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Tokyo Disney Resort Trip Planning - Part Two
DisneyDan  Wednesday, February 27, 2013 10:59:48 AM
Hello everyone,

Welcome to part two of my Tokyo Disney Resort trip planning article.

In the first part we discussed the challenges of booking flights, hotels, park tickets, arriving at the resort, transport and Ikspiari.

Tokyo Disneyland is often described as being the most popular or successful theme park of all time (a fact I personally can't prove, but honestly don't doubt!). On all our ventures into the park, from open 'til close we have always experienced complete and utter mayhem.

In this part, I'll talk extensively about how to get the most out of your day at the TDR parks, covering attractions, shows, parades, shopping and dining.
To begin your day at the parks, you will need to be prepared in advance for every eventuality.
If you want to ensure you aren't blocked from going in to the park because it has hit capacity at 11am, you will have to be at the gates before opening. And wait in the long lines that form hours before the park opens. I would strongly recommend getting to the entrance of either TDL or TDS at least a half hour before the park opening time. They will not open the gates early, and except for a measly 15 minutes for Disney Hotels guests, the parks do not offer Extra Magic Hours.

Here are some pictures of the crowds waiting to enter the parks, from our trips:

The crowds waiting to get into Tokyo Disneyland

The crazy line to get in to TDS - and this was just part of it

Tokyo Aug 2010 - Huge crowds waiting for Disneyland to open

Tokyo Aug 2010 - Huge crowds waiting for Disneyland to open

Once the gates open, you'll probably have about 15-20 minutes before you get into the park, but depending on how thorough security is that day, it could be quicker.
Security checks at the Tokyo parks can be a bit slap dash, which in all honesty, is fine with me! If they had the same set-up as in the US it would take another half hour to get through, if not longer because of all the ridiculous amounts of stuff the Japanese bring with them to the parks!

Once you are in, you should have already pre-decided which attraction you are going to get a FastPass for first.
If you're at TDL you'll pretty much have the choice between Pooh's Hunny Hunt or Monsters Inc. My personal recommendation would be for Pooh, and do FastPass for Monsters if you have a second day at the park.
Then, take my word, once through the turnstiles, you have to run to the FP distribution. You'll probably end up in a good 10 minute long line to get the ticket, and when you collect it, it'll be for a lot later in the day. As happened to me, one time, I ran to get a Monsters FP at opening, and by the time I had exited the distribution with my tickets, the FP had all gone! It really is that bad.
Here are two videos I took in October last year (2012), of people running into the parks to get FP at park opening time:

Over at TDS, you should run to Journey to the Center of the Earth or Tower of Terror (it's really quite different here) first for FP, unless you really want to ride Midway Mania (which is of course at both US resorts).

Once you have your FP in hand for the main attraction, you can then take a slower, but still brisk pace, to your first attraction of the day. The first half hour the Japanese tend to run like crazy to all the FP areas, so once you have you FP you might have about 20 minutes before the mass crowds start filtering out around the park to actually do some other stuff.
Before the crowds get too bad, in TDL I'd recommend, Big Thunder, Splash Mountain, or Space Mountain, as they are the other three main attractions that will get long lines almost instantly. All three of these are very similar to their US counterparts, but do offer some different twists to the classics that we all know and love, and are well worth experiencing if you get the chance.
There are a lot of things around the park that will stay relatively calm throughout the day, and although still attract record numbers of guests compared to their counterpart attractions in the US, can be done with relative ease. For a calmer, more sedate experience, you can often (in our experience), quite easily see the Swiss Family Treehouse, Stitch Tiki Room (which I actually highly recommend!), Tom Sawyer Island, the Riverboat, Country Bears (which seems to now permanently be in the summer Vacation Jamboree mode, for those who want something a little different), Cinderella's Fairytale Hall (best later in the day, around early to late evening), Minnie's House, Donald's Boat, and Chip 'n Dale's Treehouse.
I know most of those are walk through attractions, and are usually considered not particularly thrilling in the other parks, but, Tokyo is so insanely busy, that trust me, you'll be glad to actually have some reprieve! Wandering around Tom Sawyer Island with little or no crowds will be worth the "short" 20 minute wait to get across on the raft! You'll find yourself forcing yourself to do things in Tokyo that you would otherwise walk past in the other parks, just to make the most of your time.
I have to say, even though those things aren't the most exciting, they can provide an interesting and somewhat calm day, and you will get to see TDL from a different angle. You'll get to enjoy some of it's unique details, and see things at this exotic park that you wouldn't otherwise appreciate.
The three other attractions that can attract long lines early in the day, but thin out later (you might get lucky and wait less than 20 minutes by late evening), are Pirates of the Caribbean, the Jungle Cruise and the Western River Railroad. Again, all three offer a slightly different experience, and you get to see how Imagineering did things differently for the Japanese.

The following picture is of the wait times board in August, at 9.26am... and it should be noted that this was a "quiet" morning at the park! Remember, 9.26am!...

Tokyo Disneyland wait times board

Did you see those 3 hour lines?!
Here are a couple more pictures of the times and information boards at various points in the day at both parks, from October (note that the X through the FP sign means FastPasses are all gone):

Exploring World Bazaar

Park Information Board

At TDS, similarly you will find that there are some attractions that offer a more sedate experience.
At TDS, first thing in the morning there is usually no line for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and I HIGHLY recommend this attraction. It has some of the most amazing details, and is so completely immersive. I absolutely love it, and it is my personal favourite attraction in the park, even more so that Journey. The biggest, and saddest problem with Journey is that it ends so abruptly. You are just getting into the action, through the absolutely stunning detail and theming, when you hit a fast curve, and - wait for it - end up back in the loading bay! You're left wondering if you missed something, sadly. It's a big let down, because the two minutes prior to the sudden end are really neat!
Across the park, as I mentioned, there are things that you can do though that will definitely enhance your time at TDS and enable you to see things from a different perspective, especially when the crowds are immense.
The Fortress Explorations are incredibly detailed, beyond anything I can justly describe, and are well worth the wander through. You can also take a trip around the entire park aboard the Transit Steamer Line. Be aware that some stations you board at you have to exit the next stop, but others allow you to circuit the whole park. Check on the day of your visit, so you don't get all comfy for a relaxing cruise, and are told to leave 5 minutes later! Having said that though, despite not being the most efficient mode of transport, it actually provides a fantastic overview of the park from the waterside angle, and is well worth doing.
The elevated Electric Railway is a one way trip between American Waterfront and Port Discovery (or vice versa), and although brief, again gives a good view of certain areas of the park.
Over at Arabian Coast, either early in the day or later in the day and early evening, Sindbad's attraction has fairly low foot flow. It is wonderfully detailed, and is something akin to "it's a small world", but with an Arabian twist. This is Jon's personal favourite attraction in TDS.
A real hidden gem, and one that is best to do last thing at night (no crowds and because it looks really neat lit up), is Aquatopia at Port Discovery. It's definitely a lof of fun.

If your time is limited in the parks, say you only have two days, everything I mentioned above (with maybe the exception of the Toontown stuff which I added in just get your attraction count up on busy days), is definitely worth attempting. Of course though, Disney aren't perfect, and the Japanese parks are no exception. If time is limited, there are also some things you should outright avoid!
Fantasyland at TDL has the worst copies of attractions, and they really are not worth the incredibly long wait times. Peter Pan's Flight, Snow White's Scary Adventures, and even Dumbo the Flying Elephant are all totally dire, but the worst of the lot by far is "its a small world". The yellow concrete tunnel-queue, awfully dull and grey loading are, and the completely uninspired sets are truly depressing. If you are on a longer trip, then maybe experience it just to be able to say you like the Magic Kingdom version better, which has always been worse than the DL one!

I've spoke a lot about my recommendations for the attractions, but of course Tokyo is renowned for it's completely insane and bizarre shows and parades.
The Japanese people could win the Olympic gold for waiting in lines, and this extends to waiting for parades and shows, too.
We have been during some exceptionally busy times, and I can assure you it is not uncommon to see them camping out all day, from park open, to wait for a special seasonal show. You have to really plan ahead, know where you want to be at what the, and when people start camping out, be prepared to start waiting too, otherwise you will not gets space.
This picture below shows some Japanese waiting in the intense (and I mean intense) summer sun, first thing in the morning for a special NIGHT time show at TDS!

Crazy people wait in 35C+ heat for a show TEN hours later!!

We encourage you to take a small towel or blanket, as the Japanese must sit for all parades, and they get their blankets out to mark their spot, so one person can wait while the other go off to do things. It's probably a good idea that you prepare to be able to do the same. Blankets and mats are usually allowed to be put down an hour before a parade start time, and a park wide announcement will be made informing you of this, at which time just about everyone will get out a mat from their huge bags they carry around, and will set themselves down on the spot! Don't say I didn't want you!
As for regular shows, you should be at the entrance or seating for any show at both parks, at least a half hour before the time you want to see it. Some shows, such as Big Band Beat (TDS) and One Man's Dream (TDL), plus most seasonal shows at both parks have a lottery system, whereby you have the chance - and it just a chance - to get a priority seat for these shows. It's free to enter, and you will need your park tickets. From what I recall each party is allowed one entry, and trust me, it really is random. If you get a "no", then it's a no for that whole day, and you cannot try again, and if you want to see the show, will have to wait like everyone else.
Lotteries are held in Tomorrowland for the TDL shows, and in Med Harbor for the TDS shows. You should go first things after getting your FP tickets if you want a chance of attending a lottery show.
Whatever happens, or however much time you have, you should definitely take in a parade and show, or two, as they are certainly an eye opener to the ridiculous and over the top showmanship, and trouble the Japanese go to in order to entertain! For the most bizarre show experience you're ever likely to have at a Disney Park, watch "A Table is Waiting" in TDS. I don't even think the Japanese know what is going on, but it's ridiculously entertaining nonetheless!
It should also be noted that TDR has some of the most elaborate seasonal entertainment. In the spring, they have the Easter Wonderland Parade, and Duffy's Spring Voyage. The summer often sees some fantastical watershow at the Castle. Autumn is Halloween, and there is the Spookyville Parade and a show at Med Harbor. Christmas is celebrated, and has a fantastic parade and some shows.
Be warned though, that these periods are even more busy than the "off season" times. We went at Halloween last year, and honestly, it was more than I could bare.

So, we have now covered attractions, shows and parades. Next up is dining.
If you want to eat at TDR, again, you'll be up against some challenges. The restaurants, like everything else, are incredibly busy, and waiting an hour or more in line to get in to a restaurant (Grandma Sara's and Horizon Bay spring to mind), is not uncommon!
There are ways around this of course though. If your hotel offers breakfast, eat it. And fill up! That way you can hold over until the main lunch time rush has passed and actually find somewhere to sit.

The insane crowds inside Tomorrowland Terrace

We found that the Plaza Restaurant (which faces into Central Plaza but is technically part of Tomorrowland), is often quiet during the afternoons.
Food is generally very good, but comes in very small portions, and costs a fortune. The drinks cups across the parks are tiny even by European standards, but water fountains with small cups are provided for free in nearly all restaurants, so you can take as much as you want of that.
If you want to escape the parks for a while, and want to find a decent sized "Western" meal, then go to the Rainforest Cafe in Ikspirai. The food and drinks are just the same as in the US and Europe, and I think they offered refills too, from what I recall. Obviously RFC isn't the height of cuisine, but when you've had a really hectic day in the park, with little to eat and drink, you'll appreciate the American sized burger and fries, trust me!
Sadly, many of the table service restaurants and buffets in the parks are by reservation only, and can only be reserved in advance, online, in Japanese. Luckily we have a Japanese friend who can do this for us, but otherwise it is very difficult. Sometimes, if you're lucky, there might be space if you enquire directly at the restaurant, but more often than not, you'll be turned away.

Here is a wide selection of photos from our dining experiences across TDR:

Eating at Refreshment Corner

Getting sweet delights at the Tomorrowland Terrace

Eating at Tomorrowland Terrace

Getting snacks at the Great American Waffle Co.

Our sandwiches from the Sweetheart Cafe

Sweet treats at the Sweetheart Cafe

Sweet treats at the Sweetheart Cafe

Sweet treats at the Sweetheart Cafe

Eating at Sebastian's Calypso Kitchen

Eating at Sebastian's Calypso Kitchen

Eating at Cape Cod Cook-Off

Eating at the Lucky Nugget Cafe

Eating at Grandma Sara's Kitchen

Eating at Vulcania Restaurant

Eating at Vulcania Restaurant

Lilo's Luau and Fun at Polynesian Terrace

Lilo's Luau and Fun at Polynesian Terrace

Lilo's Luau and Fun at Polynesian Terrace

Eating at the Casbah Food Court in Arabian Coast

Our food at Zambini Brothers Ristorante

Aren't you glad we take pictures of everything?!

Shopping at the parks is probably the easiest of the three core experiences you'll have (shopping, dining, attractions). So long as you don't intend to shop up to two hours before park close, then you should be fine. If you're not in a hurry for any specific attraction, then park opening is the best time. The stores are left untouched until just after lunch time. If you want to experience how the Japanese shop, then go into the Emporium or World Bazaar Confectionary last thing at night, and be prepared to be battered and bruised from the insane crush. The CMs can't get the merchandise on the shelves quick enough before the displays are literally torn apart.
The Japanese love to buy things that are "cute", and the smaller and cuter something is, the more expensive it is. Most things cost at least double what they would in the US, and sometimes even more than that. Plushes and hats cost the Earth, and you'll find these, along with weird tasting Japanese candy products, at nearly every store. If you buy any of the candy products, be warned that it probably won't taste as good as it looks. The best part will definitely be the awesome decorative themed box or tin the item comes in!
Merchandise is fairly varied, but we felt that in October their merchandise wasn't as varied as it used to be. Maybe it was just a phase. Nonetheless, you can find some really unique items, as well as all the usual stuff.
Remember also that in part one I talked about the fact that there are some convenience stores at the on site partner hotels that open all hours, as well as one at Maihama Station. Good to know if you really need something.
Here are some pictures of some of the stores and merchandise:

Monsters Inc Company Store

Minnie Mouse mini plush, bought for Amy


Wandering thru Fantasyland

Cool Stitch merchandise in Planet M

Wandering thru Adventureland

Wandering thru Fantasyland

A word now to you photographers, or anyone who just likes taking pictures really.
In all the other parks (US, DLP, HK), you can pretty much take a picture of anything, anywhere. Even in attractions - you just can't use a flash. But for the most part, nobody cares. In TDR things are very different. You cannot take any photos, flash, no flash or otherwise inside any attraction, most queue areas (I kid you not!), or at the TDS show, Big Band Beat. You will be told, very sternly, to stop. And you should if you don't want to risk being thrown out, because I have no doubt that would happen, given the bazillion rules posted across the resort! (This is a resort that even has a sign at Maihama Station informing people they cannot wait overnight at the park entrance. Seriously.)
The other important thing you should know is that you will not be allowed in with a tripod. DSLRs are ok. If you have long lenses, large, bulky lenses and the like, you might be refused entry. Professional photography is not allowed inside the parks. We've never experienced this directly, but it is in their guidelines, and we have been told off a few times inside attractions about taking pictures!
You may also recall my anger at the character meet 'n' greet photo rules from my trip reports. Just a reminder to you here, or a mention for those of you who haven't read my reports, that when making a line for a character - any character, anywhere - you will be allowed one photo only. Either you take it, or you're in it (the CM takes it). You will be told off very sternly if you attempt more than one. And for that privilege you get to wait in line hours, and hours. If you want to meet Mickey at his house in Toontown, my advice? Don't bother! We have literally seen wait times posted for him easily reaching 4 hours. Four hours for one picture. I'm not joking either, sadly.
I should make it clear that if a character is free roaming, you can take any picture you like, so long as you can get a chance! Character are mobbed left, right and centre, and are not easy to meet unless you are somewhat hardcore about it!

Characters at the parks are quite varied and have a lot of different costumes for the different lands and areas. You should check out the main pages for each park and land in the dedicated sections of this site, instead of me going through every one of them here.
Providing you can fight your way through the insane throngs of people, characters at TDR can be really fun to meet.

Finally, please don't be put off by what sounds like the most insane place on Earth! When you visit you will have a blast. Tokyo Disney Resort is a lot of fun, but it does take a LOT of patience and you'll probably need a week off to recover afterwards, but you'll be glad you visited, in the end!

Well, I think that is everything! If I have missed anything out, or you want to ask a question, hit the Discuss button below.

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