Guest Blogger: David, his wife, and their five year old son, B, have lived all around the United States, but are currently stationed in Okinawa where David enjoys producing movies and eating pancakes in his spare time. You can find David’s videos of their Okinawa adventures on YouTube.
Tokyo Disney Resort is a theme park and vacation resort located just east of Tokyo, Japan. My family and I currently live in Okinawa and when winter break rolled around, we decided to plan a trip to Tokyo Disney. Although it is a short 2 hour domestic flight from Okinawa to Tokyo, I’m assuming most of you won’t be starting off in Okinawa and will instead be making your own personal journey half way around the world. Spoiler alert: it’s worth it.
We planned our trip to take place over four days, three nights from Monday – Thursday, so we could take advantage of shorter lines. In reality, this left us with 2.5 days to actually spend at the parks, which was sufficient considering our focus was not to go on “grown up rides,” but to make our five year old son happy, while stuffing our faces with Disney treats along the way.
Day 1: Arrival in Tokyo
There are plenty of options in terms of places to stay in and around the park, from Disney owned hotels on property to lesser ones just blocks away. We chose the Disney Ambassador Hotel, which was described as a “budget” option outside the park, but it would not be classified as a budget hotel based on our experiences in the USA! When I think of budget hotels, I think of run down, bare bones accommodations, with rooms out of a really bad Quentin Tarantino movie (cue seedy police or gunmen outside your motel room door!). The Disney Ambassador Hotel could not be further from what I had in mind.
From the moment we stepped off the airport shuttle bus, we were greeted by smiling Japanese staff, willing to help us with every step of the check in process until we reached our room. Smiles abound and the staff was always ready to pose with you for photos, or hand your child a hotel sticker featuring Mickey Mouse. The lobby was palatial with a large sitting area, a walk down cafe with coffee and desserts, and a lounge complete with televisions playing Disney classics (in Japanese) on a loop. This was a genius component to keeping the kids entertained so the parents could complete the check in process!
Pricing and Accommodations:
We booked a standard room at the Disney Ambassador Hotel, but were upgraded to a superior room. We did not ask for the upgrade and, in fact, the regular rooms seemed more Mickey themed with Mickey comforters and such, but we took the upgrade because, well, upgrade. Although I am not a hotel snob by any means, I could be after this stay. The room was very spacious, with two slightly smaller than full sized beds. The bathroom came with a tub and a separate shower area. The water pressure was phenomenal – I could have power washed my home with the shower head, so that was a big plus in my book. There’s also a separate room for the toilet, complete with numerous buttons and options for your use and entertainment. Although we did not use any of the options, the seat was heated and stayed heated, which was a nice bonus.
The rooms also came with small refrigerators, a safe, and included Disney themed pajamas for the adult guests. Yes! Free Pajamas! And I wore them! Because, Free Pajamas!
The Disney Ambassador Hotel offers a lot for its money, if you’re willing to explore a bit. The hotel has the usual Disney gift shop, small mini Japanese grocery store and restaurants, but the biggest advantage is the location – just an 8 minute shuttle bus ride from the hotel to the parks. The hidden gem of the hotel is that it is connected to the Ikspiari Town Mall, which is a must see if you stay here. The mall has everything: a full grocery store, over 35 restaurants, a movie theater, a Disney store (of course), and many shops that are local only to Japan.
The Ambassador Hotel has a Chef Mickey character restaurant where you can have breakfast, lunch, or dinner with Chef Mickey. We had breakfast there on the second day of our stay. The buffet breakfast is divided into two sections: (1) traditional American breakfast of pancakes, toast, eggs, etc and (2) Japanese style breakfast area. I never ventured into the Japanese style breakfast area because the traditional American breakfast of pancakes comes in Mickey shapes! Chef Mickey is a character restaurant so the prices were high, costing the three of us about $80 USD for breakfast. But, the food was delicious, and Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Daisy came to our table and were happy and willing to take as many photos as we wanted. The staff also helped us take family photos, so no one was left out. Unlike the character breakfast in Orlando at Walt Disney World where I felt rushed, the food was terrible, and the characters did not engage, the Chef Mickey experience at the Ambassador Hotel is a must do if you have children (and in particular, if you want to erase any previously horrible character breakfast meal experiences).
Pro Tip: Check into your room and, if time allows, visit the Ikspiari Town Mall and stock up on needed supplies. Just eating dinner at the Ikspiari will save you money from the higher priced Disney hotel/resort options. I spotted three restaurants in the Hotel (Hana Hana, The Grill, Tick Tock Diner), which all looked appetizing, but the Ikspiari Town Mall was not only cheaper but allowed us to sample local cuisine at a much more reasonable price.
Pro Tip 2: We have been told that tipping is not necessary or expected in Japan, so we have not tipped. Feel free to google and determine whether you’re comfortable with not tipping, but our experience is that it is not expected.
Day #2: Full Day at Tokyo Disneyland
Tokyo Disneyland is one of two parks that make up the Tokyo Disney Resort. Disneyland opened in 1983 and was the first Disney park to be build outside the United States.
Since we were staying at a Disney resort, we were allowed to enter Disneyland 15 minutes prior to the general public. The Park opened at 8 AM, so we woke up bright and early to take advantage of the early entry. After our Chef Mickey breakfast buffet, we boarded the hotel provided shuttle bus to the Park. The shuttle bus was very retro, but way modern with wonderful hidden Mickeys from the outside taillights to the handrails on the inside. The ride to the Park took only 8 minutes and although Tokyo Disneyland is an extremely popular vacation destination for the Japanese, you won’t find people pushing or cutting in line to enter. Everyone is extremely polite and courteous, but I would still plan on arriving at least 30 minutes prior to opening, depending on where you are staying to avoid the rush and also to grab fast passes.
Here are a few things we did to maximize our time at the Park:
- Breakfast at the Park its terrible. Eat before you go, because otherwise, you won’t find anything other than coffee and pastries. Most food options open at 10AM, and we found ourselves freezing outside a coffee and pastry shop across from the Monster’s Inc ride, after discovering there was no indoor seating.
- Stop dragging around all the stuff you brought into the Park and make use of the lockers! This came in handy as we stored our heavy winter jackets during the daytime hours and came back for them towards the evening when the temperatures dropped. This also came in handy for storing purchases.
- Once you get past the security checkpoints, hang a right just before the Magic Castle and grab a fast pass for Pooh’s Honey Hut Ride. The ride fills up quickly and fast passes run out fast, so get them early on to ensure the opportunity to ride. Once you get the fast passes, circle back to the Monster’s Inc Ride, which should still be short.
- We enjoyed great shows which had the added bonus of giving our feet a break, but make sure you check in advance which ones are Japanese only or you will end up sitting through a show without understanding anything that is going on.
- Tokyo Disney has some amazing snacks, and the best one is popcorn. Buy the souvenir popcorn container (there are many themed varieties, including Star Wars and Cars 3!), because then you can get the container refilled throughout the day at a discount. Flavors we sampled include: curry, tomato basil, and honey. Flavors we did not get to sample include: blueberry, chocolate, caramel, and plain old salt and butter.
- The Electric Parade lives on at Tokyo Disney, complete with original soundtrack! Be sure to bring a blanket, though. We noticed empty blankets along the parade route about 30 minutes prior to the start. The blankets turned out to be people staking out their spot of land to watch the parade. The staff will make you sit so others behind you can see, so don’t expect to put your kids on your shoulders either. Bring a blanket to reserve your spot and also to keep your bum protected from the freezing cold sidewalk!
- Shockingly, we found the prices to be extremely reasonable – not a mortgage for snacks and water! Definitely try the Tokyo Disney snacks offered throughout the Park!
- Food at the Park is plentiful, and one nice thing is that people tend to eat and leave, instead of lingering for a long time. The staff only let you order your food when there is a free table, which means that you will have a place to sit once you get your food! This is such a great system that I wish Orlando had something similar.
Day #3: Full Day at Tokyo DisneySea
DisneySea is the companion park to Tokyo Disneyland and was opened in September 2001. DisneySea and Disneyland are the only two Disney parks that are not wholly owned and managed by the Walt Disney Company (although Disney does have creative control).
I had no idea what to expect from DisneySea, although we did know that it is more geared towards adults than kids. However, there are many hidden gems for young kids, and we were amazed by how much was squeezed into a relatively small piece of real estate.
First, I must mention the Toy Story Mania ride, which locals go crazy for. Upon entering the park, there is literally a stampede to the Toy Story Ride. It’s so crazy that there are staff members with “please walk” signs, again with a smile! Although many blogs that I read prior to our trip suggested skipping this ride, I personally had just as much fun as my son did.
To maximize time at DisneySea, I recommend:
- Snag a fast pass when you enter the park, or else you will end up waiting to ride at 10pm!
- Once you get your fast pass, head over to Mysterious Island, where there are short lines for numerous rides, including 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Note that Journey to the Center of the Earth is not appropriate for children, “expectant mothers,” or “persons of advanced age.”
- After Mysterious Island, walk over to Port Discovery, where you can ride the Nemo & Friends ride, which was one of our favorite rides there – a cross between the old Star Wars ride and Soarin. The line was short enough that we got to ride it twice. Port Discovery also has bumper boats and the line was so short that we also rode it twice.
- A friend recommended that we dine at Vulcania in Mysterious Island, saying the food was amazing. We dined there for lunch, and it was great. The food was counter cafeteria style, but because they only let us in once a table was open, we had no trouble getting our food and sampling the delicious local fare, along with some American style options. If you brought your popcorn souvenir tub, now is a good time to get some popcorn!
- When we visited in December, temperatures hovered in the mid-40’s during the daytime. It got breezy and we wanted a break, so we stumbled into Mermaid Lagoon. Mermaid Lagoon is all indoors so it is a perfect place to relax whether it’s warm or cold outside! A true hidden gem away from the outside world with rides that kids ages 4-10 will enjoy. There was also soft carpeting, pirate rope bridges to cross, and tons of seating for tired parents to relax and sleep (yep! We saw that!). This is the place to go when the outdoors is too much or your kids need to burn off energy while you relax. There are also shops, as well as a counter service cafeteria style restaurant.
- Although we did not stay at the Disney Miracosta Hotel ($$$$), which is located onsite at DisneySea, we did enjoy the dining area and walked the lobbies. It is beautiful and I really recommend you do it. The hotel has been called the most beautiful Disney property in the world and if you can afford it, you should consider staying there.
- Since DisneySea is geared towards adults, shows fill up quickly so if you want to see a show, make it a priority and check out times in advance.
Day #4: Half Day at Disneyland
On our final day, we had only a half-day to spend, which we choose to spend at Disneyland. We went back to buy gifts and ride Pooh’s Honey Hut (which was out of fast passes on our first day). We got our fast passes at 8AM that morning and rode it at 10AM – definitely worthwhile. Then we went back to the Ambassador Hotel, where our luggage was being held, and started our journey back to Okinawa.
Although your trip will undoubtedly differ from ours, I recommend that you stick to the weekdays, avoiding weekends and festivals. Your kids will have a great time and so will you, especially if you keep an open mind and try out some of the local dishes! I promise you they are delicious!
Our family of three had a great trip to Tokyo Disney and will be back to visit again. But, I must admit, that after spending four days in 40 degree weather, we were thrilled to land in Okinawa where it is 65 and sunny all the time!
We can’t wait to make our own trip to Tokyo Disney and experience that amazing water pressure and stuff our faces!
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