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!

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