This post offers thoughts, anecdotes, and photos from our holiday trip to Japan, with a focus on Tokyo DisneySea. It’s the “sequel” to our Tokyo Disneyland Christmas Trip Report, and takes a similar approach to that, with some commentary followed by 60 photos.
To be honest, I didn’t expect to be writing this Tokyo DisneySea Christmas trip report. I included a ‘let me know if you want it’ line to test the waters of reader interest, but given that I posted that on December 25 and the holiday season would by the time most people read it, I figured it was a foregone conclusion that no one would care. Boy, was I wrong.
That was heartening to see. I love writing about Japan’s parks, trying to coax other Disney fans to visit, and helping with the logistics of doing so. To that end, this “trip report” is going to be a mix of our experiences at Tokyo DisneySea, addressing some common questions, and that sort of thing…
Let’s start with the substance of the visit. What I like most about Christmas in Tokyo DisneySea is what I like most about DisneySea, period: the transportive environment.
I’ve never been to Venice or Cape Cod during the holidays, but I certainly feel like I’m there at this park. Riding around the Big City Vehicles evokes a sense of New York City at Christmas and a frigid night cruise on the Venetian Gondolas suspends my disbelief; for those few minutes, I’m actually in a Mediterranean harbor.
My favorite area in the entire park at Christmas–and right up there with Wilderness Lodge as my favorite Disney Christmas place in the world–is Cape Cod.
I detailed this in our “A Cap Cod Christmas” post last year, but the romanticized setting is perfect for a traditional Christmas setting. The area has a homey feeling; a certain charm and intimacy that evokes a sense of the holidays.
Another bit of decor that I really like this year is the Feliz Navidad stuff in Lost River Delta. It’s nice to see the Three Caballeros receive more attention in the parks.
The photos section below will convey more of the holiday ambiance in Tokyo DisneySea.
Colors of Christmas is the nighttime holiday show at Tokyo DisneySea.
It’s fine. A bit heavy-handed with the characters and light on elegance for my tastes (plus that stupid Crest whitecap float features heavily), but it’s worth seeing. We usually watch it once just to get the music stuck in our heads.
More than the show itself, I love the Colors of Christmas: Afterglow. Be sure to take a ride on the DisneySea Transit Steamer Line or Venetian Gondolas after Colors of Christmas to experience this.
Tokyo Disney Resort releases its entertainment on DVD/Blu-ray, and we own a set that includes high-def video of “Candlelight Reflections,” the predecessor to this show. I’d love to see something like that again. Colors of Christmas is overdue for a replacement, so perhaps next year?
By far the best Christmas entertainment at Tokyo Disney Resort is the brand-new “It’s Christmas Time!” This is the daytime holiday show performed in and around Mediterranean Harbor, described as “a spectacular revue set to popular Christmas music.”
Tokyo DisneySea has a show like this for every seasonal event, and they are fairly formulaic: tons of performers with lavish costumes, Disney characters jumping around on boats, a catchy soundtrack, jet skis pulling around random stuff (my dream job someday), and a superfluous plot.
More often than not, the daytime Harbor shows are one and done for us. We appreciate the costuming and the music, but the rest of the show is a drag, especially since they’re all so similar. Somehow, these shows manage to be pretty, yet prosaic.
They’re recently been improving, though. The Pirates Summer show is goofy, and the dudes with the water jet packs during the Halloween show being entrancing. Both of those could best be described as dumb fun.
By contrast, “It’s Christmas Time” is elegant–quintessential Tokyo DisneySea. This holiday revue follows the familiar approach of other harbor shows: excellent costuming, jet skis pulling stuff (giant ornaments!), and catchy music, but tweaks the formula in a couple of important ways for a significantly better overall result.
Basically, it cranked the elegance up a notch. This was done in a few ways. The Disney characters were still in the show, but they were clearly not the highlight. It presence of ancillary characters beyond the Fab Five was greatly reduced (Duffy and friends didn’t appear at all until the end), and they fit within the show’s musical numbers better.
As is suggested by the show description, the show basically was “just” a musical revue, with little to no pretense of a plot. This might not have worked but for incredibly strong musical numbers. The hosts were incredibly talented, there was tap-dancing, and some elegant numbers. It reminded me a lot of Big Band Beat, and its old Christmas finale.
We ended up watching “It’s Christmas Time!” four times during the trip, and the only thing stopping us from viewing it more was the number of days we were there. It excelled all around with great music, choreography, costuming–everything. It never got old.
It was also very refreshing to see something on the more sophisticated and adult side at Tokyo DisneySea. The park has been (fairly) criticized as becoming too character-centric and less original, and this show demonstrated how DisneySea can still effectively feature characters while doing so in a refined manner.
Given Tokyo’s normal entertainment refresh cycles, I would expect “It’s Christmas Time!” to run again the next two years. Of course, this is not certain until OLC confirms it–I’d hazard a guess that the labor costs are high for this show, and who knows if they’ll want to refresh all entertainment for 2020.
If you’re up for going either year, my recommendation would be next year. Comparative crowd levels are the big reason why, and we cover that in our Visiting Tokyo Disneyland Near the 2020 Olympics.
I’m also expecting a new Christmas parade at Tokyo Disneyland next year, and TDS retaining its current holiday lineup and TDL getting new stuff is pretty much the best case scenario.
As for when within the holiday season to go, I mentioned the Halloween/Christmas timeframe in the last report (and in-depth in our HalloXmas: the Ultimate Disney Trip post), but I’d reiterate that here.
The beginning of the Christmas season is the least crowded part of it, and there is always a media day during which the entertainment runs (for everyone) prior to the official start of any season. Other stuff, like Country Bear Christmas, holiday menus, and merchandise all is offered/available by like November 2-3.
Now, for some other quick hits not necessarily related to Christmas…
The legendary Chandu Tail snack has been replaced with the Chandu bun. While we both slightly preferred the taste of the tail, this is mostly a lateral move. The new curry-flavored bun is still delicious, and a nice twist on a fan favorite.
Personally, I like changes like this. It’s a way to refresh snacks and give fans an excuse to revisit them. “Familiar but different” is a good approach to the iconic stuff; anything that isn’t iconic should just be outright replaced every few months. Theme parks being dynamic through entertainment, food, and merchandise seems logical to me.
On the food front, we dined at Magellan’s for the first time in a few years. Not for lack of trying, we just have been incredibly unlucky with same-day seating the last couple of years. In our Magellan’s Review, we call this the #1 Disney restaurant in the world, an assessment that holds true.
Magellan’s is Disney’s most elegantly-themed restaurant, and has a menu to match. Curiously, Magellan’s also has a 3-course lunch menu that’s around $30/person out the door, which is an absolute steal given the atmosphere, service, and food quality.
I was really tempted by the ~$100/person Christmas menu, which included some beautifully-plated dishes and wagyu beef.
However, there was no grade for the beef on the menu and we have plenty of favorite steakhouses in ‘real world’ Japan that offer exceptional wagyu beef at lower price points, so I decided to pass.
Instead, I ordered the pork cutlet and Sarah ordered the salmon. Both were better than they had any right to be, as were the shrimp & scallops appetizer and both desserts.
Suffice to say, dining at Magellan’s is a must–if you only splurge once on a meal in Tokyo, this should be it. (Note that this cheaper menu is only available at lunch; dinner starts at around $50/person.)
Another Christmas dining must-do at Tokyo DisneySea is Teddy Roosevelt Lounge, which is our favorite Disney bar in the world. It’s truly mystifying that this exists: a lavish bar honoring a U.S. president on a golden age ocean-liner…in a theme park…in Japan.
The food here is overpriced and not great, so stick to drinks or the ice cream sundae/parfait (buy the souvenir glass!). The beautiful Christmas tree and teddy bear decorations make it worth the visit, as does the extravagant decor.
While table service food can be reasonable in price at Tokyo Disney Resort, merchandise is another story entirely–especially Duffy merch.
Sarah really wanted the above wreath, but at ~$38, it was way too expensive for us.
Duffy is somewhat of a joke among American Disney fans, but he (and his crew) are perceived differently in Japan. I have to admit that I think a lot of the Duffy and Friends items are among the pinnacle of cute merchandise design.
However, I appreciate it “from a distance” since it’s all priced at a premium, and once you head down the path of collecting stuff like this, it can be a ridiculously expensive endeavor.
It’s been a while since we gushed about it, but Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage is the best attraction at Tokyo DisneySea, and is a contender for best in the world.
We have a this post covering why Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage is one of the best modern Disney dark rides anywhere plus this follow-up with more raving about the ride’s awesomeness (and a 180-degree ride video). Suffice to say, Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage is one of the big reasons to visit Japan, and also a great option if there are heavy crowds, as it’s almost always a 5 minute wait or less.
Here are a bunch more Christmas Tokyo DisneySea photos presented without commentary:
Finally, we’ll touch upon a couple of issues that arise when it comes to comfort level in traveling to Japan. First and most obvious is the language barrier. I’ve said before that I don’t think this is much of an issue, as most Cast Members are sufficiently proficient in English for common interactions. Things like ordering from menus, buying tickets, and all routine engagements go smoothly.
Whether the language barrier is any barrier at all really comes down to how much you ask questions beyond those types of encounters. Some of these interactions are unavoidable and necessary–if you have dietary restrictions, lose an item or child, and that sort of thing.
However, if you just like to ask questions, my advice would be…don’t. You have a wealth of resources constantly at your fingertips, so don’t ask any question that could likely be answered with a Google search. There’s so much English info online about Tokyo Disney Resort (and Japan) that many questions you might have are addressed somewhere.
This applies not just to Tokyo Disney Resort or Japan, but to life in general. Every time you ask someone a question with an objective answer–the type that could be solved with your own due diligence–there’s the implicit assumption that your time is more valuable than the person you’re asking.
Second, there are concerns about food. That’s even less of an issue. For the most part, food in Japan is mild and will appeal to almost all palates.
Sometimes the presentation is unfamiliar, but if you can get past the way things look, I’d say 95% of what’s served is approachable to everyone.
To the extent that Japanese cuisine is inventive or pushes the culinary territory into uncomfortable territory, it’s more about putting mayonnaise where it doesn’t belong. We’re talking uncomfortable in the way that some concoctions at Taco Bell or KFC are weird, not truly exotic cuisine.
This generally isn’t much of an issue in the parks, which are mostly serving American, Italian, and Chinese options–all of which are approachable–plus a limited set of things like (very mild) curry and rice bowls. Outside the parks, Japanese cuisine is predominant, but Tokyo is an international city, so it has pretty much every familiar U.S. chain.
That wraps up our Christmas-time visit to Tokyo DisneySea! Hopefully we’ve answered some questions, provided inspiration for you to visit Japan during the holidays, or simply offered something fun to read/look at. As always, if you want any advice or opinions about traveling to Tokyo Disney Resort, please feel free to ask! (Reiterating that so my stance on ‘asking questions’ doesn’t appear too harsh–there’s a big difference between asking something along the lines of which rides have FastPass and which rides are your favorites?)
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 DisneySea at Christmas? If not, is this a time of year you’d like to take a Japan trip? If you’ve seen “It’s Christmas Time” (either in person or online), what did you think? 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!