Last April, hubby and I took the kids to Tokyo, mostly to explore Tokyo Disney Resort and then do some sightseeing on the side. It was my fifth (and my hubby’s second) time to visit Tokyo so we didn’t really go there for touristy stuff (because we already did most of the tours anyway). Since it was a vacation for and with the kids, we decided to allot most of our time in Tokyo for them to have fun and engage in interesting activities. Of course, we also wanted to expose them to the culture, food, and scenery in Tokyo while we were there. So how did I plan for our Tokyo vacation? Read on to find out. I’ve also included some general travel trips to hopefully help you develop your own Tokyo travel plans.
We ended up taking Philippine Airlines because there were no more available seats in the Delta Airlines flight that I wanted. Philippine Airlines is definitely cheaper, but Delta Airlines serves better food (in terms of portion, variety, and quality) and has more freebies and activities for young flyers.
The trip was about 4 hours and 20 minutes, and our plane landed in Tokyo-Narita International Airport. Tip: Tokyo Disney Resort is closer to Tokyo Haneda Airport, so if your trip’s focus is Disneyland, then you’re better off entering Tokyo through Haneda.
Don’t forget to do an online or web check-in as early as 24 hours before your flight. This way, you are not only able to select your seats, but it also puts less pressure on you because you don’t need to be too early at the airport. Passengers who have checked in via the internet usually has a separate (and shorter) queue.
We arrived at Tokyo-Narita International Airport at about half past 8 in the evening. It is a busy airport so always expect a long queue at the immigration, and make sure you take a bladder break first and have your kids’ gadgets or toys to keep them busy. Tip: They usually have a priority lane for travelers with young children, elderly companions, and persons with disability (PWD). Ask an airport officer about this. Just be patient because they don’t speak English that well.
Since we were with the kids and had a ton of luggage with us, I arranged for a private transfer from the airport to our hotel to make it convenient for us. Tip: I booked this through Viator .
If you’re heading straight to Disneyland or if you’re staying at a Disney hotel, there’s actually a scheduled bus service to and from the airport via Airport Limousine. Unfortunately, none of the schedules worked for us so I had to settle for a private transportation.
Before leaving the airport, be sure to exchange your money to the local currency as banks and travel exchange counters (at least those that do not have a high commission rate) usually offer better rates than hotels. I also feel safer doing this at the airport than in shopping malls or other money exchange booths in the city.
I always make it a point to bring US dollars (USD) (or other strong currencies) because you get higher exchange rates with them. For this trip, hubby and I each had USD 500 converted to Japanese Yen (JPY). For big ticket items like hotel payment, your credit card should do the trick. Don’t forget, Tokyo is an expensive city!
I decided to go with Disney Ambassador Hotel to be our home for the week that we’ll be staying in Tokyo. Again, this is because we’ll spend most of our time in the Disney Resort. This would obviously not make sense if you’ll do more sightseeing in the city and adjacent areas. Anyway, I chose this hotel because it has a family and kid-friendly vibe to it, unlike the other Disney hotels. It also provides a free shuttle to and from Disneyland and DisneySea, which made it convenient for us to move around. Note that Tokyo Disney Resort is in Urayasu and is quite far from the city, so yes, staying here had its advantages.
Another plus side to Disney Ambassador Hotel is that it’s connected to the IKSPIARI shopping mall, which allowed us to grab a quick bite and do some shopping in between our Disney park visits.
True, Disney hotels’ rates are much higher, but you get to enjoy a whole lot of Disney – from your hotel card, bathroom set, slippers, and up to the wall paper and ceiling design. Plus there are a number of other perks as in-house hotel guests. Click here to find out more: Disney Ambassador Hotel guest benefits.
Online hotel booking may be tricky, though, as they usually do not accept credit cards issued outside of Japan (yes, even Visa or Mastercard) so I had to call them directly to make a reservation. They do have an English interpreter, but expect the conversation to be very long. Remember, patience is a virtue!
Tokyo Disney Resort
The Tokyo Disney Resort houses two parks – the Tokyo Disneyland and the Tokyo DisneySea. Note that DisneySea can be found only in Tokyo, but Disneyland is also present in the US (California, Florida), Paris, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. And because of this, we prioritized DisneySea over Disneyland.
As a hotel guest, we are guaranteed availability of park tickets so I didn’t sweat buying these online and ahead of time. What I did before flying to Tokyo, though, was to find out the dates when the parks won’t be as crowded. Of course, I made sure we didn’t go there on weekends or holidays, but I got a lot of help from this site: Tokyo Disneyland Crowd Index.
We bought the 3-day Magic Passport which allowed us to jump from one park to another for three consecutive days. Note that in the regular multi-day park tickets, you’ll have to specify which park you’re going to visit on a particular day. We allotted 1 day for DisneySea and 2 days for Disneyland, and I think those were enough to explore the two parks without having to rush through the rides and attractions.
In addition, I downloaded the maps of the Tokyo Disney Resort, as well as of Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea. The OC in me studied all the rides and attractions to plan for our route and stops along the way. If you have small children with you, it’s best to check the height restrictions of each ride so you won’t waste time lining up for one where your kids won’t be able to enter. Also take note of the maintenance schedule of the attractions to make sure you get to experience them before they close for operations.
As for our meals, I browsed through the restaurants’ menus to identify which ones are lunch, snacks, and dinner options for us given that our kids are picky eaters. The menus are mostly in Japanese, but there are some pictures and Google Translate to help you. Here’s a tip: There are a lot of drinking fountains scattered all over the parks to keep you hydrated. I suggest you bring the foldable or collapsible type of water containers, and not the bulky and heavy ones. Just fill them up when you go thirsty (or before having a meal if you’re on a controlled budget).
Since this park was unique to Tokyo, we made this our first stop. And we’re so glad we did because we had the best time! It was filled with exciting and interesting attractions, which made for a memorable experience, especially for our big babies.
We came here about an hour before its opening, and yes, the stories are true – lines are unbelievably long at this time, even for hotel guests like us who were allowed to enter 15 minutes earlier than the rest of excited patrons.
Be sure to prioritize Toy Story Mania! as the line here gets crazy long really fast. Avoid rides or attractions that are too fast, scary or those with sudden drops if you think your kids won’t like them. The last thing you’d want to happen is to scare them and ruin their mood for the rest of the day. Complete info on attractions can be found here.
And don’t forget to have a picture with Ariel before you leave. It’s a bit tricky to find her little cove within the Mermaid Lagoon area, so keep your park map handy. You can use your own camera / phone to take a picture, but you will be limited to one shot. (Seriously, one shot! I know, right?) You may also opt to have your picture taken by the park’s official photographer and purchase the photo later on.
We had our lunch at the Sailing Day Buffet at the American Waterfront area. It was quite pricey, but the kids had fun (and their tummies were filled) so I’m all for it. Don’t expect a luxurious buffet spread with a wide variety, though. Other good options for picky eaters are Café Portofino (Mediterranean Harbor), Ristorante di Canaletto (Mediterranean Harbor), Horizon Bay Restaurant (Port Discovery), Sebastian’s Calypso Kitchen (Mermaid Lagoon), and Vulcania Restaurant (Mysterious Island).
We spent two days at Tokyo Disneyland. I can honestly tell you that you won’t be able to explore all areas in one day. There are a lot – and I mean a lot! – of cute and fun rides and attractions here. First few on my list are Pooh’s Hunny Hunt (we had to wait in line for more than an hour to get inside), Space Mountain, Monster’s Inc. Ride & Go Seek, Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters, and the thrilling ride, Splash Mountain (another one hour plus of waiting time). As a big Star Wars fan, I did not pass on the opportunity to experience Star Tours: The Adventure Continues.
We had our lunch at the Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall in Fanstasyland. Food is not topnotch quality, though, so don’t keep your hopes high. I think that holds true for most of the restaurants in the park. For dinner, we kept it simple with burgers and pizza at Tomorrowland Terrace. Okay, I’ll be honest, the only reason I chose this is because they sell cute Star Wars characters with the meal packages. Other good options are Eastside Cafe (World Bazaar), Crystal Palace Restaurant (Adventureland), and Grandma Sara’s Kitchen (Critter Country).
If you’d like to manage your time better, you can take advantage of Disney’s FASTPASS system. Read about it here.
Meet and Greet with Disney Characters
Since we were staying at a Disney hotel, we didn’t prioritize lining up to have a picture taken with Disney characters in the parks. Instead, I booked us for lunch at Chef Mickey, a restaurant inside the Disney Ambassador Hotel where Mickey Mouse and friends do the rounds and pose with guests per table. This way, we not only had a family-friendly buffet meal; we also got to spend a few minutes each with four of the most popular and loved Disney characters of all time – Mickey and Minnie, and Donald and Daisy. The kids had so much fun doing silly poses with them, hugging them, talking to them, and a whole lot more. Of course, hubby and I jumped right into it and enjoyed our time with them, too.
I wanted my children to see what Tokyo looks like and how it really feels to walk the streets, but I hesitated because they (particularly my younger kids) might not be able to appreciate the sights and attractions just yet. As a compromise, I opted for a city tour aboard an open-top double-decker bus through Hato Bus. After our tour, they couldn’t stop saying how beautiful and clean Tokyo is. And they begged us to extend our stay!
As a final activity, I gave in to their request to visit the Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo store. Correction, it wasn’t just a visit (as in to look at the exhibits and displays); we ended up buying a bunch of Pokemon items ranging from stuffed toys, key chains, mirror (don’t ask me why! haha), and special cards. It didn’t end there, though, as we spent a few more hours in the arcade which featured huge gaming machines.
To say that our vacation was a great happy success is an understatement. We couldn’t wait to go back, and maybe next time we can make a side trip to Osaka (for Universal Studios) and other cities (for beautiful scenery).
So that’s our story. Now it’s your turn to make yours. Happy planning, everyone!