There are very good reasons not to take your kids to Tokyo Disneyland. They’re too small for all the good rides. They won’t remember it later. And they can’t handle waiting in line with their short little legs and tiny feet.
But the best reasons to take them? As the parent, you get to decide the schedule of the day. Entrance for kids four and under is free. And any disappointment they feel is short-lived due to their adorable goldfish memories.
The key to success is knowing what you’re getting yourself into. I did a lot of research beforehand (including reading a lot of Disneyland-focused blogs) and also picked up a few things myself along the way.
So here’s everything that worked for us during our hectic but amazing 4-day stay at Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea…
Absolutely Stay on the Island
We stayed at the Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay Hotel. It’s a Disney Resort Official Hotel. This means it’s one of the hotels located along the Disney Resort Line train, saving us a lot of time with our daily commutes morning and night. The Hilton Tokyo Bay also gets really good reviews, but I went with Sheraton because I redeemed Marriott points for our stay.
Important: take the Limousine Bus from Narita or Haneda Airport. They drop off at all the hotels and saves you from wrangling kids and suitcases.
Originally I thought staying close to the parks meant we’d head back to the hotel to escape the insane midday heat and take afternoon naps, but naturally that didn’t happen. But staying close by did give us the flexibility to take our time in the mornings and feel comfortable about staying out at the parks til dark. Also, kids can be so slow in the mornings that the proximity really takes the pressure off.
Another huge factor is you don’t need to worry about lugging all the stuff you’ve accumulated on the train at the end of the day when everyone is utterly exhausted and your feet are screaming in pain. See below.
Get Cute Outfits Before You Go
People get really into matching family t-shirts at Disneyland and DisneySea, but I just wanted to make sure my little girl looked adorable for the gazillion photos I took of her. (I have no idea if this impulse applies to parents of little boys.)
I picked up Disney clothes for her at a few places. I got her grey Mickey t-shirt from the online store Lativ and had it shipped to 7-11. I found some funky Minnie Mouse pants on sale at Gap. I also couldn’t resist getting a very cute top from the les enphants store near me. Zara Kids also has Disney licensed stuff, and of course Uniqlo has a classic Mickey t-shirt it seemed like hundreds of people were wearing every day.
Once we got to the park, I got her a pair of the classic kid’s Minnie Mouse ears which were 1,000¥. Of course, we lost them just 24 hours later! But I got another pair for her/me as a souvenir because one day her head will grow too big and seeing the mini ears will make me wanna cry.
What to Pack for Tokyo Disneyland
I read on another Disney blog that bringing your own coffee is a good idea simply as a time-saver. Just make it in the hotel room in the mornings and go. So glad I did that, and I’m not even a coffee fanatic. Yes, our hotel room came with a couple of packets of instant coffee, but who knows how old those are?
Next, diapers. Since I wasn’t sure about the diaper situation at Disneyland, I brought my own so it would be one less thing to think about. This worked out fine because I was saving 50% of my suitcase capacity for souvenirs anyway. But if you do need diapers, wet wipes and other supplies, the Ikspiari by Maihama station is basically a big shopping mall with everything you need.
Wet weather gear. I checked the weather forecast and knew we’d see rain a couple of days, so I brought an umbrella and the stroller rain cover. I also packed my little girl’s raincoat, but it was so warm and humid in late August that we couldn’t use it. I’m so glad I didn’t bother with her rain boots. Those are heavy as hell.
Other things to consider: I took our travel stroller (I use the Contours Bitsy) which I gate check on the plane. If you don’t want to take your own stroller, you can rent one there for 1,000¥ a day. From Taiwan, you’ll want to get a prepaid SIM card that works for Japan so you have unlimited internet for Google Maps and the TDR Alert app (see below). You can pick up a SIM card at the mobile carrier shops. Ours was 599NT for 6 days of service.
I don’t know about the official Disneyland hotels, but the Sheraton was so perfect for families with kids going to Disneyland. The Galleria Cafe is a casual restaurant that serves an all-day menu until midnight, and you can also buy food and beer to-go to enjoy in your room. Plus all the shops in the hotel have milk cartons and yogurt so you don’t need to worry about the kids’ breakfast the next day.
If you think you’d prefer to skip the fast food and restaurants at the parks, you could pack take-out food from the hotel cafe and heat it up in the Baby Centers. There are a couple in both Disneyland and DisneySea.
And speaking of Ikspiari, that place looks awesome when you zoom in on Google Maps and see everything inside. There’s an Ippudo and Rainforest Cafe there, plus a massive Disney Store and a cinema. My original plan was to head over to Ikspiari for dinner a couple of nights, but my daughter and I turned out to be such party animals for Disneyland and DisneySea we never made it.
Download the “TDR Alert” iOS App
I wouldn’t have survived without it. It gives you real-time updates on wait times on all the rides, tells you when Fastpasses will activate and shows what rides are currently closed. It works for both Disneyland and DisneySea, and has a map feature so you can see what rides are close by with a short wait. It’s total genius and it’s free. Here’s the App Store link: TDR Alert. We left Disneyland a week ago and I still can’t bring myself to delete it.
There’s an official app from Tokyo Disney Resorts too but it’s only available from the Japanese iTunes Store, and it’s in Japanese. If you’re eligible to use the official app, here’s info on how to do that from another Disney blog.
Finally, if you’re on Android there are a couple of options but check the reviews. I found TDR Alert very accurate for wait times but I don’t know about the Android apps because I didn’t use them personally.
Get Your Fastpasses, People
For Disneyland, I’d say the best kid-appropriate rides to take advantage of Fastpasses are:
- Pooh’s Honey Hunt (my personal favorite)
- Monster’s Inc. Ride & Go Seek
- Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters
Those three rides seem to have consistently crazy waits and Fastpasses will make your life so much easier.
For DisneySea, most of the Fastpass rides have height restrictions my shorty daughter didn’t meet. The only option for her would have been Toy Story Mania. If your kid is a little taller (over 90cm) then you can go for Nemo & Friends SeaRider.
Typically it would make the most sense to get Fastpasses as soon as you get into the park, but remember they only have a one-hour window. So if that window falls during your toddler’s naptime, then yes, that would really suck. For Buzz Lightyear, I went to pick up my Fastpass around 12pm for the 5:40pm to 6:40pm ride time.
One more thing: don’t scoff at the performance shows and parades. There aren’t a lot of opportunities to see Mickey, Minnie and the gang in person at Disneyland or DisneySea, so these are a fun way for kids to get up close. Just know that for some of the shows you’ll need to enter a lottery system to win tickets. (I know.)
At Disneyland, you can scan your ticket for the show lottery at the Tomorrowland Hall Show Lottery (Map). At DisneySea, you’ll need to go to the Biglietteria, which isn’t marked on Google Maps so look on a paper map instead. I completely wiped out with the lottery, so we went standby for a show on our last day.
The Best Kid-Friendly Rides
Prepare for your arms to die. I am not kidding around. I set a 30 minute limit on wait times for rides knowing I would probably need to carry her for the entire length of time. If I could go back, I’d only wait for the ones that were the “best value” for my arms, and definitely skip a few not-as-fun rides that we waited a long time long for.
Mickey’s House (Map) in Toon Town is where you get to meet Mickey and take photos with him. It had a consistent and unavoidable 45 or 50 minute wait at any time of day. But the good news is some of that is indoors where little kids can run around Mickey’s place like bandits within a confined space.
These were the most fun rides/attractions for us at Disneyland:
- Pooh’s Honey Hunt
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters
- Mickey’s House
- “it’s a small world”
- Castle Carrousel
- Alice’s Tea Cups
- Jungle Cruise: Wildlife Expectations
- Minnie’s House
- Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
For most of these rides, she simply sat next to me and we had the safety rail holding us in place. I also put my arm around her so she didn’t slide around or attempt to get up. We didn’t go on Monster’s Inc. Ride & Go Seek or Dumbo The Flying Elephant because the waits were brutal.
These rides I’d skip next time because they’re a little dark, weird or scary:
- Snow White’s Adventures
- Pinocchio’s Daring Journey
- Country Bear Theater
The Country Bear Theater freaked her out so much we couldn’t go to see the PhilharMagic show either. It totally depends on your kids, but in my opinion these ones aren’t as fun for little ones.
These were the most fun rides/attractions for us at DisneySea:
- Jasmine’s Flying Carpets
- Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage
- Scuttle’s Scooters
- Caravan Carrousel
- Blowfish Balloon Race
- Jumpin’ Jellyfish
I wish we had time to do Venetian Gondolas, Toy Story Mania and Aquatopia. But we were only there for a day, so we had to just roll with it. At one point, we’d already waited 20 minutes for Turtle Talk before she fell asleep on my shoulder and we had to go. Awesome.
Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage is like the “it’s a small world” of DisneySea, meaning there’s lots to look at while you are sitting in a relaxed position. Also the lines aren’t so bad either.
Tips for Eating at Disneyland & DisneySea
Basically, eat before anyone gets hungry. I suggest having a couple of non-fast food restaurants up your sleeve so the kids don’t end up eating fries all day, which mine would happily do. Also pack a lot of snacks in your bag. I brought a bunch of crackers and muesli bars from Taipei.
At Disneyland, we sat down for meals at:
At DisneySea, we ate at:
Going to the Cape Cod Cook-Off is a must. They run a continuous live show with Mickey, Minnie, Duffy, Daffy etc. The format is perfect because it’s open seating and you can sit for an hour while the three short acts are performed in a continuous loop. We kept shuffling to better and better seats as people left. My daughter was completely mesmerized the closer she got to the stage.
The other big thing at DisneySea is you can have real drinks! When my daughter fell asleep outside Turtle Talk, I headed straight for the very grown-up The Teddy Roosevelt Lounge (Map) next door where I promptly ordered a beer and a caesar salad while she slept comfortably in her stroller next to me.
One more thing: Originally I wanted to make reservations for a few restaurants to try them out, especially for the show experience at the Diamond Horseshoe. But the online reservation page is in Japanese and I couldn’t manage for the life of me to reserve a table. The system wouldn’t accept my name and contact info. You could calling to make a reservation if you’d like, but in the ended I figured the flexibility to eat when we needed to was more important.
Plan to Stay Out Late. Like, Super Late.
I personally think the best time to be at Disneyland and DisneySea is after sunset when the hot sun has set, the crowds are a little thinner and all the twinkly lights come on. The lines for the rides start to get shorter, and you can go back for second and third runs of your kid’s favorites.
All three nights we left the park between 9pm and 9:30pm to avoid the closing crowds. I know I’m the adult, but I was still a little bummed to be the one who had to make the call.
At Disneyland, we stayed in Fantasyland after sunset knowing we’d want to ride “it’s a small world” and the Castle Carrousel as much as we could. One night we found a spot on the north side of Fantasyland to see the floats go by during the 8pm parade.
At DisneySea, we made a beeline for Toy Story Mania because the lights there are simply magic. We didn’t go on the ride and still managed to spend at least 45 minutes in the arcade area playing with toys and running around.
We also went back to the Mermaid Lagoon after dark because it was pretty much empty at 8pm. There was barely any wait for the Blowfish Balloon Race, Jumpin’ Jellyfish and The Whirlpool. I can’t even imagine the mayhem in the daytime.
Finally, check where the Lost Children office is!
I’m kidding, but this sign did crack me up. Oh, and try to avoid going on a weekend.