tdrrecap2021

Tokyo Disney Resort: A Year in Review 2021

This year is finally coming to an end, for better or worse. Even as we battle a new variant of COVID-19 and reckon with continued border closures and other issues both here in Japan and abroad, we can be thankful that we got a full year with Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea this time. And despite the troubles, there was still quite a bit happening this year! It was our third year covering the Kingdom of Dreams and Magic and the place Where Adventure and Imagination Set Sail, so let’s look back on what 2021 brought to us from Tokyo Disney Resort.

Second State of Emergency and Capacity Reduction (January 7 – March 21)

Right out of the gate, we opened the year with a disaster. Japan was seeing then-record cases of COVID-19 due to the spread of the alpha variant, which caused the Japanese government to declare a second State of Emergency in the Tokyo area. The emergency provisioned that “events”, such as sporting events and, inexplicably, theme parks, were required to operate at a capacity of 5000 people or 50%, whichever was lower.

With that news, the Oriental Land Company immediately suspended ticket sales, cancelled the Disney Light the Night fireworks, and re-closed 25 dining outlets around the two parks to make up for this capacity drop. Tickets immediately became a nightmare to obtain once again, with guests needing to refresh for as high as three to five hours to buy tickets. On top of that, they went incredibly quick since capacity was so low. For reference, the standard 100% capacity at Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea is estimated to be around 75,000 guests.

We were lucky enough to visit both parks during this emergency, and we took full walk-through tours of both Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea to document the historic occasion, a state in which you would never see these two extremely popular parks.

It was quite eerie to see both parks as empty as they were, and the fact they remained this way for well over half the year was a true shame.

Fortunately there was still quite a bit happening during this time! We got merchandise of cutlery themed to Mickey balloons, retro ’80s style art, and waffle plate-shaped pillows. The new Monorail Pink entered service in January, and two men were arrested in February for trespassing backstage at Tokyo Disney Resort “looking for something weird and interesting”, certainly one of the more weird and interesting stories we had this year.

One of my favorite things this year was filming Mickey’s PhilharMagic in 4K to celebrate the attraction’s tenth anniversary in Tokyo. Nobody else has ever filmed a color-accurate version of this show, and it serves as a great reference of the pre-Coco version.

Another important occasion this year was honoring the tenth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, which took place on March 11, 2011. We shared the story of Cast Members at Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea coming to the aid of guests who were forced to stay overnight within the parks due to the temblor in honor of those who lost their lives in the worst natural disaster in Japanese history.

The Happy Fair with Baymax & the First Break (March 22 – April 19)

Fortunately, things progressed enough in Tokyo that the emergency was finally able to be lifted in March, and capacity was eventually raised back to 20,000 guests. We got our first taste of normality back as The Happy Fair with Baymax, originally scheduled for summer of 2020, finally opened on April 5!

The event took over Tomorrowland and featured Baymax food, merchandise, and decor all around, as well as the Happy Fair Lab greeting experience with the personal healthcare companion.

“Ladies and Gentlemen” Replaced with “Welcome Everyone” to Promote Inclusion

Back in February and March, announcements around Tokyo Disney Resort had the introduction of “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, a Tokyo Disneyland/DisneySea program reminder” replaced with “Welcome everyone to Tokyo Disneyland/DisneySea” in an effort to promote inclusivity of guests of all gender identities. It was a small change, and one we were glad to see, but it certainly dredged up some controversy.

Shows Return to Tokyo Disney Resort (April 1)

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The first signs of normality returning to the resort came on April 1, when it was announced that one stage show would open at each park on the same day. At Tokyo Disneyland, we got Mickey’s Magical Music World at the Fantasyland Forest Theatre, originally designed to open nearly a year earlier on April 15, 2020.

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The show is performed inside the absolutely gorgeous Fantasyland Forest Theatre, which we also took a tour of inside and out when it opened.

Since videos and photos are not allowed at all during the show and the Oriental Land Company is notoriously militant about enforcing this policy, all we have to show is this stock footage the resort released earlier this year.

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Over at Tokyo DisneySea, we got a modified version of Big Band Beat, entitled Big Band Beat: A Special Treat. The original version pretty famously relies on foreign performers to host the show and sing the songs, but the Oriental Land Company chose to send almost all of their foreign performers home save for a few face character actors in July 2020. As such, the new show is hosted entirely by Mickey and Minnie and features a slightly different setlist with no live band on stage. And to put it nicely, it’s not good at all. We’re of the opinion that Song of Mirage should’ve returned instead.

Dreaming Up! Returns to Tokyo Disneyland (April 19)

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After catching the parade in rehearsal before park open in January, rumored plans to restart Dreaming Up! during the winter months were halted by the second State of Emergency. Rumors of the return of Dreaming Up!, Tokyo Disneyland Electrical Parade: DreamLights, and Usatama on the Run! arose at the end of March due to a slip-up on the Tokyo Disney Resort website, but ultimately only one of those came to be near its originally-promised time.

Dreaming Up! started rolling down the parade route on April 19, with no on-foot dancers and distancing measures in place on floats themselves. Still, it’s certainly better than nothing. And going any longer without this parade would’ve been a tragedy, considering we’d already lost a year by that point and Tokyo Disneyland very famously cycles their daytime parades every five years.

The Quasi-Emergency & Second Emergency (April 19 – June 30)

Yes, it happened again. Ticket sales were halted again, capacity was cut again, and hours were cut back to 10am-7pm.

Around this time as well, the Oriental Land Company announced their fiscal year 2020 results, posting a loss for the first time in their history due to the park closure and mitigation methods required during the first three months of 2021.

Luckily we still got fun merchandise, like Easter merchandise that only twisted the knife about not getting Usatama on the Run back, a new round of Duffy’s Sunny Fun, a replica of the Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall tray, the Nighttime Sky housewares series, the Aunt Peg’s Village Store popcorn bucket, and Mickey Ice Bar-shaped souvenirs.

The biggest news of this time though was the surprise announcement of the Tokyo DisneySea 20th Anniversary “Time to Shine!” Celebration. Although it was cut to the bone because of the COVID-19 pandemic leaving uncertainty in how much the park could safely operate, we were still excited to see loads of merchandise and food announced for the celebration.

Club Mouse Beat Opens (July 1)

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Another surprise in a year full of surprises, we got a second new stage show at Tokyo Disneyland on July 1 in Club Mouse Beat. The show features Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, Max, Chip, and Dale dancing along to fun songs such as I2I, Real Gone, and It’s a Good Time in Club Mouse, with appearances from Lightning McQueen, Nick, Judy, a few villains, and more. It’s such an incredibly fun, easily the best one at the resort right now and should stick around much longer than it probably will.

It took until November when we were able to actually see the show due to the extremely finicky Entry Request lottery system, but we were able to capture it on video and give it a full review.

There was also a special overlay of the Mickey & Friends Greeting Parade to celebrate the show’s opening.

Tokyo DisneySea 20th Anniversary (September 4)

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Because of a fourth State of Emergency which dragged on until September 30 in the Tokyo area amid the spread of the Delta variant, there wasn’t a whole lot of change around the park during the summer months. It wasn’t until Tokyo DisneySea’s 20th Anniversary rolled around on September 4 that things really started to happen again!

Most of the event centers around the Mickey & Friends Harbor Greeting: Time to Shine!, which takes place twice daily on Mediterranean Harbor. The greeting is about all that was left of entertainment from the anniversary.

There was plenty of delicious food items that we tried out, with the fondant churro being by far and away the best!

Disney Halloween (September 15 – October 31)

Sadly we didn’t get a full Disney Halloween event this year, with the season being filled by an upgraded Mickey & Friends Greeting Parade with the Spooky “Boo!” Parade’s opening unit.

Tokyo Disney Resort Announces 2022-23 Ambassador (September 23)

With current Ambassador Ayumi Noguchi’s term extended a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was only now that we learned about the new Ambassador to the resort, Mika Ogasawara. She will represent Tokyo Disney Resort in Japan and worldwide in public relations and goodwill activities from January 1, 2022, through December 31, 2023. She speaks English, based on her Cast Member nametag, and comes from the hotels division of the company.

Other news during autumn included Country Bears serveware, an official Tokyo Disney Resort cookbook, the Tokyo DisneySea 20th Anniversary in Concert announcement, the end of the frustrating lottery system for the Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast and The Happy Ride with Baymax, and the introduction of mobile battery rental at the two parks.

We also learned that the Toy Story Hotel will open on April 5, and saw new concept art of the exterior and interior.

Ticket Prices Hiked Again (October 1)

We actually had two ticket price changes in 2021. The first came in March, when variable pricing was introduced to differentiate weekdays and weekends. That unfortunately wasn’t complicated enough for the Oriental Land Company, who once again announced in September that tickets would be increased as high as ¥9400, a ¥2000 jump compared to just two years prior. It all depends on a four-tier system that changes day by day, but classifies all weekends and holidays in the highest tier.

Halloween Morning Upcharge Event (October 25-29)

The first sign that something could be very wrong at Tokyo Disney Resort came in September, when the Oriental Land Company announced their first upcharge event outside of New Year’s ever—Halloween Morning. For an extra ¥5000 (around $45), guests could enter the park two hours early, experience a “special version” of the greeting parade, and ride select attractions that did not include the two headliners of the park for some inexplicable reason.

When we were there for the very first day of Halloween Morning, we were extremely disappointed. The parade was quite literally the same as the regular daytime parade, food outlets opened later than promised, and once again, the two headliner attractions of the park were closed. We wrote a scathing review of the event, in fact.

The only positive is that you could dress in costume, which guests at Tokyo Disney Resort are absolutely unmatched in. We met a few guests around the park who were willing to have their picture taken and posted, and collected our favorites for you.

Tokyo Disneyland Electrical Parade: DreamLights Returns (November 1)

We were absolutely elated when we heard that Tokyo Disneyland Electrical Parade: DreamLights would return to the park on November 1, finally rounding out a complete day at the park after well over a year and a half. We were there when the parade returned, of course, and you can watch our video of its return above.

Disney Christmas (November 9 – December 25)

Christmas pretty much came and went this year without much fanfare. We did get a new version of the Mickey & Friends Greeting Parade at Tokyo Disneyland themed to the Disney Christmas Stories parade, three separate versions of the Mickey & Friends Harbor Greeting at Tokyo DisneySea, and some neat food and merchandise.

Its been a pretty sleepy end of the year otherwise, with only the announcement of Totally Minnie Mouse in November, the return of Disney Light the Night fireworks on December 1, and the announcement of a permanent “Beauty and the Beast” musical production at the resort earlier this month.

While this year certainly wasn’t the liberation from COVID that we expected, especially compared to how quickly things have ramped back up at the United States parks, we can only look forward from here and hope that April 2022 is the great reset that the Oriental Land Company seems to believe it will be. Dancers have been auditioned, the first special event since Very Very Minnie is coming, and who knows, we could even see Annual Passports finally return next year. It’s all up in the air!

Thank you for reading our coverage of Tokyo Disney Resort this year, 2021 was our third year providing regular coverage of the two most popular theme parks in the world, and we hope that next year we have even more great news to share with you. Happy new year!

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