With two equally impressive Disney parks on offer, it is hard to know which to choose if you’re pressed for time in Tokyo.

I was lucky enough to check in to both on a recent trip to the Japanese capital, to compare the pair for families tossing up between Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea.

Here’s what I found:

Disneyland

For someone who has never visited a Disney park anywhere in the world, I was enamoured the moment I caught sight of the blue and white spires of Cinderella’s castle.

Munching the ears off a Mickey pizza and waving wildly at the Beauty and the Beast float, my initiation into this wonderful world  felt complete.

In 2018, Tokyo Disney turns 35 and is currently in the midst of the “Happiest Celebration.” The party includes special parades, dedicated memorabilia and limited-time menus (strawberry crunch chocolates, anyone?).

A tray of Disney-themed breads and cakes at Tokyo Disneyland
A delicious Mickey-themed bite to eat from Sweetheart Cafe Picture: Sophie Cullen

What Disneyland does better:

1. The true ‘Disney’ vibe

Tokyo Disneyland is modelled on other Magic Kingdom style parks such as California, Florida and Hong Kong. Cinderella’s Castle is identical to its international counterparts, and you can go on renowned Disney rides such as It’s a Small World and Splash Mountain.

If it is a classic Disney experience that you’re after, or if this is your first foray into the Disney universe, Tokyo Disneyland is the way to go.

Cinderella's castle at Tokyo Disneyland
First view of the recognisable icon, Cinderella’s Castle Picture: Sophie Cullen

2. Attractions for the littlies

Disneyland is ideal for toddlers and younger primary-schoolers. Many of the attractions are family-friendly; there are the storybook vibes of Pooh’s Hunny Hunt, tamer rides such as Castle Carousel and Alice’s Tea Party, and plenty of character meet-and-greets with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and friends. Walk around the lunch areas and you’ll see many a miniature Belle or Captain Hook in full costume.

Cute yellow house of Pooh's Corner attraction at Tokyo Disneyland
Tiny tots will love Pooh’s Corner Picture: Sophie Cullen

3. Shows, parades and fireworks

A day at Disneyland wouldn’t be complete until it ends with a bang. Disneyland’s fireworks display cannot be rivaled.

Neither, in my opinion, can the schedule of shows and parades. I was enchanted by the One Man’s Dream II – The Magic Lives On show which uses fantastic costumes, sets and choreography to chronologically chart Walt Disney’s creations from Mickey to Moana.

The daytime parades are also a sight to behold. The 35th anniversary special Dream Up! parade has 13 floats and more than 150 performers. While you watch, be sure to sample the multiple popcorn flavours available from carts around the park. Caramel was by far my favourite, but there is also soy-sauce, honey, curry and more.

Mary Poppins float at Tokyo Disneyland parade
Mary Poppins makes a graceful entrance at the parade Picture: Sophie Cullen

DisneySea

The newer of the two parks, DisneySea blew my mind when it came to attention to detail. Each of the seven interior worlds is constructed to feel just like the movie set, from the street lighting in the Mediterranean Harbour, to the barnacles and starfish on the ceilings of Mermaid Lagoon.

The theme park’s biggest drawcard is that it is the only Disney Sea in the world. Anywhere.  If you’re an old hand when it comes to Disney, shake up your Disney experience with this Tokyo-only treat.

What Disney Sea does better:

1. Older crowds

Teenagers and kids of primary school age will appreciate the intricate wonderland that is DisneySea and its seven interior worlds. Take a Venetian-style gondola down canals in Mediterranean Harbour,  a magic carpet ride on the Arabian Coast or creep yourself out after dark on Mysterious Island.

Standing in the middle of a crowd waiting for the morning show on the harbour, I noticed fewer families with prams and more teenagers and couples. A hot day in the Lost River Delta or Port Discovery warrants a cheeky beer over lunch for Mums and Dads. Unlike Disneyland, DisneySea sells alcohol onsite.

Disney boat on Mediterranean Harbour at Tokyo Disney Sea
Happiest Celebration on the Sea morning show Picture: Sophie Cullen

2. Thrills and spills

The main reason for this trend may well be the calibre of the rides and attractions – expect to go higher and faster at DisneySea.

The Tower of Terror long drop will make your heart skip a beat, as will the Indiana Jones Adventure. The format of shows and displays are also an exciting point of difference for DisneySea.  The shows take place on the water. The first parade of the day features Disney characters dancing atop a colourful barge.

Fantasmic!, the night performance, lit up the harbour with flames, fireworks and neon. It did feel a little bit like magic as huge inflatable characters, a mirror made of rain and large-scale animated projections reflected off the water.

Light show at night on the water at Tokyo Disney Sea
The spectacle of Fantasmic! after dark Picture: Sophie Cullen

3. Duffy and ShellieMay

DisneySea also boasts a host of unique to the park. Teddy bears Duffy and ShellieMay famously feature in many a holiday snap at DisneySea, and can only be purchased from their onsite merchandise shop. Minnie and Mickey also wear a unique get-up different to their standard Disneyland costumes.

Minnie Mouse toy in front of volcano structure at Tokyo Disney Sea
Minnie decked out in DisneySea get-up Picture: Sophie Cullen

The Verdict

If you have younger kids and have never been to a Disneyland or Disneyworld, without a doubt pick Tokyo Disneyland.

For older families seeking high-paced thrills and spills, opt for DisneySea instead.

But why not get the best of both worlds? Go the safe option, and choose a special 2-day pass allowing you to experience both. 2-Day passes are 13,200 JPY for Adults, 11,600 JPY for Juniors aged 12 to 17 and 8600 JPY for Children aged 4 to 11.
To ensure a smooth entry to both parks, it’s better to purchase tickets online before you go.  Arrive a few minutes early to avoid the crowds and make the most of your time at Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea.

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