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Highlights of My Visit to Tokyo Disneyland

Cinderella Castle
Tokyo Disney Resort was the main reason that I traveled from the U.S. to Japan. The resort is home to two world-class theme parks: Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. As I researched my trip, I was pleased to read numerous reviews that talked about how unique Tokyo DisneySea is for U.S. Disney park fans. But I was concerned to read reports that Tokyo Disneyland's rides and experiences were exactly the same as those at Disneyland in California and the Magic Kingdom in Florida, parks that I've already visited and that don’t require a transcontinental flight for me to experience again.

I worried that my visit to Tokyo Disneyland would be a disappointment, but my fears proved to be completely unfounded. I ended up enjoying my visit to Tokyo Disneyland just as much as my visit to Tokyo DisneySea.

Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek!

My first order of business at Tokyo Disneyland was to obtain a FASTPASS for Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek. Even on an uncrowded, rainy, mid-June day, there was a 60-minute wait for this popular new ride. When I slid my park ticket into the FASTPASS distribution machine, I was surprised to hear a giggly sound effect. A preview of the fun that was to come? I wondered.

When I returned, about five hours later, to use my FASTPASS, I bypassed most of the waiting and jumped into my monster-mobile, which sported a roof that had teeth. Then I entered a ride that was very different from Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sully to the Rescue at Disney California Adventure. In the Ride & Go Seek storyline, guests are participating in a game of flashlight tag. Riders use flashlights, attached to the ride vehicles, to find monsters and people hiding in the Monsters, Inc. factory and in Monstropolis. When the flashlight is shone on a hider, the person or monster reveals him or herself. The game felt somewhat similar to Astro Blasters at Disneyland in California and Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin at the Magic Kingdom in Florida, but instead of earning points for each hit, the reveal is the reward. During my first ride, playing the game distracted me so much that I didn’t really get to enjoy the ride itself.

Boarding area of Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek
Because FASTPASSES for the Monsters, Inc. ride were already gone for the day, I joined the standby queue for a 45-minute wait to ride a second time. I actually enjoyed my wait because the queue area, which I hadn’t really noticed on my FASTPASS visit, winds through the main lobby of Monsters, Inc. The lobby includes Celia‘s desk, although the desk is unoccupied.
The queue area of Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek
During my second ride, when I boarded my monster-mobile, I left my flashlight in its holster. I enjoyed the elaborate sets, just as wonderful, but different from those in California. I did get to see some reveals of hiding monsters, thanks to the players riding before and after me. All of the dialogue was in Japanese, but I was still able to appreciate the fun of the experience. Near the end of ride, little Boo said something that I finally understood: “Mike Wazowski!” Adorable!

Watching the “Happiness is Here” Parade

It rained on and off during my entire visit to Tokyo Disney Resort, and just as the Tokyo Disneyland parade was about to start, the rain started up again. My fellow parkgoers were undeterred by the rain. They lined up along the parade route, and I lined up along with them.

I enjoy Disney parades. The kid in me loves seeing the characters while listening to the happy parade song. I was eager to see the Japanese version of a Disneyland parade. Our parade featured the Tokyo Disney Resort 30th Anniversary Theme Song, “Happiness is Here.” Although the song is entirely in English and the characters looked just like the ones back home, the experience really touched me. There I was, thousands of miles from home, standing shoulder to shoulder with people who appreciated Disney just as much as I did! 
  Tokyo Disneyland "Happiness is Here" Parade 
Touring Cinderella Castle

Like many Disney fans, the thought of staying at Cinderella Castle in Walt Disney World makes me giddy. I would settle for a tour of the Cinderella Castle Suite, but unfortunately, those aren’t offered to the general public. At Tokyo Disneyland though, self-guided tours of the inside of the Cinderella Castle are encouraged, and they are included with park admission!

I joined a short line outside the castle where we waited for the royal elevator. The elevator whisked us to an upper level of the castle where beautiful rooms held dioramas and other art depicting Cinderella’s story. Some of the dioramas featured moving or changing scenes, similar to those in the Sleeping Beauty walk-through at Disneyland in California. Unlike the Sleeping Beauty walk-through, the rooms in Cinderella Castle weren’t dark hallways lined with stone. Here, they were well-appointed rooms suitable for entertaining important guests, with beautiful windows with stained glass accents that looked out on Disneyland. As I walked though the rooms and looked at the park though the castle windows I couldn’t help feeling like a princess in disguise (dressed in a raincoat, t-shirt, and quick-dry beach shorts).
Looking out at Disneyland through a window in Cinderella Castle 
The final room featured a royal throne. I joined other guests who were lined up for the photo op. A Cast Member saw me alone in line and offered to take a photo for me using my camera. I sat on the throne to pose for photos, and the throne responded by sparkling. Then the Cast Member led me over to a painting of the Cinderella’s fairy godmother and suggested that he take a photo of her sprinkling me with fairy dust! He even demonstrated how I might pose! It turned out to be a cute photo.  
Inside Cinderella Castle  
Having Tom Sawyer Island almost to myself

Normally, I wouldn't bother visiting Tom Sawyer Island in the rain, but, because my rainy day at Tokyo Disneyland was the only day that I had there, I climbed aboard a raft and set sail for the island. After I arrived and left the immediate raft debarking area, I found myself all alone. At the boarding area, I had picked up an attractive, free map of the island, but dealing with my umbrella and the rain prevented me from actually using it. Unguided, I poked through the quiet tunnels of Injun Joe’s Cave, found a big rock skull that spit water from its orifices, climbed up to Tom Sawyer’s Treehouse, carefully crossed a wet Barrel Bridge and a Suspension Bridge, and found an empty Indian Camp. I saw no people at all during most of my visit to the island, aside from a lone Cast Member that I saw in passing.  

The highlight of my visit to the island was visiting Fort Sam Clemens. In the lower level of the fort was what appeared to be a resting area for the soldiers. Peering inside, I could see the feet of a snoring, sleeping watchman. I climbed up to the fort’s lookout areas and looked through each peephole. One peephole offered one of my favorite views of the Tokyo Disneyland. Through the slit-like opening I could see Cinderella Castle and the Rivers of America. I watched with a broad smile as the Mark Twain Riverboat came around the bend in the river.
 Visiting Fort Sam Clemens on Tom Sawyer Island
The Jungle Cruise

I’m not really a fan of the U.S. versions of the Jungle Cruise, I find the corny script a bit irritating, and only tolerate the ride at night when, in the darkness, the animals almost look real. I decided to try the Tokyo version of the ride because I wouldn’t understand enough of the script to know whether it was irritating or not.

The ride itself was very similar to the Magic Kingdom version. Surprisingly, what made the ride special was the tour guide. Our guide was hands-down the most animated tour guide I have ever seen at a Disney theme park. He was absolutely hilarious and completely committed to his character! I almost wondered whether he actually thought that the animatronic hippos would attack us. I only rode the ride once, so I’m not completely sure whether he is the exception or the rule, but, based on the Japanese commercials and TV shows that I saw during my visit to Japan, I would assume that other Tokyo Disneyland Jungle Cruise tour guides are just as animated.

Astro Blasters

Because the Tokyo-version of Buzz Lightyear’s ride has the same name as the one at Disneyland in California, I was expecting a very similar ride. But Tokyo Disneyland’s Astro Blasters felt completely different from its sister version. The only part that felt familiar was the final confrontation scene with Zurg. Unfortunately, the Tokyo ride did not offer a ride photo that you can email to your friends. If it did, you would see it posted here along with the number of points that I scored: 0. (After my experience during my first ride on Monsters, Inc. Ride and Go Seek, I decided to leave my space gun in its holster and just absorb the experience.)

Peter Pan’s Flight

This ride was similar to the U.S. versions, but, because Peter Pan’s Flight is one of my favorite rides, it was a highlight for me. The one big difference was that the dialogue was in Japanese.

Haunted Mansion

Tokyo's Haunted Mansion ride was very similar to the California version, except that the hallway that is walked through before the ride and the final goodbye moment at the ride exit in the California version are part of the Doom Buggy portion of the Tokyo ride. There was a cool effect toward the beginning of the ride where a creature of some kind could be seen trying to push its way through a door. The door deformed to the shape of the creature!

Big Thunder Mountain

While the gist of this excellent ride was the same as the California and Florida versions, the execution was a bit different.

Splash Mountain

This ride was similar to the wonderful California and Florida Splash Mountains, however, I was pleased that the ride seemed engineered to merely lightly splash, rather than douse, riders with water.

Splash Mountain ride photo
For me, a nice moment occurred while I was standing in line. The Japanese woman in line just ahead of me spotted a Hidden Mickey in the rocks above the boarding area. After pointing it out to her friend, she turned to me, gestured to it, and said, “Mickey Mouse!” I smiled in agreement.

Although I didn’t eat there, Grandma Sara’s restaurant, next door to Splash Mountain, had excellent Splash Mountain theming.

Inside Grandma Sara's restaurant
Pooh’s Honey Hunt

I was really looking forward to this ride because I enjoy the Winnie the Pooh rides at Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom. This ride is different from those versions and features some fascinating technology: no tracks. The ride vehicles (honey pots) enter various large rooms and perform a sort of dance with one another, presenting different parts of the room to each honey pot. While the trackless ride system is impressive, I get motion sick fairly easily and the occasional backward and spinning movements of the ride vehicles left me feeling very slightly nauseated.

Seeing a Stitch-themed Tiki Room show

The Enchanted Tiki Room: Stitch Presents “Aloha E Komo Mai!” is the very long name for Tokyo Disneyland's Tiki Room show. The dialogue of this Stitch-themed Tiki Room show was in Japanese, but I was given a small device that provided English subtitles. The subtitle device was somewhat distracting to use, because I had to look away from the action from time to time. The trade-off was that I was able to understand the plot.

I enjoyed the humorous results of Stitch’s mischievous antics in the preshow area and throughout the show, including his blue paint footprints all over the ceiling of the covered audience waiting area and “Stitch-ears” on the birds. Adorable Stitch made an all-too-brief appearance toward the end of the show.

Pirates of the Caribbean

The Tokyo version of Pirates of the Caribbean was only ever so slightly different from the California version. It has even been redesigned to feature Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. It has not, however, been affected by concerns about political correctness. In the Tokyo version, pirate men still run around in circles chasing after women, rather than food. The famous song is, unfortunately, in English, although the ominous warning given after our float through the bayou was in Japanese.

Eating at Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall

This elaborately-themed counter-service restaurant feels like the interior of an Alice in Wonderland ride. The meal that I had, a half-chicken with small sides, was very similar to the meal that I had at the upscale table-service restaurant S.S. Columbia at Tokyo DisneySea. They even offered attractive unbirthday cakes for dessert (birthday cakes were available for purchase as well).

Inside the Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall
Meeting Mickey thousands of miles from home

The final thing that I did at Tokyo Disneyland was go meet The Mouse. Tokyo Disneyland was about 10 minutes from closing when I ran up to the entrance to Mickey’s House. A Cast Member welcomed me inside Mickey’s cute home, similar to the one in California, which I imagine is usually packed with guests. I followed “Meet Mickey” signs, in English and Japanese, all the way to a queue of only about 12 other people.

Minutes away from meeting The Mouse!
After a few minutes, six of us were led into a room where Mickey Mouse waited for us. He was dressed in his sorcerer’s robe, not a kimono, and he didn’t speak Japanese, so the experience was very similar to my past meetings with Mickey. I said to Mickey, “I came a long way to see you here.” He gave me a big hug and then another one as the other guests in the group purred, “Aww.” Then we posed for a photo that I will always treasure.

Me and Mickey!
A "goodnight kiss" from Cinderella Castle

Tokyo Disneyland was technically closed as I made my way into the central hub of Tokyo Disneyland, still high off my meeting with Mickey. The castle was lit so beautifully that I couldn’t resist stopping for a photo. Then, suddenly, music began to play. The castle lighting changed from one color to another. The 30th anniversary decorations on the castle sparkled and glowed.

I stood with about a dozen other people, watching what felt like our own private show. I’m not sure whether this happens every night or only on nights when the fireworks show is cancelled due to rain or whether they were just running some sort of test of the system, but, given the turnout, it certainly wasn’t something that anyone was expecting.
Cinderella Castle during and after the "goodnight kiss"
My Conclusions

Is it worth the price of an international plane ticket to travel all the way from the U.S.A. to go to Tokyo Disneyland? For someone who has been to Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom in the U.S. just a few times, the experience at Disneyland in Tokyo would feel fairly similar. However, for a Disneyland fan who has visited the U.S. theme parks enough that they more or less anticipate every moment of their favorite rides, Tokyo Disneyland offers something both welcomingly familiar and refreshingly different. Also, Tokyo Disney Resort is also home to Tokyo DisneySea, a unique Disney theme park that many people consider to be the best theme park in the world.

I didn’t limit my trip to Japan to just visiting the theme parks. During my two-week stay in Japan, I saw temples and shrines, hiked, met and fed wild Japanese monkeys and deer, ate traditional Japanese dishes at small local restaurants, and met some of the wonderful people of Japan. These experiences, along with the three days that I spent at Tokyo Disney Resort, made for a wonderfully satisfying trip to Japan, well worth the cost of my flight.  

I did this in 2013 near Tokyo, Japan.

Jen (California, USA)

Note: I spent only one day at Tokyo Disneyland, visiting the attractions and shows that appealed to me after researching them on Tokyo Disney Resort’s official website. Space Mountain was closed during my visit and Dreamlights Electrical Parade and the fireworks show were cancelled due to rain.

Inspired by my trip to Japan, I wrote a novel called LOST IN TOKYO, about a girl finding herself and falling in love. LOST IN TOKYO is available at Amazon.com!

Don't miss this powerful, romantic story inspired by Jen's trip, with shocking surprises that you'll never see coming!

Nineteen-year-old Erin is hoping that her visit to Japan with her best friend, Adam, will be life-changing. When Erin was just four years old, her mother mysteriously vanished. Erin's only clue to her mother's possible whereabouts is a hand-written itinerary for a dream trip to Japan, a trip that Erin doesn't know if her mother ever had the chance to take. Erin has decided to carry out this itinerary, believing that it might help her find her mother.

But Erin's trip won't be going according to plan.

Hours after they arrive in Tokyo, in a jet-lagged fog, Erin and Adam end up in bed together. While struggling with the tension that now dominates their once innocent friendship and the trauma stirred up from Erin's painful past, Erin and Adam visit the places on her mother's list. As they explore the wonders of Japan, Erin finds herself haunted by strange "memories" that seem to belong to her mother. Could these memories be real? If so, perhaps her mother can be found.

Praise for LOST IN TOKYO:

"Full of heartbreak, loss and finding yourself while falling in love with your best friend. I would absolutely recommend this book and I have to several people already." -- Amy, Goodreads

"Beautifully written emotional adventure. Quite a few scenes brought out the goosebumps." -- Denise, Goodreads

"There were so many surprises I was on the edge of my seat." -- Kathryn, Goodreads

"Japan as a backdrop was such a unique story setting. It was both peaceful and exciting at the same time." -- Amanda, Goodreads

"Traveling throughout Japan is a dream of mine and this book created a sense of familiarity with places I've only witnessed through (manymanymany) videos." -- Em, Goodreads

"I absolutely loved this book! I couldn't put it down. The way the plot kept unfolding, I never knew what was going to happen next." -- Amanda, Goodreads

LOST IN TOKYO provides a travel guide of wonderful things to see and do while on vacation in Japan (featuring attractions in Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Nikko, and Kamakura) wrapped in a coming-of-age story of healing and hope, with an unexpected ending that you'll never see coming.

LOST IN TOKYO is available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback.
Get it now!


An excerpt from Lost in Tokyo


The air inside our hotel room smells like bleach and honeysuckles; it’s not unpleasant, but it’s different. I make my way down an entry hallway so narrow that I have to carefully guide my suitcase so it doesn’t scrape against the scarred walls.

The bedroom is about half the size of my dorm room. It’s barely big enough to accommodate the two twin beds that take up almost all of its floor space. The beds are separated by a remarkably-skinny nightstand that’s dwarfed by the normal-sized alarm clock on top of it. It is 1:08 AM.

I heave my suitcase and backpack onto the nearest bed. Adam drops his suitcase and backpack onto the other bed and collapses next to them. I can’t imagine spending the next five nights cramped in this tiny room alone, much less with another person. Until now, I hadn’t really considered how strange it will be to share a bedroom with Adam. Although we are best friends, we’ve never been roommates before. I wonder if it will be awkward.

“Do you want to take the first shower?” Adam asks me.

“Sure. Thanks,” I say.

And then I notice neatly-folded, white, silk pajamas on my bed. There are some on Adam’s bed too.

“Japanese pajamas!” I exclaim, lifting what turns out to be a long nightshirt. “We should wear these!”

“I think I’ll wear shorts and a t-shirt,” Adam says.

“Suit yourself.” I unzip my suitcase, grab my toiletries, and head into the bathroom.

As I brush my teeth, I examine the toilet. It looks like any ordinary toilet back home, except that, on one side, it has an armrest-like thing with numerous buttons that are labeled in Japanese. There are symbols on the buttons also, but I don’t know what they mean.

After I rinse the toothpaste from my mouth, I sit on the toilet. “Whoa!” The seat is warm! It’s comforting in a weird way to sit on a warm toilet seat—unless it’s still warm from the person before you, which I’m sure is not the case here. I push the first button: a big orange circle with a square inside. Nothing happens. And then my foggy mind realizes it’s the stop button. Good. If I push a button with an outcome I don’t like, I can put an end to it quickly. I push the next button: a blue person sitting on a blue stool. “Aaah!” Warm water tickles my bottom. Strange. I push the button with the square. The water flow instantly stops. The next button is a red person on a red stool. The red stool is angled slightly differently than the blue stool. “Eeee.” I feel a little like I’m peeing in reverse. “Adam, you’ve gotta try this toilet,” I call out. I’m sure it feels different from a guy’s perspective, but it’s probably still an interesting experience.

“Based on what I’m hearing, I look forward to it,” he calls back.

I laugh, pee, wipe, and flush. Then I poke my head out of the bathroom. “Do you need to use the restroom before I get in the shower?”

Adam smiles sleepily at me. “No, I’m fine.”

The shower is less complicated than the toilet. I get it going, strip off my clothes, and step inside. As the warm water washes over me, it takes with it the stress of the past twenty-four hours.

But it can’t budge the anxiety over what is to come.

* * *

I open my eyes, feeling disoriented. It takes me a moment to realize that I’m not in my dorm room, but rather in a hotel room in Japan. I think I slept some, but not much.

The clock on the nightstand reads “02:05.”

Adam is climbing into bed. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you,” he whispers. “Go back to sleep.”

For some reason that I don’t completely understand, I climb out of my bed, lift the covers on Adam’s bed, and slip under them with him. I’ve only been in bed with Adam once before, on the night my dad died. I needed someone next to me that night. We didn’t cuddle. We didn’t even touch each other. We slept in his bed with a pillow between us. But it was comforting in exactly the way I needed to be comforted. Now, I don’t need to be next to Adam, I want to be.

“Is something wrong?” Adam asks me.

“No, nothing’s wrong,” I say. And then I notice, “Hey, you’re wearing the Japanese pajamas.”

“You seemed so excited about them. I didn’t want to let you down.”

The way he says that makes it clear he’s joking, but his words resonate with me. I’ve been let down many times in my life. By people I loved. People I trusted. But Adam has never, ever let me down.

As I stare into his eyes, I feel something stir inside me. Something I didn’t think I’d ever feel again. A longing. I wrap my arms around Adam, and he pulls our bodies together, holding onto me so tightly that I feel his warmth through the two thin silky layers that separate us.

“Can I sleep here tonight?” I whisper.

He swallows. “Of course.”

* * *

Read more of Lost in Tokyo by J.W. Lynne at Amazon.com!

Find more reviews of Jen's adventures in Japan here.