It’s only proper that Tokyo DisneySea be reviewed by an authentic Sailor. After all, nobody knows the water and the pleasures of land quite like we do! ☺️
I bought my DisneySea ticket before realizing it was for the first Sunday in Golden Week. Yikes! Golden Week is a WEEK-LONG celebration of holidays, and many Japanese use the opportunity to travel. As any Sailor who has lived in Japan during Golden Week can attest to, prices triple and lines explode. I was certain I’d be fighting a massive crush of Disney fans.
Much to my surprise and delight, that Sunday was the PERFECT day to visit. I went on ride after ride without once having to use the DisneySea App to make a reservation.
Was it the weather that discouraged park guests? (Although the forecast had called for a full day of April rain, I only had to pop my umbrella for a few minutes.) Whatever the reason, it was an utterly awesome day, and I’m still in happy disbelief at my good fortune.
What Is DisneySea?
DisneySea first opened in September 2001 and remains a massive hit. Along with Tokyo Disneyland, it is owned by the Oriental Land Company, which licenses Disney’s intellectual property. Rest assured: it is both an authentic Disney experience, and one you won’t find anywhere else.
The park was designed based on places (both real and mythical) that adventurers would seek to travel to. The “ports of call” are:
- Mediterranean Harbor
- American Waterfront
- Lost River Delta
- Port Discovery
- Mermaid Lagoon
- Arabian Coast
- Mysterious Island
Although you can board the transit steamer or gondola to explore the area, it’s easy and fun to access new ports using the connecting bridges.
If you’re looking for your favorite nostalgic rides, it’s likely you’d prefer Disneyland.
If, however, you’re willing to try NEW Disney-themed rides, DisneySea is delightful. And you can still find favorites such as “Soaring”, “Tower of Terror”, and “Indiana Jones Adventure”.
Since its name is DisneySEA, almost every ride has elements inspired by the ocean. The quality of rides is every bit as good as its sister park, and the wait times were fantastic.
- Transport Steamer: No wait
- Princess Jasmine’s Flying Carpets: 5 minutes
- Flounder’s Flying Fish Coaster: 10 minutes
- Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull: 5 minutes
- Caravan Carousel: 5 minutes
- Aquatopia: 5 minutes
- Toy Story Mania: 70 minutes
- Soaring: Fantastic Flight: 60 minutes
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: 5 minutes
- Journey to the Center of the Earth: 20 minutes
- Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage: 5 minutes
- Tower of Terror: 20 minutes
- Venetian Gondola: 5 minutes
Ariel’s Playground has a lot of rides suitable for younger children. Even if you don’t have children, many adults like walking through the gorgeously designed grotto.
After “Soaring”, my favorite ride was “Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage”. If “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “It’s a Small World” had a baby, this would be it! It’s a dark ride with animatronics and set to soaring music. It is SO GOOD.
The top-notch entertainment is definitely a great reason to go.
Parades. Parades at DisneySea take place on the water. The parade route in such a way that you’ll have beautiful views if you’re anywhere near Mediterranean Port.
Fantastic Dancing. If you’re looking to learn some slick dance moves, head to “Jamboree Mickey! Let’s Dance!” The energy there is incredible, and the talented dancers on stage WILL get you – if not moving – at least clapping enthusiastically. If you prefer to leave dancing to the professionals, “Big Band Beat: A Special Treat” is for you. Arrive early! The Broadway-style theater fills up FAST. After all, there’s nothing quite like watching Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Daisy tap dance.
Character Meet and Greets. You never know who you’ll run into. Honest John and Gideon from “Pinocchio” might coax you off the straight and narrow, or you might trade a few pleasantries with Captain Jack Sparrow.
The Magic Lamp Theater. The Arabian Coast magic show is live and entirely in Japanese. You do NOT need to understand Japanese in order to enjoy it. One of the joys of slapstick humor is that it is universal.
Note: At “Big Band Beat: A Special Treat” and “Jamboree Mickey! Let’s Dance!”, guests had their phones scanned to access reserved seating up front. I was lucky and had no problems accessing the “general” seating. Given the popularity of the shows, I strongly recommend booking ahead.
What Makes DisneySea Awesome
Flawless customer service. Having once been an amusement park rides operator, I can say with authority that Tokyo DisneySea sets the gold standard for exceptional service.
Waving. Every single employee waves. Train conductors? Staff outside a ride entrance? The Central First Aid team? The ladies behind the popcorn stand? Make eye contact, and you’ll get waved at.
Disney fashion. Guests manage to make Disney attire look chic, not tacky. You’re likely to see pants with belts, collared shirts, blazers, and ties. The most popular accessary is headwear. There is NO SHAME whatsoever about carrying a stuffed character with you as you ride. In fact, the adults are just as likely as the toddlers to carry a stuffed toy.
Attention to detail. It’s the little things that give a surprising amount of joy. I love that the windows on the monorail are in the shape of Mickey Mouse ears. I also love how the bathroom door labels change as you navigate new lands. At Arabian Harbor, men use the “Princes” room; at Mediterranean Harbor, ladies use the “Belle Donne” commodes.
Tasteful consumerism. The rides don’t exit through a store with ride merchandise. If you want to souvenir shop, you have to make a conscious effort to enter. I LOVE THAT.
3 Fun Quirks
Tower of Terror. The Tower of Terror looks vastly different than the one that existed in California. Why? This is Japan and the Japanese do NOT get in something that looks unkempt. 🤣
Duffy the Disney Bear. Who? What? I count myself a Disney fan, and I had no idea what this bear was. Duffy the Bear might not have resonated with U.S. audiences, but in Japan this bear is hugely popular. You are as likely to see guests rock Duffy ears as you are Mickey Mouse.
They Serve Wine. The restaurants in Mediterranean Harbor serve vino. Perhaps it goes back to authenticity?
DisneySea’s most famous snacks are the popcorn! The popcorn changes seasonally, so it’s exciting to see what flavor comes next.
You can currently find: curry; matcha and white chocolate; salt; soy sauce and butter; milk chocolate; pepper; and caramel.
As much as I love popcorn, I opted for something different. At Ariel’s Playground, I picked up a sea shell stuffed with sea salt ice-cream and a thin lining of raspberry sauce. It was incredible. And it was only ¥350 ($2.60).
Gourmet Dining Menus
Meals at DisneySea are extremely affordable compared to Disney Parks in the U.S. The quality is also sky high. In honor of Tokyo Disneyland’s 40th anniversary, many restaurants had special celebration “set” menus. As is typical in Japan, they display food models so you know exactly what to expect in terms of presentation and portion size. At the bottom of every menu is a proud note that all rice is produced in country.
Volcania: Chilled Sichuan-style noodles with minced pork and fried chicken; scallops and mushrooms with leek sauce; chilled spicy and sour soup with tomato; soft drink. Dessert: Almond jelly with peach and apple sauce. ¥1980 ($14.47).
Horizon Bay Restaurant: Egg and bacon soup with cheese; meat patty with yuzu pepper cream sauce, Aquatopia-style; bread or rice; soft drink. Dessert: Marina Delight (mango and passion fruit mousse with orange). ¥2680 ($19.59)
Cape Cod Cook-Off First Prize Set: Cheese bread sandwich (roast beef, potato salad, peach); french fries, and soft drink. ¥1430 ($10.45)
Casbah Food Court: Curry sampler with tandoori chicken (medium beef curry and mild shrimp curry), naan and rice, and soft drink. ¥1300 ($9.50)
Magellon, by the volcano, required advance reservations. There’s good reason: their ¥10,000 ($74.17) menu was all-out luxury.
For lunch, I chose the Cafe Portofino‘s “Special Set”:
- Fantastic Flight Chowder (Cannellini beans and seafood)
- Coffee-scented roast beef with mustard cream sauce
- Breaded zucchini, potatoes, and nuts
- Fantastic Flight dessert: Panna cotta and butterfly pea jellied dessert with chocolate bird.
It only took six minutes from the time I got in line to the time I sat at the table. The cost for the feast was a very reasonable ¥3000 ($21.93). And the food was EXQUISITE.
Which is Better: Disneyland or DisneySea?
It depends. What do you want to experience?
Tokyo Disneyland is for those in whom nostalgia runs strong – you’ll see the bulk of your favorites here. If you have never been to Disneyland in your life, by all means check out Tokyo Disneyland. A third category of those who will prefer Tokyo Disneyland are those on a quest to visit all *DisneyLAND* parks.
The main reason I love Tokyo Disneyland is because I got to celebrate Thanksgiving there with family. But I loved the ease of navigating DisneySea, and it’s nice to be surprised by rides that only exist there. Also, because there are fewer rides, there’s automatically less pressure to cram everything into a day.
The vibe is different. Do you prefer the focal point of a park to be a castle? Or a water-surrounded volcano? The artists and builders at DisneySea did an incredible job of creating a squeaky clean interpretation of Venice and the Atlantic Boardwalk. It’s pure Disney, but it’s more relaxed than Tokyo Disneyland. You will still hear themed music, but you will also hear sounds and music that reflect the region you’re in. Expect Italian music at Mediterranean Harbor.
A Side-By-Side Comparison
CAVEAT: a side-by-side comparison is always flawed, because the conditions were vastly different. Thanksgiving at Disneyland on a gorgeous sunny day with small children is bound to be different than an overcast Sunday at DisneySea during Golden Week at DisneySea by yourself. Here goes:
Customer service: Tie.
Attention to detail: Tie.
Food. DisneySea wins! Not only was there much more variety; the wait time was practically nothing.
Number of rides. Tokyo Disneyland.
Ride wait time. DisneySea.
Park crowds. DisneySea.
Live entertainment: DisneySea. The Big Band Beat show was a Broadway-caliber performance.
Parades. Tokyo Disneyland. As cool as it was to see a parade from the water, I loved how ornate the floats of a Tokyo Disneyland parade are. There’s an excellent reason why the land parades win: there’s a limit to what you can put on a float and have it still be seaworthy.
Park cleanliness: Tie.
The tickets for both Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea are the same price. My adult ticket cost 9400 ($69.71). Believe it or not, that’s the high price for Golden Week!
Yep, tickets in Japan are a mere fraction of the cost of what you would pay at a Stateside Disney Park or at Disneyland Paris. Here’s a side-by-side cost comparison.
As with Tokyo Disneyland, Westerners in Japan can avoid paying third party mark-up fees by buying them directly from a konbini (Japanese convenience store). Tickets sell out quickly, so if it is a MUST-DO component of your trip, it might be best to book via a third party site.
If you have a Japanese bank account, you’re in luck! You can purchase your tickets to either park directly from the Tokyo Disney website.
If You Go
If you are in Japan for less than 10 days, get out and see the REAL JAPAN!!!!
I want to be super careful about giving the impression that you’ll breeze to the front of every line. The official DisneySea site regularly updates ride wait times. Three days after my trip, I checked the site and saw the times were 3-4 times as long as the day I went. I had truly lucked out.
It’s two hours each way by train from Yokosuka. Once you get to Tokyo station, follow the thick red line marked Maihama – YES, they tried to make the process as simple as possible! – and get off at Disney. Unlike Tokyo Disneyland, which is a very short walk, getting to DisneySea requires you to take a short monorail that runs regularly. It costs ¥260 and is covered by the Suica and Pasmo cards.
I won’t lie, you will be zonked should you make it a day trip from Yokosuka. I spent a full day at Tokyo Disneyland with young nieces and nephew, it would have been ghastly had we tried to take the train back. If you have young children, do yourself a favor and stay overnight. There are plenty of inexpensive places near the parks.
Here’s wishing you a safe and happy adventure!