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A Family Trip to Tokyo Disneyland – A Magical Adventure

ready for Tokyo Disneyland

Haha, I knew it was too good to last, you know. As many parents may know, this week is half term and due to a combination of work and family commitments, it somehow came to pass that Mrs B and my beloved children would take a trip down to Cornwall to see the in laws, while I remained at home for the weekend.

Now, a man, home alone, may do many things, but those things will never be boring. There will absolutely be some prodigious abuse of food delivery apps such as Just Eat.

There will also be a chance to catch up on all the TV shows you never get to watch, because the children are always watching bloody YouTube (I’m working my way through the quite brilliant Masters of the Air at the moment on Apple+ TV).

There may also be time to do a bit of fitness. There might also be a bit of tinkering around the house, or maybe staring out of the window at the lawn, our faces etched with concern for the state of the grass. That normally takes a good hour.

But Mrs B, like Mother Nature herself, abhors a vacuum, both the physical and Henry Hoover type, so it was only a matter of time before she set me the homework of writing up our adventures in Tokyo Disneyland in a little more detail than in our previous blog.   

Tokyo Disneyland

the castle at Disneyland Tokyo

Disneyland, it has to be said, is quite magical really. No matter how cynical, world-weary or hard-bitten you are, as soon as you even think of House of the Mouse, you tend to cheer up a little bit.

After all, Disney has been a constant childhood companion in our lives since 1923, so every human alive with access to a TV has probably enjoyed the adventures of Mickey, Minnie and Goofy in some fashion. Indeed, such is the cultural impact of Mickey Mouse, he pops up in the most unlikely of places.

Who can forget the US Marines in the film Full Metal Jacket cheerfully singing the “Mickey Mouse March” as Hue City burns around them in Vietnam? That’s how much he’s burnt into our collective brains.  

Of course, over the years, the Disney empire has steadily expanded to incorporate Pixar films (home of classics like Toy Story and Finding Nemo), Marvel (Captain America, Avengers), and Lucasfilm (Star Wars) until pretty much every movie you have ever seen is probably owned by Mickey Mouse himself, in a company that made a paltry $88.8 billion last year.

Not bad for a rodent who spent the early years of his career unsuccessfully trying to get a date with Minnie. There’s hope for us all.    

the streets of Disneyland

So yes, there’s a certain magnetic attraction to Disneyland and when Mrs B decided we should take the kids to Tokyo Disneyland, there was absolutely no resistance on my part.

As I mentioned on my blog the other week, for some reason, tickets work out way cheaper than the other Disney parks worldwide, with a basic adult day ticket coming in at about 8,400 Yen (about £45) and children’s day tickets coming in at 5,600 Yen (about £30).  

Of course, if you want to take full advantage of everything Tokyo Disneyland has to offer, you’re best off staying for a few days and therefore, it’s worth looking at hotels nearby.

Hotels Near Tokyo Disneyland with Free Shuttle

By 掬茶 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Tokyo Disneyland (and the associated Disney Sea Park) is located in an area of Tokyo called Maihama, which is towards the southeast of the main area of Tokyo.

Punching Maihama into any of the main hotel booking sites will give you about 40 options to choose from, but ideally, you want to find hotels near Tokyo Disneyland with free shuttles, because you’ll inevitably be travelling with small children – and small children come with small legs that tire easily.

You should save yourself the heartache of trying to encourage a protesting eight-year-old on the verge of a meltdown, to walk any further than they absolutely have to. Fortunately, I have researched for you, saving you some further legwork.

Hilton Tokyo Bay

The first option is the Hilton Tokyo Bay. For those of you who need the reassurance of a recognised global brand, the Hilton ticks all the boxes. Hiltons are recognised worldwide for a pleasant experience and the Hilton Tokyo Bay is no different.

Boasting Standard, Triple, Quadruple, Suite and Family rooms, there’s sure to be a configuration of rooms that suits even the largest of families. It’s a 6-minute walk (or less than 1 min shuttle ride) from Tokyo Disneyland and with 5 different restaurants on site serving everything from Italian to Asian fusion cuisine, there’s something for every taste.

There’s even a pool on site that operates during the summer months in case you need a break from the thrills of Disneyland.

Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay Hotel

Continuing the international brand theme, there’s also the Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay Hotel. Again, location-wise, this works really well because a free shuttle runs to nearby Bayside Monorail Station, from which Maihama Train Station can be reached via a 10-minute monorail ride and who doesn’t love a monorail ride?

I know I do; you can normally find me at the front of them pretending to be the driver and grinning like a mental patient. If you want to explore further, Tokyo Station is only a 20-minute train ride away.

The hotel itself comes with 5 restaurants, again serving everything from European to Japanese and a particularly tempting-looking steakhouse. Like the Hilton, it comes with a huge range of room options that should suit every budget and family size, plus access to a swimming pool and spa, which I am sure Mrs B would very much like to check out if we ever return to Tokyo.

Alright, fine – so at this point, you’ve got your arms crossed and you’re thinking “This is all well and good Jim, but I’ve come all the way to Japan, and I want to experience Japanese things. Global hotel chains are all the same. Is there a Japanese hotel option? I want tatami mats, little wooden slippers, and lots of bowing.” 

Hotel Okura Tokyo Bay

A Japanese-themed hotel? In Japan? Sure, why not? The Hotel Okura Tokyo Bay came out top of our research with a crowd-pleasing mix of both Western and Japanese-style rooms (complete with tatami mats, little wooden slippers, and lots of bowing).

It also boasts French, Japanese, Chinese and Western-style restaurants but one thing to note is that while it offers a free shuttle service to and from Maihama Station, it only runs on weekends and holidays. It doesn’t define which holidays anywhere on the website, so it’s probably worth dropping them an email to check.

Best rides in Tokyo Disneyland, the Tokyo Disneyland Priority Pass and the Premier Attraction Pass

it's a small world at Tokyo Disneyland
The ever-popular It’s a Small World

Alright, so you’ve got your hotel booked, and wherever you’ve booked, I’m sure you’ll be fine. Japan loves customer service almost as much as it loves technology and vending machines so even if you didn’t take my recommendations (how dare you), you’ll be absolutely fine. Next up, you’ll need to work out what the best rides are and how to make the most of your time.

First things first, download the Tokyo Disneyland Resort App to your smartphone – it’s available on both iOS and Android app stores and is an absolute must-have – it shows ride availability, waiting times, a map, restaurants and much, much more.

I literally cannot believe there was once a time when our ancestors navigated not just theme parks, but entire countries using paper maps. More importantly, it allows you to access and use your Priority Pass.

Long story short, the good news is that Tokyo Disneyland recently celebrated its 40th birthday, and to celebrate this, it has launched a Priority Pass queue jumping system to celebrate, which is very nice of them. The bad news is that they simultaneously retired the old Fast Pass system, which some of you may have used before.

However, the new Priority Pass is free of charge and allows you to ride on certain attractions with a reduced wait time as soon as you enter the park.

You’ll be able to able to enter your selected attraction from a ‘fast lane’ line at your pre-booked time with a much-reduced wait time – and for the best rides, that wait can be quite considerable!

It works for the following big-ticket rides – which, by incredible coincidence, are rated as some of the best rides in Tokyo Disneyland!

a girl wearing Mickey Mouse ears at Disneyland
Fast passes are crucial if you want to beat the queues

So, how does it actually work? Well, once you’ve arrived at Tokyo Disneyland and your entrance ticket has been scanned in, your Fast Pass becomes active on the app. There is also the option to ask for a paper Fast Pass at the entrance if you don’t have the app. Then you can pick one of the rides above to use your Fast Pass on.

Crucially, you cannot pick what time you want to go on the rides above – it works on some very complicated algorithm that allocates times based on the number of people in the park and return times move forward as more and more people enter the part and more Priority Passes are distributed.

The “so what?” from this is that the earlier you get to the park (i.e. right at opening time), the better chance you have of getting further passes throughout the day as some rides will run out of Priority Pass allocations for the day by the morning.

If the crowds aren’t too bad, you may be able to obtain another Priority Pass for a different experience 2 hours after obtaining your last one, or, after the start time of your last Priority Pass, whichever comes first.

Sound complicated? Don’t worry, it isn’t – you’ll soon get the hang of it, and the euphoria that comes from skipping a line longer than Rip Van Winkle’s beard far outweighs any worries about navigating an app.

In your excitement, however, please don’t confuse the Fast Pass with Tokyo Disneylands’ paid Premier Access attractions. This is a separate pass you can purchase, if you wish, to allow you to skip the queues at the following attractions:

Tokyo Disneyland Shopping

disney ear headbands in a shop
A whole shop dedicated to hairbands…

Of course, no one goes to Tokyo Disneyland to shop specifically, but if it’s Disney-themed merch you’re after, then Tokyo Disneyland has you well covered. The Japanese, it has to be said, go mad for it.

For reasons I don’t quite understand, the cult of kawai (cute) is well-established in Japanese culture and if you’re a Japanese girl, the must-have accessory is the Minnie Mouse hairband that gives you the instantly recognisable enormous bow (and sometimes the ears, too) at the back of your head.

I mean, the scrummage in the Grand Emporium to purchase some of these at opening time was one of the most terrifying things the wife and I had seen in a long time – and we served in Afghanistan. Other shops are available selling everything from space-themed mech around Space Mountain and Western-themed merch in and around the more cowboy-themed areas of the park.

The thing about Tokyo Disneyland is that they do sell a lot of stuff that you can only buy in Disneyland, so if it’s a one-off souvenir you’re after, you’re in the right place.

a girl in the castle at Disneyland Tokyo
My daughter modeling a Minnie hairband and popcorn bag

My daughter, for reasons known only to her, decided that she simply could not live without a Monsters Inc themed popcorn carrier (yes, I know) so for just the bargain price of 3,200 Yen (£17 GBP/$21 USD) we queued for what seemed like several hours to purchase one, that came with the option of being filed with either salty popcorn, soy sauce butter flavour popcorn, or the much nicer sounding strawberry flavoured popcorn.

Unsurprisingly, the strawberry flavour won the day.       

Restaurants in Tokyo Disneyland

mochi at Tokyo Disneyland
Little green men Mochi, an acquired taste

The great thing about any Disneyland Park is that from quick snacks on the hoof, through to elaborate restaurants, there is something for every taste and budget to choose from.

Now, you might have been worried by my mention of soy sauce butter popcorn earlier, and yes, there are a few menu options that seriously only cater to Japanese tastes, but apart from the odd outlier, there is genuinely a great mix of foods to eat.

However – a word of warning. Customising a dish is nigh on impossible, not only in Tokyo Disneyland, but also, in most of Japan. This reflects the rigid societal structure that still exists in Japan – follow the rules, follow the process, you’ll get what you’re given.

The same applies to food, so if you have any special requests or needs, make sure you thoroughly check the restaurant menus before setting off and be prepared to take along your own food if necessary. There are vegetarian options … but not much else!

When it comes to ordering, of course, the main menus are in Japanese, but my time-honoured tactic of walking confidently to the counter, then immediately looking incompetent always paid dividends, as the staff immediately gave a knowing smile and whipped out an English menu.

Or you can just point hopelessly at pictures in the menu while what feels like the entire world silently judges you for not learning more Japanese on the plane over instead of watching the entire Jason Bourne series of movies.   

We stopped at the Pan Galactic Pizza Port (yes, from Toy Story) where the pizzas were hot and fresh and only 960 Yen (about £5 GBP/$6 USD) and had dinner at La Taverne de Gaston where in true European style you could get a hearty bowl of stew, a cone of French fries and beer to see you through as evening fell on the park.

The full list of places to eat is available on the website.

When is the Best Time to Go to Disneyland Tokyo?

the castle at Disneyland Tokyo
Not too busy!

Oh, this one is easy. If you go in the Autumn or Winter, it’s cold but quieter. If you go in the Spring or Summer, the weather is much nicer, but then all the crowds are out. Pick which one you prefer.

Alright, that may be a gross oversimplification, but as a rule of thumb, it’s true. We went in early January, right after the New Year holidays, and even though it was a lot milder than a British January, for the residents of Tokyo and beyond, it was obviously a bit cold for them.

By my very unscientific survey of peeking at the lines, it felt like the park was probably only at about 50 – 60% of capacity. Japanese people don’t get much annual leave, so outside of the major holidays, you may get lucky with quieter days.  June is also traditionally the rainy season in Japan, so if you don’t mind the rain (hello, fellow British people!) then that might also be a good bet.

a boat lit up at Disneyland

The busiest times are generally weekends (obviously), Christmas through to New Year and the school summer holiday period. The Japanese school system is influenced heavily by the American school system too, so things like the Spring Break (March time – ish!) will be busy as well.

Of course, you can never guarantee a quiet day in the Magic Kingdom, so expect it to be busy, and anything less than that can be taken as a welcome bonus!

Tokyo Disneyland Hours and Tickets

the castle lit up at night
Disneyland is even more magical at night

Tokyo Disneyland is normally open between 9 am and 9 pm daily, although may occasionally close earlier for special events and occasions. Your best bet is to double-check the park opening hours on the official Tokyo Disneyland website. 

Tokyo Disneyland tickets are available online via the official Tokyo Disneyland website and start at 8,400 Yen (about £45 GBP/$56 USD) and children’s day tickets come in at 5,600 Yen (about £30 GBP/$37 USD). 

Final Thoughts on Tokyo Disneyland

If you’re travelling with kids to Japan, you absolutely must take them along to Tokyo Disneyland. As they grow up, somewhere along the line, they stop becoming cute and small and the magic of childhood starts to wear off.

This is a worrying time for parents as we know the teenage years are fast approaching, followed by the crushing weight of adulthood. In an attempt to keep the magic alive for them, there’s nothing quite like a trip to Tokyo Disneyland to keep them smiling for just a little bit longer.

Sure, you might get unlucky with the crowds but as long as you have a decent hotel, download your app in good time and make full use of the Fast Pass, you’ll have a magical time, which is even more enjoyable than being a middle-aged man staring out of the window at his slowly dying lawn.  

A Family Trip to Tokyo Disneyland - A Magical Adventure Pinterest pin

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