Tokyo Disneyland is gearing up for a big 2020 with its New Fantasyland expansion, which includes the world’s first Beauty and the Beast and Baymax rides. It and Tokyo Disney Resort as a whole are also coming off an eventful 2019. If you’ve been keeping up with our photo reports, you may have already been following the latest developments this year. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the big highlights with an all-new photo batch.
You’ll also see some smaller, personal highlights from a seasoned parkgoer of five years. Over the last half-decade, I feel like I’ve conquered most of the rides, restaurants, and other regular offerings at the resort. However, I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting things that may have slipped through the cracks of my experience (and yours). In no particular order, then, here are 10 highlights from Tokyo Disney Resort in 2019.
1. Soaring: Fantastic Flight
Let’s get this one out of the way first. By any standard, the biggest highlight of 2019 at Tokyo Disney Resort was the grand opening of Soaring: Fantastic Flight. With its stately ride building and breathtaking rotunda, the new Fastpass attraction drew long lines at Tokyo DisneySea. It’s just one of the many things to do in Mediterranean Harbor, DisneySea’s beautiful central port.
The first time my wife and I experienced Soaring: Fantastic Flight, we were able to ride it twice in one morning. We entered the park fifteen minutes before it opened and knocked out the ride once on standby and once with Fastpasses. This was made possible with our Happy 15 Entry vouchers from the Tokyo Disney Celebration Hotel.
2. Tokyo Disney Celebration Hotel
Unfortunately, starting June 1, 2020, guests of the Tokyo Disney Celebration Hotel will no longer be able to use Happy 15 Entry at DisneySea. I would still recommend this hotel for anyone who wants to stay at one of the official themed Tokyo Disney Resort hotels. It’s more affordable than the other three luxury hotels and you can still use your Happy 15 Entry for Tokyo Disneyland.
Since we live in Tokyo, we don’t always need to stay in a hotel, but we had a free one-night stay coming to us through the Hotels.com Rewards program. So of course, we used it for the Tokyo Disney Celebration Hotel. This hotel is actually comprised of two different buildings that are across the street from each other.
We stayed in the adventure-themed Discovery building. At night, however, we walked over to the fantasy-themed Wish building to check out its light-up topiaries and teacup-shaped lobby chairs. The topiaries evoke Electrical Parade floats. Some vibrant Disney murals decorate the lobby and rooms of both buildings.
3. Empty Journey to the Center of the Earth
It may seem oddball to bill this as a highlight, but I’ve ridden Journey to the Center of the Earth – DisneySea’s flagship attraction — many times. (The precise number is umpteen.) Seeing the tunnel to the ride closed off and its Fastpass machine area empty was a new wrinkle. For me, it added a little bit of ghost-town novelty to a day when Soaring took precedence, anyway.
As a general rule, I would try to plan your DisneySea trip for when Journey to the Center of the Earth is open. On the park’s website, you can check the list of temporary ride closures, which are scheduled well in advance. Otherwise, you may be met with a sight like the one above. When else will you get to ride through a volcano and evade a roaring lava monster?
4. Lion King Characters in Lost River Delta
Our complete character greeting guide for DisneySea has photos of just about every character you could hope to meet there. In December 2018, I did catch some characters in Christmas costumes that weren’t yet covered in the guide. Most of the time, though, there are few surprises left for me when it comes to character greetings at this park.
DisneySea’s backside port of Lost River Delta is supposed to be themed to a Central American jungle. That hasn’t ever curtailed sightings of Jungle Book monkeys from the Indian subcontinent there. Imagine my surprise, this year, when I ran across a couple of Africa-based Lion King characters there, too.
Timon and Rafiki were out doing greetings, presumably to help promote the photorealistic blockbuster remake of The Lion King that hit movie theaters in the summer of 2019. I’ve come to the conclusion that the Lost River Delta jungle is extremely fluid in terms of its wildlife accuracy.
5. DisneySea Harbor Show from a Private Terrace
Did you know there’s a way to watch a live harbor show at DisneySea from inside the park, but without a park ticket? I’m not talking about booking an expensive luxury room at the in-park Hotel Miracosta, either. All you need to do is dine at the lunch or dinner buffet in Oceano. (Tip: the lunch buffet is cheaper.) Or you can purchase a lunch or dinner course at Oceano or Silk Road Garden. These two restaurants are located inside the Hotel Miracosta.
Time it right, and at some point during your meal (preferably at the end), you should be able to watch a harbor show from a private terrace connected to the restaurant.
This comes with the caveat that harbor shows are subject to cancellation due to weather conditions. When we were there, it had been raining that day, but then it stopped and the skies were just cloudy. We had booked a reservation weeks ahead of time, and our server at the restaurant told us that the show was still scheduled to go on as planned.
We were seated by the window, and during our meal, I suddenly noticed that the crowd outside had broken up. It turned out that they had, in fact, cancelled the show. What they were doing that day was just the booby-prize rain version, where the characters come riding in on boats in raincoats for a quick greeting tour around the harbor. Still, the hotel dining with terrace show-watching option is something to keep in mind. This could be a good activity for a day when you’re relaxing outside the parks.
6. Front-Row Seats for “Let’s Party Gras!”
Speaking of rain, there was a new development in the continuing saga of our attempts to catch the “Let’s Party Gras!” show. We’ve been trying like the dickens — to no avail — to see this show ever since it opened in 2018 as part of Tokyo Disneyland’s 35th-anniversary celebration. It’s gotten rained out a couple of times and there were other times where it was too crowded to get in or only available by lottery.
This year, we finally got to see part of the show at the Theatre Orleans in Adventureland. The operative phrase here is “part of the show,” since it started sprinkling that day and they had to cut the performance short. This is the downside of having an outdoor stage. Believe it or not, it was still a great highlight of our day because we managed to snag front-row seats for that performance. I call that progress. Half a show is better than no show at all. Hopefully, someday, before they’re ready to replace it with another show, we’ll have a chance to see a full “Let’s Party Gras!” performance.
7. Castle Construction at Tokyo Disneyland
Cinderella Castle was under refurbishment this year, which greatly altered the sight of Tokyo Disneyland’s central landmark. During a parade, I was able to snag a picture of the castle with no one standing in front of it. It may not be readily apparent from the picture above, but under all that scaffolding, there’s no top spire. They removed it.
This is the stuff of urban legends. There’s an old myth, since disproven by Snopes.com, which holds that the Magic Kingdom’s castle can have its spires removed in a similar fashion in the event of a hurricane. It turns out the legend is true, after a fashion, at Tokyo Disney Resort. Go figure. (It’s unclear yet whether the castle can disassemble itself and then use its constituent parts to reassemble itself as a giant Japanese fighting robot. But I have my suspicions.)
There were actually not one, but two castles undergoing construction work at Tokyo Disneyland this year. The other was the new Beauty and the Beast castle, which should be ready by mid-April 2020 when the park unveils its New Fantasyland. On our most recent trip to Tokyo Disneyland, it was interesting to see how the walking path has been rerouted through New Fantasyland. You can already see the Beauty and the Beast village beginning to emerge. April can’t come soon enough.
8. Splash Mountain with Real Fall Colors
Tokyo Disneyland’s Splash Mountain has some very colorful red and yellow leaves that serve as a canopy over the flume when you’re riding through it on your log. This autumn, we happened to see the leaves turning yellow on a tree right outside the ride. This almost made it feel like Splash Mountain was spilling out into the real world.
Splash Mountain is located in Critter Country at Tokyo Disneyland. Right beside it is Westernland, where The Diamond Horseshoe show restaurant is located. In a trip report last March, I shared some pictures of “Horseshow Round-Up,” the lunchtime show at The Diamond Horseshoe. I also talked about how tricky it can be to book reservations at show restaurants.
Since then, Tokyo Disney Resort has made things easier by enabling guests to book dining and show reservations in English. Speaking from experience, however, I can say that it still might be a little tricky if you’re trying to use an American credit card. For whatever reason, the security authentication system that the website uses is very inconsistent. Read onward…
9. The Diamond Horseshoe Presents Mickey & Company
When we use our Japanese credit card to book reservations online, we’ve had no problem. When I use my American credit card, I’ve faced recurring glitches. The ratio of failed attempts to successfully completed reservations is probably about ten to one there, in my experience. Getting on the phone with Tokyo Disney Resort’s customer service line was no help, either. They only told me that many other foreign cardholders had encountered the same problem and there was nothing they could do about it. It’s just an unreliable system. We only use our Japanese credit card now, so be forewarned.
Separate from this was the difficulty of booking two specific shows: “Lilo’s Luau & Fun” and “The Diamond Horseshoe Presents Mickey & Company.” The former is the lunch show at the Polynesian Terrace. The latter is the dinner show at The Diamond Horseshoe. Over the years, I had begun to develop a conspiracy theory that these two shows were only available to Vacation Package guests or something. This was because there were never any reservations available for them at any time, no matter when I checked. With “Horseshoe Roundup,” by contrast, you could always find a few open times here and there on the calendar.
For all I know, the Vacation Package theory could still be true. The night before our most recent trip, however, I was finally able to see some reservations open up. Presumably, this was due to eleventh-hour cancellations. It’s the kind of thing where you may have to sit and refresh the page until you see an opening. People quickly snatch them up, but I was able to grab a last-minute reservation for “The Diamond Horseshoe Presents Mickey & Company.”
It was a fun show and a definite highlight for the year. Now, at long last, we can cross that off our to-do list for Tokyo Disneyland. Next year’s goal: “Lilo’s Luau & Fun.”
10. Christmas at Tokyo Disneyland
Last but not least, there was Christmas at Tokyo Disneyland. I did a trip report after our 2018 visit and they were running the same event this year—no new parade or anything. We almost sat the 2019 Christmas season out, but we wanted to catch “One Man’s Dream II: The Magic Lives On” one last time. This show, the longest-running one in Tokyo Disneyland’s history, ended on December 13, 2019. The only reason you don’t see it on this list is because it was worthy of a separate tribute article.
The Haunted Mansion Holiday Nightmare, a Halloween and Christmas tradition, is always a highlight. The Christmas tree in World Bazaar was also back this year. (It took a break in 2018 to allow room for a special 35th-anniversary installation.) Seeing the tree and storefronts light up during the nightly Christmas projection-mapping show was a good way to cap off the year.
See you in 2020 at Tokyo Disney Resort!