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Tokyo Disney Resort Trip Planning - Part One
DisneyDan  Friday, February 22, 2013 9:53:07 AM
So you want to go to Tokyo Disney Resort?…

Planning a trip to Disney can be exciting, rewarding and indeed frustrating - and that's just to the US Parks! Now consider this, you find yourself wanting to visit Tokyo Disney Resort.
Sounds exotic, right? Land of the Rising Sun, the Far East.
Fortunately for you, Jon and I will be going for the third time this spring, and we are quite familiar now with the bizarre and even infuriating systems and hoops you have to jump through to get a trip organised. Hotels, tickets and dining reservations are not as easy as the US and DLP to arrange, and take some concentration and forward thinking.

Let us begin where all trips would begin, and that's with booking flights and hotels.

The first time we flew to Tokyo Disney Resort, we actually flew from Los Angeles (LAX). We flew Singapore Airlines direct to Tokyo Narita International Airport (NRT).
If any of you have ever flown Virgin Atlantic, then Singapore Airlines will feel very similar. They have very high standards, and throughout the flight you get complimentary drinks, snacks and a whole manner of other things. I really liked them, and would definitely fly with them again.
The second time we flew, we flew with Cathay Pacific from London Heathrow, via Hong Kong. The reason of course we flew via Hong Kong is because we wanted to do a two part trip and include HKDL. The flight from Hong Kong to Tokyo is a further four hours. The flight to Tokyo is long enough as it is, so if you don't want to do a multipart trip, and want to fly direct, then Cathay Pacific is probably not the best option. Again though, I liked the airline overall and would recommend them. By my own standards, I wouldn't say they are the best I have flown, but they are better than nearly all US based airlines (though in my experience that isn't hard). If you're going to fly direct from Europe, I would recommend Virgin Atlantic, who fly direct from London Heathrow.
Flights from West Coast USA and Europe both are around 11 or 12 hours. If you fly from Europe you'll usually flying overnight, and arrive the following day. Tokyo is 9 hours ahead of the UK/GMT.
If you fly from the US, you'll usually fly westbound and head over the date line, which causes all sorts of confusion with your body! You'll be losing an entire day when you arrive, but when you return, you'll gain most of a day back. We were actually able to visit Tokyo Disney Resort on the morning we left, and arrived in California "3 hours" later, and went to Disneyland there for the rest of the day! It certainly is an interesting, and exhausting, experience!
Flights from Europe can cost anywhere from 800 to 1000 pound/euros return fare. From the US, they can cost anywhere from $1000 upwards.
Flying internationally nearly always means the best deals are had when you book as far in advance as you can. Prices normally go up as more seats sell.

When you arrive in Narita, you follow the signs like any other airport, to the immigration area. You'll have to fill out a landing card, and then you're on your way. I don't think I really need to explain the rest of the airport and luggage precess, because that really is just the same as anywhere else.

Getting to TDR from Narita is another matter!

In October, we had good intentions of getting the bus from the airport, which runs to different Tokyo area destinations, including Tokyo Disney Resort. However, for some reason the next bus directly to TDR wasn't for another 2 hours and to be honest we wasn't prepared to wait in the airport for that long, especially having just flown in.
Why, at a major international airport in one of the busiest cities in the world, busses to somewhere like Disney were over 2 hours apart, is mind boggling.
We decided to take a different bus to Tokyo Station, which is in the heart of Tokyo. We figured we could then get the train to TDR. Not as convenient, but it would save us a good hour and a half.
The bus came, we got on. An hour or so later we were in Tokyo. As with everything in Japan, the next step was more complicated than it needed to be though!
We were dropped off at a bus stop that was apparently Tokyo Station.
We were left a bit confused, and had to walk literally a good 10 to 15 minutes through a confusing and not very well signposted underground network of tunnels.
Finally, after busses, tunnels, and trains, we arrived at our Tokyo Disney Resort hotel (not before having to get to monorail from Maihama Station to Bayside Station).
Coming home was even more of a pain! We were flying back on a Sunday, and the busses (again, from a Disney Resort, to a major international airport…) were at certain selected, and honestly ridiculous, times! So, again, we had to deal with a series of other busses and trains that got us the the airport. Luckily we have a Japanese friend who helps us with these things, but I warn you, if you don't know the system, you will be in a lot of bother!
So, be warned! Getting from Narita is NOT easy! Be sure to book your flights to arrive and leave at sensible times of the day, which I know isn't always easy, but it will save you a lot of hassle in Japan!

Now we come to hotels. The easiest way to look for hotels for TDR is to check the main travel websites such as Expedia. Take a look on the TDR website first, make a list of the on site partner hotels, and check them out. They aren't the cheapest of places, but they will be a fraction of the cost of staying at a Disney Hotel, and the partner hotels are on site anyway.
The benefit of on site partner hotels, besides being cheaper, is that some have more included, too. Some have limited internet access (though not all, and internet is a perpetual issue in Japan anyway!), some include breakfast (ours did), and most have a convenience store and a variety of other facilities.
Last October we stayed on site at the Hilton Tokyo Bay. Buffet breakfast was included, it was right outside the one of the resort's monorail stations, and the hotel was friendly, clean, and offered excellent facilities, including a 24 hour mini market (useful to know even if you aren't staying there - anyone can go in, and they carry many essential items that may be needed).

Our hotel

The biggest problem you might encounter is finding one that has internet access. Even when it says it has internet, be cautious! Ours had internet, but as we discovered, it was only available in the more expensive rooms. Not even in the lobby, like most hotels in the rest of the world!

Hotel Okura Tokyo Bay

Sheraton Grande

As for the Disney Hotels, the cheapest would be the Ambassador. The Disneyland and MiraCosta are exorbitantly priced, and you need to be either very wealthy or very lucky to stay at either! We have explored all three hotels, even if we haven't stayed at them, and to be honest, although they are really nice, and offer the usual Disney service, there isn't anything you can get from them that you can't get from one of the partner hotels on site, besides being closer to the parks.
Anyone can walk in to the hotels, shop in them, dine at their restaurants and so forth, just like any other Disney hotel around the world. So save you money, stay elsewhere, and just explore them during your trip!

There are also some other local hotels which offer bus services to TDR. On our first trip in 2010 we used the busses, but these are somewhat difficult to navigate like everything else in Japanese, so unless you have someone who can guide you (luckily we did), then I would say staying on site is the way to go.

Of course, you could stay in Tokyo itself, and then that opens up the chance to use the main JR Railways line into TDR. The JR line runs direct form Tokyo Station to TDR's Maihama station in the heart of the resort.

Maihama Station

So long as you can find your way around a train station and to the JR line to Maihama, then you'll get to TDR fine.

If you wish to visit Tokyo itself while you're staying at TDR, again, the reverse process is possible. Catch the train to Tokyo from Maihama station, directly into the city. We had a map and a small guidebook that I bought at home, to help us find our way around. We managed to visit several key areas of the city, dine out and go shopping all by using some well established English language guide books from a local bookstore at home. I recommend you do the same. Tokyo is a fascinating place, with a lot to offer. To travel around the world and miss even just taking a glimpse at least, would be a great shame.

Earlier I mentioned the lack of WiFi at the hotels. This is a major issue where ever we have been in Japan, and to be honest it is really difficult to find anywhere at all that offers a good internet service. So, be prepared to be disconnected from the world for the duration of your stay, depending on your hotel and other situations. One thing we did learn is that there is a Starbucks in Ikspiari. Of course, being Japan, that doesn't mean free and easy! You have to sign up for their WiFi - wait for it - using the internet! So, if you are able to sign up for the Starbucks service before you leave home, then you might be able to use the one in Ikspiari. The other issue is of course, their Starbucks is really small and crowded, and getting a table to sit with your laptop might be just as difficult as finding internet itself!

When you arrive in TDR, you'll probably need to get a monorail to your hotel. If you're staying at any of the on site partner hotels, or the MiraCosta you most certainly will. The Ambassador has a cute retro Disney themed bus that leaves from the lower level of Ikspiari, and the TDL Hotel is a short walk (though you can take a monorail to that, too).

Riding the Disney Resort Cruiser bus

The monorail is another challenge at TDR. You have to pay to use it. The easiest way to get quick access to the monorail throughout your trip, is to buy a pass. They sell multi day passes (which again cost a fortune), but if you do a lot of back and forth (hotel-park-hotel/nap-park-hotel etc), then they definitely work out more economical than buying a single ticket each time, plus you avoid having to queue up and use the complicated ticket machines more than once!
Once you have your ticket, keep it safe and use it to travel between any station. The monorail only runs in one direction around the resort, but is fairly quick and efficient. Trust me, you'll need it after a crazy day at the Japanese parks!

Taking the Monorail to Tokyo Disneyland!

Taking a well deserved break at Ikspiari

The tickets do have different designs throughout the year, depending on the season. If you visit during a cross over period, you'll get two different Disney themed designs!

Before you arrive in Tokyo you MUST buy your park tickets online. I cannot stress enough how important this is!
When you arrive at the parks each day, you do not want to (a) wait 2 hours in line to get a ticket, and (b) having waiting so long to buy your ticket, be told the park is already at capacity at 10am. This WILL happen. Mark my words! I'll talk about the insane crowds in part 2, but just know, if you don't buy your tickets before you travel, you will come unstuck!
Overall the online process is fairly easy, it's just a pain to have to do. The Tokyo Disney English website sells all four main ticket types, plus the late entry ones that are offered during select seasons.
Sadly, unlike the other resorts, there isn't as much flexibility with the tickets, and they cost the Earth, too.
For all tickets types, the first day (or only day if you have a one day pass), is valid for one park only. No hopping, ever. The second day of any pass type is for one park only again. No hopping. Both these days MUST be selected in advance. On our visits to TDR we always have selected TDL for the first day, and TDS as the second day. Days 3 and 4 can be hopper days on any pass type.
TDR only sells up to 4-day passes, so if you are staying longer, you have to do the same process all over again. Day 5 for you would be another "day 1", and you'd have to pre-select your park once again, on a new ticket.
It might sound complicate, but actually it's not that difficult, and all you do is print the confirmation and take it with you.
When you arrive at TDR, you visit the Ticketing Centre in Ikspiari with your confirmation, and you can collect your ticket.
The best thing about pre-buying your tickets is that you are guaranteed entry, even on capacity days, and you don't have to stand in line to get them. The ticketing office is always quiet (surprisingly), and the collection process is very easy.

Finding the way to get our tickets...

The official TDR website lists all the seasonal happenings, park opening hours and operational closures and updates, in English on their main website, just as the other parks do. Just something to take note of when planning.

When you have finally arrived, after battling planes, trains, busses, monorails, ticket offices and anything else the Japanese want to throw at you, you are finally ready to explore the resort!

Before we hit the parks, I think that it's worth mentioning Ikspiari, Bon Voyage and Maihama station.
Ikspiari is the TDR equivalent of Downtown Disney, but much more expensive and up-market! Ikspiari is more like a really fancy shopping mall, that looks like it could have been designed by Disney (which of course it was).
It has a large Disney Store (an actual Japanese Disney Store, not related to TDR), a Rainforest Cafe, a Starbucks (as I mentioned above), cinema and quite a lot more dinging and retail locations, over several levels. They even have a DVC centre there now.
If you're staying at the Ambassador there is direct access to Ikspiari from the hotel (or if you have a dining reservation, or just want to explore the hotel, you can walk there from Ikspiari too).
Nothing really grabs me about Ikspiari except that it is just expensive and filled with designer stores. The two places we generally found ourselves was the Disney Store and Rainforest Cafe (simply because the food was decent, and portion size more normal, unlike the TDR parks).
Also in Ikspiari is the TDR Ticket Centre as I mentioned before, and a Welcome Centre. The Welcome Centre is where you can find out a whole manner of information, and if you're staying on site and arrive during certain (albeit odd and restricted) hours, you can even check in here and have your luggage transferred.

Taking a well deserved break at Ikspiari

Bon Voyage is just along the way, although not connected to Ikspiari, and is the resort's equivalent of the World of Disney Store. It stocks a wide selection of merchandise from across the resort, in one large travel themed room.

Bon Voyage

Maihama station is of course the main railway station that I mentioned before. It has a few small facilities, including a mini market, which has essential items. Good to know if you are in need of anything.

Ok, this part is really long now, so I will continue this planning report in the second part which can be found here. If you have any questions you can click "Discuss…" underneath this entry, to take you to the forum where you can ask us, and other members any questions.

One final thing, if you are interested to get more in-depth details about our trips to TDR, and all our crazy experiences during our travels there, you can read my trip reports which can be found in this section by clicking here.

Have a good weekend everyone,

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