Sunday, December 6, 2015

Japan trip Autumn 2015, Part 1a - Planning for Tokyo DisneySea

In all of my previous trips to Japan, I have never been to Tokyo Disney Resort. Usually the people I've traveled with had no interest in going, spending money on the attraction ticket or waiting in line! However, Christa was keen on going, and I was excited to finally get to go as well!
Because I had never considered going before, I didn't know a lot about DisneySea, so I set about doing a lot of research. Christa actually used to work at Disneyland in CA, and I was also a somewhat frequent visitor when I went to school in SoCal my freshman year of college, so we didn't mind skipping Tokyo Disneyland, but we were both looking forward to visiting DisneySea which promised to be a lot different and according to a many websites, in some ways, better.

Some people like their trip to be "organic" and not so fussy or planned. That's not me, but I understand that mentality. It's just not something I wanted to do for our literally only one day at the park (that's all we allocated) and knowing I wouldn't be likely to return to many years, if at all. I wanted to make sure we at least got our priorities straight and not waste any amount of time trying to figure out which ride or food item would be worth waiting potentially hours for only to be largely disappointed.

Tokyo Disney Resort tickets can be purchased at here. The cost for a 1-day pass is 6900yen each. You cannot use an out of country/non-Japanese MasterCard, and you cannot use a debit card. We used Christa's US VISA card. Check here for payment options and restrictions.
We purchased the tickets as soon as we could manage - two months out from the day of our intended visit. They are available two months prior to your visit on the day. For example, we wanted tickets for Nov 26 and they were available for purchase starting Sep 26. We ordered the tickets on Sep 27 and didn't have any issues except the credit card thing which took me a little while to figure out.
There is no shipping fee for online purchase. You're supposed to print on A4 paper which is a little shorter than 8.5" and a little longer than 11" but is closest to US letter size paper. We printed on 8.5" x 11" paper and had several other "trial prints" with a couple different settings and also tried legal size paper (cut down to size) and just hoped one of those would be okay. Tickets are provided in PDF format and can be printed as many times as you need before use.
Color or black and white print is fine as long as the QR code is clear (not blurred or smudged) and the right size. The ticket itself should be folded in half 3 times to look approximately as I have them in the photo above. I had some extra copies printed just in case since you absolutely need to have printed in hard copy for park access, and you also need them for the lottery and fast pass systems.
The online purchase procedure is fairly straightforward and available in English.
You can, of course, also purchase tickets at the gates, but on busy days, tickets can sell out! We didn't want to waste time waiting in line for that, so e-tickets was the best option for us. I believe you can also buy park passes at some Disney stores (I've seen the counters and have accidentally gotten in the wrong line for it) but we wouldn't have time to do that either, and the lines can also be insane for those counters at times.
Click here to see which ticket we used ~

Choosing the date
We picked Thursday, November 26, our first day of the trip, because...we wanted to be sure to do this? Actually I'm not exactly sure why because it was so long ago that we initially arranged it lol. My best guess is that it's likely because we didn't want to go on a weekend, and we would be spending Monday of the following week in the Kansai area and then midday Tuesday would be checking out and into a hotel so it was either Thursday or Friday, and we figured Thursday would be best between the two because it was farther from the weekend. According to crowd calendars and other websites when we first started researching in February-ish, that didn't seem like a bad idea either. We wouldn't get to check good weather reports or updated crowd calenders until much later.
Checking back in on one of the crowd calendars about a month-ish before we were to leave, this is what it looked like -
This was actually quite different than what we had first seen back in February and March but this calendar in particular claims to update based on ticket purchases and hotel reservations. (And would be most accurate within two months of the visit date.) Despite what a few veteran TDS visitors said, late November actually seems to be quite popular! It may be worthwhile to note that the Christmas Wishes theming started on Nov 9, but I believe it usually starts around that date every year, and I'm not sure why it was estimated to be so crowded during our visit if we were to believe what has been observed in years past. Anyway, based on what I had researched, I found it curious for the numbers this week to be so high, especially for Thursday as compared to Friday and also based on the weather reports for the 25-26ish to be rainy! (Rain is another thing that usually seems to deter crowds.)
This was the crowd calendar I was really hoping would be accurate -
And this one does ring true to what many were saying - end of November and rainy is a pretty safe bet that the crowds will be more reasonable (or just not crazy level)! This crowd calendar is entirely in Japanese and it does seem that it updates but I'm not sure based on what exactly. I would think that the previous crowd calendar and this one can't possibly pull from the same sources because how can they be so vastly different??
It was already too late to change the date we were visiting (based on other planning we did for the other days of the trip and buying the e-ticket), but at least we would be prepared for the crowds - hoping for the best and expecting the worst!
Click here to read about how the crowds turned out ~

As the trip neared, I started to do a lot more extensive research in early November including specific and varied ride reviews, how to's, guides and other bloggers' experiences. I also found it helpful to read the comments section on many of the articles as well. Not everyone wants to/can take the time to blog but many do have a minute or so to comment on a post of another person either in agreement or disagreement. Just having a few more nods of approval as backup was nice to see. Christa had already picked which rides and shows she was most interested in (based on her own research) and I felt the same way about them after doing a bit more reading myself.

Looking up what food was available at the park was really important to me as a picky eater. I don't actually have any "real" dietary restrictions like being a vegetarian or having allergies, but I still have a really limited set of items that I will eat. I ended up trying a few foods I would usually stay far, far away from during my last trip in an attempt to "expand my taste", but each time it was a bust and I ended up feeling sick or having a headache. And these are completely normal/standard foods that most people do like and I know they weren't prepared badly or anything bc my bf ate them too. I just really, really don't enjoy eating foods I don't enjoy lol. I feel like at this point of my life, I'm pretty familiar with what I want to eat and what I don't and so I should just stick to that to avoid any backlash. In any case, when I was browsing through food/snack/restaurant reviews, a lot of them said the meals was quite good but none of them mentioned any foods I thought I would eat o__o, and I began to get worried.
Luckily, I stumbled on a few sites/blogs that listed restaurant menus. The best one being the official one from Disney itself. The menus were all in Japanese but a lot of the food names are in katakana and I was able to sound it out and look at the pictures to help me. If I was unsure about something, I went straight to Google again to see if anyone else out there had written a review on the product or restaurant/shop.
Example: I wasn't sure if the Yukatan Sausage Dog from Expedition Eats had any hidden ingredients or sauces to it. I googled "Expedition Eats DisneySea" and was able to find someone who reviewed the Sausage Dog as plain (in a bad way) but that was good for me since I that's what I prefer lol. Honestly, I probably spent a few hours just trying to figure out if I would be able to eat anything at the park.
Alternately, you are allowed to bring in food with you but you can't bring a cooler and they ask that you eat the food in a designated area. You can also bring in water bottles. Or any liquids in PET bottles - not alcohol.

Based on the things I read and what we were prioritizing for ourselves, I made this first draft of a plan with notes -
It's a very crude imitation of the park layout sorted by "port". As a geography major, I tend to be map-minded lol. It would have been nice to have a real map of the park to write on but there's a LOT of color on it and I find that hard to write on, plus it uses a lot of ink to print, so this makeshift version was just going to work for me as a draft. It was minimal but specific, and I was able to glean what information I wanted to communicate from it. I just used the real Disney map for reference. I included our priority rides and attractions according to their location and then thought about which order we would be trying to get to them. Since food and my pickiness is a big deal, I also identified which restaurants/stalls I would be likely to eat something from using the "callout" lines. There are a LOT of food choices at Disney, and it looked like I might actually have quite a few options depending on where we would be in the park. I could tell from this broken down version that American Waterfront and Mysterious Island would be big hits for us whereas Port Discovery and Mermaid Lagoon - probably not so much. This would help us determine how we might want to spend our time which was really the intention of it. Of course, this was just my version of the map and would go through further revisions and edits after discussing with Christa. I found it to be useful and a good jumping off point though.

If you're staying in a Disney Resort hotel, this doesn't matter. But if you were like us and were only making a brief day trip over to Disney and not staying anywhere near the premises, but wanted to make the most of your time there...
Check what time the park opens - (clicking on the times related to your date will also give you more information)
Then based on the opening time, go to Hyperdia and figure out when you need to leave from where you're staying. For example, my search conditions could have looked something this -
And if this was the route we chose -
We'd know exactly what time we'd need to be at Shinjuku station, what track, where to transfer, how long we had to make the transfer and what time we'd ideally arrive.
From Maihama station, we'd still have to take the Disney Monorail to get to the park, so we made sure to budget a bit of time for that as well. I believe you can walk from Maihama to the resorts if you want to, but because of the anticipated weather, our unfamiliarity with the area and the estimated walk time, we decided that the monorail would be a better option despite the cost. I had also seen others' pictures of the monorail and wanted to get some myself anyway.
This exact timing planning isn't all really necessary if you're just going to casually go, but I wanted to have a reasonable plan in place, so this is how I wanted to do it.

Since our visit to the park was to be our first real day in Japan (since we arrived very late at night the day before), I was really quite worried about the weather. I'm not used to anything much below 65-70F and would definitely be having to bring with me whatever I wanted to have for Disney. There would be no opportunity to shop before arriving at the park since we wanted to get the park early and the majority of shops would be closed by the time we landed from our flight the night before. I constantly checked for weather reports during the days leading up to our trip, and it seemed like Thursday was due to be a bit rainy and unusually cold. Like, JUST THURSDAY lol. The temperature was predicted to pick up 10degrees (Celsius) for Friday and the rest of the trip. Many reports (and Berri!) mentioned that DisneySea was also just colder than other places in Tokyo because it was nearer to the ocean and could get quite windy, so packing smart for this particular day was an important pre-planning detail that I wanted to be sure to be prepared for. I didn't want to be miserable because of the cold, and I also didn't want to get sick either!
As it turned out, as the actual day approached, the weather forecast ended up being revised by quite a few degrees (and even the day our flight left, it increased 2 more to 15C and then went back down to 13C a few hours later??). I guess that means just to prepare for the worst and hope for the best? But anyway, I thought about 10 days out, the forecast would be reasonably accurate enough to base my packing on, but there were really quite a few changes within the 3 days previous to us arriving.
I do think it is important to keep the weather in mind when you go though. If you're like us and will only be spending one day there and will be staying far away from the resort, you likely won't have a chance to go back and get anything or buy something for a reasonable non-Disney retail price so you want to bring with you what you can. If you don't need it and it's bulky, it can always be put in a locker! If you're staying in a hotel onsite or nearby, that's obviously not as big of an issue though. We figured we should still dress warmly and even bring an umbrella. After consulting several weather websites, I decided to pack a poncho as well due to a 70% chance of precipitation. (My jacket, footwear and purse were already determined to be OK in rain.)
Click here to read about the weather on that day ~

No selfie sticks. I don't believe they will be confiscated, but you will be asked to refrain from using them.
This wasn't an issue for us, but I remember reading somewhere that the parks don't have ATMs or places you can exchange foreign currency. However, I could have sworn I saw a currency exchange station somewhere in the park and the TDR website does confirm there is some sort of exchange place. We didn't actually need to use it or get very close to it, so I'm not actually 100% sure though. It'd say it's just generally more advisable to bring your yen to the park with you otherwise, you may have to walk all the way out and come back. Many of the stores will take credit cards but I think the smaller stalls will not.

My DisneySea checklist -
As this would be the first day of our trip and we would have been exhausted from a long flight, I made myself a small checklist of things I needed to bring with me to the park. Some of these things would be coming from small nooks and crannies of my check-in suitcase and some would have to be taken care of in Japan, and I didn't want to forget anything that would help make the day easier.
  • Breakfast / small snack (onigiri)*
  • Bottle water*
  • Floor mats (for waiting to enter or waiting for shows)
  • Masks*
  • TICKETS (printed)
  • Gloves
  • Bandaids & gauze
  • Tylenol
  • Umbrella (?*)
  • Hand warming packets*
  • Portable charger
  • Charging cables
  • Poncho
  • + the usual basics: purse, phone, wifi, passport, wallet (money), chapstick, watch
* to purchase in Japan

There are a plethora of Disney bloggers and forums out there. If you have any questions about anything related to Disney, it's extremely likely that someone will have the answer and it's only a search away. I'm not a Disney Blogger, and I've only had the one day experience, so personally I can't help that much. I did want to touch on a few things that I encountered for our particular trip, but there are many more knowledgeable people. I would definitely encourage you to do some research if you only have a limited time in the parks though. There's so much to do and see and you may as well make the most of it!

Some of the websites/blogs used in planning or research (all found using a simple Google search) - (especially for restrictions, special events and show times + ticket purchasing)

1-day itinerary (and many of the related posts)

DisneySea special event: Christmas Wish

Crowd calendars 

Restaurant menus and reviews (in Japanese)

(Big Band Beat) Lottery system and Fast Passes

A few of the first blog posts or reports I found (ideally looking for recent posts in 2015 which would likely have the most up-to-date information and also posts in November of previous years for reference) [content warning if anyone needs it: anti-Japanese/Asian (American) slur used in the text of one of the photos - second photo of the day's schedule. Language was not used in a derogatory way, but I just wanted to caution anyone who is sensitive to seeing it]

I am not endorsing or intentionally promoting any of these sites or blogs but am simply providing them as a resource if needed and wanted to keep a small list if I needed to refer back to anything later.  They are listed in no particular order. Each personal blog post will have a slightly different point of view as the author likely has different priorities when exploring the park, so I found it interesting to read more than just a few. There are obviously more blogs out there and even more than I looked at but some I just didn't find helpful or to include any new information tbh. If you happen to be using my post as a home base for references and find it lacking, be sure to Google around more yourself! This is not a comprehensive list by any means.

This wasn't supposed to be an independent post, but as I researched and learned more about the park and planning for a visit, I realized that maybe it should be, even if just to make the TDS visit post a little less lengthy (and yeah it was already kind of long). I wasn't anticipating having this much to say about the topic tbh, but since I did spend the time and did the reading and had some time to document it, why not? Lol. (I definitely had to have started this post before going on the trip and written it during/throughout the research though because there was no way I would have been able to write this to this level of detail as an afterthought and after the completion of the entire trip.) Even if everyone else finds it boring or stupid because planning takes away the Disney magic, it will likely just help me if I ever get a chance to visit again in the future. I honestly didn't have any idea how extensive the Disney park/resort/travel community was (I mean, I'm not surprised but I just didn't know), and I don't want it to seem like I'm encroaching in any way since I'm obviously not very knowledgeable, but as an outsider, this was my planning experience and thank you to all the other bloggers out there who post!

Click here to read about my day at DisneySea ☆ 
See also: Japan trip Spring 2016 Day 6: Tokyo DisneySea
Japan trip Autumn 2015 posts
Part 1 - Day 1, November 26: Tokyo DisneySea
     Part 1a - Planning for Tokyo DisneySea
Part 2 - Day 2, November 27: Hair Salon NALU, Shibuya & Harajuku
Part 3 - Day 3, November 28: Ghibli Museum, Shirohige Cream Puff Shop, Ikebukuro, Rikugien Garden & Nagomi no Yu
Part 4 - Day 4, November 29: Arashiyama, Fushimi Inari & Fire ramen in Kyoto
Part 5 - Day 5, November 30: Minoo Park, Kaiyukan, Tennoji, Namba & Umeda in Osaka
Part 6 - Day 6, December 1: Shibuya, Yokohama (Chinatown) & Seirinkan
Part 7 - Day 7, December 2: Ueno Zoo, Alice Café & Yebisu Garden Place
Part 8 - Liz Lisa & Other shopping purchases
Part 9 - Budgeting for a week in Japan
Part 10 - Travel notes: Planning, Tips, Accommodations & Pocket wifi

Japan trip Summer 2015 posts
Japan trip Spring 2015 posts
Japan trip Summer 2014 posts


  1. Yeah, I totally didn't do any of this but I had other people planning this instead of me XD I think this post is really helpful for people who want to plan and the resources seem A+ so thumbs up! Good work ^^

    1. Haha I guess your other people was me and you were my friend. (Although she was the one who started most of the research!)

  2. Gosh, You are so organised! I am so the complete opposite it's terrible. The first time I went to Japan, I booked my flights and my first night of accomidation and my brother and I just sort of made up the rest as we went along lol. My second trip was a lot better planned as my partner is far more organised than I. I would love to visit Disney Sea though as I have not made it there yet, so I will keep this guide in mind next time I make my way over there. Thank you for sharing!

    <3 Sarah | Oh So Kawaii

    1. There's definitely pros and cons to both methods and it depends what you want to get out of your trip! I don't mind doing more planning beforehand if it means getting to do what we want to do with extra time to be more "spontaneous" as well :)