Tokyo DisneySea or Tokyo Disneyland – which is best?

Hi friends! I hope you had an excellent Christmas. A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to go to Tokyo DisneySea and Tokyo Disneyland in one day, and I came away with a really surprising preference out of the two. I thought I’d break down how we got tickets for the parks, getting there from Tokyo, how to use FastPass and my favourite attractions. At the end, I’ll explain why I preferred one over the other!

Getting there

The Tokyo Disney area is really easy to get to! Sometimes the trains may be crowded, but it’s fairly fast and it’s cheap – about 600 yen each way from most parts of the city. The station you need is Maihama, which sits on the JR Keiyō Line. You can use Google Maps or the Tokyo Subway app to figure out the best way to get there from your accommodation (if you’re not staying at a Disney hotel). To give you an idea of timing, the journey took about an hour for us from Ikebukuro Station all the way to Disney. When you get to Maihama Station, just head towards the Disney Monorail. There are a couple of convenience stores and a cafe in the station should you need to grab a quick snack. Tip: you are allowed to take food and drink into the parks, so if you don’t mind carrying it, this can be an excellent way to avoid paying for food in the parks (and saves you time finding a restaurant).

DisneySea

The first park we went to was DisneySea, and we only ever intended to go to DisneySea originally. This decision was mostly based on the recommendation of others on the World Wide Web. Everyone said how much better it was for adults – great rides, less kids but with all the Disney magic of the other park. I had a slightly different experience.

Firstly, the area theming at DisneySea is really impressive! There are 7 distinct zones – Mediterranean Harbour, American Waterfront, Port Discovery, Lost River Delta, Arabian Coast, Mermaid Lagoon and Mysterious Island. We went to all but Port Discovery, and the attention to detail in how they have designed each area is amazing – even the flavour of the popcorn varies depending on where you are in the park! For me, the most impressive parts of DisneySea were the huge steam-liner in American Waterfront, the gondolas in the Mediterranean Harbour, and Agrabah in the Arabian Coast (though the rain did ruin the illusion a little bit).

Sadly, the theming was the only thing I liked about DisneySea – it was so disappointing in all other respects. There are very few Disney characters there in person or on merchandise (they have their own mascots – a bunny and a bear – that very few people outside of Japan will have heard of!), the ride queues were unbelievably long. Couple that with the fact that there was very little else to do in the zones and the rides are really spread out, the result was that we ended up just walking around a lot and not really ‘doing’ anything. We watched a Christmas performance held in the main Mediterranean square and on the lake which was good, but by 3pm (5 hours after arriving) we’d only managed to get on two rides – and one was only because we could use FastPass.

The rides we did go on were alright – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Raging Spirits – but they were really short. The most highly recommended ride – Journey to the Centre of the Earth – was shut that day, and Tower of Terror had a 2 hour queue time. Plus we went at Christmas time so I had high expectations for the music and decorations, but they were almost non-existent. We really could have been there at any time of the year.

By 3pm, I made the executive decision to spend more money (7,500 yen each person) to get into the other park – Disneyland.

Disneyland

I was so pleased we went to Disneyland for the second half of the day. It was exactly how I imagined – lots of decorations, Christmas music playing, and references to characters I actually knew! We arrived at 3:15pm (it’s a 5-minute monorail ride from DisneySea or a 10/15 minute walk) and there was a short parade at 3:45pm, so that timing was great!

As soon as we got tickets we scanned the QR code to schedule the first Fast Pass and decided on Big Thunder Mountain. We had some time to kill before our FastPass slot so we explored Adventureland and Westernland – within 1 hour we’d been on 3 or 4 rides, never queuing for more than 10 minutes or so. This was a significant improvement on DisneySea! The rides were really fun and the theming was great. I’d recommend Pirates of the Caribbean (there’s an awesome restaurant inside too, if a little expensive at 4000 yen per person), Jungle Cruise: Wildlife Experience (the boat drivers have so much energy and make it so fun, even though I couldn’t really understand the Japanese), Splash Mountain (I think we went on this 3 times? It is excellent) and Star Tours. Space Mountain was shut sadly and we ran out of time for the other rides in Tomorrowland.

In true Disneyland style, there are regular parades and at the end of the day, a fireworks show. The castle was being renovated when we went so the firework show was really short, but the parade was awesome! I recommend grabbing a cup of something warm and a sweet treat at a cafe in the World Bazaar and finding somewhere good to sit. The parade at night lasted around 15-20 minutes which is a bit shorter than I’m used to but it is fun nonetheless and features many familiar characters.

So, if you like Disney, go to Disneyland. If you don’t like Disney and enjoy long walks(!), go to DisneySea. But if you want adult rides and no Disney stuff, I’d skip DisneySea and go to FujiQ instead!

Using FastPass

I think the biggest obstacle that a foreigner may face visiting Tokyo Disney (Land or Sea) is using FastPass. This is for a few reasons – firstly, the app is only available on the Japanese Apple app store/Google play store. This means you may need to change your location in the store in order to download it – this is simple enough but it’s irreversible for a year on android and 3 months on Apple, which is not ideal. It might be better to take a spare handset (I used an old Samsung I had lying around) and just use that for downloading that app. If you can’t use the app for whatever reason, there are FastPass machines dotted around the parks near the rides they correspond to with staff members on hand to help, but you have to get there pretty early so that you don’t miss out.

Here’s a screenshot of what it will look like in Japanese – it’s mostly the same as any other official Disney app. Basically, you create a profile (do this in advance) and scan the QR code on each ticket using the ticket symbol marked. Then, you press the FP logo at which takes you to the list of tickets you’ve scanned. Select the people for whom you wanna book a FastPass slot, and then you’ll be offered a list of attractions and the time slots they’re booking for (or it’ll say Closed if there are no FastPass slots available for the day). This part is a little tricky because attraction names aren’t always direct alphabetic translations or easy to read. We had the Tokyo Disneyland website open on another phone and cross-checked the photos of the attractions so we knew what we were looking at! Then, select the ride, choose the time and voila – all done! When it’s time to go on the ride, the app will notify you and you can find your QR FastPass ticket by clicking the same FP logo. The first couple of times were a little tricky, but we soon got the hang of it. The timings are updated regularly – they’ll offer a certain amount of FastPass tickets per hour. At some stage they’ll sell out fastpass slots for each attraction that day, so prioritise booking your favourite rides first thing in the morning.

Eating there

The food prices in Tokyo Disneyland are much cheaper than the ones I’m used to in Disneyland Paris! We didn’t eat much because we wanted to prioritise rides and other attractions, but what we did eat was great. We had the chicken buns with fries in Tomorrowland which were about 1000 yen each. They were tasty enough. If you want to maximise your time in the park and aren’t interested in the themed food, I’d grab something at the conbini at Maihara station before going in, or try to eat little and often (and on the go). There are many restaurants, snacks and cafe options in both Disney parks. I would recommend planning your meals in advance. Here’s a link to the overview of restaurants in Disney.

So, I’d highly recommend Tokyo Disneyland – especially at Christmas. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to DisneySea. That’s not to say some people won’t enjoy it, I just don’t understand the hype about it at all! I think Disneyland is more true to Disney both in the theming of the rides and in the characters it uses on merch (and the few that are in the park – my only criticism is the lack of on site characters for kids to interact with). Also, in my opinion the Christmas parades and decorations far surpassed those of DisneySea. This is not to say DisneySea is terrible, it just isn’t what I want in a Disney park. In the interests of not writing a 10,000 word post on Disney, I’ve tried to keep this review/guide thing short. So, if you’ve got any questions, please let me know in the comments or get in touch on social media!

13 thoughts on “Tokyo DisneySea or Tokyo Disneyland – which is best?

    • Emma says:

      My pleasure! Don’t want to dissuade anyone from visiting DisneySea of course, but at Christmastime it really didn’t stand up against DisneyLand. It’s definitely a great place to check out if you have time! :)

      Liked by 1 person

  1. thatdamnhoney says:

    This definitely is useful, thanks for sharing your experience. Living in Los Angeles, I had a disney pass for a good 15 years, so I may skip it altogether and save my experiences while in Japan for attractions we do not have in LA. However, maybe my second time around!

    If you haven’t already, I’m curious to know how you would compare LA Disney to Paris Disney. I wanted to visit Paris Disney but again wanted my first visit to be more about the attractions I didn’t already have at home. I’ve so far only ever been to LA and Orlando Disneys.

    Like

    • Emma says:

      No problem! I know a lot of people say that DisneySea is worth visiting because it truly is one of a kind, and I can attest to it being unlike any other Disney park. Whether that’s a good thing is hard to say – I think if you’re going outside of the festive period with no expectations as to character presence or merch, it’s really awesome. The themeing and attention to detail is really impressive!

      I haven’t yet been to LA Disney (it’s certainly on my list) but I have been to Paris and Orlando (though that was some time ago – 2001). Paris is definitely smaller than Orlando and I think the main difference is that Orlando has lots of characters around the park to meet and take photos with. In Paris, there are some but it is noticably less so. I also think the rides in Disneyland Paris (at least, those in the main park and not MGM Studios) are more child-friendly. I felt there were lots more ride options in Tokyo Disneyland for adults than Paris has. That said, Paris is excellent at Christmas – the fireworks and the parades are awesome. I felt the parades in Tokyo Disneyland were a little shorter than the ones in Paris (and probably Orlando/LA).

      All in all, I’d say if you’re in Japan for 2-3 weeks, give Tokyo DisneySea a try. If you don’t like DisneySea (and I think you’ll know within a couple of hours of being there whether it’s for you), you can buy ‘Starlight’ tickets which grant entry into DisneyLand after 3pm (on weekends) and ‘After 6’ tickets which get you in after 6pm (on weekdays). This way, you could theoretically do both parks in a day for about 13,000 yen (adults) which is similar to what we did. I don’t think I’d spend more than a day in either if your time in Japan is short because, as you say, there are lots of things in Japan to see!

      Liked by 1 person

      • thatdamnhoney says:

        Thanks! I love most things Disney and I just love them parks in general. Maybe if not my group, I may check it out for myself one year.

        By the way, would you have any recommendations on where to stay within Tokyo that is more like cute cafe’s and slightly medium in activity? I was considering Daikanyamacho and Minato (based on AirBnB guides).

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      • Emma says:

        Yeah, I love Disney too!

        On areas in Tokyo for cute cafes, it depends what you mean. Most ‘kawaii’ cafes are in Shinjuku/Harajuku. There are some outside of these areas – Akiba comes to mind. If you mean like ‘quaint’ rather than adorable, I know there are some excellent cafes in Omotesando, Shimokitazawa and Setagaya. The only cafe I’ve been to in Minato is Aoyama Tea House (which was amazing – I recommend the french toast!). Unfortunately I’ve not been to Daikanyamacho so I’m not much help with that area! :(

        Liked by 1 person

  2. LaShawn says:

    Wow DisneySea sounds like it was really disappointing! I couldn’t imagine standing in line for over 2 hours just to get on one ride. It’s not worth it. You made the right choice by going to Disneyland. I haven’t been to either one of them, but if I have a chance, I know which one I’ll choose :)

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    • Emma says:

      It really was a disappointment for me. Maybe it’s better outside of the festive season? I’m not sure, but I was talking to some students I teach about it and apparently it’s always 1-2 hour queues for rides which is insane! I thought it was telling that in 5 hours we got on 2 rides in DisneySea, but in the same amount of time had been on 6-8 in Disneyland (sometimes twice!) and had time for parades and dinner. I think DisneySea is an awesome place to see if you’re in Tokyo (as it is the only one in the world) but perhaps not if you want truly ‘Disney’ vibes! :)

      Liked by 1 person

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