Whether to visit Tokyo Disneyland or Tokyo DisneySea
Should you choose Tokyo Disneyland or Tokyo DisneySea? Let me help you choose!
If you are planning that once-in-a-lifetime trip to Japan, you might not want to sacrifice some of those cultural tour days to a Disney park. However, let me just spend some time telling you not only why visiting one of the Disney parks in Tokyo is worth it but help you decide which one you might rather visit.
Should I Go to Disneyland on My Trip to Japan?
Let me start with those of you who are hesitant about visiting a Disney park at all. Maybe you are scoffing at letting an entire day of Japanese culture or history slip through your fingers. Spending a day at Tokyo Disney Resort is not just about Mickey and theme parks.
Instead, a day at the Tokyo Disney Resort is a cultural experience, a chance to have some fun, and, perhaps, a chance for the rest of your family to relax a little.
Spending a day at Tokyo Disney is a Cultural Experience
To be sure, a day at Tokyo Disneyland or DisneySea has a lot of similarities to a day at Disneyland in Anaheim or Disney World Orlando. You will find many of the same rides, features, stores, and attractions.
However, Tokyo Disney Resort (the general term used to describe Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo DisneySea, and the Tokyo Disney hotels) has its own unique flavor. From the snacks and shows to the parks and parades, you will experience Disney with a distinctly Japanese flair.
For example, consider the food. Tokyo Disney features mochi desserts, steamed buns, and curries. You can experience spring rolls, miso soup, and even seafood.
Further, most shows, rides, and attractions are in Japanese. In our experience, hearing Japanese in the context of shows we already know gave us a chance to learn more Japanese phrases.
In addition, taking a day from your trip to enjoy the park will give you some perspective into the culture and language while also having a lot of fun.
Finally, for our family, our children were quite shocked to arrive in a country where they couldn’t communicate, where they didn’t recognize lots of the food, and where they looked different from everyone around them.
Therefore, for our family, spending a couple of days at Disney was a much-needed soft landing for our children –a place where they felt freer to be children instead of listening to another history presentation.
In sum, if you are concerned about losing a day of your Japanese adventure to a Disney theme park, don’t be. Instead, consider what you can learn from seeing Japan from a more juvenile and colorful angle! And, consider that you (or your fellow travelers) might need a break!
What to expect for Disney-lovers at Tokyo Disney.
For those of you who are already on board and simply want to know which park is better, remember that Tokyo Disney is not merely a copy of the U.S. or European parks. Maybe you aren’t reticent about visiting the parks at all, you are simply strapped for time.
I’m here to remind you that Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea are NOT Disney World or even Disneyland.
The Tokyo Disney Resort has its own vibe and its own way of doing things. Some of those things you will love. For example, Main Street is covered, protecting you from both extreme heat and rain.
However, some of those things will surprise you. For example, most snack carts close between 6:00 and 7:00 pm. Therefore, even if you are planning to stay at the park until close, don’t wait to buy your dinner or you will find your family huddled around a single churro hoping to last until fireworks (personal experience!).
Further, even if you are used to the densest crowds at Disney World in summer, Tokyo Disney might still be busier on an off-peak day. Like most of Japan, this place is crowded. Yet, people patiently wait in long queues for everything from churros to Space Mountain. And, that means not being able to ride every ride even in a very long rope drop day.
To be sure, in our experience, this place was just as magical as any other Disney park we had visited. It had characters—some that were fairly new to us (Duffy and Friends). It had parades –some that were far more extensive than those we had seen in the U.S. or Europe. But it was important to be prepared for some major differences.
In the end we loved it! We danced with Belle and Beast in his castle. Our children danced with Lightning McQueen and Mickey. And, we all journeyed to the center of the earth and were shot from the top of a volcano. It was a blast, and you can have a blast too if you are prepared for some Disney differences.
So whether you are seeking the quintessential Disneyland experience or the vastly different vibe of DisneySea, let’s look at what you can expect.
What to expect at Tokyo Disneyland:
Tokyo Disneyland is the more classic “Castle Park” of the Tokyo Disney Resort. For those of you who want that perfect castle Instagram post, this is the park for you.
Tokyo Disneyland’s Cinderella’s Castle is one of the largest castles of the castle parks across the world at 168 feet. However, did you know that Tokyo Disneyland boasts not one but two castles!
Although not its main centerpiece, you will also find Beast’s castle –a nearly as impressive structure – nestled in Fantasyland. Don’t miss both castles if visiting this park.
Tokyo Disneyland Park is divided into 7 “lands”. These include:
- Tomorrowland where you will find your familiar “Space Mountain” and “Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters.” However, unique to Tokyo, you will also find “The Happy Ride with Baymax,” a Japanese favorite among several other rides and attractions.
- Toontown: the go-to place for littles to meet and greet their favorite characters or explore “Minnie’s House.” My four-year-old loved this area, but we liked it most for the selection of food!
- Fantasyland where you will find many of the classic rides such as the spinning teacups or flying Dumbo’s. However, you can also take your tour of Cinderella’s castle and see one of the newest features of Disney Imagineering: Enchanted Tales of Beauty and the Beast in this area of the park.
- Critter Country where you will find Splash Mountain and Beaver Brothers Explorer Canoes among other food stalls and games.
- Westernland, which features not only Big Thunder Mountain but also the is-it-creepy-or-cute “Country Bear Jamboree.
- Adventureland where you can climb the Swiss Family Treehouse or listen to the singing aviary at the Tiki Room with Stitch!
- World Bazaar, or as you might know it, “Main Street”.
In one full, long day our family visited every “land” of the park even though we didn’t ride every ride. We took advantage of Happy Entry –a feature extended to Disney hotels that allows you to enter a very valuable 15 minutes early.
We tried to visit our loved favorites as well as some distinctly Japanese rides that we won’t find in other countries.
We loved the Main Street Electrical parade even though we didn’t understand that people line up for hours before the parades start. And, we were surprised at how small the fireworks display was.
However, all in all we had a great, family day together at the park eating mochi and flavored popcorn!
Then we hopped over to DisneySea where we had the most unique Disney experience we have ever had!
What to expect at Tokyo DisneySea
Tokyo DisneySea is a shockingly impressive feat of engineering and scale. This park made my jaw drop upon walking through the entrance, and I could have easily spent hours simply staring at the volcano, lake, ships, boats, and decorations.
DisneySea is less a Disney-themed park and more a most-impressive-theme-park-I-have-ever-seen-but-with-Disney-characters park. Don’t go expecting to find any of your usual rides, attractions, or layout!
For example, at Disney World, Disneyland, and even Disney Paris, each resort has its own “Studios” experience. That is, each has a castle park and then a more show or character-oriented park. For example, Disney World has “Hollywood Studios”, Disney Paris has “Walt Disney Studios Park, and Disneyland Resort has Disney California Adventure.
Therefore, our family thought that the non-castle park at Tokyo Disney would be a lot like these “studios” parks. Boy were we wrong.
Disney Imagineers threw all their imaginations into one enormous and impressive-at-every-angle-park that features an enormous, erupting volcano at its center, a life-sized steamship, an enormous lake, and a Mediterranean Harbor just to name a few of the features.
While the volcano is certainly the centerpiece of the park, every Harbor, or themed area, has its own feature.
DisneySea has 7 themed areas that all revolve around a water theme. These include:
- Mediterranean Harbor, where you will find not only loads of eating options but also gondolas and the Hotel Miracosta.
- American Waterfront: a New York-themed neighborhood where you can buy a hot dog and pizza or shoot aliens at Toy Story Mania!
- Port Discovery, where you can learn with Nemo and Friends at the Marine Life Institute or ride the Japanese original “Aquatopia.”
- Lost River Delta, where you can find the famous “Indiana Jones Adventure” ride, which my children were too nervous to try!
- Arabian Coast: a Marrakech and Alhambra-themed area featuring a two-story carousel, the patio de los leones (a favorite for us who love Granada, Spain so much), and the original “Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage” where you meet the adorable Chandu the tiger.
- Mermaid Lagoon, where you will find lots of great rides for toddlers, but where you also can’t miss visiting King Triton’s underground (underwater) castle.
- Mysterious Island: the park’s piece-de-resistance. This features both the volcano and a floating island within. You will feel like you have been transported off-world and could easily spend your entire day simply exploring this area.
Don’t try to do all of DisneySea in one day. Instead concentrate on hitting the most impressive and iconic spots. Journey to the center of the earth, spin on Aquatopia, don’t miss riding a gondola, and maybe make time to walk around the entire Arabian Coast.
By all means, enjoy taking in the park as much as you enjoy the rides and attractions. The park is massive, unique, and interesting from every angle. Even if you happen to look away from the Disney designs, your gaze will surely turn to Tokyo Bay that rims DisneySea.
Which Tokyo Disney Park with Only One Day
So now you have an idea of what you might find at each park, but which one is better Tokyo Disneyland or Tokyo DisneySea?
My opinion, having visited and loved both, is going to be unequivocally DISNEYSEA. The park is fantastic, overwhelming, magical, fun, and transporting. We couldn’t stop smiling or gaping the entire day. Our entire family had such a great time eating popcorn, riding lines, snacking, and marveling at the park in general.
In fact, we found the park so impressive that we booked a special access pass for the nighttime spectacular, which is by far the best Disney nighttime show I have ever seen.
However, if you prefer the quintessential Disney experience –the castles, the characters, and Main Street (World Bazaar) then Disneyland is right for you.
I will admit that DisneySea has Disney attractions but isn’t overtly covered in the Disney and Pixar characters that wallpaper other parks. DisneySea is more about ambience, engineering, and design.
Therefore, if you want to visit the most impressive park with the most to do, see, eat, and enjoy, then choose DisneySea. However, if you are more intent on seeking the Disney experience in Japan, then opt for the more traditional Tokyo Disneyland.
Tokyo Disneyland vs. Tokyo DisneySea
Both parks are going to be a memorable, distinctly Japanese, Disney experience. You can’t go wrong, so long as you remember to book those tickets in advance. However, if you are looking for my opinion, with only one day, choose DisneySea for the most unique Disney park experience.
Allocating a day in Japan to a Disney park might be difficult for some of you, but remember that pop culture is still culture! Plus, your family might need a break from all those guided history and architecture tours!