By Carissa Shale
Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea are special theme parks, being the first Disney parks built outside of the United States. As the third and fourth busiest theme parks in the world, with Tokyo Disneyland seeing 17.9 million visitors in 2018, it’s a good idea to do your research before you visit the happiest place on Earth — or, at least, the happiest place in Japan.
You really need a full day to explore each park, but if you are low on time and only have one day to spare, I recommend hoofing it to the key attractions so you don’t miss out on anything noteworthy.
Tokyo Disneyland is based on the original park in California, and lets visitors experience classic Disney attractions such as Pinocchio, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Jungle Cruise river boat ride. Tokyo Disneyland is a great option for families and children, as most rides are fun, not too wild and enjoyable for all ages. Tokyo Disneyland also has a bigger emphasis on legacy franchises such as the Disney princesses and Winnie the Pooh.
If you’re looking for a more unique and thrilling experience, Tokyo Disney Sea has many exclusive rides that theme-park junkies won’t find anywhere else in the world. Some attractions are geared toward more grown up visitors, such as the Tower of Terror and the roller coaster Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Disney Sea is also a great place to visit in summer, as there are lots of summer parades and water guns to keep people cool. You can also find beer at Disney Sea, a rarity among Walt Disney’s parks.
It's possible to buy tickets to the Disney parks online, however, it can be tricky as many credit or debit cards issued outside of Japan are not accepted.
If you struggle to buy tickets online, you can purchase tickets in person at select Disney stores, some major convenience stores, major travel agencies in Japan and at JR ticket windows. The easiest options are to buy your tickets when you pick up your JR Rail Pass at a JR Ticket Window (Midori-no-madoguchi), or search on the Disney website for Disney stores near you that sell park tickets. Whichever method you choose, make sure to get them before you get to the parks or else you will be waiting in a long line.
Types of tickets
While you can choose one-day or multi-day tickets for Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea, there are also some Japan-exclusive options to enter the park after dark for a discount. Starlight passports are available on weekends and holidays for entering from 3 p.m. onward, and Twilight passports let you enter the park after 6 p.m. on weekdays. These tickets let you experience the magic of Disney if you’re on a tight schedule or tight budget.
Public transport is the best and easiest option to get to the parks from the Tokyo area. The Keiyo or Musashino JR lines take you to Maihama Station, which is just outside the Disney parks complex. Hop on the Disney monorail, complete with Mickey Mouse-shaped handles, which travels around the resorts and parks to the entrance of Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea.
As one of the busiest parks in the world, it's easy to be stuck in line for well over an hour waiting for a single ride. The best way to avoid long queues is to use a Fastpass ticket, which is a timed ticket that gives you a specified one-hour window to cut the lines and get on the ride before anyone else. Fastpasses are free and cut down waiting times significantly, meaning you have more time to get on other popular rides.
To get a Fastpass for an attraction, go to the Fastpass distribution area opposite the entrance of the attraction and scan your park ticket on the Fastpass machine. You will receive a paper receipt with your specified return time. Just come to the attraction during the one-hour window indicated on the Fastpass and skip straight to the front of the line.
Only the most popular rides with the longest wait times have a Fastpass option. At Tokyo Disneyland, Monsters Inc. Ride & Go Seek, Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters, Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Haunted Mansion and Pooh’s Hunny Hut all have Fastpass options available.
At Tokyo Disney Sea, Toy Story Mania!, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull, Raging Spirits, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Tower of Terror, Soaring: Fantastic Flight, Mermaid Lagoon Theater, The Magic Lamp Theater and Nemo and Friends SeaRider have Fastpass options available.
You can only get one fastpass ticket every two hours, so make sure you get a Fastpass as soon as you enter the park and choose the attraction wisely. Fastpasses are limited to ensure waiting times are short, so when deciding which rides to fastpass, choose the rides which are releasing Fastpasses for the latest time in the evening, as these will likely sell out before you can get another pass. Pooh’s Hunny Hut, Big Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain usually sell out very fast at Disneyland, while Toy Story Mania!, Tower of Terror and Journey to the Center of the Earth run out very quickly at Disney Sea.
Tokyo Disney and Tokyo Disney Sea are known for their excellent parades and fireworks displays, so often people wait for hours to get a good viewing spot for performances. However, there are a number of reserved viewing areas sectioned off for performances that can only be won by a small number of people in a special lottery.
Anyone can enter the lottery by going to the Tomorrowland Hall in Tokyo Disneyland, or the Biglietteria in Tokyo Disney Sea to scan your park tickets. You can enter the ticket lottery as soon as the park opens until 45 minutes before each performance starts.
When to visit
Numerous events take place at the Disney parks all year round, featuring themed parades and food. Even some of the rides get a seasonal update. While they can change from year to year, popular holidays such as Easter, Halloween and Christmas are always celebrated. The parks also get in the holiday spirit for several traditional holidays exclusive to Japan.
During Easter, Tokyo Disney celebrates springtime with colorful Easter eggs and bright flowers decorating the park, while characters sport springtime floral costumes.
Also known as the Star Festival, Tanabata is a Japanese festival celebrating the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi, represented by the stars Vega and Altair. According to legend, the Milky Way separates these lovers who are only allowed to meet once a year. Tokyo Disney celebrates this festival by asking guests to write their wishes on special cards that are hung around the parks. Mickey and Minnie Mouse also dress in traditional clothing at greeting spots and during shows.
Tokyo Disney Sea celebrates summer with numerous water parades, during which characters spray crowds with water. Hopefully audiences don’t mind, but it does help everyone stay cool during Japan’s muggy summer months.
Disney Halloween provides visitors with a spooky atmosphere, featuring Halloween parades, fireworks shows and decorations. If you pay close attention to the Haunted House ride, you’ll also notice Jack Skellington makes a special appearance for the occasion. Interestingly, guests of all ages are encouraged to get into the spirit and dress up as Disney-themed characters during their visit. It’s usually forbidden for guests to dress up in costume, so as to not confuse other park-goers, but this small window allows people the opportunity to try out a little cosplay.
Disney goes all out at Christmas time to celebrate the happiest time of the year at the happiest place on Earth with a 15-meter-tall Christmas tree, themed parades and unique fireworks.
Bonus photo tip
If you’re looking for the best possible shot sporting your mouse ears in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, Tokyo Disneyland is one of the best parks in the world. With a large open area right under the spire, Tokyo’s Sleeping Beauty Castle has a balcony that is the perfect place for your princess shot — without other people in view to spoil your shot.