An Engaging and Magical Asian Adventure - Update 6/10 We finally make it to Tokyo Disney Sea!!

Flossbolna

Sea days are just so relaxing!
Joined
Sep 8, 2006
Introduction

Let’s start with a warning: This is not the freshest of all trip reports. Our trip was in summer 2017. Life got hectic with many things just after our trip and now it is finally slowing down and I have many notes and pictures from the trip, so I hope it will still write a trip report that is worth reading. I am definitely excited about sharing our adventures with you!

Not fresh?!?! You can get fresher seafood at the local Red Lobster! For my part, I will simply say that M and I have had a roller coaster few years. And it isn't easy to write on a roller coaster, believe me, I am always taking out my pen and journal on RnRC and Big Thunder! We have had all sorts of good, bad and ugly ... everything from my mom having her car stolen to hurricanes to health issues with family to weddings to ... to ... even spending the longest 45 minutes of my life in a Disney outlet store with a bunch of crazed wide-eyed newbies from ... from ... sorry, this is hard to get out ... from ... from ... Delaware! So, as you can see trip report writing just wasn't on our minds. Besides, I think we still owe a trip report from our January 2016 trip to Europa Park and DLP and Paris ... and I think we never finished a trip report from M's short visit to FL in February of 2017 and ... you get the point. But I can promise you two things here: 1.) This report will be worth it; and 2.) It will REALLY be worth it!

On to the hard facts about this trip:

Travel time:
June 28 to July 16, 2017

Destinations visited:
Shanghai Disneyland, Shanghai, Tokyo Disney Resort, Tokyo and Kyoto

Travelers:
Me (Magdalene) and my – then boyfriend, now – husband Michael

Yes, she used the Dark Arts and Black Magic and somehow gained a husband. Please, please save meeeeeeee!!!!!!

Authors of the trip report:
Mainly me – in this lovely blue color – and some comments from Michael – in dark red.
I do look so good in red, don't I?

Some more background:
This trip had been talked about between us for years. Michael had been to China and Japan before and wanted to go back, I had plans to go to Japan even before I knew Michael. So, when we started dating, we quickly figured out that this was a trip that we really wanted to do together. We already had a tentative date once already, but then changed our travel plans. I am not sure if we ended up going to California instead or on one of our cruises?
I think the first plan was a late 2014 trip and we figured it was going to cost too much after our DCL Panama Canal cruise, so naturally we took another DCL voyage and went to WDW to save money. I will now pause for 60 seconds for y'all to laugh as much as you require. Anyway, at some point in 2016 I had seen some really good airfare to Japan with a stopover in China from Europe (I am German and live in Germany, Michael is from Florida and is splitting his time between Germany and the US, yes it is unconventional, but it works for us) which got us thinking that we should combine a visit to Shanghai Disneyland with Japan.

So, sometime in the dark weeks of a German January we sat down and looked at the feasibility of doing that trip in the summer.
Actually, we started getting serious about it in August of 2016 while sitting at a lovely little café in a nearby college town in Germany on a warm day. We knew that summer was going to be hot there, but one of us had a special birthday coming up in July (I hate to admit it, but I did indeed turn 35. I know I look amazing but 'tis true.) and we thought it would be nice to celebrate the birthday with a special trip.

And things started to fall into place very quickly. A short search produced good fares and we ended up booking open jaw tickets from Nuremberg, where we live in Germany, via Zurich to Shanghai and then back from Tokyo via Munich to Nuremberg for 650 € per person. At first we had planned to book a flight on a no-frills carrier from Shanghai to Tokyo, but then realized that we could use Lufthansa Miles & More miles for booking tickets on ANA. This worked out great as Lufthansa charges silly high fees for booking with miles on their own flights, but using the miles on ANA we just paid 15 € each in taxes.

In hindsight, I sometimes thought when planning the trip that we should have either arrived in Osaka or left from there as it would have eliminated backtracking from Kyoto to Tokyo. But it really was a minor issue and the trip ended up being so wonderful as it was, that I am very happy with our plans now.
This trip was as close to perfect as one could be, but originally I wanted to go to Osaka to -- naturally -- see Universal Studios Japan. My other half, now known as the old ball and chain, gently put her foot on my throat and explained that we were doing enough theme park touring and so ... we'll just have to take another trip in the future.

We ended up getting the Japan Railpass for the travel between Tokyo and Kyoto and were able to use it for some shorter train trips, too. We did break even, but only saved a small amount. However, it made things really easy. I thought for a long time that trains were amazing in Europe. Well, once you visit Asia, you aren't nearly as impressed.

I will get more into details about the hotels we stayed at when we get to them. All in all we found early July to be a time when there was plenty of availability at decent prices in hotel rooms. You could tell that it was not a typical travel season.

For the Disney portions of our trip both the www.disneytouristblog.com and www.tdrexplorer.com websites provided a wealth of information. I can highly recommend both of these resources.

With regard to Japan in general I have to admit that I had difficulty in finding resources that were good for me. I had the Lonely Planet Japan, which was good, but somewhat not enough detail for the two places we wanted to visit. So, I got the Lonely Planet pocket guide for Tokyo and the normal Lonely Planet for Kyoto, too. Then I felt a bit overwhelmed with info for the short time we were there. I looked at some good internet resources out there as well, one was www.japan-guide.com, which were good, but sometimes overwhelming, too. In hindsight I think I should have chilled a bit more. We did not have that much time anyway and it is always easy to pick out some of the big sights and move on.


I have to admit something here that will shock you, so sit down. I can be lazy at times. M is an amazing trip planner and once it was obvious this trip was going to happen, I just sat back and let her run as wild as Delaware kids in a Disney outlet store!

If you have any questions about the planning process, let me know and I will be happy to help!!

I will add a few preview pictures to this first post to tide you over until the next update!

































Up Next: Travel Day
 
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Flossbolna

Sea days are just so relaxing!
Joined
Sep 8, 2006
Table of Contents:

Introduction (above this post)
Day 0: Travel Day
Day 1: Shanghai Disneyland, Toy Story Hotel

Day 2: Shanghai Disneyland
Day 3: Disneytown and Shanghai
Day 4: Travel to Tokyo, Hilton Tokyo Bay, Ikspiari
Day 5: Tokyo Disneyland
Day 6: Tokyo Disney Sea
Day 7: Tokyo Disneyland
Day 8: Tokyo Disney Sea
Day 9: Tokyo Sightseeing (Ginza, Ueno Park)
Day 10: Shopping in Ikspiari, Edo-Tokyo Museum
Day 11: Travel to Kyoto, shopping at Kyoto Station, RIHGA Royal Hotel Kyoto
Day 12: sightseeing in Kyoto, Higashi Hongan-ji
Day 13: more Kyoto, Imperial Palace
Day 14: Kyoto Tower, Nijo Castle
Day 15: Travel to Tokyo, Hotel New Otani Tokyo
Day 16: A return to Toky Disneyland
Day 17: More Tokyo Sightseeing (Shinjuku Goyen Park, Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Day 18: Flying Home
 
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  • Flossbolna

    Sea days are just so relaxing!
    Joined
    Sep 8, 2006
    Looking forward to days 13, 14 and 16!
    :welcome: Baby Sister! Well, that was before I was done editing that post! My husband called and I just saved what I had until then. You might want to have a look again and see the wonderful itinerary all laid out!

    Subbing in! Will be back to read later!
    :welcome: Great to see you here!

    I’m here! I’m here!
    :welcome: I hope you will enjoy the report, there is a reference to you coming up!

    I’m in! Thanks for the heads up. This looks like it will feel incredibly exotic. Back later to read.
    :welcome: I can tell that you haven't read the introduction yet - otherwise the comment would have been different! :rolleyes1
     
  • Flossbolna

    Sea days are just so relaxing!
    Joined
    Sep 8, 2006
    Day 0:

    June 28, 2017 – Travel Day (including the evening before...)

    Our flight was scheduled to leave from the airport at 10:25 a.m., so we had to leave the house at 8 a.m. to get to the airport. Despite the early start we managed to be quite organized and got packed in time. We even celebrated the start of the vacation with pizza and ice cream the evening before!

    Michael had an Amarena cherry sundae:



    I had a Spaghetti Eis sundae:



    Spaghetti Eis is incredibly popular in Germany. It is actually just vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, strawberry sauce and white chocolate sprinkles. So, kind of basic. But the way it is arranged is what makes is special. The whipped cream is on the bottom, then the vanilla ice cream gets pressed through a potato ricer. Sauce and sprinkles on top and you have your spaghetti! I love it because the ice cream on top of the whipped cream causes the whipped cream to freeze.

    We shared a pizza at our local little place:



    It all went smoothly with getting to the airport the next morning and I was very happy about this as I expected to run into some issues at the airport. And my expectations were fulfilled.

    See, if you want to fly to China, you need a visa. The airlines are very keen on preventing people aboard their planes that are not allowed to enter the country they fly to as the airlines would then be responsible to return those passengers and they are going to be fined by the destination. So, if you fly abroad, they want to see that you have the correct documentation. That’s fine with me. The problem is that those visa rules are intricate and, of course, the check-in agents are no experts, so they need to rely on a database with all the rules. And this database appears to insist that you have to have a visa if you travel to China.

    However, there is an exemption to this rule: The so called “144-hour-visa-free-transit”. This rule applies to various of the larger cities in China, one of them Shanghai and says that you do not need a visa if you are transiting through China and do not stay longer than 144 hours (i.e. 6 days). A transit is flying from country A to China to country B (only looking at the direct flight to and from China, not your overall starting point and end point). So, for us this worked brilliantly. We were flying from Switzerland to Shanghai for three days and then on to Japan.

    I had read many reports of people having trouble at smaller airports with the check-in agents not knowing this exemption and not finding it in their database. One issue is that the exemption can only be found if China is put in not as destination, but as transit point. I had read a lot about this on www.flyertalk.com, a forum for frequent flyers, and the info there was very good.

    So, we got to the check-in for the Swiss Air flight to Zurich at our small airport and there are only two counters open, both without a line and start the process. We had actually checked in online without issues, but at the counter the agent asks for our passports and I give them to her and tell her that we are using the 144-hours-visa-free-transit exemption. Of course she did not listen and after a couple of minutes complains that there are no visas in our passports. So, I tell her again. She tells me that this is not in her computer. I tell her about that China is our transit, so she says that she needs to see our boarding passes for the next flight. Of course we had none. You couldn’t check in yet for a flight three days later! She kind of kept insisting that this was our problem, but I kept telling her that no, I was sure that it worked the way I said. In the end she called her supervisor and he or she knew about it and said to let us on the flight.


    I fully expected there to be an issue as I had read horror stories about people not being allowed to board their flights due to ignorant employees of various airlines worldwide. But M is forgetting that she called to the airline about a week before we left to sorta give them the heads up that we were going to be traveling visa free to China.

    Well, I did call, but that did not really change anything. They just told me to look at their webpage on the internet and there I could find the rule. So, I knew it was in the computer. What I ddi not expect was that she was going to ask for boarding passes for a flight four days later.

    All in all it took about 10 minutes and I was really glad that we were there early, so I felt confident that there was no issue about missing the flight or so. But you do feel strange if you block one of the two check-in desks for a considerable amount of time and everyone in line thinks that you are some cumbersome people making life difficult for everyone…


    Nah, doesn't bother me at all.

    So, the 144-hours-visa-free-transit is a great thing for people thinking about stopovers in Shanghai (or Beijing for that matter) on a trip to Japan or Hong Kong. But, make sure that you understand the rules and plan on having to be pushy at the airport and bring some extra time.

    With that done we got through security and finally got some breakfast at the airport café (yes, there is only one, it is a tiny airport!):



    The pretzel looked better than it was unfortunately.

    Our view at breakfast:



    And the morning continued to be not so great after the pretzel as well. The flight coming in from Zurich was delayed, so we were told that our departure was going to be delayed by 20 minutes. These 20 minutes turned into 45 minutes, because we needed to be bussed to our plane and there was no bus available!


    We seem to have gotten into this place where either we or our family or close friends always seems to have travel issues with planes, trains and ... and ... bikes ... sorry, couldn't think of a third. (Now he has jinxed my daily commute to work via bike! I really do not want to start getting travel issues with my bike now!)

    But we made it to Zurich and I got a nice picture of the lovely countryside there:



    All the delays resulted in us having considerably less time in Zurich to change planes. And of course there was suddenly incredibly long lines at the passport control to leave the country. So bad, that there was a backlog even up the escalator from the passport control area. We saw that and then remembered that we had just passed some lifts going down to passport control, so we went back there, went down and ended up in a sea of people, but ultimately got a much shorter line than those who were on the escalator. Once we were allowed to leave the Schengen-Area, we took the shuttle to our terminal and just arrived at the gate for our flight to board.

    At the gate we had another passport check by people who appeared to be Chinese officials. They were not complaining about the lack of visa in our passport, but I think they wanted to see our confirmation for the flight to Japan.

    And then we we were ready to settle into our seats for the flight! This was going to be the first time in our relationship that we were flying together for a transcontinental flight and I was so happy that I finally had someone in the seat next to me whom I knew and liked! During the course of our relationship we both have done a lot of flying across the Atlantic, but always alone, so it was such a nice change!


    Nice?!?! The crazy woman next to me, who is now my favorite wife, is not a great seatmate. I think she got up about every 17.2 minutes. Whenever I was comfy or getting into watching a movie or TV show, someone just had to get up. Just be warned if you were planning on sitting next to her in the future.

    :confused3 At least I don't have to worry about either of us getting deep vein thrombosis from the cramped economy seats.

    The plane was an older A340-300 which I like because it has a 2-4-2 configuration, so Michael and I could have a window and aisle seat just for the two of us. We both have flown Swiss a number of times in recent years and find their service to be quite good. And this flight was no exception.

    I was impressed that I got a full can of Coke Zero for my drink service – and even an Asian one!



    Michael started the long flight with a Bloody Mary:



    For our meals I chose the vegetarian entrée, which was “sponsored” by a restaurant that has been a vegetarian restaurant since 1898!



    It was a pasta dish that was a bit bland, but ok:



    On the top you can see some kind of cherry cake for dessert, a package of a Swiss cheese Tete de Moin (which means monk’s head) and a little bowl of Swiss sausage salad. The last is a speciality made out of small pieces of bologna, pickles, onion and Swiss Cheese in a vinaigrette dressing. I think you can find this on the buffet at Biergarten in Epcot and it seems to be popular in Switzerland just as in Germany.

    Michael had the beef dish instead:



    The first of many Asian beef dishes.

    The flight took an interesting route across the Balkan region, getting out on the Black Sea at the Bulgarian Coast, then across the Black Sea, over Georgia and Azerbaijan, across the Caspian Sea and then over Kazakhstan to China – avoiding all kind of countries in the area like Ukraine, Iran, Turkmenistan, Russia. The line of the flight was not nearly as neat as it would be when flying over the Atlantic.

    I took a picture of the flight path over Kazakhstan in honor of my friend @Steppesister:



    The flight left Zurich at 1:05 p.m. and was due to arrive at 7:05 a.m. in Shanghai – which would be 1:05 a.m. for us. Our plan was to check into our hotel after arrival and then hit Shanghai Disneyland immediately on the first day.


    What smart planning on our part, right?

    I can usually sleep whenever and wherever I want. Of course on this flight sleep just did not happen for me. I think I managed to sleep for maybe one hour before we got served breakfast. I was getting very nervous about how sensible our plan was…

    I never sleep on planes unless I am in the front. And since M and I started this wild ride together, I have hoarded miles and haven't sniffed Business let alone First. Sleeping while sitting up on top of other people with constant movement just doesn't allow me to sleep. Plus, as someone who has lived and worked in China, I was so excited to get back to one of my favorite countries and see a brand new city and a truly brand new theme park!

    Plane breakfast was not exciting:



    I don’t like those reheated omelets, they are never good. The potatoes were soggy but tasty.

    And then we landed in Shanghai!



    Yes, quite different from Switzerland. The air was hazy for most of our time there. Some of it was true fog/haze caused my heat and humidity, but a lot of it was air quality issues. We ended up with some blue sky though and neither of us had any bad side effect from the air. However, as a precaution I upped my asthma inhaler dose to the level that I use when the pollen is flying and that worked well.


    I was pleasantly surprised by how much sun we got. I spent months living in Beijing in 2008 as part of the organizing team for the Olympiad and the smog there was unlike anything I have ever experienced. My American volunteers were coughing up and blowing out black gunk. But I will add that it never bothered me physically at all.

    After landing there was an interesting announcement that you needed to go to quarantine inspection if you have any sign of illness. I was very glad that we both felt totally healthy. They also told us that we were not allowed to bring cockroaches into China. Another sigh of relief that we did not pack any of those!

    Yes, besides, my dear, where would we get them? Everyone knows there are no bugs in Germany!

    And then it was time to get off the plane – and I had a huge shock! While on the plane I had put some of the Chinese cash that we had exchanged in Germany into my little travel wallet so that it would be easily accessible when it came to paying the taxi that we intended to take. And when I packed my things, I could not find that little wallet. Unfortunately it never reappeared (I even made a claim with Swiss for a lost item) and with that the trip had immediately gotten 100 € more expensive. Luckily I had not put all our cash nor any credit cards in the wallet, so it was just the loss of the money. To this day I have no clue what happened and can only imagine that instead of putting it in my bag, I put it next to the bag and with landing it wandered up or down the plane and someone found it and pocketed it.

    I am pleasantly surprised she included this detail as I was told when it happened to never speak of it again 'or else!' ... I guess that is one advantage of writing the trip report so late, the embarrassment about my own stupidity has decreased a little. M felt awful about this and all I can think of is that in one of her approximately 58 times she went through her bag in the dark, it fell out and wound up in the hands of a less than honest person. It wasn't a great start, but not the end of the world, either. And, honestly, it was the only bad thing that happened the entire trip. ... should I have done a spoiler alert deal here? Many things were plentiful on this trip ... great hotels, dining delights, heat ... but not drama. This was it!

    Luckily, the rest of the arrival in China was smooth. We found the special 144-hour-transit booth at the passport control. There was no line but it did take some time to process the one person ahead of us, so it took about 15 to 20 minutes for us to go through. We found our luggage and then headed to the official taxi stand at the airport without any issues of people trying to sell us alternative transport or so. The official taxi stand is very well signposted and once there, there is someone assigning the taxi to you.

    I was surprised Pudong International was so quiet even early in the morning!

    Our destination was the Toy Story Hotel at Shanghai Disneyland. The taxi driver was very nice, but did not speak any English. I had printed out the address of the hotel from the Chinese website and showed him the printed address. This seemed to confuse him, but then he saw the Mickey head on the print out and got excited and said “Disney”! We said yes and with that he knew exactly where to go and drove us there without any issue:

    He was so excited to have westerners in his cab and knew exactly where to take us ... I should add that as soon as we stepped outside, I immediately remembered what China was like in summer. Hint: it makes Orlando feel pleasant by comparison!



    Next Up: Our first day at Shanghai Disneyland
     
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    dizneeat

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Apr 9, 2006
    Saving my spot and going to read lateron ......... we leave for Florida on Wednesday and I have loads of stuff still to do. But I promise, this will be my nighttime read today! :)
     

    Haley R

    With all the strength of a raging fire
    Joined
    Sep 3, 2017
    I’m following along! We are going in May and want to do TDR, then Kyoto and surrounding areas, then finish back up in Tokyo.
     

    Flossbolna

    Sea days are just so relaxing!
    Joined
    Sep 8, 2006
    Dear readers, my husband has alerted me to the fact that I forgot to change the color on some of his writings in the introduction. This has been corrected now!

    Saving my spot and going to read lateron ......... we leave for Florida on Wednesday and I have loads of stuff still to do. But I promise, this will be my nighttime read today! :)
    :welcome: Karin! Have a great trip! At least the current heat wave should have prepared you well for Florida!

    I’m following along! We are going in May and want to do TDR, then Kyoto and surrounding areas, then finish back up in Tokyo.
    :welcome: That sounds similar to our itinerary! May after golden week is supposed to be a great time! We actually loved early July in Japan despite the heat, but it did affect our touring as we did not get to see as much as I had originally thought.
     
  • Haley R

    With all the strength of a raging fire
    Joined
    Sep 3, 2017
    Dear readers, my husband has alerted me to the fact that I forgot to change the color on some of his writings in the introduction. This has been corrected now!



    :welcome: Karin! Have a great trip! At least the current heat wave should have prepared you well for Florida!



    :welcome: That sounds similar to our itinerary! May after golden week is supposed to be a great time! We actually loved early July in Japan despite the heat, but it did affect our touring as we did not get to see as much as I had originally thought.
    We might be going in June now. I was supposed to get bonus points on my credit card but they said it will be on the next statement. We are trying to book an award flight and the May flights are going away. I think at this point I don’t care as long as we still get to go.
     

    Flossbolna

    Sea days are just so relaxing!
    Joined
    Sep 8, 2006
    We might be going in June now. I was supposed to get bonus points on my credit card but they said it will be on the next statement. We are trying to book an award flight and the May flights are going away. I think at this point I don’t care as long as we still get to go.
    We were at TDR for Tanabata Days and thought it was such a nice event. So, going in June you will be able to take advantage of that as well! And I totally understand your thinking! It's an amazing trip and there are advantages to all seasons. So, as long as you don't pick golden week, it should be fine. Hope you can book the flights soon!
     

    Haley R

    With all the strength of a raging fire
    Joined
    Sep 3, 2017
    We were at TDR for Tanabata Days and thought it was such a nice event. So, going in June you will be able to take advantage of that as well! And I totally understand your thinking! It's an amazing trip and there are advantages to all seasons. So, as long as you don't pick golden week, it should be fine. Hope you can book the flights soon!
    I’m not sure what that is but I’ll look it up! We definitely won’t go during golden week. Is it pretty busy in June or not too bad?
     

    glennbo123

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    May 10, 2008
    Subbing! Thanks for the heads-up and congratulations to both of you on your matrimony! I literally walked in the door a couple of hours ago after returning from Aulani, so please forgive me if I don't get back to read for a while.
     

    glennbo123

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    May 10, 2008
    Is this supposed to look like Imagineer Joe Rohde? 'Cause it does!



    Spaghetti Eis is incredibly popular in Germany.
    Very cool! I've never seen that.

    I guess that is one advantage of writing the trip report so late, the embarrassment about my own stupidity has decreased a little.
    Wow, nothing ever goes wrong in trips that I plan. :rolleyes: Sorry that happened though, I know it is a terrible feeling.

    Great start to your trip! I'd be a little nervous traveling to Asia...the language and writing are so different. At least in Europe I can manage with the language barrier a little bit. I know I couldn't do that in Asia.

    On a different note Magdalene -- you may be pleased to hear that Marlene is in Paris right this moment! She is living out her long-held dream of visiting France (and Paris in particular) this summer. She is visiting the french exchange student we hosted (once officially, once unofficially) in Marseille and they are visiting Paris right now for a couple of days.
     

    dolphingirl47

    In Search of the Tag Fairy
    Joined
    Dec 25, 2007
    I could no resist any longer so I am here. I am missing China something rotten at the moment even though I have only been back less than 2 months and I am going again in December.

    I think the first plan was a late 2014 trip and we figured it was going to cost too much after our DCL Panama Canal cruise
    I am glad that you went on this as I got to meet you on this cruise.

    This worked out great as Lufthansa charges silly high fees for booking with miles on their own flights, but using the miles on ANA we just paid 15 € each in taxes.
    That sounds like a bargain.

    we'll just have to take another trip in the future.
    It is always good to have an incentive to go back.

    I thought for a long time that trains were amazing in Europe. Well, once you visit Asia, you aren't nearly as impressed.
    I came to the same conclusion when we took to the bullet trains in China.

    I had a Spaghetti Eis sundae:

    Oh, I so wish I could have one of these right now. I used to love them.

    And this database appears to insist that you have to have a visa if you travel to China.
    I can assure you it does not. I used to work with this database on a daily basis and it very clearly explains about the visa free transit, but it is so wordy that people tend to not bother reading it all.

    Our plan was to check into our hotel after arrival and then hit Shanghai Disneyland immediately on the first day.
    Goodness, you are brave.

    Unfortunately it never reappeared (I even made a claim with Swiss for a lost item) and with that the trip had immediately gotten 100 € more expensive.
    Oh, what a pain. I am sorry that you never found this again.

    Corinna
     

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