Noah Sylvester // © 2017 Noah Sylvester
Feature image (above): Tokyo Disneyland celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2013. // © 2017 Tokyo Disney Resort
Noah Sylvester, a 21-year-old Southern California native and lifelong Disney fan, recently traveled to Japan for a college cultural exchange program and took the opportunity to visit Tokyo Disney Resort, which encompasses Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. We asked him for a young client’s perspective on the theme parks, and insights for young people traveling to the destination solo or with their family.
As a Disney fan, what did you like most about Tokyo Disneyland?
I could go on about this magical place for a long time, but one highlight was that an instrumental jingle of “It's a Small World” marked my arrival at the Maihama train station just outside the theme park, and I instantly felt welcome.
Which attractions are different from the U.S. versions of the park?
The Enchanted Tiki Room is very different from the show at Disneyland in California. The birds sing “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride,” which gets the audience into the island spirit, but then Stitch (Lilo’s extraterrestrial pet from the film “Lilo & Sitch”) takes over and joins the birds, flowers and totems in the singing, which is a very fun experience, especially since the show is entirely in Japanese. Hearing attractions in Japanese was like seeing them for the first time — and feeling that sort of magic as a 21 year old is something I will never forget.
How is local culture integrated into the parks?
Japanese food is integrated into park fare at both parks, but at Tokyo DisneySea, there are different choices based on the themed land you are in (similar to World Showcase at Walt Disney World’s Epcot). Another great thing is that the characters are dressed in traditional Japanese attire, so it was fun to snap pictures of Mickey Mouse wearing a kimono.
Is it necessary to know Japanese when visiting the parks?
I took beginner Japanese before my trip. However, I don’t think it’s necessary to know the language, because park maps are in English and most cast members speak English. Learning a few simple phrases definitely won’t hurt, and I had fun trying out my Japanese on cast members and seeing their reaction when they greeted me in English but I responded in Japanese.
What are some tips for those visiting Tokyo Disney Resort?
One important thing to know is that table service restaurants have a very different reservation system than we are used to. It’s best to make reservations in advance, but if you can’t, be sure to go to the restaurant where you want to eat early to receive a reservation card, as they only give out a limited number of cards. If they run out, they won’t accept walk-ins.
There are 10 hotels on the Tokyo Disney Resort property, and all are accessible via the train that travels around the resort. My pick is Tokyo DisneySea Hotel MiraCosta, because you will be sleeping inside Tokyo DisneySea and will potentially get a room with views of the Esplanade or even the Italian canals.
Are FastPasses available?
They do FastPass e-tickets — similar to Disneyland in California — so my advice is to focus on big attractions for FastPasses unless you have other priorities or are traveling with small children. For example, Tokyo DisneySea was fairly empty when I went, but the wait for Journey to the Center of the Earth was still almost two hours. Since my mother taught me to never skip attractions because “Who knows if you’ll ever come back?” — which is especially true for Japan — I went for that FastPass first. I was happy I did, because it’s a must-do attraction.
What made the experience unique?
What is really interesting is that some Disney movies were much bigger hits in Japan than in America — such as “Lilo & Stitch,” “Tangled” and “Big Hero 6” — so it was fun to look for opportunities to take photos with characters that we don’t have in the U.S. parks. It was also cool to see park merchandise that we can’t find in America; for example, I noticed that Mickey ear backpacks and towel-like ponchos are particularly popular items in Tokyo.
My biggest piece of advice is don’t be afraid to try new things. Tokyo Disney Resort has so much to offer, and I highly recommend taking advantage of it all. Plus, I don’t know anywhere else where you can try soy sauce and butter-infused popcorn.