Japan and China

December 26th – January 2, 2016

I’ve had a running idea or joke with my kids, since they were little, that I wanted to take them to every Disney park in the world. The two we haven’t visited were Disneyland Tokyo and Disneyland Hong Kong. After my trip in January of 2015 to the Philippines, were we had some time in Hong Kong, I have really wanted to take my family. So, I planned a whirl wind trip to take them to the Disney’s and get to see some of Asia during our Christmas Break.

Our flight was from DFW to Narita Tokyo leaving Dallas at 10:30. We got to the airport early so Susan and Natalie could get manicures in the Centurion lounge. After that, it was a 13.5 hour flight, direct to Narita. Tokyo is 15 hours ahead of us, so we would be arriving at 2PM the next day.

Upon arrival in Tokyo we made our way through immigration purchased tickets on the Friendly Limobus to the Disneyland area called Tokyo Bay.

We were staying at the Hilton Tokyo Bay, which is on Disney property and off the Monorail. It took about an hour to get there. We quickly checked in and went to our room. The room only had 2 twin beds. I asked for roll-away beds, but they were very expensive, so we would make do. One kid slept on a makeshift couch and the other slept on the floor. The funny thing about this was that when we prepared for sleep the next night, I was going to push the beds together. When I did that, I noticed that both beds had trundle beds underneath them. We easily rolled them out and then both kids had nice beds for the second night. This was one of the many examples of us having an issue with the language. Even the English speakers were difficult to communicate with.  The room was very nice, other than the bed situation, and more than a standard room. We had a view of Tokyo and Mt. Fiji. The Tokyo skyline at night was crazy. The bathroom was nice and the toilet had a fancy heated seat with several bidet type settings. This was common in all of Tokyo, even the public restrooms, plus they were all super clean. The room also had four pairs of slippers to put on in the room,none of which would fit our big American feet.

After we settled in to the room, we went to the Downtown Disney Area called Ikspiara. It was really just a shopping mall with restaurants and a Disney store (and a Krispy Kreme). We looked around and ate in a food court area. We got some noodles and tempura chicken and shrimp. We also got a burger and rice meal. This was our first attempt at having a meal with chopsticks. We walked around a grocery store, something we always like to do in a foreign country. After that, we went back to the hotel. It was quite cold outside and we weren’t prepared for it since we were still in our comfy travel clothes. When we got back to the hotel, they had completed our turn-down service. We each had a pair of Japanese pajamas laid out on our beds. They were straight thick fabric and were too small for all of us.  We each took a melatonin around 8pm and slept well until about 3am. Japan is a 15 hour time difference for us. It was weird that we could easily adjust to 12 hours but the last 3 was difficult the entirety of our trip.

Since we were up early, we got ready and went down to breakfast. Diamond members only got breakfast for 2 people, so Natalie and I had breakfast in the restuarant while Trey and Susan grabbed something in a bakery in the hotel. We were the only non-Japanese in the restuarant. The selection had American and lots of Japanese items like fish, sushi, seaweed and lot’s of other stuff that we wouldn’t touch. We did enjoy the fried rice and fried fish in addition to American fare. After we ate, we met Susan and Trey and went to Disneyland. On the way to the park, I lost one of our park tickets. Fortunatley, Disney in Asia is only half the price of Disney in the US, so I bought another ticket and it wasn’t a huge loss. We lined up to enter the park, about 30 minutes before it opened and the lines were already huge. Upon entereing, we rushed to get fastpasses to Monsters Ride and Go Seek, since it is a ride we do not have in America then we rushed to ride Space Mountian. It was a mad house already. By using the fastpasses, we were able to ride just about everything we wanted without to much of a wait. The one exception the 2.5 hour wait that Trey and I had for Splash Mountian. It was cold and the girls didn’t want to get wet, so they skipped the ride and did Snow White’s Scary Adventures (since that is an old favorite no longer at Disney World). By about 6, we had done almost everything and were pretty tired, so we called it a night. Here are some observations about Tokyo Disneyland:

-The park is really nice and clean, maybe moreso than in the states.
-It felt like about 99% of the people were locals.
-About 5% of the people wore hygiene masks.
-The toilets were super clean and had heated seats, bidets and fake water noises.
-Most of the people had Disney gear on, including silly hats.
-Groups of people would be dressed indentically, usually in the theme of a character.
-The rides are mostly in Japanese, including the songs.
-Popcorn is really popular. They had lots of different flavors, like Soy Sauce, Wasabi and Honey. Some of the popcorn lines were up to 45 minutes wait.
-There really weren’t any fat or handicap people. In the US, the parks are covered with them.
-The people dressed really stylish, including very impractical (in my opinion) shoes.
-The food is not as much of a big deal here. Everything was just OK. We did get a burger with a Mickey shaped bun and a Mickey Waffle with strawberry sauce that was great.

After we’d had our fill of Disneyland, we took the Monorail back to Ikspiara and had a burger. Then we went back to the hotel to turn in. The TV channels were all in Japanese. It was interesting watching it because the shows were pretty crazy.

This was our last full day in Japan, so we wanted to explore Tokyo. Susan and Trey had breakfast in the restaurant while Natalie and got some stuff at the bakery. I also went to the grocery store in the hotel and bought some different candies to try. We, then went to the Disneyland train station and caught a 15 minute train in to Tokyo Station. Natalie was nervous about the public train system because she had seen videos of how they push people in, like cattle, just to close the doors. Luckily, it was a holiday and the trains were not too crowded. At the station, we had a guide waiting on us to take us on a private tour. This was great decision because without her, it would have been much harder to get around. Her name was Aiyume (I, you, me). She had kids about the ages of our kids. She spoke really good English. Our first stop was to see the Imperial Palace. It’s been around for hundreds of years and is where the current Emperor lives, he is 82 years old. After that, we took the subway to a shrine that was for the major Japanese religion and then walked through the Harajuku district, including the awesome Takeshita Street. One of the most popular foods here were crepes. They were over the top and everywhere. She took us to lunch at an authentic Japanese restaurant. They even had the table where you have to take your shoes off can sit on your knees, although we chose the regular seating. Next, we walk down a really cool shopping street that she called “cat street” and then on to Shibuyu crossing. This is the Times Square of Tokyo. It’s super crowded and the street crossing is pretty crazy, when the cards stopped, pedestrians crossed the intersection going all directions, there were thousands of people. Next, we took the subway across town to the Asabuka district. Here, we went to a temple and Japanese garden. The walk to the temple is lined with stalls selling food and souvenirs. We took our time and bought a few things. When we were finished, Aiyume took us back to Tokyo Station and we said our goodbyes. We went back to the Hilton Tokyo Bay to gather our things and then took the Limosine bus to the airport. We were had an early flight the next morning, so were were staying at the Hilton Narita Airport. I got 2 connecting rooms with points, because it was so cheap.

We got ready pretty early and went down to breakfast at the hotel. Then, it was off to the airport for our flights to Hong Kong. We were on two different Cathay Pacific flights about an hour apart. We were all in First Class, though. We arrived early enough to go to the Cathay Pacific lounge for a while. When it was time, we walked Susan and Trey to their gate. Natalie and I then, did some shopping and went to the Admirals Club lounge until it was time for our flight. Both flights were great since we were in First Class. The movie selection and meal service were both great. It didn’t seem like 5 hours. When we landed, we met Susan and Trey and then headed to our hotel, the Hyatt Tsim Sha Tsui. This is the hotel that I had stayed at in January, so I knew what to expect. We freshened up in the room and then went to the lounge in time for horsdevors. Then, we went to the Ladies Market. We really enjoyed it, but had to leave so we could see the “Festival of Lights”. This is a 15 minute show that most of the buildings in Hong Kong do a synchronized laser and light show to music. It’s pretty impressive. Many of the buildings still had Christmas themed lights. When that was over, we went back to the Ladies Market and then to the Night Market. We bought lots of knockoff purses and shoes and even got some jerseys for Trey. We made it back to the hotel around 11 that night.

Today was Disneyland Hong Kong. After breafast in the lounge, we got a taxi to the park. We got there about an hour before it opened at 10, and there weren’t many people there yet. We were actually the 2nd group of people in line. We’d heard the Disneyland Hong Kong gets crowded later in the day. When the park opened, we hit the rides hard for about 3 hours and rode most of the rides, some more than once. This park is smaller and seemed much more relaxed. Some of the rides were quite a bit different, others were identical to the other parks. The Hong Kong rides were mostly in English. We loved the caramel and butter popcorn and Mickey waffles. By 6pm, we’d done everything we wanted to do, so we took the subway back to our hotel on Kowloon Island. We had inteneded to go back to the markets for a little more shopping and some street foods after a little rest at the hotel. Trey, however, fell asleep. Natalie and I went out to try to find some Bubble Tea. ALL of the streets in Hong Kong were closed to traffic because it was New Years Eve. It was really cool and festive as people wandered the streets and took pictures. We didn’t find any tea like we wanted, so we bought some cupcakes to take back to the room. We went to bed and set an alarm to see the fireworks. There was a very impressive firework show over Victoria Bay that we could hear and see a bit of. We could have gone up to the hotel lounge to see it, but we were too tired. Happy New Year!

Some notes on Disney Hong Kong:

  • the park was very small and easy to get around
  • most of the food was Chinese food and some of the carts had squid that smelled horrible
  • they were having their 10 year celebration while we were there
  • it was Sleeping Beauty’s castle & seemed extra small, but it had a beautiful back drop of mountains and a bay
  • we LOVED It’s a small world ride here because it incorporated Disney characters in their appropriate land and as you passed them on the boat you could hear them singing songs from their movies. Also, as you entered each room it had a sign saying where you were (Entering middle east…)
  • Mystic Manor was in place of the Haunted Mansion and it was similar to Toy Story Mania. You spun around in a car to see different things. It was not scary, just fun to watch.
  • Big Grizzly Mountain (no splash mountain) was in place of Big Thunder Mountain. It looked very similar and was in the same place in the park, but was an even better roller coaster that was fast and went BACKWARDS! We rode it several times in a row.
  • Toy Story land was so detailed and cute, Trey loved the RC racer ride (he did it twice by himself)

New Years Day was spent traveling to Beijing. We had breakfast in the lounge of the Hyatt and then took a cab to the train station in HKG, we checked in for our flight at the train station and took the train to the airport. We had a 3 hour flight to Beijing on Air China. It wasn’t too bad although the food wasn’t great. They also don’t let you have your phones out on Air China. They showed a movie but it was in Chinese. When we arrived in Beijing, we proceed through immigration quickly. We were only in Beijing for 22 hours, so we were able to use the free 72 hour transit visa. We (Susan & her Mom) had two concerns about being in Beijing. First was the red level smog warning that was issued last week and the second was the safety warning for “Westerners” that was issued on Christmas Day. As we arrived in Beijing, the smog was very noticeable. We had heard the air was actually a different color and breathing it in was the equivalent of smoking 21 cigarettes. It actually looked like a really foggy day, but the fog never burned off. It was crazy to see an airplane in the distance, but not really be able to see it. We were prepared an bought masks to wear while in Japan. Surprisingly not many locals were wearing masks, it was just normal life for them. As far as safety, we never felt like we were not safe.
Once out of the airport, we were met by our driver, Liu. He was supposed to take us to the hotel and then we were to do a tour of the city, but since we arrived early, we had him take us to the Great Wall. It took lots of work to make arrangements because he spoke NO English and my Chinese is limited to what I’ve learned at Panda Express. He took side streets to whole way to avoid traffic. Once we got there, everything was about to close, so he ran us to purchase tickets and get to the gondola up the wall. By the time we got there, we were all out of breath and Susan was gasping. The gondola we got was the same one that Michelle Obama and the girls rode on when they were here a few years earlier. Once we were there, it was spectacular. The sun was going down and it was beautiful. We had 45 minutes on the wall to walk around and explore some of the guard stations and take pictures. There was a little snow around and you did notice the smog because you could not see very far. At the bottom of the mountain, they had a village with people selling souvenirs and food. They even had a Burger King. We really wanted to eat there, but it had just closed when we passed it. It was now dark and our driver drove us to our hotel, the Grand Hyatt Beijing. It is in the heart of the city, close to Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City. Susan and I were floored when we got to Beijing. It was beautiful! It could have been London or Paris. It was nothing like we were expecting. The main avenue outside of the hotel was beautifully decorated for Christmas and the stores were mostly very upscale familiar stores. Once at the hotel, I checked in around 7:30pm, and we had a guide meet up with us to show us around Beijing, her name was Freya. She was a 30 year old Chinese lady that spoke good English and was surprisingly tall. The first stop was the night food markets. They had lots of unique foods like scorpions, silk worms, bees, tarantulas and baby sharks as well as a few things we tried, like fried potatoes and bananas. Next, they drove us around the Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square and all the government buildings. Everything was beautifully lit up. Then we walked down a few streets and did some souvenir shopping and got some bubble tea. We also walked through a mall that connected to our hotel that is nicer than anything we have in the US. We said goodbye to our guide and went to our room. The Grand Hyatt is awesome and the service is spectacular. Our room was a suite with a king bed, pull out sofa and we got a roll away. Susan judges most hotels by their showers and this one got two thumbs up. We went to the lounge for snacks and then went to look at the pool. It is called Oasis and is one of the coolest indoor pools we have ever seen. You think you are outside in a tropical setting. China censors it’s media, so there was a ban on social media sites and some American news. The Chinese people seemed to have a lot of pride in their country and were really nice.

Today we started the journey home. Trey and I got up early and went swimming in the Oasis pool. We then used the spa saunas, hot tubs and showers. We had breakfast in the lounge and were very excited that we could order pancakes. After breakfast we went to see Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City up close. It was around 21 degrees outside. Police and army men were everywhere. I’m not sure if this is normal or if something special was going on. We went into the Forbidden City and wandered aimlessly, it was REALLY hard to get around and know where we were because all the signs were in Chinese and no one spoke English. They wouldn’t let us go out the same way we came in, so we exited a long ways away from the hotel. We were getting worried about our flight so we caught a taxi back to the hotel. When we told the driver to go to the Hyatt, he did not understand so luckily we had it on the map on our phone so we could show him where to go. We quickly changed out of all of our layers, packed and caught another taxi to the airport. It took about an hour and 15 minutes to get through immigration and security. We purchased a few snacks in the airport (Starbucks!!) and then hopped our Air China flight to Los Angeles. The flight was 12 hours long. We landed in LA, cleared security and went to try to change our flight to Dallas. Since it was a busy time, we were not able to, so we had 9 hours until our flight. We rented a car to go do some exploring in LA. Our first stop was Roscoes Chicken and Waffles, by the airport. It was really good and some of the best fried chicken that I’ve ever had. Next, we drove on the PCH to Malibu to see Pepperdine. All the kids were still out of winter break, so the campus was empty. We did get to walk around and get a feel for the campus. It has a beautiful view and we were surprised that their were deer walking around campus everywhere. Next, we drove back up the cost and stopped at a beach to get our feet in the sand and water. We had planned on going to Disneyland to go eat and go in some of the stores, but traffic was horrible. Instead, we detoured to Beverly Hills and walk around a park that we have visited a few times before. After that, we went back to the airport, ate and waited in the Admirals Club until it was time to fly home. Every flight on our trip was on time and uneventful. We were pretty lucky considering the busy holiday travel season.

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