THIS POST HAS BEEN EDITED TO INCLUDE DISNEYSEA AND OTHER ITEMS
I thought it might be helpful to post my thoughts on my trip to TDR on August 22 and 23. I am an adult and I visited the parks with my two nephews, who are 13 and 16. We have all visited both the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim (including DCA) and WDW on multiple occasions, particularly WDW (I have a vacation home in Florida and we go to a WDW park once or twice a year). This was the first trip to Japan for all of us and none of us speaks Japanese. We arrived in Tokyo on August 21 and stayed at The Sheraton Grand Harbor, Tokyo Bay August 21 and 22. We visited TDL on August 21 and TDS on August 22.
The JR line/monorail combination works smoothly and efficiently. We had to take the Narita Express to Tokyo Station and then change to the local JR train because we arrived too late for a TDR shuttle bus (the last bus leaves around 5:00 p.m. and my flight got in too late), but that was not a huge deal. I actually used the opportunity to drop most of my luggage at my Tokyo hotel, which is near Tokyo Station, and was able to travel light to TDR. Please note that unlike the monorails at the U.S. parks, you have to pay a fare to ride the TDR monorails (I think unless you stay at a TDR owned hotel), which I found a little obnoxious, but it was still the best way to get around in the park area. There are various passes available, but they only make sense if you intend to use the monorail more than just going round trip to a park.
The Sheraton Tokyo Bay was a nice hotel with great views of the Bay, but there was very little Disney theming. It was fine for me and my nephews, but I think that younger kids might be unhappy to not have more theming. Also, we were at the hotel basically only to sleep and eat breakfast, so I can't comment much on the facilities. The pool looked great from a distance, but we never used it. They do have several buffet breakfast restaurants, one of which opens at 6:30, which was great for us because we wanted to make it to the parks by 7:30, and we did so with ease. Although TDR is only a 15-minute train ride from Tokyo station, I really am happy that I stayed at an official hotel with monorail access.
Other than some phrases I leaned from a couple of iPhone apps, we had absolutely no Japanese language skills, but we did not have any problem at all because of that. I found the cast members to be helpful even though we didn't speak the same language and had no issues communicating the essentials with them. As a practical mater, all you really need to do is put up the right number of fingers when you get to an attraction. With respect to dialogue during attractions, it was sort of fun to hear narration and characters speaking in Japanese. I think that it even added to our enjoyment of some of the attractions, particularly Country Bears and Jungle Cruise, which we have seen many times in the U.S. Even without speaking Japanese, I am pretty sure that the pilot on the Jungle Cruise was making the same stupid, yet endearing, jokes as on the U.S. attractions (e.g., Schweitzer falls being named after the famous explorer Albert Falls, the zebra with the lions being asleep) and that was really enjoyable. I would not worry at all about the language barrier
I think that it is a shame that TDR does not sell one or two-day park hoppers. Because the two parks are very close together (not as close as in Anaheim, but a very short monorail ride apart) it would have been great to at least have the choice to visit both parks each day. I read somewhere that official hotels were able to add park hoppers to two-day tickets for a small fee, but if that were ever the case, it doesn't appear to be so now; I do not know if the rule is different at the TDR-owned hotels. There is an advantage to staying at an official hotel because you are guaranteed a ticket even if a park is "closed" because it is too crowded. One thing that surprised me and created some inconvenience (more below) is the fact that I had to pay cash for the tickets. I knew that was the case at the park, but I didn't realize it was also true at the hotel. I do not know if this is specific to the Sheraton, so if you are staying at TDR-owed or official hotel and anticipate paying for your tickets by credit card, I suggest that you check with your hotel before arrival.
As with any Disney park, it is essential to get to the park at least one hour before it opens. We got there at 7:30 for an 8:30 opening and there were already enough people there that we were probably about fifty feet from the gate after lining up. At opening, there was some running by guests, but not as much as I expected from what I had read. It didn't seem much different from the opening of one of the U.S. parks on a busy day.
Based on advice in this forum and our preferences, I created the touring plan below:
1. As Park opens, go to Monsters, Inc. and either ride or grab a FastPass
2. Ride Pooh or grab a fastPass
3 . Go To Splash or Thunder and grab a FastPass for one ride, then go on standby line for the other ride.
4. Ride or get FastPass for Haunted Mansion (go after seeing parade or during parade)
5. Keep eye on times for One Man's Dream II.
6. Go to Space Mountain and ride or get FastPass.
7. Buzz Lightyear if not too crowded.
7. Mickey's Philarmagic (when rides are crowded).
8. Enchanted Tiki Room (when rides are crowded).
9. Fortress Explorations (when rides are crowded).
9. Pirates of the Caribbean (at night).
10. Jungle Cruise (at night).
I made a mistake when I went to Monsters, Inc. by deciding to ride rather than getting a FastPass. That was a mistake, because the line was much longer than I thought it would be and we wound up waiting about 30 minutes to get on. In hindsight, I would have gotten a FastPass for Monsters, Inc. and gone to ride Pooh or, even better, gone to get a Pooh FastPass while my nephews waited on line as I have done in the U.S. parks; plenty of people were doing that, so there isn't any problem with "cutting" the line to join the rest of your group. I wound up getting a FastPass for Pooh when we were done at Monsters, Inc. My touring plan went well other than we weren't able to ride Splash Mountain. We got a FastPass for Thunder and the FastPasses for Splash ran out before we were eligible for another. If I had not waited to get the Pooh FastPass I think that we could have gotten FastPasses for Splash before they ran out. We could have done Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear if we waited on 45-minute lines, but we decided not to because we had been on both many times. Overall, lines were as horrendous as I had heard; 90-minute to 2-hour waits were the norm on the major attractions. The only wait that was shorter than I expected was Pirates of the Caribbean; we had less than a 30-minute wait in the busy part of the day. As with any Disney park, I think that the key is getting on the popular rides you want to see early in the morning and taking advantage of FastPasses. Because of our ages, we did not ride most of the Fantasyland rides, so I am not sure how hard that would make it for those who do. Also, because it is so crowded and hot (more about the weather below) in the middle of the day, it also is a great idea to see the shows during that time. We were able to get into the Tiki Room with no issue and Phiarmagic with some line monitoring. We also worked in the Country Bears to get some more A/C. It was a little frustrating that just about every attraction had at least a one-hour wait during the busy time, but that is just par for the course when you go to a park during a school vacation period.
With respect to impressions of the attractions, Monsters, Inc. is very different from the Anaheim ride, so I would make it a priority if you want to see new things. It wasn't that compelling, though. Pooh is a unique experience and I would definitely make it a priority. Of the other attractions, I can't say that any were very different or better than there Anaheim or Orlando analogues, but if you are a Disney fan, you will enjoy them nevertheless.
Disneysea is a truly unique experience; it is not like any of the Disney parks in the U.S. It was really a great experience. I got to the park around 7:30 as I had at TDL and found it even more crowded than TDL. I found the opening to be similar to TDL; some running, but not very different from a U.S. parking opening. As with TDL, I created a touring plan based on what I had read on MiceChat and elsewhere, which I set out below:
1. Run to Mysterious Island.
2. Get Fastpass for Journey to the Center of the Earth
3. Ride 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
4. Ride or get Fastpass for Tower of Terror.
4. Ride or get Fastpass for Indiana Jones.
5. Ride Sinbad's Storybook Voyage.
6. See Turtle Talk of not too crowded.
7. Ride or get Fastpass for StormRider.
8. Ride Aquatopia.
9. Go to Magic Lamp Theater.
10. Use Fastpasses before expiration.
You will quickly notice the absence of Toy Story Mania. I made a decision going in to not attempt to ride that attraction because of what I had read about the crowds associated with it and because we have been on both the Hollywood Studios and DCA version of it (in the case of Hollywood Studios, multiple times). In that respect, my experience may not be very helpful for those of you who want to ride Toy Story Mania.
In any event, Mysterious Island was practically deserted when we got there and we immediately got a Journey FastPass. We then rode 20,000 Leagues with absolutely no wait and headed directly to StormRider because it was too soon to get an Indiana Jones FastPass and because we decided to skip Tower of Terror because of the crowds in that direction (as with Toy Story, we have been on the U.S. Towers multiple times). StormRider was a little crowded, but we were on it in less than 20 minutes. By the time we got off StormRider there was an hour wait at Aquatopia, so we decided to skip it, at least for the time being. Part of our decision was based on the fact that we did not see any shade at all in the queuing area; even though it was still early, the sun was already very strong and we didn't want to wait on line in the sun for a long time. We therefore backtracked and did Sinbad, which had almost no wait. We then went back and got our FastPass for Indiana Jones and rode Journey on our FastPass.
From that point on, nothing was easy. Crowds began to fill the entire park, I assume because people had either ridden or gotten FastPasses for Toy Story. By then it was incredibly hot and sunny and there were not the large number of indoor shows as at TDL where we could get some relief. I had read somewhere that the smaller number of attractions at Disneysea vs. TDL would make it difficult in the busy part of the day and that really seemed to be the case. Aquatopia continued to have at least a one-hour wait and there was no way we were going to stand in the sun to get on it with that long a line. We therefore took the railroad, which was a nice ride, to American Waterfront and my nephews got wet at the fountain in the middle of the NY park area. We then walked around a little, but really were affected by the heat to the extent that we decided to not even attempt any of the attractions in that area, including Turtle Talk. We then took advice I received on MiceChat and headed back to Mysterious Island for lunch at the Nautilus Grill, which was not very crowded and was in the shade near the water, so it was a good choice. There was not a huge selection on the menu, but it was decent fastfood and cool enough to spend some time.
After lunch we rode Indiana Jones on our FastPass and then took in the show at the Magic Lamp. (Be sure to ask for the mobile subtitle device for an English translation.) We then grabbed ice cream nearby and with a combination of jet lag and heat exhaustion, we pretty much decided to call it a day. We headed back to Mediterranean Harbor, did some souvenir shopping, and we were on on the monorail by 4:30 or so.
Overall, it was a fun, but tiring, day. We really enjoyed the park. Journey was a fantastic ride and really unlike anything else at Disney. If we weren't so tried, I would have gotten a second FastPass for it, which was available. StormRider was unique too, but a little underwhelming. I haven't ridden the new Star Tours because it makes me sick (I am greatly prone to motion sickness), but my nephews, who have, said it was way better than StormCatcher. I was actually concerned about getting sick, but didn't even come close, which is both a positive and negative comment on the ride. Indiana Jones was as good as the one in Anaheim and Dinosaurs at Animal Kingdom; it is one of my two or three favorite Disney attractions and it was worth the ride although it wasn't very different from Anaheim. Mediterranean Harbor was beautiful and rivals the lagoon at Epcot; its smaller size is actually a positive because you can take in the whole view. I rank the park right up there with the best of the U.S. parks and think it is really unique. I wish Disney had done something like this in Orlando rather than Animal Kingdom, which I think is pretty much a dud (Disneysea's similarity to Universal Islands of Adventure, at least in concept, may cut both ways).
We really can't comment a lot on this because we didn't stay for dinner either night. As mentioned about, we had lunch at the Nautilus Grill in Disneysea. At TDL, following a suggestion from MiceChat, we had lunch a the Queen of Hearts. It wasn't that crowded; we got our meals (it is cafeteria style) on about 20 minutes and it was a great place to cool off in the middle of the day. The food selection was pretty good and the food quality was standard Disney fare; not great, but fine. One of the reasons we didn't have dinner was because of what I see as a major flaw in the official TDL website; there is no way to make meal reservations, at least through the English site. I think that I probably would have made lunch and dinner reservations if I could have done so online. I always do that at a U.S. park, even if we wind up cancelling them, because it is one less thing to worry about at the park that day. It also is the only way to get into some of the better restaurants. In the end, thouigh, with jet lag, we probably wouldn't have had dinner either night anyway.
Believe everything that you read about the hot and humid weather in Japan in the summertime. I have been to Orlando in August and I honestly think the heat and humidity at TDL were worse. This is compounded by the lack of good air conditioning. This was not unique to TDL; I found Japan generally to have air conditioning in fewer places than the U.S. (e.g., hotel corridors didn't have a/c) and to not be as cool as in the U.S. For example, the souvenir shops in Mediterranean Harbor were not at all comfortable despite, I believe, having air conditioning. Also, they do not seem to have nearly as much shade in the queuing areas as in the U.S. parks; this began right from the the start when we lined up to get into the parks and there was no real shade. There is really nothing you can do about this if you are limited to visiting in the summer, as I was because of school vacation, but I would strongly recommend visiting in a cooler part fo the year if that were possible.
There are plenty of coin lockers at both parks and in the train station; they are a great convienience if you are leaving straight from one of the parks as I did my final day. One major deficiency was the lack of an ATM that took foreign cards. While this is again a Japan-wide issue (only Citibank, post offices and 7Elevens take U.S. ATM cards), the official website specifically said that they had ATMs at both parks that took foreign cards. While this was technically the case, the only foreign cards that could use them were part of a Chinese network, not the typical international networks. As I mentioned above, I was short of cash because I was unaware that I had to pay cash for my tickets and this was a big annoyance for me. I really don't mind as much that the ATMs don't take U.S. cards than the fact that the website implied that they did; I wasted twenty minutes looking for the ATM at Disneysea because of that. You can charge just about everything in the parks (the only expception I found was some of the small food stalls and the monorail), which is my preference anway, but I didn't like only having about 2000 yen in my wallet for most of the time I was there. I did have U.S. money I could have changed, but as most of you who travel abroad a lot probably know, the exchange rate for that is always way worse than you get from and ATM.
Thanks to everyone who gave me advice before my trip. I hope that this post will be helpful for people who visit TDL in the future.