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Courtney and her family explore Japan – PREP 361

Courtney and her family explore Japan – PREP 361

Courtney, her husband, and two sons traveled to Japan for an epic two-week adventure. She shares details of their time at Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo Disney Sea – including their stay at the Hotel MiraCosta – and Universal Studios Japan. Courtney also covers the highlights of her family’s exploration of Japan’s Harajuku area, Mt. Nokogiri, temples, spa, Osaka, Torii Gates, a traditional tea ceremony, and a bamboo grove. Listen to also hear how the weather impacted her trip and what she thought was worth the effort and what she wouldn’t do again.

The Basics

Courtney, her husband, and their two sons (ages 9 and 11) traveled to Japan from May 20 to June 5. Their trip included two day sat Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea, a day at Universal Studios, and many other cultural experiences.

Their first time to Disney World was 2019 and Courtney LOVED the planning element. She treated this trip with the same time and attention.

They have always wanted to go to Japan and knew they’d need to go to the Disney parks. They are avid travelers but this is their first time traveling as a family to a place where English isn’t as prominent. 

Courtney used TDR Explorer for the Disney portion of the trip. She also read travel blogs and YouTube to plan the best experience for her family.

Travel Day (May 20)

Courtney and her family left their home on Saturday the 20th and landed on the afternoon of May 21st. They have a direct flight. They had a slight delay leaving but didn’t have any delay arriving. 

Arrival Day (May 21)

After traveling for quite a while, the plan is to go directly to the Airbnb they rented in Tokyo. They will use subways while they are in Tokyo. They have 14 day Japan Rail Passes. They arrived around 3:15 p.m. location time.

The flight was about 13 hours and the time difference is 13 hours. The flight itself wasn’t bad. The boys were excited about screentime. They also had a bit of sleep on the plane. 

They had to go to JR Station to get their rail passes. It took about an hour to get through the line but they wanted to do it right away. They also got subway passes for the kids because it was half-price for kids. 

They took the KEISEI railway to their subway station nearest to their Airbnb. It was about a 7 minute walk to their home. 

Courtney and her family enjoyed staying at this Airbnb but it wasn’t their favorite of the trip. There was a grocery store around the corner and it was closer to some subway stations. 

They were in bed by 7 p.m. after a very long day. 

Exploring Tokyo (May 22)

They woke up very early due to the jetlag. They picked up breakfast and walked to the Sensoji temple. This temple has early hours and opens at 6 a.m. which was wonderful because they were up so early.

They went to a subway station and purchased subway cards. These worked like refundable gift cards where they put a specific amount on each to use for the subway system.

It was about 8 a.m. and they took the subway toward the teamLab Planet stop. Their timed entry was 10:30 a.m. so they had some time before they could enter.

There were some great things to look at on the subway and in the area of teamLab Planet. They rode the elevated subway around and saw some statues in the area including a 2 story giant robot statue. 

They got in around 10:30 a.m. to  teamLab Planet. The kids REALLY liked it. There were some areas of water and it was very neat. They spent about an hour there. 

When they left, they went to get ramen at a place right outside the teamLab Planet to get something to eat. 

After that, they wanted to go to the Ginza shopping district. Courtney was especially excited to try a pancake place. 

They arrived at Ginza at 1:15 p.m. and there was a 2 hour virtual queue wait, so they decided to go back to the Airbnb instead.

They relaxed at the Airbnb until dinner. They went to Kurasushi for the conveyor belt sushi restaurant. The food was decent but the experience was really fun. 

After dinner they stopped at a grocery store to pick up breakfast for the next day before going to the Airbnb for bed. 

Tokyo (May 23)

Because of the jetlag and time change, Courtney was up again around 4 a.m. Thankfully the kids slept until almost 5 a.m. 

It was pouring all day, which canceled their outdoor plans. They brought two umbrellas but the Airbnb also had umbrellas to help keep everyone dry.

They decided to go inside to a museum nearby. It didn’t open until 9 a.m. so they had a leisurely morning before leaving around 8:40 a.m. They brought their luggage and used a locker for about $5. 

Thankfully the locker and subway instructions were given in a variety of languages. Train stations all had locker areas, which was very convenient. 

They arrived at the museum around 9:15 a.m. Courtney’s oldest rated the museum a 6/10. There wasn’t a lot of English which was difficult. 

They went to the Tokyo station to get the train to Disney. They put their luggage in a locker at Tokyo station and got some food in that area. 

Courtney still was hoping to get a pancake in Ginza. They went over there around 12:30 p.m. and the wait was 5 hours! They wouldn’t be in the area for that long, so that wouldn’t work. 

They didn’t have much else to do so they went to the Imperial Palace area. They explored the Nijubashi bridge area. They were able to walk around outside and took pictures near the bridges. 

They’d planned to continue walking around, but they were very wet from the rain. So they went back to the Tokyo station to collect their baggage and got on the train at 2:51 p.m. It took about 20 minutes to get to the station near the Disney resort.

They transferred to the Disney resort monorail. This was not included in their resort stay but took the same payment as the subway. 

The check in process was really clear. They spoke English and the map that they gave them was specific for their room, which was so nice. 

Courtney booked a triple room with three beds, including a bed just slightly bigger than a twin. This was not best for sharing because the beds are not large enough to share. 

There wasn’t a quick service restaurant at Tokyo MiraCosta and they were all still very tired, so they didn’t want to leave for dinner. The restaurants in the hotel were upscale and nice so they picked up some food for dinner at the grocery store. 

They will be staying at Tokyo MiraCosta for three nights. This also gave them access to the park at 8:15 a.m. when it opened up at 9 a.m. 

Tokyo Disneyland (May 24)

They woke up just after 5 a.m. and they wanted to get to the park a little early. They just missed the monorail at 7:17 a.m. and had to wait 8 minutes for the next one.

They arrived at Tokyo Disneyland at 7:40 a.m. and there were already people waiting at the normal gate. 

They were able to go in right at 8:15 a.m. and Courney recommends going on either side rather than the middle gate. 

They do not have traditional park-hopping, so they will spend the whole day at Tokyo Disneyland. They do not do park reservations because you purchase tickets for a specific park. 

Courtney had trouble purchasing tickets with a North American credit card, so she used Klook, which was recommended and reputable. 

Courtney has a planned itinerary for the day prioritizing the things that they cannot do in the domestic parks. They will also try for the rides that might be different. 

They saw some characters as they entered including Chip and Dale and the Fab 5. Some people stopped at the characters very first thing. 

Courtney and her family went through Tomorrowland to get to Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast. They ended up taking a longer way and were at the end of the crowd but they were scanned in at 8:22 a.m. 

They got to the pre-show by 8:33 a.m. They really liked the pre-show and it was all in Japanese. The animatronics were really great and they liked the ride a lot. 

Their plan was to do the Happy Ride with Baymax next but by the time they got there it was a 65 minute wait so they didn’t and went to Pooh’s Hunny Hunt next. The posted wait time was 40 minutes and they got on at 9:35 a.m. 

Pooh’s Hunny Hunt is trackless and they really liked it. Courtney realized that she hadn’t gotten a pass for the shows, but they tried to get a spot for the shows. They didn’t get either of the one they tried.

They did try to get the access for the Happy Ride with Baymax but their card was declined in the app repeatedly. It wouldn’t work for them. 

 Their next stop was Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek. They got in line at 9:49 a.m. and the wait was just about 35 minutes long. Because there aren’t other ways to ride these rides, the line is just constantly moving, which is really nice. 

Courtney really loved Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek. You get a flashlight and you can shine it on the different animatronics and they do different things. The whole family really enjoyed this. 

While Courtney and her son did Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek, her husband and other son did it’s a small world. They all agreed that it was much better than the domestic version because they have added in Disney characters. 

Then they stopped for alien mochi at Pan Galactic Pizza Port. They couldn’t get anything else because the restaurant was under construction, but they loved them.  

They went to lunch at 11 a.m. at the Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall because it is super well-themed. 

There was quite a bit of a line because it is cafeteria style and it took them about 20 minutes to get through the line. They did notice that the line was much longer when they left.

They loved the food but it was a lot of food for them. This was also a nice spot to fill their water bottles. 

Courtney took one of her sons to Haunted Mansion while her husband took her other son to Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek. Courtney says that Haunted Mansion was very similar to the ride in Orlando. 

They met back up at Toontown and went on Gadget’s Go Coaster next at 12:56 p.m. Then they wanted to do Big Thunder Mountain. There was a posted wait time of 30 minutes and it was really close to the estimated time. 

While Courtney and her son rode Big Thunder Mountain, her husband and son did Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin and Star Tours. They really didn’t have much of a wait at all. 

The parade stopped them as they were heading back to meet her husband and son. Courtney’s kids aren’t into parades, so they watched some of it and kept moving. People actually sit for the parade, which was neat to see! 

They got on the train and it doesn’t go all the way around the park, but they got to ride it around. Other than that, it was similar to the one at Disney World.. 

There was a 10 minute posted wait at 2:52 p.m. for the Gadget’s Go Coaster and they did that again. They got some popcorn after that – they tried the 40th anniversary popcorn. 

It was getting hot, so they went into Mickey’s PhilharMagic and it was exactly the same except it was completely in Japanese. It was nice to be in the air conditioning and sit down.

The posted wait time at 4 p.m. for Peter Pan’s Flight was 35 minutes and they waited 28 minutes. Courtney liked the addition of the star room – most everything else was the same. 

Their next stop was Pirates of the Caribbean. They really liked this version – maybe because it was in English. Courtney says the beginning was a bit longer and she liked that.

The lines were all continually moving today, which was really nice. It made everything seem like it was going much faster. 

Their next stop was the Sweetheart Cafe for the Mike Wazowski Melon Bread. They got a brioche bun and some other pastries for the morning the next day. The kids also got pizza from Captain Hook’s Galley. Everything was delicious except for the melon bread. 

After they got something to eat, Courtney’s husband and son went back to the hotel to rest. Courtney and her other son got a bench around 5:45 p.m. for the nighttime parade, Dreamlights

Most of the benches were taken around 5:45 p.m. and most people started sitting on the ground around 6:30 p.m. At this point, it was getting cold and they decided to just go back to the room. 

They had a lot of extremes because it was very hot and then very cold. 

Tokyo Disney Sea (May 25)

Courtney was up very early at 3 a.m. and read her book until everyone else woke up around 5 a.m. 

Because they are staying at the hotel attached to this park, they had a short walk to get in. They got in line at 7:28 a.m. and were 4th in line. They were able to get in right at 8:15 a.m.

They planned to rope drop Soarin’ and had a plan to go right there. They asked a cast member if it was the right way to go to Soarin’ and she led them right to Soarin’! She asked if they wanted to go inside for photos and they did. 

She took them inside and got some photos of their family. They were able to take photos of the queue and then were the first family in line! It was wonderful. 

The queue was very different than in Orlando. It was a really cool experience. They were the first group and were able to get on B1. 

Their next stop was Journey to the Center of the Earth. Sadly, Courtney’s whole family hated this ride. They don’t like things with unexpected drops and this had a drop. Courtney enjoyed it though. 

Courtney’s husband and son did Flounder’s Flying Fish Coaster while Courtney and her son did Indiana Jones Adventure. Courtney says the theming was so amazing on the Indiana Jones ride. 

They met Courtney’s husband and son at Flounder’s Flying Fish Coaster. They’d already went on this ride 5 times in a row. They rode a few more times before heading to their next ride. They got photos with some characters. 

Characters just wander around the park much like Disneyland, which was really fun. Courtney’s kids don’t want to line up and see characters, but they enjoyed seeing them walking around. 

They got to Nemo & Friends SeaRider next and about 25 minutes. It’s similar to StarTours so they just needed to wait for the next show. Courtney thought this was really cute but one of her boys got some motion sickness. 

They went to the Vulcania restaurant for lunch just before 11 a.m. and it took them about 20 minutes to get their food. 

They all enjoyed their meals. Courtney noted that she really appreciated that they had models of the food so she could show the kids what they could order.  

Right outside of their lunch, they got sea salt ice cream sandwiches that were delicious. Courtney highly recommended these – they got them several times that day. 

They went to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea next and then went to Aquatopia trackless ride, but it was down. They went on the train next and rode it from one stop to the other. They only waited about 13 minutes. 

At 12:30 p.m. Tower of Terror only had about a 30 minute wait. They didn’t do it, but that’s how low the crowds were. 

They went to the Toy Story Mania area next. The wait was too long to wait for the ride, but they did some carnival games in that area.

They decided to take a break next to prepare for the evening activities. Going back to their hotel room was so easy because they just had to walk to the front of the park. 

They were able to get their hands stamped to get back in later in the day. They all relaxed in the room until around 3 p.m. when Courtney and her son went back to the park. 

They got some potato churros – they look like churros but they are made of potatoes! Courtney really enjoyed it. 

Courtney and her son went to the Little Mermaid area next. It was really well themed and the rides were all meant for little kids. They did go into Ursula’s room which was really cool. 

This area also had a great area for toddlers that was padded where they could run around and play.  

There wasn’t much of a wait for Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage so they did that next and enjoyed the slow boat ride. Her husband and son were in the park now and they were riding 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea  over and over. 

They got some popcorn next and decided to stick with just salt, which was a good option for them. 

Aquatopia was back up, so they did that one next and only waited about 20 minutes. It was okay but Courtney says she wouldn’t wait a long time for it. 

They went to the New York area for dinner at Dockside Diner. It was okay. The kids wanted something that was a bit more familiar to them. 

Courtney is trying to find places that will accommodate food their children will eat and Japanese food. They also plan to go to the Teddy Roosevelt Lounge later in the day. 

Around 5:45 p.m. they got a spot for the nighttime show around the lagoon. Believe! Sea of Dreams is the new nighttime show. They were able to find a railing that was a few steps up to see everything. It was a good spot to watch. 

Courtney and her son stayed to hold their spot while her husband and son went back to the room to get pants, shirts, and jackets. It was so cold! 

The kids loved this show! It was really wonderful. They have boats, projections all around, music, and fireworks.

They split up again and Courtney and her son rode 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Flounder’s Flying Fish Coaster without any wait. 

They were hungry on their way out and most everything was closed before the 9 p.m. park close time. There weren’t a whole lot of food options available. In addition, some of the rides close before the end of the night and switch to premier access only toward the end of the night. 

Back to Tokyo (May 26)

They were finally adjusting to the time zone and they slept in a bit. They had breakfast at the buffet in their hotel. There were some Japanese options and some more traditional North American options. 

When the gates opened at 8:15 a.m. they were able to see everyone entering the park from their seats at breakfast. 

They checked out of their hotel and took the monorail to another train station and did some Disney Store shopping. It was hit and miss.

They went to a Japanese spa this afternoon. It was open-air and had a family section where everyone wore bathing suits. Then they split up and the boys went to the men’s section with her husband and she went to the women’s section. 

They ate lunch at the spa before going to going to Harajuku area. There is an observation deck from a government building which was really cool. 

They also went to Shibuya Crossing and it was really cool. It is just a large crossing where people cross the street. 

They got some snacks and really fun street food for dinner. They checked into their Airbnb which was in the same building but a different room from their previous Airbnb.

Climbing a Mountain (May 27)

They took a train about an hour to spend the day at Mt. Nokogiri. Some of the train cars required a reservation. Thankfully they just had to find the cars that weren’t reserved. 

When they arrived, they walked to the cable cars via Google maps. They went up the mountain to an observation section to look at the water. 

They got black vanilla ice cream which was really cool. They continued walking around the park as well. There were so many stairs. 

The weather was beautiful and they got some great views. After some time up there, they made their way back into the city and went back to their Airbnb. 

On their way back they decided to reserve seats on their next few trains to be sure that they could sit together. Courtney recommends booking your reservations to be sure that you get seats together.

Travel Day (May 28)

They went to Matsumoto Castle on their way to the mountain pass. It was nice but pretty far out of the way. 

They made their way to the Alpine route. 

Mountain Pass (May 29)

Sadly, it rained all day. Lots and lots of rain. They weren’t able to see much because the visibility was so poor.

The snow wall section you can typically walk was closed so they went through on a bus that had them very high up, so it was difficult to see. 

They are staying at a hotel outside the train station. They booked  a service that will take their bags from this hotel through the pass to the hotel on the other side. That part was very smooth. 

It was disappointing because the weather didn’t cooperate. 

Osaka (May 30)

They checked out of the mountain pass hotel and took the bullet train to Osaka. They enjoyed the Pokemon and Nintendo section of the Osaka station. 

They checked into their Airbnb before going to the Osaka Castle. It was beautiful but in the middle of a park so it is a lot of walking to get there. 

Courtney finally got to go to Happy Pancake! Everyone really liked them but they were more eggy than they expected. They were soft and fluffy and Courtney was very happy to have tried them without a long wait. 

They went to Dotonbori area which was really fun. They got dinner in that area and got some different flavors of cheesecake. They were back to the Airbnb by 8 p.m. to get to bed. 

Universal Studios Japan (May 31)

This was probably the kids’ favorite day! There isn’t any early access, so there’s no benefit to staying onsite. 

They did get an express pass for the rides. The pass they got gets them timed entry into Nintendo World.

They left their Airbnb at 7:24 a.m. and took the subway two stops to Nintendo World. The gates opened at 8:20 a.m. and they had to get through security first, which wasn’t convenient. 

They went straight to Mario Kart: Koopas Challenge. They loved this and thought it was really neat. 

They purchased Power-Up Bands as well and this was really fun for the kids. They went to ride The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and only waited about 11 minutes. They were hungry and got some hot dogs from a cart right outside. 

They started using their express pass and went to Minion Mayhem. They only waited about 20 minutes to get on the ride but there were 3 preshows, so it felt like a long time to wait. 

They went over to the WaterWorld and loved this. It was all in Japanese but they were able to figure things out. 

They went to Discovery Restaurant for some lunch. They got three rice bowls for the 4 of them and it was too much food for them. But the food was really good! 

They went to Harry Potter World next. They had a timed entry but they didn’t need it. It was busy but they walked through and went on Forbidden Journey. They had an express pass. 

They had some butterbeer before getting in line for Flight of the Hippogriff. They enjoyed this but it is very short. 

They left Harry Potter and went to the Jaws section. They got some photos taken there and then went on the JAWS ride. It was a really fun experience! 

They walked over to the Minions section and got some snacks. Around 1:30 p.m. they stopped and got a spot for the parade. They got a spot on the curb for the kids toward the beginning of the parade. They were told to stand for this.

The kids really enjoyed this parade! It was about 15 minutes and they loved the floats. There was a time for a dance party in the street but if you left your spot on the curb, you wouldn’t get it back! 

After the parade they were outside of Doraemon ride. It was a ride with a VR headset that was really wild! Courtney says this is the best ride that she did! 

It was time for their timed entry just after 3 p.m. for Nintendo World. They used their bands to play some games. Some of the games didn’t have a wait but the games to collect a key there was a 15-20 minute wait.

They had express pass for both of the rides. They did the Mario Kart: Koopas Challenge again. The posted wait time was 85 minutes but they only waited about 25 minutes. 

At 3:53 p.m. they went to Yoshi’s Adventure and only waited 7 minutes thanks to the express pass. 

Courtney grabbed some snacks from Yoshi’s Snack Island while the boys played games. All they wanted to do was play games and get keys. They had a blast. 

The park closed at 7 p.m. so just before 6 p.m. they went to get dinner from the Toad Cafe but it closed! It ended up being okay because the boys just wanted to play games. 

Courtney notes that many of the rides and restaurants closed before the park close. It was a wonderful day. 

They picked up some food on their way home and went to bed.

Pokemon Cafe and Travel (June 1)

They left the Airbnb around 9:30 a.m. and went to the Pokemon Cafe in the morning before making their way to the Himeji castle

Courtney booked their Pokemon Cafe reservation 30 days in advance and it was well worth it! They got hamburger meals and special pokemon drinks. It was wonderful. 

It was a character meal, but Pikachu comes out and dances, but doesn’t stop for photos or any interaction. 

They made their way to the Himeji castle. It was very easy to get there – about a 12 minute walk. After that they got some burgers and started their way to their Kyoto Airbnb. 

Fushimi Inari Gates (June 2) 

There was a lot of rain today due to a hurricane that hit the southern part of Japan. They got out a little later than they intended and it was already very crowded, even in the pouring rain. They went to Fushimi Inari Gates and it was just wall to wall people. 

They walked along the path outside the gates and as soon as they passed the first temple, there weren’t any people. Courtney recommends walking past the first temple, to avoid the crowds. 

They were getting very wet to Courtney and her son went back to get a cookie while her husband and son continued walking. 

More rain was coming, so they made their way back to the Airbnb to wait out the rain. They had a washer and dryer at their Airbnb so they could dry out. 

Later in the afternoon they went to Nishiki Market. It was open air but covered and they were able to try a lot of different foods. 

They walked to the Imperial Palace but it was already closed. They do not let people in until the closing time, when it’s closed, everyone will be out.

They weren’t quite ready to go to the Airbnb so they decided to go to a cat cafe. The kids really loved it! They played and pet the cats, which was so fun. 

They picked up some food and got dinner before going back to their Airbnb. 

Temples (June 3)

They took a bus to the furthest temple and then walked their way back visiting temples on their way. 

They did some shopping and just enjoyed the area for the morning. Around noon they went back to the Airbnb for a break and lunch. 

At 3 p.m. they went back out and tried to go to the Imperial Palace again. It was free and they walked around for about 30 minutes. It was pretty but Courtney says isn’t a must-see.

Now it was time for their tea ceremony. They got to wear a kimono for the experience. One of Courtney’s sons really loved getting to dress up.

They had a traditional tea ceremony that was family friendly. No one liked matcha tea unfortunately. The experience was really nice though. 

When they left, they stopped to get some pasta on their way home before going back to the Airbnb.

Arashiyama (June 4)

Courtney really liked this day a lot. She says she loved Kyoto a lot. 

They left the Airbnb at 7 a.m. to beat the crowds at Arashiyama – a bamboo grove. Thankfully there were very few people there and they could take their time. 

It was a wonderfully peaceful experience walking through the bamboo forest. There was an overlook and it was beautiful. 

They walked down around 8:30 a.m. and went to the gardens around the temple. They were very beautiful. 

Then they went to the Kimono garden. The tubes are colored like kimono and it was beautiful. Then they went to the monkey park! 

It was a very steep walk to get to where the monkeys are. There was a playground at the top and the kids loved it. 

When they got to the top, monkeys were just walking around. It was really cool. 

Then they took a bus to another temple and it was pretty but it was too far out of their way to really be worth their time. 

They went back to Nishiki Market to get some more snacks before going back to the Airbnb. It was very hot so they freshened up before going out to dinner. 

They went to a ramen place around the corner and it was just $25 for their whole family! It was a wonderful meal. 

Travel (June 5)

Their flight isn’t until the evening so they had a quiet morning before taking the train to the airport and flying home. 

They got window seats on their train to see Mt. Fuji on their way back to Tokyo. 

It was recommended that they arrive to the airport 4 hours early so they did. But they were the only ones going through security and customs. They had a lot of time once they got through.

Their flight was on time and they got home safely! 


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