Like seniors in high school, sometimes we can only stare in confusion at the Disney freshman as they look at the Fastpass machines, look at the Fastpass return times, look at the standby wait time, look at the machines again, look at their tickets, look at each other, look at the map and look to join the standby line anyway. And later, in our most smug moments, we strut alongside the crowded standby line for Splash Mountain, Fastpasses gripped tightly, with an expression that says, "Don't all of you people waiting 90 minutes wish you were as brilliant as me?" You know, because it takes a degree from MIT to get to the park early or understand Fastpass.
Well, we can all feel pretty smart… until we visit the parks at the Tokyo Disney Resort. Yes, these are the parks where every guest knows about Fastpass, everyone uses it and those machines run out of tickets before you can say "return window." During a recent trip to the Tokyo parks, I witnessed the longest lines I've ever seen just to get a Fastpass. I saw return time clocks move like seconds on a stopwatch. I watched Fastpass machines getting covered an hour after park opening. Cats and dogs living together; mass hysteria!
But don't cancel your flight to Japan just yet — I can assure you that there are methods to surviving the Fastpass madness. Before we get into those coping strategies, let's talk about how the Fastpass system works in Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. It's essentially the same as it was in the U.S. parks before the end times on the return windows were enforced. You go to the attraction, you scan the park tickets for everyone in your party and you can return with a drastically shorter wait anytime that day — as long as it's after the first time printed on the ticket. (We sometimes returned during the window, but often came back later; cast members were never concerned with anything but the date and the first time.) After you get your first Fastpass, you'll be eligible for another either when your return time begins or two hours after receiving your Fastpass — whatever comes first.
The Tokyo parks also use Fastpass for shows — two at Disneyland and one at DisneySea, presently. Guests go to a Fastpass location in each park (Tomorrowland Hall in TDL, Biglietteria in TDS) and wait in line to scan their park tickets. The machines, which have an English option, require guests to select which showtimes they want to attend. Then the computer asks itself if it feels like being nice (or enters your ticket in a lottery or something), and either gives you tickets or tells you that you're up the Rivers of America without a paddle. Each visitor can only enter the lottery once a day. (It's important to note that these "show" Fastpasses have no bearing on your Fastpass eligibility for the other attractions in the park.)
At the time of our visit, the shows were the summer seasonal presentation "Soryo Kobu" on the Castle Forecourt Stage and "One Man's Dream II — The Magic Lives On" at Showbase (Disneyland) and "Big Band Beat" at the Broadway Music Theatre (DisneySea). The wait for "Soryo Kobu" passes was often more than 30 minutes in the morning and early afternoon; the waits for the other two, long-running shows were minimal. We tried a few times for "One Man's Dream II" but never had any luck with the lottery. The good news is that the first show each day is first-come, first-served, so if you're desperate to check out a show, you can always line up for that. In the case of "Big Band Beat," you also can line up for balcony seating for each show. With the seasonal shows in front of Cinderella's Castle, you can catch a glimpse of the show without a reserved seat, which are prized for their proximity to the stage and (in the summer) the water cannons that soak the audience.
Back to the "regular" attractions — Tokyo Disneyland offers Fastpass for nine of them (Big Thunder Mountain, Slash Mountain, Haunted Mansion, Pooh's Hunny Hunt, Captain EO, Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters, Space Mountain, Star Tours: The Adventures Continue and Monsters Inc. Ride & Go Seek!). EO and Haunted Mansion don't use Fastpass on days with moderate, or less, crowds. Tokyo DisneySea has eight Fastpass attractions (Toy Story Mania, Tower of Terror, StormRider, Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull, Raging Spirits, The Magic Lamp Theater, Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). Just like EO and Haunted Mansion, StormRider, The Magic Lamp Theater and 20,000 Leagues don't feature Fastpass on less-crowded days. (I was at the resort one week before the busy summer season began and, with moderate crowds, none of those five were deemed busy enough by the parks to necessitate Fastpasses.)
OK, now that we're through the basics, let's get practical. Here are some tips to maximize your experience at the Tokyo Disney Resort:
Accept That Fastpasses Go, Well, Faster in Japan — In the salad days of non-enforced Fastpass windows in Orlando and Anaheim, a pro could rack up a whole pocketful of passes, ensuring E-ticket ride after E-ticket ride during peak hours. That's just not going to happen here. Come to terms with it. Breathe in. Breathe out. You'll still have fun. I promise.
Do Your Homework — Just as there are websites that predict crowds for the U.S. Disney parks, there is one for Tokyo Disney: http://www15.plala.or.jp/gcap/disney/. Only one hitch — it's in Japanese. Google translate to the rescue! Once translated, the site is called Disneyland DisneySea Congestion Expected Calendar and ranks days on a scale from "People Rattle" (not crowded) to "Congestion Violently" (I think we understand that one). Better than just that, this website predicts maximum standby wait times for the big-name attractions as well as when Fastpasses will be completely distributed (they're on a chart on the site's right side). Some of the ride names don't quite translate, but you can figure it out by process of elimination. We found the predictions to be fairly close to what we experienced — if anything, a bit on the conservative side.
Have a Plan — Combine what you saw on the congestion calendar with your own attraction priorities. Most U.S. travelers are interested in checking out the attractions that are exclusive to the Tokyo parks. As luck would have it, Monsters Inc. Ride & Go Seek! and Pooh's Hunny Hunt have the hottest Fastpasses, so your best strategy is to Fastpass one and ride the other first thing if you want to guarantee at least one turn on both with minimal waiting. Here's a tip: Although these parks don't clear out like the U.S. ones do as closing time approaches, you can sometimes luck into a short wait for Pooh in the last hour. But don't expect the same treatment from Monsters Inc., given how close it is to the park entrance. As far as DisneySea goes, Fastpassing is a little easier — especially if you're willing to skip Toy Story Mania, which debuted at the park in 2012. Because of its proximity to TSM in the American Waterfront, the Harrison Hightower version of Tower of Terror usually runs out of Fastpasses relatively quickly. The upshot is that this has stretched the lifetime of the Fastpass machines for Journey to the Center of the Earth, which many consider to be one of the best themed attractions on (or inside) the planet.
Get There Early — I know this is said often on this site, but it's especially true when it comes to the Tokyo Disney parks. We early birds are used to having the run of things in the U.S. parks for the first couple of hours. It's just not that way in Tokyo, because Japanese visitors get there super early. Let me give you an example: On a morning at Tokyo Disneyland, we arrived about an hour and 15 minutes before the park's opening time. Every single turnstile had a line at least 50 people long sitting in front of it. Seriously. There is no rope drop; once the time is right, the cast members start letting people in as efficiently as possible. When it comes to Fastpass windows, every minute counts. So, if you're serious about maximizing your ride time, be prepared to camp out for a while. One last tip: At DisneySea, line up at the park's south entrance, which is further away from the Resort's central area and seems to be less crowded (relatively speaking).
Enjoy Yourself — Now that I've gotten you all riled up about the Tokyo Disney crowds, let's take a step in the other direction. Although it might feel like a matter of life and death as you sprint to Pooh's Hunny Hunt (you'd think so, by looking at the racing crowds), remember these are two of the most ornate, carefully structured and beautifully detailed theme parks to ever exist. They were meant to be soaked up. After your mad dash in the morning, slow it down and take it all in. Plus, the ride queues are often knock-down, drag-out amazing. If you have to wait a little bit in the Monsters Inc. lobby or while away the minutes gawking at Harrison Hightower's clever murals, it makes the experience even richer.
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