You may not know it, but there are actually two Disney parks in Tokyo. Or maybe I should say three. Because Tokyo Disney Resort not only consists of the Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea parks, there is also a shopping mall, Ikispiari, right next to the Maihama train station. As my wife noted when we had lunch in the Rainforest Cafe in Ikispiari this weekend, that may have been enough for the kids and we could have skipped Disneyland. Many people do, because it is a complete destination, with all the shopping, dining, and experience you could wish for in an ordinary dating destination. As it is located near the Disney parks, there are curious people coming through all the time, so there are even more interesting restaurant offerings than usual. It even has its own microbrewed beer, Harvest Moon, although it is not available in all the restaurants (Rainforest Cafe, the only one in Japan, does not carry it).
The other good thing about Ikispiari is that there is a grocery store in the basement, stocked with all the daily needs of a family. Unless you prefer the hotel convenience store, you can do your own shopping for snacks and dinner. And there is a drugstore for diapers, baby powder and the like.
The main draw of the Tokyo Disney resort is not the shopping, however, even if some people probably enjoy that more than the rides. The biggest Disney store in Japan is located in Ikispiari. But it is the two parks that make people come to the Tokyo Disney Resort.
On one side of the fence, you have Disneyland, a clone of the California park. Attractions are a little different and in slightly different locations, but if you were put in a teleporter and instantly transported from one to the other you might not know the difference until you had some food, and then became surprised at the sudden change in quality. Disneyland is Disneyland, and the company works hard at maintaining that brand image. And you can not have a beer.
Beer In Disneyland
On the other side of the fence, things get more interesting. Not only can you have a beer (at several times the price of the Tokyo high street), but the Disney characters suddenly behave much more like the adults they supposedly are. No, there is no sex. But there is daring and adventure and love and tragedy. Suddenly, the Disney characters seem to have mentally stepped off the twodimensional cartoon paper and into their threedimensional costumes.
Not that they overdo it, of course. At an archaelogical dig in the jungle, Minnie is still the same Minnie that was skipping to meet you at the morning photoshoot outside Cinderellas magic castle. Or so my daughters like to attest. They have photos to prove it too. Rather expensive, they were.
Jules Verne Steampunk Vibe
The ride in the archaeological jungle dig, by the way, is based on the movie "Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull". It is not really suitable for toddlers, but it is fun for grownups, if you like 360-degree looping rollercoasters.
There is a bit of a steampunk vibe to the Disney Sea part of the park. Go into the volcano and you will feel like you are in the middle of a K.W. Jeter novel.
The inspiration for much of this park of the park originally came from Jules Verne, the French science-fiction author, who would have seen several of his novels the subject of Disney filmatizations, had he been alive. But he has been dead for more than 100 years, which is of course one reason Disney based rides on his stories - the copyright has expired.
That said, they have really managed to create a fascinating park, and riding a roller coaster through a volcano (even if it is a pretend one - the volcano, not the rollercoaster) is a fun ride. This is also where most the shows are collected in the Tokyo Disney parks. There are several stages and the shows are real musicals, even if they are adapted to a Japanese audience. You may appreciate the culture shock of watching Goofy perform a song about deep-fried shrimp, but most of the shows are more traditional musicals.
Hotel Inside The Park
But the best thing is the parade. Actually, they do not call it parade, they call it show and there is a lot of sense in that, since it all happens in one location. It takes place in the harbor, which could be located somewhere in Italy. It actually looks and feels like the Amalfi coast, or Cinque Terre, had there been an active volcano in any of those places. Vesuvius is too far from Amalfi to give the same impression. And the show runs on water, which both means you need a raincoat, and that they can use projections in very new creative ways. In the evenings.
Another advantage of having something resembling a small Italian city inside a theme park is that you can put a hotel in it. Other Disney hotels may offer early entrance to the park (even as it opens at 0830 many mornings), and it may close at 2200 most days, but here you are smack in the middle of the park itself, all night long.
Amalfi is not the only model for the park. Part of the Italian quarter is based on Venice, and you can actually take a gondola inside the park. But cross the bridge of the little canal where the gondolas run, and you are all of a sudden in an American port city just before the first world war. The warehouses may look like pawnshops or seamens hostels, but they are actually all restaurants and gift shops.
Take the electric railway to Port Discovery, however, and you are back in steampunk land. Unless you take the Nemo Seafarer ride. The water scooter ride is also great fun.
Like everything in the Tokyo Disney parks, you get the impression that whomever built the parks must be an origami master. They have managed to fold everything into and on top of another, which means many of the rides are indoors, something that is great if it rains. The Mermaid Lagoon, a huge hollow space, is somehow folded under the volcano.
The Disney Sea park is divided into zones which are (sometimes loosely) associated with a story or figure, and usually has a ride as part of it.
Fainting For Ariel
Sometimes that ride is fun for a little while, like the two-storey carousel in Akabah (the home city of Alladin), sometimes you can not tear your children away (like was the case with our kids in the balloon fishes in the Kingdom Under The Sea). They have models who impersonate the characters in the movie, and once your children meet Ariel, they will swoon and might even faint. Unless they are Rapunzel, Jasmine, or Cinderella fans.
This would not be Japan if people were not dressing up as different characters, however. Here, especially on holidays, the visitors dress up as their favorite characters. Sometimes their costumes are better than those of the cast.
The park is huge with Japanese measurements, but it is small enough that you can walk around all of it in a day, if you want tired children and sore feet. Although if you want to try all the rides, you may need to get a three-day pass.
The Accessability Advantage
Another advantage of Disney Sea is its accessability. The park entrance is located on the other side of the Ikispiari shopping center, the next station of the monorail. Although as the Disney monorail train moves anticlockwise around both parks, you will have to take the train almost full circle from Ikispiari (and the railway station) before you get to the Disney Sea entrance.
So should you take your children to Disney Sea? Yes, if they are over four years old (although my kids loved it when they were three, too). Smaller children may be confused, although the park is as stroller-friendly as they come. Disney really do changing rooms very well, and there are plenty of toilets everywhere. And you may enjoy it more than your kids, especially after a beer or two.
I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Bangkok to Tokyo, with a brief visit to Honolulu on the way. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning four and a half - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on email@example.com, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.