I always look forward to our family’s annual Disney pilgrimage, and I’m never disappointed. As someone who neither likes roller coasters or Mickey Mouse, let me explain the many ways that Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea appeal to me.
Disney parks are pop cultural museums. A 50-year-old artist friend once said her dream project would have been to design the set of The Tower of Terror where a millionaire art collector goes missing in his own turn of the century New York hotel. One bellboy’s costume costs over ¥100,000 and proves how Disney spares no expenses to recreate a fantasy world rich in detail. Indeed, more than the actual dips and turns of the roller coasters, my children are scared of the skulls scattered around the cavern of the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom ride. When engulfed in the pulsating red and orange lights of the Journey to the Center of the Earth, you can almost feel the heat from the magma, despite the area being well air-conditioned.
The Disney label does not automatically translate into success. Some Disney parks have suffered financial losses and criticisms from visitors. Disneyland Paris was $2 billion in debt as of 2007 and Disneyland Hong Kong suffers from paltry attendance. Both parks in Maihama are immensely successful because they are truly entertaining. The two amusement centers combined attracted 27.2 million visitors in 2008. What is more impressive is that more than 50% of visitors have visited 10 times or more.
For people unfamiliar with Disney parks, there is a very easy way to figure out what the best attractions are because they will have a Fast Pass system. To reduce waiting time, most Disney parks have two line-ups. The wait at the traditional Standby Lane can easily be over two hours. However, there is the option of the Fast Pass lane, where you have no waiting time. At the most popular attractions, visitors insert their park pass and receive a Fast Pass ticket that specifies a time slot later in the day where you can access the ride through the Fast Pass lane. Using the Fast Pass for rides with the longest lines while waiting in Standby for the less popular rides is the best way to enjoy the most attractions in one day.
One full day at the park will usually garner you four Fast Passes because people must wait 45 minutes after the first pass before they can reserve a second one. (WARNING: On the weekends and during holidays, stand-by lines are almost unbearable. Long lines are everywhere from bathrooms to restaurants. Reserving a Fast Pass at noon will render you a 6 pm time slot. If at all possible, go on a weekday.)
At Disneyland, two passes should be used on the two newer roller coasters – Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain. The two Pixar-based interactive rides, Astro Blasters and Monsters Inc., are worthy of the others.
If you are with younger children or are not a roller coaster fan, then the whimsical Pooh’s Hunny Hunt (arguably the most popular ride in the park because of its appeal to both families and couples) can be substituted for Big Thunder Mountain.
Traditional favorites like Space Mountain and the Haunted Mansion usually have a shorter wait than these newer attractions. If the line-ups look tolerable, they are worth standing in line for. Otherwise, go for attractions that do not have such a long wait. The Pirates of the Caribbean is a fun ride. The whimsical Toon Town area is fun just to stroll around in. MicroAdventure!, the 3-D movie starring the professor from Honey I Shrunk the Kids, is enjoyable. The tropical theme Lilo and Stitch show in the Enchanted Tiki Room is another show that provides a sit-down respite.
Tokyo DisneySea has 27 attractions compared with the 40 at Disneyland, but as a bona fide grown-up, I prefer the nautical theme park. The truth is some rides at Disneyland have been around for longer than I have. DisneySea has bragging rights as the most expensive amusement park ever built in the world, and was consciously created to appeal to a more mature audience.
The three Fast Passes I always reserve here are for: Tower of Terror, the Indiana Jones Adventure, and Journey to the Center of the Earth. For the final Fast Pass, Storm Rider is a popular virtual reality ride, but it leaves me fairly nauseous and my children prefer Raging Spirits, a rather standard roller coaster.
Both the Mermaid Lagoon Theater and the Magic Lamp Theater are excellent entertainment, but I wouldn’t waste a Fast Pass on them. With a capacity of 720, the wait at the Mermaid Theater is usually not bad (on weekdays). The Magic Lamp show has a smaller capacity, but we have always managed to get in with less than a 15-minute wait. (Both theaters offer foreign language translation devices.) My favorite show, though, is Mystic Rhythms; a jungle-theme dance and action show featuring fire and water acts. There is no Fast Pass and the wait is usually about half an hour. Go there early though, because the last show is usually around 5 pm.
The best time to head over to the Mermaid Lagoon is after sunset. Technically, it is the kiddie section, so most young families have left the park by 6pm. This zone is testimony to how the Disney parks are about more than just rides. They have recreated a spectacular underwater wonderland. We usually line up for one ride, the Jumpin’ Jellyfish or the Blowfish Balloon Race, just because we like visiting King Triton’s palace so much.
BraviSeamo! is the big evening water and light show which is ending this November, presumably being replaced by a new show. Beginning around 7pm (8pm on weekends), the 15-minute outdoor extravaganza is nice way to wind down the day. Grab some popcorn and get a good spot early. A pasta and pizza dinner at the Mediterranean Harbor is a no-brainer after the show, and if you hurry the line-ups aren’t too bad.
There are opportunities to line up for at least 45 minutes to get photos taken with Mickey Mouse at both parks, but remember: I am not a big Disney character fan. I also tend to avoid the Disney character shows, but The Legend of Mythica starring Mickey and friends is one show I would like to see. Unfortunately, I’ve never been lucky enough because the show is put on only once a day and tickets are allocated by a lottery system.
Until June 30, there is a Spring Carnival with Tinker Bell and friends at DisneySea and “Disney’s Easter Wonderland” will take place at Disneyland until June 30.
Both parks offer two types of discount pass. The Starlight passport is available most weekends to enter the park after 3pm. I don’t recommend this pass, because for just ¥1,100 yen off you’ve missed half the day, and reservations for Fast Pass tickets usually end around 4pm, so you’re stuck standing in long lines. The weekday “After 6 Passport” for ¥3,100 is not bad for couples on a Friday night, providing you can both actually get to the park by 6pm. Attractions are again “Standby only” which means at least a one-hour wait for the popular rides. In four hours, you may see one show, go on two rides and have a quick meal. But as the weather warms up, it is a pleasant way of spending an evening out. DisneySea is especially romantic.
Right next to the two Disney theme parks, there is “Zed,” a permanent Cirque du Soleil venue and Ikspiari, a large shopping mall. In nearby Urayasu, there is Ooedo Monogatari, a hot spring theme park. Larger than the original one at Odaiba, this one has a nice outdoor bathing suit zone for families and couples.
Tokyoites are known to spend overnight in Maihama to enjoy the myriad entertainment options. The two most expensive hotels here are the Disney Hotel – which has direct access to Disneyland – and the Mira Costa Hotel inside Disney Sea. The second tier of hotels are the Disney Official hotels such as the Sheraton and the Sun Route, which border the parks and are accessible by the Resort Liner (a monorail with Mickey Mouse-shaped windows). The most economical accommodations are the five Disney Partner Hotels in Urayasu, accessible to the Disney resorts by a free shuttle bus. Maihama is not quite Orlando, but it is arguably the best theme park and entertainment destination in all of Asia.
Story by Carol Hui
From J SELECT Magazine, May 2010