In late August 2017, we went to Tokyo. It’s been on our list of places to visit for quite some time so when a deal showed up in July, we didn’t hesitate to book! We flew United there and ANA back and both flights were great. The flight is around 9 hours long and unfortunately being a mid-day flight, Milana didn’t sleep much going there but slept for a few hours coming home. We used the 1st Class Kid travel pillow on the plane for her, which made the flight comfortable for her. We got to our first hotel around 11pm, went to bed and woke up adjusted to Tokyo time. Coming home, Milana was adjusted from day one. We landed at 11am, she went to bed at her regular time and woke up around 9 am like always. I don’t know how this kid never experiences jet lag and adjusts to time zones so easily (this was an 8 hour time difference for us) but it makes travel with her a breeze not having to worry about that!
Tip: Get a credit card that gives you lounge access (we use the Chase Sapphire Reserve). Our flight from LAX was delayed (after we boarded and were about to take off, smoke filled the cabin so we had to deplane and wait 3 hours, a first ever delay for us which is shocking given how much we fly!) so the lounge came in useful. There are several lounges you can use with your Priority Pass at LAX, and while some are small, it beats sitting in the waiting area with everyone else. And the free food/drinks are great if you’re traveling with kids!
We flew into Narita airport, which means we had to take a train to Shinjuku, where our first hotel was. The trains are super easy to figure out in Japan. The fare was around $60 for 2 adults and Milana was free. The ride was around an hour long, in comfortable assigned seats. You don’t have to purchase tickets ahead of time, you can do so when you get there. The train wasn’t packed at all and we had a great trip to the hotel. Just to give you an idea, a taxi ride from Narita would have cost $280 so this was a steal in comparison!
Because we wanted to explore different parts of Tokyo, we stayed in several different hotels during our stay. Our first night, we used Priceline because we knew we were arriving late/checking out early so we didn’t care what we got. It worked out well because we didn’t arrive til nearly 11 due to the delay, basically just sleeping and heading out first thing in the morning. We got the Shinjuku Granbell Hotel for less than $100 and it was perfect for a quick night. I know some people mention the area is shady, but we had no issues and didn’t stay long enough to notice. The rooms here are tiny though, so I don’t recommend staying here for your entire trip. You can’t open your luggage and walk at the same time!
The next day, I used one of my Hyatt award nights at the Park Hyatt. Now we probably should have saved this for the end of our stay because it’s one of the best properties we have ever stayed in and set the bar very high for other hotels! Because of my status, we were able to check in by 10am and out at 4pm the next day, which means we got to enjoy the area and room for much longer than normal. This property is amazing! The room was one of the best we have ever had. Huge, great views with some of the best amenities we have ever had in a hotel. The mini bar was stocked with (free!) drinks and the espresso machine was an awesome addition which we utilized a lot! The bathroom was huge with a huge tub and separate shower and they really cater to families with kids. They left Milana a small toy and kid friendly toiletries and utensils/cups for her to use. If you can stay here, do it! It was the best hotel during our stay.
Since I had two free Hyatt nights, I chose the Andaz as our next property. Again just like the Park Hyatt, our room was ready by 10 am with a 4pm check out. This is another beautiful property, though the location isn’t as great as the Park Hyatt. It was perfect for one night because we were able to walk to the Tokyo Tower and Zojoji temple from this hotel. Our room was great here as well, with a huge bed, roll away bed for Milana and a ton of seating. The bathroom was great with one of the best tubs we’ve had in a hotel. Milana thoroughly enjoyed her bath time here! The mini bar was stocked with (again free) snacks and drinks and it was perfect.
After the Andaz, we headed to the Courtyard Tokyo Station. I used points for this stay, making it another free hotel. The location was great, just a short walk to Tokyo station. We went to Disney from this hotel since Tokyo station has a direct train to the parks. The room was smaller than Marriotts in the US but still nice. And again because of my status, we had a 4pm check out time which was great! I forgot to take photos of our room here, but it’s a good hotel with a great location for a couple of nights.
Our last hotel was the Keio Plaza hotel, for 4 nights. This (besides the first hotel) is the only portion of the trip where we paid for hotels! When I found out they had Hello Kitty rooms, I knew we had to stay there. We stayed at their Shinjuku location, which was a really good location. A very quick walk to Shinjuku station and right by a ton of restaurants, shops and other attractions. A great base for your Tokyo visit! I have a separate post with lots of photos of our Hello Kitty room which you can see by clicking the link.
THINGS TO DO
There is so much to do in Tokyo with kids, your days will undoubtedly be full! I highly recommend having at least 10 days to truly explore the city without rushing. We could have easily spent a few more weeks and still not see it all!
One day, we went to Tokyo Dome City to an awesome indoor playground called Aso Bono. This is one of the best indoor playgrounds we have been to and a must do with young kids. They have a huge area with a ball pit, slides and a climbing structure. Then, there are separate rooms with themes. There’s a huge room with trains and cars, another with a restaurants and kitchen, a supermarket, game room, library and many others. It’s bound to keep your kid busy for hours! In the summer months and on popular days, they charge by the hour. You pay for the hour and then pay the remaining balance when you leave. On less popular days, you can buy a day pass, which is a much better value! There are a ton of things to do in this area, including a small amusement park, so you can easily spend half a day here and not run out of things to do.
Another fun place to explore is the Tokyo Character Street, located in the Tokyo Station. We explored this area while staying at the Marriott, since this hotel was closest to Tokyo Station and we didn’t want to make a special trip just for it. There are many stores here, each with a different character theme. Milana loved seeing them all, especially the Hello Kitty store which seems to be everywhere in Tokyo!
Also while at the Marriott, we went to Disney Sea. Tokyo station has a direct train that takes you to the parks, so we decided to go from this hotel. While it was nice to see, we weren’t impressed. It’s honestly nothing spectacular and I much prefer our parks here in CA. If you’re a huge Disney fan, by all means go. But we would totally skip it next time we went. Here in the US parks, the character lines are well controlled and an orderly line is formed. In Tokyo, there is no order and these people will stab you just to get in front of your small child. The Japanese people are some of the most polite people you will ever encounter on your travels, but all bets are off at Disney! We took one character photo and decided losing a limb wasn’t worth it since we have them here at home!
We spotted these girls walking around in their beautiful kimonos and asked if Milana can take a picture with them. They were really nice and posed with her. I love their outfits!
One of the most popular snacks at Disney Sea is the popcorn. Each cart has a different flavor and a different bucket to choose from. We tried a few and gave up, none were good and the lines (like 45 minutes long at each cart, even water carts!) weren’t worth it. We will stick to our traditional popcorn!
The best part of Disney Sea is Mermaid Lagoon. It was great because it’s all indoors, away from the heat. They had some of the same rides we have (though their jumping jellyfish is completely different!) and the mermaid playground was fun for Milana to explore. We also saw a show here in the theater.
The main snack I wanted to try was the little green men mochi. I gave up hope after seeing the lines for snacks all over the park, but was delighted to spot a cart with these and no one in line! We got two orders to start with, and ended up ordering 3 more! These are amazing, each one filled with a different flavor (strawberry, vanilla or chocolate). We also had shaved ice from Sultan’s Oasis. I chose strawberry and Milana chose Asian pear. And we also tried the Sultan’s sundae.
On your way out of the park, stop by the snack store. They sell so many different snacks, you’re bound to find something you like!
We took the monorail to the park and the details were so cute! The windows were Mickey shaped and had characters on them and the handles had Mickey ears. Super cute! Though I must say, how tacky of Disney to charge to ride their own monorail from their own hotels to their own parks. The short monorail ride cost more than the ride from Tokyo station to the parks!
Another must visit is the Tsukiji Fish Market. Many people go early to see the famous tuna action, but we weren’t about to wake up at 3am so we were happy to go walk around and eat at 9am. There are a lot of vendors here, selling everything from fruit to snacks and everything in between. Milana loved this place and ate so much food! She is a very adventurous eater at just 5 years old, and will at least try something before declaring she doesn’t like it. Her favorite was this fish with corn on a stick, she ate the entire thing! She also liked the tamagoyaki, a Japanese omelet. The vendor that sold these had a huge line of locals, so we had to try it. I wasn’t a fan, way too much sugar and something about sugar and eggs just doesn’t seem right! They also had really good shumai, another thing Milana devoured! And shrimp, head and all, that she loved as well. But the highlight was trying some fresh sushi. Milana ate the tuna roll all by herself, it’s safe to say it was her favorite! And of course, miso soup. That’s the first thing she asked for when we landed and had it every morning for breakfast in Tokyo!
One of our favorite things to do when we travel is visit children’s museums. While Tokyo didn’t have the traditional one, they had something better-Kidzania! This is one of our favorite places ever. Milana has been to the Bangkok and London one, and now Tokyo. The premise here is really cool. Kids get to try out real jobs and earn money while doing so. Unlike others we have been to, Tokyo is really organized. You make appointments for places you want to try instead of wasting all day waiting in line. Wednesday is English day but we went on a Sunday and she had no issue with the language barrier. She is not phased by foreign languages (Bangkok wasn’t English speaking either) and jumped right into the activities without hesitation. You have to reserve your time slot online for this location (they have morning and afternoon sessions), unlike other places we’ve been to. And you can use your Kidzania currency from other locations if you happen to have some left over, which we did from London. I highly recommend this if you have kids between 4-12 or so. It’s Milana’s favorite place and we are looking forward to the 3 upcoming US locations.
As you can see from this video, the language barrier was no issue for her!
Of course, no trip with small kids is complete without checking out local playgrounds. Our Park Hyatt was located directly across Shinjuku’s Central Park, which had an awesome playground. They also have a splash pad area, but it wasn’t open when we went early in the morning. If you only visit one park, check this one out!
Another playground we stumbled upon was near the Andaz. Nothing spectacular, but enough to get some kid energy out!
One of the places that was a must on our list was Sanrio Puroland. This is an indoor amusement park, about a 30 minute train ride from Shinjuku. As you can guess by the name, it’s filled with Sanrio characters including Hello Kitty. If you know the day you are going, you can buy cheaper tickets on deal sites online but we didn’t want to plan ahead so we just paid when we got there. This place is great! They have rides, shows and an awesome restaurant with themed foods. I highly recommend it for Hello Kitty fans! We honestly enjoyed this much more than Disney.
While in Tokyo, we walked a ton! There are so many places to explore. About a 20 minute walk from the Andaz hotel is the Tokyo Tower. We walked over one morning to check it out.
And just a few minutes from here, is the Zojoji Temple. We loved seeing this and exploring the grounds. It’s not the most popular temple in Tokyo, but that didn’t bother us. We still enjoyed seeing it! You can see the Tokyo Tower in the background, making for some great photos.
One thing you will notice when walking around Tokyo is the vending machines. They are everywhere and you can buy pretty much everything in them, from water and soda to coffee and tea (hot and cold, red labels means it’s hot and blue cold), snacks and pretty much everything in between.
One of the most popular areas of Tokyo is Takeshita Street. It’s super crowded pretty much all the time, so keep that in mind before you drag a stroller here! It’s in the famous Harajuku district, so you may see some dressed up girls while here.
After seeing picture on Instagram of the famous cotton candy at the Totti Candy Factory, I knew we had to go! Just as expected, the line was out the door but moving fast. The cotton candy is huge and definitely photo worthy!
Takeshita street is fun to walk around in, eat some yummy food and shop. This is a must see while in Tokyo!
The Shibuya crossing is another must see while in Tokyo! Head to the 2nd floor of Starbucks for the best view. This is the busiest crosswalk in the world, where all 5 sides cross at the same time. I’ve seen it on tv, but it was really cool to see in person!
Malls are very popular in Tokyo and while we didn’t visit many, we did go to the Skytree one. It had several levels, each one with a different theme. It was fun to see and the best part was the train, which dropped you off in front of it so you don’t have to walk far to get to it. This is a great place for a rainy day!
Our favorite section of the city was Shinjuku, which was good because most of our hotels happened to be in or very near it! We walked so much around this section. At night, you can see all the lights and they have some great dining and shopping options here!
Trains are the obvious choice of transportation. They are super easy to use (if you have google maps, it will tell you which train to take, where to transfer, fare, etc making it super easy) and conveniently located throughout the city. We’ve seen the photos of people crammed into the trains, but we didn’t experience that at all. In fact, most of the time we took a train, it looked like this. Barely anyone in it (and we rode during rush hour from popular stations like Shinjuku and Tokyo). Some people will tell you to buy the rail pass, but it made zero sense for us. The cost of the pass would have been so much higher than what we spent on trains in the days we were there! So keep that in mind before you buy a pass, the train rides are super cheap and kids are free (not sure how old but they never charged for our 5 year old) so the pass made no sense.
We also used cabs quite a bit. Unlike in the US, cabs are regulated and the drivers are all professionals (dressed in suits!) and the cabs very clean. But, you pay a hefty price for them though the convenience in many instance was worth it for us. In some train stations, you have to walk at least 20 minutes before you get to the actual train, so the cabs were a much better choice for us when we were going somewhere that was 10 minutes away. Uber does exist in Tokyo, however they only have Uber black and their rates make the cabs look cheap so it’s not an option I recommend.
Let’s face it, one of the huge reasons we travel is to eat some local food! Thankfully Milana is right on board with trying pretty much anything, so it makes traveling with her super easy. In Shinjuku, there is a Din Tai Fung. We have one right by our house, but most of the Asian markets have different menus and Bangkok had the best mushroom dumplings I’ve ever had, so I was hoping for the same here. Sadly, Tokyo’s menu was different than the other Asian places and they didn’t have any mushroom ones. Still great though, one of Milana’s favorite restaurants!
The Japanese love their sweets! You’ll find huge lines of locals at the bakeries and donut shops. One place we went to had these cute cream/chocolate filled treats.
And donut shops are pretty much everywhere.
Taiyaki is also a must try. These are filled with all sorts of things from red bean to custard, but we chose the matcha one since we all love matcha.
Some of the best shumai we had was in Tokyo. It’s one of Milana’s favorite foods and she ate most of them herself!
We also stumbled upon a dumpling place that was super cheap (less than $3/order!) and really good.
All restaurants have kid plates that are set menus, you can’t choose what you get. Some were good (like the one at the dumping place) but some had chicken nuggets and other things she didn’t want so we stopped ordering them and she just ate what we ate.
Sushi is a must try in Tokyo! Super fresh and really good. Milana loved the tuna rolls, we were surprised to see her eat so much of it!
One of the first things she asked for when we landed was miso soup. She ended up eating it every day for breakfast!
For a really cool experience, you have to try Fu-unji for some great ramen. This was a short walk from the Keio Plaza hotel, located in an alley. You will see a line of locals (mostly business men) waiting to go in. Once you enter, you will see a vending machine where you purchase your food tickets. When a seat opens up, you sit and hand them your tickets and get your ramen. Great concept and good food. I highly recommend it though be aware the wait can be long, especially if you are waiting for 2 or more chairs next to each other.
Many restaurants are not located at street level, so you have to search for them. Next to Keio Plaza, there are a ton of dining options inside the various office buildings. And, unlike other parts of Tokyo, these places are very reasonably priced! We found this awesome place where each plate was under $10. And it was one of our best meals in the city!
Starbucks in Tokyo is similar in many ways, but they do offer some different things. This grape tea became available in their market September 1st and it was really good! They also have a lot of matcha sweets, unlike here in the US.
And, when you are tired of sushi and ramen, there are other options as well! Again, right next to Keio Plaza in an office building was one of the best Italian restaurants we’ve ever been to! Salvatore serves Italian food, great pizza included! After eating ramen, sushi and fish for a week, we were ready for some carbs and cheese and this place didn’t disappoint!
Tokyo is filled with themed cafes, so I made a list of ones to visit and off we went! One of the must sees on our list was Cafe de Miki which was Hello Kitty themed. It wasn’t as great as the official Hello Kitty Cafe in Bangkok, but still really cute and Milana loved it!
The Keio Plaza is offering a mermaid themed sweets buffet until September 31st, so I knew we had to try it!
On Takeshita Street is the PomPomPurin cafe. Expect a long line to get in! It’s super cute, with food that actually tastes good. Many themed cafes have cute food but it’s usually bland, but this one was surprisingly good!
And two blocks from Takeshita Street is the Owl Cafe. Now this isn’t a typical character dining place as their food options are slim, but it’s really the experience you’re going for. They have several owls you can see and hold. They’re very well taken care of and friendly. Milana loved seeing them!
As you can see, Tokyo is an excellent destination with young kids! There is so much to see and do here. We love big cities and Tokyo is one of our favorites. My best tip is to not rush through it. I know people try to cram several cities into a 2 week trip but Tokyo deserves at least 10 days on its own. You will barely scratch the surface in that time!