“Oh my goodness! Look, it’s Mickey Mouse! Hurry!”
“Mommy, slow down!” My three year old was a deadweight as I practically dragged her across Tokyo Disneyland to get to the famous mouse.
I’m still not sure who was more excited to visit one of the happiest places on earth, but our trip to Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea went off without a hitch.
Now, I’m ready to share all my best tips so that you can have a magical experience, too!
The most cost effective way to travel in Asia is on a low cost carrier (LCC). These no frills airlines offer discount seats and friendly service. You can often find extremely low prices to popular destinations.
Once you arrive on Tokyo, there are a few options for getting around the city. There are many buses that will take you to major JR train stations and hotels throughout the city. A one-way ticket to or from the Disney Resort hotels costs abou ¥1800. A one way ticket from the airport to the first major JR station costs about ¥900.
You can also hop a JR train right from one of the terminals. To ride the JR trains, you will need a pass. This requires a ¥500 deposit plus additional funds for your trip. Ride to Maihama station and the entrance to Disney.
Once you are at the Disney Resort, getting around is super simple. The monorail train circles the parks, hotels, and Maihama station every 15 or so minutes. There are single ride as well as passes for one to three days or longer. It is more cost effective to purchase a pass for the length of your stay than to buy single ride tickets each time.
Where to Stay
One great option for military families is the New Sanno. It is located closer to the center of Tokyo and offers very reasonable rates compared to other hotels in the area. However, be prepared to travel across the city to get to the parks. This could mean that you arrive later and get stuck without tickets or in major lines. Plus, you’ll be schlepping your family and all of your gear for the day with you.
We chose to stay at an official resort hotel. We have the SPG rewards card and went with the Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay. Our breakfast was included daily and we were just steps away from the resort’s monorail line. It was simple to get to and from the parks. We also were able to head back very easily when the kids got tired or we needed to reboot.
There are also several official Disney hotels that are even closer to the parks. The perk of staying at a Disney hotel or official resort hotel is that you are guaranteed park admission. Sometimes Tokyo Disney parks are sold out at the ticket booths, but staying at a hotel means that you can go in no matter what.
Crowd Control Tips
We were warned before we booked that Tokyo Disney took crowded to a whole new level. We were prepared to wait in very long lines.
Our actual experience was such a pleasant surprise. The longest line we waited in was around 45 minutes, but it was in a great location to view a parade. When you go, keep an eye on the crowd predictor. Unfortunately, it’s only in Japanese. You can use this guide to help translate the calendar and figure out the best time to go.
One of the best tips is to try to ride your must-do attractions right before and during major shows and parades. Many visitors will start to claim their parade spots over an hour before, which leaves some lines shorter.
Make use of the FastPass system for popular rides. One of the most crowded was Winnie the Pooh’s Hunny Hunt. It is unbelievably cute . . . or “kawaii.” Everything kawaii is insanely popular in Japan. FastPasses can run out early, so be ready to snag yours ASAP. Guests can only get FastPasses every two hours or when their current FastPass window in over.
The rides at Tokyo Disneyland are similar to those at the original Disneyland in Anaheim, CA. Some, like Winnie the Pooh’s Hunny Hunt, have been tweaked or changed slightly. The most popular rides seemed to be in Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. We were able to walk on to Pirates of the Caribbean and had a reasonable wait time for the Jungle Cruise. Most other lines were 30 minutes or more.
DisneySea is an completely unique park. I did see elements from California Adventure, but most rides were totally new to me. We spent a lot of time in Mermaid Lagoon and Arabian Coast. These are based on The Little Mermaid and Aladdin and have most of the child-friendly rides. Other areas of the park feature lots of thrilling roller coaster and adventure rides. With very little children dictating our schedule, we didn’t have a chance to try out the more grown-up rides. The lines for those rides also topped 90 minutes every time we walked by. Many other rides had wait times between 30 and 60 minutes.
One must-eat for every visitor is the popcorn. No seriously: Hear me out. Tokyo Disney Parks take this way beyond just the standard butter and salt combo. We saw curry, tomato-basil, milk chocolate, and white chocolate.
You can buy popcorn individually at different locations, but the most cost effective way to snack is in a reusable popcorn bucket. My preschooler chose the one shaped like Cinderella’s coach. We paid more upfront (¥2300) for the bucket and the popcorn. Ours was slightly more expensive because it has working wheels. Refills cost around ¥520.
During the height of major meal times, especially lunch, be prepared to wait in lengthy lines across the parks. We found that by eating a larger breakfast and snacking during the day, we could skip the lunchtime rush and have an earlier dinner.
Go Early, Stay Late
The later evening hours are always my favorite time in the parks. First, for the pure magic of it. . . nd also because the crowds tend to be much, much more manageable.
Many people were waiting for either the Electrical Light Parade or the fireworks show. This left many rides with very short or no lines. My daughter was able to ride her favorite Toontown roller coaster at least ten times in a row!
We had waited for several Fantasyland rides for 30 minutes or more, each, earlier in the day. Once the sun set, as we were headed toward closing time, we walked on to each of those same rides at least once.
Not every moment was pure magic. After all, young children have regular meltdowns from exhaustion, hunger, or the end of a sugar rush. But our whole experience is one that I will treasure for my entire life.
Ever since I first stepped through the gates in Anaheim, I’ve been wanting to share the Disney magic with my own children. And this lived up to every expectation.
My daughter’s face when she spotted her favorite princesses on floats was priceless. The moment she was wrapped in Mickey’s arms was pure joy. Spinning in the teacups, under the soft glow of lanterns, as both my babies laughed is a memory I will be revisiting again and again.
By Meg Flanagan