How To "Do" Tokyo Disney During Golden Week
Updated: May 16, 2019
If you are traveling to Japan and want to go to Tokyo Disney Resort and didn't realize you would be visiting during one of the busiest weeks of the year, don't even know where to begin your trip planning, or are currently crying on a park bench outside the gates of Disney because they won't let you in and didn't prepare properly (like me) - then this is the article is for you.
One of my life long dreams was to go to Tokyo Disney Resort - particularly DisneySea - because it's the only Disney park in the world with an underwater theme while not being a water park. Literally the complete opposite of Disney"land". The concept, in my eyes, is genius.
In late April 2019, I had the chance for my dream to become a reality. Little did we know until after we booked our trip, it turned it that April 29th - May 6th was Golden Week: a string of national and public holidays in Japan. It also happened that this year was even longer than previous years' due to the days the holidays fell on and since the new Emperor of Japan was ascending to the throne.
Since I'm a seasoned Floridian theme park-er, my gut instinct was to read up about how busy the Tokyo Disney parks could possibly be. I was right. I found a blog from 2018 explaining what I would need to know IF I was crazy enough to visit Tokyo Disney Resort during Golden Week. I studied every word of it. I even looked up the attendance "forecast" (yes, those exist for major theme parks). I thought I was prepared.
Turns out, there were some crucial details I was not aware of.
I don't blame the blogger. It's possible there were new policies implemented for the 2019 year because of the extended Golden Week. Maybe because I don't have access to the native language new sources, there could have been information that never crossed over to the English platform. Either way, I'm going to make sure you're prepared if you ever fall into a similar situation like mine.
How To Get To Tokyo Disney Resort
First things first: getting to Tokyo Disney Resort. Public transportation is highly recommended due to the limited parking space they have for cars. Trust me, it's easy enough.
You will want to get to Tokyo Station in order to board the JR Keiyo Line (the trains have a solid red stripe) to get to Maihama Station - about a 15 minute train ride depending if you had boarded the rapid line or not. Either way, any train on the Keiyo Line will take you to Tokyo Disney. This is the main railway line that accesses Disney and all signs leading the way to the Keiyo Line will also either have "Maihama Station" or "Disneyland" associated with it.
*Note: Assume that it could take up to 15 minutes to walk through the Tokyo Station if you are crunched for time and if you are there during Golden Week. If you aren't sure you're going the correct way, you know you're going the right way when you see people wearing Disney gear, such as head wear and backpacks, and possibly suitcases as they are traveling to the Disney Resort Hotels.
The price of the train depends on your starting point, but if you are starting within the Tokyo area, the ride shouldn't be more than 300 yen (less than $3 USD). If you bought a JR train pass valid within the Tokyo area, you can use it for this line and get on the train for free. Shuttle bus service from various locations to Tokyo Disneyland are also available.
Next step: Maihama Station is exclusive to the Tokyo Disney Resort. It takes you directly to the resort area and since it's so large - like other Disney Resort properties - there's really no other reason to get off at Maihama other than to go to Disney. You're dumped out at a classy shopping area that is similar to Disney Springs or Downtown Disney. Once you exit the station you can see the Disney Resort Line - Tokyo Disney's version of the monorail system. This line has four stops around the resort and will take you to both Disneyland and DisneySea.
Here is the catch: unlike the monorail systems in America, you have to pay to use Tokyo's monorails. It makes sense though. Even though the monorails in America can be accessed by park guests at "no cost", it may already be calculated into the price when you pay to park at, for example, the Transportation and Ticket Center at Walt Disney World. However, the main transportation route, the Keiyo Line, is a separate entity and does not benefit the parks.
A single ride ticket (meaning it's valid for one loop around the Resort Line) is 260 yen - about $2.34 USD as of 2019. Don't think you can stay on the monorail and do loops all day without getting off. The single ride tickets are time stamped and they know how long it takes to do one complete loop. Luckily, it's not expensive if you are just going to and from the park once that day. However, if you think you will take the monorail more than twice that day, you may want to consider the day pass. Weekly and monthly passes are also available if you are staying at the resorts.
Getting Tickets During Golden Week
This was our major hiccup and unfortunately my sources didn't prepare me properly for ticket policies during Golden Week. There are several ways to get tickets. In order to guarantee entrance into the park during Golden Week, I highly recommend buying your tickets online ahead of time as they possibly sell out. To be honest, I didn't want to do this and I waited to get my ticket while I was at Japan because I wanted a physical ticket that said "Tokyo Disney" on it to keep as a souvenir. However, I will never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever try that again. Here is why:
Golden Week attendance is the equivellent to the week in between Christmas and New Years. If you aren't familiar with how packed the American parks are during the holidays, just know that almost every day they have to close entry around midday due to the parks reach capacity. Same thing with Golden Week. I thought we would be okay only because the forecast for the Tokyo parks was for 35,000 people and the max cap was 50,000. We knew it was going to be busy, but like I've said, we were seasoned Floridian theme park-ers. We're used to crowded theme parks.
You can buy park tickets in between the Maihama station and the monorail at that Downtown Disney area I mentioned earlier at the Ticket Center. Hiccup #1: you can only buy tickets for future days or ticket packages.
Not saying it would work, but if you are expecting to buy a park ticket to use the same day, you can try to purchase tickets at the ticket gate at the park itself - if you are early enough. Hiccup #2: during Golden Week, Disney implemented a policy where they were no longer selling tickets for day of use. Because of the way our schedule ran, we arrived there around 11 a.m. and they were already turning folks like us around. For someone who's lifelong dream was to go to DisneySea ... let's just say I tried to not have a melt down. I literally traveled half way across the world, standing in front of the gates, and was denied entry. My dreams were almost crushed.
If you ever find yourself in this situation - Don't. Panic.
Go back to the Ticket Center and ask to purchase a ticket for the next day you are available to go (for us it was the following day). There is nothing written about this online on their website, but they will offer you an undated ticket for park you desire. Unlike the ones you can pre-purchase online, these tickets don't have a date on them and technically expire within one year. These tickets WILL get you into the park, even though you will have to come back another day. But trust me, it's worth it especially if you had traveled half way across the world. The only stipulation is that you MUST get in the line at the park gate with your ticket before 7:59 a.m. Otherwise, they may still deny you entry due to reaching capacity.
I am happy to say that it worked and we were able to get into the parks and my dream came true! I was able to visit the Happiest Place On Earth - Tokyo Branch.
What To Expect While You Are In The Parks
Since it was Golden Week, it was absolutely packed. Actually...all of Tokyo was packed no matter where we went. The first thing you want to do is pick the attraction you want to ride the most and get a fast pass because they will run out very quickly. How quick, you ask? Well ... we walked by Toy Story Mania in DisneySea around 8:45 a.m. and the earliest fast pass we could get was for 9:15 to 10:00 p.m. We actually got a fast pass for Tower of Terror to return between 1:15 - 2:15 p.m. After our fast passes expired, every fast pass machine was closed and so we weren't able to get another one.
Expect over a 2 hour wait on average for rides - with a few exceptions. Early in the morning, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea was only 55 minutes. Thrill rides will have a slightly less wait because small children aren't able to go on them (like they can for Toy Story Mania). Food lines may be long but we went during non-peak times so waits were normal. The gift shops were extremely packed. You couldn't even move around without being pushed and bumped into.
My advice: pick your battles. Either way, you're going to experience long waits. But if you have traveled half way across the world to experience Tokyo Disney Resort and it just so happens to be Golden Week, just do it!