As with any Disney vacation to make the most of it a little pre-planning is essential. This includes researching pricing, hotel options, ticket options, meals, etc.. and you have to make decisions based on your tastes/interests/budget. Tokyo was the second leg of my first overseas trip. The first leg was Hong Kong the week before then we moved onto Tokyo for a week before heading home. I had done smaller trips to Mexico/Canada/the Bahamas but never to a truly foreign country. I will continue to flesh out this section as I think of tips from the trip and get questions, so please drop me an email with your questions.
I had wanted to visit all the Disney parks for as long as I could remember. Each time a new one opened around the world (and here in the US) I put it on a list of places to go. In 2015 I finally decided to take the plunge and venture to the overseas parks. I convinced myself it was time. So in April instead of Walt Disney World I headed West to the Far East and spent time at Hong Kong Disneyland and then Tokyo Disneyland.
The one question I get asked all the time is how expensive was it to go. I wrote up a blog post looking at the cost comparison of Hong Kong, Tokyo and Walt Disney World. Here is a quick summary - Airline was more than my typical trip. I found a great deal and paid about $750 for economy comfort on Delta for the two long legs of my trip LAX -> Hong Kong and Tokyo back to LAX. The short leg from Hong Kong to Tokyo was expensive.. for the one way ticket it cost me $600. Partially because of timing for the flights and I wanted to go on a carrier I had heard of, we choose Cathay Pacific for that portion of the flight. We stayed in a family sized room (A Happy Magic Room) at the Tokyo Bay Hilton and it was about $260 a night after taxes. A 4 day theme park ticket cost me $135 only (I bought it right before they went up to $160.. here is the 2015 pricing info). Food and merchandise were comparable to what you pay at the US parks, some items slightly less others slightly more but all in the same ballpark. Comparing my December trip to Walt Disney World and my week in Tokyo it came out to about the same price. WDW had higher hotel costs and theme park tickets and Tokyo had higher airfare which more than offset each other.
Before you go:
- How long to go for?
We planned four days in the parks and two days sightseeing and two partial open days because of travel. The four days in the parks we stretched to 4.5 by adding an evening at the beginning of the trip since we were back from our morning tour and the weather was good. We had miserable weather the first two park days. This made it a challenge to get around but because it was 60 degrees and driving rain it meant to waits. We were able to visit many more attractions than we had planned in less time. So our view of what could be accomplished in 4.5 days is very skewed. If you plan to experience the two parks and take in major attractions and shows I think four days will work most of the year. Trying to do it in less means compromises and you need to luck out with weather and crowds. At a minimum I think you need at least one day in each park. Being the geek that I am I could have easily spent another several days and still wanted more.
- When to go?
When to go plays a vital role in your trip planning. The Tokyo parks are notorious for their long queues... even for snacks.. I have seen reports of 45 minutes for popcorn! And this is not because of inefficiency.. it is because of the large number of guests who want to experience the parks and food. They have lotteries for show tickets because of this and have various restrictions on park tickets to help. I consulted several crowd calendars as well as school calendars to make an educated guess at a slower week to go. Also I planned my trip so my park days would be mid week. I was in the parks Monday - Thursday. And I did spend Sunday evening there too. I avoided the weekend. Also not the school holidays and regional holidays do not line up with what we are used to here in the US so do your homework!
- Park Tickets?
The two parks of Tokyo Disney have a range of ticket options and they are slightly different than what you find in the United States. For example their multi day tickets have to be used consecutively. And you specify which park you are going to visit the first and second day then for day 3 and/or 4 you can park hop. You cannot purchase more than a 4 day ticket, unless you jump to an Annual Pass. They also have evening passes available most days and these vary by day of the week.
Due to crowding you can purchase tickets for a specific day/days to ensure you get in, and it is not uncommon to sell out throughout the year at various times. Here is a release featuring the 2015 pricing info.
- Is language an issue?
Language was more of an issue in Tokyo than in Hong Kong. Most cast members we encountered could figure out what we were asking most of the time but me knowing zero Japanese and them knowing just a little English was a bit challenging. Every now and then you would run into one that knew a good amount of English and would speak with you but it was far and few between. It seemed as if most could understand you but were hesitant about replying back in English. When ordering food the point and speak approach got the basics across. I ended up using Google Translate so I could write out want I wanted and they could read it to ensure any changes/special requests were met. Our food always turned out correctly so it worked. Where this became more of a challenge was when we ventured outside of Disney. Disney is Disney so you sort of know or can figure out what is going on but once you are out in the real world it becomes a little more challenging to interact with people.
- Where to stay?
Because a majority of our time was going to be spent at Disney, we only allocated two days of sightseeing outside Disney we wanted to stay there. The choice is then to stay at a Disney Hotel or an Official Hotel. I kept going back and fourth and in the end choose the Hilton because it was a name we knew and the price was substantially less than Disney. We figured it was our first time and we would spend very little time in the hotel room so why spend our money there vs more days or activities. The official hotels all have shuttle service to the Bayside Station of the Resort line so you were only a couple of minutes away from the parks and the Gateway station. Transportation was never an issue for us so we did not feel you lost anything on that front not being at a Disney Hotel. The level of service at the Hilton was standard..
Dining was a challenge in Japan if you are like me and a very picky eater who does not really venture outside my comfort zone. I am happy with standard theme park fair and breads. I am not a sea food or even noodle person. So I found places I liked and tended to play it safe.. My meals - For breakfast we ended up with bakery/snacks purchased the day before usually. Lunch and Dinner were divided between pizza, TGI Fridays, chicken nuggets, and rotisserie chicken for the most part. There were a lot of other choices but I did not try them. Also this being our first trip I did not book any dining. I wanted to maximize my theme park time so I opted not to have big time consuming meals (which was an easier choice to make after looking at several of the menus and my taste preferences).
We were very unsure how much cash we needed/wanted for the trip.
We picked up several hundred dollars worth before our trip each to make sure we had enough. Once there we really only used cash for transportation and snacks. Everything else we used our US Credit Card with no foreign transaction fees.
- How to get to Disney from the Airport?
We opted to use the Limo Bus which was very cost effective. The schedule from the airport to Disney was not bad.. we just missed one so had to kill about an hour. Leaving was a bit more painful. The last bus was around 6:30pm and our flight was not until midnight (which was delayed until 3am making it even worse!).
Other choices involved the train, private car, or taxi and all those were a lot more work or cost.
Other Tokyo Sightseeing:
I could not travel all the way to Tokyo and not go see the city or other sights. I went through quite a few travel sites and books and came up with a list of places that would be interesting/unique to see. I eliminated most dining and shopping points of interest early in the process since neither were high on my list. That boiled it down to some museums, shrines/temples, vistas, etc.. We decided it would be interesting to get a feel for the city and then for something outside of Tokyo. After weighing several tour packages and doing it on our we found a morning tour of the city that stopped at two shrines/temples and the Palace Garden plus drove around a bit. This seemed to give a good flavor for the city so we opted to do that. Then we decided to venture out of Tokyo and go see Mt. Fuji and some of that area on a full day trip. You can read my trip reports from day 2 and day 7.
Normally the most efficient way to travel around Tokyo is by train. We ran into a snag on our first trip due to two train lines being down because of an accident which really disrupted things. Luckily it was a Sunday so it was not crazy.
Be warned the commuting hours on week days are extremely busy. We went into the city for our second touring day on a Friday during the morning commute and when the train showed up it was jammed full of people. Luckily a fair number got off at Disney and we could get on without a ton of effort but it got really tight for the next couple of stops then thinned out as they transferred to other lines or exited for work/school/etc.
I really enjoyed my time in Tokyo. The DisneySea park is incredible with the level of detail it has. Disneyland was a interesting mix of Walt Disney World and Disneyland set in by gone era then some new/modern twists added in. The Disney Hotels were detailed and interesting. I cannot wait to find a time to head back and experience more of this resort!