Though it has a ¥300 billion expansion on the way, Tokyo Disney Resort might not be the first place on the average adult’s list for sightseeing in Japan. However, the resort is a fun pocket of escapism with first-rate Japanese service and elaborate theming.
It’s not just for kids. At Tokyo DisneySea, the second-built of the resort’s two parks, you can drink alcohol and enjoy shows along with more adventurous rides. This park’s central landmark is an active volcano. In a first for Disney, it actually has a hotel located inside its ticket gates: the luxurious Hotel Miracosta. Vacation packages are available.
The resort kicks off its year-long 35th anniversary celebration on April 15, the date Tokyo Disneyland first opened in 1983. In honor of that, let’s take a look at 10 attractions with elements unique to the Japanese Disney parks. This is your theme park survival kit — the beginner’s ride guide to Tokyo Disney Resort.
1. Take a Journey to the Center of the Earth
Journey to the Center of the Earth is a dark ride that takes you through a crystal cavern and giant mushroom forest, then alongside a subterranean sea with its own active weather system. At the end, it turns propulsive, spitting you out of a volcano as your vehicle flees a roaring lava monster. Even the queue for the ride is highly detailed: it feels like it actually transports you deep underground.
This has been called the flagship attraction at Tokyo DisneySea. Toy Story Mania! is more popular among locals, but that ride can be found in Florida and California, whereas Journey to the Center of the Earth is exclusive to Japan. At DisneySea, the first FastPass dispenser you seek out in the morning should be the one for this ride.
In the surrounding area, you can find the world’s only extant 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction. The port of Mysterious Island has a steampunk theme inspired by the novels of Jules Verne.
2. Get to know Harrison Hightower in the Tower of Terror
The old American TV series The Twilight Zone is not as well-known in Japan, so DisneySea’s Tower of Terror has its own original concept. An English story card (available for this and other select rides upon request) introduces the character of “explorer, antiquities collector, and multimillionaire Harrison Hightower.”
It’s actually the Hotel Hightower you’re entering when you get in line for this ride with its accelerated drop. Hightower himself disappeared one night while taking the elevator up to his penthouse with a cursed idol in tow. Other huge idols, Egyptian artifacts and portraits of the missing Hightower line the immersive queue.
Like Journey to the Center of the Earth, Tower of Terror posts long wait times. It should be your second priority in terms of FastPasses at DisneySea.
3. Have a rip-roaring Indiana Jones Adventure
While the actual ride experience is closely patterned after an attraction at the original Disneyland in California, Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull makes this list for two reasons. First, it’s one of the more thrilling rides at DisneySea. Second, the queue through the inner chamber of an ancient step pyramid is amazing and different from what you will find anywhere else.
That pyramid is one of DisneySea’s most visible landmarks. The scale and level of detail inside has to be seen to be believed. This is a single rider attraction, meaning there are gates in the standby line where you can jump into the FastPass line if you don’t mind riding separately from the rest of your group.
4. Board Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek!
Tokyo Disneyland does have the three mountains — Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain — but again, those can be found at other Disney parks worldwide. Monsters, Inc.: Ride & Go Seek! is unique to Japan.
On this attraction, you play a game of flashlight tag with hidden monsters as your ride vehicle whisks you past a series of impressive animatronic figures. One highlight is a scene set inside a Japanese restaurant where the sushi chef is an octopus monster.
Make this your first FastPass of the day at Tokyo Disneyland. Follow it up with one of the next rides on this list.
5. Embark on Pooh’s Hunny Hunt
If you watched the figure skating at this year’s Winter Olympics, then you may have clocked the curious sight of Winnie the Pooh dolls raining down on the ice. Gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu is not the only Japanese person with a love for the character. In Japan, the bear is known as “Pooh-san” and enjoys enormous popularity.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Pooh’s Hunny Hunt is a favorite ride among locals at Tokyo Disneyland. The queue for this FastPass attraction takes you through the pages of a storybook. You eventually board a honey pot for a romp through the Hundred Acre Wood on a blustery day.
Pooh’s Hunny Hunt is similar to an attraction at the Magic Kingdom in Florida, however its trackless ride system and other general upgrades make it one-of-a-kind. The Heffalumps and Woozles room offers the kind of spinning, psychedelic experience that will either induce motion sickness or give you the time of your life.
6. Chill out on Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage
If you want a break from thrill rides and are looking for a wondrous attraction without a long wait, there’s no better option than Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage. Located at the back of Tokyo DisneySea in the port of Arabian Coast, this attraction is something of a hidden gem. It doesn’t have the name recognition of other Disney properties, but the theming is first-rate.
Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage offers a nice, long boat ride where you can sit back, relax and take in the sight of over 150 animatronic figures. The ride follows the adventures of Sindbad the Sailor and his tiger cub sidekick as they leave their home port and journey to faraway lands where huge mythical birds and giants dwell. It’s a safe bet the catchy theme song, “Compass of Your Heart,” will get stuck in your head.
7. Shrink to the size of a fish in Nemo & Friends SeaRider
Nemo & Friends SeaRider is the newest FastPass attraction at DisneySea. It opened on May 12, 2017. The ride is a motion simulator, similar to Star Tours at Tokyo Disneyland, but without the need for 3D glasses.
The idea behind this one is that you are a passenger on a submarine that shrinks down to fish size in order to observe sea creatures in their natural habitat. The creatures just happened to be characters from the Pixar films Finding Nemo and Finding Dory. Even if you can’t understand their Japanese, the colorful animation and underwater swimming sensations make this a fun ride.
8. See a show worthy of Broadway with Big Band Beat
The attractions at Tokyo Disney Resort are not limited to rides. No visit to DisneySea would be complete without taking in one of the park’s shows. The gold standard for these is Big Band Beat, a swing revue performed on stage in the Broadway Music Theatre multiple times daily.
The first show of the day is first-come, first-serve. After that, reserved tickets for the orchestra level are available by lottery or you can line up in front of the theater ahead of time to secure balcony seats. If you can’t get in, DisneySea also has seasonal and nighttime shows that can be seen from numerous vantage points in the park’s central harbor.
9. Watch a parade at Tokyo Disneyland
Tokyo Disneyland is debuting a new daytime parade for its 35th anniversary alongside its regular seasonal parades. It’s also the only park in the world currently running Disney’s classic Electrical Parade at night.
A unique facet of Japanese theme parks (read GaijinPot’s guide to the best ones here) is that they sometimes hold onto popular attractions after the rides have closed in other countries. Universal Studios Japan, for instance, is now the last venue on Earth for Terminator 2 3-D: Battle Across Time.
10. Experience the new and improved It’s a Small World
It’s a Small World has been closed for the last year at Tokyo Disneyland as the ride was undergoing a major update. Forty new characters from Disney movies like The Lion King will now be joining the ride’s singing dolls. If you don’t find those dolls creepy and the music doesn’t drive you insane, boarding this boat ride at Tokyo Disneyland will allow you to hear the well-known title song in Japanese.
Now a FastPass attraction, the grand reopening for It’s a Small World is April 15. There are many more fun things worth doing at Tokyo Disney Resort, of course, but for travelers, a ride celebrating world culture seems like a good place to end.
Have you been to Tokyo Disney Resort? What’s your best memory? Got any tips for first-timers? Sound off in the comments!