Trip Reports

Tokyo Disneyland Trip Report – Part 1

This trip report picks up where our Japan Trip Report left off.  I’ve separated the two because some people were more interested in one topic or another.  If you missed any of the Japan Trip Report and want to catch up then click on the corresponding number (1, 2, 3, or 4) that you missed.

The train ride from Tokyo to Maihama Station is quiet and serene compared to the routes in Tokyo.  Zipping in and out of tunnels eventually finds riders closer to the ocean and away from the skyscrapers.  While I enjoyed the ride, and it certainly was more serene than Tokyo’s Chuo Line, my mood was far from peaceful.  At the beginning of the trip Tokyo Disneyland was far from my mind.  I didn’t really let myself think about it until the day we were going to the resort and, after a morning at Tsujiki Market, I was more than eager to get into a Disney Park.

We exited the station and headed for Tokyo Disneyland Hotel, our lodging for the next few nights.  Later that evening we were headed to Tokyo DisneySea with a park ticket that lets guests enter after 6 PM.  We had plenty of time to check-in and explore the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel, a marvel in its own right.  Here’s a few photos of the exterior and a review will be coming shortly.

Tokyo Disneyland Hotel Mickey

TDL sunset from station and hotel

While Tokyo Disneyland is a quick walk away from the hotel, DisneySea was 2 stops away on the Tokyo Disneyland monorail line.  That station was right outside of the hotel gates and we went that way a few minutes before 6.  The sun was beginning to set and was quite beautiful on the water.

Exiting the station is a bit of a blur as we all took off at full speed and headed for DisneySea’s entrance.  The next thing I remembered was being inside of the park, checking out this view…

TDS inside boat volcano

I’d seen pictures of Tokyo DisneySea many times.  Much of my original inspiration for going to Japan was based on those photos.  Seeing it in person felt like a culmination of a long journey.  While it literally was the culmination of our trip, this was a destination I’d been planning to go to for 5+ years.  Standing along the fence and soaking in this view brought on a well of emotions that I wasn’t ready for.  That memory will be one of my favorites for the rest of my life.

Eventually I collected myself, snapped a few lousy photos and we started a quick walk through of DisneySea.  The plan for the night was to just walk around and soak in the atmosphere, rides weren’t much of a priority.  The after 6 PM ticket costs around $40 and I’d pay that much to just walk around DisneySea without the attractions.

TDS water view ToT Castle

The sun had mostly set and blue hour was coming in.  We walked along the right side of Mediterranean Harbor towards Mysterious Island.  The park has plenty of wow moments and entering Mysterious Island is another one of those.

Mysterious Island TDS

The kinetic energy in that area is phenomenal.  So are the colors, mostly pastels, that look rich and emboldened.  A little steampunk, a lot Jules Verne, and a completely immersive area that is one of the best theme park lands in the world.  More on that later.

Mermaid Lagoon Volcano blue sky water TDS

We continued our walk through Mermaid Lagoon and to the Arabian Coast.  My first time in DisneySea had me completely enveloped with the volcano.  My photos were mostly centered around the icon and rightfully so. I knew there were other topics worthy of my focus but I couldn’t help but look at the mountain looming in the distance.

New York Deli facade TDS

We realized that we were very hungry at this point and doubled back to the American Waterfront for the New York Deli.  We went for the Mile High Sandwich and were not disappointed by the height!  After dinner we went to Mediterranean Harbor to watch Fantasmic!

One of the underappreciated aspects of Tokyo Disney Resorts is how the custom is to sit for shows.  Instead of standing in a packed mess to watch a parade or show, the sitting and standing areas are well-organized.  It’s one of those things that I didn’t know I cared about until I actually experienced it.

Dragon light fantasmic TDS

Fantasmic! at Tokyo DisneySea is fairly different from what we’re accustomed to stateside.  Being in the Harbor, Fantasmic! has a circle theater.  The show does well, playing to all sides.  The front of the house is the entrance of the park but seeing it from a different angle isn’t much of a hindrance.  I thoroughly enjoyed the show and recommend seeing it even if you have seen the other versions.

Mediterranean Harbor light blur TDS

We spent some time in that area after the show and were blown away .  It was very easy to forget that we were in a theme park while walking in different lands.  If Mysterious Island earns points for a phenomenal, cohesive area.  Mediterranean Harbor, American Waterfront, Arabian Coast for their beautiful scenes accompanied by intricate details.

Steamship flowers night TDS

I’d like to do a land-by-land guide of Tokyo DisneySea if there is interest in it.  Each of the ports-of-call are worthy of their own post.  If you’d enjoy that then let me know in the comments.

Melissa and I had shared a sandwich so it was time for our second dinner of the night.  You know, in the name of research!  We decided to eat inside of a volcano, a dangerous but incredible endeavor.  I’ve already reviewed Vulcania, probably my favorite counter-service spot we tried at DisneySea.  The restaurant is undeniably cool, full of detail, reasonably priced and serves good food.

We decided to go for our only attraction of the night at that point, Journey to the Center of the Earth.  This attraction is a dark-ride roller coaster hybrid and seen as DisneySea’s flagship attraction.  It did not disappoint.  The ride takes you further and further inside of the mountain until eventually we stumble upon something we shouldn’t see and the cart races away.  Journey to the Center of the Earth is a blast and worthy of its prime location.

Mysterious Island water TDS

I split off shortly and took as many photos as I could.  The park was fairly empty at this point so security was a little faster in getting people out.  Still, I was relatively happy with the shots I ended up with.  Here are a few of them.

Mysterious Island night from stairs TDS

TDS night mermaid light bridge volcanao

Arabian Coast TDS

Mysterious Island bridge TDS

If you hadn’t noticed, we didn’t really do much in our four hours in the park.  I honestly wouldn’t have changed a thing except for maybe only having one bigger meal instead of the two smaller.  DisneySea was jaw-dropping and a perfect place to just explore.  Not that there aren’t great attractions, there are.  But even without those, DisneySea is like a museum.  A case study in how to make a beautiful, detailed and enveloping land.

We went back to the hotel knowing full well that we had four days of this resort left.  Eager to get up, we went to bed shortly after getting back to the hotel.

Monsters Inc Ride and go seek building TDL

The next morning started off bright and early.  Tokyo Disneyland Hotel (as well as other on-site Disney hotels) guests get into the parks 15 minutes earlier than all other park goers.  This doesn’t sound like much but it does help you get in front of the lines.  We went straight for Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek!

This attraction is an interactive dark ride that takes guests through the story of Monsters, Inc.  The interactive aspect comes from each guest getting a flashlight and then shining that on monsters to make them appear from out of the dark.  This is a wonderful dark ride that is both futuristic and fun.  The animatronics throughout the attraction are impressive and the story is told well.

Unfortunately, Pooh’s Hunny Hunt was closed while we were there.  This was a big disappointment as that attraction is unique to Tokyo Disneyland and considered one of the best in the world.  That’s the way it goes though, we look forward to riding it when we return!  I bring it up here because we would have started (and recommend starting the day) at that attraction.

We went and got in line for Space Mountain after Monsters, Inc. but the attraction shut down as we were in the queue.  This isn’t the norm and we were handed extra FastPasses for our trouble so it wasn’t a big deal.  Space Mountain came back on-line later in the day.

Tokyo Disneyland was set to begin their 35th Anniversary Celebration two days after we left.  I was a little bummed when this was announced, as we’d already booked our vacation.  While I’m not much of a parade person, I was eager to see Tokyo Disneyland’s acclaimed parades.  There was no daytime parade on the schedule for our week there.

After Space Mountain we noticed many people sitting on the curbs, waiting for a show.  We walked around in confusion for a few minutes before I finally asked a cast member what was happening.  She told us that the new daytime parade was debuting that morning in about half an hour!  We found a nice spot to sit in Frontierland and waited.

Blowing kiss flower girl Dream Up TDL

Minnie Dream Up TDL

This new parade is called Dreaming Up and is a hoot.  The floats and costumes are over the top fun and the whole parade is very charming.  Tokyo Disney Resort does not do shows or parades small.  They go for grand and in this parade they nailed it.  I’ll have a full review later on.

Dream Up elephant girl TDL

After enjoying the parade, we made the short walk over to Splash Mountain and enjoyed the ride via the single rider line.  While the wait times were relatively low for the day, we still saved quite a bit of time using single-rider when available.  This also led to fun interactions in the log as we were all seated with Japanese families, many of whom had never ridden Splash Mountain.

Splash Mountain rafts TDL

Tokyo Disneyland’s Splash Mountain has a mini-land with it that includes a snack stand, a counter-service restaurant and some short, nice paths.  This makes it a nice place to linger and enjoy the scenery.

The whole park just feels slightly different from Disneyland and Magic Kingdom, parks I’ve grown accustomed to.  This isn’t in a bad way, in fact I think I preferred it, but there is just something different about the park.  The walkways are a bit wider, the park doesn’t seem to be in as big of a hurry, the fandom is slightly more character based.  Even with those things listed, there’s something a little different that is hard to identify.

Lantern water whell TDL

Next we used our extra FastPass at Big Thunder Mountain and enjoyed a Pork Rice Roll, which was one of Melissa’s favorite snacks of the trip.  We walked right on to Pirates of the Caribbean without any wait.  Both Pirates and Big Thunder Mountain are similar to the classics stateside.  Tokyo Disneyland’s ride collection is essentially a greatest hits collection pulled from Disneyland and Magic Kingdom.  Pirates is pulled from Disneyland.  Splash Mountain is pulled from Magic Kingdom.  Big Thunder is a little bit of both.  There’s a small New Orleans Square around Pirates of the Caribbean that is beautiful to walk around and a perfect home to the attraction.

At that point, our FastPass window (paper fastpasses like in Disneyland and not Disney World) for Monsters, Inc. was up.  We had gotten one first thing in the morning, as we knew we’d want to ride it a couple of times.

Mike shutting lights Monsters Inc Ride and Seek TDL

Another mark in the positive for Tokyo Disneyland is how well the rides are maintained.  This is especially evident in the dark rides as the lighting is just right and the animatronics are all working.  I don’t know if they allocate more in the budget for maintenance or simply care more about running efficiently but I was very impressed.

Sulley sewer Monsters Inc ride seek TDL

We walked right on to Star Tours after our second ride through Monstropolis.  At this point, we were wondering why the lines were so short and the crowds were very dispersed.  The rumors of Tokyo Disneyland being overcrowded were greatly exaggerated.  More importantly though, we went during low crowd season and the park was running at full capacity.  For example, Star Tours was loading all of the flight simulators even though the line was less than five minutes.  Disneyland and Disney World don’t do that anymore as a way to cut costs.  It’s one of my biggest frustrations with the way Disney runs their parks but in Tokyo it was completely different.

If you don’t know, Tokyo Disney Resort isn’t owned by Disney but rather Oriental Land Company.  Disney is a partner and has some creative control but OLC is the owner.  I know people defend the Disney company like their favorite sports team, but TDR is great partially because it isn’t owned by current-day Disney.  There is no cost-cutting that I could tell in that park but it’s a regular thing in Disney run parks.  TDR wasn’t overloaded with IP’s because there isn’t much need for corporate synergy.  Basically everything that rubs me the wrong about the current state of Disney’s theme parks, Tokyo Disney Resort does the opposite.  I don’t mean to overstate this but I kept thinking, as we walked around the park, “If Bob Iger was forced to do a few regular days at these parks and compare them to the parks stateside then things would be run very differently.”  The customer service at Tokyo Disney Resort was incredible.

Castle water weeping tree TDL

We got a FastPass for the up and running Space Mountain and then headed back towards the castle, which we had breezed by for most of the morning.  The castle is more or less a replica of Magic Kingdom’s although the hub is different.  There’s wide open spaces in the hub but no bridges or water throughout it.  The pavement changes texture several times so that the foreground doesn’t look too stale in front of the castle.  While we didn’t go to TDL on a high crowd day, it’s easy to tell that the park is geared up for high crowds.

Wall Castle flowers TDL

We strode around the area for a few minutes before our lunch reservation.  We had accomplished quite a bit that morning and were quite hungry and excited to slow down a little bit in the afternoon.  That’s where we’ll pick up in the next installment!

Thank you for reading and let us know if you have any questions or thoughts!  You can do that below in the comments.  If you enjoy what you’re reading please subscribe to the blog and like our social media pages, all of which you can find on the right side of this page.  Have a great day!

– Andrew

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