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 will see one of two things. You will be greeted with smiles of glee and euphoria or a frown rooted in hatred. The theme park was constructed in 1983, and 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’, it is a growing part of the Tokyo Disney Kingdom. It continues to build and develop the dream of fans both young and old, as it expands its reign over the Urayasu district. The Disney Resort district now includes a range of Disney themed hotels and attractions. The area is surrounded by many luxurious accommodation brands. This includes the Hilton, the Sheraton and Hotel Okura. The single monorail loop links all of these hotels too. 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. 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 common. So, in this country, Disney fits this bill well too. If I can provide any kind of advice, especially for the crowd-haters or the queue allergics. Basically, follow this simple formula:

  1. Avoid any kind of national holidays (especially Golden Week in May or Silver Week in September)
  2. Never go during any 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. Here you can read about his contrastingly different experience in Tokyo’s wonderland.

Fastpass the Crowds

Another way to skip the long lines is to get a Disney Fastpass, which operate both in Disneyland and Sea. The simplest way to do this is when you first arrive at the park, go to the rides you really want to enjoy. For each ride, there should a Fastpass ticketing machine available, simply insert your theme park ticket. You should receive a Fastpass ticket, which will confirm the time duration when you need to return. Return to the attraction at this time and you will be able to skip most of the lines, minimising your wait time.

We strongly recommend you do this as soon as possible. Basically, soon after you enter the theme park because Fastpass ticket availability is limited for each ride.

Timing My 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. I was pleasantly surprised to see only a handful of people looming around the entrance. As I walked inside, I was greeted by the staff’s bright smiles and warm welcomes. Despite this, I suspiciously wonderd if this is will be short-lived or not, 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. They love to keep 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 a Friday, to catch the Christmas spectacular in hopefully a less crowded setting. In line with the silly season, Disney’s festive inspired list of events and performances are all in character. Our visit on a weekday was also by chance, great timing on our part too. Luckily, 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. The first ride we stopped by was the Star Wars themed ‘Star Tours: The Adventure Continues’. In past iterations, it has featured the likes of Star Wars icons such as C3P0, R2D2 and the most recent addition to the droid gang – BB8. 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 usually thrilling and believable from its recreation of the cosmos environment. From the gravitational forces of entering hyperspace, to its jolts and jars as your steer and evade your way through several planets. Your senses take an adventure through Lucas’ multidimensional universe.

We were disappointed to find ‘Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters’ ride closed. 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 facing a large screen.

AI Comedian?

After the lights dimmed, we were greeted by a cell shaded version of Stitch. He appeared to be autonomously animated and vocalised by very intuitive technology and algorithms, almost AI like in nature. 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 on the fly. He attempts to befriend the audience in every humorous way he can. His range of comedy is hilarious as he toys with many of the visitors. His teasing and backtracking to certain members is a bunch of laughs and definitely a highlight of the day!

No Lies Here

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 I suspect. They can relive their favourite moments from the nostalgically animated scenes, and movie’s memorable tunes. I remember enjoying the film all of those years ago during my childhood. So, while the film is an emotional and heartfelt tale, I found this ride so-so 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. Classic characters including Donald Duck, Pluto, Goofy and Mickey himself. The visual special takes 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. The stick which led and controlled the ensemble of autonomous instruments and the musical score.

Christmas in Halloween

Following on, we stumbled upon the ‘Haunted Mansion’, a ride which recalls events from ‘The Nightmare before Christmas’ film. The ride is filled with familiar characters from Tim Burton’s famous stop-motion Christmas adventure. This is the ‘scary’ ride of Disney’s theme park and that helps to elevate the hype of this attraction. As a result, 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 moments retold from the movie. Jack Skellington, the main character of the story, leads us 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. It might come across as a little spooky for smaller children though.

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

Feel the Thunder

After the shooting gallery, we made our way over to the now longer 50-minute queue for ‘Big Thunder Mountain’. This is the very tame, 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. For instance, we saw ‘Space Mountain’ and ‘Splash Mountain’ with 70 minutes plus wait. This too was on what was still a fairly sombre day in terms of crowds. We eventually get onto the train, for a short 1 minute plus a rapidly-paced trip of swings, hills and spirals to a dessert created western backdrop. The minute or so of high-speed drops and turns was all over very quickly, but it was a thrilling ride all the same.

When we got to the line for the ‘Jungle Cruise’, it was relieving to see the est. wait sign only said 20 minutes. We get on a small dingy after a quick queue, and the tour guide greets us with a wide smile. He turns out to be extremely chatty and bubbly, commenting his way throug the tour. We make our way through a host of comical scenes. Things perhaps you wouldn’t typically expect from a normal jungle, but absolutely from a Disney jungle.

Of course, no real animals are used in this attraction. Although, 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. Additionally, there are monstrously long Pythons hanging from trees, hungry Hippos surfacing from the water, manic Monkeys and more.

Pirates and more

The ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movies are instantly recognisable from their recent releases. They are also vivid in many people’s memory, as they are quick to associate Johnny Depp. 30 minutes of queuing finally let us enter the depths of Jack Sparrow’s mischief. The boat on rails journey begins descending into the mysterious pirate wonderland. The amount of detail and accuracy that has gone into the recreation of these movie scenes is incredible. Captain Jack Sparrow is back, holding onto his vocalisation from Mr Depp. He finds himself in seemingly impossible scenarios able to escape almost unscathed. The dark caves and distinctive music too, all help to build that impression that you are part of the pirate world.

Mickey…Ouch!

Mickey’s House was the final stop on our visit, we opted to persist through the 60 minutes plus wait. Meeting Disney’s number 1 mouse, Mickey himself, is what many look forward to on their journey. Here many endure the wait for that simple perfect Polaroid or iPhone moment. The style of the house is distinctly Mickey in its look and shape. Featuring a garden with perfectly shaped green hedges, and a house exterior with exaggeratedly perfect overtones. Inside we see references to Mickey’s loyal pet and companion Pluto. We can observe his admiration for Minney too, and all the furnishings and decor that recall his animated adventures.

The photo experience itself is of course fairly straightforward. You get just a few fleeting minutes to spend with the instantly recognisably costumed performer. Each time 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 captured moment was sufficient.

A Very Disney Christmas to You!

As previously mentioned, Disney is always one for embracing the seasonal changes. So obviously 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. The visual extravaganza of the Christmas special projection mapping show.  During the show, we could also see Cinderella’s castle lit up with a stunning display of fireworks and sounds. It features the entire Disney cast, led by Mickey, Donald, Goofy and the gang too. Later that the evening, from around 7 pm, they also put on the special Christmas Disney Parade. This is a lengthy performance with a huge line of floats and more filling the streets with many of the popular tales.

In terms of food and beverages, the 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 if you’re coming as a family it could be costly.

You can find many gift shops and stands scattered throughout the entrance and across the park. They have various kinds of interesting and wearable merchandise, and souvenirs you can find. If you want to buy Disney labelled merchandise though, then you will have to pay a premium for it.

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 those looking for other savings, discounts are available on weekdays after 6 pm from 4,200 yen (via the After 6 Passport). On the weekend or national holidays after 3 pm (via the Starlight Passport) prices are also lower. Please note that these times are commonly susceptible to crowding and longer queues. We also recommend you check the Disney website for further information.

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

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