Tokyo Disney Resort Trip Planning Guide

by on July 29, 2015 14 Comments

Filed under: Toyko Disney Resort, Trip Planning

18741086704_6694d4a43f_zYou want to go on another Disney vacation, but where do you go? You’ve been to Walt Disney World more times than you can count and you can recall every small detail of Disneyland because you’ve covered every square inch so many times that it makes your head spin. Next you think “Maybe a Disney Cruise?” Not happening, your brother-in-law wants you to wait until little Sally (your niece’s second cousin, twice removed) graduates from sixth grade so you can all go as a family. Disneyland Paris? No way, they’re in the middle of more refurbishments than there are blades of grass on Earth. Then it comes to you, Tokyo Disneyland. You remember your curiosity being piqued from seeing pictures of DisneySea online. “Doesn’t that place have a volcano?” Hell yes it has a volcano, and I’m here to tell you that it’s awesome. You’ve found your next Disney destination, and hopefully with this Tokyo Disney Resort trip planning guide I will help you plan it.

Step 1: When to visit Tokyo Disney Resort

Tokyo Disney Resort, or TDR, is always going to have huge crowds and high wait times, especially on the weekends. I’ve spent thousands of hours in the American Disney parks but have never seen anything like the crowds during a weekend in Tokyo Disneyland. With that being said there are a few times out of the year where crowds are smaller than they usually are, but this luxury may come at the cost of poor weather or multiple attraction closures due to refurbishments.

Our friends over at TDR Explorer, which is an English Tokyo Disney Resort fansite, recommend the end of May, which has pleasant weather and mid-level crowds. My most recent trip was in mid-June. The crowds were great during the weekdays but there was also constant rain and humidity. Another good time of year to visit Tokyo Disney Resort to experience low crowds is January, but then you’ll have to deal with very cold winter temperatures. The thing to remember is to adjust your expectations for wait times no matter when you visit TDR. Even if the crowds are “low” you’re still going to be waiting over a half hour for marquee attractions like Pooh’s Hunny Hunt. But that’s a lot better than waiting 140 minutes on a busy day. 19175781778_f6f614887c_z

The days you should absolutely avoid Tokyo Disney Resort is during public holidays in Japan. (Wikipedia has a helpful list.) Besides holidays I recommend avoiding the parks during weekends altogether. Use that time to see the rest of Tokyo (or other parts of Japan), there’s a lot worth seeing and it’s a fun city to explore even if you don’t have any set plans.

There will be a seasonal celebration going on at Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea no matter when you decide to visit. These seasonal promotions are known for their large, multi-month celebrations with elaborate shows, and parades. I’ve visited during the Halloween and Easter seasons and was surprised by the scope of it all. Tokyo Disney celebrates the main holidays like Christmas, as well as distinctly Japanese celebrations like “Tanabata Days” or “Disney Natsu Matsuri” during the summer.

You’re probably wondering how many days do you need to visit Tokyo Disney Resort to see everything. The answer I would give to any other Disney freak like myself is that any amount of days is not enough. But a more realistic answer would be three days. That way you have enough time to see as much as possible for each park on the first and second day, and then on the third day you can revisit some of your favorite rides, or see some shows and parades you may have missed the first time around.

Step 2: Buying airfare

Airfare will probably be the most expensive hurdle you have to overcome to get to Tokyo. Luckily there are several tools you can use to save as much money as possible. I recommend using AirareWatchdog.com’s fare alert feature. To set up an alert, visit AirfareWatchdog.com and click on “My Alerts” at the top of the screen. Enter your email address and then select “City-to-City Fare Alerts” from the list. You will then be prompted to type in the departure city you want to travel to Tokyo from. After this you are asked how often you want to receive alerts. If you’re really hardcore you can be sent travel alerts 7 days a week. Before my most recent trip I opted for the “2-3 time a week” alert option and was sent deals for as low as $600. Keep in mind that you’ll receive deals with a wide range of travel dates. Some could require booking and travel within the next month or two, while other deals are for over six months down the line. Last year I booked using an Airfare Watchdog alert about 7 months in advance.

A typical AirfareWatchdog deal email.

A typical AirfareWatchdog deal alert email.

Another tool to use is Kayak.com’s fare forecast. To use this go to Kayak.com and click on flights. Enter the dates you are thinking about traveling and then search for fares. In the top left corner you will see a green line showing how the ticket price has fluctuated. There will also be a text line underneath that says “Advice” and “Confidence.” To test this out I’ll type in a random date right now.

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As you can see the price for the dates I entered have fluctuated a bit recently. Kayak is advising me to buy the tickets now because they are 70% confident that the price will go up in the next 7 days. Kayak bases their prediction on analysis of historical price changes, and they have a good reputation.

As far as airports, you’ll either fly in to Haneda (HND) or Narita (NRT). Narita is the more common of the two for flights coming in from the U.S. If you have the choice, I’d pick flying in to Haneda because it’s both closer to Tokyo, and closer to Tokyo Disney Resort. But if there is a large different in cost, go with whichever is cheaper.

Step 3: Selecting a hotel

The first thing you must decide when selecting a hotel is if you want to stay on-site or off-site. A huge benefit of staying on-site is that all hotels in Tokyo Disney Resort (both the three Disney-branded hotels, and the six non-Disney hotels) have easy access to the Tokyo Disney Resort Line, aka the monorail. This is great because it means you don’t have to take a train in from the city every morning and then transfer to the monorail before entering the park. You can simply make the 5-10 minute walk (or take the complimentary shuttle) from your hotel to Tokyo Disney Resort Line’s Bayside station, and the ride the monorail to the front entrance of Tokyo Disneyland or Tokyo DisneySea. It’s incredibly easy and fast, and getting in line to enter the parks as early as possible is crucial if you want to beat the crowds.

The two non-Disney on-site hotels that are most convenient for foreign travelers are Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay and Hilton Tokyo Bay. Both offer large rooms, staff that is fluent in English, good amenities, and are the two hotels closest to Tokyo Disney Resort Line Bayside station. If the prices between the two were the same I’d go with Hilton Tokyo Bay due to its large, and more modern looking rooms. But you can’t go wrong either way. You’ll be paying a slight premium to stay at these two hotels. Prices on the Hilton and Sheraton can range anywhere from $150 during some parts of the year up to $500 during the busy times of year. We have video room tours of the Hilton Tokyo Bay and Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay on our YouTube channel.

The benefit of staying offsite is, of course, the lower price per a night. But then you’ll have to rely on public transportation to get in and out of the resort. There are plenty of good, affordable hotels with a short train ride to TDR. If you want to save as much money as possible, and the thought of riding in and out of the resort on busy trains or buses does not bother you then you should go with the off-site option. Overall, it’s cost versus convenience.

The view from Theme Park View rooms at Tokyo Disneyland Hotel (left) and Hotel MiraCosta (right)

The view from Theme Park View rooms at Tokyo Disneyland Hotel (left) and Hotel MiraCosta (right)

The third and most lavish option is staying on-site in one of the three Disney hotels, Tokyo Disneyland Hotel, Tokyo DisneySea Hotel MiraCosta, or the slightly cheaper option, Disney’s Ambassador Hotel. The benefits of these include incredible views of the parks, the closest possible distance to the parks, free Tokyo Disney Resort Line tickets (yes, the monorails cost a couple of dollars to ride), and 15 minutes early access to the parks (called “Happy 15”). 15 minutes may not seem like a lot but it’ll give you just enough time to beat the huge crowd of thousands of people running towards rides like Monsters Inc. Ride & Go Seek. The official Disney hotels also have the nicest theming by far, including special rooms decorated after Alice in Wonderland, Beauty and the Beast, and other Disney classics. You’ll pay a large price to stay at these hotels, usually in the $500 per a night range. Last year during my first trip to TDR my group of 4 decided to splurge and stay 3 nights in the official Tokyo Disney hotels (after staying at Hilton Tokyo Bay for the first 4 days of the trip), which ended up costing around $650 a night for theme park view rooms. As you can see from the pictures the view was incredible, especially at Hotel MiraCosta which is actually inside DisneySea. We have video room tours of Tokyo Disneyland Hotel and Hotel MiraCosta on our YouTube channel.

The non-Disney on-site hotels (Hilton, Sheraton, etc) can all be booked via each hotel’s website, or any third party sites like Expedia or Priceline. The official Tokyo Disney Resort hotels need to be booked on the Tokyo Disney Resort Online Reservation & Tickets website, which is in full English. Please note that the official TDR hotels sell out extremely fast, sometimes as soon as the reservation window opens, which is 9 AM (JST), six months before your arrival date. When your reservation window opens, be ready and waiting at your computer.

Step 4: Buy your tickets

Tickets can be purchased at any of Tokyo Disney Resort ticket booths in front of Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea, but you can also purchase them online via the Tokyo Disney Resort Online Reservation & Tickets website. If you live outside of Japan, and purchase your tickets from home, your only option will be to print out the tickets, so be sure you have a printer with plenty of ink available. TDR recommends printing tickets on non-standard A4 size paper, but I’ve printed tickets using regular sized paper with no problem (your mileage may vary). Like I said before, you can also buy the tickets at the park but remember that some busy days may sell out and no more tickets will be sold. Some people may think this is worth the risk so they can have an actual ticket to keep as a souvenir. When you purchase TDR tickets you will be required to enter the dates in which you will be using the tickets. These dates cannot be changed, so if you’re going April 15 to 17 your tickets will only be valid April 15 to 17.

Current Tokyo Disney Resort Ticket Prices:

Adult
Ages 18 and over
Junior
Ages 12 – 17
Child
Ages 4 – 11
1-Day Passport 6,900 yen 6,000 yen 4,500 yen
2-Day Passport 12,400 yen 10,800 yen 8,000 yen
3-Day Magic Passport 16,600 yen 14,400 yen 10,700 yen
4-Day Magic Passport 20,800 yen 18,000 yen 13,400 yen
Starlight Passport 5,400 yen 4,700 yen 3,500 yen
After 6 Passport (same price for adults, juniors and children) 4,200 yen 4,200 yen 4,200 yen
Senior Passport (Age 60 and over) 6,200 yen

[Current conversion rate is 1,000 Yen = 8.08 USD]

Park hopping at Tokyo Disney Resort works a bit differently than it does in Disneyland and Walt Disney World. For starters, park hopping cannot be done with 1 and 2-day tickets. 3 and 4-day tickets can park hop, but only on the third and fourth day of the tickets. That means for the first two days of your 3 and 4-day tickets, or all 1 and 2-day tickets you will be locked in to a specific park. You will be asked which parks you would like to attend when you purchase tickets online or in person, so be sure to think about that ahead of time.

Step 5: Transportation

When you arrive at Narita or Haneda you’ll need to find a way to get to TDR — luckily you have a lot of options. My favorite option is Airport Limousine Bus, which you can find outside of the airport (follow the signs or ask the information desk if you need directions). Tickets are around $20 and can be purchased at the Limousine Bus desk, or at automated ticket machines near where the bus loads. The travel time from Narita to TDR is around 60 to 90 minutes, while the travel time from Haneda to TDR is 30 to 60 minutes. You can also take the Limousine Bus back to the airport from any of the Tokyo Disney Resort on-site hotels. Tickets can be purchased from the front desk. The major downside to Limousine Bus is that they stop running around 5 PM.

Tokyo Disney Resort's spacious, clean, and quick monorail.

Tokyo Disney Resort’s spacious, clean, and quick monorail.

Your other option to/from the airport is to use public transportation. This will be your cheapest option, but also the most intimidating to first time visitors. If you rent a mobile WiFi hotspot and pick it up from the airport (which you should absolutely, 100%, beyond a shadow of a doubt do) you can use the greatest invention of all time for travelers, Google Maps! Just type in Tokyo Disney Resort in to Google Maps and it will tell you the exact lines to take, how many stops between you and your destination, when to transfer, and the expected travel time. It works great and I wouldn’t be caught dead without it. If you’ve never been to Japan before and you’re considering using public transportation to get to your hotel from the airport, consider this: You’ve just been on a plane for over 10 hours, you spent at least 40 minutes going through customs, and maybe another 30 minutes picking up your bag, you’re exhausted and maybe not thinking clearly, and after all that you know have to use a complicated transportation system with multiple stops and transfers between you and your destination. This may not be a big deal to some people, but to others it will be.

Another option is to use a taxi, which is both the fastest and the most expensive. Make sure you’re sitting down for this one, the cost of a taxi from Narita airport to Tokyo Disney Resort can cost around $150 for a one way trip, or over $200 if you travel between 10 PM and 5 AM.

When you’re in Tokyo Disney Resort you can travel around via the Tokyo Disney Resort Line, aka the monorail. There are four stops, Resort Gateway Station (which is next to Maihama railway station), Tokyo Disneyland Station, Bayside Station (where all the non-Disney on-site hotels are located), and Tokyo DisneySea Station. Tickets cost a couple of dollars a day. The monorail runs daily 6 AM to 12 AM.

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Step 6: Rent some mobile WiFi hotspots or simcards

The frivolous reason you should get a mobile WiFi hotspot is to share your experience on social media. Show people how much fun you’re having exploring Mysterious Island in DisneySea, or maybe you’ll want to show off the weird food item you just ate (bean paste and chocolate ice cream on top of mango shaved ice? Ok!). Some people like to go on vacation and disconnect from the world, I am not one of those people. The serious reason why you need to be connected to the internet is that you’re in a foreign country, obviously. What if you get lost in the city and can’t find your way back to the hotel? What if you need to let your mom know that you arrived safely? It’s not too expensive and free public WiFi isn’t easily found outside of your hotel, so for all those reasons I think renting a WiFi device is a necessity. You won’t be able to make calls or send regular texts, but iMessage (on iPhone) works, as well as any other app that uses the internet. Using iMessage to communicate with the rest of my group played a crucial roll making sure none of us got lost during the times we got separated, plus having access to the internet killed time when we were in all those long attraction lines.

So far I have used Globaladvancedcomm.com during both my trips and have had zero problems. When you’re at home you can reserve a WiFi device, or simcard if you have the right kind of phone, and then pick up the package from the post office inside the airport after you arrive in Tokyo. At the end of your trip when you’re leaving Tokyo you can simply drop it off in any post box. They provide the packing material and the postage is already paid. It’s very easy. The price as off the time this post was published is about $75 a week. I recommend renting one WiFi device for each person in your party because there will be times when groups get separated.

There are other options to rent WiFi devices, such as B-Mobile, which a lot of people recommend. Several shops inside the Tokyo airports rent WiFi devices and simcards but I found these to be expensive and severely lacking in the amount of data you can use.

Step 7: Get some foreign currency (or inform you credit card company about your trip)

Check with your bank to see if they offer currency exchange. Some banks will have online order forms where you can exchange money directly from your bank account, and they will then send the money in the mail. From my experience, most banks do not have Japanese yen on hand to do the exchange in person, but maybe yours does. Keep in mind that most banks will charge a small transaction fee when you exchange currency. Your local airport may have a kiosk where you can exchange currency, but these are infamous for their high fees.

If you don’t want to carry around cash, all of the shops and restaurants in Tokyo Disney Resort take standard US credit cards. Some shops and restaurants outside of the resort require credit cards with the “Smart Chip” inside. You will not be able to purchase anything from these retailers if you do not have a credit card with a smart chip. No matter what kind of credit card you have, be sure to call your bank before you leave home and let them know you will be traveling. If not, your credit card will probably immediately be blocked for suspicious activity. Another thing you want to watch out for is your credit card’s foreign transaction fee.

If you run out of cash, there is an ATM in Ikspiari (which is basically Tokyo Disney Resort’s Downtown Disney), which accepts American debit cards. It is located on the first floor, near the Tokyo Disney Resort Ticketing Center and a shop called Nana’s.

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Step 8: Create your game plan for the parks

You’ve got your flights booked, hotel picked out, tickets purchased, internet on lock, and transportation is set. Now you need a game plan for the parks. Like we say for the American Disney parks, the morning hours are crucial for getting ahead of the crowds. Plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before park opening. Chances are that there will already be thousands of people in front of you, but don’t let that scare you off.  You’re going to want to run and get a Fastpass first thing, and then run to another marquee attraction and ride it. For Tokyo Disneyland I recommend getting a Monsters Inc. Ride & Go Seek Fastpass, and then running to Pooh’s Hunny Hunt. That way you’ll have two the parks marquee/exclusive attractions knocked out within the first couple of hours of the day. After this you’ll want to ride the other headliners as early as possible.

For Tokyo DisneySea, the vast majority of park guests will be running towards Toy Story Mania. The morning rush for that ride is insane. Unlike the other rides of the same name at TDR, Toy Story Mania is exactly the same as it is in the states. Also, I’m going to assume you’ve ridden that enough times in Disney California Adventure and Disney’s Hollywood Studios and advise you to skip it. Instead head to Journey to the Center of the Earth get a Fastpass, and then go and ride Tower of Terror. Alternatively you may want to get a Journey to the Center of the Earth Fastpass, and then immediately jump in the stand-by line. You’ll want to ride it multiple times anyway, and this is a good way to do so. Disney Tourist Blog has fantastic 1-day touring plans for Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea.15565887836_45a36e4740_z

Be sure to make use of single rider lines at both Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea. At Tokyo Disneyland, Splash Mountain offers a single rider line. This is a big help because it’s one of the most popular attractions in the park and not that many people use the single rider line so your wait will be very short. At DisneySea, Raging Spirits and Indiana Jones Adventure both offer single rider lines. There won’t be any signs for single rider lines. To enter them walk up to the start of Fastpass queue and tell the cast member that you are a single rider. It should go without saying but you and your party will be split up if you use the single rider line.

19337252776_cc169b62b4_zThe popular shows Once Upon a Time and One Man’s Dream II in Tokyo Disneyland, and Big Band Beat in DisneySea use a free ticket lottery system to guarantee entry. I recommend that you skip One Man’s Dream II but for sure see Once Upon a Time (a night time spectacular that features castle projections, music, and fireworks) and Big Band Beat (a stage show with live music, excellent performers and Mickey Mouse playing the drums and tap dancing). In Tokyo Disneyland the lottery location in a building to the left of Space Mountain in Tomorrowland. In DisneySea, it is located near Gondolier Snacks in Mediterranean Harbor. To enter you input your party size and then scan your ticket. Now here’s where the lottery portion of the deal comes in, the screen will then tell you if you’ve “won” or not. If you win a ticket will be printed out with your seat number and show time. If you don’t win you will not be able to enter the ticket lottery again for that day. For Big Band Beat there may be some stand-by seating available, so you should get in line at the Broadway Theater in American Waterfront about an hour before show time. If you don’t win the lottery for Once Upon a Time you can get a spot anywhere in Tokyo Disneyland’s central hub and have a pretty good spot to watch the show.

Food recommendations

Get ready to take a lot of pictures of your food.

Get ready to take a lot of pictures of your food.

I love food and especially Disney food, luckily Tokyo Disney Resort has tons of great options. Last year I ranked every single snack and meal I consumed during a 4 day trip, and the total number of items ended up being 25. Chances are that you aren’t as crazy as I am, and you probably won’t want to eat that much food, but your mouth and stomach won’t be disappointed if you do. Some must try restaurants include Hungry Bear Restaurant (great curry), Magellan’s (one of the best Disney restaurants on earth), Sherwood Garden Buffet (the best buffet on property), and Queen of Hearts Royal Banquet Hall (photogenic food items). There’s also dozens of small snacks you’ll want to try. When I’m in the parks I find myself examining the menu of every food cart and kiosk I pass in the hopes of finding some new delicious treat. Check out my previous blog post on Tokyo Disney Resort food for more recommendations.

Hopefully using these steps you’ll be able to plan the perfect Tokyo Disney Resort vacation. If you have been before I’d love to hear any tips or strategies you may have picked up while you were there. If you’ve never been, feel free to leave any questions or comments below.

Posted on July 29, 2015

14 Responses to “Tokyo Disney Resort Trip Planning Guide”

  • If you’re staying off site you will probably have a convenience store like 7-11 within a block it two of your hotel. You can buy your tickets there the day before you go. They are usually discounted a bit and will save you time at park entrance.

  • Went to Japan on business last year (didn’t make it to TDR, however), and you are right on about renting a mobile wifi hotspot. I used econnect Japan, and it was wonderful. You can connect up to 5 devices at a time, and it was wonderful to iMessage people and FaceTime with folks back home. It was also nice to be able to use translation apps to figure out menus and such (probably not as big a deal at TDR, but in some parts of Tokyo English is few and far between, though everyone was tremendously kind and patient). Probably also a less of a concern at TDR, but many, many places in Tokyo only take yen and not credit cards. I found the easiest place to get yen was at the ATM in Narita. It had unique translations, but you could figure it out.

    • by Guy Selga Jr. on July 29, 2015, at 3:56 pm EST

      Good point about the yen, Erin. A lot of small restaurants I ate at in the city only accepted yen and those were some of the best places I ate!

  • I was so excited to see this on the blog today! My husband and I are currently planning a trip to TDR for our 10th anniversary. I’ve been gathering information and it is a bit intimidating, but this article, as well as the links, are very helpful. Thanks!

  • For another option for a value accommodation, I’d highly recommend looking into AirBnB. We stayed in a spacious studio apartment that could have easily slept 4 (1 bed and a pull out couch) with a kitchen, washer, and full bathroom with all the toiletries we needed. Most Airbnb location we looked into included a WiFi unit, an our host even picked us up from the airport and offered to take us to the parks everyday. The apartment was in a quite neighborhood about 20 minutes away from TDR and very close to all sorts of public transport. I couldn’t have been happier with our experience.

    • by Guy Selga Jr. on August 3, 2015, at 12:19 pm EST

      Thanks for the tip. I’ve heard great things about AirBnB in Tokyo and it sounds like your experience was top notch.

  • We are a family of 5 with teens, planning a 3/16 TDR trip. Thank you for this article! I’ve been researching a lot already and still baffled by the hotel beds….it will list twin beds, trundles, etc. the beds look larger than a twin but smaller than a queen. They advertise family rooms but it looks like only 4 beds, does Tokyo have roll-aways or rooms too small.

  • Great info, thanks for posting it. DisneySea is my favorite park and I can’t wait to go back. Just a couple comments to add:

    * You can get park hopper tickets good for each day…if staying at a Disney hotel and buying park tickets there (it took us around 30 minutes to park hop).
    * If the thought of getting new credit cards doesn’t cause fear and loathing, you can use sign-up bonuses to reduce or eliminate big chunks of trip cost (flights; lodging). For the flights this is easier the fewer people traveling, and the more flexible your schedule is.