We recently returned from our summer trip to Japan, as you’ve probably noticed by the uptick in other updates from Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea. It’s been a while since we provided a broad update from these parks, so thought we’d do that here with some quick hits about various changes, food, etc., along with 40+ photos. (I’m aiming to revive my “Scenes from the Disney Parks” series soon, so I’m holding back most of my favorite photos for that.)
We started this trip flying into Osaka and staying in Kyoto before taking the Shinkansen to Tokyo. You can read about the first leg of the trip in our Summer 2018 Kyoto, Japan Trip Recap. Just in case you’ve somehow missed our breathless praise of it on TravelCaffeine.com, Kyoto is our favorite city in the world and we highly recommend it to anyone visiting Japan. We view Kyoto and Tokyo as perfect complements to one another and we wouldn’t travel to Japan without going to Kyoto.
Probably the most noteworthy thing about this trip to Tokyo Disney Resort was the heat. You might’ve heard that Japan is in the midst of a record-breaking heatwave that has resulted in several fatalities. We were there for the start of this weather, and it wasn’t exactly a positive experience.
Don’t get me wrong–being in Japan is always awesome, but this was some of the most oppressive heat and humidity I’ve ever experienced (worse than Florida, not as bad as Hong Kong). Normally, we spend a lot of time wandering around the parks, especially Tokyo DisneySea, but on this trip we tried to spend as little time as possible outdoors.
Despite our best efforts to avoid the heat, it was pretty rough. Upon returning home, literally everything in my suitcase stunk like sweat. My camera strap and bag are probably going to permanently smell like back sweat.
On the topic of visiting Japan in the summer, let’s fast forward two years for a moment, to the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. We haven’t exactly been the most vocal advocates of visiting Japan for this event.
After receiving a decent number of questions about this, we added a section to our Tokyo Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide late last year. In that, we focused on what we felt were the key points: costs and crowds.
At the time, even though we had experienced Japan in the summer a couple of times before, it didn’t even dawn on us to address the heat and humidity. Even if average temperatures are 10 degrees lower for the Olympics, it has the potential to be a hot, expensive, and frustratingly crowded experience.
We are worried that for many tourists, it will be far from a good first-impression for Japan. We should probably do a full post analyzing the potential upsides and downsides to visiting Japan in 2020, as there’s a lot more insight we can provide based upon visits during fall colors and cherry blossom seasons.
We still haven’t decided whether we’ll go to the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. (Our ‘warnings’ might be construed as a “do as we say, not as we do” sort of thing.)
We’ve never been to any Olympics and are concerned about all of the issues above, but as serious Japan enthusiasts, it feels like something we should do. One of those “be there for the sake of saying you were there” sort of things. Plus, we’d have no sense of urgency to get much accomplished–like a first-timer to Japan would–so congestion and the like wouldn’t be as big of a deal to us.
Rewinding to the present trip, we did our days in the city after visiting Tokyo Disney Resort, and the heat had worsened by that stretch of the trip. It got so bad that Sarah and I purchased the Tokyo Museum Grutto Pass and basically just spent the entire time bouncing from museum to museum with ramen breaks in between.
That ended up being really fun, and we visited over a dozen museums in the city. We hit some odd ones along the way, too. (My “favorite” was an exhibit featuring Hokusai prints…with cats added to them.)
Joining us on the trip were Jennifer and Guy “Big Duff Energy” Selga of TouringPlans.com. Despite Guy’s incessant desire to eat at T.G.I. Fridays, they are the perfect Disney traveling companions thanks to their enthusiasm for all things Country Bear Jamboree and their shared affinity for snacking.
This trip was big on the Country Bear front. Vacation Jamboree is running for the summer at Tokyo Disneyland, so of course we had to watch that repeatedly. (Check out our Country Bear Vacation Jamboree Tribute for more on that seasonal show.)
There was also a ton of new Country Bear merchandise, which we were compelled to purchase. I’m still not totally sure what I’m going to do with a bunch of $15-20 plush ‘badges’ of the Country Bears, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to be caught unprepared when I’m truly in need of them.
A couple of the new Country Bear merchandise releases were for the new Celebrate Tokyo Disneyland. We already have a review of that nighttime spectacular (emphasis added) drafted and ready to post over the weekend, so stay tuned for that.
On the snacking front, it was another blockbuster trip. One of the things we really love about Tokyo Disney Resort is the ever-changing seasonal menus that offer a mix of inventive, cute, and head-scratching items. Take the above, for example. This is the Corn Bread Sandwich with ham, corn, and mayonnaise. By all reasonable accounts, it sounds and looks disgusting.
Since I’m equal parts Disney completionist, curious, and crazy, I just had to try this sandwich. It was–no joke–at the top of my ‘must have’ list for this trip. My results with Tokyo’s bizarre seasonal foods has been very mixed. Some don’t appeal to my American palate (to put it charitably), and I find them disgusting. Against all odds, others manage to work, finding that perfect marriage of flavors in a confusing list of ingredients. This sandwich worked shockingly well.
Another thing that beat the odds? This Pepper Fried Chicken Sandwich from Tomorrowland Terrace. This sandwich–featuring fried chicken, apples, and a liberal coating of mayo–was an even bigger surprise. Tomorrowland Terrace has a reputation to uphold as one of the worst restaurants in the known (Disney) universe, and this sandwich totally flies in the face of that image.
No one else in our party was even willing to eat at Tomorrowland Terrace with me, so I had to grab this and take it over to Captain Hook’s Galley, where they all ordered pizza. Of course, I had to take some photos of the Pepper Fried Chicken Sandwich first, which was a good way to get everyone in the seating area to stare at me (or so it felt).
Now for some Tokyo Disney Resort dining quick hits…
Some time between April and July, Casbah Food Court switched up its menu.
The new curry sampler is fantastic, a big upgrade over the previous one.
As we wrote (what seems like ages ago) in our Casbah Food Court Review, this is the #1 restaurant at Tokyo DisneySea in terms of cuisine. We eat here at least once per trip, often more.
For the summer, China Voyager has chilled noodles for its special set. This was really good and we’d highly recommend it.
As we wrote in our China Voyager Review, this is one of our favorite restaurants at Tokyo Disneyland. It’s not on par with Ippudo (in Ikspiari), but for theme park ramen, it’s shockingly good–and the ambiance is delightful.
The summer menu at Restaurant Hokusai looked good, so we did a spontaneous meal there. It was a solid choice.
As we mention in our Restaurant Hokusai Review, it’s a location we really like, but one that we do not recommend to first-timers.
Banana Cream Donald Duck Bread from Tick Tock Diner at Disney’s Ambassador Hotel.
I absolutely loved this; Sarah was not a fan. Calling it “bread” is really a disservice, as it’s really soft, dense, and doughy. More like a pastry than traditional bread.
Shaved Ice is the hot snack for the summer in Japan, and it’s also big at Tokyo Disney Resort. So big, in fact, that shaved ice replaces the normal menu at Sultan’s Oasis, normal home of the legendary Chandu Tail.
While it is a small tragedy that the Chandu Tail would ever be removed from any menu, this happens every single year, and the Chandu Tail always returns. We had every flavor of shaved ice at the two parks, and enjoyed all of them except for the red bean one.
Guy bought this Coca-Cola from the in-park vending machine; note the exclusive 35th Anniversary label.
As a big-time health nut, I only buy Coke with laxatives.
Great American Waffle Co. is always a winner, but the summer mango & vanilla ice cream waffle is especially good.
This is already getting long, so I’m going to cut short this food section…
At some point in the near future, we should probably create “Volume 2” of our Awesome Tokyo Disneyland Snacks post that focuses on the best items on the permanent menus. That post was originally written 5 years ago (time flies!) and some of those have been retired and a decent number of new treats have been introduced.
We know snacking is very important business to those planning trips to Tokyo Disney Resort!
As with every month of the year, each park had a seasonal event–Pirates Summer in Tokyo DisneySea and Natsu Matsuri in Tokyo Disneyland. As compared to Easter, Halloween, and Christmas, these events are smaller-scale, but still very enjoyable. We especially enjoyed the main shows for each, which soaked audiences.
Natsu Matsuri was significantly different since the last time we experienced it a couple years ago. It was scaled back, which is at least in part due to the Happiest Celebration. That’s understandable, as that’s the main event right now, and it started only a few months ago.
My hope is that Natsu Matsuri is not permanently reduced in scale. This special event is unique in that it’s the Americana of Disney meeting the distinctly Japanese summer festivals that occur throughout the country. I know the tagline of Shanghai Disneyland is ‘authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese’ but Natsu Matsuri actually fulfills the dual roles of being Japanese and Disney–it’s not just a PR tagline!
The decorations for Natsu Matsuri are really cool, albeit toned down and reduced due to the prominence of the Happiest Celebration stuff. I really love the lanterns and character displays, I just wish there were more of it. Hopefully next year!
The good news is that Sansui Summer Beat, the main show for Natsu Matsuri, is fantastic fun. As with the harbor show for Pirates Summer, the whole idea here is to soak guests, and the characters go nuts spraying one another and the crowd with giant water cannons and hoses.
The show is really entertaining, and the soundtrack is a glorious ear-worm. I’m not sure I’d say Sansui Summer Beat is a good show–the floats are nothing special–but that’s not really the point. The whole goal is high-energy festivities that cool guests down during the midday heat, and in that regard, Sansui Summer Beat succeeds in spades. Since getting home, we’ve practically had the soundtrack on nonstop repeat.
As noted in our full post on it, Pirates Summer at Tokyo DisneySea is also a ton of fun. I’d love to see both of these events fleshed out and on par with the holiday offerings at Tokyo Disney Resort. As good as both are, I think Natsu Matsuri and Pirates Summer both have even more potential.
Honestly, though, it might be for the best that these events aren’t more elaborate. We yearn to visit Japan each year during the Easter, Halloween, and Christmas events, and I’m not sure it’d be good if we felt the same way about summer–especially with that heat and humidity offering a pretty big counter-punch to the fun events.
In addition to the seasonal events and Celebrate Tokyo Disneyland, two new shows also debuted while we were there.
The first of these is ‘Hello, New York!’ This is presented at Tokyo DisneySea’s Dockside Stage.
‘Hello, New York’ is the long-term replacement for ‘A Table is Waiting’, which was a quirky show with catchy songs that exploited cultural stereotypes in an innocent and amusing way. For example, the United States section featured loud whistling, cheering, and a hamburger that made itself. Right on the money, I’d say.
Fear not, ‘A Table is Waiting’ fans, for ‘Hello, New York’ also leans heavily on bizarreness and stereotypes.
Sarah and I both loved ‘Hello, New York.’ I’m not sure the Selgas were as entertained, but I also once saw Guy Selga fall asleep during Mystic Rhythms, so what does he know?!
Hello, New York’s music definitely is not as catchy as its predecessor, but it’s still solid, and the stereotypes are highly amusing.
Most importantly, ‘Hello, New York’ is more than just a smile and wave character presentation.
Yes, the character presence is heavy, but that seems to be the future of Tokyo DisneySea. If we’re going to have characters in shows–and we are–I’d prefer the show at least have originality, thematic coherence, and the ability to stand on its own if the characters were removed. ‘Hello, New York’ has all of these things–it’s good fun. Plus, where else are you going to see Mickey rocking a chain?!
Over at Tokyo Disneyland, ‘Let’s Party Gras’ is the new show in Theatre Orleans.
Like its predecessor, ‘Minnie Oh Minnie,’ this new show is high energy and features vibrant costumes and incredible dancing.
Since we never won the lottery (more on that below), we had a pretty poor view of ‘Let’s Party Gras’ so I’m not quite prepared to offer a definitive review.
My initial take is that it starts out a bit slow, but gains significant momentum and ends with a rousing finale–better than even ‘Minnie Oh Minnie.’ The costumes are great, the use of characters (lots of Three Caballeros!) is great, and the music is great. I’m eager to see ‘Let’s Party Gras’ again.
The only bummer about these new shows is that we lost the lottery every. single. time. And each time, I was the designated lottery “runner” so all these Ls fell squarely on my shoulders.
We were something like 0/12 once you include Big Band Beat at Tokyo DisneySea. It got so “bad” that I started trying for One Man’s Dream II (a show we strongly dislike) to console my bruised self esteem. We never won seats for that, either!
Another bummer from this trip was confirming the ‘extinction’ of the English story cards (archival photo above). During our last trip, we received conflicting information on these. Once, that the supply was low, but that there would be more later. Another time, that they were being eliminated.
Given the increase of international tourists to Japan, I just assumed the cards would not be retired. It sounds like a silly thing to do ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, but we talked to multiple Cast Members, and all seemed to confirm that they were gone for good. (I use wiggle words like seemed here because it’s always possible something was lost in translation.)
Our apologies to those of you who read our 101 Great Tokyo Disneyland & DisneySea Tips post recently and were excited when you saw this as the #1 suggestion–guess that post needs to be revised again.
This is already getting pretty long, and I’m likely to address key elements of the trip in other new posts or updates to existing Tokyo Disney Resort planning resources, so we’ll wrap this up. Before going, here are some other random photos from the trip:
Ultimately, it was an enjoyable trip, but in some regards we had to make lemonade out of lemons. I don’t handle humidity well, which is why summer is by far my least favorite time of year in Japan. The seasonal events and food helped compensate for that record-setting heat, but different/better seasonal events also exist during times of year when the weather is temperate and pleasant. In other words, if you’re planning or thinking about a first-time visit to Tokyo Disney Resort, but more weight into the negatives of the summer than the positives.
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 in the summer? Seen any of the new 35th Anniversary entertainment? Do you agree or disagree with our random thoughts, tips, or other commentary? 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!