Urayasu, Chiba, Japan
“Not exactly the most beautiful Disney park, but the attractions are impressive”
Japan is a one-of-a-kind destination with stunning landscapes, beautiful shrines, bustling cities and extremely friendly locals. But if I’m being brutally honest, these aren’t my main reasons to hop on a Tokyo-bound flight. If I’m thinking of Japan, there’s a fair chance that I’m daydreaming about Tokyo Disney Resort. Located just a few mile east of Downtown Tokyo, the resort attracts approximately 30 million guests each year. This incredible number of visitors is neatly distributed between two parks: Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. The latter is often considered as the world’s most beautiful theme park, but this doesn’t mean that Tokyo Disneyland isn’t worth a visit. In fact, both parks deliver world-class thrills and entertainment. Let’s have a look inside Tokyo Disneyland.
Tokyo Disney Resort is amazing, but it’s definitely not a coaster destination. DisneySea offers two very mediocre roller coasters and Disneyland is home to three family-oriented coasters. Gadget’s Go Coaster is the least interesting one; this standard Vekoma Junior Coaster has limited theming and it feels way too simple to be in a Disney theme park. Disneyland’s other coasters are true classics. On the one hand, there’s Space Mountain. This indoor coaster looks and feels like the versions in Anaheim and Hong Kong, but the onboard audio is missing and that’s a shame.
On the other hand, there’s Big Thunder Mountain. Even in Japan it’s called ‘the wildest ride in the wilderness’, but I noticed that this version is actually not that ‘wild’. This mine train roller coaster turns out to be tame and it lacks the grand finale of its European counterpart. Don’t get me wrong… Big Thunder Mountain is a fine family coaster and the theming is absolutely superb. Just keep in mind that it’s considerably less intense than its siblings in Europe and the United States.
Coaster-wise, Tokyo Disneyland fails to impress. But if we take a closer look at the park’s other attractions, you’ll quickly notice that Disneyland has a different strength: dark rides. The assortment includes Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters, the hysterically funny Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin and classic Fantasyland dark rides like It’s a Small World and Peter Pan’s Flight. May I also give a shout out to Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion? These rides were both opened in 1983, so they’re older than almost every European dark ride. They’re still providing top-notch experiences, nevertheless.
Tokyo Disneyland also features two dark rides that can’t be found at any other Disney resort. The first one is Monsters Inc Ride & Go Seek. This is the most wanted ride in Tomorrowland and it may even be the most popular one at Tokyo Disneyland. That’s mostly due to its interactive aspect. Every rider gets a flashlight which should be pointed at hidden monsters. That’s fun and the scenes are elaborately themed, but believe me: decorations aren’t that exceptional. So please promise me that you’ll never enter a 3-hour long queue for Monsters Inc.
Although I don’t like the visual appearance of Tokyo’s Fantasyland (it looks extremely dated), there are two good reasons to spend some time here. The first reason is Haunted Mansion, the second one is called Pooh’s Hunny Hunt. There are Winnie The Pooh rides at almost every Disney resort on Earth, but the Japanese version goes a lot further. The most amazing element is its trackless ride system, which enables vehicles to pass each other and to move in literally any direction. This effect is especially fun in the final scene, in which nine vehicles seem to be moving randomly in a big room full of special effects. Pooh’s Hunny Hunt has only one major problem: everybody seems to adore the ride and therefore, queues are often excessively long. Try to obtain a FastPass or ride Hunny Hunt as early/late as possible.
Is Splash Mountain a water attraction or a dark ride? Well… it’s a world-class water ride and a very good dark ride in one. This log flume lasts for 10 minutes, it features four drops and we meet lots of cute audio-animatronics during our boat trip. Even if you’ve already ridden the versions in Anaheim or Orlando, Tokyo’s Splash Mountain should be considered as a must do. The dark ride scenes are somewhat different and the queue is designed brilliantly. Splash Mountain always puts a smile on my face, no matter how horrible the weather may be.
Unlike most Magic Kingdom parks, Tokyo Disneyland doesn’t offer a version of Disneyland Railroad. The alternative is Western River Railroad, a train ride which travels through Adventureland, Westernland and Critter Country. It may sound boring, but this is actually a great attraction for a moment of relaxation. Another fan favourite is Jungle Cruise. As you may know, this attraction highly relies on your Skipper’s puns and jokes. So why the hell would you ride it in Japan, where you don’t understand the narration? Well… the grand finale of the ride was recently upgraded with video mapping and it’s definitely worth a look. Besides, it’s kind of hilarious to see 30 Japanese being scared of plastic piranhas.
Some people expect that staff at Tokyo Disney Resort speak fluent English, just because it’s Disney. Others might think that it’s virtually impossible to navigate the parks if you don’t speak Japanese. Neither of these options is true. Of course, many Cast Members have a sufficient knowledge of English to help foreign visitors and all safety signs are bilingual. However, Tokyo Disney Resort caters to a crowd that consists of 95% domestic tourists. Therefore, it’s logical that Japanese is the dominant language at Tokyo Disney Resort. This didn’t affect my visit in a negative way, though. Quite the contrary: the Japanese language adds some exotic touches to the parks. Be sure to visit the Enchanted Tiki Room, Mickey’s PhilharMagic and Star Tours and enjoy these Japanese versions of well-known Disney classics.
Cinderella Castle is the centrepiece of Tokyo Disneyland and this is where the park’s nighttime spectacular takes place. Once Upon a Time uses video mapping, fireworks and two huge flame throwers. Just consider it as the Japanese version of Happily Ever After, but it’s a lot less impressive in my opinion.
Although Once Upon A Time isn’t that exceptional, Tokyo Disneyland still deserves an A+ for its entertainment. That’s mainly due to the parades, as they are always a feast for the eyes/ears in Japan. The floats seem bigger, the dancers seem happier and the parades seem longer than they are at other Disney resorts. This is true for the daytime parade, but the biggest star is Tokyo Disneyland Electrical Parade Dreamlights. This modernised version of the classic Main Street Electrical Parade offers a few magnificent floats. Especially Genie’s float will simply blow your mind. I know that attraction waits are considerably shorter during parade times, but I just wouldn’t want to miss Dreamlights because it’s so incredibly good.
BEAT THE CROWDS
Crowds may have a negative impact your experience. This is obviously true for every theme park visit, but Tokyo Disney Resort is especially notorious for its sky-high attendance. Luckily, picking the right dates can solve 90% of that problem. Of course, weekends and holidays are the least favourable times for being here. We never encountered unbearable crowds during our mid-week visits in April (avoid Japan’s Golden Week, though), but the early November trip was very busy. There are multiple crowd calendars on the internet and even though they aren’t free of errors, they can give an idea of what to expect.
Be sure to enter the park as soon as it opens. Long lines form in front of the turnstiles well before opening time and it pays off being in that line, even if this means waking up at 6 AM. And whether it’s a busy day or not… FastPass is your friend. Immediately obtain a FastPass for Pooh’s Hunny Hunt or Monsters Inc and then get in line for another popular attraction as soon as possible. Note: the Beauty and the Beast section was still under construction during my last visit to Tokyo Disneyland. From the moment it opens, the area’s signature dark ride will obviously become the new priority when it comes to FastPass selections.
WORTH A VISIT?
Absolutely no doubt about it: this is a great theme park. It’s certainly not the most beautiful Magic Kingdom and roller coasters are less spectacular than at other resorts, but Tokyo Disneyland makes up for that with extremely polite Cast Members, world-class entertainment and a few awesome dark rides. This park is definitely worth the trip and it offers value for money. And you know what? There’s an even better theme park, right next door.
Photo Gallery 2013, 2015 & 2016
TOKYO DISNEY RESORT
Do you think that Tokyo Disneyland deserves a new roller coaster? Would you prefer a ride on Monsters Inc or Pooh’s Hunny Hunt? And may this be the most complete Magic Kingdom-style theme park on Earth? Share your opinion in the comments section at the bottom of this page.