Fundamentally, planning a trip to Tokyo's no different than planning a trip to Orlando - you book a plane flight, reserve a hotel room and buy some theme park tickets. That's pretty much it. The only substantial logistical difference for U.S. citizens is that you'll need to have a valid passport to travel to Japan.
The big obstacle for many U.S. visitors, though, will be the cost. But that's where smart planning can make a difference. If you really want to see Disney's two best theme parks, a willingness to keep checking Orbitz.com or other airfare-tracking websites can help you find a flight at the lowest possible fare. From there, it's up to you to adjust your family budget to see if you can set aside enough money for the trip.
Airfare to Tokyo
Unless you're traveling alone, it's likely that airfare will be the biggest expense on your trip. Flying from Los Angeles to Tokyo' Narita Airport (airport code NRT, for quicker searching), I'm seeing roundtrip airfares starting at $820 (on Korean Airlines). Compare that will the $340 lowest round-trip price I'm finding for flights between LAX and Orlando.
You can try to stretch your airfare dollars by including Tokyo as part of a multi-city itinerary that allows you to visit several dream destinations on the same trip. I ended up saving a couple hundred dollars on my airfare to Singapore, for example, by flying a red eye from Singapore to Tokyo and staying over in Japan for two extra days on way back to LA, which I turned into my Tokyo Disney trip. Just look for the "Multi-City" checkbox on the search form when researching flights, and see what you find. I've found the lowest prices by traveling mid-week, too.
Where to stay?
The easiest way to visit the Tokyo Disney Resort is to stay on property. Tokyo Disney offers three Disney-run hotels on site. (Okay, technically, they are Oriental Land Company-run hotels carrying the Disney brand.) Six other "Tokyo Disney Resort Official Hotels" also are available - including one from Hilton and one from Sheraton.
For an American visitor who doesn't speak Japanese, I would recommend selecting the Hilton, the Sheraton or one of the three Disney hotels - since they offer the most support for English-speaking guests. But expanding your search to include the other four hotels might yield a better rate, and a chance to practice either your Japanese or your "I'm a foreign tourist" pantomime.
Do note that wireless Internet is not always available in the Tokyo Disney hotels. The Hilton had it, but only in its most expensive class of rooms. If that's important to you, check the fine print in the room details before making a reservation.
Getting from the airport to Tokyo Disney
Once you're arrived in Tokyo, you'll need a way to get from the airport to the Tokyo Disney Resort. Don't even think about renting a car - plan to take either the train or a bus, instead. I chose the shuttle bus, which cost 2,400 yen (US$31) and had me at the resort in less than an hour on a Sunday morning. If you're planning a stop in Tokyo first, or really just want to take the wonderful Japan Railway (JR), you can take the JR Narita Express to Tokyo Station, then transfer to either the JR Keiyo Line or JR Musashino Line to Maihama station, which is the station for the Tokyo Disney Resort. It's cheaper, but will take more time than the bus and requires being comfortable making a transfer in the busy Tokyo rail station.
Remember that English is the international language of aviation - all signs in the Narita airport were in English, as well as Japanese. When I finished in customs at the airport, I just followed the signs for bus transportation, and quickly found the shuttle bus counter. (The bus company goes to many other destinations around the Tokyo area, in addition to Disney.) When I got to the counter, I just said "Disney?" and the hosts there knew exactly want I wanted. I paid my fare, got my ticket and an English-speaking "greeter" walked me to the bus stop. Very efficient.
Getting around Tokyo Disney Resort
Once you arrive at the Maihama train station (or the Tokyo Disneyland bus stop directly below it), there's no need to go next to your hotel if you are staying on-site. Just walk to the Tokyo Disney Resort Welcome Center, where you can check into any of the nine on-site hotels, and drop your bags for delivery straight into your room. (Another bonus of staying at the Hilton or Sheraton? The check-in lines for those hotels were empty when I arrived on a busy Sunday morning - the other hotels' lines were packed.)
Tokyo Disney has a monorail system that makes four stops - one for each of the parks, one for the Japan Rail station in between them, and one station for the cluster of six non-Disney hotels.
Unlike Walt Disney World's monorail, Tokyo's is not a free service - a one-way ride costs 250 yen (about $3.20), while a daily pass costs 650 yen ($8.34) and a two-day pass is 800 yen ($10.25). Buy your tickets at the automated machines at each station, just like on most U.S. subway systems. They're signed in both English and Japanese.
If you're willing to walk a bit, you really only need the monorail for getting to the Bayside Station stop, which serves the non-Disney hotels. The Ikspiari shopping area (think, a glammed-up Downtown Disney) extends from Tokyo DisneySea to Tokyo Disneyland, spanning the two park and JR station monorail stops.
Buying your Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea tickets
Tokyo Disney offers online print-at-home tickets, but only for visitors from Japan. If you live outside the country, you can reserve tickets online, but you'll need to pick them up and pay for them at the Tokyo Disney Resort Ticket Center, which is located on the lower level of the Ikspiari complex, just steps from the Tokyo Disney Resort Welcome Center.
You can buy a one-day, one-park ticket, or a two-day passport that allows entry to one park per day. (If you buy a multi-day passport, you'll be asked to say which park you will visit on each day.) If you want to park-hop on the same day, you'll have to buy either a three- or four-day "Magic" passport, which are the only ones that include park-hopping - and then only on the third and fourth days of your visit. "After 6pm" passports also are available, if you arrive in the afternoon, and don't want to spend full price for a partial day.
I'd reserve online and use the Ticket Center - lines are much shorter there than at the general ticket booths, and you'll find English-speaking hosts or hostesses there. Use this opportunity to get an English map to the parks (they'll probably just give you one anyway), to ask any questions you might have about the resort, and - most importantly - to ask for help in making Priority Seating reservations for any table-service restaurants you want to eat at during your stay. Advance priority seating ressies are available online only through Tokyo Disney's Japanese-language website, but cast members at the Ticket Center or the parks' guest relations offices can make them for you, too.
Arrive early to beat the crowds
Try to get your tickets in hand early. Tokyo Disney visitors don't waste time - they get to the parks early, and you should, too, if you don't want to be stuck in long stand-by lines all day. Plan to arrive at the park gates at least half an hour before the park opens each day. And if you can avoid visiting on a Sunday, do. As with American theme parks, visiting on a weekday during the school year is always best for minimal crowds.
Once you're inside, enjoy. Take lots of pictures (everyone else will be), and don't worry about cultural barriers. If you don't bring them with you, you'll find none there. Just remember than you don't need to leave tips, that you should sit down if you waiting for or watching a parade, and that you should arrive early for mealtimes if you don't have a priority seating reservation. (The last two apply in America, too.)
Ask for "English?" at each attraction entrance, to see if they have a translation wand, if you really want one. But I found that I enjoyed the resort perfectly well without them. You can get nifty English-language story papers for major attractions at guest relations, too.
Don't worry about ordering food, either. If you must, stick to the buffeterias or table-service restaurants, where you can just point. But at most counter-service locations, a greeter will present you with an ordering slip, upon which the selections will be listed in English and Japanese. Just point at that when ordering, and you'll be fine. Taxes always are included in listed prices.
Finally, don't forget to come back to Theme Park Insider after your trip and submit your ratings and reviews for everything you experienced at Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. And share a trip report on the Discussion Board, too. We'd all love to hear how what you thought of your trip to the Tokyo Disney Resort.Tweet
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