Kuzcotopia -- October 2001 -- Tokyo Disneyland (HTB)
OCTOBER 2001 Trip Report
Tokyo Disney Sea
Four months ago, my wife and I left for a two week vacation in Japan. We started with Tokyo Disney Sea. Here's my trip report.
We flew Japan Air Lines, so our cultural exposure to Japan started in the United States. The flight is eleven hours from LAX. Let me describe an eleven-hour flight. Just when you think you can't stand it anymore, you realize you're almost half way there! For some reason, the trip back was much better. Maybe because it was almost 2 hours shorter (because of the Jet Stream), but also because once you do it, you are used to a longer flight.
In Japan, it is already tomorrow. The time difference will make you wide awake around 5 in the morning, and sleepy by early afternoon. Caffeine is an essential nutrient the first couple of days. Really it only took 2 days before things started feeling normal.
We arrived at Tokyo Narita airport around 4 in the afternoon. Customs took about a half-hour, but the people were very friendly. The man searching our bags was asking questions like "where are you staying, what are you seeing?". General questions to make sure we weren't just smuggling drugs or something, I guess. Nice guy though.
We had reservations at the Hilton Tokyo Bay, which is on the Disney property. We had to arrange transportation to the hotel. Acting on a tip by an earlier MousePlanet trip report, I decided to use the Airport Limousine Bus. The Airport Limousine Bus is really just a nice tour-bus type bus. Many companies call their bus a limousine bus. Take my advice, use the one that is called the Friendly Limousine Bus.
This is really easy to do. Right when you get out the door from customs, right in front of you is a set of counters for rental cars and busses, just like every airport. You cannot miss the Friendly Limousine Bus counter. The person at the counter spoke English, but that doesn't matter. Just hold up your fingers for the number of tickets and say the name of your hotel. All the hotels they travel to are listed in romaji (English spelling using English letters) on a board behind the counter person. All the hotels on Tokyo Disney Resort Property are listed. She told us that the next bus would be in 20 minutes and that it would be at stop number seven just outside the doors. The price was around $25US a person. This is about 1/5th the price that a taxi would be.
Now the reason I say to use the Friendly brand is this: When we got outside the door, all the bus stands that belonged to Friendly were closest and VERY clearly marked. Big signs that listed the stand number (1-10 were all owned by Friendly, and my bus would be at number seven at 5:24). Each stand had a computerized LED sign on it that listed ALL the hotels that the next bus would stop at. These busses were like clockwork, each one would leave at the precise minute on the sign, and one was just pulling into the space as the previous one was leaving it. When they said 5:24, they MEANT 5:24, not 5:25. (Actually they said 17:24!) And just in case you are still a bit nervous about getting on the right bus, each bus also has an electronic sign listing in English and Japanese all the hotels it stops at. It is as close to fool-proof as you can get.
They put our luggage on the bus and we were off to Disney!
A couple of stops later (about 45 minutes) and we were at the Hilton. Japanese people are not accustomed to accepting tips, and it is recommended that you don't tip people. I have heard that it is almost an insult to tip someone. Instead if someone goes way out of their way to help you, a small gift may be appropriate. I felt strange not giving the driver a tip, but none of the Japanese passengers did.
Checking into the Hilton Tokyo Bay was easy. The desk manager spoke enough English to communicate all that was necessary. I was merely checking in for the nights on my reservation, and my credit card would handle any other charges that would arise. Room rates were about $320 a night. Pricey, but in line with smaller rooms I have stayed in at the Grand Californian. I am sure that some other hotels might have been less expensive. We were taken upstairs by a smartly dressed bellhop. The hotel was run with a precision that was almost military. The bellhops stood at attention until called by the manager, and whisked us up to our room with a very cordial manner. We had a park view, and again I felt awkward not tipping her.
Our room had twin beds! This happened almost everywhere we would stay in Japan. I guess husbands and wives don't sleep together much in Japan!
As we settled in to sleep, we watched the fireworks over Tokyo Disneyland, and about an hour later, as my wife drifted off in the next bed I watched Mt. Prometheus erupt.
Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun. Or as I call it, the Land of the Thirty-Dollar Breakfast.
Being jet-lagged Americans, it took great effort to sleep until 4:30 am. At 7 we made our way to the hotel lobby in search of breakfast before the park opened at 8. We had budgeted $10 each for breakfast, $20 for lunch and $30 for dinner each day. We were in for a shock.
The only restaurant open at 7 am was serving a breakfast buffet that was close to $30 per-person. An ordinary breakfast to the Japanese might mean some smoked fish (heads and all), scrambled eggs, spaghetti, hot dogs, miso soup, rice and French fries. This being a Hilton, there was also more appealing breakfast food for Americans, including some lovely baked goods in the shape of cartoon characters.
Rather than order the buffet, we found some menu items that would only break our budget a little. I found a $15 Eggs Benedict and with a $5 glass of milk and a 10% service charge that would just over double our estimate for breakfast. My eggs benedict was the smallest portion I have ever received in my life, and was served on English muffins that more resembled two Ritz crackers. I suddenly became worried that I would soon starve in Japan if we stuck to our budget. I immediately lobbied my wife for a big slashing of our souvenir budget to pay for more food. I would find later that my worries were unfounded. The high price breakfast was merely at the hotel, and would not trouble us again.
In the lobby of the hotel there was a marvelous bakery. I mean great. This was, in fact, the best bakery I have ever seen in my life. More fancy breads than you have ever seen before. Sourdoughs, white, wheat, buttermilk, orange bread, croissants, breads baked in terra-cotta pots, breads tied in fancy designs, muffins, pastry, cakes and cookies cookies cookies. I would learn soon that the Japanese are absolutely nuts for their baked goods. One $20 breakfast was all the encouragement we needed. Every night before bed we would go to the bakery and get a big supply of morning treats, and a couple of drink boxes of milk and some butter and jam for the next morning in our room. Our breakfasts from then on were only about $5 a person and were far better than the fare at the hotel cafe. Our souvenir budget was saved and we wouldn't swoon from lack of food.
Transportation and ticketing.
A 2 day passport was 9800 yen per person, with no park-hopping allowed. We opted for DisneySea for both days. I recommend 2 or 3 days for Tokyo DisneySea. If you are staying at a Disney Good Neighbor hotel, you are guaranteed the ability to buy tickets. In addition, you are given complimentary passes to the Monorail system for the length of your stay. You have to buy your tickets at the hotel in order to guarantee admittance. This is important, as the second day we were there (a Tuesday!) the park admittance was cut off shortly after noon!
From the Hilton, a four-minute walk will bring you to the closest Monorail station, but we rarely walked. This is because the most beautiful transportation in the Disney Universe is the magnificent busses that pick you up at your hotel. These are fantastic silver streamline-moderne busses with Mickey-Shaped windows, headlights, taillights and other fanciful touches. A pilbox-hatted, silk-gloved, brass-buttoned driver cheerfully drops you right off at the nearby monorail terminal. The Monorails are all-electric and even cleaner, if that is possible, than ours. They also have Mickey-Shaped windows and Mickey-shaped handle-straps, with little red shorts attached. Cute!
A short note. Disneyworld REALLY needs to get these busses. I think Disneyworld is a slick operation, but some of the things like this at Tokyo Disney Resort really show what a little extra polish can do.
Entering the Park
Anyway, we were through the turnstile and at the Aquasphere. The Aquasphere is the entrance icon of the park, and it is a marvelous (and larger than I pictured) faux-bronze sculpture of the earth, with micro-grooved oceans, with water running under the continents and over the seas. Amazing.
The new Disney MiraCosta Hotel overlooks the park, and you actually walk under it to reach the "Main Street" of Tokyo DisneySea. It is themed as Italian buildings and ties into the Mediterranean Harbor land which is the entrance of the park. The arch serves as a curtain, and as you begin to exit, the majesty of Porto Paradiso and its great fortress, and the fantastic Mt. Prometheus are revealed to you. It's dramatic and wonderful, and I suddenly felt the emotions of a year's vacation planning welling up in me. I felt a lump in my throat as I tried to say to my wife, "I can't believe it's really real! It's real. . . They actually built this."
Just outside the arch was a wait-time board with a hostess handing out guidemaps for guests who had dashed through the turnstile without getting one. She didn't speak English, but mearly saying eigo? (English) was enough for her to understand and give us an English language map.
Knowing that Japanese crowds tend to travel to the left, we went to the right, making sure to notice the fine details like small fisherman's boats moored in the Harbor, and the dedication plaque in English and Japanese. On the far side of the Harbor, approaching the Mysterious Island, we saw a popcorn cart that seemed to be selling Espresso and Popcorn. We were mistaken. It was selling Espresso FLAVORED Popcorn. EUGHHHHH!!! It had a big line of customers.
Next to that we saw a line that was growing and moving very rapidly, and the sign read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. We got in line. The rapid movement was because the queue was still filling up. Our wait turned out to be about 35 minutes, which was fine.
Here's where spoilers come in. I will do spoilers with a color change. When the color changes back, spoiler is done. There will be light spoilers and heavy spoilers. Light means you want some info about the ride. Heavy spoilers mean you never plan to go to Japan but you want to know a full description! Light spoilers will be in Light blue . Heavy spoilers will be in Red .
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a dark-ride where you ride a submersible deep under the ocean. While it shares a name with the Walt Disney World version of the Submarine ride (now closed), it is a different ride totally. The adventure still goes deep under the sea to view strange creatures, a Giant Squid and the remnants of Atlantis (but not the movie version of Atlantis)
The ride is an above-track, similar to Peter Pan, and doesn't take you underwater at all. The vehicle is a Captain-Nemo designed Victorian/Steampunk submersible with three bubble-shaped windows, one in front and one on each side. The ride is Dry-for-wet, and bubbles and water effects were pumped into the windows themselves. The effect is amazing, and very believable. The above track is invisible once inside, and the ride is very clever. The inside of the submersible is fitted with Victorian couches and can seat six. The dialogue is all in Japanese, but there doesn't seem to be much story anyway. The Giant Squid attacks but is repelled by an electric charge. The vehicle runs low on power and begins to descend until it is discovered by a group of Atlantians (who kind of look like fish people). The Atlanteans push your ship to safety (in an ingenious effect, you can see the shadow of your ship sinking, then the shadow of a group of Atlantians swimming up and lifting your ship.). Various internal dials and gauges were dipping into the red, and interior lighting and booming sound conveyed the sense of danger even without understanding the dialogue. It followed the standard theme-park plotline of 1st, sense of awe and wonder, then danger, then escape from danger.
The Mysterious Island area was magnificent inside the caldera. Steamboats were powering through the crater lake, while geysers erupted from a bubbling hell, and lava flows hissed and spurted steam as they met the water. The Nautilus was moored there, and I was disappointed that more wasn't made of it. It seemed to be one of the de-commissioned boats from the DisneyWorld ride, rather than one that you can enter like in Disneyland Paris. I pictured that 20,000 Leagues' queue would be inside the submarine, but that was not the case. In addition to Leagues, Journey to the Center of the Earth is located there, as well as a gift shop and a restaurant, Vulcania. Shortly after the grand opening, the gift shop sold limited edition models of the Nautilus. I was sad to find no models for sale when I went, limited edition or not. That would have been a for-sure purchase.
I'm doing this in a kind of memory order, which is why I skipped one of the Mysterious Island attractions. I'll do them in the order I visited them, more or less, so I remember more about them.
This doesn't look as much like a coast as the other lands do. Water only figures in to one of the attractions here, and the architecture speaks more of the desert than the sea. The waterway here is narrower here and seems more a river than the great expanse of sea visible in American Waterfront and Port Discovery.
The attractions here consist of a Double-Decker Carousel, Magic Lamp Theater and Sinbad's Seven Voyages. There are also shops and restaurants. The Carousel looked nice, with the music being a calliope version of the same score playing in the rest of the land -- a nice touch.
Magic Lamp Theater is a combined stage show and 3-D movie starring the Genie from Aladdin (but not Robin Williams unless Robin speaks fluent Japanese!!).
The Pre-show features an Audio-Animatronic snake with video-projection eyes (which are very lifelike). He gives the back-story, in Japanese, along with a slideshow. The show is about an evil magician and his young male assistant. The assistant finds the lamp one day, but before he can rub it, the magician steals it and becomes the Genie's master. Then they take you into the theater and live actors are there playing the Magician and the Assistant. After a short magic show where the tricks go awry, the assistant lets loose the genie and they conspire to ruin the magician's show and make the boy the new master of the Genie. When the movie starts (when the genie comes out) is when the fun begins. The animation is very good and doesn't seem to make your eyes cross as much as most 3-d movies. There also isn't a lot of the uncomfortable effects like some other movies have. No water, no rats, no bees and only one interactive effect that is similar to the old Mission to the Moon effect ;-) The actors are constantly talking with and otherwise interacting with the Genie. This is simpler, but done way better than similar scenes in Terminator 2:3D. Maybe because the Genie is a toon, he can still be a little unreal and you believe him.
This show was one of the few that I really wished for a translation of. Most shows had at least the songs in English, but not this one (though I always wondered what "Friend Like Me" sounded like in Japanese!).
The wait for this show was long (about 40 minutes, but got even longer the next day). I saw the line really take off in the time since I got in line. The line isn't covered, but lots of people qued up in the rain. People in America would complain about uncovered ques, but I couldn't tell if anyone was complaining.
The next ride was Sinbad's Seven Voyages. This is a boat ride indoors through a storybook based on one of the Tales of the Arabian Nights. It seemed strange, since DreamWorks is making a Sinbad movie, but oh well. This ride has supposedly the largest AudioAnimatronic cast of any ride ever made. I assume that doesn't count it's a small world (maybe those aren't technically A-A figures). Here's the other main ride where a translation would have helped. I couldn't tell what it was about, other than just seeing scenes of characters in various perilous situations. I'm not going to put a spoiler alert on this description, because I didn't really understand enough to give anything away.
The ride is a boat ride similar to Pirates or small world. The characters are about half-scale, and have a slightly anime look to them. They move in a more lifelike way than the Pirates figures, which was nice, and their eyes and body poses were more expressive than the Pirates.
My wife agreed that this ride really needed a waterfall or two. It seemed very tame, and lacked drama. Perhaps it was meant to be the small world of this park, but if so, it is not on the level of the global phenomena of the Disney classic.
Arabian Coast seemed to be a less popular land, but it was still crowded nonetheless. Our wait for Sinbad was about 20 minutes, which wasn't bad at all. The queue had a really nice themed fig plantation, with irrigation canals that had running water fed by a water-wheel. The detail was amazing. Parts of the land were right up against the visible berm, and space seemed scarce, in contrast with all the other lands in the park. But other parts, like the giant courtyard that served as the line for Magic Lamp Theater and the Carousel gave the area a spacious feeling similar to Epcot. All the architecture and detailed design work gave this area a lush, rich feeling, much like a palace.
Lost River Delta.
This land represents the very back of the park, and is along the narrowest part of the waterway. The Lost River Delta consists of 3 attractions, Indiana Jones Adventure:Temple of the Crystal Skull, Mystic Rhythms (a stage show featuring music and dance) and the station for the Transit Steamer Line (the boats that take you around the park).
The land is a rich tropical zone meant to represent a lush Latin American jungle. One side of the river has settlements with restaurants, shops and the stage show, and the other has the large pyramid and temple, and a very large queue area. This ride is one of only three attractions currently offering Fastpass.
Crystal Skull is a near direct lift from Disneyland, although strangely their queue isn't nearly as well themed as ours, and it has no interactive elements. The pyramid is more dramatic than some of our queue, but still I greatly prefer the feeling of ours. Indiana Jones's presence is everywhere in the line in Disneyland, as if he had secured all the traps in advance of your arrival. In Crystal Skull, he seems more scarce.
After the queue, the ride looks identical. The track layout is exactly the same, with a crystal skull directly where the forbidden eye would be. My wife and I joked that the voice over would be the same, but with some other person dubbing over the words "eye" with "Crystal Skull: "INFIDEL! YOU HAVE LOOKED INTO MY ___crystal skull____. YOUR PATH NOW LEADS YOU TO THE GATES OF ___crystal skull.___" The ride vehicles have been updated to be electrical rather than hydraulic, and my wife mentioned that these felt tamer. I didn't really notice it much.
spoiler zone, but if you've ridden Indy at Disneyland, it's mostly already spoiled
They seem to have taken out all the elements of randomness from this ride. While the cars have individual personalities (some have bad brakes, some stall...) at Disneyland, these seem to be all the same. There is only one door of Destiny in Crystal Skull, and I wouldn't be surprised if Indy always said the same thing to each car. Instead of the chamber of Destiny, there is one room decorated with skeletons of the people who presumably didn't make it so far. After the sharp left turn, it's identical to Forbidden eye with some small differences. When you cross the bridge, instead of a pit of lava there is a tornado of smoke that spins on your right. This is done with a wind-tunnel effect, and is pretty, but not especially scary. The giant head of Mara is now a giant skull, the giant cobra is a giant anaconda, or some other type of serpent, there is no spirit in the sky within the skull room, and less fire is there. There is no rat room, but instead there is a skull at the end of the hallway that spits a ball of flaming plasma right at your head. It's really just a ball of stage smoke, lit well, but it hits you right in the face and it got a similar laugh that the rats get. The hallway where you dodge blow-gun darts is actually sculpted stone rather than just painted-on warriors, and when the big ball falls they take your picture with some of the brightest strobes I've ever seen (I'm still seeing them, I think!).
Indy speaks Japanese only in this ride, and instead of Sallah, there is a Latino gentleman who provides safety instruction (I forget his name).
The ride had a five-hour wait on the Tuesday, but on Monday when it rained we rode it with about a 30 minute wait. If you've ridden the Disneyland one, you can safely skip this one. Of course if you want a ride souvenir photo, it's not available in Anaheim!
Across the waterway from Arabian Coast lies Mermaid Lagoon, which is designed to look like the colorful King Triton's Castle from The Little Mermaid. (Folks old enough to remember the one embarrassing spire will be relieved to know that it isn't represented). The exterior of the castle is decorated with colorful tile mosaics, and two of the attractions are outside the castle. Flounder's Flying Fish Coaster is a fun little kid-coaster similar to Gadget's Go Coaster at Disneyland. Scuttle's Scooters is a spinning ride similar, but tamer, than many Alpine-themed carnival rides.
Inside the castle you are greeted by some amazingly themed areas. The entry area has a wonderful bronze sculpture of King Triton being pulled on his chariot by dolphins. Sheets of glass with rising bubbles surround you, and just below is Ariel's Grotto where she keeps her human artifacts. Down a long ramp you start to get a glimpse of the large indoor "land". It is all themed as though you are deep under the ocean, and sunlight dapples from above on all the rocks, sand and sealife below. There are 5 attractions and three shops inside.
Jumpin Jellyfish is a more-richly themed version of the kiddie-parachute ride at California Adventure. The jellyfish look like illuminated blown-glass. There is also Blowfish Balloon Race, an aerial scrambler-type ride featuring big, friendly looking fish balloons. The Whirlpool is an ocean-themed version of the Mad Tea Party.
Ariel's Playground is a large play area with things to climb, water-fountains to chase and areas to explore and discover. It has the charm and the interactivity of Mickey's House in Toontown. There are also scarier areas for braver kids to explore, including Ursula's cave and the sunken ship where the Shark attacked Ariel and Flounder. Ariel's Grotto, with the heroic statue of Prince Eric is here as well.
Sometimes the Sleepy Whale Shop, in the mouth of what must be Monstro's friendly cousin, has a long line just to enter. This is the place to get Ariel-themed merchandise. This is attached to the two other shops, Mermaid Treasures (which is more of a girl-oriented shop), and Kiss de Girl Fashions, which offers clothing for girls.
Sebastian's Calypso Kitchen thankfully does not offer seafood, but rather pizzas.
But far and away the main attraction of Mermaid Lagoon is the Mermaid Lagoon Theater. The entrance to the theater is a sunken galleon, ornately decorated. A fastpass is offered, and probably should be taken advantage of. The show here is called "Under the Sea" and it is BY FAR the best show that has ever played at any Disney park.
It was getting to be about 8:30 in the evening on the first day were were at the park. It was raining, so Mermaid Lagoon, being inside, was a great place to go. Most of the small fry were off to an early bedtime, so this land was dry and uncrowded. Although waits for this show can be multiple hours long, we got in to the next show with about a 10 minute wait.
Usually a themepark show means people in big furry Jafar and Meeko costumes doing their best not to trip over their own feet while a teacup the size of a small horse spins by during "Be Our Guest." Under the Sea is a huge departure from that, and my only ABSOLUTE DON'T MISS at this park. (This is a don't miss, precisely because without that kind of recommendation, I would have skipped it.) Mix The Little Mermaid with the Broadway version of The Lion King, and Cirque du Soliel and make it 15 minutes long and you get Under the Sea. No dancer in a big furry Sebastian outfit, tripping over his claws, but what do you get?
SPOILER ALERT.... LIGHT SPOILERS
You get a show sung in English, with Japanese spoken dialogue. The whole show is performed in the round, with the dancers ABOVE you on elaborate flying rigs. They swim, tumble and glide over your head effortlessly, their magnificent silk costumes spreading like fins.
Ariel performs the whole show never once touching the ground, while Sebastian is performed by a dancer with a bunraku style rod-puppet rig, similar to Timon or Zazu in the Lion King. Rather than trying to encapsulate the entire story of The Little Mermaid, Under the Sea merely attempts to capture a portion of the story and the feeling of longing and the dilemma of Ariel. Only 3 songs are performed, Part of that World, Poor Unfortunate Souls and Under da Sea. For Poor Unfortunate Souls, there is no big fuzzy costume for Ursula. Instead, the wall opens, and a 20 FOOT TALL STEEL MECHA-URSULA ROBOT HEAD emerges! She is a HUGE robot/puppet, breathing smoke and strobes and laser-beams! Other performers on wires operate 12-foot tall hands on giant flying rigs, and the remainder of the dancers writhe and stretch above you, their legs becoming tentacles that nearly brush the top of your head! Ursula takes up the entire theater, and the head sings (with the voice of Pat Carrol!). This is a FANTASTIC puppet, something that really should be the climax to a show like Fantasmic. And to see it ENGULF the theater is really a thrill!
The dancers become beautiful fish once again for the finale, Under da Sea, an amazing, festive dance number, and the dazzling images and dance keep coming until the end.
Although the entire show is lip-synch, you cannot fault the amazing technical work, and the sheer vision that brought this show to life. Seeing this show in this park, you get the feeling that everything was designed here to be a few notches above everything that has been attempted before. This show is the one that highlights the change in thinking required. Some attractions used the bigger/better/faster formula to top things that had come before. Instead of that, this show required the re-thinking of concepts and raising the bar on the creative goals. Rather than a bigger version of Animazement, here we got something totally new and innovative. This show should be added to Disneyworld or Disneyland Resort as soon as possible, but the theater would have to be built from scratch.
Mermaid Lagoon is Fantasyland and Toontown rolled together, and then some. A wonderful land that should grow. I would love to see a dark ride here, or even a small water ride. I only wish I brought a kid. Great things will be added to this land, I am sure. It will be a favorite.
The boring American Waterfront.
Well, it's not really boring... it just represents a virtually ride-free land. This land REALLY needs a ride.
There are three attractions listed for this land. Big City Vehicles, DisneySea Electric Railway and DisneySea Transit Steamer Line.
The Transit Steamer here travels a full circuit around the park, while the one at Mediterranian Harbor lets you off at Lost River Delta.
That leaves the Big City Vehicles and the Electric Railway. The vehicles are quaint cars similar to the ones that travel on Main Street at Disneyland. A-Ticket attractions.
The DisneySea Electric Railway, my wife agreed, would have been Walt Disney's favorite attraction at DisneySea. It is an elevated railway that absolutely GLEAMED with bright paint, polished brass and fine woodwork. It travels between American Waterfront and Port Discovery on an elevated track. It's a short journey, but the cars are such a delight and the line is sometimes quite short.
Other than that, American Waterfront is just shows and shops and restaurants. Mediterranean Harbor is also missing D or E tickets, so this park kind of has two "Main Streets".
American Waterfront has two areas, one represents New York circa 1912, the other Cape Cod. New York features a very large steamship, a roughly half-size version of the Queen Mary, named Columbia. This side of the park faces the ocean, so it is very dramatic to look South from American Waterfront or Port Discovery and be able to see the ocean all the way to the horizon, with just a small breakwater between. (Actually there's breakwater, a road and some more land, but that's very well hidden.) The illusion is that the Columbia (not really a ship, but a building) is ready to sail off at any moment.
The Columbia is home to two restaurants, the Teddy Roosevelt Lounge and the S.S. Columbia Dining Room. Both are lushly appointed table service facilities which serve alcohol. The wait for both was a bit lengthy.
There are four other restaurants in American Waterfront. Since the Japanese crowds tend to move en-masse, we were able to beat the lunchtime rush by eating at 11:30. We picked American Waterfront because it had the smallest crowds and the largest number of restaurants. We were able to walk right up to the counter at Cape Cod Cook-Off and order Hamburgers, fries and Cokes. The hamburgers were inexpensive, but small. I recommend ordering two.
In the dining room of Cape Cod Cook-Off are continuous performances of Donald's Boat Builders. This is a stage show starring Donald, Mickey, Goofy, Chip and Dale. It is all in Japanese, and gave us our first real taste of all these characters' voices in Japanese! For once I had an excuse not to understand Donald!
Regardless of the language barrier, it is a clever show with lots of funny physical gags. A 5-minute act of the show is interspersed with a short cartoon, then another act, then a live band, then another act. After a full meal, you've seen the whole show, but the three acts can be viewed in any order, and repeat all day. It's really cleverly done, with one scene ruining the on-stage boat, then the next scene repairing it. All the props are re-set for the next show with the actions of the current one, since there is no curtain.
The band that came in were Americans, playing a kind of firehouse ragtime. The audience really enjoyed them.
After our meal it was 12:00, and the lines had grown to about 20 minutes to get lunch.
This land really needs to expand. It needs an E-ticket (Tower of Terror was rumored for awhile). But the theming is knock-your eyes out, brilliant... and the buildings are full-scale with no forced-perspective.
The real star of this land is the humble little Electric Railway. It's a beauty, and it would be great to see it go to more destinations.
In which Kuzcotopia finds Port Discovery and wonders if Disney Imagineers can draw on Jules Verne for every single attraction they ever design....
It's France's Discoveryland with water beside it. It's what Disneyland Tomorrowland would have looked like on a decent budget... It's ...it's.....
It's another durned Jules Verne future from Disney. You know it, you love it.... it's COPPER!!!!! All marvel at our excellently stipple-brushed green patina! Ooooooh! Big-spinning antennae in the sky, and it's all COPPER!!!! Looks like the balls above the Astro-Orbiters... looks like the Spinning-Rocketeer-theme-playing-satellite-dish-thingy... Imagine the WONDER of a future that's not painted stark white. Imagine a future that's all COPPER!!!
Yeah yeah yeah.... An underwhelming land. Two attractions if you don't count the Electric Railway twice.
And here comes the horrible confession I have to make. I didn't ride Stormrider. Sorry, the line was too long, and there isn't a Fastpass for this one. I only had two days, and it was the only ride I left out. Oh well...
Here's a brief description of Stormrider. It's the future, and you are going on a mission to drop some sort of probe into the center of a typhoon. Something goes terribly wrong, and havoc ensues. Since this is a Disney ride, we can safely assume that there is a beginning where you are instilled with a sense of awe and wonder, then a danger appears, then you escape from that danger. The ride is billed as the biggest simulator ride ever built, and there are two of these cabins in operation. Each one seats over 100 guests. Digital Domain created the effects for the ridefilm.
The other attraction is Aquatopia. This ride is a clever little piece of fun. This should be called Mr. Toad's Wild Ride in a Boat from the Future. But knowing how "Imagineers" like to "Innovent" new "word-taculars", they instead called it "Aquatopia" and hoped no-one would notice the extra letter A that messes up the pun.
This ride isn't a boat-ride at all, but little robot-vehicles that zip around a pond as if they were gliding on water. Each boat is computer controlled (you don't steer them, no matter that they look like bumper-boats). But seeing the pond in action is like watching a hive of bees moving in a seemingly random, but perfectly synchronized ballet. You see, each boat travels its own course through the rocks, waterfalls, whirlpools and geysers, effortlessly creating a ride seemingly unique to your boat. Near-misses occur often, but magically no-one gets splashed, and no-one gets a leaping water fountain in the face. Split-second timing and perfectly ordered mayhem make for one of the most fun little rides at Disney Sea.
This is a ride that got poor reviews during soft opening. All I can say is that the pathing software must have been tweaked well, as this was a wonderful little delight of a ride, and a children's favorite.
That's it for this land, which is a shame. There are a couple of restaurants, but nothing spectacular. And one shop. The setting is nice, as this is one of the lands that looks South across the sea. There is a huge futuristic sea-wall that is prominent, and the ocean seems to be streaming in from it. All part of the wonderful illusion that makes the horizon itself the berm for this park. Amazing. This land has room to expand, ironically, because there is so much water in it. More buildings, I'm sure, will be added.
I guess that Port Discovery was meant to echo Discoveryland on purpose, as if they were related lands. I would like Disney to start mining different ideas for futures. I particularly liked the concept art of the "Montana Tomorrowland" that was represented in the Disney Gallery a few years ago. The landscaping at Tomorrowland is a nod to that concept, but the core idea is much more bold. There are lots of wonderful visions of the future, it's a shame that we keep getting the same one every time.
DisneySea already has one Jules Verne land, and it's WONDERFUL. It didn't need two.
Journey to the Center of the Earth.
This ride has the longest wait in the park. A normal wait is probably 5 hours. Fastpasses for the entire day are given out within about an hour of opening, which explains the hundreds of people waiting on blankets before the park opens. If you want to ride this at all, get your fastpass early, and plan to stay late (well, the park closes at 10pm, so not too late!). I got a fastpass the first day, but we were tired by evening, so I decided to go the second day instead.
This was a mistake, because the second day was sunny, and the park had 4 times as many guests. About 11 am I noticed that the ENORMOUS crowd around the ride wasn't moving. There was a line all the way out the cave and through the fortress and out the back of the fortress, almost to American Waterfront. And this was only the line for GETTING FASTPASS TICKETS!!!!
I started to really stress that I wouldn't be able to ride this. About this time, I noticed that the ride wasn't even operating. No cars were shooting down the lava tube... Wha?
After hemming and hawwing and shrugging my shoulders and generally stressing out... The ride started running again. I followed the line to the Fastpass area, and sure enough, that's what people were waiting for... But as hard as I looked, I couldn't find anyone waiting for the ride to re-open. Duh!
Anyone who's ever ridden Rocket Rods can spot a power-up procedure in action! Since I spoke no Japanese, I couldn't ask anyone if there was a line, or what the expected wait was. So we just hung out, looking non-chalant and hoping no-one would shoo us away.
The entrance cave walkway for Journey is a huge cavern, with crowds of people moving through on their way to this land or that. Within ten minutes I noticed a shudder in the movement of the crowd, like a swarm of fish that spotted food. The more alert people were surging forward, while trying to still act cool enough not to start a stampede. We followed.
We were led to a side door and a cast member was holding up two fingers and saying "ni" (two). I assumed that this was a dual-rider line. They were only letting in parties of two! We were probably the tenth people in!
******* Light Spoiler*******
Journey to the Center of the Earth is a thrilling ride into a Volcano to see the wonders of the hollow Earth. The storyline is that this is Captain Nemo's underground exploration. The queue brings you past findings from the deep places of the Earth. The line winds through caves both natural and man-made.
Eventually you board a "Terravator" which takes you deep deep through the strata of the earth, and you arrive at a very deep place underground. Get it. It's deep. Underground.
The Terrevator is a less-thrilling version of the "Aquavator" from The Living Seas at Epcot. The Lights, sound effects and wind help give you the impression of deep underground....ness.
Anyway, down here you board cars that are similar in layout and design to the old Rocket-rods. Self-propelled, electrically powered vehicles, with a plow shape up front.
You begin your Journey with your standard vision of Awe and Wonder, but don't worry, that will be replaced by an unforeseen danger within a few seconds..
You start in shimmering crystal caverns, glowing with phosphorescence. You then are in a mushroom forest, filled with bizarre but beautiful creatures. This is a charming and lush version of deep-sea life, all the creatures glowing with their own bio-phosphorescence.
A cave in, and an unexpected fireball force the vehicle to take a wrong turn, and the caves seem more threatening here. You see a vision of a vast underground sea, but then you notice that there are numerous spherical objects in the cave you are in.... and there's something moving in each of them!
And it looks like whatever laid them is MIGHTY IRKED.
Around the corner, with FIRE belching out all around it, is the LAVA MONSTER.
The LARGEST, fastest, MEANEST Audio-Animatronic creature ever built. And it wants YOU! This thing is larger than King Kong, moves QUICKLY and FLUIDLY, and looks like a cross between A lobster and the Predator!
THEN, the Volcano erupts.
KABOOOOMMMM! You are blasted upwards through the tunnel, trying to race away from the monster before being engulfed in lava!
Here's what's going on. This ride vehicle usually runs at dark-ride speeds. Unsuspecting folks have gotten used to this as a nice slow ride. Now it's going speeds upwards of 45 miles an hour. Uphill.
And we know that what goes up must come down.
When you finally get a vision of sunlight, you realize you are blasting out of the side of the volcano. The vehicle slopes upward and escapes over a perfect parabolic arc which gives you more airtime than any roller coaster I've ever ridden. Blam! You blast out of the lava tube, have a quick view of the park and zip zip you are racing around the rim of the crater lake to come to the end of the ride. WHEW.
Now my only regrets...
My wife and I both agreed that this ride needed to be longer. It's about 1/3 the length of Indiana Jones. That is not enough.
Also, the electric vehicles didn't start or stop smoothly. They were jerky. That's inexcusable.
Other than that.... a great ride.
Here's my pitch. Re-theme it to California Adventure. Put it in San Francisco or whatever. Make it a "Seismic Research Facility." California can be about more than Tortillas. It can be a springboard for fantasy as well.
This is a vast fort with many rooms and chambers to explore. It is meant to represent the fantastic age of discovery that occurred synchronous with the Italian Renaissance. A flapping-wing flying machine as designed by Leonardo is there, as is a mechanical planetarium the size of a room, with the planets moving by the power of hand-cranks. There is a Camera Obscura, a time-pendulum, and many other instruments of science of the period. The most fun seemed to be the cannons that you can fire by pulling the fuse.
General thoughts on the park....
This park is wonderful, with tremendous room to grow. The shows are spectacular, even The Porto Paradiso Water Carnival which is also a bit long and repetitive.
My best Souvenir: A DisneySea Symphony Neon wand. This is a real neon mini-lightsaber. It cost 1200 yen (about 11 bucks), and it's a neon lightsaber coming out of a Mickey hand. This seems to have real glass in it, so don't count on it ever being sold here! It's really bright and the kids wave it around in the park. This should be offered on Ebay, but I've never seen it! It would be a great import. Comes in Pink and Blue.
Favorite drink: Arabian Coast Special Drink. I had to order it because it had such a hokey name. It was a tropical fruit flavored yogurt drink. Really good.
Favorite dessert: We saw the signs: Sea Salt Ice Cream. YEEECHHHH! But it came in a cup, in a beautiful light-blue clamshell compact! People were eating it out of the clamshell that said Tokyo DisneySea on it, and it was so cute I HAD to have it. Luckily the Sea Salt didn't refer to the flavor, just the method. Sea Salt rather than Rock Salt. It was vanilla flavored. ;-)
Must-Have in Disneyworld: Everyone has one in TDS: The ubiquitous water-bottle neckstrap. Makes sense. Looks sporty. I should'a got one.
Here's the big picture.... I have to try and wrap this up.
This is a great park, really great.... and very easy to visit. If you take my advice and read this trip report, you should have a great time.
But that said, the Tokyo Disney Resort doesn't seem to care to attract American visitors. The map and the signage is in English, but that seems to be the only aid to Americans. We saw no Americans at all, except for a few musicians employed at the park.
The DisneySea Mira Costa hotel was extremely hard to contact. My travel agent tried for weeks to gain a reservation, and finally had to give up and book the Hilton. A Disney reservation line or information line is not staffed in English, and the automated system greets the caller in Japanese alone. Even though a web-site is maintained in English, the information hotline they give is in Japanese only. My Travel Agent (American Express Travel in Encino CA), had no information about this park. No brochures or travel information of any kind about the Tokyo Disney Resort, let alone DisneySea.
I also think that the average Disney Tourist would be put off by the size of the crowds and the length of the waits. The lack of English translations would also be off-putting to an average tourist. The Duplication of 90% of the Magic Kingdom in Tokyo Disneyland would further limit the appeal for the average American Family.
The average MousePlanet reader, on the other hand, SHOULD go. You will love it. Annual Passholders owe it to themselves to see this park in person, and anyone Disney enough to gather at the Partners statue should be ASHAMED if they waste money on Disneyana that could be spent on a ticket to Japan! ;-)
In my mind, I'm still there. I'm sitting on the little patio in front of the Pizzeria at night, watching a light drizzle fall on Porto Paradiso. I'm wearing my light jacket, and the breeze coming off the water smells of the salt air. There's just a bit of October chill, and I can't take my eyes off of the peak of Mt. Prometheus. The lighting is absolutely magical. The front is lit by a warm orange, while the sky behind it is painted a sea foam blue-green. The caldera is alive with the fumes of the smoldering volcano, which threatens to belch searing flame skyward at any moment. The falling mist softens the whole image into painterly strokes, like the largest Peter Ellenshaw matte painting ever created. This is where I am even now. This is the moment I return to time after time. I still can't believe my eyes. I can't believe they really built this.