Disneyland is a childhood destination like no other and Tokyo’s version of the magic of Disney is pretty unique.
1. Book your tickets ahead for off-peak days
The key to making the most out of the Disneyland is to plan, plan, plan.
If your travel schedule allows, try to avoid weekends and public holidays as crowds can swell to 100,000 people. Mondays and Fridays are next busiest so try to visit on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Check out a forecast crowd density map here.
To save queueing up at the ticket office book your tickets online. You can buy single or multi-day passes. We found a day at Tokyo Disneyland, a day at Tokyo DisneySea and one more day at Tokyo Disneyland doing a few things we missed on the first visit and checking out of our hotel was perfect for us.
Note that pre-purchasing a ticket still means you have to line up to enter!
2. Stay at a Disney hotel or one of the partner hotels
Visiting Tokyo Disney Resort can be tiring so you really want to minimise travel time between the park and your accommodation, particularly if you need afternoon naps or want to rest before heading out for night-time adventures.
If you stay at a Disney hotel or one of the six Tokyo Disney Resort Official Hotels you don’t even need to schlep there with your luggage. When you alight from JR station Maihama just go to the Tokyo Disney Resort Welcome Center on the station level and check in there. Your belongings will be transported to your hotel with no extra fee.
If you stay at one of the Official Hotels you can access the parks via Bayside Station on the the Disney Monorail. The further ones have a free shuttle bus service connecting to Bayside Station.
I recommend buying a multi-day trip pass if you’re going to be moving back and forth between the hotel and parks several times a day or use your Suica card to tap and go.
3. Why the Hilton Tokyo Bay should be your first choice
We chose the Hilton Tokyo Bay because they have fairy-tale themed rooms and suites particularly geared towards families – Happy Magic Rooms and Happy Magic Suites. Our stay there was delightful and easy from start to finish.
There is a soft play area in the lobby where kids can run free while you deal with the administration of checking in, checking out etc.
The enchanted forest lift lobby introduced us to the spacious 2 bedroom suite carpeted with stars and storybooks.
The main room included two single beds, a long couch, table and chairs suitable for playing or for dining in. The adults’ bathroom included a double sink and large Western-style shower. Oh, and a large-sized key which lit up when you put it inside the fairy door lock.
The second room was every more magical – painted with hot air balloons and a sunny sky on the ceiling with a dimmer light to make the sun rise, a magic mirror where a friendly witch appeared when you pressed the button, a tree and little fake wood trunk stools surrounding the TV and four single beds pushed together. A little nook stored some Japanese children’s books and DVDs, child-sized robes and a large tub of Lego which kept kids really happy.
The kids had their own bathroom, complete with two small sinks, coloured tooth mugs, kiddie dental sets and some fun witch-shaped sponges which expanded in water. The Japanese style bath and spa bath were part of this area.
Other amenities included mini bar, toiletries, free wifi, an ironing board and robes.
On site there are several restaurants, all of which are reasonably expensive as you’d expect. We had an excellent Chinese dinner at Dynasty – it was a bit hurried as the kids were not well-behaved but the food was delicious. Try the giant-sized gyoza! The breakfast buffet was substantial, with Japanese and Western options.
They also have a reasonably priced sandwich bar/bakery/fast food outlet called Fresh Connection in the lobby that will deliver to your room.
Other facilities include a gym with indoor heated pool, and in summer the outdoor pool with children’s pool is open.
The hotel provides a free shuttle bus to the JR Maihama station and it’s a short walk across the road to the Bayside monorail station that travels to the two Disney park stations.
If you book far in advance online you can get great rates that include breakfast.
4. Plan your FastPASS attractions and arrive at least 30 minutes gates open
Certain rides and shows have FastPASS tickets where you can get a ticket with a time window for entry later. It may still mean a bit of a queue at your allotted time, but a significantly shorter wait than if you didn’t have FastPASS.
If you plan it right you can probably obtain 2-3 FastPASSes in one day. Note you are only allowed one active FastPASS at a time ie you can’t get your next FastPASS unless the time window of the first FastPASS has expired.
Here was our strategy:
- Got in line to enter the park at least 30 minutes before gates opened.
- The fastest person (T) had everyone’s tickets. As soon we all got through the gate he’d run to the first FastPASS ride and get tickets for the earliest time possible.
- I’d take the kids and walk more slowly, absorbing the atmosphere, the music, the scenery, constant staff waving. We’d head to the rides that we wanted to go on before queues started forming.
- We’d return to the FastPASS ride at our allotted time. After that ride, repeat for the next FastPASS.
5. Bring a hat, sunscreen, snacks and a water bottle
Despite the FastPASS system there’s still a lot of queueing up. Our tactic was to split up with the kids and use the time to go to the toilet, apply sunscreen and eat snacks.
Every morning I’d raid the hotel breakfast buffet and fill our Nude Food Mover Rubbish Free lunchbox. At the first hint of whining I’d whip it out and the kids would happily settle down for a snack.
You’ll see lots of people wearing themed popcorn tubs that you hang over your neck and you can buy different flavoured popcorn at various locations. We decided against the tubs because I knew at some stage the kids would get sick of wearing them (and I’d have to carry them) plus I didn’t want them to eat so much popcorn.
There’s not a lot of shelter while you’re lining up so bring a hat for hot days.
6. It’s ok to bring a pram
Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea are both very pram-friendly, with wide boulevards and accessibility ramps/lifts where necessary. Some rides will even let you line up with a pram at the last moment, though most will require you to park your pram in a designated area before you line up. No one seems to worry about leaving prams or valuables in prams.
You can also hire a pram if you don’t want to bring your own. We actually found our pram very useful for ferrying gear around and the kids alternated sitting in it as they got tired.
7. Disneyland – head first to Fantasyland and Toon Town
For young children Fantasyland and Toon Town are the most suitable areas in Tokyo Disneyland.
In Fantasyland our kids loved the carousel, Alice’s Tea Cups, Dumbo and it’s the home of the iconic It’s a Small World. Note Pooh’s Hunny Hunt is Disneyland’s most popular FastPASS ride (though not that amazing I thought).
Toon Town has small no-queueing play area with a little shade which is a good spot for a snack and a rest.
Baby 2.0’s all time favourite ride was actually in Tomorrowland. Grand Circuit Raceway is a racetrack where the cars are on tracks so little kids can drive (if an adult pushes the pedal for them).
8. DisneySea – head to Mermaid Lagoon and Arabian Coast
Tokyo DisneySea has some similar rides to Disneyland but themed differently.
Our kids loved the double-decker carousel, a version of Tea Cups called the Whirlpool and Jasmine’s flying carpets.
Many attractions within Mermaid Lagoon are undercover and dimly lit so the kids didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected.
The Little Mermaid Show is worth seeing as it’s fun and avoids the scary bits of the story. The Magic Lamp Theatre has 3D effects and freaked out Baby 2.0.
I thought we’d made a mistake choosing Toy Story Mania (dark, 3D effects, quite loud) but it was actually really fun because you shoot at targets and score points on large screens. The water play area was a surprise and a hit with the kids so bring a towel/change of clothes.
9. Don’t expect your kids to love every ride
The Tokyo Disney Resort website allows you to sort rides in each park for those that are suitable for babies and kids under 3 years.
However, to our dismay we learnt that some of those rides deemed suitable for young kids were still terrifying. It was actually quite awful to have them crying and wailing ‘I want to go out’ when it was supposed to be fun.
If you have kids who don’t like the dark or loud noises avoid:
- Buzz Lightyear – Zerg the baddie makes an appearance;
- Pirates of the Caribbean – pitch black moments, creepy creatures, cannons;
- Jungle Cruise – our kids were terrified by the jungle animal animatronics, a tunnel with fire demons projected on it and the insane Japanese game show host/boat driver;
- 20,000 Leagues under the sea – the submarine is claustrophobic, the Japanese commentary gets a bit hysterical and creatures include things with glowing eyes and a giant octopus. The stuff of nightmares;
- Splash Mountain – darkness, animatronics and a big splashy slide at the end. Lady AB was smart enough to pull out at the last minute whereas Baby 2.0 didn’t get a choice and was petrified.
I think we managed to traumatise our kids at least twice a day during our holiday.
10. Eat at the Queen’s Banqueting Hall, Shop at the Grand Emporium or your hotel
Our favourite themed restaurant was the Alice in Wonderland themed banqueting hall in Tokyo Disneyland. The food is surprisingly reasonably priced and you can buy a souvenir plate and cup with your meal.
Some restaurants have long waits so you have to book ahead, sort of like the FastPASS system. And they all have children’s menus.
There are shops and merch stalls dotted everywhere in the park but the Grand Emporium in Disneyland has the largest selection of merchandise. If you don’t like the crowds and don’t mind a limited option then the Disney hotels and Official hotels have small Disney stores too.
Note we were so tired by the end of the day that we didn’t make it to any of the night time events eg the apparently spectacular evening light show. We also didn’t bother with any of the big parades and shows as the kids were too freaked out by the noise – so when the parades are on it’s the prime time to line up for popular rides.
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