Disney Tips #7 - Tokyo vs Los Angeles - Disney Pros and Cons
Now that we've been to Disney in two different countries #spoilt, I thought it would be a good idea to share a comparison of the two parks. It's important that I state this is very much comes from an Australian viewpoint and there are certain elements of going to Tokyo that are a huge advantage when it comes to travelling from Australia.
Disney with young children
Stroller Hire - Both countries feature stroller hire, Tokyo's stroller being more compact with a large storage space underneath, California's being more like a jogging stroller. Despite the extra bulk the stroller in California was much easier to maneuver and being fabric rather than plastic meant it was overall more comfortable.
Height requirements - Both have the height posted clearly on their websites and at each ride entry. However Tokyo has the clear advantage here as once your little one has been measured they are issued with a Colour coded armband meaning they don't have to be checked at each and every ride, unlike in California.
Rider Switch / single rider lines - Again all parks have this feature, but in Tokyo there seemed to be more rides where we could wait together and have one parent go on the ride while the other waited with Eve, or ride a different ride with Eve and head up the single rider lines. Sure as a single rider you get put on with strangers but who cares?
In addition to this we got handed a rider switch pass in California when Eve pitched a fit in a line and this didn't make me eligible to cut the line, it only gave me access to the fastpass lines. Given that most of the Fastpass lines in California were not that fast the pass was pretty much pointless. In Tokyo we could just wait at the head of the line for the other parent to collect Eve and then jump on the ride, rather than lining up twice, clear points to Tokyo on this one.
Fastpasses and line wait times - Fastpasses for most rides and events seemed to be available for a little longer in California making it easier to use most of them within one park in one day. BUT and it's a big but for most of the rides the fastpass line does not cut you very far into the wait, meaning that they are really not that fast. For some rides like Soarin' round the world, the fastpass literally made no difference to how long you waited, meaning you had actually wasted time lining up to get a pass.
Line time waits seemed to blow out a lot more in Tokyo, but we were there at a busier time of year. In addition to that the line wait times were accurate pretty much to the minute in Tokyo, so it is probably a matter of perspective here. There were multiple times we got in a line in California with a 30 minute wait time only to have it blow out to more than double while we were waiting, sometimes this was due to an influx of fastpass holders cutting the line, others it was due to ride breakdowns but other times it just seemed to be that California doesn't have the same handle on how long things take as Tokyo does. To be fair California is competing with a country whose trains run dead on time, always.
Rides like Radiator Springs Racers and Star Tours are the gems of the Californian Parks, I've definitely never experienced anything quite like Radiator Springs Racers.
But again Tokyo has a huge advantage with several rides that take advantage of trackless technology both the Toy Story and Monsters Inc rides are massively superior to their Californian counterparts.
I don't doubt that for people who grew up going to Disneyland California there's a heady mix of nostalgia for the park, and there are plenty of experiences in California that make it a magical place to visit. There are also way more character interaction experiences there so it really depends on what is the most important attraction at a Disney park for you if you're choosing between the two.
Food and Finishing touches
You go to a theme park, frankly not expecting a lot from the food, this is where Tokyo Disney surprises and delights.
Obviously it is not high cuisine but the food at Tokyo Disney is good and importantly for the experience factor is high on the Disney cute. From the Minnie icy pole to Lilo and Stitch themed Mochi right down to the bubbles in the Mickey Bubble Tea being Mickey head shapes. There are literally a ton of themed snacks and almost every popcorn stand had a different flavour anddifferent souvenir buckets to get them in.
Compare this to California where the most themed food I found was a Mickey Pretzel (super cute), Glowing Drinks in the Star Wars area and ice-creams, and the reliance seemed more on cute names for the food rather than presentation and again I'm left favoring Tokyo.
The food leads me in to the absolute packaging of the "experience" that Tokyo delivers compared to California. California definitely delivers a sense of wonder but Tokyo shifts this to the next level. From the moment you step off the train at Tokyo*, there is atmospheric music building you up to what is a really encompassing environment transporting you to another world.
Once you're actually in the gates at Tokyo there are distinctive sounds and even scents in each "land" within the parks.
There is some element of this in California but it is nowhere near as smooth or as transporting as Tokyo. Japan also has the advantage of it being culturally unacceptable to walk around with food ensuring that the park is absolutely spotless.
*actually before because the last leg of the metro have Disney themed train carriages.
We stayed in two different Disney Hotels in Tokyo, the Hotel Miracosta and the Disney Ambassador Hotel. The magic and customer service in these hotels is unlike anything I have every experienced before, or at this point since.
Disney Ambassador had staff that were at pains to get you checked in, to your room, comfortably settled and your child believing that Mickey had asked them to pass on a special sticker and the hope that you had a wonderful Disney experience. The toiletries were all branded and styled specifically to each hotel's theme (the Ambassador being an Art Deco style and the Miracosta being a Tuscan / romantic explorer theme).
The staff at the Paradise Pier hotel while pleasant were not at pains to go out of their way at all, including needing to be asked about the park tickets that were part of the package we had bought. A small thing for sure, but a world away from the Tokyo experience. It honestly took me by surprise as my experience with American customer service is that it is usually extremely welcoming and helpful, and at Paradise Pier it was blah enough that I could easily mistake it for the often underwhelming service found at home in Australia.
As the hotels are a pretty expensive option to add to a Disney trip, and the park opening times being variable with what felt like little notice, making it difficult to make the most of the Extra Magic Hour (a key perk in booking a Disney Hotel stay) I probably wouldn't break my neck to stay in a Disney property in America again.
On the other hand the impeccable service, lovely room touches (they even have hotel pjs and robes for you to wear if you wish) mean that I would happily budget to stay at a Disney Hotel in Tokyo again.
In Tokyo the Disney monorail took you door to door from outlying hotels to the parks, in an incredibly pleasant short cut. Stations were easy to find and well located.
In California we only spotted one station near the entrance to the parks and weren't really sure how helpful it would be or even where it would take us.
Ikspiari vs Downtown Disney
The pre-park shopping areas that lead into the Disney parks are vastly different experiences. While walking out of the train station at Japan has a magical feel, Ikspiari could be almost any mid range shopping experience, albeit a spotlessly clean pleasant one.
Downtown Disney on the other hand has a great family district vibe with a range of restaurants and live music / entertainment it's a perfectly lovely spot just to visit for a meal and evening stroll. Both are very much shopping districts but the laid back vibe of Downtown Disney wins hands down.
I'm pretty sure it's clear that I mostly favour my Japanese experience over my American one and that is quite true. Apart from feeling a little more enveloped by the Disney Magic there, other factors that strongly influence my lean are the exchange rate (generally) and the much, much, much shorter plane ride to get there.
But really they are two very different experiences despite holding many similar themes and if you're lucky enough to visit either or both I am certain you'll have a magical time.