The seemingly simple act of checking into a hotel can be a recipe for disaster with tired young children: cue tackling mundane paperwork while trying to preempt high-volume meltdowns or contain hyperactive runarounds.
So recently, it was something of a surprise to arrive at a hotel where my children, aged 3 and 5, actively welcomed the check-in process with squeals of delight.
This was perhaps because firstly, staff ceremoniously handed each of them a note, handwritten in color pens, signed off from a witch called Tiara, who explained — to their excitement — that the room they were sleeping in that night was “magic.”
Next, while I dealt with the boring form-filling bit, instead of having to tell my children to behave, they were encouraged to kick off their shoes and run around the play space just opposite the check-in desk, with “Frozen” playing on a large screen.
Welcome to the Hilton Tokyo Bay — perhaps one of the most child-friendly hotels in the capital. There is normally one key reason to visit this hotel, a sprawling concrete building dating back to the 1980s around 30 minutes by train from central Tokyo: Disneyland.
The hotel, which overlooks a surprisingly picturesque panorama of Tokyo Bay on one side and theme parks on the other, is one of six official Disney partner hotels for nearby Disneyland and DisneySea.
But our curiosity was piqued first and foremost by the family-friendly stay that the hotel promises. The fun (for the children, at least) began before we even arrived at the hotel: The final leg of our journey was on board a train decorated with “Finding Nemo” scenes, while a chirpy rendition of “Zippity Doo Daa” played on a loop.
Upon arrival in the spacious lobby, it is immediately clear that the hotel likes doing things on a big scale, with its shopping mall-esque atmosphere (it even has its own 24-hour convenience store) filled with crowds of children clutching Disney toys.
After checking in — with surprising smoothness — we venture upstairs to explore perhaps the biggest highlight of a stay at the hotel: its family-friendly guestrooms (out of 838 rooms, more than 260 are devoted to a special Happy Magic theme).
As the elevator doors open on the third floor, an unexpected scene reveals itself — a forest, complete with swirling carpets strewn with stars, large trees with viewing holes for children to see magical creatures inside, and unicorns painted across the ceiling.
The girls follow the fantasy forest theme as it stretches along the corridor and continues inside our spacious Happy Magic Room, which comes with its own green-leaf tree murals covering the walls and blue skies painted on the ceiling.
Here, Tiara pops up again — the rooms are themed around the tale of the young trainee witch, complete with a Tiara children’s book (currently only in Japanese), plus Tiara-shaped sponges in the bathroom and children’s nightshirts with colorful buttons. Center stage, however, are the room’s interactive features. My children, oblivious to the expansive window views across Tokyo Bay, clamber across beds to explore three “magic tricks.”
There is the large key on one wall, which when inserted into an adjacent keyhole and turned, releases a satisfying magical tinkling sound. There is also a “magic” bookcase, with a series of magnetic bookends that can be removed from a wall painting. But their favorite trick? A mirror by one of the beds with a button, which when pressed results in Tiara’s smiling face appearing in the glass.
Unusually for a hotel visit, the girls didn’t beg to watch cartoons on the large television and instead happily lose track of time playing with the interactive devices and reading the Tiara children’s book.
But the fun isn’t confined to the guestroom. Venturing back downstairs, we find an indoor swimming pool, plus an outdoor pool surrounded by gardens (open only in summer months). There is also a large train set in the lobby during our visit and a small photo-shoot kiosk, where children can dress up in uniforms as chefs or check-in staff, against a backdrop of hotel scenes.
The four restaurants — another potential minefield when traveling with kids — are also meticulously geared to children. Our dinner unfolds at Accendo, a Mediterranean-style eatery serving good value children’s dinners packed with spaghetti, burgers, rice, chips, a slice of orange and, to the fascination of the girls, green jelly.
Breakfast the following morning is also transformed into another fun treat, thanks to the presence of a mini-sized low-height children’s buffet, with food ranging from hand-rolled onigiri rice balls to tubs of jelly sweets.
The antithesis of low-key, it’s perhaps not a place for the faint-hearted or those wary of all things Disney, and I’m talking about the parents here, myself included. But for the children? Hilton Tokyo Bay is possibly their new favorite place. Not only because they serve sweets for breakfast, but also because it’s the perfect warm up to a day spent at one of the nearby Disney resorts.
Happy Magic Rooms (low season rates) cost from ¥23,798 per night; Family Happy Magic Rooms (with bunk beds for kids) are from ¥32,341. For more information, visit bit.ly/hiltonmagicrm.