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Kyle Sipples -- May 2006 - Tokyo Disneyland (Offiste)


Tokyo Disney Resort Trip Report

Who: Two adults in their late 30’s and two children (2.5 and 11 months)

OVERVIEW:

We never expected to go to Tokyo Disney while our children were young, but a series of events happened which led to this trip. First and foremost, my brother was offered a six-month assignment in Tokyo as part of his job. This gave us a nice place to stay for free. Secondly, we had enough frequent flier miles to burn on an airline that was in bankruptcy. Therefore, the timing seemed right.

We debated for quite some time about whether or not to bring the children. If we left the children with relatives, we would not be able to spend too much time in Tokyo. If we took the children, we could spend longer in Tokyo, but would have to handle the logistics of bringing two young kids. In the end, we decided to take the children. We just didn’t like the idea of being 7,000 miles apart, and we didn’t want our trip to be rushed.

This trip report is not a blow-by-blow account of every attraction at Tokyo Disney. There is plenty of information on the internet already. In doing this trip report, we are trying to give you tips that were not apparent to us prior to our trip. We also seek to give advice on traveling to Tokyo with young children.

TRAVELING TO TOKYO

Traveling such a long distance with two young children isn’t easy - but with preparation it can be done. My first piece of advice would be to pack as lightly as possible. Both of our children are in strollers, so each of us had to push a stroller while wheeling a suitcase. This was not an easy task. Any more than two suitcases, and it would have been next to impossible. Even with just two suitcases, we still had to lug around our carry-on bags, a diaper bag and a car seat for our youngest child. Don’t underestimate how difficult this can be!

Our flight left at 7:30am from Boston, which is a 3.5-hour drive assuming there is no traffic. We opted to stay at a hotel that had a “park, sleep & fly” rate. It was well worth it - as the hotel rate was about the same price as parking at the airport. It allowed us to get as much sleep as possible prior to a long travel day. If you do not live near the airport, I highly recommend doing this. The kids will be seated long enough in the airplane, so minimizing their time in the car is essential.

The flight itself went remarkably well. We flew from Boston to Detroit (2 hours), and then directly from Detroit to Tokyo (13 hours). We had done this flight before without children, and having children to attend to made it go by much more quickly.

We do, however, have some advice for flying on a long flight with young children.

  • Bring a change of clothes for the kids. We hit some ugly turbulence that resulted in the kids throwing up. Fortunately, it was just prior to landing, and the kids didn’t get too messy. We were able to change their shirt and pants, and they were no worse for the wear. I can’t imagine what we would have done if we did not have a change of clothes. The kids seemed fine once we got off the plane, which was reassuring.

  • Bring a car seat for a young child. While the airline does not require a car seat for a child under two, it is impossible to take such a long flight while holding an infant in your lap. Trust me, you will be miserable! Even though it meant having to purchase an extra seat, it was worth it. Our infant is accustomed to his car seat, and he was quite content to sit in it. It also allowed us to eat and sleep without having to worry about holding an infant. We’ve flown short flights without purchasing a separate seat for our infant, but it just isn’t an option on such a long flight.

All in all, we were amazed at how well the kids did during the flight. If you can, try to time flights that leave in the late afternoon or evening. That way, your kids will sleep for most of the flight. We were also very surprised at how easily the kids adjusted to the time zone change. (It took them much longer to adjust upon our return to the USA.) If you are traveling with children, you should not visit Disney on your first day, since they will still be adjusting to the new time zone. Go easy and let them get used to their new surroundings.

ARRIVING IN TOKYO

Because we had two young children, we were escorted to the front of the line for passport control. This was a very nice gesture that allowed us to get our bags and get through customs very quickly.

If you need to use an ATM, be sure to use the ATM at the airport. Most ATMs in Japan do not accept foreign ATM cards. While this is slowly improving, it is still a major issue. The ATMs at the airport work with foreign cards, so it is best to get some cash there. If you are not at the airport, any ATM at a post office will accept foreign cards - although the hours of operation are not that great. (9am-5pm or thereabouts.) The ATMs inside the Disney parks did not accept foreign cards.

The Narita airport, which handles 95% of the international flights for Tokyo, is very far from downtown Tokyo and from Disney. With no traffic, it is an hour drive. There are several ways to get from the airport to Tokyo. Two train companies, taxi, bus, etc. My brother met us at the airport, which was a really big help. We took a train for about $10 (the express trains are $25-$30, but save minimal time), which required a subway connection. The kids were young enough that they rode all public transportation in Japan for free. The train was VERY difficult. It was extremely hard to lug our strollers, bags and car seat. If you have any amount of luggage, I would not recommend the train - especially if you have to connect to the subway. It requires a significant amount of walking, usually up and down several flights of stairs. (More on this later.)

My advice would be to stay at a hotel that has access to the airport limousine bus. This is about $30, and is very convenient. We opted to use the bus on the way back to the airport. The bus picks you up right at the hotel (in our case the hotel right next to my brother’s apartment building) and drops you off right at the terminal. Staff handles your bags, which makes things very easy. No reservation is needed when you arrive, but you should make a reservation for your return to the airport.

Products for young children were very hard to find, and what we did find was very expensive. My advice is to bring what you need from home. We brought diapers, baby products, etc from home. As we used these items up, we had room in our suitcases to bring home souvenirs. We were VERY glad we brought these items with us, since a significant amount of time and money would have been spent finding these items in Tokyo. Don’t forget to talk to your pediatrician about what you should bring for your child. We wound up bringing a small medical kit so that we wouldn’t have to worry about finding anything in Tokyo. I highly recommend this. The bottom line: If you have room for children’s items - pack it! It will save you a tremendous amount of aggravation.

A WORD ABOUT PRICES IN TOKYO

Prior to our trip, I had nightmares of the prices in Tokyo. Much to my surprise, I found that prices in Tokyo were just not that bad. As in any city, you can spend as much money as you want. On average, however, I found Tokyo to be no more expensive than any major American city. Certain things were more expensive, but these were easily avoided. (Use public transit instead of taxis; don’t go to the movies, etc.) One could easily eat at a casual restaurant for $10 or less per plate - and keep in mind that there is no tipping in Japan. If you are trying to save money - order water since soft drinks are very expensive, $3 and up even at casual restaurants. There are convenience stores all over that sell good take-out meals and snacks at very reasonable prices. Grocery stores were more expensive than at home, but I suspect that they were not any more expensive than they would be in downtown New York. The prices in the parks were similar to the USA. Admission was somewhat cheaper. I suspect that we spent a little more on food, especially at the counter service restaurants.

For those with strollers, you should be forewarned that most of the affordable restaurants are small and/or on the second floor or higher. It often took a little while to find a restaurant that had enough space, and did not require lugging strollers up stairs. Also, many high chairs in Japan have no safety straps. We found it safer to have our youngest child eat from his stroller. Fortunately, his stroller had a built-in tray. The downside was that many restaurants were too compact for the stroller.

WHERE TO STAY:

We didn’t have to think much about this, since we stayed at my brother’s apartment. This wound up being a fantastic place to stay. We had a full kitchen, washer & dryer, and all of the other amenities of home. However, we gained some insight as to where we would stay if we ever came back.

The first thing you need to decide is how much time you are going to spend at Disney. If it is just a short part of a longer trip, I recommend staying closer to downtown Tokyo. (Disney is about a 20 minute train ride from Downtown - assuming no subway connection.) If you are going to spend the bulk of your time at Disney, I recommend staying at or near Disney. The key is to reduce the amount of time you spend commuting - so decide where you will spend most of your days.

Staying at Disney can be quite expensive. The cheapest option we found was the Sheraton, which was $190/night for weeknights. This was actually quite reasonable for Tokyo, but it is still more expensive than one can find elsewhere. A couple of thoughts about where to stay:

  • If you opt to stay downtown, stay at a place that will make traveling to Disney as easy as possible. The train to Disney makes two stops in downtown Tokyo. It originates at Tokyo station, and also stops at Hatchobori station. It is MUCH easier to get the train at Hatchobori station. The walk from the subway to the Keiyo line (the line that runs to Disney) at the Tokyo station is very far. The connection is much easier at Hatchobori. Therefore, I would stay at a hotel near Hatchobori station, or a hotel that is convenient to the Hibiya line, which is the subway line that goes to Hatchobori station. (My brother’s apartment was on the Hibiya line, so we know this trip well.)

  • If you want to stay near Disney, but can’t afford a Disney hotel, look into staying at a hotel that is one stop from Maihama Station (the Disney station) on the Keiyo line. I did not check into this, but since Disney is not downtown, it stands to reason that the hotels would be cheaper in this area. Specifically, look for hotels that are near the Shin-Kiba station, since this is the last stop before Disney that the express trains make. Shin-Kiba is also accessible to the subway (the last stop on the Yurakucho line), which makes traveling to downtown fairly simple. I would not recommend staying farther away from downtown than Disney, since you will be using trains that are packed with commuters coming into the city. Stick to trains that are heading away from the city.

  • The official hotels at Disney were not themed resorts. They looked like traditional hotels in every way. The only hotel with any serious themeing was the Miracosta at Disney Seas.

GETTING TO/FROM DOWNTOWN TOKYO TO DISNEY

Traveling to the parks with young children was not easy. Let’s make one thing very clear: The Tokyo public transit system is not stroller friendly. There are some elevators, but it is VERY hit or miss. There were even occasions where we had to take stairs to get to an elevator. The elevators that do exist are small and slow. If you have strollers and are using public transportation to get to the parks, plan on lugging the strollers up and down stairs. It’s just the way it is. The Maihama station (Disney station) does have one small elevator that goes from the train platform to ground level. There can be a wait, but at least there is an elevator.

You also must time your arrival and departure to avoid rush hour. With kids, traveling on the subway during rush hour is difficult. With strollers, it is practically impossible. The good news is that the Tokyo rush hour starts very late by American standards. It really doesn’t hit its peak until 8:00am or later. We usually were on the subway by 7:30am, and did not have any trouble. The evening rush hour is more spread out, but we found that leaving the park after 7:30pm avoided the worst of it. (There is no true evening rush hour in Tokyo, since many workers work much later than in the U.S.)

The subway cost from $1.60 to about $2.80, depending on how far you travel. If you do purchase a single use ticket, be advised that it is only good on the day of purchase. If you are unsure of how much fare you need, don’t worry since you can always use a fare adjustment machine at your destination. The automated ticket machines did have an English option. The commuter train to Disney cost about $2.10 each way - a real bargain. Remember that whenever you take the subway or the train, you must hold onto your ticket. You need the ticket to exit at your destination.

The commuter trains ran VERY frequently. No need for a schedule. Don’t worry about whether or not you are on a local or an express. The local doesn’t take that much longer to get to Disney.

Other than the lack of handicap (or stroller) accessibility, my only real complaint with traveling to Disney was that it felt like an urban commute. It was not at all a “magical” experience, and if anything was a bit sad. It’s not terribly exciting to see a train packed to the gills with office workers stop at the Disney station. If you are sensitive to this, consider staying on-site.

If you arrive by car, be advised that parking is quite expensive - $20/day. I’ve driven in many countries, and I would NOT recommend renting a car in Tokyo. It just isn’t necessary, and it is a very difficult city to drive in.

One last piece of advice for those on a budget: Bottled water at the Maihama station vending machine was $1.10. Inside the parks it is $2.50 - so stock at up at the train station! (It should also be noted that what looks like water in the parks and sells for 200 yen is actually a sugary sports drink. Water is 250 yen.)

ARRIVING AT THE PARKS

If you are going to Disneyland, you do not need to take the monorail. If you are going to DisneySea, you must take the monorail.

There is a security checkpoint prior to approaching the park ticket booths. A cursory inspection of your bags will be done. Security did was not concerned when our bags contained drinks and food brought from outside the park.

The Japanese line up early for the parks. We usually arrived about an hour prior to opening, and there was already a line of about 40 people in front of every turnstile. The ticket booths opened one hour prior to park opening. The Japanese do not sit directly on the ground. They sat on mats, blankets, or even sat on unfolded park maps. This was true while waiting for the park to open and also for viewing parades.

The ticket options were very frustrating. The longest park-hopper ticket sold is for four days. Park admission must be on consecutive days, so look at the weather and plan accordingly. No matter which ticket you purchase, you cannot park hop on either of the first two days. When you purchase the ticket, you must select which park you will visit on those days - and must remain in that park. The only park hopping allowed is on days three and four. If you purchase your ticket at a park, that park must be selected for your first day. (For example, if you purchase your tickets at a Disney Seas ticket window, you must visit Disney Seas on your first day.)

One piece of advice: Purchase a shorter ticket and lengthen it if desired. We originally purchased a three-day ticket, and upgraded to a four-day ticket. This can be done with no penalty - you just pay the difference. You can upgrade your tickets at Guest Services up until the time the park closes on the last day of your ticket. This way you aren’t locked in if the weather turns bad, or something else comes up.

GENERAL PARK OBSERVATIONS:

  • The first thing you will get when you purchase your tickets is a park map in English. Be sure to also get a map in Japanese. The Japanese maps have much more information, including pictures of food that is served at the various restaurants. Even if you don’t speak the language, the Japanese guides come in quite handy.

  • VISA is accepted at all Disney locations except for vending carts.

  • Strollers are available for rent. They are different than the strollers in the American parks. They are nicer for smaller children, but do not work as well for older children. The cost to rent a stroller is $7/day.

  • Consider purchasing a rain cover for your stroller prior to leaving for Japan. It rains frequently in Tokyo (at least in the spring), although usually it was just showers that passed through. Almost all of the Japanese strollers had rain covers. The only cover we found in the park was $33, which is much more than you would pay elsewhere.

  • Japanese strollers are much smaller on average than in the United States. They are no bigger than glorified umbrella strollers. If you are thinking about bringing your Graco travel system - think again. You will look out of place, and your stroller won’t fit in many places.

  • The Bon Voyage shop, which is their version of the World of Disney, is not located at Ikspiari. Ikspiari is more of a regular mall that just happens to be on Disney property. To get to Bon Voyage, head in the opposite direction, and it is just a short walk from the train station. The hours were very good - the store is open prior to park opening, and remains open after the parks have closed.

  • Park visitors in Japan tend to dress much nicer than visitors in the states. I wore a collared short sleeve shirt, shorts and sneakers - and felt somewhat underdressed. Avoid wearing tank tops. Japanese people seemed to have much more tolerance for the heat than I did. I could not imagine wearing long pants on the days we visited. Fortunately, a handful of Japanese visitors were wearing shorts so I did not feel too guilty about that.

TOKYO DISNEYSEA

Our first day at the parks was a Monday, and we chose DisneySea as our first park. I strongly encourage folks to avoid visiting Disney on the weekend. Keep in mind that the park lies near one of the largest cities in the world, and the crowds on the weekend can be outrageous. We notice huge crowds at other attractions on the weekend, and can only surmise that Disney is just as bad if not worse.

In order to get to DisneySea from the train station, you must take the monorail. The monorail costs Y200 ($2) per trip, or $5 for an all day pass. The all day pass is a plastic card that makes a very nice souvenir. Tickets can be bought at automatic dispensers located within the monorail station. The monorail station itself is a very short walk from the commuter rail station. Fortunately, the monorail station has good elevator coverage for those with strollers. To get to Disney Seas, you must complete almost the full circle that the monorail travels. The stop for Disney Seas is the stop prior to the commuter rail station. This was actually nice, since we got to see a lot of the resort prior to disembarking at DisneySea.

The monorails themselves are much more impressive than those in California or Florida. The cars are open for the entire length, and you can walk the entire length of the monorail if you desire. The seats are very comfortable, and are somewhat fashionable. The cars themselves are decorated with Disney paraphernalia, right down to the Mickey shaped grab handles. There is no driver, so try to sit all the way up front for a fantastic view.

There are two elevators available when you disembark at the DisneySea monorail station. One of the elevators is somewhat hidden at the far end of the station. I point this out because this elevator is only good to exit the monorail, and will not work to board the monorail. We saw several people take this elevator, only to be frustrated when they could not gain access to the loading platform.

Another thing to keep in mind is that there are two entrances to DisneySea. The entrance you will use is largely dependant on which end of the monorail you were riding. This is important to know because once you are at an entrance area, it is not at all obvious that there is second, and separate, entrance area. We had arranged to meet someone at the park entrance, only to find out later that they had searched for us at the wrong place. So be warned - there are two separate entrance areas.

The park itself opens right on time. There is no rope drop. We noticed that when people entered, many would take off in a full run. Not a jog, but a full sprint. (This was more prevalent at Disneyland, but also happened at Disney Seas.) Seeing this makes me wish that they did a rope drop, as that seems to control the morning rush much better.

The first thing you see as you enter is the Aquasphere. This is a huge rotating globe that has water running down it, and is seemingly supported by a fountain of water. There is some great music playing in this area that gets you excited to be at Disney. This is also a good meeting place if you plan on meeting someone in the morning. Once you are in the park, however, this area is somewhat out of the way. It should not be ignored, though, as we noticed that there were characters there for the majority of the day. Lines to see the characters were extremely short.

Just past the Aquasphere is the Mediterranean Harbor area. This is a beautiful area that encircles a lagoon. It is mostly Italian in design, although elements of Spain are also present. There are no major attractions in this area. I suppose it is the Main Street USA of DisneySea. Despite the fact that there are no major rides, the area is well worth a visit. It is downright stunning. I’ve been to Italy and Spain, and I can assure you that this recreation is downright amazing. If you arrive in the morning, you will see people congregate in one area. A show is done about half an hour prior to opening in this area. The characters all arrive by boat and welcome the guests to the park.

One thing that particularly struck me is that as you walk along the stores at the entrance to the Mediterranean Harbor, all of the cast members were standing outside greeting the guests and waving to them. It really made me feel welcome, and I was really impressed by just how enthusiastic they were.

The one ride in this area is the Venetian Gondola ride. This was a fun ride that was more relaxation than ride. I wouldn’t suggest you do this right away, since it is definitely not an E-ticket attraction. It is, however, well worth it. The area from which the gondolas depart is an amazing recreation of the canals in Venice. Unfortunately, the narration to the ride is done in Japanese, but it was still enjoyable in a relaxing sort of way.

I’d also like to point out two other places in the Mediterranean Harbor. First, the diaper changing station. Let me tell you, when we entered we thought we had died and gone to heaven. It is a huge area with all of the conveniences that you could imagine. An attendant staffs the diaper changing area itself. There are several changing tables, all with stuffed animals for the children to hold while they are being changed. The tables themselves are covered with paper, similar to a doctor’s office. There is a separate area with high chairs for feeding babies, a large area to prepare and wash bottles, a nursing area, and a concession selling baby supplies. For those of you with young kids - trust me when I say that this is the nicest children’s station that I have ever seen. (Note: There is one other diaper changing area in the American Waterfront section that was not as nice.)

The other place worth pointing out is the bakery. It was not nearly as enticing as the bakery on Main Street USA in Orlando, but it did sell something that was quite nice. Specifically, they sold black cherry mousse in a small mug for $4. What made this a great deal is that you got to keep the souvenir mug. This was a great deal for something we would have liked to purchase anyway.

Working clockwise around the park, the next area you enter is the American Waterfront. Like the Mediterranean Harbor, this area is short on rides but long on themeing. It split into two separate areas - a New York City waterfront and a Cape Cod coastal village. Oddly enough, the New York City waterfront seems to be a combination of New York City and California.

There are two structures that dominate the New York City waterfront area - the SS Columbia and the Tower of Terror. The SS Columbia is a huge recreation of a passenger steamship. I was amazed at just how large it was. There are several restaurants inside the ship, and it is well worth a visit.

The tower of terror looked somewhat out of place. It was huge, and was gorgeous. However, the themeing of the hotel looked more Mediterranean than American. I suspect this was a compromise, since you can see the Tower of Terror from the Mediterranean Harbor area. That being said, the attention to detail was just amazing. When we visited, the Tower of Terror was due to open in three months. Based on what I saw, I have no doubt that this will be every bit as good as the one at MGM Studios.

It was in the American Waterfront area that I noticed one of the only flaws in the park. Similar to Main Street USA, there are antique vehicles that carry guests up and down the street. (Or in this case between New York and Cape Cod.) The vehicles are decorated to look like antique police vehicles, fire trucks, busses, etc. There is no doubt that they are meant to be American vehicles, and some even say things like “New York City Police” on the side. The problem…. The steering wheels were on the right side, and they drove on the left side. Now I know that Japan drives on the left side of the road, but I was surprised that they neglected to correct this for the American Waterfront area.

We did see the “Encore” show, which is meant to be a Broadway review. The theater and stage were stunning. No expense was spared. The show, however, was not as nice. I suspect that it appeals much more to Japanese than to Americans. The simple truth is that if you have ever been to Broadway, this show doesn’t seem that special. Even if you haven’t been to Broadway, chances are that you have had more exposure to these shows than the Japanese. The cast was impressive, but the content of the show left something to be desired. This was one of the few attractions that seemed to please the Japanese much more than us.

The final attraction in this area is the Electric Seas Railway, which is a beautiful replica of an elevated trolley. It was not the most exciting ride, but it was well worth taking for the scenery and the atmosphere. You are expected to fold up your stroller and take it with you when you ride this attraction. If you absolutely could not fold up your stroller, you can still ride in the handicap section.

One last oddity about this area was Aunt Peg’s Village Store. This store featured Duffy the Bear - a character that was very popular with the Japanese but was all but unknown to us. Picture a cuter Smokey Bear, and you have an idea of what Duffy looked like.

Again, walking clockwise, the next area you enter is Port Discovery. This is comparable to Tomorrowland, albeit with very different themeing. The themeing can best be described as futuristic with a Victorian element. It was probably the least themed area, but it was still quite impressive.

The two major attractions here are Storm Rider and Aquatopia. We did not ride Storm Rider, as none of us are terribly keen on motion simulators.

Our oldest son loved Aquatopia. (The youngest was too young to ride.) It wasn’t terribly exciting for an adult, but I was amazed at just how much our son loved the ride. The ride itself consists of small “boats” that travel seemingly at random through a lagoon. You do not get wet, although at times you are made to feel that you will. The boats go forwards, backwards and spin around. What makes the ride interesting is that there is no set track, and therefore you have no idea which way your boat will travel next. The boats are controlled by an enhanced GPS system, which is really quite novel. What was disappointing is that the boats really aren’t boats. They are wheeled vehicles that travel in three or four inches of water. Therefore, you didn’t at all get the feeling that you were floating.

It should also be noted that the terminus of the Electric Railway is at Port Discovery. Oddly enough, the trolley didn’t look terribly out of place in this futuristic land.

Continuing along, the next area you encounter is Lost River Delta. This is themed to be a South American jungle. It is home to two major attractions - Indiana Jones and Raging Spirits.

Indiana Jones is extremely similar to the attraction in California. The only major difference is the setting. Disneyland’s attraction takes place in Asia, whereas DisneySea’s attraction is set in South America. The themeing of the attraction was incredible. The queuing area alone was amazing. The narration is in Japanese, but it did not detract significantly from the ride. This was one of the few rides that sells photographs upon exiting.

A tip for parents: Just to the left of the Indiana Jones attraction, there is a very quiet area consisting of a paved trail through the jungle. Nature sounds are piped in, and since there is really nothing to see on the trail, few people visit it. We found this place to be the perfect place to get the kids to fall asleep. (They were both able to sleep in their strollers.) If you are looking for a quiet place to relax, this is one of the best spots in the park. The map makes it look like it is the smoking area, but the smoking area is actually in a completely separate area.

Raging Spirits was a disappointment. From the outside, it looked to be beautifully themed. (We are big on themeing - in our opinion that’s what really sets the Disney parks apart.) The actual ride, though, was a small looping roller coaster. To make matters worse, it was rather violent. I was bumped around quite a bit, and left the ride with a headache. I am a fan of roller coasters, but this one just didn’t do anything for me. I like to be able to look around, but this coaster was too compact to feel like you were getting any sort of a view. Riding it once was plenty for me. One thing that troubled me was that the safety harness tightened during the ride. By the time the ride was over, it was crushing my chest. It was actually hard for me to breathe - and the couple of minutes it took to unload were incredibly uncomfortable and somewhat distressing.

The Lost River Delta is home to perhaps the best show I have ever seen in a Disney park. “Mystic Rythyms” is a story about spirits living in the rainforest. It is an amazing combination of live music, live dancing and acrobatics. The special effects are downright amazing, while the music is haunting. I don’t want to spoil it - so I’ll just say that you owe it to yourself to see this show. It would fit in perfectly at Animal Kingdom, and I am really disappointed that they have not brought the show to Orlando.

Moving along, you will come to the “Arabian Coast.” This is yet again a beautifully themed area that was quite large. It was vaguely similar to the Morocco attraction at Epcot, but was light years more impressive. Sinbad’s Seven Voyages was a scary It’s a Small World knockoff. A little is lost in the translation, resulting in the storyline being hard to follow. Nonetheless, it was worth riding.

Unfortunately, the Magic Lamp Theater was closed for refurbishment during our visit. I was really anxious to see how combining live action with a 3D movie worked.

The carousel was excellent. It was very richly themed, based on the Aladdin movie. It also had two levels, which looked really impressive. Only the bottom level had benches to sit on, although our 11 month old had no problem riding a horse with our support.

We ate dinner one night at the counter service restaurant here. We were expecting something similar to the food in the Morocco section of Epcot. The menu, however, was more oriental than Middle Eastern. There was a large selection of Japanse style curry and Chinese dishes. While the food did not quite fit with the decor, the themeing of the restaurant was top notch. I really felt like I was living a scene out of the movie Cassablanca.

Adjacent to the Arabian Coast lies “Mermaid Lagoon.” This area is geared towards younger children - and for that purpose it excels. There are two rides outside, including a small roller coaster, and several more attractions inside. The building itself is well worth a visit, even if you don’t have children with you. The themeing inside is top notch. It was a real oasis from the outdoors. The basic concept is that you are underwater in Ariel’s world. This was pulled off quite nicely.

There is a fantastic play area for younger children - an area that our two kids enjoyed immensely, especially our 11 month old. (It’s perfect for children that are still crawling.) Even if you are not a child, you should check out Ariel’s Playground. This is a play area for older children, but is still worth a walkthrough. The play area is comprised of various tunnels and rooms, including a somewhat hidden room where Ariel keeps all of her treasures. Once again, the themeing was top notch.

Another attraction that should not be missed is the live Little Mermaid show. Without giving away too much, the show takes place above you, as if you are sitting on the ocean floor. The concept was fantastic, and was extremely engaging.

The final area of the park is “Mysterious Island.” The theming in this area was incredible. It’s a Jules Verne themed land that is located inside of a volcano. Words can’t describe how impressive this area looked. No detail was neglected, no matter how small.

The signature ride for the park, Journey to the Center of the Earth is located here. The queuing area for this ride is perhaps the most amazingly themed in all of Disney. (The Indiana Jones attraction is another contender for the title.) I don’t want to give away too many details - but it’s safe to say that the technology behind the ride is based on the Test Track attraction at Epcot. My major complaint with Test Track is that I feel I am riding in a commercial, and not on a ride with great themeing. Journey to the Center of the Earth makes up for this in a huge way. The themeing is just amazing, and the technology behind the ride is used somewhat differently. All of this added up to a fantastic ride that we rode multiple times. I wish the ride itself was a little longer in duration, but it’s still a fantastic attraction.

The other major attraction in this area is the “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” Fortunately, this was a much better rendition than the old ride at Disneyland and Disney World. The narration was entirely in Japanese, which did detract somewhat from the attraction. Each car has three benches that hold two passengers. One bench is in the front, and the other two are on the sides. The passengers in the front get a much better view, which isn’t entirely fair. Since the ride is somewhat of a novelty, and lacks “replay” value, the lines were minimal. I would save this ride for after Journey to the Center of the Earth.

It should also be noted that the only gyoza restaurant at Tokyo Disney is located in this area - and is somewhat hidden. The Nautilus Galley is tucked away below the main walkway, sitting right along the water and next to the Nautilus submarine. If you were not aware of the restaurant ahead of time, you would probably miss it entirely (or at least would never see the menu.) I highly recommend this restaurant for a mid-afternoon snack of gyoza. Sitting next to the water in such a beautifully themed area was a real treat - and the food itself was quite good.

The nighttime show, BraviSeamo is similar to Illuminations in that it takes place in the lagoon. No expense was spared in the production, but the story seemed to fizzle midway through the show. There is also a noticeable absence of pyrotechnics. Fire is used extensively, but fireworks are not. It was worth watching, but Illuminations is a much better show.

So what did I think generally about Tokyo Disney Seas? I can’t stress how impressed we were with this park. It was amazing, and worth every effort it took to visit. The themeing is the best of any Disney Park - period. It blows California Adventure out of the water, even though the two parks were built around the same time. Everywhere you turn, you’ll notice top-notch themeing. The effect is three dimensional, making you feel absorbed into the landscape.

The park itself was bigger than I expected. I was surprised how much land they used in an urban area. Another neat feature is that DisneySea is adjacent to the sea! You can see the sea from several vantage points within the park. This really added to the atmosphere, and made the park feel like it was a perfect fit.

Themeing aside, a day at Tokyo DisneySea is similar to a day at Epcot. While there are a handful of good rides, the emphasis is on the atmosphere, and feeling that you are in a different place. The environment is what makes this park so enjoyable, and the rides are just icing on the cake. It is possible to do this park in one day, although you will have to do some planning if you want to see all of the shows.

The bottom line: If you are a Disney park fan, you owe it to yourself to see this park at some point in your life. Save your pennies and just do it - you won’t have any regrets.

DISNEYLAND:

I was going to do a blow-by-blow description of Disneyland, but decided that it was a waste of time. Tokyo Disneyland is almost identical to Disneyland in California and the Magic Kingdom. I am assuming that if you have made it this far, you are familiar with at least one of those parks. Therefore, giving a description of every attraction just doesn’t make sense. I do, however, want to share some observations:

  • Disneyland is unquestionably the more crowded park of the two. DisneySea felt downright quiet compared to Disneyland. (Partly because it had fewer people, and partly because it is spread out differently.) With planning, however, the crowds were very manageable. The lines themselves were not as bad as I expected.

  • If you are park hopping, go to Disneyland in the morning to minimize the impact of crowds.

  • The World Bazaar (their version of Main Street USA) is covered. I didn’t mind this at all, and when it rained it was quite nice. Another difference is that the World Bazaar has exits on either side that lead to other lands. (As compared to the dead-ends in California and Florida.) The road on the right leads to Tomorrowland and the road on the left leads to Adventureland. Unlike in the USA, you do not have to walk the entire length of the World Bazaar to get to other parts of the park.

  • The Pooh attraction is much different than in the USA. It is one of the most popular rides in the park - and for good reason. The cars do not follow a set track, and the ride surrounds you as you weave in and out of the sets. If you have young children, go to this ride first! We would get a fastpass, and then ride in the standby line twice. (The first time would be about a 5 minute wait, and the second ride would be about a 15-20 minute wait.) At this point our fastpass would be available for a third ride. This enabled us to ride three times with little waiting. If you do this, you must do it right at park opening. The standby line quickly built to 35 minutes (and got as high as 70 minutes), even though we were there on an off-peak day.

  • Buzz Lightyear was also very popular, and requires the use of fastpass. Unlike in the USA, the guns are not attached to the vehicle.

  • The railroad does not loop around the entire park. You board and disembark at the same station. I actually preferred this, since I’ve never liked the railroad as a mode of transportation. (What’s a steam train doing in Tomorrowland?!) I’ve always viewed it as a ride, and it felt more like a ride in Tokyo. The scenery along the track was done nicely. I liked this ride more than I thought I would.

  • We highly recommend the Queen of Hearts buffeteria and Grandma Sara’s Kitchen counter service restaurant. The themeing was spectacular in both restaurants. One word of caution: At Grandma Sara’s, we asked to be seated where we could see the Splash Mountain boats. This area is outside. You can’t really see the boats, and the themeing is not nearly as nice outside.

  • If you want to see Mickey Mouse at his house in Toontown, get there early. The lines were extremely long throughout the day. Better yet, wait to see Mickey at DisneySea.

  • We were not impressed with the fireworks show, and don’t recommend staying in the park late solely for the fireworks. If you need some sleep, don’t feel guilty for leaving.

  • Everyone sits for the parades, even if they are several rows back. This is something I wish would be adopted in the U.S. parks.

SOME GENERAL OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THE TOKYO DISNEY RESORT

  • Perhaps the biggest difference between Tokyo and the USA is the level of customer service. Disney in the USA has top-notch customer service, but Tokyo takes it to a completely new level. Words can’t describe how pleasant and attentive the staff in Tokyo is. You have to see it to believe it. We were constantly amazed at how helpful the staff was. For example, because we were pushing strollers, I don’t think we ever carried a food tray to our table - even at counter service restaurants. The staff even went so far as to get our condiments and silverware so that we could remain with the children. And this is just one example of many. Trust me… the quality of customer service is unparalleled.

  • Popcorn is phenomenally popular at the Tokyo Disney Resort. Reusable souvenir buckets are sold for about $11 (with a carrying strap), and almost every family had at least one. There were about five different styles, each featuring different characters. (Pooh, Buzz Lightyear, Chip & Dale, Princesses and Stitch.) The bucket can be refilled for $4. What made this fun was finding (and trying) all of the flavors sold in the park. These included strawberry, curry, soda, chocolate, cappuccino, sea salt, coconut, honey, caramel and black pepper. I personally recommend the coconut and honey flavors. The Japanese park guides show where each flavor and each souvenir bucket is sold.

  • Food prices were not tremendously different than in the United States. Some things were slightly cheaper, and some things were slightly more expensive. Counter service seemed a little more expensive, but was of much better quality. A buffet lunch at the DisneySea Sailing Day Buffet was $25 including tax - not that different from the USA when you realize that there is no tipping.

  • The parks have a baby swap feature for the major attractions. Tell the ride attendant that you would like to do a baby swap. They will give you a ticket that allows the person riding second to skip all lines. The only downside to this is that on some rides the person riding second will bypass queuing area entirely. This is unfortunate if the ride has a beautiful queuing area.

  • Expect some unusual food. (sea salt flavored ice cream?!). For those who are not adventurous eaters, there is plenty of western style food to accommodate you.

  • Kids meals are no great bargain. They were anywhere from $8 to $10 at counter service restaurants. The tradeoff is that they were much bigger, and featured much nicer food than in the USA.

  • It seemed that the lunch rush was slightly later in the day than in the USA. The peak seemed to come at about 1pm, rather than at noon. Eating at noon worked out well since the crowds were still light.

  • If you are unfamiliar with items on the menu, most restaurants display plastic versions of the dishes they sell.

  • The portions are only slightly smaller than in the United States. I actually preferred the portion size in Tokyo, since we did not want to carry leftovers.

  • We had no need for priority seating (mid-week May), although I suppose weekends are a different story.

  • There were no Mickey Bars sold in the parks. There were frozen treats in the shape of Mickey, but no Mickey bars as we know them.

  • The parks were immaculate. A virtual army was employed to keep the parks clean.

  • The family/handicap restrooms were top notch. They were immaculately clean and were very large. If you are not near a diaper changing station, the family restrooms are all equipped with changing tables.

  • Don’t be afraid of the language barrier. Is there a language barrier? Yes. Was it ever a problem? No. If a staff member does not speak fluent English, they will gladly call someone who does. If you are a little flexible, you will be fine. You should not let this be an excuse to stay at home.

  • Some attractions suffered from having the narration solely in Japanese. However, this was a minor annoyance rather than a problem. Certain attractions have headphones with English translations, although we never used these.

  • There is no pin trading. Very few pins were sold at the resort.

  • The shopping is different. In keeping with Japanese tradition, there is an emphasis on small gifts for others. There was a very large selection of food products, with an emphasis on sweets. The clothing selection was extremely limited.

  • The crowds departing the park at the end of the day were surprisingly light. When we left at park closing, I expected a madhouse at the monorail and the commuter train. Oddly enough, the crowds on both trains were quite light. I can’t really explain why this is so, but it made leaving at the end of the night a breeze.

  • The Lost & Found was tremendous. I picked up a camera bag at the Lost & Found half an hour after it was accidentally left at an attraction.

  • There are very few pre-shows, which was fine with me. I’ve always found these to be a little tedious. Since I don’t speak Japanese, I was happy that these were rarely used.

  • Very few attractions exit into a gift shop. For the few that do, there is always an alternative exit to avoid the shop.

  • The park uses hand stamps. If you exit, and wish to return, be sure to get a hand stamp at the exit.

  • I was extremely surprised at how few foreigners we saw in the parks. On average, we saw about 10 other foreigners all day.

  • DVDs purchased in Japan will not play on most DVD players sold in the United States. My player is one of the few that will play them, although I didn’t wind up purchasing any DVDs. The prices for DVDs are generally cheaper in the United States.

  • Traveling to the parks with young children was a phenomenal experience. The Japanese took a real liking to the children, especially their blonde curly hair. With the children as an icebreaker, we met many wonderful people.

  • Would we go back? In heartbeat! Japan was wonderful, and Tokyo Disney was wonderful. We will definitely return.

I hope this trip report was enjoyable. I also hope that every Disney fan gets to experience DisneySea at some point in their lives!

Kyle Sipples

Kilarney1@hotmail.com

 


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