A Very Disney Christmas at Tokyo Disneyland – Urayasu, Chiba

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Mention the words ‘Tokyo Disneyland’ to any of the locals in Japan and either you will be greeted with smiles of glee and euphoria or a frown rooted in hatred. As one of the oldest theme parks in Tokyo, with construction being completed in 1983, it has obviously stood the test of time. Additionally, it continues to be one of the most popular theme parks enjoyed by a large majority of the population, especially as it continues to enjoy average attendance rates hovering around 16 million or more people per year.

Situated right next to its sister theme park ‘Disney Sea’, and a growing part of the Tokyo Disney Kingdom, it continues to build and develop the dream of fans both young and hold as it expands its reign over the Urayasu district. The Disney Resort list includes a range of Disney themed hotels, and surrounded by a some of the more luxurious accommodation brands, such as the Hilton, the Sheraton and Hotel Okura too, all linked by a single monorail loop. Less than 20 minutes from Central Tokyo by train to Maihama station (Keiyo line), it is a Disney lover’s ultimate home away from home.

It is all Fun and Magic?

Disney theme park experiences seem to depend on timing, and this can sometimes be the make or break of your fun-factor, particularly for first-timers. If you have had any experience of greater Japan, queuing for anything remotely fashionable or popular is a given in this country and Disney fits this bill well too. If I can provide any kind of advice, especially for the crowd-haters or the queue allergics, it would be to follow this simple formula:

  1. Avoid any kind of national holidays (especially Golden Week in May or Silver Week in September)
  2. Avoid all school or university-related holiday periods
  3. Avoid weekends at ALL COSTS

Otherwise, you will probably feel Abandoned by Disney, as one of our writers no doubt did, from his account of human congested, over-commercialization and boredom.

Time Your Visit Right

Despite all this, here I was holding my breath, eyes shut and biting my lip, I made the plunge through the turnstiles of the magic kingdom. I had assumed long crowds at the ticket gates on the day, and so decided to purchase tickets in advance via Disney’s website, yet here I was pleasantly surprised by only a handful of people looming around the entrance. Walking inside, I am initially greeted by bright smiles and warm welcomes from the staff, but I wonder if this is short-lived, hoping to return home in a somewhat semi-positive state.

One of the things Disney parks actually do well is adjusting their theme throughout the year, keeping in spirit with the seasonal changes. Take for example the month of October, enter during this time and you can witness the park in all of its haunted Halloween glory. This time we decided to visit on Friday, 22nd of December to catch one of the last few days of the Christmas inspired list of events and performances. This was by chance, great timing on our part too, as we encountered short queues, less congestion and an abundance of available seating at most of the eating areas.

The Abundance of Attractions

Disney is definitely not short on the variety of rides available, and the first ride we stopped by was the Star Wars themed ‘Star Tours: The Adventure Continues’, currently a specially limited attraction running through to 15 March 2018. Featuring the likes of Star Wars icons such as C3P0, R2D2 and the most recent addition to the droid gang – BB8. The special version coincides with the release of ‘Star Wars Episode 8 – The Last Jedi’, and features events inspired by the most recent movie. After a short 20 minute wait, we picked up our space-age 4D glasses and locked in our seat belts to brace ourselves for our adventure across the stars. The ride is both thrilling and believable from its recreation of the G-forces of entering hyperspace, to its jolts and jars as your steer and evade your way through several planets and escaping the clutches of Kylo Ren’s use of the force and his deadly First Order.

Moving on, we were disappointed to find ‘Buzz Lightyear’s  Astro Blasters’ ride closed to maintenance, so instead, we lined up for the ‘Stitch’s encounter’, a computer-animated visual treat, located directly opposite. After a quick 30 minute queue, we entered what resembled a small theatre, and sat down around facing a large screen. After the lights dimmed, we were greeted by a cell shaded version of Stitch, autonomously animated and vocalised by very intuitive technology and algorithms. Although the entire dialogue is in Japanese, for those of you with at least an intermediate grasp of the language should find this a hoot. Stitch is extremely cheeky and quick-witted, identifying people with his camera and introducing himself in his attempt to befriend the audience. His range of comedy is hilarious as he toys with the audience, teasing and backtracking to certain members is a bunch of laughs and was definitely a highlight of the day!

Next on the list was ‘Pinnochio’s Daring Journey’, a simple ride which recounted specific scenes from his classic movie. After a short 15 minute stop, we hopped on the moving car to retrace his story. For hardcore fans of the film, this would be an enjoyable experience, as they relive their favourite moments from nostalgically animated scenes, and full of all the movie’s memorable tunes. I remember enjoying the film all of those years ago during my childhood, so while the film is an emotional heartfelt tale, I found this ride adequate in terms of entertainment value.

‘Mickey’s PhilharMagic’ was our next stop, as we lined for almost 20 minutes to enter this 3D viewing spectacular. Inside the auditorium, we get to see and hear from the likes of many of Disney’s original cast of characters including Donald Duck, Pluto, Goofy and Mickey himself. Including scenes from Mickey Mouse’s musical feature Fantasia and a bunch of other classic films, the short animation takes us on an amusing visual and musical journey. We see both Donald and Mickey try to fight for possession of the magical baton, determined to lead the magic person less instrument ensemble and control the musical score.

Following on, we stumbled upon the ‘Haunted Mansion’, a ride which recalls events from ‘The Nightmare before Christmas’ film, filled with familiar characters from Tim Burton’s famous stop-motion Christmas adventure. Being known as the ‘scary’ ride of the theme park, I felt that this elevated the hype of the attraction, and so we had to endure a line of around 40 minutes. Hopping onto one of the carts inside the mansion, we are navigated through a series of memorable moments from the movie. Here we follow Jack Skellington, the main character of the story, through his Halloween wonderland, and resistance to the Christmas spirit. As a big fan of this movie, I found this to be a fairly entertaining ride but might come across as a little spooky for smaller children.

‘Westernland Shootin’ Gallery’ is situated directly next to the ‘Big Thunder Mountain’ ride, aka the half train and half roller coaster attraction. Deciding to go for some short-term novelty value first, before dealing with the 40-minute queue, we head on in to test our shooting prowess. Hitting the target, albeit 5 times out of 10, didn’t win me any prizes, but is ultimately satisfying all the same knowing that some of the video game targeting skills I had acquired years before, finally paid off.

After the shooting gallery, we made our way over to the now longer 50-minute queue for ‘Big Thunder Mountain’, to take on the less than daunting, but still enjoyable train-rollercoaster fusion outing. No doubt, the faster or more thrilling rides are the ones that seem to attract the largest lines, as we saw ‘Space Mountain’ and ‘Splash Mountain’ with 70 minutes plus wait, on what was still a fairly sombre day in terms of crowds. We eventually get onto the train, for a short 1 minute plus rapid-paced trip of swings, hills and spirals to a dessert created western backdrop. Despite being returned to the drop-off point all too quickly, it was still enthralling for that minute or so of high-speed drops and turns.

When we got to the line for the ‘Jungle Cruise’, it was relieving to see the est. wait sign only said 20 minutes. After a quick wait, we get on a small dingy greeted by our bubbly and exceptionally chatty tour guide. We are quick to depart as we make our way through a host of comical scenes, but perhaps what you wouldn’t typically expect from a normal jungle. Of course, no real animals are used in this attraction, but the animatronic creations that sit in their place are amusing enough to entertain for the short-lived journey. On the way, you can see a variety of displays, including fun bathing and water squirting Elephants, dancing tribes of natives in their natural habitat, monstrously long Pythons hanging from trees, hungry Hippos surfacing from the water, manic Monkeys and more.

‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ is one of my higher rated movies and rides, as the movies are more recent, they are also more vivid in my memory. 30 minutes of queuing finally let us enter the depths of Jack Sparrow’s mischief, as you take a boat on rails, down into the mysterious pirate wonderland. The amount of detail and accuracy that has gone into the readoption of these unforgettable movie events, is very intricate and helps to recreate the vibe from the series. Captain Jack Sparrow is back, holding onto his vocalisation from Johnny Depp, as he finds himself in seemingly impossible scenarios able to escape almost unscathed. As you are shrouded in darkness and backed by the distinctive music from the films, helps to build that impression that you are part of the pirate world.

Mickey’s House was the final stop in our visit, opting to persist through the 60 minute plus wait to meet Disney’s number 1 mouse, Mickey himself, in exchange for that simple Polaroid iPhone moment. The house both inside and out is immaculately manicured in calculated Mickey style. Featuring a garden with perfectly shaped green hedges, an exterior of the house with exaggeratedly perfect overtones from the cartoon world. Inside we see references to Mickey’s loyal pet and companion Pluto, his admiration for Minney and all the furnishings and decor you can probably recall from his animated adventures. The photo experience itself is of course fairly straightforward, you get a few shared minutes to spend with the instantly recognisably costumed performer, as he makes and breaks hearts all in one simple encounter. Disney is milking the commercialisation of this experience too, as a single printed photo costs upwards of 1,500  yen. We thought the iPhone Polaroid moment was sufficient.

A Very Disney Christmas to You!

As previously mentioned, Disney is always one for embracing the seasonal changes, and the Christmas spirit was in full swing on our visit to the theme park. As we reached 5.30pm, many gathered around Cinderella’s Castle, to get the best viewing spot possible for the visual extravaganza of the Christmas projection mapping.  Cinderella’s castle was lit up with a stunning display of fireworks and sounds, featuring the entire Disney cast, led by Mickey, Donald, Goofy and the gang. Later that the evening, from around 7 pm, they also put on the special Christmas Disney Parade, with a huge line of floats filling the streets from many of the animated series and films.

In terms of food and beverages, two of us ate our way through pizzas, the Mickey burger, and several rounds of popcorn and churros. We also bought coffee and water throughout the day. In total, I estimate we spent well over 6,000 yen on food and drinks alone, so be prepared for the outlay, in particular, if you are coming as a family.

The gift shops and stands located at the entrance and throughout the park also have various kinds of interesting and wearable merchandise, and souvenirs you can find. Yet again, this is Disney we are talking about, so be prepared to pay for that cute looking fluffy Tigger hat, or those Mickey theme cookies.

Ticketing Options …

Tickets for the entire day are 7,400 yen for a single adult, cheaper (by 1,000 yen) if you get the 2-Day Passport to experience both theme parks (Land and Sea). For single adult passes, other savings can be had if you visit on weekdays after 6 pm from 4,200 yen (via the After 6 Passport) or on the weekend or national holidays after 3 pm (via the Starlight Passport), however, note that these times are commonly susceptible to crowding and longer queues.

Overall, Disney theme parks, be it Land or Sea, are a worthy experience for those especially who are fans of the newer, recent or classic films and animated series. However, time your visit wisely as it can mean the difference between enjoyment and irritation.

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