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We were only visiting Japan for 10 days but we knew we wanted to experience a Disney park while we were there. We had two choices: Tokyo Disney or Disney Sea. Since we had been to Disney World in Florida a few times, we were taken with the idea of visiting the only Disney Sea park in the world.
Both parks are just outside Tokyo and you could spend a whole week exploring them if you had the time. If you are like us and have limited time (only 1 day!) you will want to choose one and plan properly to make the most of your one day. If you want a classic Disney experience, Tokyo Disney might be more for you. If you want a really unique park that many bill as the best Disney park in the whole world, choose Disney Sea.
- 1 About Disney Sea
- 2 When to Visit
- 3 Disney Sea Tickets
- 4 Plan Your Day
- 5 Fastpasses
- 6 Dining and Eating
- 7 Getting to Tokyo Disney
- 8 Staying at Tokyo Disney
- 9 Tokyo with Kids
About Disney Sea
Disney Sea is hard to describe in words. I think it most closely compares to Epcot in Florida because the focus is not just on rides, but on theming of different lands with an appeal across all ages. They have fantastic rides and shows and since the park is in Japan, the park has a uniquely Japanese feel to it. It is a big thing for friends to dress in matching outfits for their Tokyo Disney visits and we loved checking out all the various twin outfits.
Although the park has English signage and some employees speak English, most of the rides and shows are in Japanese. The park draws large crowds and is something visitors from North America or Europe might not be used to. I have visited Disney World on some of the highest crowd weeks and the lines and crowds are nothing compared to what we experienced at Tokyo Disney Sea. That is why it is so important to plan before you arrive so you don’t spend the whole day waiting in super long lines.
When to Visit
We were headed to Japan in August and we didn’t really have any flexibility of when to go. However, if you are planning your trip and you can be slightly flexible, check the Crowd Calendar for Disney Sea. There used to be a really good English one that I used when we were planning our trip. Now that one is gone, but there is a Japanese one that is supposed to be really good and here are instructions for how to use it.
You don’t want to visit either of the parks on a weekend when crowd levels swell. If you can avoid visiting during school holidays, that is helpful as well. We had 5 days in Tokyo and using the Crowd Calendar, we selected Wednesday as the best day for us to visit. It was our first day in Tokyo but I didn’t want to brave the crowds as we approached a long weekend in Japan. Check the calendar!
We visited in August which is another time of year that I would try to avoid if you can. People warned us about the humidity in Japan in August and it really isn’t an ideal time to spend hours out in the sun traipsing around a theme park. I would think fall and spring would be the best times of year to plan your visit.
Disney Sea Tickets
In order to make the most of your 1 day at Disney Sea, you want to make sure you purchase your tickets in advance before you arrive at the park. There are massive queues to enter the park in the morning and you don’t want to have to queue any longer then necessary.
We purchased our tickets online on the Tokyo Disney website which worked pretty well. It can be a bit confusing and we had to use a few credit cards before one worked (they don’t accept Visa, only MasterCard). If you are having trouble, you can also purchase your tickets online through the Klook website. 1 day tickets cost 7,400 Y/adult, 4,800/child (4-11) and 6,400/youth (12-17). If you purchase multi-day tickets, the per day cost goes down.
You can also purchase tickets at select Disney stores in Japan and many of the convenience stores (Lawsons or Family Mart).
Plan Your Day
I know some people walk into a theme park without preparation and simply walk whichever way that interests them. That isn’t us and since you are reading this, it probably isn’t you either. We spent a couple of hours the evening before our visit planning out our day. We prioritized rides, strategized the use of fastpasses and took notes on where to eat and what shows to attend. We were visiting on a 7 crowd level day and we knew that Tokyo Disney can quickly have queues of 120+ minutes. We had no desire to wait in line ups like that and we didn’t have to. But, that is because we had a plan. For Disney in the USA, I am a huge fan of the Touring Plans website which plans your day based on your preferences to minimize wait times and walking distances.
Here is what we did to make the most of our Disney Sea 1 day itinerary.
Get There Early
The park opens at 8 am most of the time. Check the calendar for your dates. You want to get there at least 30-60 minutes before that. I know that is early especially if you are coming in from Tokyo. We left our apartment in Roppongi at 6:30 am and were in the queues to enter by 7:30 am. Read about how to get to Disney Sea below. Luckily queues are extremely orderly in Japan; in fact when lines aren’t moving, everyone sits orderly in the line. There are lots of lines at the front gates – join the shortest and sit down. This is going to be a really long day, so sit while you can!
Familiarize Yourself with the Park
Have a look at the map online and familiarize yourself with the layout of the seven lands. This is also a good opportunity to look at height restrictions for the various rides, so you know what your kids can/cannot ride. Generally the first ride you get to, an employee will measure a child that is close to the height restriction and give them a wristband. This is helpful in that they don’t have to be measured at every ride.
Use Your First Hour Wisely
A few minutes before 8, the line started moving as we quickly went through a bag security check. Our tickets were then scanned and the race was on. If traveling with small children, be mentally prepared for the crowds and hang on to kids tightly. Every one has to funnel through a fairly narrow entrance area and it is quite crammed. There are employees trying to encourage people not to run, but it is busy. We didn’t lose our kids (ours are 6, 7 and 9), but I can easily see how that happens. I wish I had written our email or something on each of them in case they were lost. We definitely chatted while we were waiting in line about what to do if they got lost.
One of the most popular rides at Disney Sea is Toy Story Mania!, which attracts massive lines quickly. Since it is pretty much the same ride as Disney World and Disneyland, we made the decision to skip it. If you want to ride it, go there right away and either ride or get a Fastpass.
Paul made a run for Indiana Jones in the Lost River Delta to grab our first set of Fastpasses (8:45-9:45) while I walked quickly with the kids to Journey to the Centre of the Earth at Mysterious Island. Paul met us in line and we pretty much walked right on to the ride. I had read that many claim this is the best Disney ride of all time and it was so fun, we rode it again later in the day. The under-volcano theming (I know this isn’t a real word, but is a must when describing Disney Sea) is really well done and even the queue has fantastic things to look at. This is a roller coaster ride around the volcano and our 6 year old was a bit scared, but loved it.
Next up, we rode the nearby 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by walking on without a wait. I still have memories of riding this ride at Disney World in the ’80s. This ride has come a long way since then. It puts you in your own little submarine as you navigate under the sea. Everything is in Japanese so you sort of miss out on the story, but obviously you run into problems as you descend deep under the sea.
Since it was now 8:45, we were now able to grab a second Fastpass, so we picked up Fastpasses to ride Journey to the Centre of the Earth again (11:45-12:45). The one mistake we made planning our day was that we didn’t realize a new ride had just opened at Disney Sea: Nemo & Friends Searider. We should have gotten Fastpasses to ride it, instead of Journey to the Centre of the Earth again. We kept an eye on wait times all day for this ride, but they never went under 120 minutes, so we didn’t get to ride it.
We rode Indiana Jones using our Fastpasses and again were impressed with the amazing theming of the ride. A big tip for those with older children is that you can ride Indiana Jones really quickly using the single rider line.
The Rest of the Day
By now (9:30 am) the park was really starting to fill in and ride times were well above 100 minutes for the big rides. We used this opportunity to wander and start enjoying all the little details of the various lands.
We also started our popcorn exploration. Popcorn is a big deal at Tokyo Disney and there are seven interesting popcorn flavours to try. We splurged and bought a big souvenir bucket (2400 Y); different lands and popcorn locations feature different souvenir buckets. We got a Nemo bucket and enjoyed some Caramel flavoured popcorn.
This was also the time where we tried to get tickets to the more popular shows. Big Band Beat is reputed to be the best show in the park and is in English. We also wanted to get tickets to the Pirates seasonal show. Since shows are so popular at Disney Sea, you have to scan your ticket at the Biglietteria (near the front) and try to get a ticket through the lottery system. We tried for both shows and didn’t get it. I am not sure why they can’t put more shows on as I would have really liked to have seen them.
We did end up seeing some of the Pirates show which took place in Mediterranean Harbour. Since the show involved boats, you did not have to be in the seating area to see the show. It was all in Japanese, so while it looked interesting, we had a bit of trouble following the story.
It was getting really hot out, so we decided to watch the Out of the Shadowlands show, which was actually quite good. Again, the show was in Japanese but it was easy to follow the plot. The kids enjoyed the elaborate costumes, the circus tricks and the singing. We all enjoyed some time out of the heat, in the AC.
We were now able to grab our next (and last) Fastpass of the day and we sent our runner, Paul, over to grab Tower of Terror Fastpasses (5:45-6:45). We thought we would have an early lunch at 11:30, but already the queues for lunch were over 30 minutes. We were prepared for this and knew we would have to queue for dining at Disney Sea.
We rode Journey to the Centre of the Earth again with our Fastpasses after lunch. We then walked through Ariel’s Lagoon which is an indoor area with lots of rides for younger kids. It was incredibly busy, with long lines, so we didn’t spend much time there.
We headed to Arabian Coast where the theming is just as amazing with an Arabian harbour and a magnificent fort. With minimal waits, we rode the Carousel, Sinbad’s Story and Jasmine’s Flying Carpets. Sinbad’s Story reminded me of It’s a Small World and is enjoyable for all ages. Jasmine’s Flying Carpets is nothing special, but my kids still enjoyed it.
At this point we tried to take the Disney Sea Transit Steam Liner, but it was closed, due to the show in the Harbour I believe. We walked over to Port Discovery to ride Aquatopia (45 min wait) where the kids enjoyed cooling off in this summer, wet version of the ride.
The park was really busy and we liked the idea of sitting down for a refreshment in the air conditioning. We had read that the Teddy Roosevelt Lounge on the SS Columbia in the American Waterfront was a good place to have a mid-afternoon rest. We waited 45 minutes for a table and we couldn’t help but think that we could be using this time to do something more productive in the park. The Lounge serves expensive drinks and light meals and is beautifully themed.
We grabbed some dinner and then the two older kids rode Tower of Terror with Fastpasses. Miles and I checked out the Fortress Explorations in the Mediterranean Harbour. Miles loved the pirate ship that you could board and explore in the Harbour. You can walk through the Fortress and explore the displays of nautical instruments and exhibits on the solar system.
Fantasmic starts at 8pm and since we wanted to get good seats, we sat down at 7pm and waited. We were so tired by this point from a long day out in the heat that the kids dozed as we waited. We got to see the volcano erupting, which is quite the sight. Fantasmic is fabulous and definitely worth staying for. I love night-time Disney shows and this show features many of your favourite Disney characters on boats in Mediterranean Harbour. We always worry about the huge crowds departing a Disney park after the night show, but it wasn’t too bad. You have to be patient and keep a close hand on the kids, but we were able to move towards the exit fairly efficiently.
A Fastpass is a reservation to ride a ride (or see a show) at a certain time period, bypassing the notoriously long lines Tokyo Disney Sea attracts. Fastpasses work differently at Tokyo Disney Sea then other Disney parks we have visited. You cannot get them in advance, but they are still a very useful tool. There are 9 Fastpass Attractions at Disney Sea: Tower of Terror, Toy Story Mania!, Nemo & Friends SeaRider, Indiana Jones Adventure, Raging Spirits, The Magic Lamp Theatre, Mermaid Lagoon Theatre, Journey to the Centre of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
To get a Fastpass, you scan your tickets at a special ticket machine at the front of a Fastpass eligible ride. You can get your next Fastpass once your current Fastpass time period begins or 2 hours after getting the Fastpass (whichever comes first). Since Fastpasses sell out quickly, you want to get them as soon as you can and continue getting them every 2 hours until they run out).
Dining and Eating
Popcorn is the big snack option at Disney Sea and we enjoyed sampling the various flavours throughout the park. We purchased the big souvenir bucket ($20 AUD) and re-filled our bucket throughout the day. Our fav flavours were the Tomato Herb and Milk Chocolate.
Other then popsicles and popcorn, we didn’t sample any of the other snacks at Disney Sea because there weren’t a lot of vegetarian options.
Bring your own water bottles and re-fill them throughout the day. You don’t want to have to be paying money for water.
Vulcania Restaurant, Mysterious Island
We had read that this was one of the best restaurants in the park and it was decent for theme park food. We did have to queue for about 30 minutes to get into the restaurant, which serves Chinese food. There was limited options for vegetarians and most meals cost 1000 Y.
Zambini Brothers Ristorante, Mediterranean Harbour
This place serves up pizza and pasta, with veggie options (Yay!). It is a large place so we didn’t have to queue very long. We hadn’t planned to eat dinner here, but didn’t want to hike all the way over to the Casbah Food Court in the Arabian Coast for curries (where we had planned to eat dinner).
Getting to Tokyo Disney
You can take a bus straight from Shinjuku if you are staying in that area. We were staying in Roppongi and took the JR Keiyo/Musashino line to Maihama station. You can walk from Maihama Station to the park in 20 minutes (1 km) or you can take the Disney line from Maihama to the Park for 260 Y. We knew we would be doing lots of walking once we were in the park so happily paid to skip the walk. The Disney monorail is cute with Mickey shaped windows that definitely got us excited for our day. From the Disney Sea station, follow the crowd for a few minutes to the queues at the entrance. It took us just about an hour to get from Roppongi (downtown Tokyo) to the front gates at Disney Sea.
Staying at Tokyo Disney
We only allocated one day to explore Disney Sea, but you could definitely spend a few days exploring both of the parks. If you are going to spend a few days in the park, it would be much more convenient to stay out at Disney instead of commuting in each day (45 + minutes),
If you do want to stay in the park, here are your best bets:
Hotel MiraCosta – the best and most expensive Tokyo Disney hotel, if you can afford it choose the Hotel MiraCosta. Located right inside DisneySea overlooking Mediterranean Harbour, it doesn’t get any better then this. Easy and complimentary monorail access for getting around the parks. Check the latest prices here.
Hilton Tokyo Bay – an on-site, non-Disney hotel, the Hilton Tokyo Bay offers the best value. You can enjoy ocean views over Tokyo Bay from your room and their is a convenient shuttle bus right to the parks. Check the latest prices here.
Tokyo Disneyland Hotel – this is the closest hotel to Tokyo Disney and offers character rooms themed after Disney characters. You will have full use of the monorail system to get around the parks when staying at Tokyo Disneyland Hotel. Check the latest prices here.
Disney Ambassador Hotel – this hotel also offers themed rooms and character dining in the Chef Mickey restaurant. Check the latest prices here.
Tokyo with Kids
We spent our first day in Tokyo at Disney Sea. Find how how we spent our other days in Tokyo with kids.
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