With Japan’s borders finally open to the world, many of you are probably planning to get back (or finally make your first visit) to Tokyo Disney Resort as soon as possible! But I think it’s best for you to wait a bit longer.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from Twitter over the past few months, it’s that making a nuanced argument is extremely difficult in only 240 characters. Therefore, let me present my opinion that the product offered at Tokyo Disney Resort is not up to snuff compared to its pre-COVID state, or some of the US parks even now.
Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea are said to be two of the greatest Disney parks, if not the two greatest. And it’s hard to argue with that — Tokyo Disneyland has an excellent ride slate which combines the greatest attractions from Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom with several of its own original attractions, which to this day remain awe-inspiring classics. Tokyo DisneySea is hands-down the most beautifully designed theme park on the planet. And with the yen’s exchange rate at a nearly 30-year low, prices for the two parks only go as high as $64 on weekends and holidays. What a deal compared to a minimum $109 at Walt Disney World for an off-season day!
There’s so much to love about these two parks, and I adore them both. I still consider them to be my home parks and have been lucky enough to live near them for three years, even carrying an Annual Passport before those were retired (seemingly permanently) in 2020. But in truth, things still aren’t at their best right now, and there’s no real timeline or even likelihood of the parks returning to their pre-February 2020 state.
There are still a number of COVID protocols in place here in Japan that might be confusing or downright annoying to many visiting. Masks are still mandatory indoors, and functionally outdoors as well, although you are technically allowed to remove them if you’re a distance of two meters (six feet) apart from others.
Additionally, characters are still not allowed to hug guests in Japan. You can high-five characters at the greeting spots, but wandering characters must remain distant and contactless at all times.
The most aggravating, however, relates to dining. When you dine indoors, a hard plexiglass sheet will separate you from those on the other side, making it quite difficult to hear any conversation. Additionally, while physical distancing lines were removed last year, a number of tables (particularly those outdoors without plexiglass sheets) still have their chairs zip-tied and stickers marked “not in service.”
I’ll go into more reasons about why you should wait, but here’s the most compelling — Fantasy Springs, an estimated $2 billion expansion featuring four completely original attractions across a massive area themed to “Tangled,” “Frozen,” and “Peter Pan” is set to open next year. While we aren’t exactly sure of a timeline, my entirely speculative hypothesis would put it sometime around September of 2023. This massive expansion is set to redefine the themed entertainment industry, and it’s well worth waiting another year to visit Japan while all these kinks are ironed out in park operations, and this new expansion is finished.
Getting Tickets is Near-Impossible
This point comes with a big asterisk, but it most likely applies to you if you don’t live in Japan — getting tickets to Tokyo Disney Resort right now can be very taxing, if not impossible. Foreign credit cards have been virtually banned from purchasing tickets since around September 2020, even if they are MasterCards, as is requested on the official TDR website. To get a ticket to the park, the only way is to go through third-party travel agencies like Klook, know someone who lives in Japan and is willing to act as your proxy, or wait until you arrive and roll the dice at a local convenience store or your hotel, provided you stay on property.
Additionally, multi-day tickets are still not on sale, and park hopping is not an option either.
And the biggest catch here is that even if you do manage to get a ticket purchased, your ticket will not appear in the Tokyo Disney Resort App if you use a foreign credit card. You will be required to print it out on paper and scan it into the app to make Disney Premier Access or lottery choices once you enter the park.
Entertainment Remains Weak
The easiest way to describe the way things are in Tokyo is that a lot of things are back but still have asterisk marks. Much of this can be blamed on the East & West Japan Amusement Association restrictions regarding COVID-19 operations, but there’s plenty of blame on the Oriental Land Company for slashing costs to the bone under the guise of COVID, much like the US parks have.
For example, parades like “Dreaming Up” and “Tokyo Disneyland Electrical Parade: DreamLights” have been back on the streets of Tokyo Disneyland since last year. And while it’s great to have these parades back, it comes at the cost of dancers. “Dreaming Up,” in particular, feels more like watching a multi-float cavalcade without dancers between the floats, and each unit is only allowed one character per float. Worst of all is the showstopping flying effect with Peter Pan and Wendy on the final float, which has been retired in the name of physical distancing. You can see the original version here versus the current version here.
Over at Tokyo DisneySea, things are pretty grim too. Entertainment there consists of a harbor greeting which changes by the season and consists of the Fab Four (or Five sometimes) floating around Mediterranean Harbor on a single barge, usually in a previous year’s costumes (or in their anniversary garb during the recently-concluded 20th Anniversary celebration). They circle around for 10 minutes, maybe do a dance from that old show, wave, and then leave. A far cry from the 25-minute water shows featuring oodles of dancers we used to see before the pandemic.
Even the permanent entertainment has taken a hit at Tokyo DisneySea. “Big Band Beat,” once the park’s most popular show, eschewed its live jazz band and live foreign hosts for pre-recorded voices by Mickey and Minnie for “Big Band Beat: A Special Treat,” which takes much of the show’s character away. Beloved shows like “My Friend Duffy” and “Song of Mirage” remain on undetermined hiatus.
Fortunately, in contrast, Tokyo Disneyland has its best stage show slate in years. Shows like “Mickey’s Magical Music World” and “Club Mouse Beat” are indeed adjusted for COVID to have more distance between performers, but they’re both top-tier shows in very different ways that are absolutely worth seeing.
Nighttime entertainment is still a bit shaky. Fortunately, Tokyo DisneySea is finally debuting “Believe! Sea of Dreams“, its new nighttime spectacular in just a few short weeks! Over at Tokyo Disneyland, you can catch the Electrical Parade sans dancers and with fewer characters, but there’s still no castle projection show to replace “Celebrate! Tokyo Disneyland“, which retired in April 2019 ahead of the castle’s extended refurbishment. Rumors at the time said a new show would debut in April 2020 along with the Beauty and the Beast expansion, so maybe we could see something for the 40th Anniversary next April.
Seasonal Events Are Still Not Back… Mostly
Seasonal events are the same way. At Tokyo Disneyland, we’ve fortunately seen Easter and Halloween-specific entertainment return to the parks, with Christmas also on the way. But they lack the characteristic show stops, fun dances, and performers other than lone characters on floats which made them special. Additionally, far less decor is out. Tokyo Disneyland is putting up a Christmas tree for the first time this year since 2019, but no tree for DisneySea as far as we know.
In fact, the traditional massive banner over the entrance this year has been eschewed for something which looks like it belongs above the entrance to the 7-Eleven down my street than a ¥9400 theme park.
But even so, the reskinned harbor greetings are pretty much the extent of seasonal entertainment at Tokyo DisneySea. It’s always that same blue barge with a new medallion attached to signify what season it is, and it’s depressing to watch, in all honesty.
With a lack of rules regarding distancing for guests, putting on outdoor shows where performers can be unmasked and distanced seems like a slam dunk, and it continues to baffle me as to why Tokyo DisneySea, in particular, is suffering in this department.
In all honesty, many of you may not care that these things are gone. Especially if it’s your first time and your priority is to hit every ride. I’ll be the first to gladly inform you that the rides are excellent as ever; they are maintained properly, and just about everything works just like it did on day one. That’s totally fine! But for the repeat visitor who came before COVID, maybe waiting a bit longer while these issues smooth out is wise, or at the very least, waiting for Fantasy Springs to open.
I say these things not out of hate or animosity, but because I love these parks. Just as many (including some on this site) criticize Walt Disney World and Disneyland for cheapening their product while raising prices, I also want to point out that it’s not perfect here yet, and maybe not worth the 10-14 hour flight across the Pacific for a bit longer.
But I think there’s a strong possibility of seeing much (but not all) of what we loved about these parks come back over the coming years. I don’t believe it’ll ever be as good as it was before COVID, but perhaps soon we can all be happy visiting, local and tourist alike.
The bright side is I think many of these issues will be ironed out in the coming year or two. Tokyo Disney Resort’s 40th Anniversary is approaching quickly, and if restrictions continue to lift in Japan, there could be true cause for celebration as we mark a return to something like normality. I hope you’ll still come to visit Tokyo sometime, and don’t hesitate to wave and say hi if you see a tall white boy with a grey backpack and a Mickey Mouse plush badge hanging off. They’re great places to be, and worth the trek at least once.
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