Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea are our favorite theme parks in the world. We’ve made that abundantly clear in previous posts. Since our first visit years ago, we’ve implored Americans to visit the Disney parks in Japan because we want others to share in the great experiences we’ve had at them.
More recently, we’ve shied away from the emphatic praise we used to heap upon Tokyo Disney Resort. That’s in large part because it was met with negative reactions from Walt Disney World fans. Many view a trip to Japan as impractical, and we didn’t want our attempts at useful advice to be perceived as useless boasting about our travels. After reading the deluge of negative comments about Walt Disney World from readers in response to a couple of recent posts, we feel the idea of encouraging readers to visit Japan is worth going over again.
Rather than re-treading ground we’ve covered, such as the beauty and how is this really a theme park?! design of Tokyo DisneySea (the world’s greatest theme park), we want to offer some new reasons it’s worth considering for your next Disney vacation. Namely, how in many ways, Tokyo Disney Resort is very similar to the Walt Disney World of the early to mid-1990s. The Disney magic is alive and well in Japan, and for many longtime fans, Tokyo Disney Resort is the Disney you miss.
We often discuss nostalgia, and a big part of the Walt Disney World experience is revisiting old memories. Reliving a moment in time when your kids (or you!) were younger, a goosebumps-induced feeling while watching the fireworks, a memory-evoking scent while walking down Main Street, reminiscing about the first time your kids did Space Mountain, and so on.
The fleeting nature of all things makes these moments difficult to recapture. The drumbeat of time marches on, Walt Disney World changes, and year by year, those feelings start slipping away. (I feel like I’m writing emo song lyrics here, but this is all totally apt.) In fairness to Walt Disney World, some of this has more to do with all of us and the passage of time than it does with changes to the parks. Not all of it, though.
With that said, if you’ve been visiting Walt Disney World for decades and remember when it was a different kind of place, you can go back home again. Oddly enough, that means a trip to Japan. Now, you could attribute our perception of Tokyo Disney Resort being a different kind of Disney experience as being due to the change of scenery and experiencing a new place that isn’t familiar.
We disagree. We’ve visited Tokyo Disney Resort well past the point of familiarity, and that special feeling has yet to wear off. For us, Tokyo Disney Resort has a familiar but different vibe. It’s a special place because it’s a special place, not because it’s new or different.
It’s tough to encapsulate the ‘magical’ feeling of Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea, but imagine chugging four cans of Red Bull, being named the “First Family” at Magic Kingdom, and visiting on a day when every single attraction just returned from refurbishment.
Think of how your senses would be heightened from the caffeine, the service you’d receive wearing those “First Family” buttons, and the excellent condition of attractions. You’re in a vaguely familiar setting and you can imagine those sensations, but they’re probably different than what you’re used to. Maintenance, operations, and service are all superior at the parks in Japan. That is just the tip of the iceberg at Tokyo Disney Resort.
In less abstract terms, you’ll find some of the Disney Parks best original attractions with things like Pooh’s Hunny Hunt, Monsters Inc. Ride & Go Seek, Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage, and Big Band Beat. Tokyo also has some of the best versions of more common attractions, including (arguably) Indiana Jones Adventure, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Tower of Terror, Toy Story Mania, and Jungle Cruise.
Then there’s entertainment. Tokyo Disneyland doesn’t just have a nighttime parade, it has far and away the best one in the world with Dreamlights. (If I set aside my nostalgia for SpectroMagic, I’d even concede that Dreamlights is objectively superior to Spectro.) Tokyo Disneyland also has exceptional seasonal daytime parades, and DisneySea has fun albeit quirky harbor shows. Again, this is all just the tip of the iceberg–I’m trying to keep this concise.
The usual caveats apply. Just as a trip to Walt Disney World is not feasible for everyone, the same is true for Tokyo Disney Resort. Among other things, airfare to Japan can be both cost and comfort-prohibitive. With that in mind, if it’s something you want to do, we’d encourage you to price out this trip before deeming it too expensive, as the actual cost just might surprise you.
Park tickets and Bayside Station monorail loop hotels are both considerably cheaper than Walt Disney World. Counter service meals are about the same, with table service meals being significantly cheaper in the Tokyo parks.
The greatest expense is going to be airfare, and even that might cost less than you think. We’d stress using airfare deal tools and being as flexible as possible. So many times when this topic comes up, we find people spend 2 minutes doing an airfare search for prices like a week from now to “prove” it’s too expensive of a trip.
Of course international airfare is going to be exorbitant on such short notice. If you’re looking for an excuse not to go, you’ll have no trouble finding one. It’s a new destination so you don’t have the same knowledge-base for scoring deals, but try to channel that same sense of deal savvy as you would when planning for a Walt Disney World trip. You still may find it’s too expensive for you, but at least you’ll know for sure.
The good news is that you’ll find yourself spending less on splurges or add-ons you might incur at the other parks. There is no Disney Dining Plan nor are there dessert parties. Easter, Halloween, and Christmas entertainment is all included with park admission–there are no seasonal hard ticket events or pay to play early or late night events. At Tokyo Disney Resort, up-charges are not a thing. You are not nickel and dimed for anything.
Well, we shouldn’t say up-charges are not a thing completely. You do have to pay for the monorail, but that’s due to all rail transportation being governed by Japan’s Railway Operation Act, which sets a fee structure. (This is also why Western River Railroad does not circle the park or provide point A to B transit.)
The upshot is that the Tokyo Disney Resort Line monorail is impeccably maintained, incredibly efficient, and never breaks down. You can walk out of the Hilton or Sheraton, get onto the monorail, and enter Tokyo DisneySea all in under 15 minutes door-to-door.
The bonus to visiting Tokyo Disney Resort is, well, Japan. We are huge fans of the country, having made numerous return visits since our first time several years ago. Kyoto is our favorite city in the world and in our regularly-updated Ultimate Guide to Kyoto, Japan, we make the same kind of emphatic plea for visiting that wonderful city as we have here for Tokyo DisneySea. We’ve also visited and enjoyed plenty of other places in Japan, including Mount Fuji, Hiroshima, Osaka, Kobe, Nagoya, and obviously, Tokyo.
Regardless of your interests, you’ll find something to do in Japan. Whether that be attending the zany Robot Restaurant, visiting one of Japan’s three mind-blowing railroad museums, chilling with snow monkeys on a mountain, seeing the floating torii of Miyajima Island, or simply slurping up some of the best ramen you’ll ever taste. We’ve written about all of these things and many other experiences we’ve had in Japan over on TravelCaffeine.com.
Even if you only like Japan one-tenth as much as we do, you’re in for the trip of a lifetime. It’s a place where the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Even though Tokyo Disney Resort is one very big part of the trip for most Disney fans, we’re convinced that most people will thoroughly enjoy themselves well beyond their park days.
Speaking of which, you’ve probably heard a lot of hype about Tokyo Disney Resort. So much hype, in fact, that you suspect it could never live up to it all. This is something we’ve heard from some readers, who had trepidation about visiting on account of the level of praise. With so many highly-hyped Disney things (Dole Whips, Le Cellier, arguably even Tokyo’s own Journey to the Center of the Earth), the reality does not comport with expectations.
We get this fear, and in light of that, we are kindly asking for anyone who has already been to Tokyo Disney Resort to please leave a comment about your experience.
We want to hear the good and, if there is any, the bad. Our goal is to provide readers with honest and unbiased opinions, and to that end, we might be biased. (We joke that we’re “biased towards excellence,” but who knows…maybe we have this one all wrong.)
As you can probably tell, we absolutely love Tokyo Disney Resort. It brings us an unparalleled sense of joy and makes us feel like kids again. We want to share this with all of you, whether that be by convincing you to take the plunge and start planning a trip to Japan, or just providing updates so you can live vicariously through our experiences. Even if you don’t visit Tokyo anytime soon, we hope you enjoy our updates from the parks!
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.
If you’ve visited Japan and the Tokyo parks, how would you rate the experience? Do you agree or disagree with our take on Tokyo Disney Resort? Are we overselling it? Any questions? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!