Tokyo Disney Resort: Japan’s Magic Kingdom
The sprawling entertainment compound that is Tokyo Disney Resort contains not 1, but 2 theme parks—Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea—9 hotels, a massive shopping and dining hub, and a monorail line that encircles the entire property. Despite all the culture and history that Japan offers, many tourists come to Tokyo just to visit this mega resort, the third-most visited theme park complex in the world.
1. Tokyo Disneyland
“May this magical kingdom be an enduring symbol of the spirit of cooperation and friendship between the great nations of Japan and the United States of America.” With those words, Disney Chairman and CEO Card Walker opened the gates of Tokyo Disneyland on April 15, 1983, making it the first Disney theme park to open outside the US.
While the park’s layout is based on Anaheim, CA’s Disneyland and Orlando, FL’s Magic Kingdom, it features some differences. Most notably, a giant glass canopy protects Main Street (here known as the World Bazaar) from the elements. The railroad chugs through only Adventureland and Westernland, instead of circling the entire park. And Tomorrowland showcases a Monsters, Inc.-themed ride you won’t find anywhere else.
Otherwise, you’ll find all the classic areas represented: Adventureland, Frontierland (here called Westernland), Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Critter Country and Mickey's Toontown. And though the park is smaller in acreage than both Disneyland Park and Magic Kingdom, its extensive open spaces (to accommodate the hordes of visitors) make it feel bigger.
2. Tokyo DisneySea
Tokyo DisneySea opened on Sept. 4, 2001, at a rumored cost of more than $4 billion. This “spare no expense” execution shows: it’s considered one of the most beautiful theme parks in the world, and the nautical theme finds expression in many spectacular attractions, including an active volcano, a large steamship and a full-scale replica of the Venice waterfront (the facade of the resort’s Hotel MiraCosta).
Like Disneyland, DisneySea is laid out in a hub-and-spoke pattern around the central Mysterious Island, a Jules Verne-themed land containing the Journey to the Center of the Earth and Mount Prometheus rides. When you enter the park through Hotel MiraCosta, Mysterious Island is prominently visible across Mediterranean Harbor, an idyllic Italian waterfront complete with Venetian gondolas and “water parades.”
Naturally, one of Disney’s most beloved aquatic movies has its own land in Tokyo DisneySea. Mermaid Lagoon overflows with references to The Little Mermaid, including Ariel’s Playground, the Palace of King Triton and an “Under the Sea” musical show. The Arabian Coast also takes its theme from a Disney movie, featuring attractions inspired by Aladdin.
Rounding out the park, the Lost River Delta transports you to an Indiana Jones-esque tropical hideaway, Port Discovery—often called the Tomorrowland of DisneySea—puts a futuristic spin on a marina setting, and American Waterfront showcases the early 20th century US eastern seaboard.
For a resort complex that sees 27 million people pass through its gates every year, it’s no surprise that 9 different hotels ring the resort. The first of 3 Disney-branded hotels to be built, the Disney Ambassador Hotel opened its doors in 2000. The Hotel MiraCosta debuted not long after, and its Mediterranean-themed architecture serves as a backdrop of Tokyo DisneySea. The Tokyo Disneyland Hotel is the newest, and like the Disney hotels in Paris and Hong Kong, features a Victorian theme.
Six “Official Hotels,” located on the resort grounds but not owned by Disney, are serviced by the Disney Resort Cruiser. Two other lodging categories in nearby areas—”Disney Partner Hotels” and “Disney Good Neighbor Hotels”—offer free shuttle buses to the resort and other benefits.
4. Ikspiari and Bon Voyage!
Naturally, a massive theme park complex like Tokyo Disney Resort is going to offer you many ways to spend money. Enter Ikspiari (pronounced like “experience,” without the last syllable), a 4-story warren of 140 shops and restaurants—Tokyo Disney Resort’s version of the stateside Downtown Disney locations in Anaheim and Orlando.
The crown jewel of Ikspiari is Bon Voyage!, a mother lode of Disney merchandise. The building is shaped like a giant suitcase, and if you spend too much time (or money) here, you’re going to need one.
5. Getting There and Getting Around
Tokyo Disney Resort sits on a plot of land on Tokyo Bay, just to the east of Tokyo proper. To get there, take the JR train to Maihama Station, or catch a direct bus to/from Narita Airport, Shinjuku Station, Yokohama Station, Tokyo Station and others.
Once there, you can use the Disney Resort Line monorail—which circles the entire property—and the Disney Resort Cruiser bus to get around between the 2 parks, hotels and other attractions. Both modes of transportation feature Disney touches like Mickey Mouse-shaped windows and straps.
Along with the “how” of getting there, you should consider the “when”—Tokyo Disney Resort is famous for its crowds, so arrive early and take advantage of the FASTPASS system for the most popular attractions.