Legoland, Nagoya, Universal Studios Japan or Tokyo Disney Resort – which one do I think is more autism friendly? – Part 2 – Legoland Nagoya

Legoland, Nagoya

Legoland Nagoya is a near new park having opened mid way through 2017.  I want to preempt this post by saying it is written by someone who is not a Lego enthusiast, and we did visit the park on a week day in winter break (unfortunate timing that couldn’t be worked around).

I have mixed feelings about this theme park, but I lean on the side of recommending as long as you can pick a day that is not a weekend, public holiday or school holiday…..let me explain….

Getting to the park is very easy, with it being about a 20 minute train ride from Nagoya Station with no line changes required.  One of the really cool things about this park is, as you are walking from the station to the park there is an overpass.  On the Legoland side you can choose to either walk down a ramp or go down a slide!  It really sets a super fun tone to start the day!  What is not fun though is the massive queue to enter the park…..on the day we were there, it was about half an hour to get into the park even with pre-purchased tickets. My husband and daughter to one look at the entry queue and both wanted to go back to the hotel to chill.  Touristo and I persisted!  The entrance has not been built to handle the massive crowds that Japanese theme parks tend to attract. So, if you hadn’t pre-purchased tickets online, well then, good luck getting in at all.

Once in the park, I picked up a disability card to help with the queues.  It is a very similar model to that of Universal or Disney, so please check out Part 1 for more information on the process.  The issue here that I did not experience at either of the other two parks was that the park seemed understaffed, so there was not always someone to help you at the express lines.  In the end I ended up purchasing a three attraction fast pass which really helped and wasn’t too expensive.  This turned out to be a lifesaver.

The other big glitch was food.  There are not nearly enough food outlets for the hoards of people that descend on this place in peak season.  The queue for Lego shaped fries just did not move, and when I tried to get a burger and fries for lunch at 11.30am, I was told that the wait was already 1 hour!!!!! I must have looked like I didn’t understand because she then repeated it in English….. I had understood the words coming out of her mouth, it was the concept of waiting an hour for food that had me lost!  So we lived on popcorn for the day, until I got hangry and we left.  Touristo as always was a gentleman, I was the grumpy one.

Now this sounds like we had a crappy day right?  Funnily enough, we still had a lot of fun.  The rides are really cute, and are perfect for the age group of about 2 – 12 years old. The other thing that I found amazing was all of the themed play areas which were phenomenal.  When you have a kid who likes to climb as much as mine, then it was worth the entry fee just for these.  Two of these play areas only had one way in and out, so it also gave me the chance to sit out the front and have a few minutes to myself.

So is it autism friendly?  Yes and no.  If you go on a week day when Japanese schools are in session when it is quieter, then I think it is an amazing attraction for families with kids on the spectrum to visit.  At peak times though…..just don’t.  In saying that though, I am thinking that a lot of the issues I experienced here are really teething issues that will be resolved as the park finds its feet……..I hope.

Tip: They are currently building a hotel on property.  If you do have a junior Lego enthusiast I would highly recommend staying on property particularly if the offer early entry and/or a dedicated entry for hotel guests.  For guests on the spectrum it would be really handy to have a quiet room to retreat to when the crowds become too much.  This is particularly important because the park is not very spread out so even when it’s not a peak time it might still feel squishy to someone who has difficulty with crowds.

Legoland, Nagoya, Universal Studios Japan or Tokyo Disney Resort – which one do I think is more autism friendly? – Part 1

So we have just recently returned from our 5 weeks in Korea and Japan, and first up I thought it would be fun to cover a topic that is very near and dear to my heart….theme parks in Japan.  Whilst on this holiday, our family was fortunate enough to explore three of Japan’s big theme parks and I would like to make it clear that all three cater for people with autism in a way that just doesn’t happen in Australia.  All three were really fun in their own way, but if I had to pick one that catered to my family’s needs the best…….well you will have to wait as this is a three part post.

Now to give you an idea of what challenges Touristo faces in theme parks, the big one is queues. He has very little control over his nervous system and is constantly jumping, wriggling, climbing me, wanting to hold my arms and somersault, and trying to pull through the queues.  He is also a ‘bolter’ with absolutely no understanding of personal danger, so if we are walking around a lot he still has to be in his pram and for shorter distances holding hands.  As he is a sensory seeker, the noise, bustle, smells, and sheer volume of people are not things that we have to consider at theme parks that others may well have to.

Universal Studios Japan, Osaka
We spent 2 days here mid-week and it was still jam packed.  Even on the second day when it was raining, the park was still bursting with people and the lowest wait time I saw (with the exception of the kiddie area) was 40 minutes. Attractions such as the Minions ride and the Harry Potter ride still had wait times of well over two hours and at times, edged toward the three hour mark.

This park is quite small compared to other Universal Studios around the world, and one could argue that it has been under-built considering the voracious appetite for theme parks in Japan.  There are a handful of really mind-blowing attractions such as Minions, Spider-man and Harry Potter, which are genuinely world class, but it is insanely crowded.

Do they have ‘fast passes’?
Yes, but be warned a 7 ride Express Pass will likely cost you more than your admission ticket and should be purchased either before you go to the park, or as soon as you arrive because they do sell out.  We took this option on the second day because even with the ‘Guest Support Pass’, we would not have been able to experience more than two or three attractions.  It is also worth noting that the Express Passes have dynamic pricing, so on days of high attendance they cost more that during low season.

Do they have some form of ‘Guest Assistance Card’?
Yes, and of the three parks that we went to I found the process of obtaining one to be the most simple at Universal.  When you enter the park, approach Guest Services and let them know that one of your party requires support during their time in the park.  On both days at the park I encountered staff who had sufficient English skills to be able to assist me if I was struggling in Japanese.  Staff asked me a few simple questions about what difficulties Touristo might encounter and we were issued with a card to present at each attraction, where you are given a time to return for express entry that is equivalent to the current wait time.  You can only be issued a return time for one attraction at a time, hence why I still alternated the support pass with the purchased Express Pass.

How about the food?
Typical American theme park food plus a lot of character shaped nikumans.  If someone in your party is vegetarian or has allergies, you might want to do some research first.  Touristo’s issues with food are more just ‘self-imposed limitations’ due to sensory stuff, and there was more than enough to satisfy him. Ahhh my boy…….just like his mama at the same age.

How well did this park meet our needs?
Fairly well, but to be able to make it doable and fun (queue wise) it was breathtakingly expensive, and even though it was amazing I can’t say that I plan on returning.  This is partially due to the crowds, partially due to the price and also due to the lack of attractions compared to other major theme parks.  I am hoping to visit Universal Studios in Florida in two years though as it seems to be a more affordable park that houses a wider variety of attractions.

A tip
If you plan on visiting this park, please check out this website and never, even go on a weekend.  It is a crowd calendar for Universal and whilst it is in Japanese, I still think it is pretty easy to understand even if you can’t read the language.  We were very constrained in what days we could visit, so we ended up there on a ‘medium’ day.  If you have a choice, pick a day that is in the green, blue or white sections.

If you are planning a visit to USJ and have any questions about disability, please feel free to send me an email or hit me up via Facebook.

Part 2 – Legoland, Nagoya coming soon!

Reflections on our 5 weeks in North Asia

So we are back from Japan and Korea……. safe and sound. Whilst I will be writing posts about the specifics of our adventure at a later date, I thought I would start back with a brief post on a few things I have learned over the last few weeks.

One thing that this holiday was good for was being able to exist entirely in the moment. I switched off from work (which is usually constantly in the back of my mind), dealing with the NDIS (Australian disability funding), therapy, and even this blog which is my hobby. This enabled me to just enjoy the time with my family and reflect on all the different aspects of my life. This has given me greater clarity about what I want to keep the same, what I want to set goals around and what I need to ditch.

Another take away from this trip is my view on severe autism. In my field of employment I spend a lot of time reading and hearing about the difficulties surrounding autism. I have always maintained that I don’t think autism is inherently difficult, but it’s hard not to listen to all the noise sometimes. That is not to dismiss the challenges that some people do face, but rather challenge the generalisation that all severely autistic people are challenging as a rule. After taking some time away, I am more sure than ever that my maternal stress surrounding having a severely autistic child doesn’t come from him. When I stripped away having to deal with the government, school, therapy and trying to fit him into a box that other people want him to be……well we were as happy as clams. He was such a trooper and was brilliant at just getting on with things. With the accomodations I made for him, he did better than most 6 year olds on such a big trip.

Lastly, on the last few days of our holiday I noticed how much my daughter was struggling. We were in Tokyo Disneyland and the Princess was having a ball, but at the same time she was desperately missing her friends. My son didn’t struggle in this way. He is happy as long as he has his family. In this respect I kind of see autism as an advantage to travel.

So I guess these are just a couple of musings about my time away, but will be back shortly with some more specific details about our adventure.