It takes a special kind of crazy to travel to a place where it snows during the coldest time of the year. That’s what we did for our recent trip to Tokyo Disney Resort during Frozen Fantasy, a tagline that takes on dual meaning during January in Japan. If you ski, this is a great time to go to Japan–not crazy at all. We saw several Americans carrying ski boots through customs. But…we don’t ski anymore.
Our reason? Long-shot odds of seeing snow in Tokyo Disneyland. No joke. If you recall our updated Top 10 Disney Bucket List Experiences, it’s on there. Tokyo Bay seems to get a good snow storm about once every other year, and the week we chose in January is (historically) the coldest time of the year. It seemed like we had a shot at snow.
Knowing our chances of snow were only minuscule, we did have other reasons. We wanted to see Tokyo Disney Resort’s seasonal events this time of year. During our visit, those were Frozen Fantasy and Sweet Duffy (again, no joke) plus the finale of Tokyo DisneySea’s 15th Anniversary. Laugh if you must, but we’re Disney completionists, and these are two events that we’ll probably look back on in a decade with a mix of nostalgia and humor.
Then there was the final variable, which pushed us over the top. Cost. While putting together our travel plans for 2017, we had nixed a potential trip to Japan in January in light of other travel expenses. It wasn’t totally out of the question, and there was still a vague possibility that we’d end up doing this or the Dopey Challenge/Marathon Weekend at Walt Disney World.
The idea drifted to the back burner, likely to be forgotten, when Black Friday came around. An airfare sale popped up: $495 roundtrip, as well as a monorail loop hotel for ~$150/night for 4. The Dopey Challenge alone would’ve cost more than airfare to Japan ($560 v. $495), so it was a done deal. If you’re interested in the total cost of our trip, let me know in the comments and I’ll tally things up and post the final numbers in a later installment.
Anyway, fast forward to the day of our flight. We met the Selgas (our travel companions for the trip) at LAX, breezed through a random upstairs hallway security check, and boarded our American Airlines flight. Normally, we try to book codeshare flights with international partner airlines, which allows us to earn miles on the US carriers, while enjoying superior amenities. The airline industry has become a race to the bottom in the US, but that isn’t the case with virtually all of the foreign carriers. Unfortunately, for this flight, our best option price and timing wise, by far, was AA.
On the plus side, with a stockpile of heroic in-flight entertainment like this, it’s really tough to complain. One of the questions we’re often asked by readers who are hesitant to travel to Japan is how we survive long-haul flights. Sarah gets by with the selection of movies (included in the cost of the flight) and manages to sleep a bit.
As for me…have you ever seen a cat fall asleep in a cardboard box or some other random, uncomfortable spot? That’s me on a plane. On any normal day, I have ~5% BCC (blood coffee content). If I go without coffee the morning before we fly, I can barely manage to stay awake to board the plane. It doesn’t hurt that long-haul planes usually have more legroom and more comfortable seats.
Unfortunately, this meant missing out on the back catalog of Schwarzenegger titles, but if there’s one thing I prefer to watching Terminator, it’s sleeping.
After my 12-hour nap, I woke up to watch the plane make its way along the coast of Japan during a beautiful sunrise. I probably should’ve taken out my DSLR, but this iPhone pic gets the point across.
We landed in Japan at Tokyo Narita Airport. The long line at customs moved quickly, and we then raced to the airport post office to pick up our MiFi units. If you have questions about this, they are probably answered in our Tokyo Disneyland Trip Planning Guide (there are a lot of linked resources in this trip report, all of which will open in new tabs/windows).
We then literally ran back down to the bottom floor to try catching the last Airport Limousine of the night. (It’s a bus–we’re not that fancy.) The ticket line for the Airport Limo was long, but we managed to purchase our tickets and make it out to the curb with 4 minutes to spare. This was a nice bonus, as I figured we’d arrive too late and have to take the Narita Express into Tokyo Station, then the JR Keiyo Line out to Tokyo Disney Resort, then the monorail to our hotel.
Instead, the Airport Limo bus dropped us off directly at our hotel. Either option is pretty easy, particularly in the era of Google Maps. The JR Line would’ve been cheaper and taken slightly longer, whereas the bus has nice seats (see below), no transfers (but potentially multiple stops), and drops off directly at the hotel.
We stayed at Hotel Okura Tokyo Bay, and if you recall our review of that hotel, it wasn’t all too positive. However, it was significantly cheaper for a 4-person room, and our goal was to do this trip as inexpensively as possible.
As before, the beds felt like sleeping on a sleeping on a piece of plywood.
It was too late to go to the parks but too early to go to bed, so we headed to Ikspiari (Tokyo’s version of Downtown Disney) for dinner. We have been to Ikspiari a dozen times now, and have yet to not get lost there. This could be because we’re total idiots, or its layout could be confounding. (Or both, which is the most likely scenario.)
After finally finding the food court, we had some ramen, pastry meat pies, and takoyaki (octopus balls). Jet lag was setting in at this point for those of us who didn’t sleep the entire flight, so we headed back to the hotel without doing any other shopping.
For our complaints about Hotel Okura, it’s cheap and right across the street from the monorail station–less than a 5 minute walk. Or, if you’re feeling super lazy (as we were some mornings), there’s actually a free bus service to the monorail station.
This is almost comical in its duration. The bulk of the distance is in the hotel’s entranceway, and it basically pulls straight into the monorail station without ever driving on an actual road. It’s totally unnecessary, but on a cold morning, it’s nice.
Due to transportation laws in Japan concerning rails, the monorail costs money at Tokyo Disney Resort. It’s a nominal amount and something we’ll happily pay given the reliability and cleanliness of those monorails, but it is something to keep in mind. (You could easily walk to Tokyo Disneyland if you don’t want to pay for a monorail pass.)
We always buy multi-day tickets, but the monorail also accepts the PASMO card if you’re traveling elsewhere throughout Tokyo.
This trip started out at Tokyo DisneySea. Its hours were 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. every day of our trip, aside from the first day when it opened at 8 a.m., so that was our reasoning.
We all woke up between 4 and 5 a.m. (thanks, jet lag) anyway, so we were ready to go well in advance. We only got to the park 20 minutes early (as fun as standing in 30° might sound, we decided to pass on arriving earlier) and we were still near the front of the line. This is pretty unheard of at the Tokyo parks, where people line up hours in advance even on lightly crowded days.
Per our go-to Tokyo Disney Resort crowd calendar, the week we were visiting was one of the least busy of the entire year. This was apparent in crowds throughout the day, which felt lighter than midweek at Disneyland in January.
I think it’s worth emphasizing that Tokyo crowds vary significantly. Sarah and I have visited during one of the busiest weekends of the year (tickets actually sold out for both parks), and that was utter insanity. There were lines for everything from the restrooms to popcorn. Photos of days like this tend to go ‘viral’ on social media, and scare a lot of Americans away from Tokyo Disney Resort.
That’s unfortunate, because we have also visited on weekdays like this one, when wait times are lower than even a slow day in the U.S. parks. Tokyo hasn’t mastered the “art” of promotions (or runDisney events) like the U.S. parks to fill slower times on the calendar, so there are true off-season dates there. More importantly, they are consistent and predictable from year to year.
Point being, if you’ve nixed the idea of visiting Tokyo Disney Resort because you’ve seen photos of packed parks and you can’t stand crowds, you’re actually better off visiting these parks. All you need to do is plan strategically for days that won’t be crowded. If you need help choosing the best dates, we have all the variables covered in our When to Visit Tokyo Disneyland post.
Seeing the relative lack of lines to get into Tokyo DisneySea, we decided to stop and smell the roses on our way in, pausing to listen to the Tokyo DisneySea Band and enjoy the ambiance of Aquasphere Plaza as we entered.
Above is a video Sarah shot of them playing. I could watch them all day–and their nautical costumes are so cool!
After a few moments there, we decided to stop at Mama Biscotti’s Bakery for breakfast. Neglecting to have breakfast before we left the hotel might seem like a fatal touring error, but no grab and go locations were open.
Plus, we had been consulting the TDR Now Wait Times App (highly recommended!) and it was showing no waits for anything.
The cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast in Japan is Toy Story Alien Mochi, a motto Sarah took to heart by ordering a pack of nine of these guys. She kindly shared…one of them…with me. I had an ordinary sandwich.
We made this a quick stop, and then “walked briskly” to Mysterious Island to grab Journey to the Center of the Earth FastPasses.
We then immediately bounced to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which was a walk-on. I’ve been on this ride more times than I can count, but discover new details each time. Its re-rideability is also helped by the fact that there are 3 different vantages from which to view show scenes, so you cannot possibly see everything without multiple rides.
I loved 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea after our first visit to Tokyo DisneySea, but I love it even more now. That it never seems to have more than a 15 minute wait doesn’t hurt.
Sarah popped into the Mysterious Island gift shop after that, where she bought a Mickey Mouse hamburger purse. She was elated by this find, as she thought they stopped selling these.
This combines two of our passions (burgers and Disney) and it really made her day. I’m not normally a huge fan of Tokyo’s merchandise, but even I have to admit that this is awesome. I wish they made it as a shirt or novelty hat.
On a normal day, we’d knock out as many popular attractions in the first couple of hours as possible, but with short waits park-wide, we decided to do our favorite attraction first: Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage.
I’ve dedicated two posts (Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage: Disney’s Best Modern Dark Ride and Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage: Still Awesome.) to this attraction, so I won’t belabor how awesome it is again here.
Suffice to say, if you were to tell me that I could ride only one Disney attraction ever again, I’d first ask, “are extinct attractions an option?” (I mean, it’s a hypothetical, so what the heck?)
If they are, the original Journey into Imagination is my pick. If they are not, Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage is my pick.
Even though I don’t think it’s Imagineering’s objectively best attraction, it’s my favorite. Same goes for Sarah.
When the inevitable day comes that its closure is announced, we will do everything in our power to be there for its last day. We feel its our duty as proud members of #TeamChandu.
At this point, I decided to “go live” on Facebook and do a brief walk-around video. The video isn’t even remotely good as I was distracted by all the beautiful sights while walking around, but if you want a better feel for (part of) Tokyo DisneySea, here it is:
One of the things I’m going to try with this trip report (and future ones) is more video. Since I’m too lazy to record and edit a proper vlog right now, embedded stuff we posted on Facebook and Instagram will have to suffice. I think/hope these nicely complement the text and photos to give more “dimension” (or whatever you want to call it) to the reports.
From there, it was time to use our Journey to the Center of the Earth FastPasses. I’m still as mesmerized by this attraction as I was the first time I rode it. Although I wish it were a bit longer with more after its climax, it’s an amazing attraction. I’m optimistic Walt Disney World will have something like this in the very near future. I’ll put that nugget out there now and circle back to it in a future installment. Gotta keep you in suspense/coming back! 😉 In any case, we then continued on to Port Discovery, my least favorite land/port at Tokyo DisneySea. We’ll pick up there on Page 2…