Okay, folks, Part III of our Japan trip report awaits below! Still a lazy bum and haven’t caught up on Parts I and II? Check ’em out now before venturing on…to the photo dump…err, I mean, “Tokyo Disney Trip Report!”
[Side note: I am in tremendous debt to Carrie from Disney Travel Babble, whose 2010 Tokyo Disney trip report was a huge inspiration (and blueprint!) for our Tokyo Disney…and Japan in general!…trip. Thanks, Carrie!]
Here’s a little bit of Lance+Jeff trivia for you all out there: Tokyo Disney was the first thing we ever decided to do during our initial Tokyo planning discussions waaaaay back last winter. In fact, we’d actually planned on going to Tokyo Disney long before the opportunity presented itself for us to go to Walt Disney World this past summer.
I’m sure plenty of you are asking (as I have myself, many times): why fly halfway around the world to go to a Disney park? (Because I wanted to, you dumb jerks! Don’t judge me! ::runs away to cry in a corner::)
Actually, there are good answers and there are bad answers to that question, and it really depends on what sort of traveller you are. I’d like to think that I enjoy experiencing local culture, but I also love Disney. I guess that’s the bad answer, since Disney isn’t Japanese, so therefore not local culture.
However, I would push back a little bit on the idea that Tokyo Disney is not Japanese. First of all, for those in the know, Tokyo Disney is not owned or operated by the Disney corporation as we know it. Instead, while it’s designed by Imagineers, the park is actually owned by the Oriental Land Company, which licenses the rights to Disney likenesses from the Disney corporation. So, there’s a technical reason why the park is Japanese.
[The Oriental Land Company also spends what seems to be a bajillion dollars in elaborate theming, rides, and shows, so you could argue that the park is also more “Disney” than Disney-owned parks, since they are more likely to match in cash what the Imagineers dream up. They apparently spent $4 billion on Tokyo DisneySea, Tokyo Disneyland’s neighboring park, before opening day.]
There’s also an emotional reason why this park is Japanese: I know I’m generalizing, but many, many Japanese people are crazy about Disney. The photos below don’t accurately capture just how into the experience our fellow park guests were. Now, I know it was right around Halloween when we visited, but so many people were wearing costumes, Disney hats, Disney sweatshirts, Disney changepurses and backpacks and carrying around Duffys in different costumes…there is a passion for Disney, especially in the teen/twenties set that you just don’t see in the same volume at the American parks.
Lastly, I wanted to visit Tokyo Disney for one specific reason: Tokyo DisneySea. This is the only Disney park that you can’t find some version of in the United States (thanks a lot, Santa Monica!) Ever since I stumbled upon its Wikipedia page years ago, I’ve been drawn to this park, a watery mix of Epcot’s World Showcase with the fantasy of the Magic Kingdom.
I didn’t and still don’t care that we spent, like, 20 percent of our trip at Tokyo Disney. I loved it.
Well, maybe not all of it…
Given our tight schedule on this first day at Tokyo Disney (remember, we’d already gone to the Ghibli Museum and seen the Shiki Theatre production of Beauty and the Beast), we purchased the After 6 PM Passport ticket to Tokyo Disneyland. We did this for a few reasons:
- I read that lines in the morning at the Tokyo parks get really bad, so I changed around our hotels at the last minute so we could stay in an “official” Disney hotel the night before we went to DisneySea instead of taking the subway 30+ minutes from a Tokyo hotel
- Well, now that we’re going to be in the resort area that night anyway, why not spend the $40 to spend four hours at Tokyo Disneyland? I hadn’t originally planned on visiting Disneyland at all, but this afforded us the opportunity to at least see a little bit of that park, too!
Above: me, introducing the escalator from Disneyland Station down to the park.
I’m ridiculously happy that we were able to visit during the Halloween season when everything was decked out for the holiday. Above: scary coach which looks to have repurposed the horses from Cinderella.
Yay! We’re here!
As soon as we go through the gates, we rushed to Tomorrowland. I kept telling Lance, if there was only one ride I could experience, it had to be Monsters Inc. Ride-And-Go-Seek, exclusive to Tokyo Disneyland!
[Boy, that statement would prove to be prophetic!]
So, I round the bend, and to my delight, nobody is in line! Wow, I for sure thought this would be a solid 45 minute wait!
…Oh, what’s that Cast Member doing near the entrance?
WTF. Even with my incredibly weak understanding of Japanese, I could tell that the attraction was closed. Closed?? I’d flown halfway around the world and this dumb ride was closed…?! I made sure to check the website and everything for attraction closings, and this definitely wasn’t on the list…
…So, yeah, I was a pissy cocktail of angry, mopey, and disappointed. A joy to be with, I’m sure, right, honey?
With the wind sucked out of my sails, we meandered through the park, directionless.
We did find Snow White’s Adventures, which Lance was sad to miss at Disney World this past summer.
I’ll admit to having yelped at the Evil Queen/Old Hag several times during this ride. Makes me miss the one in Disney World!
Though we couldn’t find any Dole Whip, we did score some Pumpkin custard in Adventureland, which, as Lance put it, was definitely, “WHOA, that’s pumpkin! Not ‘pumpkin spice.’ PUMPKIN.”
We went up to the Enchanted Tiki Room (where Stitch guest-stars in “Aloha e Komo Mai!”…make of that what you will), but…it was closed too! What the what!
We ran over to the Country Bears, and they were closed, too! GRARRRRRRR.
At this point, with three attractions closed and lines for all the major rides like Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain and Pooh’s Hunny Hunt well over an hour each, I began to get very flustered. How were we going to get on enough (…or any…?) rides in just under four hours to justify the ticket cost? Nevermind just walking around and enjoying the atmosphere; with all of these attractions closed, my new, tunnel-visioned, laser-focused goal was the get on as many rides as possible.
Ooh, a twenty minute wait for the Jungle Cruise? Let’s go!
What nobody warns you about is that Jungle Cruise at night…with Japanese narration…loses some of the punch, since you can’t see anything or understand any of the jokes. Twenty minutes=wasted. DISNEY FAIL!
Paging Mouse on the Mind! This photo doesn’t really showcase it, but Lance and I both found Tokyo Disney to be really underlit. Between that and being in a park that’s just so slightly, but definitely, different from the one you’re used to, it can be a little frustrating trying to get to where you want to go.
So I moped around, all sad and stuff. I asked Lance if there was one ride he really wanted to get on, and he said Space Mountain. We walked back around to Tomorrowland, only to find that Monsters Inc. was back online. Why it was closed, I’ll never know, but I was overcome with a sense of relief. All was not lost!
The queue for Monsters Inc. Ride-And-Go-Seek! It’s enormous and AWESOME.
I want this in my house!
Like all of the other Pixar-based attractions, it’s a point-and-shoot (so to speak) ride where you shine your car’s flashlight on different monsters around Monstropolis. What’s different about this ride, though, is that everything is animatronic instead of cardboard cutouts or projected onto a screen, and it makes a WORLD of difference. I know there are videos of the ride on Youtube, so I encourage you to check those out to see some of the attraction’s awesome animatronic work.
Finally satisfied, we jumped over to Space Mountain, laughing at the 60 minute standby wait-time. The wait for Monsters Inc. had been “60 minutes,” but we were in and out of that ride in twenty, easily. Maybe Tokyo Disney is the master of “underpromise, overdeliver”?
Err, no. This definitely took the solid 60 (or maybe even more!) minutes, and my anxiety about getting on “enough” rides started to rise. “OMG!” I thought, “Did we really just spend $40 to get on 3 rides??”
I couldn’t tell much of a difference in this version versus the one in Disney World, but the ride car itself is different: two people across instead of just one.
Also, we got way more enjoyment from the couple behind us reacting about 5 seconds late to everything in the ride than from the coaster itself.
With only about an hour left, we thought about what would be the last ride to try and get on, since this Disneyland was BUMPIN’ on a random Wednesday evening and it wasn’t likely that we’d be able to get on too many more rides.
Given our proximity and the fact that Halloween was only a week away, we selected The Haunted Mansion (wait time: only 45 minutes. Hip hip!), which actually featured a Nightmare Before Christmas overlay for the holiday.
Now, I haven’t seen too many temporary ride overlays in my time, but this has to be one of the most elaborate. While a lot of the rides’ original features are still there (ballroom dancers, scary lady’s head in crystal ball), there are dozens of Nightmare Before Christmas animatronics and other add-ins which make the changes much more substantial than just cosmetic. As our cart was turning through the graveyard/Halloweentown, there was a huge Jack Skellington decked out as Santa towering over the scene.
It was actually pretty neat! I know there was talk for awhile of doing an TNBC refurb to the ride at Disney World, which I don’t think would be all that appropriate, but if it were just a seasonal thing, I suspect most would welcome a temporary change of this quality.
At this point, it was around 9:45, and the park closed at 10:00. Could we squeeze in just one more ride? And would that ride be…?
YESSS! The ride that apparently generates hours-long lines was still taking riders, with only a 20 minute wait!
Afterwards, Lance revealed that he may have had his first truly magical moment. “That scene where the hunny pot is bouncing along with Tigger? I have no idea how they did that. That was pure Disney magic.”
AWWW, yay! That little comment, to somebody who is always paranoid that others aren’t having nearly as much fun at a Disney park, filled me with such joy!
(And yes, Pooh’s Hunny Hunt is way better than the Pooh ride at Walt Disney World.)
With that, we were done! A quick “greatest hits” of Tokyo Disneyland, though, I will admit, if we ever get another chance to do a truncated admission, I’m just going to pass, because trying to fit in everything you want to see in just four hours is just way too anxiety-producing.
So long, Tokyo Disneyland!
With that, we hopped back on the monorail (another 250 yen. UGH!) to head to our hotel, the Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay:
As some of you are probably aware, there are three Disney hotels on property, and then several “official” hotels as well, including the Sheraton and the Hilton Tokyo Bay, which are located right on the monorail line. Now, we didn’t have the $500 a night to spend at the Disney MiraCosta or the Disney Ambassador, so we planned on only spending one night at the Hilton Tokyo Bay. I was able to finagle a Best Rate Guarantee price match at the Hilton (where you find a lower advertised rate on, say, Priceline, than what’s on Hilton’s website, and then Hilton will match and take off an extra $50), but when we decided to stay near the parks the night before, I tried to get another night at the Hilton. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t do a price match for two consecutive nights. Given that the rack rate would’ve been prohibitively expensive, we booked a room at the Sheraton (hotel #3 of 7 of this trip!) for the night before. Yay, more hotel hopping!
…purdy light fixtures over the reception desk…
…butt-ugly, dull rooms. Woof! This room was going for over $200 a night! Thank goodness I was able to get that down to under $150, but still, what a boring room, which looks like it hadn’t been refurbished since the hotel opened in the ’80s. Massive disappointment for what you’re paying. Between this experience and our recent stay at the Sheraton in Center City Philadelphia, we won’t be frequenting a Sheraton property any time soon. #firstworldproblems
I was disappointed that we got a “park-view” room when I had booked a room overlooking Tokyo Bay, but the park(ing lot)-view wasn’t bad.
…And the view in the morning was even better!
We always feel compelled to take photos of ourselves in a hotel room before we start our day. I think this is secretly Lance’s way of checking to see how brown his teeth are. To the Whitestrips!
Early the next morning, we packed up our stuff and walked the 100 yards from the Sheraton to the Hilton Tokyo Bay, where we’d be staying that night after our day in DisneySea. After checking our bags, we looked around for the Starbucks promised on the hotel’s website. Unfortunately, it had apparently just changed over to a Segafredo, which meant no Frappuccinos. Thankfully, though, the food and lattes were both pretty good!
We then found the Disney Fantasy gift shop in the hotel…
Below: this is the bus that will take you on a 30-second ride from your hotel to the Bayside monorail station. Seriously, it took us longer to walk around the bus than it would take you to walk to the monorail.
Onward to DisneySea!
Above: the line to get into Tokyo DisneySea, about half an hour before rope drop.
Below: our first DUFFY! sighting of the day!
If you read our Disney World trip report from earlier this year, you may recall that I was never able (or willing to wait in 2+ hour lines) to get on Toy Story Mania! I wasn’t going to make the same amateur mistakes twice! We positioned (read: cut in line) ourselves close to the main gate, and when they began scanning tickets, we hightailed it over to the New York section of the park…along with 15,000 other people.
I tried to take a video of the dash to the ride, which doesn’t really do the pandemonium justice…though you can watch it to experience the joys of my labored breathing!
Below: the line just to get FastPasses!
Where’s the end of the line for FastPasses?!
After we scored our FastPasses (which, when obtained at 9:15AM were already for 2:10 in the afternoon!), we made our way over to the Mysterious Island to ride Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Journey to the Center of the Earth is a weird mix of coaster and track-ride. I guess I’d compare it’s mechanics to the Dinosaur ride in Animal Kingdom, though I think it’s a little better. There’s a “surprise” fall near the end of the ride that neither of us saw coming.
Next, over to the Lost River Delta!
Neither of us have been to Disneyland, so I have no idea how this ride is any different from the Indiana Jones one there, but we both enjoyed this one quite a bit. There’s a scene where this stone face shoots a jet of smoke at your ride vehicle that got Lance to squeal both times we went through.
Next: Arabian Coast to check out Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage!
Lance made fun of me for taking too many photos of this ride. I couldn’t help it! There were hundreds of beautifully designed animatronics in this ride, and it seemed to go on forever! Every time you got to a “Yay, victory for Sinbad!” scene, your boat would turn the corner and suddenly Sinbad and his trusty tiger Chandu would be fighting assassins and a whale or somesuch.
Above: Chandu, takin’ care of business.
Above: Chandu, just in it for the bling.
After we left Sinbad, we ran into Jafar and Iago!
Above: Check out the detail on those hands!
At this point, it was about 10:30, and since we’re gross American pigs, we decided to get a snack at the Casbah:
Above: my coconut custard. Only about $4!
My hair, perpetually in crisis, was in rare form that day.
We then swung around to…Mermaid Lagoon!
Mermaid Lagoon is this awesomely designed indoor “kiddie” park, full of some well-decorated off-the-rack rides aimed at the lil’ tikes in your life. We still managed to get on Jumpin’ Jellyfish and later Flounder’s Flying Fish Coaster, and enjoyed every minute of ’em.
There’re even lifesize repicas of Ariel’s treasure trove and Ursula’s scary sea-witch cave. I nearly squealed in delight when I stepped in here, even shooing away some well-meaning kids just so that I could get a couple of photos.
We swung through the Lost River Delta again to get to Port Discovery before it was time for our lunch reservation.
More fantastic Halloween decorations!
Above: Port Discovery, a sorta-Jules-Verne-sorta-the-future area, where we rode Stormrider, a motion simulator which was actually a little dumb, but kinda fun. The featured “laser cannon which dissipates storms” would’ve been nice to have on our way home from Japan!
We were running a little late to our lunch reservation, so I didn’t have time to take a photo with…Max, Goofy’s son. Yes, Max is actually a walk-around character at Tokyo DisneySea (we saw him twice in the period of about 15 minutes!) When’s the last time Max was seen in any form of entertainment, much less at a Disney park?
Even though we were 15 minutes late, we were still able to keep our reservation at Magellan’s, purported to be Tokyo Disney’s most upscale restaurant.
Our biggest lost-in-translation moment of the entire trip came when I tried to request a seat in the secret room behind a bookcase. There was a lot of failed pantomime involved, and multiple Cast Members had to come over to help us out.
Above: the now-infamous bookcase, where you have to push one of the ovals in the frame in order for it to open!
The bookcase door from inside the secret room.
I’m not really sure what the theme is for Magellan’s. It’s obviously a really elaborate restaurant by sheer design, and I guess it’s suppose to evoke the feel of a fancy, 15th or 16th century European restaurant, but the secret bookcase and Society of Explorers and Adventurers storyline add in a weird, surreptitious, secret society vibe.
We both ordered the set Atlantic lunch, which cost about 2800 yen, or around $35 USD. Not a bad price for three courses and a non-alcoholic beverage (and remember, there’s no tipping in Japan, so we really made out well!).
Above: the shrimp and scallop appetizer, which we both got.
Above: my chicken entree. (I should’ve taken a picture of the menu so I remembered what this was called!)
Below: Lance’s pork cutlet.
Above: Lance forcing a smile, as it is very clear by his dead silence that he is not enjoying himself.
Above: Lance’s dessert of the day, a very dense chocolate cake with candied walnuts.
Below: my creme brulee, which was your pretty standard creme brulee.
Above: The giant globe which stands in the center of the restaurant.
Below: the mural in the ceiling, above the globe.
…Annnd, I’m just gonna come out and say it: I didn’t care for Magellan’s all that much. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really believe this is the fault of the restaurant so much as it is a set of inappropriate expectations on my part. The service in the restaurant was fantastic, and the food seemed to be prepared very well, but…my chicken was all dark meat and fat, and the seafood appetizer didn’t have much flavor at all besides FRESH.
Our experience really got me thinking: maybe, even though I would like to be a fancypants person, I’m just not. I like my chicken fingers and hamburgers and maybe I just don’t have a developed enough palate for some place like Magellan’s. I think dark meat and fat are delicacies, right?
Suffice to say, though, if I was going to keep Lance from ditching me after the meal and heading back to the hotel, I had to placate him. Time for some Mickey churros!
Another random character we ran into on our way to use our Toy Story Mania! FastPasses: Chipette!
Finally, after months of waiting, it was time! Time for: Toy Story Mania! (which I could also just as easily play on my Wii, but don’t begrudge me this moment of triumph!)
I just barely squeaked by Lance in the point total, but I won. SUCK IT, LANCE!
Was Toy Story Mania! everything I’d hoped it be and more? Well, I guess. It’s a fun ride, and the added competition component is a nice touch, but maybe I was just burned out on all of these “point-and-shoot” rides. The queue for the ride is so fun, with the oversized Andy’s Room stuff, that I kinda wish the attraction would’ve gone in that direction instead. And maybe, after months of waiting, I’d had my expectations set a little too high. But still, a fun ride!
After Toy Story Mania!, we ran right into the park’s mid-afternoon water pageant, The Legend of Mythica! Check these photos out–can you believe they pay to run this show every day? It must cost a fortune!
I wasn’t really sure what was going on, but it was sure cool to watch!
Duffy doesn’t believe in gender norms. Witch Duffy!
Above: Duffy’s girlfriend, DUFFETTE!!!
(Yes, Disney fans, I know her name is Fanny Mae or Freddie Mac or whatever, I just think Duffette sounds way more AWESOME.)
This was the line just to get your picture taken with Duffette. WILD!
We headed back to the Mysterious Island to hit up 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which I hadn’t been on since I was six years old. I barely even remember that version of the ride, so I have no idea how similar the Tokyo version is.
More sweet theming around Journey to the Center of the Earth.
We were both getting pretty bushed around mid-afternoon, but before heading to the hotel to check-in, we stopped by the Fortress Explorations area, which is tied to a walk-around game called Leonardo’s Challenge which you can do as well. We stumbled upon this planetarium, which was really pretty:
Of course, we had to hit up McDuck’s souvenir store! I love Ducktakes and really loved the thought of Scrooge having such an obvious and perfect placement in the park; unfortunately, McDuck’s was basically a giant Duffy and Duffette emporium
Our super-cool “Celebrio” room! We were even upgraded to a room with a “free minibar”!
More pajamas and slippers! Will wonders never cease??
…Fast forward to 7:00, and we’re back in DisneySea! Specifically, the Tower of Terror:
The Tower of Terror has the same mechanics, but a completely different story than the Twilight Zone one found in every other park. I wonder if this had something to do with not being able to obtain the rights in Japan? (Or maybe The Twilight Zone is just not as well known in Japan?) Basically, this is a story, as far as I could gather, of a rich adventurer who also owns a 1920s-ish apartment building in New York City. At some point, he brings back a small statue that just happens to be cursed, so, of course, this dude (and his elevator) are also cursed. Hilarity…er, death, ensues at the Hotel Hightower.
There are popcorn carts all over the park, all featuring different flavors (like curry, apple cinnamon, etc.). We tried the generic caramel.
We giggled the most, by far, on Flounder’s Flying Fish Coaster, which basically is just one big downwards spiral (literally.)
We then checked out the double-decker carousel in the Arabian Coast, which was gorgeous at night. I was a little saddened that it was completely walk-on…why don’t people like carousels anymore?
Right before we hopped on Indiana Jones as our last ride of the night, we stopped by Jasmine’s Flying Carpets, which apparently cost $22 million to construct. I’m not sure where all that money went, but it sure was beautiful, and actually sorta-represents a scene and architecture from Aladdin in a way the magic carpet ride in Disney World does not.
Raging Spirits, while dumb, looks great at night!
…And then, that was it. It was 10:00PM and the park was shutting down. It was time to spend the $3 to get back to the hotel.
When we debriefed afterward, Lance and I both decided that Tokyo DisneySea is by far the best Disney park we’ve been too. While it doesn’t have that quintessential Disney essence that the Magic Kingdom does, it excels with the sheer number of rides and attractions that are more up our alley than any of the American parks we’ve been too. We (or at least I) still love Disney World, and we’ll be back there again for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party this year, but DisneySea is in a league of its own. The Oriental Land Company has probably spent nearly $10 billion on the place, and it shows.
Japan trip report, to be continued! Next time: Bullet trains a-flyin’ to Kyoto!