Transportation: Bus as part of a Japanese Tour on October 28th (a holiday for my prefecture)
I have been teaching in Japan for the past two years so I have had the opportunity to visit both Japanese Disney parks. Since leaving high school, I have only visited the parks with friends, so it will be a real change to have young children along.
Pre-trip planning: We've been looking at many options for the visit. What finally settled it was not only did our prefecture have a holiday, but Disney had discounts ($45 instead of $55) for our prefecture at that time. So we will go October 28th. We don't want to drive to Disneyland, because of Tokyo traffic. So that left us with taking the train for about 3 hours in each direction. Not bad on the way there, but we would have to leave fairly early to get home before the trains ($15 each way) stopped. There would also be a couple train transfers. Luckily, we found a Japanese bus tour leaving our town that day. We will have to get up early and get back late, but we won't have to think about transportation.
October 14th: I called up the Tour Company and booked the tour company. I am beyond excited! My friend, Midori, from a few towns away decided to join us. It will be good to have someone Japanese with us, just in case there are last minute changes or problems at the park. There shouldn't be, but still. The total for 3 adults and 2 children is about $390.
Here is my concern. It's the munchkins first time so I think they'll be all about the rides. I saw a program on TV about all the cool shows they have there. Maybe they'll like the shows, too. Their Japanese is better than mine so they might be able to understand it much better than I. We'll see.
October 28th: I woke up early to the falling rain. Meeting up with Anna & the kids we went to the bus stop at the train station. A little after the 6:15 pick-up time, we hopped on the bus and sat next to Midori. It was then a four hour bus to TDL. At this point I was wondering if I really should have taken the train and got an extra couple hours sleep. I was dead tired. Midori struck up a conversation with her seatmate. It turns out that the seatmate's oldest son plays soccer like Avey, just at another school in town. Between this and seeing a couple of my students on the bus, I was expecting to see more students everywhere I turned.
After the stop and go traffic of the Tokyo Metropolitan Expressways, we saw the spires of Cinderella in the Rainy distance. We hopped off the bus at 10:20 with prompt instructions to be on the bus at 8:50 that night. In typical Japanese tradition our bus hostess (kind of like a tour guide without actually giving any tour) led us to the security checkpoint.
Security Checkpoint?!? This shocked me. When I went to TDL in the February after the NYC/DC terrorist attacks there was no security checkpoint. It was no big deal, just a surprise.
I was thinking of heading over to the Pooh’s Hunny Hunt for a Fast Pass, but then Mikeila started to say that she wanted to go to the Haunted Mansion. Avey joined the chorus so it was off to the Mansion we go. We got there with a 25 minute wait. Since most of the queue was out doors we had to wait in the rain. But much of that wait was just walking through the queue. HM looked pretty similar to the WDW Mansion except it had a few Halloween touches. It had two ghosts sharing tea and a pumpkin patch. In a stroke of excellent Halloween themeing, ghosts and pumpkins were throughout the park. The interior and ride's story is identical to WDW. I sat with Mikeila and Avey while Midori and Anna shared a Doom Buggy. I was a little worried about Mikeila, because she seemed to be an easy-fright. I was one of those when I was younger, to the chagrin of my Mansion-lovin' parents. Luckily, Mikeila took it like a champ. Instead of following the story though, she asked how it all worked and if the guard and the scared dog were real. Like I said earlier, I had never come to the parks with children before. The constant questioning was one of many things that I did not expect that day.
We were thinking about seeing the Halloween Parade before more rides, but due to bad weather all of the parades and firework shows ended up being cancelled. So, no review on the magic that is a TDL Parade. They were doing a character greet instead. We decided to go to Pooh’s Hunny Hunt to see how long the queue is and whether or not we should get a fast pass. At 110 minutes, the wait was the longest for an attraction in the park. It was only 11 AM, but the return time for the fast pass was already at 5:30 PM. We rushed over to get fast passes. Despite it being a holiday, the rain made Disney look more crowded than it actually was. Everybody was huddled in the indoor places.
Honey, I Shrunk...
After getting the passes we went over to Microadventure (AKA Honey, I Shrunk...). It was all in Japanese, but very easy to follow. It isn't the best 4-D show I've seen, sometimes the image split into two (ouch!) and the plot is pretty weak. Still, it was 20 minutes of being out of the rain, so I was happy. There are English and Chinese headphones in the second to last row, but since almost everyone in my group understood enough Japanese we passed on those. Mikeila's shoes were wet already after running all over we park. So she changed into new shoes during the show; she’s not the quietest child.
After exiting the ride it was time for us to grab some lunch. We headed over to the Lunch Pad and went inside to look for a table. It looked like how I remember it at Disneyland in my youth. Since it was noon all the tables were taken inside and the lunch queue was all the way to the wall. We went outside and found some relatively dry seats under an outcrop of the building. Anna and the kids brought their lunches, so Midori and I trekked inside to grab some food. Instead of the normal burger and fries, we grabbed Roast Beef Wrap with tortilla chips. The wrap was pretty good. The food costs at TDL can actually be cheaper than US Disney's; burger and fries are about the same price at McDonald's here. After filling up on some grub, Avey decided that he wanted go on Space Mountain.....and so did Mikeila! The wait was long enough to let our tummies settle, so we decided what the heck. Off to Space Mountain!
Space Mountain (Take 1)
Anna decided to take advantage of us going over to Space Mountain and get some shopping done. The wait was a reasonable 50 minutes.....or so we thought. By the time we got to the upper level it turned out that the attraction had stopped. This SM was designed based on the Disneyland model. At least it is still white like WDW's. Unlike WDW there is only one track so if it is down, nobody rides. It was the first time I saw the lights on in there. I would hate to ride that ride with the lights on...much scarier. After about 20 minutes they got the ride back up. The kids were getting impatient, but thanks to Midori's magical Skittles and my silly songs we kept them entertained. We were at the loading room and it broke down again! This time they decided to empty the queue and handed us passes that would let us line jump a low or medium popular ride...or SM if they fixed it. We ended up waiting there an hour and a half without riding it. Frustrating, but what can one do?PiratesWe trekked over to Pirates of the Caribbean to use our pass. Luckily, we didn't need it. Pirates of Caribbean was also based on the Disneyland model, with a little flash of WDW. There is a Blue Bayou Restaurant. Inside the building and the drop is right near the beginning of the ride, but there was no uphill escape from the TNT at the end. Avey loved it and wanted to do it again. That was a problem we found: after the kids rode a ride they wanted to do it again instead of other rides. Luckily, we were able to convince that there were so many other great rides and shows to do.
By the time we got out, it looked like we would be able to just make the 3:05 showing of Once Upon a Mouse. It was showing at the theater next to Space Mountain. The themeing didn’t mesh with Tomorrowland We got there just in time to see them turning away guests. Now it was Avey's turn to have wet socks. We decided to let Anna hit the stores again as Midori and I took another turn at baby sitting in Toontown. Beware of the DIP!
Toontown was pretty much the same layout as Disneyland, if a mirror image. Mickey's house is on the right and Downtown Toontown is on the left looking from the entrance. Midori was quite excited. She had previous been at TDL about 10 years ago, before Toontown was brought in....before there was even a day passport. We went over to Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin, a clone of the California version. I forgot how awesome a Disney queue could be. It was so much fun waiting in that line, playing with the kids and bringing them up to date with the theme of the ride. The ride was short but a fun spinny trip through Toontown. The kids loved it almost as much as Midori and I did. We had to hurry back to meet up with Anna. Once Upon a Mouse
We were off to see Once Upon a Mouse. This time we were much luckier. I really wanted to see this show after seeing a preview on a local television station. It seems to have come about in 1999. I don't know if it ever showed in the states, but it needs to be brought to WDW and/or Disneyland, stat! It starts off with a stage full of Disney Characters modern and classic. Mickey makes his grand entrance floating in a dirigible from offstage. They all welcome him off and he introduces the show in both English and Japanese. Most of the dialogue is in English, but there are subtitles on screens that bring us closer to the action. Eventually Mickey and Minnie are left alone in front of the curtain. Mickey asks her out to the symphony, she accepts and gives him a kiss. Then Mickey wiggles his nose. So cute!
The next sequence opens with Daisy's Beauty Parlor. They gave Daisy the most hideous hair. Our favorite gal mouse is sitting under a form-fitting hair dryer while bouffanted stylists tend to her glamorous needs. Minnie and Daisy do a couple numbers and Mickey appears to find the (not that) beautifully styled Minnie Mouse. They then head off to the Symphony. The symphony is full of Disney Characters. Chip & Dale are on the piano. Dumbo is on the xylophone. Donald is the "beautifully" coifed conductor. Well, who gets struck with all the bad luck? Donald tries to conduct a serious symphonic piece while the players get a little crazy. Then Clarabelle shows up and adds a little Latin flavor. A beautifully done scene, the character interaction was inspired.
Next, there was a scene with Max, Roger Rabbit, and the Big Bad Wolf rocking out in the streets of Toontown. This scene was the weakest, but not bad. After that it was time for Goofy's segment, where he shows off his classically trained dancing ability. I won't spoil it because it is just a very funny and brilliant piece. Well deserving of the Goof. The ending scene was an adorable scene with the princesses and princes, the main characters. I think that this is perhaps the best show that Disney has ever put on. On par, if not surpassing the Lion King show at DAK. Unfortunately, a couple times Avey turned to me and asked me when it was going to end. No accounting for taste. But honestly, Once Upon a Mouse is a perfect showcase for the main characters. From the beginning I had a big dopey grin on my face. This show would have considerable crowds at any Disney property and should be sent stateside.
Space Mountain (Take 2)
As we stepped out of the theatre we noticed that we were just twenty minutes from our Fast Pass time at Pooh's Hunny Hunt. I glanced over at Space Mountain. It was up and running so we decided to try our chances again. We gave them our handy dandy rain check and walked into the Fast Pass queue. In about 15 minutes we were in our rocket and ready to launch. Space Mountain here is like in the states: stars all around while you jet through the dark. I didn't see any oatmeal cookie asteroids though. I was worried a bit about Mikeila, but once again she came through. She absolutely loved it. "Again! Again!" she demanded. We had to be firm and say that it was now time to go see Pooh.Teacups, Peter Pan, and the Queen of HeartsUnfortunately, by the time we got to Pooh it was broken down! Midori asked the cast member if there was a chance of it being up again tonight. She didn't know....it didn't look to good for us. We walked back to Fantasyland. Anna wanted to ride It's a Small World, but it was being given a Christmas makeover. We saw that there was virtually no queue for the teacups. The kids, Midori, and I jumped at the chance to spin ourselves silly. Anna again waited on the sidelines. The only way to go on the teacups is fast! So Midori and I span so fast that halfway through we suddenly slowed down. An emergence speed control? Perhaps. After that we wandered over to Peter Pan. I loved flying to Never Neverland as a child and thought the kids would love it. After a 30 minute late we boarded our ship and flew off. It was......brief. I could tell the quality of the detail, but the scenes flew by so fast I couldn't immerse myself in it. I think that after growing up a bit, the trip to Never Neverland became bland.
It was time for us to grab some dinner so we went over the Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall. We decided that it would be nice to be under a roof instead of huddled in some counter service dining area. What brilliant themeing! Inside and out just felt like a dining experience. It was a buffet style serving so getting our dishes was quick. The prices were reasonable for indoor dining. My meatloaf, side, drink, and cake ($16) were pretty good, but I have had better meals at Disney. The food tasted a little bland. The CMs were great! TDL has perhaps the best service from cast members. As a former cast member, this isn't a slight against my fellow Americans. Cast Members are awesome in the US, but the service-mindedness of Japanese society puts these cast members to a level of near perfection. The Americans still have the title in giving good show and entertaining the western guests.
Pooh, Tigger, and the Crew
We had one hour left until we had to catch the bus. This was our last chance to visit the Hundred Acre Wood. We walked over to Pooh's and saw that there were people in the queue and it was moving. The queue was awesomely done. After walking through the Robinsons' garden you end up in Christopher's playroom. There are tons of toys and a map of the Hundred Acre Woods. Then you step into the pages of a Winnie the Pooh story, like at WDW, but with better layout. Then you get to the Hunny Pots. These pots look nothing like WDW's. They are huge. Three Hunny Pots seat 5 people. Then you are off. The first thing you notice is that you are both free from a trach and move independently from the other two Hunny Pots in your party. First you go into the Hundred Acre Wood during one blustery day and see all of Pooh's friends. Then you go into a room where you meet Tigger. You and the whole room bounce in tune to Tigger's Song and then you go off again...into Pooh's Dreams. A carnival of Heffalumps and Woozles(?) are reeking havoc on Pooh’s psyche in a spinny display of delight. After recovering Pooh finds a big heap of hunny, making him a tubby little cubby stuffed with hunny, This is an amazing ride. The technology and layout kicks WDW's Pooh's bum. The only part where WDW has TDL beat is that the bouncing is a little more realistic and it has the flood scene. Anna & Midori loved this ride. The kids were surprisingly blasé. Maybe they didn't get how advanced the technology is....maybe they saw that the story was a little weak....maybe they were tired from the long day.
After that it was time to go. We trekked to the front of the park. I spent 10 minutes shopping.....I never give myself enough time to shop. I almost forget to get omiyage (small snacks that Japanese give as gifts) for my coworkers. After that we hopped on the bus for our 3 hour trip back to Ota. They played a Doraemon video as most of the riders slept.Conclusion:
Being my first trip with kids I learned many things. Problems and changes come up more often than when traveling with adult friends. I was shocked with how few rides we rode, even if you exclude the wasted 90 minutes at Space Mountain. We stopped and ate more often, we visited the toilets more often, and we had to make emergency purchases due to the rain. In spring and fall the weather if variable with days of rain coming by surprise. I was not used to actually eating at meal times, but the kids were hungry at those times. I prefer going on school days when the crowds are smaller. I also prefer drier days like in the winter.
Don’t let Disneyland in Tokyo scare you. Even if you do not understand a word of Japanese you can enjoy yourself. You’ll be at a disadvantage to the Japanese guests who all come with books describing the best rides, restaurants, and gifts to buy. It’s like being at MK in the states, with a couple differences here and there. Take two or three days, especially if you visit during a busy period.
Next time: Disney Sea with the kids.