Updated: Mar 23, 2019
We are home and post holiday blues have set in *cue dramatic cry while running around, arms flailing all over the place and a drawn out WHHHYYYYYYYYY!!*
We loved Japan. More than I've ever loved a country I've visited in the past and we got to experience it with our 2.5 year old. We did a 10 night/11 day trip to Tokyo Bay, Kyoto, Osaka and back to Tokyo to end the trip with a late flight home. I've really settled in to writing this blog as I had SO many other mamas who were curious about visiting this treasure of a country with their families and what the best places were to visit, where to eat, what to do and how to get around, especially with a toddler.
Our flight from Brisbane to Narita was a 9 hour day flight so we made sure that we had packed the essentials (mostly for Willow) as we had only ever taken her to Fiji when she was 6 months old and that was easy. We packed nappies, wipes, Panadol, change of clothes, lollipops, iPad and bought her a decent pair of soft headphones to watch movies etc, we also had our Very Busy Bag (@verybusybag) that had puzzles, colouring in books and crayons, lego and some other cool little toys to keep her occupied for our long haul flight. We dressed her in soft, comfy clothes and made sure she had 'Lala' (Lulladoll) at all times.
She was a dream the whole flight (except for the last 15 minutes where she complained about a sore bum - I get it too babe, sitting is the worst).
We arrived in Narita at 6:30/7pm and were picked up for our 45 minute drive to Disney Ambassador, (where we would be for 4 nights). We really wanted to make sure that we got the most out of Disneyland and DisneySea so we did the 4 day pass (it was a a bit pricey but worth it - also, Willow is under 3 so she was free). Once we got to the hotel, we checked in and headed to the room. It was a small room but it had 2 King Single Beds and a bathroom. That's really all we needed. Everything was Disney themed, the wallpaper, the framed pictures, the toiletries, the glass on the doors, the carpet...it was amazing! I shared a bed with Willow and they had a barrier in the cupboard for the side of the bed so Willow wouldn't roll out of the bed. The toilets are a little tricky but if you don't push any buttons, you're good and your butt will stay dry! Also, the seats are heated EVERYWHERE you go. Considering the weather was freezing (4 degrees at the coldest), it was a pleasant surprise.
We decided to book for Chef Mickey (which we had done in advance as it does get booked out quite quickly) for breakfast, it's a buffet style restaurant and wasn't the cheapest ($120 for the 2 of us, Willow was free as she was under 3) HOWEVER, once we had been shown to our table and got some food (Mickey Mouse pancakes were the cutest), the characters made their way around to see the people who had booked the experience. All of them came through, Mickey (in his chef outfit), Minnie, Donald and Daisy, to see us and take photos. We thought that was it BUT then they came back around 20 minutes later and did signings for us on placements. It was totally worth the price and we were tempted to do a dinner however, we wanted to explore everything around us so were happy with the experience we had from the breakfast.
There is a shopping centre right next door to the hotel so we ventured out for dinner either to there or to the super simple cafe in the hotel (set up like a 1950's diner but ordinary food). There are some amazing hidden restaurants on the upper levels and they were AMAZING! In one of them, we had a fried noodle dish and all of a sudden, Willow picks up her 'sticks' and starts using them like a pro! Never used them before. Proud mama moment.
Now, one of the bonuses for staying at a hotel that is affiliated with Disney is that you are given passes that allow you to enter the park 15 minutes earlier. It might not be much, but when you see how many people line up to get in via the regular entry, it will be a godsend. The park opens at 8:30am and there is a shuttle bus that leaves every 15 minutes from the hotel so would advise setting an alarm and waiting by 7:30am.
With the 4 day passes we got for the parks (Disneyland and DisneySea), you have to visit both parks within the first two days and then up to you on the last day or two where you go. We did Disneyland first day, DisneySea second day, DisneySea third day and then back to Disneyland on the last day (more so as I have a friend that is a face character there and he was working so I wanted to see him doing his role.) He showed us around DisneySea on the second day (he had a day off) and it was awesome.
We did take a pram with us (super basic but had a lay down feature), as we knew we would be walking a lot around Japan and it really was worth the lugging around. They do have prams that you can hire from the park but they looked super uncomfortable especially if your little one has a nap (which they probably will at some point in the day). Don't think that it would hinder with rides and attractions, we literally left our prams at a Pram Parking Area near any ride and would go back and get it (sometimes hours later). We took our backpack with us obviously, but no one touched the prams and the amount of people that leave their bags etc on their prams while going on a ride was incredible.
There are some very popular rides that everyone rushes to as soon as the park opens so they can get FastPasses. You use your park ticket to get this, they are located outside the rides that offer that service. You can only redeem one pass every 2 hours so we did Monsters Inc first up (usual wait time is 80 minutes, we went through in 10 minutes). We were actually super lucky as we got off, Willow was crying as she wanted to go again however, I was not waiting 80 minutes for it . This lovely ride attendant saw us and let us go on it again, straight away! It's actually chaotic how everyone rushes through the gates and through the park, they were like ants, it was so crazy but super interesting to watch! Greg ran off ahead and got the passes for us and we just walked through casually.
The rest of the day was mainly walk throughs, like Cinderellas Castle, Minnie's House, Cartoon Land etc and some rides that we could go on with Willow. Any other rides that we really wanted to go on, we would take turns. It was totally fine, and neither one of us missed out. Our main focus was to find characters on the first day, also again at DisneySea on the second and then the remaining days, do rides and watch shows we had missed out on.
They have 2 parades in the afternoon/night - one at 3ish (I think) and then another at 7:00pm. We were surprised that people had already started lining up to get front row spots from 11am (keen right??), but we got a great spot from 2:30ish and were able to see the whole parade. The first parade is MAGICAL!! Most, if not all characters were on show and it was like nothing you had ever seen before. It went for about 20-30 minutes (very start to finish) but worth every minute! The music was incredible (we even bought the CD to bring home) and the show was tear inducing! NOW, huge reminder, everything is in Japanese, EVERYTHING! By the second half of the day you kind of just tune out and it doesn't affect you or how you see the whole park.
The second parade was something out of this world, a parade of lights and music with most characters. It was FREEZING though, we should have taken a blanket with us but we had packed gloves, beanies and extra shirts in case. If we go again in Winter, we will definitely take a small blanket.
Language wasn't a big deal as it's a park that is widely visited by people of all nationalities, it was easy to understand the staff and they were able to understand us really well. A majority (if not all) of the entertainment cast are English speaking (Aussies, Americans etc). In fact, when they saw an English speaking guest, they kind of just gravitate to you.
Now this is the crazy part, there are no lines when waiting to meet or take a photo of a character. The guests form a circle around the character and just call out to them. It's literally first in best dressed (which can be super annoying) BUT, a sneaky trick I learnt was this, offer to take the photo for the person who is next. The Chaperone and character will see you and go to you next. No pushing in and you're also being super helpful to the guest. This was our Go-To for the whole time at all parks and it worked a charm.
Food wise, we pigged out on Caramel Popcorn (expect a good 15-20 minute wait in line for this, totally worth it though) and if we wanted a proper meal, we just kind of snacked throughout the day. Bakery foods, hot chips, hot dogs etc. We took bottles of water in with us (complimentary of the hotel) rather than buy in the park, saved us a little bit more money. ALSO, where you can, have cash with you. Using your card is super expensive and most 7 Eleven's (pretty much everywhere around Japan) will have an ATM where you can withdraw cash from your card.
We also bought the standard 'Mickey' ears and probably the rest of the park to be honest (I really did need that hat with the pom poms on it!) and also a Rapunzel dress for 7,600 yen ($90 ish). Don't judge, she gave me 'please mummy' eyes, how could I not. I was secretly hoping she would pick Elsa but for $200, that was most definitely a stretch!
Now onto DisneySea. Pretty much the same concept as Disneyland except it's super close to the ocean and absolutely freezing!!!
We were very lucky that my friend was able to show us around on his day off so he came on the rides with me that Greg couldn't (he gets really bad motion sickness) and show us all the amazing shows that we would have otherwise missed. One of them was Big Band Beats which was practically a full length Broadway show featuring singers and dancers and also the characters (Mickey, Minnie, Daisy, Donald and Goofy). I have NEVER seen anything like it, I was absolutely gobsmacked at all of the talent, mostly the fact that Mickey Mouse plays the drums, does a mic drop then performs a 5 minute dance routine that ends in a high kick. MIND BLOWN!! I literally sat there, mouth wide open and in total shock. Having worked in the industry, that was magic.
We pretty much saw the whole park but did miss out on the Pixar Playtime Show which sucked (we headed back the following day but it poured with rain so all shows were cancelled). I would recommend buying a rain pram cover, it was a savior for us and Willow was dry even when we we were saturated to the bone. We did spend some time in King Tritons Castle and I have to say this was tear jerking. I LOVE The Little Mermaid and it was the most magical place I'd ever seen (plus we waited 40 minutes to see Ariel which was totally worth it). We then headed to Agrabah (Aladdin) and it was like we were in the actual movie. We saw Jasmin which was awesome (and my friend usually plays Aladdin) so I felt star struck and like I was a kid again. Every area was themed amazingly, it truly was the happiest place on earth.
That's the first leg of our trip done, make sure you check out Japan Part Two - Kyoto.