Theme park enthusiasts often rave about Tokyo Disney Resort. Its two parks draw more visitors annually than any other theme park in the world save for the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland in Anaheim (although those publicly released numbers aren’t always completely accurate or honest). As Tokyo residents, however, my wife and I have been to both parks many times. We’re always looking for new and different things to keep Disney fresh and exciting. This year, that involved venturing away from our home parks to enjoy the benefits of Walt Disney World.
Maybe there’s a natural human tendency to take things for granted where you live. I imagine the same might be true for some Floridians with Disney World. We came to Disney World this year with fresh eyes. It was my wife’s first time visiting the U.S. and meeting my parents and sister in person. Disney World is like their backyard, and this was part of our honeymoon. It was only my second time visiting the resort in about twenty years, too.
Booking hotels and planning an itinerary on my own for the first time gave me a real appreciation for some of the benefits of Walt Disney World. Admittedly, there were some ride maintenance issues that we noticed at the Florida parks. The general upkeep of attractions and such does seem to be better at Tokyo Disney Resort. Yet I came away feeling that Florida has an edge over Tokyo in these five areas.
1. Character Dining
As of July 8, 2019, character dining is a thing of the past in the parks at Tokyo Disney Resort. They used to have it at the Crystal Palace in Tokyo Disneyland and at the Horizon Bay Restaurant in DisneySea. Now it’s ended at both venues.
The only place left standing for character dining here is Chef Mickey in the Disney Ambassador Hotel. I managed to eat there once just by going on a weekday around opening time and requesting a Priority Seating ticket for later.
If you’ve ever tried to make a reservation for Chef Mickey at the Contemporary Resort in Florida, you can imagine how hard it might be to do it here in Tokyo now that it’s the only character dining option in the whole resort. Needless to say, Disney World is the clear victor when it comes to character dining.
On my second to last trip to Florida in 2017, the best meal I had was a character lunch with my family at Epcot’s Garden Grill. This year, when we were at Hollywood Studios, my wife, parents, sister, and I had an enjoyable dinner with character greetings at Hollywood & Vine. We also did the ‘Ohana character breakfast at Polynesian Village.
On our next trip, my wife and I hope to splurge again on a one-night stay at Wilderness Lodge and maybe take in some character fine dining with Storybook Dining at Artist Point. My family also speaks highly of the character meals at Tusker House in Animal Kingdom.
With a dozen other options to choose from besides the ones mentioned here, character dining is definitely one of the benefits of Walt Disney World. Compared to Tokyo, the Sunshine State almost feels like a character dining mecca.
2. Park-Hopping and Fastpass Booking
Park-hopping is not really an option at Tokyo Disney Resort unless you’re there on a three-day ticket or more. Then you can hop parks, but only starting on your third day. The exception to this is with Annual Passes (and vacation packages, which can be pricey).
Incidentally, in Tokyo, they sell Annual Passes for the parks individually. If you want a 2-Park Annual Passport, it will set you back about $900. I’ve probably been to the parks here a good thirty times or more now. In all that time, I’ve never once park-hopped.
At Disney World, we park-hopped over from Epcot twice. One day, we took the monorail from there to the Magic Kingdom. Another day, we used the International Gateway to take a Friendship Boat from there to Hollywood Studios. The upcoming Disney Skyliner gondola system should make it even easier to hop between these two parks. When you’re trying to match Fastpasses at one park with Extra Magic Hours at another, park-hopping is sometimes crucial.
Regarding Fastpasses, Tokyo Disney Resort still uses actual hard tickets via machines. Until this year, the only way to get Fastpasses was to line up in front of one of those machines on the day of your park visit. Imagine how many people would be making a mad dash for Slinky Dog Dash in the morning if you had to be there physically to secure Fastpasses for it. That’s what it’s always been like in Tokyo.
Before Soaring: Fantastic Flight opens on July 23, 2019, they’re supposed to be launching a new digital Fastpass system through the official TDR app. That app is still only available in Japanese. Moreover, the system they’re using will still require guests to line up at the machines to claim their passes (even after they’ve booked them digitally). There’s no such thing as MagicBands in Tokyo.
For those of us who like to have things all planned out ahead of time, the ability to book Fastpasses 30 to 60 days in advance is an undeniable perk. It’s just one of the many benefits of Walt Disney World.
3. Hotels and Transportation
Tokyo Disney Resort currently has three Deluxe hotels and one Value hotel. There are other non-Disney hotels along the monorail loop, but if you want theming, you’ll have to pay for it. The Deluxe hotels are upwards of $400 and $500 a night. Because of Japanese railway laws, you have to pay a fare to ride the monorail, too.
That nominal “Value” hotel option is the Tokyo Disney Celebration Hotel. It’s north of $200 a night and can even exceed $300, depending on when you stay. That still isn’t exactly cheap. To save money, we’ve actually stayed a few times at the APA Hotel, an unaffiliated business hotel that is three train stops away from the resort, next to Shiomi Station.
By contrast, Walt Disney World has a much wider range of hotel options, including some true Moderate and Value options. When you start scanning the full list on the Disney World website, you soon realize that, hotel-wise, it’s really no contest between the two resorts.
We splurged on a night at the Contemporary Resort, watching the fireworks over the Magic Kingdom from the balcony of our room in the A-frame building. It still doesn’t get much cooler than seeing a monorail run through your hotel (and being able to catch a free ride on it later)
To offset the cost of the Contemporary Resort, we followed up our stay there with a couple of nights at the All-Star Movies Resort. This hotel was a nice affordable option with easy bus access to the parks. Being able to conveniently send our luggage ahead of us and check in and unlock our room through the My Disney Experience app also made hotel-hopping a cinch.
The last part of our trip was spent at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel. It was nice to have an option that priced out more mid-range between the Contemporary and All-Star Movies. We enjoyed riding the boat over to Hollywood Studios and of course, the Dolphin is also within walking distance to Epcot.
4. Extra Magic Hours and After Hours
All in all, the hotels were an indelible part of our Disney World trip. In Tokyo, staying on-site at one of the official Disney hotels isn’t as necessary. It’s easier to get to the parks by public transportation.
Sure, it’s fun to visit the hotel restaurants and soak up the ambiance of places like the Hotel Miracosta. In 2022, there’s a second in-park hotel coming to Tokyo DisneySea, but right now, the Miracosta is the only one in the world. That said, it’s incredibly expensive to stay in one of the balcony or terrace rooms there.
If you want that open-air view of the park like at the Contemporary Resort, you might have to shell out over a thousand dollars at the Miracosta. As locals, we’ve never been able to justify doing it. If I were more well-off or coming in from out of town for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, maybe I’d feel differently.
But what about the benefit of early entry to the parks? Well, in Tokyo, they only have what’s called “Happy Entry 15.” This means you can get into the park a mere fifteen minutes early if you’re staying at one of the Disney hotels.
It’s better than nothing, but for us, having one or two Extra Magic Hours was essential for getting to experience all the rides we wanted at Disney World. Without those extra hours, we might not have had time to ride Test Track, Frozen Ever After, or Avatar Flight of Passage.
We also didn’t mind purchasing additional tickets to attend one of the After Hours events at Hollywood Studios. It was worth it to avoid the crowds in Toy Story Land and knock out all three Tier 1 Fastpass attractions there. Outside of New Year’s Eve, Tokyo Disney Resort doesn’t have After Hours events.
5. Dining Packages
At Tokyo Disney Resort, there’s no real equivalent for dining packages. The closest thing would be if you’re a Vacation Club member or you book a full-on vacation package. Then you might be able to snag some advance Priority Seating at restaurants and some special reserved seating for parades and shows.
For us, being able to lock in seats for parades and shows through dining packages was another invaluable way of ensuring that we got to see and do everything we wanted at Disney World. One of the best meals we had was at Tony’s Town Square Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom. We did it through a dining package and were able to go out and get good parade seats in the park’s entrance roundabout right after.
Seeing the Festival of Fantasy parade floats come down Main Street, then turn the corner and bear right down on us was a certainly one memorable vacation highlight. The Hollywood & Vine dinner with my family was also part of a dining package. It enabled us to see Fantasmic! that night without wasting Fastpasses on it.
At Animal Kingdom, we did the Tiffins dining package with the V.I.P. Kilimanjaro Safaris tour and front-row seats for Festival of the Lion King. That saved us two more Fastpasses. It didn’t save us any money, that’s for sure, but again, this was part of our honeymoon. Just having these options was a boon for travelers like us, who were on a limited time table in Florida.
If you want to get good seats for a Tokyo Disneyland parade without camping out, you can only hope to use my secret spot or win the occasional parade viewing lottery. Certain shows like Big Band Beat require a ticket for all but the first showing of the day.
The Grass Is Always Greener, Part Deux
As I said in a Tokyo Disneyland trip report earlier this year, the grass is always greener on the other side. I could probably write up another whole list like this about the benefits of Tokyo Disney Resort. The intent with this particular list is not to say that one resort is better than the other. It’s merely to remind people of some of the benefits of Walt Disney World.
Next time you enjoy any of the perks on this list, just remember: some of them aren’t available at every Disney resort in the world. Nor are there four theme parks at any other Disney resort in the world.
Florida isn’t perfect. As an outsider, I was a little mystified by some of the screen-based rides. That isn’t the Disney World I remember from my childhood. Having said that, I was really wowed by some of the other aspects of the resort. It’s such an expansive place that I’m sure I haven’t even discovered all the singular benefits of Walt Disney World.