I am a bad wife. Today I shamelessly went to Tokyo Disneyland for the first time EVER, on a day that Patrick couldn’t go. But I have a really good excuse: Initially I was just going to go down there to shoot pix of the resort area and the local hotels, but then we found out Monsters Inc. Ride ‘n’ Go Seek would be closed for rehab by the time we got there for our official Disney trip. I couldn’t very well travel aaaalllll the way to Japan (this phrase eventually became our excuse to do just about anything) and NOT ride Monsters Inc. if I had the chance.
My punishment was that I did it all wrong. For a veteran Disney park tourist who times every move down to the second to avoid lines and crowds and maximize fun, this is almost a fate worse than death. For starters, I should have gone the previous day, a Friday, when I could have bought the After 6 Passport for a mere ¥3,100. Instead, I went on THE busiest day of the week at the start of Top Season and paid ¥4,700 for the Starlight Passport, which meant I had to wait til 3pm to enter the park and only saved ¥1,100 (remember, this is like $11.99 in real money). Stoopid! Stoopid! It woulda been worth the 12 extra bucks for a full-day passport just to get there at park opening and run to Monsters Inc. first, instead of entering the park at peak time and having to wait in The Longest Disney Park Line I Have Ever Waited In EVER.
But first, we had breakfast. And I only mention this because it was one of those cafes you hear about where you look at the fake food display, make your selection, and pay at a machine outside. Then you take the receipt it spits out and go inside to get your food!
What struck me was that it was an otherwise primitive little place inside, with no tables, just a counter around the perimeter, and one guy working in the kitchen. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of this part.
I set out for Disney after I sent Patrick off to the TV shoot, his upper lip stiff as he tried to see through stinging tears of disappointment. I managed to get down to Disney on the JR train OK using a combination of directions from Kevin Yee’s book and the Tokyo Disney forum on Mice Chat. Basically, at Tokyo Station you just follow signs for the JR Keiyo Line, which is red, to Maihama. When you get to Platform 3 & 4, the trains on both sides go to Maihama, but one is a rapid train that only makes 3 stops instead of 6 (in my three trips to Disney, this was always the one at Platform 4). The express train seemed to shave maybe 10 or 12 minutes off the trip, but it never took longer than 30 minutes on the regular train.
I was compelled to shoot all the signs for you, but in this slideshow it’s hard to know which is the starting point. It’s the one after the pic of the sign with the 4 on it!
I was also intent on photographing the infamous Tokyo Station Tunnel of Doom and its corresponding Staircase of Despair, both of which have been frequently discussed on Mice Chat as major impediments to taking the subway from Narita or Tokyo to Disney if you have luggage.
I must admit, it IS a long tunnel. Like 10-minutes-of-walking long… But when Patrick saw the Staircase of Despair later, after my days of build-up, he was like “What’s the big deal? Just carry your luggage up one piece at a time.” However, I noticed we never did end up making that trek in either direction with our luggage….
The first thing you see when you get off the train at Maihama (besides, you know, the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel, Space Mountain, Ikspiari and Bon Voyage…) is this beacon of Disney in an unfamiliar land:
It felt weird the whole day—everything was simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar to this Disney vet. It didn’t help that Maihama Station was a madhouse of Saturday-morning crowds, with the people darting everywhere giving me the feeling that I needed to start darting too!
Another place much discussed among Westerners is the Becker’s restaurant in Maihama Station. Apparently it’s a good place for a cheap, familiar meal. I didn’t fly aaaalllll the way to Tokyo to eat food I could get back home, though, so we never tried it. Also, I was confused because there appeared to be two Becker’s… unless “Beck’s” is a brazenly named competitor…
To the left as you come out of the station are the Tokyo Disney Resort Welcome Center and the Ikspiari shopping mall that stands in for Downtown Disney.
If you’re staying at one of the Disney hotels or partner hotels, you can check into your hotel and hand off your luggage at the Welcome Center and even buy your tickets there so you can go straight to the parks.
It took being shuttled among three different cast members for me to find out that day guests can’t buy park tickets here—for that, I had to go to the park gate. I realize now that there *was* a ticket counter at the Welcome Center, but it was on the bottom floor and had only been open a few days at that point. Heck, maybe the CMs were even trying to direct me there! At any rate, future visitors take note: you can buy your park tix at the Welcome Center if you want to.
The Tokyo Disney Resort Line (i.e. the Monorail) is between the Welcome Center and Ikspiari. Taking pictures of all this stuff helped me get my bearings.
Buses, including the shuttles from the partner hotels, stop on the ground level below the station.
The Disney Resort Cruiser (bus) connects the Ambassador Hotel with the two theme parks, since it’s the only Disney resort not on the monorail line.
Actually, I’m gonna borrow Disney’s map and put it here, cuz I think it will really help:
I set out on the bridge from Maihama Station to Disneyland, which passes a giant suitcase housing the mega gift shop Bon Voyage. It’s closer to a World of Disney than a Disney Store, (which is inside Ikspiari) but is much smaller than either of the ones at the US parks.
I love that one of the doors is in the latch!
Along the way, I saw another familiar-yet-strangely-unfamiliar site…
First stop: Ticket booths!
Starlight Passport in hand, I made my way to the monorail station at the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel, bound for Bayside Station and the Tokyo Disney Resort Official Hotels. It seemed silly to pay to ride for one stop, but heck if I knew how to get there on foot. (I actually ended up wandering between the partner hotels later, and there didn’t seem to be any pedestrian walkways connecting them with Disneyland.)
So in Tokyo, the Disney Resort Monorail costs money. I have heard this is due to a law that requires operators of anything that functions as transportation to charge fares. The same law is the reason that the Disneyland Railroad doesn’t go all the way around the park, or anywhere in particular, really! More on that later…
Guests of the Disney resorts get free passes for the monorail. The rest of us have to buy tickets. You can either pay for individual tickets each time you ride or buy a day (or multi-day) pass. And you can use your Pasmo/Suica card to pay too. I decided to buy a 1-day pass cuz it was only ¥650 and I didn’t wanna use up my Pasmo before I got back to Tokyo.
My goal was to shoot lots of pix of the Official Hotels that aren’t the Hilton and the Sheraton because they get such short shrift in all the English-language info about Tokyo Disney. True, this is because they cater almost exclusively to the Japanese, but all of them have English-language websites that are no more difficult to navigate than those of the hotels I booked in Tokyo. And with lower rates than the Disney hotels and even the Hilton and Sheraton, in some cases, they could be great alternatives.
All the partner hotels are served by a single monorail stop, Bayside Station.
I took one pic of the Sheraton but skipped it altogether because the author of the Tokyo Disney guidebook I’m working on stayed there and got tons.
My first stop was Hotel Okura Tokyo Bay.
Ooh! Ooh! Wedding!
This lead me to sneak into the wedding-planning salon…
All the Official Hotels have a Disney Fantasy store in them, in case you can’t survive walking more than 500 feet without purchasing Disney plush.
My next stop was a hotel that doesn’t appear to have a name because it is ABANDONED! We’ll call it Spooky Empty Fun-Time Hotel. I adore poking around shuttered hotels, and not just the ones that have cursed elevators in them—I got to explore LA’s world-famous Ambassador Hotel a few months before they tore it down, and that place was amazing! However, Spooky Empty Fun-Time Hotel had a giant padlock on it and no evidence of any bored security guards who might take me on an impromptu tour.
Also, there were cameras…
OK, stop the presses! I realized there was a clue in one of my photos, namely, the NAME of the darn place, and a quick Google search reveals that it isn’t a hotel at all! It is the Tokyo Bay NK Hall, an indoor sporting arena that holds 7,000 people. It is no longer used—possibly because, as one site suggested, it is too far from the center of Tokyo—but at one time it hosted such acts as Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, Muse, and Skid Row (but not at the same time, due to fears of a citywide shortage of black nail polish). And another singer who performed there, Shizuka Kudo, is the voice of Megara in the Japanese dub of the Disney film Hercules—a-ha! It’s all making sense now!
We now return you to your trip report all ready in progress…
Next stop: Hilton Tokyo Bay
Oooh! Another wedding!
This was my first of the many uber-themed restaurants I encountered on Disney property. I think it was actually four restaurants!
I didn’t get to see any of the rooms, but here’s a picture of a picture—good enough, right?
Those Happy Magic rooms look cool!
Off I trudged to Tokyo Bay Hotel Toku
Except I couldn’t figure out how to get there on foot! I ended up wandering around the back side, which is nothing more than a windswept frontage road on the bay.
However, this gave me the opportunity to spot and photograph an actual Friendly Airport Limousine in its natural habitat—a travel editor’s dream!
By the time I had circumnavigated the entire hotel, the sight of the lobby made me wonder if I was delirious.
It’s basically a soaring atrium with a mock village set down in it.
Tucked off to one side is the check-in desk.
There’s also a bridal salon, because, I’m starting to gather, getting married is the thing to do on a Japanese vacation…?
The Disney Fantasy Shop had some adorable window displays.
Before I left, I stepped out onto a balcony at the back of the hotel to see the view.
It’s interesting that Disney is on the edge of this huge blue bay, but all the hotels are these bunkers built around interior courtyards and facing away from it because the winds are so fierce.
Next stop: Tokyo Bay Maihama Hotel
Maihama Hotel felt the most chic and modern of all the Official Hotels.
People were posing for pictures in front of this fountain, so I figured I’d better get it too!
The last stop was Sunroute Plaza Tokyo.
I felt sorry for all the disused outdoor pools at Tokyo Disney. I don’t understand why they don’t let you swim in them during the non-summer months if you want to. I would have done it!
Inside the Disney Fantasy store…
Inexplicably, one wing has received a 1950s makeover. Looking at their website, I see that another wing has been done over to feel like a cruise ship, while the third is made up to look like a tired 1980s motel.
Exhausted from my tour and seeing no pedestrian path to the parks, I grabbed a shuttle bus that must’ve been boosted from Angelyne‘s garage and rode it back to Maihama Station.
Next stop: Ikspiari!
From everything I’d read, I imagined Ikspiari to be a big giant box of a mall, but it turned out to be more of the modern kind of mall, with several distinctly themed areas connected by labyrinthine passages. It felt like every time I turned a corner, I discovered a whole new and completely different area.
Main Entrance Courtyard
Museum Lane… which looks nothing like a museum…
I think this is the Traders’ Passage section of Ikspiari
This store was full of stuff Patrick would have loved—actually, a lot of it was stuff he does love cuz it’s sold in his favorite shops over here.
More patisserie—macaroons appear to be a “thing” in Tokyo!
The top level is called Chef’s Row cuz it has most of the table-service restaurants.
Back down in Traders’ Pasage was an adorable café selling all manner of savory pastries, including… Belgian waffle sandwiches?!!!
However, I decided to eat in the food hall in the basement, which was appropriately called “Food Food.”
I followed the rule of thumb about finding the place with the biggest line, which was this one.
They were making something that I don’t know what it is, but I shall henceforth refer to as OctoBalls. When I saw the chefs dump ginormous pieces of octopus on griddles full of fried dough balls, I was sold. It turns out they sell these at stands all over town, so they must be popular everywhere. Usually the stand features an adorable cartoon octopus on it somewhere. Check out the cooking process!
I can barely feed myself with chopsticks, yet somehow these folks use them to shape liquid batter into balls while it cooks! The finished product looks like this:
When I got to the front of the line they must’ve asked me which of the various powders and sauces I wanted on my OctoBalls, but all I could do was smile and nod, which meant I got The Works.
Just in case I didn’t like the OctoBalls, I stopped by a deli counter to get some tempura shrimp and this delicious heart attack on a plate that was a combination of egg salad and pasta salad with ham.
The OctoBalls turned out to be just OK—I think the dust on top was some herb or spice I don’t like. But this was when I began to notice something else wonderful about Japanese food: It is always served hot! Whether you’re at a counter or at a table-service restaurant, your food always arrives hot. I feel like American restaurants are content with lukewarm most of the time.
After lunch, or maybe before, I decided to explore the Disney Store.
They stock almost entirely different merchandise than Bon Voyage and the park gift shops.
I totally should have bought one of these—they were even on sale!
How often do you see characters from Silly Symphonies in US Disney stores? Um, NEVER!
I shot a bunch of pictures of the ThinkWay Toy Story toys because I didn’t know you could get them in the States.
They are SPENDY – that Buzz is ¥9,975!
I also shot a lot of the collectible stuff on behalf of our Disneyana-collecting uncle. But it all looked really familiar—I’m pretty sure you can get most of it over here.
Well, you can’t get this over here:
We noticed a lot of this “cute animal dressed as another cute animal” business all over Tokyo, not just at Disney. How are you supposed to resist DOUBLE cute rays?!
I’m pretty sure that big Stitch is life-size!
This was my first sighting of omiyage, the gift-packaged snacks that simplify the Japanese custom of buying souvenirs for everyone you know when you go on vacation.
Every so often, this Ariel starts singing, which lures in adorable tots for you to take pictures of.
The Disney Store is in the same building as yet another wing of Ikspiari, this one themed like a nighttime entertainment district and called “B’way”…
I love these details!
Another fabulous store, this one selling a nice mix of unusual and familiar items in a faux supermarket setting
Across from the theater is a real live radio station—you can look into the booth and watch the DJ, plus they have a video camera on him that feeds a monitor you can watch.
I saw some of the best fake food yet outside Rainforest Café. There are shops in Tokyo that sell high quality (and high-priced) fake food to restaurants (more on that later in the trip), but I have a feeling these dishes all had to be custom-made.
I still had more time to kill, so I rode the monorail around a few times to take pictures. I even got to sit up front… because there’s no driver and *anyone* can sit there! If you can beat a pack of little kids to a seat, that is.
There’s a whole lot going on out front of Tokyo Disneyland… I’m not sure it’s as aesthetically pleasing as the front of the Magic Kingdom or even Disneyland.
The first time we rounded the bend toward Tokyo DisneySea, I decided I wasn’t going to look at the park because I wanted to be surprised…
That silliness didn’t last long the second time around!
You can see Tokyo DisneySea’s ticket booths in this one:
Look at this one and you’d never know you were in Japan!
This covered walkway leads from the monorail station to Hotel MiraCosta.
Cirque du Soleil
I was quite impressed with my first glimpse of the Ambassador Hotel—it really captures the feel of 1930s Southern California!
To kill the remaining hour til my Starlight Passport was valid, I stopped in at the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel to snap some pictures.
There’s an exquisitely elegant restaurant on the ground floor called Canna. These pictures aren’t so hot—wait til you see the ones Patrick took later.
There’s also a sundries shop kinda like the ones at DVC resorts—it even has a cold case of prepared foods. When we later stayed here, we discovered that none of the amenities like these were found at the other two Disney hotels.
A grand staircase leads up to a landing featuring this mosaic and then splits into two staircases to the lobby.
Holy crap, I think this may be THE most gorgeous Disney resort lobby in the world! Not only does it put the Tokyo Disney Official Hotel lobbies to shame, it makes the Grand Floridian look like a Days Inn! Just for you, I took a bazillion million backlit photos…
Even the birdcage elevator is cooler!
These guys got a little woozy looking at that last pic and passed out…
It was about 20 minutes to 3:00 by that time, so I decided to go see if a line was forming at the gate (what am I saying—this is Japan. Of COURSE there was a line!).
I peered longingly through the bars…
I got to be second in line!