A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a MiceChat member who had just returned from a trip to the Tokyo Disney Resort.
“Hi. I’ve been a regular reader of your incredible site for a few months. This week I returned from a trip to Tokyo Disney Resort and would like to submit a trip report if you’d like it. I also have photos to include. Can give some tips too. I just want to pay it forward as they say for all the great info your site provides.” – ChrisNJ
After exchanging a few emails back and forth, I received Chris’ trip report – and what an epic trip report it is! We’ll be sharing the report over the next several weeks and I think you will be as amazed as I was at the great information that Chris is sharing with us. If you ever dreamed of taking a trip to these incredible Disney parks, you won’t want to miss even one episode of ChrisNJ’s Epic Tokyo Disneyland Trip Report! ~~Rick
Tokyo Disney Resort
By Chris in NJ
In March of 2013 I was fortunate to be asked to go on a business trip to Guam with a stop-over in Japan. As soon as it was mentioned, my head filled with dreams of visiting what others have called the best of the Disney parks – Tokyo Disney Resort. With only a week to plan I researched as much as possible for what would be my first adventure to Japan. The three Disney owned resorts were booked, but I was able to get a reservation at the Hilton Tokyo Bay Hotel which is an official hotel of the resort. The reviews of this hotel were spot on as it is very English-speaking-friendly and beautifully maintained.
Getting to Tokyo Disney is an adventure in itself and can be a bit intimidating to first-time visitors. For me the flight from Newark, NJ to Japan’s Narita Airport was about 14 hours. Arriving at Narita is about the same experience as arriving at any large non-US airport – most signs are in English, the signage is actually easy to spot, and nicely organized. After going through customs, I found myself in a large hall with stores and bus signage. A note about getting to Tokyo Disney from Narita – it is easy if you get there before 5:05 PM as there is an independent bus (about $25) that will take you right to the Disney area hotels; if you arrive after the bus hours you will need to take a taxi (about $200) or several trains. The trains are very efficient and affordable but you will have to carry your own bags. To get to TDR via train the best route is to take JR Narita Express to JR Tokyo train station and then get onto the Maihama line. Those familiar with the language, or with NYC or London trains should not have any issues with the trains. All electronic train ticket machines have an English language button. Each station also has a map with english text for station names. The train signage on the platforms and on the trains is mostly excellent.
The bus to Disney is very convenient. Bags are tagged by destination and loaded by the courteous bus staff. Some previous posters have said that the ticket counter only accepts cash but fortunately they did accept credit cards. The last bus on this day was empty but do not be surprised if it is full as TDR is a popular destination. There is a toilet on the bus which is a good thing to know as it is just over an hour drive from Narita to the hotels. The sites along the route are not that spectacular, about as exciting as what you’d see on a trip along any U.S. interstate. Traffic can get very bad on this trip so I have been informed, but I had no issues on a Sunday evening.
Arriving at the Tokyo Disney Resort is a bit like arriving at the Anaheim resort in that it is close to a city but once on property feels detached from that city. There are three themed Disney hotels: Disneyland Hotel, Hotel Mira Costa and Disney’s Ambassador Hotel. The bus will stop anywhere people are scheduled to be dropped off. It will also go to the official hotels. The entire resort area feels like it is in the middle of a city just like Anaheim but with an “L” shaped edge being the Tokyo bay.
The bus stopped at Hilton Tokyo Bay and the hotel staff picked up the bags. The bell staff was mostly young women who also spoke nearly perfect English. The hotel is beautifully modern, spotlessly clean and staffed by very helpful people. The check-in desk is directly across from a family seating area that reminded me of the Art of Animation Resort. There was no line at check-in and I was escorted to the room by bell staff. Unfortunately the room I had reserved did not match the room I was brought to. My reservation was for a park view, but the room had a Tokyo bay view. The bell staff asked me to call the front desk to check on it. Within 5 minutes a front desk person was at the room working with me on a solution. They thought I would prefer a bay view – remember in Tokyo there is not much open space so a view of a garden and water would be ideal. I explained that I was there for the theme parks and the very helpful/professional woman told me that they did have another room and asked if I would like to see it. We were off to the top floor of the hotel to their Celebrio room type. This room is ultra-modern – imagine the cosmetic counter of a Bloomingdale’s but as a hotel room. The view took my breath away as it was of Tokyo Disneyland and part of DisneySea, with a bit of parking lot before them. I thanked the woman as much as possible and she seemed genuinely happy that I was satisfied. Japanese culture does not believe in the concept of tipping, so showing gratitude is the best way to reward for excellent service.
After staring out the window for some time I realized I needed to get this party started and leave my beautiful room. The first adventure would be food. Now food for most may not be an issue because if you eat everything in the US then you can find something to eat while in Japan. Almost all Western food items will have a slight Asian spin to them – think of it as how ethnic food at the US parks usually doesn’t taste exactly authentic – they change the items to appeal to the audience. If you are a vegetarian like me, you may have some food problems. Japanese culture has not yet embraced the concept of vegetarianism. For those who are not strict vegetarians, you may not have a problem. For me, being a 25 year vegetarian, going off my diet could result in physical complications.
The original plan was to head to a Disney park or their shopping area Ikspiari, but because it was now after 7 p.m., I headed to the hotel restaurant. The menu at their table service restaurant was Italian inspired and actually wonderful. As mentioned, the hotel is beautiful and probably the best Hilton I have ever stayed in. Restaurant service was perfect. The menu was in English. As one would expect, the prices are about $20 more than you’d find in most of America. Japan is expensive just as London and NYC can be. A side note: all cities can be very affordable once you know where to eat, but this becomes increasingly difficult when you cannot read or understand the language.
After dinner I walked to the Disney monorail. It is officially called the Disney Resort Line, and it circles around from Bayside Station to DisneySea to Resort Gateway Station (Ambassador Hotel, Maihama Station which is the mass transit train to the resort, and Ikspiari the sort of mall/downtown Disney area). Because of transit laws, the monorail has to charge. A one use ticket was about $2.50, multi-trip and unlimited day tickets are available. I purchased a one day ticket for Sunday and then the next morning bought a 4 day pass. The multi-day passes must be used on the date they are purchased despite my being told otherwise by a monorail ticket attendant – so be careful what you are told and read the information on the vending machines which have an English language option. Also some other transit passes are accepted on the Disney Resort Line – if you have one, check before purchasing another ticket.
The Disney Resort Line monorail is beautiful. On the outside it looks a bit like the US monorails but with a larger underside. There were several monorail trains each with different color stripes on white. There was also a monorail that was decorated with Toy Story Midway Mania characters/art – not as elaborate as the US monorails. All monorail stations are located on the 2nd level of dedicated station buildings. Ticket machines are located within the buildings and clearly marked. The first level of the station has toilets, lockers and vending machines. The second level is accessed via escalator, elevator or stairs. The stations are always staffed with greeters who really set the tone with friendly voices and smiles. The platforms and stations were always spotlessly clean – I’m talking spotless! Some of the stations have separate doors for entering/leaving the train – at Bayside people enter and leave from the same side. There is a gate at the track that prevents falling. When the monorail arrived the station gate and the monorail doors open automatically. Unlike in the US, everything is nicely organized without feeling like you are being corralled. The one time I saw a boy try to cut the line, a station attendant sent him to the back of the line in a friendly but firm way. The interior of the monorail is drastically different than in the US – rather than being in small compartments, the train is completely open in the style of a regular subway with seats along the sides facing in. The train is run mostly automatically, there is an attendant in the back of the train, but the front is available for riders and offers a great view. All seats are nicely cushioned, and all trains are connected so you can walk the entire train without having to even open doors between cars. Even on the busiest train days everyone was polite, but do not expect anyone to give you space. The Japanese are comfortable being in very close quarters so get used to being pushed up against others when in a crowded spot.
Arriving at Gateway Station in a mostly empty monorail, I had hopes that I had picked a good few days to visit what I was told was the most crowded of Disney parks. The station is nearby the Maihama station and this is the best way to get into downtown Tokyo. You can also walk from this station to the Ambassador hotel, Ikspiari, Tokyo Disneyland and the Disneyland Hotel. I walked to Ikspiari, which I imagined was like Downtown Disney – it isn’t really. Ikspiari is more like a mall with indoor and outdoor areas featuring stores and restaurants. For westerners like me, there is also a Starbucks on the lower level which also houses the food court. There is a large convenience store here in case the ones located at your hotel aren’t enough. To be honest, Ikspiari is rather boring in that it isn’t themed much and the stores are expensive. Nearby is Bon Voyage, a very large Disney parks store which sells a bit of everything you might find in the parks. Be warned that this store does not sell everything but only the things that people might grab as presents for others on their way back to the train. Most visitors come to the parks via the Maihama station.
At about 8:30 p.m. a large group of young women started coming through to the Maihama station. They appeared to be part of some show as they were dressed similarly. After about 100 or so passed I started to get the feeling that I wasn’t assessing the situation correctly. I watched and noticed most were carrying Disney items. The group kept growing and moving through to the train station. These women were visitors to the park – many dressed similarly as their friends. Since it was a Sunday night, I assumed this was a large weekend crowd returning home. Well, I could hope, but that wasn’t the case – these are the most crowded theme parks I have ever experienced.
Tokyo Disney tickets are a bit different than those sold in the US. You can buy single day, evening only or multi-day tickets. The evening tickets are usually available for entry after 6 p.m. if the parks have not closed their gates due to crowding. The multi-day tickets offer savings and can be a great deal but they have limitations not found in the US parks. When you purchase a two day ticket you must specify which parks you are visiting on each day and there is no jumping between parks unless you buy another ticket at full price. For a three or four day ticket you must specify the first and second day parks but are free to park hop on the third and fourth days. I bought a four day ticket expecting to use the last two “park hopper” days the most.
NEXT WEEKEND: Day One in the Tokyo Disneyland parks.