Want to Recapture Disney’s Magic? Visit Tokyo
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!
Was at Tokyo Disneyland today. The beauty and the beast ride is the best ride at any Disney park!!
Tom – have you been in 2021? I am wondering how much has changed.
Stumbled upon this article and wanted to share my thoughts. I went to TDR in January of 2019 and it was the best Disney trip I’ve ever done. I have been to all the Disney parks worldwide except Hong Kong. I find that the cast members, attractions, and the amazing snacks are what makes it my favorite Disney resort!!
Your frequent recommendations certainly have stirred my interest in Tokyo Disney. I get held back by a practical concern, one just recently confirmed by a friend who visited: like you, my friend heaped mounds of praise on Disney’s Tokyo parks, but also talked about towering head-and-shoulders taller than the Japanese crowd, and this is a friend a good foot shorter than me.
I have a general fear of standing out. And I have trouble folding my overly-lengthy frame into some of the rides at WDW; would I even be able to fit into the Tokyo versions?
The only ride that might be problematic for you is Raging Spririts (coaster with a loop): you must be under 6ft5 to ride. My husband is 6ft3 and was ok with the other Asian parks (HK and Shanghai), not sure how tall you are but I hope that helps. As for sticking out, well, you’ll need to decide if you’re ok with that. I must admit that, although I’m short, I had strangers respectfully point out my long blonde hair. Also, people would ask my husband if they could take a picture with him, especially in Shanghai Disney. But since people were always so respectful, we were ok with it and would encourage you to go, absolutely!
Caroline’s points are on the money. The only thing she omits is that Raging Spirits sucks, so not being able to ride is hardly the end of the world. (I’ve only been on it twice–ever.) 😉
I found your blog while researching for a trip to WDW, but we ended up going to Tokyo Disneyland instead based on your recommendations! We loved both Disneyland and DisneySea in Tokyo and have been there twice already since 2017. We just came back in May and would like to go again in December again! We live in Virginia, so it would be cheap for us to fly to WDW. However, after adding up the park tickets and lodging, we probably would have spend at least the same if not more for our party of 4 if we were to go to WDW instead of Japan.
I think the impeccable attention to details and superior level of services received at the Japanese parks are what make us keep wanting to go back. It is to the point that I am afraid when I do go to WDW, I might be disappointed with paying so much more for the park tickets but getting less in comparasion…
Yeah true, you may spend around the same amount cost wise, but you also have a 20 hour flight each way as opposed to 2 hours.
I cannot implore you enough to visit Japan (and of course TDR!) seriously Japan is my favorite country – the kindness and hospitality of the people, the food, the cleanliness, the efficiency of the trains, the fashion, the feeling of safety, the respect and enthusiasm at TDR, and overall strong national identity of the Japanese people all amaze, enlighten and delight me!!! Tokyo Disney (Land and Sea) are the two most incredible parks, it’s true! I second that Big Band Beat is the best show I’ve ever seen (but I’m partial to jazz music and extravagant costume changes). I visited TDS November 7, 8, and half a day on 10th (Christmas started on the 8th this year so I timed that intentionally b/c TDR does holidays and special events better than anyone), and Nov 9 and the other have of 10 at TDL and spent Saturday and Sunday exploring Tokyo (not nearly enough time but I’m convinced no amount of time is enough). We stayed at Miracosta (best hotel ever!) for one night and Park Hotel Tokyo the other nights (also GREAT choice and close to the monorail line 10/10 would recommend). At the parks one of the biggest and BEST differences is the mutual respect. Guests sit for parades and shows and don’t put kids on their shoulders, lift their cameras high in the air, or even block other peoples’ views with hats or Mickey ears. Announcements are made about these things, but people actually DO IT. And, to me, that comes from the mutual sense of respect they have for the parks and for each other. It’s like “if you do your part, and I do my part, we can all have an enjoyable experience.” Also I do speak some Japanese (it’s such a fun language) and the Japanese people LOVED it when I made an effort to speak to them, and that made them more confident to speak their English (even if it was a little) with me 🙂 I visited classic places like Harajuku, Shibuya (which has amazing shopping, I should have bought more!!!), Kamakura for more traditional Japanese shrine experience, Yokohama where my friend is from etc. The trains are confusing and without my friend it would have taken me a lot longer to figure it out, but they are cheap, timely, and worth it. I could write endlessly about all the things I love about japan. I miss this country every day and dream of the day I can run all over it like Tom and Sarah do! PS thanks for having a great blog with honest reviews and never-ending details! You two are part of the reason I was so keen to visit Japan!
We just returned from Japan, mainly inspired by this blog’s praise. Kyoto is my favorite city I’ve ever visited. We spent 3 full days there and felt as if we just barely scratched the surface. Frankly, there isn’t a city I’ve visited that’s a close 2nd to Kyoto.
Much of the same can be said of Tokyo Disney Resort and DisneySea specifically. 7 lands of amazing detail and striking sights. The guest service and upkeep is unlike anything I’ve ever seen and definitely takes things to a different level. The language barrier was no issue and our flights (living on the west coast) were just slightly more than what a trip to Orlando would be. We spent two full weeks in Japan and I’d never been more sad that a vacation had ended, we’re already planning our trip back.
Thanks to Tom and Sarah for their recommendations, itineraries (which we followed in Kyoto and Disney), and being friendly when we were able to meet them last week. This post is spot on, go to Japan if you can.
My husband and I spent a day at both Disneyland and DisneySea in Sept 2017. We had an amazing time! DisneySea is just plain awesome. There are so many intricate details, and the theming is beyond anything we have at home. At Disneyland, we both loved the Electric Parade! The Genie float was our favorite.
While planning, I was pretty nervous about the crowds and language barrier. We managed the crowds by going on weekdays and arriving at the parks well before opening (a must if you want Toy Story Mania fastpasses!). The language barrier turned out to be almost nonexistent. The younger cast members were all able to point us in the right direction whenever we needed help.
I regret so much that we didn’t see Tokyo Disneyland or Disneysea when we went to Japan in 2015. At the time I thought “why would I go to Disney in Japan? We have that here. I want to see Japan while I’m in Japan.” However, in the time I spent in Tokyo, I saw just how much Japan has its own, unique Disney culture. At that point, it was too late to change our plans, but we will definitely go back at some point and block out a few days for Tokyo Disney.
For us, the price comparison does not favor Japan. Flights from here to Orlando are cheap (like round-trip for two people is often $350-450 total), we use the DVC discount to buy annual passes, and we use DVC points or AP discounts for hotels. With that, Japan is never going to stack up that well in the price comparison. But, with the American parks predicting record-level crowds as soon as Galaxy’s Edge opens, Japan is looking a lot better.
We will probably be skipping the American parks entirely for a year or two after Galaxy’s Edge opens and opt for DCL and the foreign Disney parks instead. We’ve already seen price increases starting in the american parks. That, plus the overcrowding will be enough enough to make us choose other Disney experiences for a while.
We did Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea last year with a 3 year old and an 8 month old. We flew direct from JFK to Tokyo (14.5 hours on a 787), and quite honestly, it was one of the easiest flights I’ve ever done, to the point that I looked at my wife when we landed and said, “I’ll keep going if you want…Sydney? Auckland?”
The parks in Japan are WONDERFUL – the Cast Members are super helpful, the Japanese people are SO friendly (our little blonde boys were like mini-celebs over there, with all the teen girls wanting to take photos with them!), the food is incredible…I cannot say enough good things. Airfare was by far the most expensive part of the trip, and even that wasn’t terrible, at about $850/pp.
After 5 days at Tokyo Disney, we flew north to Hokkaido for some of the best skiing we’ve ever experienced. Suffice to say, we are already planning a trip back when the kids get a little older!
Chris D, we are considering doing this with our kids. Disney and skiing sound great. What time of year did you do this?
DougP, we went in mid-February. The weather was cool in Tokyo, with daytime temps in the 40s, and nearly perfect for skiing in Niseko. We thought it was going to be the trip of a lifetime, and it was – but it’s also a trip we will definitely take again!
Visited Tokyo’s Disney Sea for the first time on april 10! That’s right we just returned yesterday from our first trip to Japan and because Tom recommended the parks so highly we set aside a day in our short time there to experience them. We were not disappointed. Disney master planned Disney Sea so well. It’s remarkable — from layout to theming to attractions and food. We discovered that the Japanese people are so orderly, clean, friendly and food-obsessed. These traits are such a good match with Disney. We spent 13 hours at Disney Sea Tuesday and were able to really get to know the park. We did Sinbad, Journey to the Center of the Earth and the Tiger Tail all twice! Looking forward to going back and taking the kids!
We visited both Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea last October on Halloween, and I must say that it was AMAZING! First off, being in Japan has always been something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid, but being a Disney fan and visiting such an awesome Disney Park was icing on the cake. The Cast Members are extremely nice and helpful. The rides are really fun (especially the Winnie the Pooh and Monster’s Inc. rides, not to mention our personal favorite, Journey to the Center of the Earth!), the food was delicious (our favorites were the Katsu Curry from Hungry Bear, the mochi/dumplings, and the Mike Wazowski melon bread), and the overall vibe is something that I sorely miss. Disney Sea is breath taking! I even enjoyed their Fantasmic. Really cool and something you have to see in person. Also, if you collect Popcorn Buckets like I do, then watch out. Your suitcase might be full of popcorn buckets…hahah! Overall, I love Tokyo Disneyland and especially Disney Sea. I can’t wait to go back, but after the Beauty and the Beast ride and the Big Hero 6 ride is finished. Sad I will be missing the 35th Anniversary. Definitely worth the visit if you enjoy seeing characters you don’t see all the time (like Scrooge, Marie, Duffy, etc), you love Japanese culture, and most of all, love Disney!
Hai Tom, I am a routine reader of your blog, and I am one hundred percent agree about your love for Tokyo Disney Resort. My first trip to Japan was last 2016, and I’ve been there for three times in 2 years time and I am still can not wait to come back. I’ve gone to HKDL and SDL,but I haven’t experience the US Park though. But the love was totally up there with the TDR. TDR always be the gold standard for everything,especially in the term of the cast member. Hands down to the most friendly and kindhearted CM of all Disney Park Asia.
I hope to a chance to enjoy the 35th anniversary:happiest celebration :))
Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea are my favorite Disney parks. The employees are so friendly and helpful and genuinely seem to enjoy working there. Our first trip to Tokyo Disneyland was 20 years ago – since then, we’ve seen a higher number of non-local visitors to the park and we’ve never had a problem with not knowing how to speak Japanese while in the park or exploring around Tokyo or Kyoto. One of my favorite things is how everyone sits for the parades (at least in the front) so almost everyone can see the parade or entertainment – and if anyone stands, an employee tells them to sit back down. That doesn’t happen at WDW! Thanks for the continued coverage Tom!!
Sumberan Baru 1 No 5 C
We will be visiting my sister in Hong Kong in September but really thinking about making a trip to Tokyo. Is Tokyo Disneyland doable by myself with a 1.5 year old?
We spent two weekdays at Tokyo Disney Sea and one at Tokyo Disneyland last September. We stayed at the Hilton Tokyo Bay and used the monorail. If you get to the parks early and use FP’s you can see pretty much everything that’s unique or better at the parks. Check out our blogs for a full itinerary of our days at Disney and the rest of Japan.
We used Zicasso.com to refer us to a travel agent specializing in Japan. We settled on Jeff who put together a wonderful itinerary: three full days at Disney (with dinner reservations for Sailing Day buffet, Diamond Horseshoe, and Magellan’s – can’t do that from the US), four days in Tokyo with a day trip to Nikko, two days in Kanazawa, one in Shirakawago, two in Takayama, five in Kyoto with a day trip to Nara, and a final day in Tokyo. Jeff & his Japanese crew made all the hotel reservations, train reservations, arrangements for some guided tours, and bookings for classes (sushi making, ikebana, calligraphy, and Japanese cooking). We used SkyLux Travel to book our business class flights – they found a good deal with FinnAir through Helsinki from Chicago (a little longer duration, but $1500/ticket less than the nearest west-traveling flights). I booked Robot Restaurant myself through Voyagin.
Neither my wife or I speak any Japanese, but we didn’t have any problems finding our hotels, making our connections, or seeing the sights. Many people at least understand English even if they are reluctant to speak it. And the Japanese people are gracious about helping foreigners.
Tokyo Disney Sea is our favorite Disney park, and the Big Band Beat is the BEST SHOW in any park we’re visited (doing France in September and Hong Kong next April). It was great to interact with characters without waiting in lines – just like our first visits to Anaheim and Orlando.
Don’t be afraid – give Japan a try. We had a wonderful time.