Day 10, 10JAN2017
For those that know me, you know I have a deeply rooted love for Disney. I adore Disney characters, themes, movies, the history of the enterprise, and most significantly I love Disney Parks. Tokyo hosts two Disney Parks, and so of course with a visit to Tokyo on our books Josh graciously submitted and acquiesced my expectation to attend the parks.
The two Disney Parks in Tokyo are Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea. On day ten of our Journey through Japan Josh and I walked through the turnstiles of officially my eighth Disney Park: Tokyo Disney Sea. The previous seven include: the original Disneyland, California Adventure, Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studies (aka MGM Studios), Animal Kingdom, and Disneyland Paris.
Tokyo Disney Sea is unlike any of the previous Disney parks I have visited. For starters, the entire park is themed around water. This is not to say the park is a Water Park – one equipped with water slides and warrants running around in your swim suit. Rather, what I mean is that the park’s seven “lands” are based around various water themes. The seven lands (think, Adventureland, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom) include:
1: Mediterranean Harbor
2: American Waterfront
3: Port Discovery
4: Lost River Delta
5: Arabian Coast
6: Mermaid Lagoon
7: Mysterious Island
Before I dive much further into this post I want to go forth and state that I will actually compose two separate posts for our visit to Tokyo Disney Sea. This is not because I am infatuated with Disney and want to bore the audience with numerous Disney posts. Instead, I’d like to keep these posts relatively consumable and since Josh and I experienced Disney Sea in really two different methods, I’d like to address these methods in their own posts. In this post I will provide commentary on the Theme Park aspect; in a second post I will comment (and post copious photos) of our eating frenzy through the park.
Continuing on. I’d like to include in this first post a few tips for those considering a visit to Disney Sea, I’d also like to provide a brief synopsis of the rides we went on, and in general discuss the absolutely fantastic theming of this park.
Prior to venturing to Disney Sea, I read a slew of reviews, written by Americans from a distinctly American point of view: that is to say people who had experienced the US versions of the Disney theme parks before they went to the Tokyo versions. Since both Josh and I are in this category, I believed reading these reviews would be very helpful. In general they were, so for those, again, considering attending one of the Tokyo parks, I encourage you to scour the internet for Tokyo Disney reviews along this vein. Some things I read in the reviews I found to be helpful include the following:
1: Pre-purchase your tickets. Apparently lines at Tokyo Disney to buy tickets prior to entry into the park are obnoxious. Additionally, it is far more common for the Tokyo Disney parks to reach capacity and sell out of tickets for a day. To ensure you have access to the park, pre-purchase your tickets either online, as part of your hotel package, at the turnstiles or Ikspiari, or do as we did and purchase them at the Shibuya Disney Store. The Shibuya Disney Store is located two blocks from the Shibuya Crossing and Shibuya Station.
2: If you are visiting Tokyo or Japan for several days and want to include Tokyo Disney as part of your visit, check crowd count prediction websites to determine which days during your trip are ideal for going to the park. What I mean by this is Tokyo Disney is a local theme park: it is very easy to get to the parks, several people have annual passes, and tickets are significantly cheaper even for a one day pass than they are in the US – I paid less than $64 for a one-day adult pass, compare this to $119 one-day non-park hopper pass to Disneyland or $110 at Disney World. Then factor in that Tokyo is the largest city on earth with 38 million people living in the city proper and its immediate surrounds. All these factors combine to make it relatively easy for Tokyo-ites to visit the Disney parks – and they do. I used TDRNavi.jp and www15.plala.or.jp (aka Congestion Forecast Calendar) sites to get a good feeling for when to visit.
3: Use the Fast Pass System. This is a no brainer, but thanks to reading reviews prior to our arrival I knew which rides you actually should use fast passes on, versus which rides offer fast pass but you don’t really need them. The fast pass system at Tokyo Disney parks works the same as the Disneyland system in California: that is the old style version where you present your park ticket to a machine that will spit out a fast pass with a return time. Once you have a fast pass in your possession, you can not retrieve a second fast pass until either the return window on your ticket begins or two hours after you receive the ticket. For instance, if you get a fast pass for Tower of Terror at 0900 and the return time is 1000-1100, you can return to the Fast Pass lane at Tower of Tower anytime between 1000-1100; additionally, at 1000 you are eligible to go to another ride and retrieve a fast pass. If however you go to Tower of Terror at 0900 and your fast pass return time is 1300-1400, you are eligible to receive a second fast pass from a separate ride two hours later at 1100, you do not have to wait until 1300 to get your second fast pass.
4: Shows are on a lottery, and you only get one chance. This is a sad portion of our trip to Disney Sea. The reviews touted Disney Sea shows to be fantastic and absolutely amazing Broadway level shows. Unfortunately because the shows are so incredibly popular and the parks are so full, you are not guaranteed an opportunity to see the shows. Instead of allowing people to line up to enter the theatres hours before show time, and also as an alternative to what I guess is the other option which is to make people pay extra to see a show, Tokyo Disney conducts a lottery for show times. While I appreciate what they are trying to do here in terms of crowd efficiency and orderly conduct, it is not ideal and the process is so far out of left field to what you would expect in America. Essentially there are four show times for the big shows, the first iteration are free for alls – so you could theoretically line up an hour early and hopefully walk in a get a seat. The following three, the seats are allocated via lottery. You proceed to the lottery room, scan all the tickets for your party, select which of the three shows you’d like to see that day and press the “spin” button. You either get the tickets, or you don’t. You do not get a second or third chance to try for the other shows. Apparently you can sit in the balcony if you do not receive a lottery ticket, however Josh and I did not know this and by the time we learned of it, we already had fast passes for rides. Needless to say, we did not catch the big ticket shows.
Now that I’ve finished with the tips section, I’ll move into the theme park experience.
Tokyo Disney Sea is an exceptionally well executed and unique Disney park. When you walk off the JR Train at Maihama Station you’re immediately greeted with Disney music and the fairy dust of dreams begins. If you have your park tickets already, then you proceed to the Tokyo Disney Monorail Train Station and purchase monorail tickets so you can actually get from the JR Station to the Park Entrances. This is unique because unlike the American resorts, the cost to ride the monorail, a coveted treasure closely tied to the nostalgia of Disney itself, is not included in the park ticket fee. I don’t know why this is, but considering our tickets cost $130 for the two of us, I figured adding $10 for two round trip monorail tickets was not really too much to ask.
The monorail at Tokyo Disney is awesome. If the Disney music hadn’t already put you in the mood, then the sleek trains with their massive Mickey Mouse shaped windows and dangling Mickey Mouse handles inside the monorail would certainly get you in the mood.
Contrary to every review I read before attending the park cautioning that you MUST arrive at the park 30 minutes, if not 1.5 hours before park opening in order to ensure you can get in the park early enough to grab fast passes for the big ticket rides, Josh and I arrived at a leisurely 1.5 hours after park opening. There were no crowds at 1030 in the morning and the turnstiles were manned by impeccably happy and polite Cast Members.
You first walk into the Mediterranean Harbor when you enter Disney Sea and the first sight you’re met with is the globe centered in a huge fountain. To the side of the fountain is a gilded ship manned by Mickey and crew. I’d like to insert here that “Mickey and Crew” in Tokyo is not limited to the Fab Five as is often in the US. Instead, Mickey and Crew refers to Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Donald, Daisy, Chip and Dale. All eight of these characters feature heavily in the park and are mascots of their own lands. I’ll refer to this later.
Besides this starting lineup, Tokyo Disney also has a strangely intense infatuation with Duffy, his female friend Shellie May, and their Italian cat friend Gelatoni. I actually could get by claiming there is an obsession instead of an infatuation: there are entire department sized stores in Disney Sea with floor to ceiling items from these three characters, an entire segment of one land devoted entirely to the storyline and several food goods in the shape of these characters. Oh, and I forgot to mention, people dress as these characters, they come to the park frokked in various clothing articles expressing their love for the three cuddly anamorphic beings. It was slightly surreal.
You first walk into the Mediterranean Harbor, and past the fountain you then walk under the only hotel inside a Disney Theme Park: Hotel Mira Costa. The gorgeous Italian themed hotel towers over the Mediterranean Harbor, fronted on all sides by the park entrance and center water front, it is a great sight and fits eloquently into the theme park itself. When we passed through the bridge created by the hotel there was a marching band entertaining people entering the park. It was all very lively.
We sat and had breakfast at a café along the waterfront in the Mediterranean Harbor, but as I promised I will cover food explorations in a separate post. After breakfast we wandered over to a sign where the wait times and fast pass return times were posted. This is a sign you’ll see in the US parks as well, however with the My Disney App and the Disneyland App you can now bypass these signs and simply check out wait times and return times on your smart phone. In Japan there is no free wifi in the parks, and furthermore there is no such app designed by Disney (there are versions not made by Disney though if you purchase your own portable wifi in Japan). Since Josh and I did not have portable wifi, we opted to attack the park as old school as we could.
There are essentially eight big ticket rides in Disney Sea – this is 100% my opinion.
1: Venetian Gondolas – no fast pass, Mediterranean Harbor
2: Tower of Terror – fast pass, American Waterfront
3: Toy Story Mania – fast pass, American Waterfront
4: Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull – fast pass, Lost River Delta
5: Raging Spirits – fast pass, Lost River Delta
6: Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage – no fast pass, Arabian Coast
7: Journey to the Center of the Earth – fast pass, Mysterious Island
8: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – fast pass, Mysterious Island
Viewing the old school sign, we noted that both Tower of Terror and Toy Story Mania were nearing the end of their fast pass allocations. Since we’d already experienced Toy Story together last year at Walt Disney World Hollywood Studios, we decided instead to grab a fast pass for Tower of Terror before the passes were fully distributed. This meant our return time was several hours from when we requested the pass, but we weren’t too pressed. The park was fairly empty at this point in the day.
We meandered, legitimately meandered because the nooks, crannies, multiple bridges over water ways and what not require you to meander, through the Mediterranean Harbor and into the American Waterfront where Tower of Terror, again, legitimately, towered over the park. Where the Mediterranean Harbor was characterized by bronze tones, terracotta roof tiles, singing gondoliers, and fountains, the American Waterfront was a series of sub-lands devoted to capturing the variety of American towns.
The first town, or city, is New York with the Hudson River, Broadway, glittering lights, and delis lining the man-hole pocked streets.
Turn a corner in the land and you are surrounded by the flashing lights and beckoning calls of a white-washed wooden roller coaster pier, and then turn yet another corner and the glamour of the steam boat era gives way to the slow, calming relaxation of seagulls, crab cakes, lighthouses, and the yachts of Cape Cop.
Instead of progressing through the park chronologically (we accomplished five full circuits of the park today and additionally managed quite a bit of zig-zagging), I’ll cover our park experience in a clockwise fashion. So starting in the American Waterfront.
Josh and I unfortunately did not win the lottery for the Broadway Theatre Show: Big Band Beat. We also missed our opportunity to gain a fast pass for Toy Story Mania – by time we were eligible for another fast pass, Toy Story Mania was out.
So, in the American Waterfront Josh and I accomplished a great deal of photo taking at purposeful picturesque locations (or as my Dad would call them “Kodak Moments”). We concluded our final ride of the night in the American Waterfront: the Disney Sea Electric Railway, a cable car train that connects Port Discovery with the American Waterfront via the Mediterranean Harbor.
But the highlight of the American Waterfront was most certainly Tower of Terror.
Unlike its Twilight Zone relations in the US parks, Tower of Terror in Disney Sea has a completely different story line. Granted, the story is in Japanese so Josh and I were guessing at contextual clues, but the antiques, the archaeological dig artifacts, and the vintage photographs with English subtitles seemed to suggest that a prolific New Yorker Archaeologist who owned a huge hotel wherein he housed his sordid collection of artifacts may have become too greedy and upon one expedition he uncovered a cursed idol which, well, cursed him and caused him to come crashing through the elevator of his hotel to his death. As elevator passengers, in allegedly the same elevator shaft, we too, having accidentally and unwittingly stared into the idol were likewise cursed. Insert at this point the ride akin to the US one and you know what happens next!
After the Tower of Terror, Josh and I climbed around the huge steam boat anchored in the Hudson. Upon disembarking from the stationary, yet steaming, ship, we noticed a crowd of patient Japanese park attendees taking seats.
Curiosity got the better of the both of us, and within minutes Mickey Mouse greeted everyone from the floors of the ship. Then, a stage opened up and the show “A Table is Waiting” began right in front of us.
One of the things I’d read in the reviews indicated that Japanese park goers are the most patient and etiquette equipped Disney park goers. This proved truthful when Josh and I could stand outside the amphitheater and STILL see the entire stage and the show because EVERYONE was sitting in the open air theatre. And not only was everyone sitting, the directions provided to the audience included that no one could wear ears or hats that would obstruct another’s viewing (all those Duffy hats immediately came off), also kids couldn’t be put on shoulders, and lastly, when taking photos you could not raise the camera above your face. Incredible!
The show included both Japanese and English, well more specifically, the songs were sung in English but all the narration was done in Japanese. We got the gist of the show though: each act was a representation of a meal presented on the menu. We began with Mickey and Luminaire introducing the show, then proceeded through Mexican tacos with Chip, Dale and Donald.
Spicy Indian food with Daisy to the tune of Spice Girls “Spice up your Life” was the second course.
We then transitioned to what I can only imagine was a parody of the USA with Pluto leading a team of uncoordinated cheese burger parts.
And then we concluded with Goofy running a high paced Bento Box ensemble. There were more acts to the show, namely Minnie Mouse appeared as Josh and I cut ties with the show, I believe she was appearing for a dessert number.
The American Waterfront is also home to the Duffy Bear dining experience. The entire Cape Cod section of the American Waterfront seems to have been taken over by Duffy and his Friends, and at this point all the banners that would likely be Red, White and Blue, are instead Blue, Pink and White and have Duffy and Shellie May.
What interested me was that the American Waterfront’s mascot was Minnie Mouse, however Duffy most certainly takes a far more prevalent stage.
Passing through this Duffy explosion, Cape Cod turns into Port Discovery.
Port Discovery’s mascots are Chip and Dale. While I recall fond memories of Chip and Dale cartoons from my childhood, I didn’t know that the mischievous duo were such a hit on their own. They certainly weren’t on par with Duffy-level fandom in Disney Sea, but they were very present be they in character meet and greets, on beanies, or as mascots to this portion of the park.
Port Discovery probably has a theme and a story to support the theme, however the place is extremely small compared to the other lands in the park and with over half this land taken over by a towering, scaffold-covered ride undergoing construction, there really was not much to see or do here.
Josh and I passed through this section of the park on numerous occasions throughout the day during our back and forth wandering, but we did stop once. According to the park map there are three rides here: the future Nemo-themed ride under construction, the Electric Railway which I discussed in the American Waterfront, and then there is Aquatopia.
While the ride’s name may stir images of Autopia in Disneyland, the similarities between the two rides stops at the naming convention. The two-seater water “hover craft” takes riders on a randomized whirl through a shallow pool. The cars all dance around you, perfectly choreographed to whatever music is playing, and you swirl past water falls, barely miss spouting fountains, and nearly run into other crafts – but the magic of Disney is in full swing here and the dance number is such that you never actually touch anything. The ride is slow, but exciting because you haven’t any idea where you’re going, I definitely enjoyed it if not for the engineering magic it presented.
Traveling through Port Discovery the magic of a futuristic water port gives way to lush jungle fronds and drooping palms. The next thing you know you’ve been escorted to the Lost River Delta.
Pluto is the mascot of this thick rainforest with ancient Central American ruins. The rides here definitely fit in with the theme: Indiana Jones and the Raging Spirits roller coaster. There’s a character meet and greet trail akin to the trails you find in the Animal Kingdom – to include the excessively lengthy lines. There are also several bridges made of rope and jungle materials looking as if they’re about to snap. You navigate through this very well themed segment of the park surrounded by tropical bird and animal noises, fire lamp lights, and an open air market selling fresh fruit and jungle artifacts.
Unfortunately Indiana Jones was down for refurbishment when Josh and I visited, but we did grab fast passes for Raging Spirits.
This ride is the first ride at a Disney park I’ve noted had a height limit. I’m not talking a “you must be this tall to ride” limit, I’m talking a “you must be shorter than this to ride” limit. I chuckled at this, however the ride itself included several tight turns and short corners, I suppose if you’re 1.9m tall you would be in danger. And danger at high speed does not equal a magical Disney day.
The rollercoaster itself is a must do ride, albeit short, in keeping with typical thrill rides you wait in line for, get excited about, and then its over in a matter of seconds. The premise is that of a curse unearthed from the various artifacts found at a dig site. This ride has it all: curse, fire, waterfalls, eerie music, loops, sudden drops, and the shoulder harness. Very impressed, but we really couldn’t be bothered to wait in line for this ride a second time.
Even with a fast pass the line took 20 minutes, and the standby line was 80 minutes or more most of the day.
This was the problem I had with Disney Sea: there are very few rides in the park that draw crowds, and the rides that do are naturally the big hitter rides. Because fast passes run out very quickly at this park, lines are excessive at the few rides that exist. We never saw Toy Story dip below 80 minutes, and I know at times it was 120 minutes, same with Tower of Terror, Raging Spirits, and Journey to the Center of the Earth. That being said, Josh and I did manage to ride the rides we really wanted to, regardless of the length of lines, so no real complaints here.
Moving on from the Lost River Delta, if one gets lost long enough in the dense greenery, you’ll happen upon a bridge that brings you to the Arabian Coast. In my opinion this land in the park, with Donald as its mascot, was the most expertly themed section. For those who require a comparison, this land is akin to the Morocco Pavilion in EPCOT.
The rides here are mostly geared towards the younger crowd – a Flying Carpet ride a la Dumbo and a Carousel. But the big ride in this area is Sinbad’s Storybook Village.
I am not sure if Disney ever embarked on a Sinbad story. But the ride it imagined for the plot was fantastic. The ride itself lacks thrills, it’s very much like “It’s a Small World” with a slow moving boat and the animatronics characters look as though they’d actually fit in very well in the ride “who’s song shall not be sung.”
The accompanying narration, to include song, to Sinbad’s adventure is entirely in Japanese. This definitely threw me off because at moments I swore the Japanese male voice was attempting an Arabic accent – it did not fit. But Josh and I were far from lost in translation. As rides geared for kids usually do – the characters, motifs, and brilliant visual displays related the entire plot line. I disembarked from the ride with a huge smile on my face. It was a magical ride to say the least, and actually our very first ride in the park!
After the ride we explored the Arabian Coast for a few minutes. The place has several alley ways elaborately decorated with brilliantly colored tiles, exposed wooden beams, fountains, and golden domes. We also saw Jafar and the Genie entertaining guests in this segment of the park.
Content with our Agrabah Adventure, we crossed from the Arabian Coast to the Mermaid Lagoon. While the Arabian Coast definitely had rides for younger kids, the Mermaid Lagoon was entirely geared towards young, young kids. This portion of the park was beautiful but lacked any draw for Josh and I beyond the need to cross through it in order to get to the center of the park.
Mermaid Lagoon’s mascot is Daisy and yet the place is 100% centered around Ariel. The place is part outdoors and part “under the sea.” The outdoor portion is designed to represent the coast and Ariel’s livelihood now that she’s a human and married to a Prince on land. Meanwhile, the indoor portion is hosted by her father, King Triton and is most assuredly an underwater world. We walked into the underwater part unwittingly, and as soon as you pass the coral outcroppings and enter the cave you’re immediately awash in lighting that resembles bubbles, jelly fish, and sea creatures all over the place. It’s a gorgeous atmosphere to say the least, but entirely geared toward the 5 year old and under crowd.
Quickly moving on we passed from the Mermaid Lagoon with its shimmery sea shells and whatsamacallsits into the dazzling edifice that is Mysterious Island.
Again, I’m certain this tiny land nestled dead center in the park and hosted by Goofy has a storyline, but we couldn’t quite figure it out. No need in my opinion, the place erupts from a bend in the trail and suddenly you are at the center of a gaping volcano now filled with water. The steamboat punk theme is ridiculously present here. The rides are definitely geared towards the older crowd: all TWO of them.
The first ride takes you “under water” in a steamboat punk submarine. You operate a flashlight to navigate the waters, discovering odd looking creatures and encountering even stranger beings. The pursuit of your 20,000 leagues under the sea voyage is for an energy source: according to the line area someone is trying to pull energy from sea kelp. Whether you actually do anything related to this topic while on the ride? I haven’t the slightest clue, but the ride itself was well executed and entertaining. Also, of note, while the ride offers a fast pass, the line was almost always less than 15 minutes – definitely would recommend not using a fast pass allocation for this ride.
The second ride you definitely need a fast pass. This was the only ride in the entire park Josh and I rode twice, and we stood standby for an hour the first time. Journey to the Center of the Earth is a fast paced thrill ride, and it was not at all what I was expecting. The storyline explained in the standby line was that curious explorers kept digging deeper and deeper into the earth’s core to find what I’m guessing are various energy sources. While conducting the expeditions, very obscure and bizarre fauna and flora were found. We’ll leave it at this.
You descend an elevator to reach the staging section of the line, and then you’re transported to what I am guessing is the deepest dug spot thus far on the expedition. There is a headquarters here and the incessant sound of digging and the earth steaming is enough to energize you. You board a six-seater adventure vehicle, and you’re off. I wont give anything else away, but I will say this is most certainly the highlight of the park.
When you climb out of the crevasses of the volcano and cross back into the Mediterranean Harbor the scene you’re met with is beyond words. We walked this route several times today and each time we’re pleasantly surprised. The first time we viewed the place it was midday and the golden hues of the harbor were striking in the sun.
We explored a game called “The Leonardo Challenge” however the clues for the challenge itself were entirely in Japanese so the cast member let us loose to explore and poke our noses into the challenges at free will.
The second time we explored this place the sun was setting and the glorious sight was something to behold. We strolled along the water front this time taking in the cute props ever present in Disney parks: a collection of Roman statues and colonnades in ruins, exposed marble motifs, and cobblestone streets.
While the sun was setting we lined up for the Venetian Gondolas, and although the sun had completely set by the time we climbed onto the ride, the soft lighting and the melodic singing of our Japanese gondoliers was straight from a romance novel.
The third, and last time we walked through this segment of the park it was most assuredly nighttime, and the harbor was gearing up for Fantasmic. We settled on a spot opposite the park entrance and watched as water, lights, and Mickey told the story of imagination. Unfortunately you really need to be on the park entrance side to enjoy this show and so Josh and I shrugged our shoulders and pressed onwards.
We concluded our stay at Disney Sea the way most tourists do in a theme park: checking out the merchandise. I bought a pin – to add to my collection – and a Donald Duck with Chip and Dale coin purse. We were both pleasantly entertained by the obnoxious amounts of random Disney swag one can purchase here.
There is an entire store devoted to household goods in the Disney motif at Disney Sea – and not your typical coffee mugs, picture frames, and throw pillows. I’m talking hundreds of towel options, hand soaps, tooth brushes, bento boxes, chop sticks, q-tips, chapsticks, and loofas. It was insane and very unique.
If Winne the Pooh is your preference, have no fear, the stuffed cuddly hunny eating animal and all 100 Acre Woods friends also has an entire household decoration line.
A fad we encountered at Tokyo Disney included people wearing gigantic beanies in character. Not entirely sure why these have to be so huge, in my opinion it makes them easier to lose on a ride, but whatever floats your boat.
Another fantastic reality associated with Tokyo Disney merch is that the food is entirely decorated and shaped to look like Disney motifs. Check out these Mickey Mouse crackers:
And finally, a phenomenon we encountered throughout our stay across Japan was the medicine mask. People walk around the entire country wearing these masks that in the USA are worn by doctors and nurses. I’ve learned that the Japanese, being the most polite people I’ve ever met, wear them when they feel sick so as not to spread their contagion. Disney, knowing when to make money, sells character-themed masks so that even if you’re feeling ill, you too can partake in dress up at the parks.
Our ride home via the JR line was easy, quick, and needless to say we were exhausted by the time we managed to crawl into bed. We had a big day the next day and an early one at that, so sleep was an immediate necessity.