Tokyo Disney Resort
Tokyo Disney Resort is extremely popular with the Japanese and has been very profitable for the Oriental Land Company, which owns and operates the resort. (That’s right, the Walt Disney Company does not own or operate Tokyo Disney. Disney provides the Imagineers and gets a piece of the profits, but that’s it.)
Tokyo Disney Resort has two theme parks: Tokyo Disneyland, which opened in 1983, and Tokyo DisneySea, which opened in 2001. The resort also includes three luxury resort hotels, the Art Deco-style Disney Ambassador Hotel, the Italian-themed Hotel MiraCosta and the traditional-style Disneyland Hotel. Rounding out the resort is Ikspiari, a shopping and dining center.
Tokyo Disneyland is sort of a cross between Disneyland in California and Magic Kingdom in Florida, but it has a unique layout and there are quite a few other surprises. Some of the attractions are different. For instance, Pooh’s Hunny Hunt is nothing like the Pooh rides in the US. It’s a spectacular ride in Tokyo. Some of the shows at Tokyo Disneyland do not exist elsewhere. There is also a do-not-miss, spectacularly-themed buffeteria restaurant called Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall.
Tokyo DisneySea is ocean-themed, with “ports” instead of “lands.” It is a fantastic theme park that no Disney fan should miss. Start saving your pennies for a trip to DisneySea now! You won’t believe what Disney’s Imagineers can do when provided with the necessary resources. It puts the other new Disney theme parks, such as Disney’s California Adventure, to shame. Virtually all of the attractions at DisneySea were created especially for this park and so far have not been duplicated elsewhere.
In the past, visiting Tokyo Disney Resort did not have to be outrageously expensive. In fact, if you could afford to fly to Walt Disney World and stay in a Moderate or Deluxe hotel, you could almost certainly afford to visit Tokyo Disney Resort. However, with the Yen now soaring in value, you may find the cost is much less affordable than in the past.
Airfares are far from being an insurmountable barrier, in part because you’re paying in your own currency. Sale fares from the West Coast of the US can be as low as $500-$600 roundtrip in Coach. If you have any frequent flyer miles accumulated, I strongly recommend using them to upgrade from Coach to Business class (or if you have enough miles, redeem them for free Business class tickets) because it is a long flight. From Los Angeles, the travel time is 11.5 hours going to Japan and 9.5 hours returning (it’s faster coming back due to the jet stream). We used frequent flyer miles to upgrade to Business class, which was very worthwhile. We had better food, noise-reducing headsets, and most importantly, cushy seats with leg rests, which made it possible to sleep.
Unfortunately the exchange rate gets you once you arrive in Japan. The cost of admission, meals and hotel can be high if the Yen is high.
Meals at Tokyo Disney Resort are one place where you will need to watch costs. As you’ll find elsewhere in Japan, “lunch sets” (full meals that can include appetizer, entree, dessert and/or drink) are often reasonably priced. Just in general, lunches are a lot cheaper than dinners, so stoke up at lunch!
Full-service dinners (especially character meals) at the official hotels are more expensive than at the US hotel restaurants. However, there are significantly less expensive dinner options at Tokyo Disney Resort, including non-character buffets. Counter-service meals are generally reasonably priced, with many offering higher-end dining options than you’d find at Walt Disney World. Most snacks and beverages from the theme park vending carts are similarly priced to the US parks, making them expensive, but not outrageously so.
Some sample meal prices from November 2011, with thanks to MouseSavers.com reader Coreen S:
- Vulcania (“buffeteria” style meals): chef’s special (full adult meal with dessert and drink) ¥1780; a la carte adult entrees ¥680-¥950 each; child “set” (full meal with dessert and juice) ¥890
- Nautilus Galley (counter service snacks): smoked turkey leg ¥500; three pork gyoza (dumplings) ¥370; coffee/tea/iced tea/iced coffee/Kirin Orange (soft drink) ¥230; Kirin beer ¥580
- Magellan’s (high-end table service restaurant in Tokyo DisneySea): lunch course (full meal with bread, starter, entree, dessert, tea/coffee) ¥2800-¥3400; a la carte starters ¥750-¥1200; a la carte entrees ¥2100-¥3000; a la carte desserts ¥750; child’s lunch “set” (full meal) ¥1450-¥1950
The most expensive aspect of visiting Tokyo Disney Resort is hotel costs. Land is extremely precious in Japan and that is very much reflected in the cost of hotel rooms. If you want to stay on-site at Tokyo Disney Resort, the cheapest room at Ambassador Hotel, in the lowest-priced season in 2011-2012, is ¥28000 a night. Fortunately the resort is very close to central Tokyo — about 15-20 minutes by commuter train from JR Tokyo Station — so there are many other possibilities. See the Hotel Options section below for suggestions.
An important thing to bear in mind is that Japanese hotels typically charge per person, not per room. (Unless otherwise noted, prices quoted below are for a double room sleeping two people.) Also, even if you’re willing to pay for extra occupants, many Japanese hotel rooms are so small that they don’t sleep more than two, or at most three, people. That can be an issue if you’re travelling with a family: you may need to book two rooms.
Disney Ambassador Hotel is a lovely Art Deco wonder located right next door to the Ikspiari shopping center at the entrance to the resort. It will cost you ¥28000 or more per night, depending on season, for the the lowest-priced double room). Standard rooms sleep up to 3 people.
Hotel MiraCosta is a luxurious, beautifully-themed hotel with a private entrance into Tokyo DisneySea. The lowest-priced double rooms at this hotel cost ¥34000 or more per night, depending on season. Standard rooms sleep up to 3 people.
A third hotel, Tokyo Disneyland Hotel opened in July 2008. It is the largest of the three on-site resorts, with 706 guest rooms, and features a Victorian architectural style similar to the Grand Floridian Resort at Walt Disney World. The new hotel includes two restaurants, a lounge, a children’s pool and four merchandise shops. The lowest-priced double rooms at this hotel start at ¥34000. Standard rooms sleep up to 3 people.
There are four seasons at the Disney hotels: Value, Regular, Peak and Top. Value season is mainly weekdays in January and February. Regular season is mainly weekdays in May, September, October, November and the first half of December. Peak and Top seasons include most Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the last half of July, all of August and the late December through early January holiday season.
Obviously it’s best to avoid Peak and Top seasons, both because of high prices and because of crowds. Click here to see more about when to visit.
Online reservations are now available for the Tokyo Disney Resort hotels, but not all rooms are available online. If you can’t get what you want online, try calling. From the US, you must call 011-81-45-683-3333 between 9:00 am and 9:00 pm Japanese time. That is normally 15-17 hours ahead of US time, but it’s 14-16 hours ahead during Daylight Savings Time, because Japan does not participate in the time change. For instance, from California this would mean calling between 4:00 pm and 4:00 am PST, or between 5:00 pm and 5:00 am PST when Daylight Savings is in effect.
When you call to make a reservation, you will initially hear a recording in Japanese, but the recording then welcomes you in English and tells you if you need to speak to someone in English to please press 9 and then 1. The operators speak excellent English and are very efficient. I was off the phone in less than 5 minutes when I called for my 2008 reservation.
Near the theme parks, and connected to them by the Disney Resort Line monorail service, are six full-service “official” hotels: Hilton Tokyo Bay, Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay, Tokyo Bay Maihama Hotel, Hotel Okura Tokyo Bay, Tokyo Bay Hotel Tokyu and Sunroute Plaza Tokyo
- If you are fortunate enough to have a lot of Hilton HHonors or Starwood Preferred Guest points built up, you might be able to get a “free” stay at one of these two hotels by using your points.
- Otherwise, count on paying a minimum of ¥20000-¥40000 per night, depending on season, for a standard double room. However, if you watch carefully, you may be able to score a last-minute deal. MouseSavers.com reader Larry N points out that he kept checking rates on the Hilton Tokyo Bay website even after he had booked his room. At the last minute he paid just over half of the original rate he’d booked.
- Another option is booking way in advance. MouseSavers.com reader Cynthia reports that the Hilton Tokyo Bay hotel rooms can be booked up to 2 years in advance. In October 2006 she began to plan her trip for November 2008. She was able to get a fantastic pre-paid and non-refundable rate, but she reports that she also had the option of reserving a slightly higher, but still very good rate that included a breakfast buffet for her entire family of 4 and was refundable/changeable. She also notes that the Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay can be booked up to 18 months in advance.
Another MouseSavers.com reader, Richard K, reports, “I’ve been to The Tokyo Disney Resort half a dozen times and stayed at two hotels: The MiraCosta and the Hilton Tokyo Bay. I am a DVC member and always stay at Disney hotels whether on the east or west coast of the United States. That said, I now ALWAYS stay at the Hilton in Tokyo Disneyland. Considering that it is half the price per night of the MiraCosta or Ambassador hotels, it is (in my opinion) nicer! I always have (for Japan) an unusually large room with two beds and an ocean view. It’s really a lovely hotel and I think a better option for more of your readers than MiraCosta or Ambassador which, in addition to being more expensive, are much harder to actually get into!”
Until recently, the other “official” hotels were marketed to the Japanese and did not offer websites in English, nor did they necessarily have English-speaking staff. However, the Tokyo Bay Maihama Hotel, Hotel Okura Tokyo Bay, Tokyo Bay Hotel Tokyu and Sunroute Plaza Tokyo now all have English websites and some offer excellent rates. Thanks to Claudia B for update.
Claudia B also offers this review of her stay at Sunroute Plaza Tokyo in March 2006:
We had less than 40 hours in Tokyo… We decided to hit Tokyo Disney Sea, and chose the Sunroute because of its excellent location and value. We had 2 rooms for 2 nights with a good breakfast for $750 total. Pretty good value for Tokyo!
The rooms were decent, clean but small – dated early 90′s. We had 2 twin beds in each and a pull out couch in each. Our view was incredible! The skyline of Tokyo, Tokyo Bay and we even saw Mt. Fuji in the distance the morning we departed. The bathroom sink area was too small for even one person. The tub and toilet area were a nice size however. Great toiletries.
There are a few restaurants that look nice in the hotel, but we only tried the breakfast which was a buffet of western and Asian selections, nothing fancy, perfect for kids.
We were the only Westerners in the entire place which made for a great Japanese experience. There is not much English spoken in this hotel, but we had no problems. All in-room information was in Japanese only. TV stations were all Japanese, but we didn’t have time to watch anyway. They do have a Disney Info Channel, again in Japanese only, but the kids enjoyed watching it.
We bought tickets for Disney Sea right in the lobby with our credit card. They have internet in the lobby for a low cost… A quick Disney shuttle bus picked us up at the lobby and drove us 2 minutes to the monorail which we took right into Disney Sea…
For a budget Disney Trip Sunroute is perfect! I highly recommend [it]. It was not posh, but it provided everything we needed for a great price in a great location. Our view was better than most of the expensive hotels, and the food was good.
In March 2004, a “budget” hotel, Hotel Dream Gate Maihama, opened under the tracks at JR Maihama Station, the train station that serves Tokyo Disney Resort. Rooms at this hotel are reportedly somewhat spartan, with single beds only (up to 3 per room) and still quite expensive, depending on season.
I visited this hotel shortly after it opened and I find it difficult to believe that the rooms would not be noisy due to the trains overhead. I was not shown a room, but even the lobby is pretty small and bland.
Dream Gate is primarily marketed to Japanese people and the English language website is pretty minimal. The hotel staff I talked with spoke a little English.
MouseSavers.com reader Sharon L wrote to tell me that Tokyo Disney Resort now has a group of “Partner Hotels” that are outside the immediate resort area.
After researching the Partner Hotels, she found that Palm & Fountain Terrace Hotel presented the best value for her family and had an easily navigable website in English. (The other three Partner Hotels only have Japanese-language websites.) Sharon reports, “Reservations can now be done online and they have a breakfast plan which is great value. Online reservations tip: type in a 7 digit postal code (anything!) and you’ll be fine. Otherwise an error message keeps on popping up. Breakfast plan is not available via the phone reservation service.”
Bookings for the hotel can also be made via Disney Resort Reservations Center at 011-81-045-683-3333 (9:00 am – 9:00 pm Tokyo time). The phone system is automated and initially the “person” will speak in Japanese. Wait all the way till the English spiel starts and then proceed from there.
Sharon reports that her family especially liked these features of the Palm & Fountain Terrace Hotel (as of June 2006):
- Rooms are spacious by Japanese hotel standards, with four twin beds. Parents can push 2 beds together, since like most Japanese hotels, queen or king-sized beds are not a standard option. Sharon reports their room could have easily fit in a fifth person with an air mattress/porta-cot if you shifted the coffee table away.
- Complimentary shuttle to and from DisneySea and Disneyland takes about 15 minutes. There is a schedule, with timings becoming very frequent (every 15 mins) during the mornings and at night.
- Breakfast buffet was ¥800 adults, ¥500 children. You buy tickets from a vending machine next to the cafe. Menu included lots of different kinds of breadrolls & pastries (yummy), minestrone soup, small salad bar (lettuce, Japanese cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, boiled eggs, dressing), Japanese porridge section, tea, different types of coffee from a capuccino maker, milk, juices, water.
- 24-hour convenience store to stock up on snacks or breakfast if you don’t want to eat from the hotel’s buffet breakfast.
- 10 minute walk to a supermarket and to a department superstore (D2) for the shopaholics looking for non-touristy stuff.
- The website shows you the different tariffs for different days/months. This means you can plan when you should go to coincide with the “off peak” or “normal” dates to minimize cost and of course beat the queues at the resorts!
Sharon additionally reports that the Narita Airport Limo is now in operation to the Palm & Fountain Terrace, making it much easier to get to the hotel.
Fortunately Tokyo Disney Resort is not far from the eastern districts of central Tokyo. From JR Tokyo Station, it’s about a 15-minute train ride to JR Maihama Station at Tokyo Disney Resort. The trains run very frequently and absolutely on time. There are a wealth of hotel options if you stay in Tokyo.
The thing to keep in mind about Tokyo is that there are no “bad areas” — some are nicer or more convenient than others, but none are dangerous. The overall quality of Tokyo hotels is very good. You can count on cleanliness even at the lower end, though rooms are often very small in less expensive accommodations.
Another worthwhile option to consider is Priceline. Only a few hotels in Tokyo seem to be participating in Priceline, which allows you to choose an area and a quality rating (up to 5 stars), but does not allow you to pick the exact hotel. All of the hotels are very nice, though you should expect small rooms, as is typical of Japanese hotels. Most rooms will have either two twin beds or one small double bed in the room — it is highly unlikely you’ll get a room that sleeps more than two.
If you’re coming directly from the airport, simply go to the Limo Bus counter and buy a ticket for Tokyo Disney Resort (¥2400). The buses run frequently and will take you straight to the resort in about 60 minutes. The same thing applies in reverse.
If you’ll be staying in central Tokyo and commuting out to the resort, get to JR Tokyo Station and find your way to the JR Keiyo Line. (It’s a long walk — be prepared!) When you reach the gate for the Keiyo Line, put your JR ticket through the gate. Hold on to your ticket, which must be inserted into the gate on your way out of the destination station.
(If you don’t already have a JR ticket, buy one from the machines on the walls in the main part of the station, before heading off to the Keiyo Line. There is a button in the upper right corner of the ticket machines’ screens marked “English” that will make the machines switch languages. If you are not sure of the exact fare, simply buy the least expensive fare and then stick your ticket in the “Fare Adjustment” machines before you exit on the other end. The machines will will tell you how much more you owe. Insert that amount and it will be added to your ticket.)
From JR Tokyo Station, you can take pretty much any Keiyo Line or Musashino Line train (which is just a variant on the Keiyo Line), since they all seem to stop at JR Maihama Station, the station at Tokyo Disney Resort. If you take a “Local” train, Maihama will be the sixth stop; if you take a “Rapid” train, it will usually be the third stop. Normally there will be lots of families and schoolkids on the train, and they’ll all get off at Maihama, which will be a good indication if for some reason you’re unsure. When returning, just make sure you’re getting on a train going to Tokyo. That’s the last stop, so it’s pretty idiot-proof.
The fare will vary depending on where you start from and whether you use a JR train to get to JR Tokyo Station, but it will be relatively inexpensive. For instance, during our 2004 visit we took the JR Chuo Line from JR Shinjuku Station (which is on the opposite side of central Tokyo from JR Tokyo Station) and then transferred at Tokyo Station to the Keiyo Line to Maihama. At the time, the total one-way fare was ¥380.
The easiest way to travel between Narita Airport (NRT) and Tokyo (including Tokyo Disneyland) is to use the Limo Bus. Despite the name, this is not a limousine; it’s a shuttle bus service. The Limo Bus is frequent and goes directly to major hotels in Tokyo and to Tokyo Disneyland. One major advantage of this service is that they handle your luggage for you and take you door-to-door. The Limo Bus costs about ¥2700 to ¥3000 per person, one-way to/from Tokyo hotels and about ¥2400 per person, one-way to/from Tokyo Disney.
We used the Limo Bus to and from our hotel and it was effortless. Be aware that due to traffic it takes quite awhile to get to Tokyo hotels. Count on 90 minutes to the eastern districts (Ginza, Shimbashi) and 2 hours to the western districts (Shinjuku, Roppongi). Also, the seats are narrow, so if you’re a big person, be prepared for a tight squeeze.
However, MouseSavers.com reader Jonathan L points out that the Limo Bus “has limited service going to the Tokyo Disneyland Resort from Narita. I believe their last bus leaves sometime shortly after 5. I was able to look up departure times on the Airport Limousine Bus website. Buses run later then that going into Tokyo and other places. I had to actually change my departure date so I would arrive early enough to catch the last limousine bus to the resort. I ended up being the only person on the bus so I got a ride straight to Hilton Tokyo Bay.”
The bullet trains (shinkansen) operated by JR from the airport to central Tokyo are faster than the Limo Bus (about one hour). The cost is about the same. It is perfectly safe and the trains run on time.
However, you’ll be dragging your luggage up and down stairs, because many stations don’t have escalators or elevators. Also, major stations like JR Tokyo Station and JR Shinjuku Station are extremely large and confusing, which is guaranteed to be frustrating if you’re jet-lagged. If you’re arriving during rush hour, you will find yourself “swimming upstream” through absolutely mind-boggling crowds, too. In short, this is not a fun way to start your trip.
If you will be visiting Tokyo and/or other parts of Japan in addition to Tokyo Disney Resort you may want to consider a Japan Rail Pass. However, it is really only cost-effective if you plan to cover long distances by rail. For instance, it will pretty much pay for itself if you plan a roundtrip between Tokyo and Kyoto plus at least one other fairly long journey. Otherwise, it’s usually better to skip it and buy separate fares.
There is also a JR East Pass that is good for travel in the Tokyo area and areas to the North and East of Tokyo, but again you will have to do a lot of rail travel to make it worthwhile.
Bear in mind that if you buy a rail pass, that locks you into using Japan Rail (JR), but often JR is not the most convenient or desirable option. For instance:
- There are smaller, privately-owned rail systems that are cheaper and/or more convenient for visiting many of the popular tourist destinations (i.e. Hakone, Nikko, etc.)
- You can use JR lines within Tokyo, but sometimes the subway is faster, more direct and puts you closer to your destination within the city. Even if you use JR lines in Tokyo exclusively, however, it will take a lot of trips to pay for a rail pass, since fares within the city are generally under ¥200.
- As discussed above, JR transfers to and from the airport are not always your best bet.
Taxis in Tokyo are expensive. The minimum charge is ¥710 for the first 2 kilometers (about 1.25 miles). Plus, due to the constant heavy traffic, taxis are extremely slow. The JR commuter trains and subway trains are tremendously faster and cheaper.
We did use taxis a few times for short trips when it was raining, but don’t count on using them for any long distances unless you have plenty of money burning holes in your pockets or you are desperate. In 2007 we paid around ¥1400 to be driven to a neighboring district that could not have been more than a few miles away. The same destination would have cost us ¥660 on the train at that time.
Also, be sure you have written directions in Japanese to your destination (get your hotel front desk or concierge to write them out for you) and/or have a map with the destination clearly marked. On two different occasions our cab drivers got lost and had to get out of the car to get directions. In one case this added quite a bit to the fare, since the driver ended up going far out of his way.
- When to Go
- Planning, Maps and Guidebooks
- Changing Money
- Language Issues in Tokyo
- Language Issues in the Disney Theme Parks
- Cell Phones in Japan
- Mobility Issues When Visiting Tokyo and Tokyo Disney Resort
Tokyo Disney Resort is most crowded on weekends, especially on Saturdays. If you can manage to visit on a weekday, crowds will be significantly lighter.
Probably the nicest time of year in Japan, weather-wise, is spring (April-May). However, you’ll want to avoid Golden Week (see below). The fall is also pleasant, particularly in October-November.
Winter can be cold (low 30s to upper 40s F) but January and February offer the lowest crowds at the theme parks.
If at all possible, avoid going in the summer. It’s miserably hot and humid, it rains a lot, and there are also two holiday time periods in mid-July and mid-August associated with Oban that can have bigger crowds (the date of the holiday can vary in different areas of Japan).
Be aware that Japan has two national holiday periods that you will definitely want to avoid: New Year (January 1-3 and any associated weekend) and Golden Week (April 29-May 5 and associated weekends).
In preparation for the trip, I bought a couple of guidebooks. Unfortunately, because relatively few English-speaking visitors go to Japan, the English-language guidebooks aren’t updated annually. Most guidebooks to Japan are updated only every 3 to 5 years.
The best guide I’ve found is Frommer’s Japan, which seems to come out about every two years. It provides some worthwhile information about the major sights, districts of Tokyo, general transportation stuff, a little on etiquette, etc.
You will want maps in Tokyo, but you can easily pick those up for free at any tourist information counter in the airport or major train stations. The one I liked was a booklet titled Welcome to Tokyo, distributed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. It had a page of maps for each major district in the city and also offered small discounts at some of the parks and museums.
I did print out both JR commuter train and Tokyo Metro subway maps in English from the Internet, and those turned out to be very helpful. (They are PDF files. If you get a pop-up from Adobe recommending you download the Japanese language add-on, I recommend you do this. Also, be sure to use a color printer, because the train lines are color coded.)
Overall, by far the best planning resource for travel to Japan was the Internet. Material I found online was up-to-date and helpful. A few of the sites I found especially useful or interesting were:
- Yes!Tokyo – Tokyo Convention and Visitors Bureau
- Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO) Website
- Tokyo Food Page
- Tokyo Culture Notes
- The Quirky Japan Homepage
Additionally, Akiyo Urano, a reader of MouseSavers.com, was kind enough to send me a “Japan Survival Guide” — a wonderful guide to the basics of traveling in Japan — and gave me permission to include it here on MouseSavers.com. It contains a great deal of the most important information you will need for a trip to Tokyo. I would venture to say that with that guide, and some visits to the sites above, you can probably skip the printed guidebooks.
It’s nice to have some Yen in your pocket on arrival, because Japan remains a relatively cash-oriented society — at least more so than the US. For instance, the Limo Bus is cash-only, and many small restaurants only accept cash. (One thing you won’t need cash for: tips. There is essentially no tipping in Japan.) However, you can use major credit cards (Visa, MasterCard and American Express) at many hotels, department stores and chain restaurants, as well as throughout Tokyo Disney Resort, except at food stands.
You can pre-order some Yen through Travelex or a major US bank, but it’s easier to use an ATM (which is generally called a “cash machine” outside the US) to get some cash. Before you depart, call the number on the back of your ATM card and let your bank know you’ll be using your ATM card internationally. Most banks will block international withdrawals if you don’t warn them. Be sure to ask how much the ATM fees will cost you: many banks charge something like 3% plus $3 per transaction. If that’s the case, to save on transaction fees, consider taking your limit (typically $200 or $300) worth of Yen out of an ATM at the beginning of the trip. Lock some of it in your hotel safe if you want, but don’t worry about carrying a fairly large amount. I wouldn’t give this advice almost anywhere else — and certainly not in a major US city — but in Tokyo it’s safe to walk around with cash in your wallet, because there is very little street crime.
Be aware that there aren’t many ATMs in Japan that will accept foreign ATM cards. Basically only ATMs in the airport, 7-Eleven stores, Citibank locations and post offices will work. Most ATMs are not open 24 hours, either. In fact, outside of the airport, many ATMs are open for very limited daytime hours. However, MouseSavers.com reader Jae reports, “At most 7-Elevens you can use the ATM free of charge (at least I didn’t get charged) and typically with a better exchange rate than you get from the bank. [You will need a] card with the Plus sign on the back. You have to withdraw about ¥10000 at a time, but it’s a lot more convenient than the post office (which often closes at 3) and 7-Elevens are typically everywhere, at least in Tokyo.” (Click here for 7-Eleven locations.) This is good advice if you’re heading into Tokyo. If you’re going straight from the airport to Tokyo Disney Resort, however, you should get your cash at the airport, since there are no 7-Elevens at Disney.
I hate to admit it, but we headed off to Japan knowing exactly two words of Japanese — arigato (thanks) and konichiwa (hi). Yet the language barrier was not as problematic as I expected. When you consider the relatively small number of English-speaking visitors who go to Tokyo each year, it’s remarkable how close the city is to being bilingual (Japanese/English). A great many directional signs, instructional signs, advertisements, “you are here” map displays, etc. are at least partially in English as well as Japanese. Train stations show the station names and train line names in both languages, so it’s easy to navigate through the stations. On some of the major train lines, all announcements are made in both Japanese and English.
There is quite a bit of “Japanlish” floating around, too. The Japanese don’t seem to make up new Japanese words for concepts that come from English — they just adopt the English words, though they may change the pronunciation to be more Japanese-sounding. So “tomato” is “toe-mah-toe” and “eye shadow” is “eye shah-doe”. If you watch Japanese TV and listen carefully, you’ll probably be surprised at how many English words are used.
Most Japanese young people who work in public positions throughout Tokyo seem to speak at least a few words of English. For instance, most of the time our restaurant servers knew relevant English words and phrases like “thank you,” “water,” “lunch set,” numbers in English, etc. Between that and the common practice of providing plastic food displays and picture menus at many restaurants, we had minimal trouble ordering what we wanted. Every counter we approached in every shop we visited had at least one clerk who spoke some English.
Every so often you’ll hit a location in Tokyo where everything is in Japanese, and you’ll be confused or disoriented. Don’t panic. In our experience, the solution was to ask someone who worked there (i.e. a gate attendant in a train station, a clerk in a department store). Even if that person didn’t speak much English, they always found us someone who did, or we were able to communicate by pointing to places on maps and using sign language.
Make sure you always have a street map and both JR and subway maps in English with you, and you’ll be all set.
During our visits to Tokyo Disney Resort, we have had no problem navigating the theme parks due to our ignorance of Japanese. Virtually all of the signs throughout Tokyo Disney Resort are in English.
However, the narration in the the actual show or attraction is often completely in Japanese and can be a bit difficult to follow if you don’t speak the language. You can usually get the general idea.
MouseSavers.com reader Chris offers these pointers, based on his visit in 2007:
- English guides to both parks, and to Tokyo Disney Resort in general, are available from guest services at MiraCosta and Ambassador hotels.
- An English guide map to Ikspiari is available from guest services at the Ambassador.
- A colorful storyboard (complete with English version lyrics of the Menken song) is available from the cast members at “Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage” in DisneySea.
- English subtitles are available (in the form of a handheld device) for The Magic Lamp Theater in DisneySea.
The main thing you should know is that US cell phones will not work in Japan — even quad band phones. Japan uses a (superior) cell phone system not available on US phones. Also, you can’t buy a prepaid cell phone in Japan without official Japanese documents that a regular tourist can’t get. So buying a “disposable” phone isn’t an option.
For that reason, if you will need to use a cell phone while in Japan, the best bet is to rent a Japanese phone. Many companies offer Japanese cell phone rentals: two that offer pretty good deals are Cellhire USA and Rentafone Japan. The amount you pay for the rental and the amount you pay per minute will vary widely, so evaluate which works best based on your usage pattern.
If you need to keep your cell phone number while in Japan and you have an AT&T cell phone in the US, you can rent an NTT DoCoMo phone and swap the SIM card (except for iPhones, which don’t have removable SIM cards). DoCoMo has an agreement with AT&T. You’ll be billed by AT&T at its Japan roaming rates, which are high.
Need more info? Click here for a very detailed and useful site about Japanese mobile phones.
If you’ll be taking a laptop to Japan, you might want to consider skipping the cell phone and instead signing up for an Internet phone service such as Skype so you can call home through an Internet connection. You’ll obviously need to take along a headset with microphone if you do this.
Tokyo has an inexpensive and extremely reliable public transportation system, but only if you have full use of your legs. In most train stations you must be able to walk up and down a significant number of stairs. Many stations have no elevators (although more are being installed all the time) and many trains are not wheelchair-accessible due to gaps between the platform and the edge of the car.
For that reason alone, visiting Tokyo has the potential to be challenging and expensive for anyone in a wheelchair or with any kind of mobility issue. Outside of Tokyo things are usually even worse. However, Japan is making greater efforts to become “barrier free,” and with careful planning it’s not an impossible prospect for someone in a wheelchair or who has difficulty walking. If you want to try it, be sure to check out the Japanese Disability Information Resources site (which has an English version) for some useful information.
Walking around Tokyo is extremely tough for anyone with bad knees (trust me, I know from personal experience). There are lots of stairs everywhere and the terrain is hilly. Frankly I was in constant pain during our trip, even with medication. If you have knee, hip or other leg problems, get in the best shape you can before you leave. Be prepared to pace yourself and possibly skip some things if you’re hurting too much. Make sure you have any medications you may need, such as anti-inflammatories.
For those who have difficulty with walking long distances and/or up and down stairs, be aware that it is difficult to avoid those things if you’re going to visit Tokyo Disney Resort and stay in central Tokyo. For example, the connection from the central part of JR Tokyo Station to and from the Keiyo Line that serves Tokyo Disney Resort is 520 meters (about a third of a mile) and involves three escalators, three moving walkways and a couple of flights of stairs. I have no idea how someone in a wheelchair would manage it. Perhaps there were some elevators I missed, but believe me, I was looking.
Once you are at Tokyo Disney Resort, the situation is significantly better than Tokyo in general. The train station that serves the resort (JR Maihama Station) does have elevators, though you’ll have to do some research on how to get there and where you can go from there, since many other stations do not have elevators. (My guess is that the airport is accessible and there is probably an accessible station to get from the airport to the resort, but that’s just a guess.)
Most of the attractions, particularly at the newer park, Tokyo DisneySea, are accessible. The accessible entrances are not always clearly marked and you’ll need to allow extra time. It would be wise to call ahead and ask for help, too.
I saw lots of people in wheelchairs, particularly at DisneySea, and there are wheelchair rentals available. Supposedly there are scooter-type electric wheelchairs available for rental, but I saw only one person using one in the two days we were there, and I believe it was that person’s own scooter.
Of course your first stop should be the official Tokyo Disney Resort website, which is in English and is quite informative and comprehensive. I printed out maps and information and did a lot of research on that site.
Travelers Series Guide to the Tokyo Disney Resort is the only printed guidebook in English. This fairly comprehensive book, published in October 2010, has good coverage of a lot of important stuff at the resort, including descriptions of each attraction, dining location and shop. It also has worthwhile material about the Disney hotels. It doesn’t go into much depth about how to save money (but fortunately you have MouseSavers.com for that) and it doesn’t have touring plans or tips on the best strategies for avoiding lines, though it does list which attractions have FASTPASS and Single Rider Lines. It also compares Tokyo Disney to the American parks, which is helpful for those who just want to “hit the highlights” and do attractions that are different from their American versions. All in all, a worthy effort and well worth buying if you’re planning a trip to Tokyo Disney for the first time.
There are also two frequently updated, unofficial sites with Tokyo Disney Resort information in English:
For a general overview of the parks, you can read my trip report on our May 2004 visit to Tokyo Disney Resort.