if she didn’t eat much, we were always able to find a banana, bun, yogurt or instant cup-of-noodles. She loved noodles, eating them at any meal. Surprisingly, the price of instant noodles was the same in Japan as it is here in Canada.
General Japan experiences:
• Customer service is superior. What makes this more incredible is that tipping is not socially acceptable. While restaurant menu prices may be slightly higher than what I see in Canada or the US, the final cost is the same or lower in Japan because of the no tipping policy. It’s also refreshing to have a bellhop take all our bags to our room and I don’t have to worry about having the right change for an appropriate tip.
• Transportation system is super efficient. You really can set your watch by the train times. The one time we caught the wrong train was because my wife kept her watch five minutes fast.
• Shipping luggage between hotels is very inexpensive and can save you a lot of hassle, especially if you are travelling with kids. We used this service twice, and our luggage always arrived ahead of us and undamaged. We shipped our biggest and bulkiest bags from the Hotel Miracosta to our next hotel (in Shinjuku, Tokyo) for less than $15 per bag. Our bags had to be ready for pick-up by 10:00 am and were guaranteed to be delivered before 6:00 pm.
• While the Disney parks are extremely stroller and wheelchair friendly, this is not universal throughout Japan. Train station elevators, if they exist, are very small. It was often faster to use escalators (carefully holding the stroller) or stairs (carrying the stroller with the baby strapped inside). Large department stores had elevators, but smaller stores and restaurants often had odd stairs. Typical of this experience was the Disney Store in Ginza, Tokyo’s high-end shopping neighbourhood. Disney cast members were eager to point me to the elevator to reach the 2nd and 3rd floor of this unique store. However, to get from the main floor of the store to the elevator, I had to carry the stroller up six steps.
• Take time to stop and smell the roses. Don’t just follow a travel guide itinerary. Japan is full of surprising treats in unexpected places. Japanese hotels often have gardens with elaborate waterfalls and reflecting pools. We found a quiet beer garden with soothing live jazz on the grassy, tree-lined roof of a busy department store. One of our daughter’s favorite moments was watching a trained monkey perform in an alley behind a Buddhist temple.
Nice TR! Thanks.
Sounds like a great trip.
Very detailed and interesting trip report even though it is probably something I would never do.
Is there any chance to see some photos on the "Your Day At The Park" forum?
There are other bloggers who captured the parks much better than me, especially Jack Spence at All Ears.Friday, August 14, 2009 9:32 PM
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