One of the must-visit places in Tokyo is without a doubt Tokyo Disney resort, particularly if you travel with your kids. Considered as the best Disney park outside US, it is always incredibly crowded and a big challenge for visitors to cover everything in one day. If you come there with no preparation, you will spend most of your time queuing and waiting, then feel tired, bored and not really enjoy it.
With my hand-on Tips and Tricks, you will have the essential information on what you need to do pre-trip and during trip in the great level of details, so that you can maximize your time to experience all of your favorite rides and shows in 1 day.
The first question: Tokyo Disneyland or Disneysea?
If you have the luxury of time, and not tight in budget, getting a 2-day Tokyo Disney Pass is a no brainer. But if you just have one day and limited budget (like me), I believe you will have the same question – which park to choose: Disneyland or Disneysea?
Obviously both parks are incredibly magical, have a good mix of rides for all sorts of theme park-goers – the kids, the thrill-seekers, and everyone in between. However, each has its own uniqueness and brings you different experience. Selecting the right park that meet your personal preference is the ultimate decision you need to make before you go. Also don’t be confused by the name of the park like me as I thought Disneysea is a water park. In fact it just has many attractions in the theme of water.
Here’s a brief discription on the two.
TOKYO DISNEYLAND: The classic Disney park
Tokyo Disneyland is the first Disney Park that opened outside the US in 1983 which takes the best of both the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World and the original Disneyland in Anaheim to create a unique yet familiar and classical experience.
Outstanding advantages of Disneyland:
- Walk-able from JR Maibama station, while you need to take a short train ride (2 stops, 260 Yen) to go to Disneysea
- Have better and more spectacular parades and shows, particularly night show and the firework. Tokyo Disneyland Electrical Parade Dreamlights is the best
- Have more classic attractions that bring familiar feelings for Disneyland’s fans.
- Most of the rides are designed more suitable for younger kids (under 6 years old).
TOKYO DISNEYSEA- the only in the world
Tokyo Disneysea opened in 2001 and is often called the best Disney Park in the world as It’s the only one of its kind and offers an incredibly unique experience compared with all other Disney parks. It is much bigger than Disneyland (71 hectares compared to 46 hectares), mainly thanks to the vast body of water that separates the park’s attractions further from each other.
Outstanding advantages of Disneysea:
- Have better snacks and more outstanding restaurants
- Have more thrilling attractions that have nothing related to Disney characters though. “The journey to the earth” and “Indiana John’s adventure” are the most impressive rides
- Have the look and feel of many famous places in the world. The winding canals of Venice or the Arabian arc are well reflected in Disneysea
- Most of the rides are more suitable for older kids (more than 6 years old) and adults.
Although it’s is my first time in Disney park, I still picked Disneysea as I have older kids (10 & 12 years old) and they love thrilling rides, as well as myself. My below hand-on tips & tricks are mainly for Disneysea, but i believe you can somewhat apply it for Disneyland.
PRE – TRIP
1. Avoid crowded days
As mentioned earlier, Tokyo Disney is not just for kids, it is for everyone and crowded all year around. However, there are several days when it is even more crowded than usual. The difference of average waiting time is significant, 3 hours per ride vs. 45 min per ride. Therefore, it’s totally worth that you should try to avoid those days as much as possible.
- Weekends, obviously, even Mondays or Fridays are sometimes equally as crowded. We went there on Tuesday, and the maximum time we had to wait was 45 minutes. Check the Crowd Congestion Forecast Calendar and try to avoid the dates highlighted in Red.
- School Holidays: no matter which day of the week, it’s for sure super crowded
- Summer: Usually July 20th to August 31st
- Winter: December 26th to January 6th
- Spring: Around 25th March to 5th April
- Japanese Public Holidays : There are 16 different Japanese Holidays but because some of them happen on the same week, a lot of locals take the entire week off for an extended week-long break. 3 of the busiest period to avoid are:
- Golden Week: 29th April to 5th May
- Obon Obon: Mid July or Mid August (depending on the solar calendar)
- New Year: 31st December to 1st January
2. Buy ticket online to enjoy discount
You can buy tickets at the counter on the day itself. It actually just takes you only 5 minutes as the queue is very short, almost everyone already pre-purchase ticket.
Although buying ticket online is not a way to save time, you can enjoy some discounts offered by many websites, of course not from the official Disney website. I got our Tokyo Disney tickets from KKday at 57 US$, including 10 US$ discount since we also bought JR pass from them. Just remember to have the tickets printed out as you need to scan the QR code to get in the park and have fast pass ticket.
*Note that prices on KKday will fluctuate depending on currency at the time of purchase.
3. Review list of attractions and prioritize them based on your preference
Since everyone has different preference, you need to review the list of attractions to pick what you like and plan your day well to catch them. Go to the official Tokyo Disney website, they have great information on all attractions and a brief description of each so that you know what to expect. In both Disney parks, there are not only the thrilling and fancy games, but also amazing parades and show, as well as interesting transportation. Therefore, do not just focus on riding the games, in fact, spend decent time to enjoy unique and incredible shows.
Here is my Top 5 favorite attractions in Disneysea (in the ranking order, among 28 attractions, Photo credit from Tokyo Disney Resort)
- Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull, Lost River Delta – My favorite of the day
- Tower of Terror, American Waterfront
- Journey to the Center of the Earth, Mysterious Island
- Sindbad’s story voyage, Arabian Coast
- 20000 Leagues under the sea, Mysterious Island
And my top 3 shows (out of 8 shows/ parades)
- Fantasmic! (Photo credit: Disney Tourist Blog)
- Big Band Bet (Photo credit: Tokyo Disney resort)
- Mermaid lagoon theater (Photo credit: Tokyo Disney resort)
The Brand New Dream (the firework show) was canceled last minute due to strong wind on the day we visited. Otherwise, I guess it should have been #3 in my list.
And my favorite transportation (among 3 types of transportation): Venetian Gondolas
4. Familiarize yourself with the Map.
As Disneysea is a huge area of 71 hectars, you need to familiarize yourself with its map, so that you can easily navigate the attractions where you want to go.
The park has 7 sections separated by different colors on the map. After you have a draft idea on the attractions you want to go, just search them on the map to know their section. Then plan your itinerary to maximize your time and avoid walking back and forth among sections.
5. Leverage Fast Pass ticket
Fast Pass ticket is a way to save your queuing time in Disney park, particularly for the most popular attractions. It has a designated time period printed on, allow you to come back to the ride within that time frame, and go straight inside, instead of waiting on the long queue. When the time hasn’t come, you can go to less popular or shorter queue attractions.
How to get a Fast Pass: Instead of paying extra money, you still have to queue to get the Fast Pass ticket. The Fast Pass ticketing machines are located beside the ride entrances and you simply scan the QR code on your printed entrance e-ticket to get it. Do note that you can only get 1 Fast Pass every 2 hours, that means you’re likely to only get about 3 Fast Pass before the popular rides run out. Therefore, you need to plan which rides you should get the Fast Pass first.
Here is my suggestion on Fast Pass priority, usually run out within an hour after the park opens. Your Tokyo Disneysea experience would not be complete without experiencing these 3 (listed below) so definitely try queueing for these Fast Passes first.
- Tower of Terror, American Waterfront
- Journey to the Center of the Earth, Mysterious Island
- Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull, Lost River Delta
Skip Toy Story Mania (which I didn’t, but seriously you should)
Toy Story Mania is one of the most popular attractions in all of Tokyo Disney Resort. There are ridiculous long lines immediately built up once it opens, both for standby and for Fast Pass, and is just not worth it. Basically, in this ride, you will board a tram and shoot multiple targets on 3D screen to get scores while riding. It is even less attractive and less interesting than the similar kind in Legoland park that I had experienced, as well as many other rides in Disneysea. I didn’t understand why it was popular and attracted lots of people. If I go again, I will definitely skip this attraction, and use my time elsewhere.
Tower of Terror – Instead, head in the same direction, but queue for Tower of Terror Fast Pass immediately right after the park opens.
Journey to the Center of the Earth – is Tokyo DisneySea’s flagship attraction. If you anticipate wanting to do this twice, just skip the Tower of Terror FastPass and head straight here, getting a Fast Pass, then getting in line. (You’ll then need to find a time to get a Tower of Terror Fast Pass later.)
Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull – My favorite ride of the day. It was laced with many unexpected surprises. Despite the Japanese talking parts (as with all the rides in Tokyo Disney), we thoroughly enjoyed the story while being brought through an exciting super dark track. Things appearing suddenly in the dark terrified most of us. The design is truly amazing and unbelievable. The queue of Fass Pass for this ride is tend to shorter than the above 2, so you can get it within 15 mins.
6. Prepare food and drink for lunch and snack
Food and Drink is allowed in the Disney Resort Parks and you can eat them at the designated area, either indoor nearby food courts or picnic area. So save money and purchase lots of snacks, lunch box and drinks before heading in the park as the price inside is fairly expensive. You can buy them from New Days convenience store just outside Maihama station.
Re-entry is also allowed here (just remember to get your hand stamped), so you can head out to the convenience store for a quick bite.
7. Arrive early (1 hour before opening time)
Park opening hours vary by seasons, so check the Tokyo Disney Park Operations Calendar before visiting.
We arrived at 8:30 am and the queues were already long, while the park opened at 9am. So I would suggest you to arrive even earlier, with your pre-purchased tickets to start queuing at the entrance.
8. Start queuing for fast pass ticket and standby at the same time for the most 2 popular rides
When the park first opens, it might be tempting to head straight for a ride. However, if it’s a really crowded day, I strongly suggest you don’t. The best strategy is to send the fastest person in your party (with all QR code tickets) for the first Fast Pass (eg. Tower of Terror), while the rest of the group heads the another attraction (eg. Journey to the Centre of the Earth), queuing standby line.
Don’t be surprised if the first pass takes up to 45 minutes since regular standby queues are about 3 hours long.
*Pro-tip: If you’re in the middle of a queue and the window for your next fast pass opens up, hand over your ticket (with the QR Code) to a friend to get the next fast pass while you save their spot in a ride’s queue.
9. Win lottery tickets for Big Band Beat show
Big Band Beat is one of the best show in Disneysea. It’s a kind of Broadway performance with a live Jazz band and Mickey on the drums. Due to its popularity, Big Band Beat utilizes a (free) lottery system for seating. Go to Biglitteria (opposite of the biggest lake in the center), try your luck for an afternoon showtime. If you win, awesome. If you don’t, consider jumping in the standby line for the first show about 20-30 minutes before it starts. Check show time on the official Tokyo Disney Website.
10. Catch the first show of the day
The first show of the day happened in the biggest lake at the center of Disneysea. It is a welcome performance of famous Disney characters, such as Mickey and Minnie, Duffy bear, Princess Jasmine and Aladdin, Princess Ariel and the Prince, ect…
The outdoor show at Disneysea starts at 9:35am (this may change by month so get an entertainment schedule from the staff to be sure).
11. Avoid the afternoon heat at the Mermaid Lagoon (Disneysea)
In the summer, it can become overwhelmingly hot in the afternoon. Instead of being stuck in outdoor queues surrounded by the crowd, you can hide yourself in at the underground area of Mermaid Lagoon. This area is specially catered for the little kids so it’s usually not too crowded. Enjoying the air-con environment in this gorgeous underwater world, having food from nearby food courts or your prepared lunch was a perfect choice to avoid the prickly afternoon sun.
However, if you don’t mind the hot sun, afternoon is a great time to visit popular attractions as the queues are much shorter.
12. Save a spot for the night parade 45 minutes before it starts
Disneysea’s Fantasmic night parade held in the water area in front of Mount Prometheus was one of our favorite highlights that night. You will see people seated in the Lido Isle up to 1 hour before the show. Therefore, if you want to get an unobstructed view, definitely save your seats early. Grab a couple of snacks and set up a mat while waiting in a cooling atmosphere of the evening.
Enjoy to the fullest your day in Tokyo Disneysea !!!
Traveled on Jul 3rd, 2018