Looking for money-saving tips for visiting Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea? This post provides ways to do Tokyo Disney Resort on a tighter budget, while saving money on hotel, food, airfare, and other costs. We want to note from the outset that tighter budget above is relative. Traveling to Japan is not cheap, nor is it possible for everyone. Travel, in any form, costs a lot of money. I’ve wanted to write a post about how a trip to Tokyo Disney Resort can be cheaper than people might think for a while, but have hesitated due to the negative response to past remarks I’ve made indicating that it is closer within reach than many people think.
After having an amazing time on our recent visit to Tokyo Disney Resort, and then seeing the general “who cares? I’ll never be able to go there” response to the exciting happenings during Tokyo DisneySea’s 15th Anniversary (continuing through 2017), I’ve decided to finally finish this article. I’ve been preaching about Tokyo Disney Resort to anyone who will listen and encouraging readers to visit Tokyo DisneySea and Tokyo Disneyland in several posts, and now it’s time to provide a plan for making the trip more financially viable.
Again, this doesn’t mean everyone reading this post will be able to afford to visit Japan, nor will it make sense for everyone. I understand that. I also understand that I am incredibly fortunate to be able to travel. For those with large families (meaning more airfare), locals to a theme park (meaning hotel and airfare costs they otherwise wouldn’t pay), and/or strict vacation schedules (meaning a lack of flexibility in booking during cheaper times), this post may not help. The trip to Tokyo Disney Resort very well might still be out of the question.
With all of that said, before you close this browser window, consider this: if you can afford to take a yearly on-property vacation to Walt Disney World, it’s possible that you can afford a trip to Tokyo Disney Resort. It will just might require patience, sacrifice, and savvy planning, among (possibly) other things.
It’s worth it. I’ve written that Tokyo DisneySea is the best Disney theme park in the world, and I mean it. I also think Tokyo Disneyland is the best Disney castle park in the world. Yes, the two best Disney theme parks in the world. Even if making this trip means skipping an annual trip to Walt Disney World (or two) or saving for several years (May 2017 looks to be a great target date!), I recommend at least crunching the numbers and seeing if you can make it work. Hopefully, this article can make those numbers a bit easier to crunch.
So, if you want to visit the Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea and are wondering if and how it might be within reach for you financially, continue on…
I’m starting here because I suspect this is where I might lose some of you. In terms of cost differential, airfare is undoubtedly the biggest difference between a Walt Disney World vacation and a Tokyo Disney Resort vacation. Credit card churning, hacks, or miles redemptions are absolutely the best ways to save on airfare, but they are beyond the scope of this post and muddy the math too much (see the ‘airfare’ section of this post instead).
If you’re paying for airfare, it is going to cost you around $1,000+ (perhaps less if you live near Los Angeles, Seattle, or San Francisco) per person. Even getting airfare to ~$1,250 per person might require close airfare tracking, depending upon your origin city. Start now by setting fare alerts on Airfarewatchdog.com for your city of origin to Tokyo (NRT and HND).
In the past, when I’ve conversed with people about a trip to Tokyo being closer within reach than they might think, the response almost always is that airfare is too expensive, often with arbitrary dates chosen to illustrate their point. Airfare to Tokyo from the United States is expensive, there’s no question about that. If you have a large party, the cost of airfare probably makes the trip prohibitively expensive. Likewise, if your travel dates are not at all flexible, the airfare cost can quickly skyrocket, making the trip not viable even for smaller parties. If the idea of spending $1,000 (or more) on airfare per person makes you nauseous, Tokyo might be out of the question.
If your dates are somewhat flexible, you shouldn’t just arbitrarily pick dates, look at high prices, and rule this trip out of the question. Presumably, you’re going to be planning a trip to Tokyo Disney Resort well in advance. Be patient, watch airfare, and wait for price alerts. Start looking for airfare by going to ITA Software and using the “see calendar of lowest fares” search feature. Do several searches in month increments, and make your trip length variable (e.g., 9-10). Airfare prices fluctuate substantially, so the more flexibility you have, the better.
To illustrate my point, the lowest airfare from Washington, DC to Tokyo for December 23, 2014 through January 2, 2015 is currently $2,239. By contrast, February 12-23 is currently $1,213. I found that lower price after spending less than 5 minutes on ITA Software. I’m betting with airfare tracking and a bit more effort, I could find a price closer to $1,000. (I have for Indianapolis, and it’s not like we are a major west coast city or international hub airport.)
I would also recommend considering flying out of airports you don’t normally use. My alerts for Tokyo on Airfarewatchdog are out of Indianapolis, Chicago (which recently had an $837 RT!), Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. Obviously, we don’t live near all of these cities. However, I’ve found that sometimes the airfare deals out of the west coast are so good that even after separately purchasing airfare to get to those airports, it’s still a better deal. This is what we did for our first trip to Japan: purchasing tickets out of LAX, then flying there via Southwest with our Companion Passes. (We also made it a one-day stopover to drop in on Disneyland.)
With all of this said, the point stands that airfare is going to cost a lot more. Short of using miles, there is no way around this. Prices may not be as bad as you thought (or they might be), but there is no arguing that they are expensive. (One way to get more “mileage” out of this trip is to combine it with a trip to Hong Kong Disneyland and/or Aulani with minimal added airfare cost.)
The good news is that just about everything else will cost less.
If you want to stay on-site at a Tokyo Disney Resort hotel, be prepared to spend $500+ per night on your room. You thought I said this was going to get cheaper, right?! Well, it is, and not because you’re going to execute a clandestine plan to sleep in the lobby of Hotel MiraCosta and not pay for a room…
It gets cheaper because Tokyo Disney Resort has several on-site hotels on the monorail loop that are not Disney-branded. The Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay and the Hilton Tokyo Bay are the two that best cater to Westerners (I think the Hilton actually caters to Westerners better than the Disney hotels; you can read our full Hilton Tokyo Bay Review to read/see more about it), and the ones at which I would suggest staying.
There are also numerous off-site hotels along the JR line or accessible via other means of public transportation, many of which can be booked for <$100/night. After a bad experience staying off-site, I would never do it again. They may not cost as much in dollars, but the off-site hotels have a greater cost: time. Even if you’re not a morning person, you hopefully will get to these parks at or before park opening (if you don’t…good luck).
For even the closest off-site hotel, add in at least 30 minutes of additional commuting. On top of that, you will be using public transportation during the morning rush hour commute. If saving as much money as possible is your greatest concern, check out the off-site hotels, but I do not recommend it. Your mileage may vary on this.
Unlike official Disney hotels that have a published rate chart and stick to those rates, the non-Disney, on-site hotels use dynamic pricing. This means that rates at these hotels fluctuate widely based on inventory, projected (and actual) demand, and supply. I once saw $300+ per night standard rooms for the Hilton, but rooms for less than $150 per night are not at all uncommon. Because of this, it’s imperative that you price out the hotel after you find a deal on a flight, but before you book the flight. We have made this mistake before, and it can be a costly one…
As for the rooms, the Celebrio rooms in the Hilton remind me of what the “contemporary” theme at Disney’s Contemporary Resort should be, and its location on the monorail loop, room quality, views (almost every room either views the ocean (see below) or Cinderella Castle), and amenities make it on par with a Walt Disney World Deluxe hotel. In fact, I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find a Deluxe Walt Disney World hotel that’s as nice as the Hilton.
Again, you need to be flexible with dates here. January 11-16 is currently $234 per night, but February 15-20, 2015 is currently only $135 per night. That price difference right there should illustrate why flexibility and advance booking are critical. Due to these huge price swings, it’s imperative that you price out the Sheraton and Hilton (if you plan on staying at one of them) before you book your airfare. Saving $50 on flights isn’t worth it if it means paying significantly more for the hotel!
In addition to watching rates, I highly recommend joining HHonors and signing up for Hilton’s deal emails (make sure you check that you want to receive “Middle East & Asia Pacific News and Offers”). In my experience, Hilton does a 72-hour, 50% off flash sale about 4 times per year for select dates throughout Japan. Thanks to this deal, we were able to score a <$125/night room there for certain nights of our last trip. Because of this potential deal, you shouldn’t book a ‘no cancellation’ room at any of these hotels, unless you’re booking at the last minute. Chances are, you’ll cancel and rebook your room if you book far enough in advance, and you can’t do this for one of the “better” no cancellation rates. If you don’t want to sign up for the email, monitor this site for the flash deals.
You won’t find a Deluxe-caliber hotel at Walt Disney World on the monorail loop for ~$150 per night, so this should be a savings (if you normally stay at Moderate or above Walt Disney World hotel).
Continue reading Page 2 for park tickets, food, and more!