Last year, as a supplement to our comprehensive Tokyo Disney Resort Planning Guide, we wrote “Visiting Tokyo Disneyland Near the Summer 2020 Olympics?” Basically, this was in response to many readers who indicated that they might visit during or after Japan’s Olympics.
That remains a good read if you’re debating whether to plan a trip to Tokyo that coincides with the Summer 2020 Olympics, or even occurs after them. If you don’t want to read that lengthy post, our basic takeaway was that you shouldn’t wait. More specifically, we recommended targeting May 2020. After just returning from a couple of weeks in Japan, I feel compelled to offer a follow-up because there’s far more construction occurring now than I anticipated.
There are currently several park beautification projects occurring, with even more on the horizon. I haven’t really seen this topic covered elsewhere–at least not in a visual sense to underscore the scope of these exterior maintenance projects. Additionally, it seems to be an abnormally busy time for attraction refurbishments at Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea. At the end, we’ll answer the titular question of whether we still think you should go now, or wait until (at least) Fall 2020 to visit Tokyo Disney Resort…
Normally, we ignore the official Tokyo Disney Resort refurbishment calendar. We’ve seen everything; so long as a particular ride isn’t permanently closing, we’re generally happy to know our favorites are receiving TLC. (Plus, it gives us an excuse to go back!) Usually, our trips are planned around seasonal entertainment (which is often one-off) or the natural seasons.
Our perspective here obviously differs from a first-timer planning a trip to Japan. For one, we’ve been numerous times and know we’ll be back again. Visiting started out as a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience for us, and has quickly snowballed because Tokyo is home to the two best Disney theme parks, and Japan is an incredible place.
While we know a lot of other now-regular visitors who originally approached Japan with a similar ‘one and done’ mentality, the reality is that your first trip might also be your last. At the very least, it’s worth planning with that sense of urgency so you time your trip to coincide with an ideal timeframe.
Fortunately, Tokyo Disney Resort is good about releasing its seasonal and refurbishment schedules pretty far in advance. Very little maintenance is announced at the last minute or spontaneously, and attraction uptime is excellent. Unfortunately, this schedule is still released after many people would normally start booking international travel.
In general, we’d strongly encourage you to wait until the refurbishments are posted for your tentative travel dates before locking in non-refundable travel. There are a slew of attractions that we simply would not recommend first-timers miss. Those are (in order of importance): Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Pooh’s Hunny Hunt, Monsters Inc. Ride & Go Seek, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
During our trip, two of these were down, including Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage. Admittedly, this was a big loss to us. Additionally, the entirety of Critter Country was closed, as was Western River Railroad. Perhaps the biggest blow of all, though, was Gadget’s Go Coaster. How were we to get our Rescue Rangers fix?!
In looking ahead at the refurbishment calendar, there’s a lot happening between now and December. Most of you visiting between now and then probably have already locked in your travel, so this may not be particularly helpful from a ‘cautionary’ perspective.
However, once the first half of next year’s refurbishment dates are released (which will occur late this fall), we’re anticipating more of the same through June 2020. This is potentially something around which you can plan. Even if you can’t avoid an expanded slate of refurbishments, at least you can mentally prepare for them so it stings a little less once they’re announced.
Our basis for expecting an expanded refurbishment slate is pretty straightforward: the Olympics. All over Japan, beautification projects are being undertaken right now, with many projected to wrap up shortly before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
This is true throughout the city, and even extends to the temples in Kyoto. As the spotlight will be turned on Japan next summer, this should hardly be surprising.
When it comes to general park beautification projects, the two big ones of which you’ll want to be aware are to both park icons: Mount Prometheus at Tokyo DisneySea and Cinderella Castle at Tokyo Disneyland.
Mount Prometheus is the more significant of these two, with this project scheduled to last beyond the Olympics, running until October 2020. When this one was announced, we actually found it a bit difficult to believe (because of that post-Summer 2020 end date). No explanation has been given for why this is happening, or the timeframe of its phases.
Currently, the harbor facing-side of Mount Prometheus is totally behind scrims–and has been since spring. During this time, Mount Prometheus is not erupting and its nighttime show lighting is off. The normally wow-inducing view entering the park is a bit anti-climactic. Later this fall, Journey to the Center of the Earth will close for three full months.
Our hypothesis is that the goal is to have the most visible phase of this project (what’s currently happening) completed first, with work then moving to the section inside Mysterious Island, which would likely necessitate Journey to the Center of the Earth’s closure.
If this theory is correct, it means the most obtrusive portion of the work could be finished late this year or early next. In that case, the least prominent phase would occur next spring and summer.
We have no inside info here, but think this passes the smell test, and would also satisfy the goal of having the parks ‘sparkling’ for the Olympics.
Over at Tokyo Disneyland, there are currently a lot of walls up around Tomorrowland and the edge of Fantasyland. Some of this should come as no surprise, as this is where the Beauty and the Beast (etc) expansion is being built. In other cases, there’s work occurring in Tomorrowland that we assume is aimed at modernizing the aging land and giving it a cohesive aesthetic.
We already saw the first phase of this occur with Plazma Ray’s Diner, and expect the same to occur with Tomorrowland Terrace and Pan Galactic Pizza Port (among other things). Our biggest fear with this project is that it’ll evict Tony Solaroni, who is basically a more beloved park icon than Mickey Mouse.
Cinderella Castle’s refurbishment will run from October 1, 2019 until early April 2020. We have absolutely no insight into what this will entail, but given the timing (ahead of the anticipated opening of the Beauty and the Beast mini-land), it’s likely another beautification project.
Speaking of the Beauty and the Beast mini-land, above you can see Beast’s Castle rising on the horizon on the right side of the frame. Below is a closer look, with the theater rising to the right of the castle:
As you can see, a lot is happening at Tokyo Disney Resort, with a lot more work on the horizon. Think of this as being akin to Project Stardust at Disneyland, but happening due to the Olympics and Tokyo Disneyland’s massive expansion rather than Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
That’s potentially bad news for those of you traveling later this year, but good news for visitors heading to Japan in Spring 2020 or beyond, as we should start seeing the fruits of these efforts by then.
Accordingly, we are sticking with our April or May 2020 (avoiding Golden Week) recommendation.
Yes, you’ll encounter some refurbishments, but there’s also an incredibly high probability that the Fantasyland expansion that includes the Beauty and the Beast mega E-Ticket will be open, and a lot of these other projects will be starting to wrap up.
The problem with waiting until Fall 2020 when all of these projects (most notably, Mount Prometheus) will be complete is that by that time, another round will have started with the Fantasy Springs expansion at Tokyo DisneySea. You’ll also have to contend with the post-Olympics tourism boom to Japan.
Suffice to say, there’s never a “perfect” time to visit any theme park, and you shouldn’t let perfect be the enemy of good.
For those of you visiting later this year or early next, we’d encourage you to remain optimistic. Don’t let this news put a damper on your trip. These are still the two best-maintained and pristine Disney parks on the planet, with lavish details and incredible attractions.
You’ll undoubtedly notice the walls and scrims, but it still should be one of, if not the, best Disney trip of your life. You’ll still almost certainly want to return to Japan…and in that case, you’ll have something to look forward to on your next trip!
If you’re thinking of visiting Japan for the first time and are overwhelmed with planning, definitely check out our Tokyo Disney Resort Planning Guide. It covers much more than the parks, from getting there to WiFi to currency and much, much more. For more photos and an idea of what we did day-by-day during our first visit, read our Tokyo Disney Resort Trip Report.
Have you visited Tokyo Disney Resort during this period of heavy refurbishments? How was your overall experience? Would you recommend others wait out the work? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!