Think you know how to use Disney's Fastpass? Try getting a Fastpass in Tokyo

August 26, 2013, 10:35 AM · Disney park veterans can sometimes get a chip on their shoulders. We know what to do, where to go, when to go, which way to go, where to stand, where to eat, what to eat, how to get there and why.

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.

Fastpass and Standby entrances for Tokyo Disneyland's Splash Mountain

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!

Journey to the Center of the Earth Fastpasses

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.)

Big Band Beat at the Broadway Musical Theater in DisneySea

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: 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.

Monsters Inc. Fastpass queue
The queue for Monsters Inc. Fastpasses. Consider yourself warned.

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).

Morning wait
If they're not in a moving queue, Tokyo Disney visitors sit while then the wait.

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.

Monsters Inc. lobby

Replies (14)

August 26, 2013 at 11:33 AM · I hereby declare that we shall adopt officially the "People Rattle" to "Congestion Violently" scale for all future discussions of theme park crowds.
August 26, 2013 at 11:45 AM · You know, every other article I have ever read about Tokyo Disneyland/Disneysea has made me want (desperately) to visit it.
This is the first time I've read anything about the park that made me think - 'you know what - I'm not sure I could be bothered, (even if I could afford it).

I'm sure, given the opportunity, I'd go and love every second, but you're really not selling it to me Bryan.......

August 26, 2013 at 11:47 AM · Awesome, awesome post. The wife and I are carefully saving our money and posts like this to prepare for our trip to Japan in a couple of years. Looking forward to using these tips!
August 26, 2013 at 12:12 PM · The return time enforcement in the US parks has less to do with the NextGen roll out and more to do with bloggers and people like yourself who post every secret and loophole on the Internet and in guidebooks. If people would just keep their mouths shut about these secrets then the enforcement would not be necessary.

If you really want to write an article about FastPass in Tokyo then explain how to use the system without the loophole!

I agree with the other posters comment. This article doesn't make me want to visit Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea. Forget it!

August 26, 2013 at 1:18 PM · Love the Ghostbusters movie quote, Bryan... Having to juggle times and plan out your entire day at a park just isn't for me. I think the Disney die-hards must spend countless hours putting together a game plan for a visit.

I can't imagine putting that much time into a day that is supposed to be fun and relaxing.

You must be pretty brave to visit Japan. I would have next day aired my Soeks Geiger counter to you just so you could take a couple of readings. They don't measure in microsieverts over there any more, it's millisieverts....

August 26, 2013 at 1:27 PM · Although the article does NOT dissuade me from wanting to visit (hah! Anyone have a kidney they would like to donate to sell?), the need to act like a veteran at the Japanese parks isn't in me. When was the last time most of us experienced Disney with fresh eyes? I love taking newbies to the parks as I make sure that I don't drag them in my I-know-everything-and don't-take-the-time-to-smell-the-whatever wake! I would love to go just to see it for the first time. Soooo, if I go during a busy season (heaven forbid) I will make sure that I stay enough days to see everything without the insider information. If I were to visit subsequent times, THEN I would employ the "Insider's Guide to Disney Madness- or How to Get Through the Crowds Without Killing Someone"!
August 26, 2013 at 2:51 PM · I don't see how this would discourage people from visiting the Tokyo parks any more than visiting any foreign country. It requires a lot of planning. Even at the Tokyo parks, if you have 3 or 4 days, you can spend two mornings running to get fast passes and the rest of you times wandering around, AKA relaxing at the supposedly greatest theme parks on Earth. Fast Passes will be gone by the afternoon for most attractions, so there is no need to be stressed out.
August 26, 2013 at 2:57 PM · Lemme throw this out there: I suspect that Tokyo Disney doesn't distribute as many Fastpasses for each hour of attraction operation as Walt Disney World does. That means they do more quickly. And compared with standby lines at WDW, the standby lines at TDR flew. I waited between 5-45 minutes for most everything when I visited Tokyo Disneyland DisneySea. That's not bad for days when the parks are slammed and the Fastpasses are gone by noon.

The only attraction I waited more than an hour to ride was Monsters Inc., which I foolishly left for late in the day.

So if you long for the days before Fastpass led people to hyperschedule every freaking moment of their day in a Disney theme park, here's another reason to love Tokyo Disney. Your "best" case scenario there is to get a couple Fastpasses. Then it's old-fashioned stand-by queues for the rest of the day.

Better yet, with big crowds sucked into Fastpass queues, you can blow through a ton of great attractions first thing in the morning, if you arrive at the turnstiles early enough and beeline straight for the big stuff. I knocked off 20K, Raging Sprits and Journey twice early in the day at DisneySea.

August 26, 2013 at 4:18 PM · So, you basically got to get there early. Interesting story
August 26, 2013 at 7:36 PM · It does amuse me that in order to avoid a 45 minute wait for a ride, we will get a fastpass. To get the fastpass, we will wait in a 1.5 hour line before the park opens, and then sprint across the park. But we'll save that 45 minutes.

Of course, I understand that the 1.5 hours is "extra time" before the park opens, so if you were going to run out of time during park hours, adding 1.5 hours of wait time could be worth it.

August 26, 2013 at 8:22 PM · For all the people that are now afraid to visit Tokyo Disney because they won't be able to get many Fastpasses, ask yourself this: If I visited the Disneyland Resort (or Disneyland Paris or any two parks at Walt Disney World) and didn't get a single Fastpass, how long would it take to do everything I wanted to? You might be surprised. Personally, I've gone to the Disneyland Resort on Black Friday and done every major attraction in both parks (including several re-rides) with only three Fastpasses, and I visited Disneyland Paris in July when all E-tickets were posting 60-90 minute waits and still did everything I wanted to at Disneyland Park plus a couple rides at Walt Disney Studios in one day. I can't imagine that Tokyo Disney has enough must rides that you couldn't do them all in three days even under the worst case scenario. I haven't actually been to Tokyo Disney, but I've heard from people that have visited that it is actually less stressful than Walt Disney World because everything is super organized and the operations are super efficient, plus if you get stuck in a long line the theming quality is said to be better than any other park in the world.
August 26, 2013 at 9:07 PM · At Tokyo Disneyland, at one point I counted six, yes, six cast members stationed at greeter at Haunted Mansion. And they all were engaging guests. I joked that you could drop a kernel of the ever-popular popcorn at Tokyo Disney and a cast member would catch it before it could hit the ground.
August 26, 2013 at 11:56 PM · Thanks for the compliments! I regret I scared anyone away from the Tokyo Disney Resort; that was not my intention. (By all means, if you can get there: go, go, go!) I merely wanted to provide some info about what Fastpass was like in these parks. If planning is not your thing and you want to mosey and take it all in - by all means do so. You'll have a glorious time. I'm a little more type-A when it comes to this stuff (can't you tell?) and I was thankful I had a plan.

I suspect the same thing as Robert - less Fastpasses are distributed in Tokyo, so that plays a part. Plus, cast members are crazy-efficient. However, I saved more than 45 minutes with most of my Fastpasses. Monsters Inc. was often a 2-hour wait, Star Tours was almost constantly 90 minutes, ditto Splash, Big Thunder and Pooh. In DisneySea, Tower of Terror was near the 2-hour mark from 9:30 until close and Journey hovered at 80-90 minutes for most of the day. This was not high season, so we reaped the benefits of the moderate crowds with many 5-minute (or less) waits at attractions that were not offering Fastpass (either that day or ever) - Sindbad, StormRider, 20,000 Leagues, Aquatopia, Pirates, Snow White, Roger Rabbit and more.

August 27, 2013 at 9:24 AM · Ok here's my experience: I was just in Disney Sea for the first time on Tuesday July 16. I got to the park an hour after opening and walked right in (much less stressful then cueing up before the park opens). My priority of course was Journey so me and my girlfriend walked immediately there for our fastpasses. Got those then went straight for Indy (which I felt was superior to Disneylands btw). We continued that process of cueing for rides while waiting for fastpasses (I actually didn't know the loophole and we returned on time). All in all I think we only used 3 fastpasses before they ran out 2 for Journey and 1 TOT. So most attractions we cued for, and as Robert attested, our wait was never more then 45 minutes, and consistently shorter then the posted time. All said we visited 13 attractions which is plenty and maybe there was a lot of people but the park has huge walkways so it actually felt less crowded then your average day at Disneyland or CA adventure. Also what I think helped is that Toy Story Mania is the new attraction there and soaks up a lot of the visitors (much how cars land did the first year it opened). So other better attractions like Indy, Journey and Tower actually have decent wait times. Oh ya and we even ate at 2 sit down restaurants too, including SS Columbia. My biggest advice is visit midweek, Tuesday through Thursday (which goes for any Disney park) and always get a fastpass when your next one becomes available. It was the best theme park experience of my life and everybody on this website needs to experience the best theme park in the world! We're returning in October to see Disneyland Tokyo and revisit Disney Sea.

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Park tickets

Weekly newsletter

New attraction reviews

News archive