Aside from the really big moments in my life such as getting married and the day my children were born, nothing has brought me as much joy as time spent with my family at Tokyo Disneyland Resort (TDR). From the moment you step foot inside the resort, your senses are flooded by happy sights, sounds, smells and feelings. It is overwhelming in the best possible way. No matter what is happening in your life outside the park, it just doesn’t exist here.
The first time Touristo visited TDR, he was only 2.5 years old. At that stage he wasn’t really talking at all, and could not attend to anything for longer than a few seconds. Imagine my surprise when we sat down to watch the Dream Lights parade and he sat still as a statue, in my lap, transfixed for the entire duration. It was MAGICAL – I was a sobbing mess. This may not sound like a huge thing to anyone else but in our world, it was a miracle. He ate everything in the parks and when we went on rides he made all of the stereotypical kid noises that you would usually hear – “wee”, “wow”, “ooh”! He even sat still and watched “Minnie Oh Minnie” and “A Table is Waiting” – that blew my mind.
The other thing that makes Tokyo Disney Resort so magical is that the cast members are genuinely kind and helpful. They have great processes in place to make the park accessible for everyone. TDR has brilliant Disability Services that cater for a wide range of disabilities*, but as my area of knowledge is autism I just want to share some of the things that made it accessible for us:
- The Guest Access Card – the main benefit is that when you approach rides they give you a time to come back (which is equivalent to the length of the queue), this allows you and your group to wait outside the queue and eat popcorn. Without this, any queue longer than 5 minutes would not be doable.
- Stroller as wheelchair sticker – this allows you to use a stroller in the same way that you would use a wheelchair. For us it meant that we could access the disability seating in shows and Touristo could wait for the show in his stroller (he will sit still in there for extended periods) or we could zoom in and sit down just before the show starts.
- Fast Passes – at TDR the Fast Passes are free and the process is pretty efficient. To get a Fast Pass you simply take your park ticket to the Fast Pass booth of the ride you want to go on, put the barcode of the ticket into the machine and it spits out a ticket. This ticket gives you a time range where you can come back and get straight on the ride. There is an absolute art form as to how to maximise the amount of times you can use this in a day – but that’s a whole other post in itself.
Now these accommodations REALLY help, however there are certain things I have done in the past and have also done when planning our Christmas trip this year in order to make it successful. I think it is great that attractions are starting to make accommodations, but it’s my personal belief (please don’t shoot me) that individuals and families have to do some of the accommodating too. These include:
- Plan your visit during off peak times. TDR has to be one of the busiest attractions ON THE PLANET! If you go during the northern hemisphere’s summer holidays, expect to wait for 3 hours for some attractions. Just DON’T DO IT! Instead pick a quiet time like the second and third weeks of January – a crowd calendar should be able to help you out. We are going for a few days just before Christmas (which should be moderately busy) to see the decorations etc and for the second week in January (I am hoping we will be walking on to rides).
- Plan your day. Before you go to the parks have an action plan. Print out the map and have an order of what you want to accomplish. Certain rides at TDR have a fanatical following and run out of Fast Passes by 10am (e.g. Toy Story at Disney Sea), so if this was a ride you wanted to go on then get these Fast Passes first thing in the morning.
- If you have the budget consider staying in one of the official, on-site hotels of which there are three. The Ambassador is the most affordable (but least accessible), the Disneyland Hotel which is smack bang in front of the Disneyland park, and the Mira Costa, which is super fancy (super expensive) and has a special guest entrance to Disney Sea. The main advantage to these hotels (besides their incredible locations) is that you get 15 minutes early entry, which doesn’t sound like a lot but gets you at least one coveted Fast Pass, a ride on one major attraction, and has you down the back of the park before everyone else.
- If your budget doesn’t stretch to one of the Disney hotels, I think it is absolutely essential to still stay in a hotel on the Disney monorail line for quick entry to and from the parks. This has been invaluable at various times where Touristo has just hit a wall and needs some down time in a quiet room. My picks for hotels in this area are the Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay and the Hilton Tokyo Bay (the Happy Magic rooms are amazing). If you book either of these in off-peak times, a few weeks out from your trip you can get a room from between $150-$200US.
- Practice queuing before you go. Use bank queues, Costco etc whatever you can to practice waiting.
- Prime your kids. Some people like social stories – I prefer YouTube. I like to show the kids snippets of what they are going to experience. I think with this there is a very fine line between showing them enough to make them comfortable with new experiences, versus showing them so much that there is nothing exciting about it.
- This might go without saying, but buy your park tickets online or if you are staying at any hotel in the TDR area you can buy your park tickets in the foyer. Don’t buy them at the gate, it’s just one extra queue you don’t need in your life!
- If you go in the warmer months, pack a change of clothes and a very small towel in your day bag when you go to Disney Sea. There are musical fountains, they are awesome and if your kids like water they will get drenched.
So if you are planning an autism friendly holiday in Asia, I strongly believe that this is the place to do it. Stay tuned towards the end of this year as the blog will be covering Touristo in Korea and Japan.
For more information about planning a trip to the Tokyo Disney Resort, please check out my YouTube
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* http://www.tokyodisneyresort.jp/en/bfree/ – provides info regarding all of their disability accommodations