Bob Smith -- November 2005 - Tokyo Disneyland (Offiste)
All of us are from Central Illinois, and very experienced Disney Park people. Steve worked at DisneyWorld in college, and Ted and Louise used to live in Florida. We all visit DisneyWorld/Disneyland/Disneyland Paris on a regular basis, and are familiar with all the American and European parks.
Hotel: International Garden Hotel, Narita, Japan
Transportation: American Airlines, local trains and subways, bus
The days of the report are broken into categories for those who want to read ahead (days 3, 4 and 5 are the Disney Days). The other days are brief reports on the other things we did in the Tokyo area. A summary at the end reports on the good, bad, and things we'd do differently.
One day in mid October, I (Steve) was making copies at the local copy center. Ted ran in the door and said "Hey, you wanna go to Disney in Tokyo?" My first thought was he was talking about the new park in Hong Kong, so I said "No, I want to wait until they have more rides." Ted seemed to understand that I DIDN'T understand, and said "Not Hong Kong, Tokyo!" And that's how the idea of the trip started.
Backing up a few days, it seems Ted had been looking on the internet, and discovered good deals to Japan on the big travel sites. After hearing his request to go to Japan, I went home and looked as well, and also discovered that a trip to Tokyo was not as expensive as I thought it would be. Deals could be found for flight and hotel for less than $1000 (!) Wow! I had always wanted to go see the Japanese parks, especially DisneySea, and it seemed it was very do-able. Plus, Ted and Louise were the few people I knew who would put up with my Disney obsessions (and mine with theirs), and agree to spend a few days in an amusement park even though we were in a different country.
After poking around on the internet for a few evenings, we booked a flight and hotel in Japan for Nov. 12-20. The cost ended up being slightly more than $1000, but not much. What a deal! We decided we would buy 3 day park hoppers, and go to the parks for 3 consecutive days on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Unlike American park hoppers, you had to pick the order of the parks you were going to attend, with the last day being the true 'hopping' day. So, we decided that it would be Tokyo Disneyland the first day, DisneySea the second day, and hop the third day.
We also decided that to save money, we would stay in the cheapest accommodations we could find that were acceptable, so we chose the International Garden Hotel in Narita. It was near the airport, and near the train lines, so we thought it would be convenient to transportation. It also saved us over $600 per person on the cost of the trip. We later learned the location was LOUSY for most of the sightseeing we wanted to do, but more on that later.
Normally when traveling, I use credit cards everyplace I can. But, we'd heard that Japan is not as credit card friendly as the US (which is true), so we all arranged to get $500 per person in Yen before we left. Their ATM machines are also not completely tied into the western banking system like they are in the US and Europe, so cash reserves would be a necessity. We also decided that since we were staying near the airport, we could use the money changing stations there if needed.
Day 1: Flight to Japan
We all met at our local airport bright and early at 5:30 am, to catch our 6 am commuter flight to Chicago. It is nice that our area airport is so small, you don't have to get there too early, as the commuter planes only hold 20 people or so, so there is never a line for check-in or security. We took the flight to Chicago, and then caught our direct flight to Tokyo (Narita Airport).
The flight was on American Airlines, and was long (13 hours!) but comfortable as it could be. Each seat had the individual entertainment systems, and the food was actually pretty good. I think I may be one of the few people who likes airline food! One benefit from sitting in the back of the plane was that after serving meals, they know if they have extra food. So, I was able to snag an extra pizza! It was also the first time I'd ever been served pizza on a plane, and it was good. The stewardess said that the crew even eats it!
Because the flight left from Chicago, it traveled over Canada, and up the Alaskan coast. The view was beautiful, as it was very clear, and you could see the mountain range and glaciers that emptied into the bays along the coast. Most people were asleep at that point, and missed the stunning views.
The plane landed about mid afternoon in Tokyo. The airport was very comparable to every other major airport in the world, but we still managed to get lost. I thought it was odd that we went through security once again, when we discovered we wandered into the connecting flight area. So, we escorted back to immigration by the friendly airport staff, and made our way through immigration and picked up the checked luggage.
Our hotel had a shuttle directly from the airport, so we found the shuttle area, and caught the shuttle bus to the hotel in Narita (Narita is the name of the airport, and the suburb of Tokyo in which it resides). Our hotel was very nice. It seemed to exist mainly to serve western customers and flight crews. The rooms were roomy, and had paper screens on the windows, which gave it a Japanese feel. The hotel also had an Italian restaurant, which we never used, but was nice to know it was there in case we needed a dose of italian food. It also had Western toilets, which is nice if you've ever been faced with traditional Japanese toilets: a hole in the ground.
We caught the hotel shuttle into downtown Narita, to sight see for the rest of the afternoon and evening. As it was Sunday night, most things were closed, but we did manage to visit the local temple site, and looked around the '100 Yen' store, which is the equivalent of our dollar stores. Oddly, same junk we have here.
As most things were closed, we ate supper at McDonalds. Our first meal in Japan was McDonalds! Oh well! As in all foreign McDonalds, things tasted basically, the same, with the ketchup being a little different. They were selling Disney calendars with discount coupons, so Ted bought one as a souvenir.
We went back to the hotel, and were done for the night. I slept like a rock, Ted and Louise slept more like a non-sleeping rock.
Day 2: Sightseeing in Tokyo
As this is mainly a Disney trip report, I'll try to make this day brief.
Our first full day in Tokyo we decided to go to the Shinjuku district, a busy shopping area. We thought this would be a good way to get adjusted to the train system, and get a feel for the city.
We caught the train from Narita to Central Tokyo, then onto Shinjuku. We went shopping at the Iestan Department store, and had lunch in the store. All Japanese department stores have extensive restaurant selections on the top floor, and we decided on Italian (second meal in the country, still no Japanese food!). Louise has allergies to shellfish, so many Japanese meals were out of the question. I had squid pizza, because it was the most Japanese thing I could find on the menu. (Note: It wasn't like calamari; this was 2 or 3 squids, cut in half, with their heads on one slice and their legs on another slice! Tasted good, though visually bit off-putting!)
We also visited 'Tokyo Hands,' which is one of the coolest department stores anywhere in the world. It's kinda a combo of Office Max, Home Depot, Michael's Crafts, and a Gift shop all wrapped into one, but that's not even a correct description. It calls itself a 'creative life' store, which is maybe a better description. It is well worth a visit, and they had a great selection at good prices. They even had a small area of traditional Japanese souvenirs.
Then we went onto the Tokyo Metropolitan tower, which has a FREE observatory on the 45th floor. We went up at sunset, and got beautiful views across Tokyo. We witnessed a protest out front, but it seemed peaceful. It spooked Louise, who feared they were chanting 'Kill all Americans!"
At this point I want to point out the IMMENSE SIZE of the city of Tokyo. It goes on and on and on and on and on, and is very congested. Unlike New York, Chicago, or even LA, the city seems to have no edge and no middle or downtown. It is more like a low-rise Manhattan, with 27 million people (Tokyo metropolitan area is made up of a few large cities that have grown together). This makes it very hard to get a feel for the city. Instead, it is a combination of neighborhoods, which are often identified by the major train station/subway stop located in the area. These areas include Shinjuku, Akihabra, Roppongi, Ginza, etc... It also is not laid out in a grid, nor does it have systematic street addresses, so it is very confusing to get around. A good map, or a local friend is a must. The subway system is the closest visual way to organize the city, and even that is confusing, with many private and public lines intersecting. You need more than one map to understand it all.
Christmas was in full swing while we there, although it is mainly a consumer Christmas with no religious meaning. One of my favorite Japenglish (Japanese-English language merges) was the Christmas slogan of one of the department stores: "A Happy Love In Christmas!" Doesn't exactly make sense, but gives the right feel of their love of the holiday!
We had supper at Wolfgang Pucks in the MyCity department store, shopped a bit more, then headed back to our hotel.
A note about our hotel: This day we learned that our hotel was 1 full hour from central Tokyo. We knew this when we made our reservation, but it became very REAL once we were there. And, the trains were almost always packed. It was like a New York subway at rush hour, but it was like that all the time, up till late at night. So, if doing the trip again, we would have chosen a hotel that was on the central subway line in downtown Tokyo, even if the cost was substantially more. A hotel at Disney would put you 20-30 minutes outside central Tokyo.
Day 3: Tokyo Disneyland 11/15/2005
I'm always excited to go to an amusement park, and a Disney park gets me even more excited. Well, this day I was getting to go to a Disney park I'd never been to before, but had read about on the internet for years! I was like a little kid- so excited! However, Tokyo Disneyland is similar to the layout of the American Magic Kingdoms, so I felt like I knew it well.
We incorrectly decided the train system was not going to get us to Disney in a timely manner, so we decided to catch the shuttle to airport, and catch a shuttle bus to the park. The Tokyo Narita airport offers 'Limousine Shuttle Buses' to various hotels in central Tokyo, and the Disney Resort. Taxis from the airport to central Tokyo can cost up to $250. The shuttle took 1.25 hours to get to the park (plus the time to get to the airport, plus wait time at the airport) We were the only 3 people on the bus. It cost us each $24, one way! Yikes, this was going to get expensive to do this for 3 days! We later found we could take the train to the park in about an hour and 1/2, for about $9.50.
We arrived at Tokyo Disneyland around 10:30, walked up to the ticket booth, and bought our 3 day passes. Again, you had to buy mutli-day tickets as to what days you wanted to which park. We did Day 1 Disneyland, Day 2 DisneySea, and Day 3 park hopper. Cost: 13,700 Yen, or a bit less than $137.
It was at this time our worst fear was confirmed..... Poohs Hunny Hunt was closed! AAAAAAUUUUUGHGGHGGGHHHH!!!!!! We had read on the internet before we left that it was to be down for rehab, but had hoped it was wrong. But, there is was in black and white right on the ticket booth "Closed for Refurbishment: Pooh's Hunny Hunt" Shucks. Pooh is supposed to be 'the ride' for the park. ....Take a deep breath, realize life is sometimes unfair, and move on....
I was about to burst, I was so excited to get in the park! If you thought the monorail ride at DisneyWorld from the parking lot built anticipation, try a 13 hour flight, with a one hour train ride, plus a lifetime of looking at pictures on the internet! GET ME IN THE PARK!
Impression #1: Instead of a train station or berm, you walk from the ticket booths, through the turnstiles, into a landscaped area, with a big building in front of you. As you may or may not know, Tokyo Disneyland has no train that circles the park, and Main street is covered with a glass canopy, so the approach is kinda like walking up to a big mall entrance, but better. There is an area with the Mickey floral arrangement, so we did have to stop and get a picture or two. Then we walked through the open doorways into MainStreet USA.
Ooooh, it was nice! It was similar to the Main Street in Florida or California, but there is no town square area. Main Street just starts where the street starts. There was the Emporium on the right side (usually on the left in the US, but this is Japan, where people drive on the left, so it's on the left side as you exit: those Disney People are smart!). In the middle, where there's a cross street, there was a large Christmas tree. People were lined up getting their picture taken in front of the tree. The shops were all very, very busy, which was a constant state of the shops the entire time. They must make a fortune.
We also began to notice all the great Christmas decorations in the park (and DisneySea the next day). The parks were elaborately decorated, and were one of the highlights of the parks for both days. I hadn't realized the Japanese were so inot Christmas.
Impression #2: I thought the glass canopy over Main Street would bother me, but it didn't. It kinda has a feel of a Victorian train station, and you don't really notice it. What it does do it make all the shops feel more like one large shop. This is actually the case in the US parks as well, but not having the 'real' outdoors makes them seem even more connected.
Also, the cross street, which is more of fake alleyway in the US parks, actually goes someplace in Tokyo. If you go to the right, you go into Tomorrowland. If you go to the left, you are dumped right into Adventureland near the entrance of Pirates of the Caribbean.
We decided to go straight down Main Street, and see the castle. Here's another difference: you can't go straight down the street to the castle. When you leave Main Street, you are on a very large terrace, overlooking the hub area in front of the castle. The statue of Walt and Mickey is there, along with a collection of Christmas trees, one for each character. To move off the terrace, you go to the right or left, which takes you into the nearby Tomorrowland (left) or Adventureland (right), or down some shallow ramps into the hub.
You can stand on the terrace and get a good feel for the size of the park. The hub area is huge! The central area has tons of benches for the show in front of the castle, while the moving crowds use the hub road around the central viewing area. Similar to California, there is not moat that runs around the hub, but just water up near the castle. (I like the water and bridges in Florida, that separate the hub from the various lands).
We decided to go left and head to Adventureland. Our first ride was on Pirates of the Caribbean. The entrance was similar to California, and they even had a Blue Bayou restaurant. The ride was very similar, except the skull was saying 'Dead Men tell no Tales' in Japanese. At least, that's what I think he was saying. (It was probably saying "We eat American's for lunch!") Also, some of the dialogue in the ride was in Japanese, but not all. "We Wants the Redhead," and "Show Him your Larboard Side" were either in English, or probably a Japanese translation.
Impression #3: Everything in the ride (and the whole park) seemed to be in perfect working order! I don't think we ever saw a single thing that was broken, or needed fixed, or anything. It was all very clean, and well maintained.
After Pirates, we headed deeper into Adventureland. The next stop the Tiki Room, subtitled "Now Playing Get the Fever!" I'm not a big fan of the show, but you just GOTTA see it when you're in the parks. Well, this one has it's own particular spin. First, the birds in the pre-show waiting area are dressed in HipHop clothes, and do a little rapping..... in Japanese. That was funny. Not a clue what they were saying, but just odd to watch. Then, the actual show itself was familiar, but it was a loungy version. They sang 'Get the Fever' in English, as well as a collection of other English standards in Japanese.
It was also at this show we noticed the behavior of the cast members- they were really into it! They were clapping along and singing! This was the same on all rides and attractions, with the cast members very friendly and enthused about their jobs. I've seen a few sour-faced employees often at the American parks, but saw none in Japan. (Actually, I used to work in DisneyWorld in the college program, and I was perpetually happy, cause I REALLY liked working there. They seemed to have the same enthusiasm in Japan).
Next, we walked through Westernland (Frontierland) and headed toward Fantasyland. We were stopped by the Christmas parade, which had floats and large inflatable characters. It was very infectious, a great parade.
Of note was the Christmas music. We had noticed the day earlier that Japan was really into Christmas, but they are not a Christian nation ( I think the guidebook said is was 1% Christian). So, the focus of Christmas was Santa, Snow, and Shopping. In the parade, we noted that the words to 'Joy to the World' were, "Joy to World, the Time has Come. For Us, to Spread, the Joy!" All references to Christ, Jesus, or Lord was gone. This was true for the entire trip, except for an odd Muzak choice in McDonald's, when they played Amazing Grace!
I was told later by a Japanese-American that the Japanese do not 'celebrate' Christmas, but rather 'enjoy' Christmas. I would compare it to the way we celebrate Mardi-Gras. We've lost the entire religious connotation, and instead just enjoy the fun part.
After the parade, we continued to Fantasyland, and grabbed a Fastpass for the Haunted Mansion (yes, it's in Fantasyland in Tokyo, right near the Dumbo ride!). It was done up for Nightmare Before Christmas, so the lines were long.
We went to the Queen of Hearts banquet hall for lunch. It is located directly behind the castle in the back of Fantasyland, and is themed to Alice in Wonderland. They only let in people as there was room, so we stood in line about 20 min or more. The themeing was very nice, with large flowers as lights, stained glass windows, and other decorations appropriate to the movie. The food was good, and was served cafeteria style. I had roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, and heart shaped strawberry desert. My 3rd day in Japan, and still no authentic food! Cost was around $15.
Next was Small World. The exterior is similar to California, but you load the boats inside, like Florida. It was all decked out for the holidays, and was in both Japanese and English. It was almost identical to the Florida version of the ride, or for that matter the California version. It was as fun as that ride can be (you can establish your own conclusion from that statement).
Lunch took long enough that it was time for our fastpasses for Haunted Mansion. I was excited because 1) I like the Haunted Mansion, and 2) I've always wanted to see the Nightmare Before Christmas version! I'd always missed it's installation by a day or two at Disneyland, and I was not disappointed. The ride was similar to the Florida version, if memory serves me right, but the Nightmare additions were WONDERFUL! Ted and Louise had ridden the Nightmare version in California a year before, and they thought this was much better. It had a few nice touches, like the giant attacking wreath/vine in the hallway that you see above you when your car turns around backwards, and the animatronics of Jack a few times through the ride. Plus everything else. It was GREAT!
General Gross Impression: This is going to sound disgusting, but anyone familiar with the dark rides in the US may know that there is spit everywhere. I guess Americans feel the need to spit at things in rides, so if you look closely at the walls and scrims in the rides, there is usually loogies (sp?) on everything. Or, they throw gum or other objects. Not so in Japan! Everything was clean and nice, and looked brand new! This is true on all the dark rides throughout the parks. Now, onto to nicer subjects.
Next up was the Mickey Mouse Revue. This is a show originally made for DisneyWorld (currently the Philharmagic Theatre). It was moved to Tokyo 20+ years ago, and is still going. It is basically and Animatronic character show, where Mickey directs an orchestra of characters and performers, who do the various popular songs from popular animated movies (at least those up to 1970). It was interesting from a time-capsule point-of-view. Oddly, the preshow, a movie about animation, still has the original DisneyWorld logo in some of the background transitions, as well as an ending with costumed characters dancing with kids at California Disneyland from 1971. The Japanese must think the film looks dated, or Americans really look just like the Brady Bunch. I look a bit like Bobby Brady myself.
I enjoyed the show, and even though it was 30+ years old, it looked brand new. I was pleasantly surprised that the Tokyo Disneyland Album included some of the music, in it's Japanese form. It's interesting hearing Alice sing to the flowers in Japanese.
We then decided to do something unique to Tokyo- The Castle Mystery Tour. The castle is nearly identical in appearance to the one in Florida (although we noted the texture of the stone seems a bit more pronounced than the Florida castle- we are THAT familiar with it!) but it doesn't contain a restaurant. Instead, it has a tour through the building. The story seemed to center around the movie 'The Black Cauldron,' and passed through various rooms on 3 different levels in the castle. The Enchanted Mirror hosts the tour, along with a live tour guide. The rooms were labs, caves, and other castle-like chambers. Often, you just walked, paused, and looked, with little interaction. At the end, the finale was a large chamber up on the second floor of the castle involving a cauldron, dead skeletons coming to life, and a big animatronic villan. A child in the crowd is chosen to vanquish the evil spirits with a sword of light, and there's a banner that states (in English) 'Good Conquers Evil.' A nice touch is at the end of the tour is a short ceremony where the child is presented with a medallion as a reward, which they get to keep. On our tour, the child who was chosen seemed scared to death, and didn't even smile when she got her medallion! The whole experience was nicely done, and was a bit creepy, but Disney creepy, meaning not THAT creepy, but sorta creepy. Understand?
What shocked me the most was the Disney accountants hadn't figured out they could make more money by converting the space into a Princess Restaurant, and charge $20 a head!
At this point, we headed back into Westernland, and caught a ride on Thunder Mountain (TM), grabbing a fastpass to Splash Mountain along the way. TM is very similar to the American park versions, except the announcer guy who says 'keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle' has a japanese counterpart. Not sure if there is such a thing as a Japanese prospector! The English version is there as well.
While in Westernland, we did the Country Bear Christmas show. Again, basically a clone of the American Version, parts in English, and parts in Japanese. They seem to enjoy Christmas carols in English, with nontraditional songs in Japanese. I was a always a bit disappointed during the trip when things were in English, as I like seeing their version of things. Why else go to Japan!
Next up, Splash Mountain. Again, similar, but different. First, you didn't get wet. HURRAY! I'm not sure if it was because it was chilly out, or because the ride is always like that, but you didn't get soaked. I'd heard you don't get as wet, because the Japanese tend to dress nicely for the parks, and don't like it. We got a bit damp from some overspray, but nothing that didn't quickly evaporate. That made me VERY happy, as I don't like getting soaked on water rides. Ted and Louise bought the photo at the end of the ride, because we didn't look too dumb, and how often can you say you have a photo from Splash Mountain at Tokyo Disneyland!
Another Impression: The layout of the park is in many ways similar to the Magic Kingdom in Florida, expect for once big difference: the size. It's like the park has been stretched in all directions, making the walkways gigantic in size. The result is the park does not feel intimate. I would guess its the same impression that someone used to the Anaheim park feels the first time they go to Orlando. This also results in a more pronounced feeling that the big rides are around the perimeter of the park. For example, across the back of Fantasyland (right to left) are Pooh, Small World, Queen of Hearts, Haunted Mansion, Critter Country/Splash Mountain. They are almost in a line across the back of the park, with a super wide Fantasyland out front. This perimeter feeling is the same in Adventurland/Westernland, and Tomorrowland. This layout is the same at all Disney parks, but the wide walkways make this more apparent, with large rides on the outside perimeter, and smaller rides and shows tucked into interior buildings. For this reason, Tokyo Disneyland has the worst 'feel' of all the parks. But, it's kinda like pizza: even when its bad, it's still pretty good.
Anyway, we decided it was time to head to Tommorrowland and Space Mountain. Now, Louise doesn't like Space Mt., but decided to give it a shot. The wait was short, so we were on fairly quickly. The load area is similar to California (pre-refurbishment, but in perfect condition, of course!) The ride was tight and quick, which didn't please Louise, but I LOVED.
Also note that Tomorrowland was quite large! It fills the whole right side of the park, with an entry into Toontown off the back, betwixt Tomorrowland and Fantasyland.
I have lost track of the order of the day, but sometime around this point we saw the Tokyo Disneyland Electrical Parade. All I can say is FANTASTIC! I just hope no one from Japan sees the original parade that is now in California Adventure, cause this parade puts the original to shame! I am familiar with the original parade, as well as SpectroMagic in Florida, and this parade was better than both. The floats were large, and lit mostly with super-bright LED's (I think). They weren't Christmas lights strung on wire frames. Some floats were lit from the interior, and many were articulated- like an inchworm working it's way down the street. The parade was quite long, and featured many characters. The music was a combination of traditional Electrical Parade music, and other new tunes. It was just wonderful.
After the parade was over, and we stood there in stunned silence and in American embarrassment. Our puny electrical parade should have actually 'glown away forever.' Spectromagic at DisneyWorld is a great parade, but this one was fantastic!
It was decided to eat before the fireworks started. We went to Pan Galactic Pizza Port in Tomorrowland. I had the Thanksgiving Pizza, which was turkey pizza, with candied yams on the side, and Coke. (FYI: No Diet Coke at Tokyo Disneyland. A country of no fat people= no Diet Coke.)
Then, we went to the hub to see the fireworks. For all the effort they put into the electrical parade, they subtracted it out of the fireworks. It had to be one of the lamest fireworks shows I've seen in a Disney park in 30 years! It was called 'Disney Magic in the Sky' and was the Christmas version. First, it wasn't shot off behind the castle, so if you stood in front of the castle, it was to your left. This is because the parking lot and some hotels are behind the park, sorta. Second, they were all shot off from the same spot. It was like your uncle was shooting them off in your backyard. Finally, it lasted like 5 minutes. We were shocked when they said, 'An now the Grand Finale!" and it had just started! It was timed to music and Christmas Carols, but when it was over, the reaction (from us) was "huh."
To be fair, I think it was limited because there is very little backstage areas to shoot the fireworks. The park is a bit landlocked, which is even more obvious if you ride the monorail around the property. Basically, every square inch is used for the parks, hotels, or parking lots. In Florida, they have tons of empty space behind the park they use for elaborate launches, and they use the backstage areas in California, plus low level close-up fireworks off rooftops. So far, that approach has not reached Tokyo Disneyland.
After the disappointing fireworks, we headed to Roger Rabbits Car Toon Spin. Seemed identical to California, except it didn't have the E-stop brakes under the vehicles, which were installed after the accident that injured the child who fell out of the ride in Anaheim. We also noted that none of the rides in the entire park had safety gates. We browsed the shop in Toontown for while, and I noticed that the light fixtures had extra safety wires in case of Earthquakes. Earthquakes are not something we have in Illinois, at least not recently.
The evening was winding down, so before we left, went back to the Haunted Mansion, to see it again on my insistence. I liked it even more the second time! Then, because we were in Fantasyland, we went on Snow White's Adventure. We did Pirates one more time, but it was time to leave. We'd missed a lot, but we'd be back again in a couple days, so not too sad to go.
Since we didn't know how long the train would take to get back to your hotel, we left a bit earlier than we usually would (We normally are kicked out of the park after it closes! I'm sure they hate people like us!) We got to the train station, and found a train with 2 transfers that would get us back to the hotel. It worked well enough that we decided to ditch the expensive bus, and take the train each day to the park.
We got back to the hotel, and crashed! It had been a fun day, and we were looking forward to DisneySea tomorrow!
Day 4: Wednesday DisneySea 11/16/2005
Today was one of the main reasons for the entire trip: DisneySea! We'd all heard about it for a few years on the internet, seen incredible photos, and heard reports it was the best park ever, so we wanted to see if for ourselves.
As is was day 4, and we'd finally figured out the train system, we decided to take the train to the park, rather than the expensive bus. After an hour or so on the train, I could see the volcano of DisneySea rising over the horizon of houses around Tokyo Bay. I was sooooo excited! The train runs right along the edge of the Disney property, so you get a wonderful view of all the interesting buildings popping out of the park.
We got off the JR Line train, and proceeded through the station to the Disney Monorail line. Unlike the monorails in the US Parks, the Tokyo Monorail requires a purchased ticket to ride. It's about $2.50 per trip. So, we bought our ticket, and headed up to the monorail platform.
The monorail quickly arrived, and it looked a little different from the US Monorails. First, it was larger/wider, to accommodate larger crowds. Second, it had Mickey-shaped windows, and Mickey-shaped hanging straps/rings. And finally, it was shaped more like a traditional train, so it was boxier than the US counterparts.
The monorail only goes in one direction, so we had to travel around the entire resort to get back to the DisneySea stop. It was a wonderful trip, as you got to see the layout of the area. We had embarked at the Resort Gateway stop (aka: Train Station), and the next stop was the Tokyo Disneyland Station. Along the way, you could see the parking lots, and out over to the skyline of central Tokyo. Next stop was Bayside Station, which was the stop for the non-Disney resort hotels (Hilton, Sheraton, etc..) They looked nice, and were elaborately decorated for Christmas. Then, the monorail headed on around the back of Disneyland and DisneySea, to the front of entrance of DisneySea. From this vantage point, you could really get a feel for the amount of land the resort has for parks and service areas. It is very tight! Most all available space is used for parking, parks, or backstage areas. No wonder the fireworks didn't have a large launch area! The monorail then pulled into the DisneySea station.
Now, I was about to burst, as the view from the station was wonderful into the entry courtyard of DisneySea. There is even a balcony from the station to look down on the large globe in the courtyard. The courtyard is backed by the Hotel Mira Costa, which is a beautiful Mediterranean design. The hotel blocks the view into the interior areas of the park (or should I say 'strategically reveals it!')
We hightailed it down the stairs, and went through the turnstiles into the courtyard and took lots of pictures. The large globe fountain was beautiful, as water trickled down the sides, and it rotated on a fountain base. There was a band playing music, all dressed in winter coats. It was at this point we also noticed that the hometown Japanese people were all bundled up in winter coats and scarves, and even the security guard mentioned it was going to be a cold day! Well, it was about 60 degrees, which although a bit cool, was more sweatshirt weather back in Illinois! I guess Tokyo-ites are accustomed to a more temperate climate, so it felt cold to them.
We walked through the walkway under the hotel, and WALA we were in the park! WOW! It was Beautiful! The sky was blue, and in front of us was the harbor, backed by the volcano, and the fortress with it's gold domes glistening in the sunlight. OOOoooohhhh! Just like in the photos! There was a short line were a cast member was taking photos of people WITH THEIR OWN CAMERAS, so I quickly jumped in line to have a photo taken. Somewhere nearby, the cast members who photograph you with Disney cameras for $$ was doing the same thing, but this seemed like a great idea! It is one of my favorite photos of the trip.
Big question was... what to do!?!?!? It was fun to be at a new park, where everything was a new experience! That doesn't happen too often. We decided to go to the right, and go into Mysterious Island first. The area is a large caldera at the base of Mt Prometheus, the volcano.
Impression #1: This area of the park is jaw-droppingly awesome. You are in a large caldera (collapsed volcano) which is full of water, with various contraptions, diggers, boats, buildings, and watercraft around the perimeter. There is even one of Captain Nemo's subs. The whole area had a Victorian/Captain Nemo vibe. The water in the caldera would boil, and the cliffs would steam, as though the lava flows were fresh. And, there were sounds of the volcano and Nemo's equipment rumbling in the distance. I would say it was probably one the coolest themed lands I'd ever seen!
We decided our first ride would be the 'Journey to the Center of the Earth,' one of the signature rides of the park. You enter in under the volcano, in a lava tube area that runs inside the mountain. The line extends through labs of supposed expeditions to the center of the earth, and the discoveries that were made. You then board an elevator, that takes you down deep inside the earth.
You exit into a another chamber, that appears to have been dug out of a deeper layer. This was the area that you board the ride vehicles, and it was elaborately finished with incomplete tunnels belching steam, and other detailed theming. The ride vehicles held 8 people in 4 rows, and had a large shovel attached to the front. The interior of the cars was nicely done, with Victorian red leather tufted seats. Once your safety bar was pulled down, you were off into the center of the earth!
As you traveled down long winding ramps, you passed crystals, mushroom forests, strange underworld bugs, alien eggs, and other alien views (reminded me a bit of the ET Ride at Universal). You then passed volcanic caves, and a large underground electrical storm, which scared me every time we rode the ride! Lightening would strike right next to your vehicle! Then you round a corner, and are confronted with a giant lava monster (AAAHH! LAVA MONSTER! At least, I think it was a lava monster! It was in Japanese!) The car, which up to this point had been traveling at a leisurely pace, suddenly takes off at full speed, and heads up a spiral hill in the dark, going faster and faster! Suddenly, BOOM you shoot outside the wall of the volcano, and out over a hill into the caldera. The ride then quickly continues out and around the caldera in the dark, going outside one last time across a bridge, and then back to the unload station.
This ride is very good! It is similar mechanically to Test Track at Epcot, where the vehicles run independently from one another, to they are able to accelerate at different rates throughout the ride. And the spiral up and out of the volcano is exhilarating! Not quite a dark ride, not quite a roller coaster, but a combination of the best aspects of both. I loved it!
We got off the ride, and even Louise, who normally hates roller coasters, enjoyed the ride. I have to mention that the ride actually stopped in the middle of the caves during our ride, and we were paused for about 3 minutes. However, it took off again, and the ride continued. This was the only time that type of event happened on the entire trip.
Thrilled with the experience, we headed to the next ride in the caldera- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. You go down a long spiral ramp near the waters edge, and enter into a cave. Inside the cave are small, squarish submarines, which hold 6 people, 2 per bench. One bench faces forward, and the other two face out the right and left sides. The inside of the subs are filled with dials and other themeing, and a joystick for each bench/window. The subs head out, and after a brief narration, plunge down into the 'water.'
You float along under the dark ocean, encountering fish, eels, and shipwrecks. About 1/2 way along the trip, you are attacked by a large squid, who is scared off by an electrical impulse (I think, but it was all in Japanese, so the story was bit lost on me). Next, you discover an underwater city (Atlantis?) and the inhabitants help push your sub out of danger. They wave goodbye, and your trip is done. (Again, the story was bit lost on me, but it doesn't really matter all that much.)
I really liked this ride too! It was not a thrill ride, but was fun. The joystick at each seat controlled a light that you could shine on things throughout the ride. The ride is detailed enough that you see different things on each trip (we rode 2 times). Actually, you are never underwater, but the effect if very well done. The subs were suspended on a track, like Peter Pan, but the effects of bubbles and water made it convincing that you were underwater. My guess that people who aren't interested in how rides work would think they went underwater like the old submarine ride at Disneyland and DisneyWorld.
So far, the park was batting 1000! It was great. But, it was time for lunch. We decided to catch an early lunch at the Vulcania Restaurant, a Chinese restaurant in a 'geothermal station.' It was very good, and the theming, although not Chinese, was fun. It was like being in a cavern deep underground. Cost: Approx. $15.
It was time to leave Mysterious Island, but not without checking out the gift shops. Ted collects pins, and was able to find a Mysterious Island pin in the shop in the Caldera. He discovered he needed to find various pins in the various lands, and it was difficult to find all the pins together in any one store.
We left the Caldera, and headed to Mermaid Lagoon. Mermaid Lagoon is an area mostly indoors, themed to 'The Little Mermaid.' The outside looks like a castle made of sea shells and coral, and is actually very detailed up close, being created by elaborate mosaic tiles. Inside, you go down a long winding ramp till you end up under the sea. The area is beautifully done, as a cartoony version of a coral reef. It was very close in appearance to the 'Under the Sea' musical number setting from the Little Mermaid. Rides were mostly for small children, and included things like twirling kelp cups (teacups), Blowfish Balloon race (swings), Jumpin Jellyfish (short parachute-type ride), and others. There was a large counter service restaurant, and a gift shop inside a sleeping whale. All very cool.
There is also a show in the Mermaid Lagoon Theatre, which we caught later in the day. It is an aerial show, with the performers above and around you, suspended on wires, who use puppets, props and elaborate costumes. Some of the larger puppets were mechanical, and very elaborate. It reminded me a bit of Cirque Du Soliel. All very nice, but a bit short. What we thought was the middle of the show was actually the finale. I don't think we were the only ones who were confused, as the audience sat waiting for more, with the cast members saying in Japanese 'It's over! Thank you! Goodbye!' trying to get people to leave. The confusion was that the finale number was 'Under the Sea,' which is not at the end of the movie. Although in Japanese, the story didn't seem to follow the move plot line. But, still very nice.
It is also the first time we made a faux-pas because of the language difference (at least one we knew about). We tried to take pictures during the show, but were told not to do so by the cast members. We had gotten accustomed to the announcements, in English, saying 'No Flash Photography,' but the shows in the parks had a policy of 'No Photography, period.' We decided it was a good policy for many reasons, as lots of people snapping photos would be distracting to the audience and performers.
Next up was the Arabian Coast, or 'Genie Land,' as the whole area was themed around Aladdin and the Genie. The area consisted of a double-decker carousel, a 3-D Theatre, and a ride called Sinbad's Seven Voyages. The area was nicely done, as it was mostly within the walls of the land. Within the area, it was very immersive, as you couldn't see other areas of the park, and is surrounded by a dozen or more towers, to give a fanciful feel to the area of the park.
We first rode Sinbad, which was a boat ride through the stories of the popular Arabian stories. The ride is a mix of Small World, and Pirates, done in a cartoony, vibrant style. It was interesting to see a ride not based on a movie, or other known property, but to be culled directly from the stories. It was interpreted by a dozen or so scenes from the stories, populated by dozens and dozens of animatronic characters, including a few very large ones (a giant menacing Genie, not of the Robin William's variety!). The characters were mostly about 3 ft tall, childlike looking, and very well articulated. Their movements were very smooth, and technically well done. Again, the story was in Japanese, but easy to follow and enjoy without understanding the words.
I liked the ride and lot, and rode it 3 times during our visit. Again, so far, I LOVED this park. Everything was so well done, and lots of detail to entertain the eye.
Next, we moved around to Lost River Delta, which is the Indiana Jones area of the park. The first ride we saw was Raging Spirits, which is a themed looping roller coaster. Louise and Ted aren't big coaster fans, and the line was over an hour, so we passed. I said I would come back alone and do it later.
So, we went to Indiana Jones: Temple of the Crystal Skull. This is basically a clone of the Indiana Jones ride in California. The queue line is long and elaborate, and leads up to a great ride. It is in many ways identical to the California version, except 1) all the effects worked!, and 2) There was a tornado in the center of the ride. That tornado was the coolest thing! It was similar to what you often see in science museums, swirling fog being sucked up in a vent, but was 2 or 3 stories high! (Note: if the tornado does exist in California, it has always been broken when I've been there) Just like in Anaheim, you get attacked by a snake, bugs, and poison darts. I also enjoyed the addition of an idol-thingy in one of the side rooms that shoots a giant smoke ring at the vehicle. Cool. Loved it. It was great. Nuff said.
At this point, we got a little bit lost. Ted needed a smoke break, and the map indicated there was a smoking area in this corner of the park. The map showed a circular walkway, but it was more like a large maze in the jungle! We lost one another, and walked around in circles for a few minutes. I think this area must be some area for future expansion, or a character meet-n-greet area, so something, but we wandered unable to find a single smoking area.
Once we found each other, we gave up, and headed over to Port Discovery, and passed the elusive smoking area along the way! Port Discovery is a retro-future port, with a few rides and restaurants. The main big ride is Storm Rider, so we got in line. From our line, we could see Aquatopia, which was closed for rehab, but was basically a ride of small cars that would ride in the water on an invisible track.
Storm Rider was quite nicely done. You board a vehicle in the Storm Study Institute (?) and fly into the center of a large storm. You are looking out the large window, with 100 of your closest friends. While in the storm you shoot a probe into the storm. Of course, as in many Disney rides, something goes horribly wrong, and you are thrashed about, destruction ensues, but you are saved at the last minute. Whew! That as a close one! Again.
Two Comments about this ride: First, it is similar to Star Tours, but larger, with in-theatre effects. The film, movement, and projection are well done, but unlike Star Tours, the vehicle holds a lot of people in a theatre arrangement. Second, this ride actually has an English translation during the pre-show, so you can understand the story. Unfortunately, the screens that run the English translation get blocked by the storm-probe prop about halfway through the pre-show. So, a good thing for the foreign tourists gets botched. Oh well. Nice while it lasted.
Overall, the ride was good: a solid B+. But, we decided once was enough, as simulators are never quite as fun as real thrills.
The rest of the Port Discovery area was quite pretty, but not much to do. We could have caught the Electric Railway (elevated train) to the next land, but we decided to walk instead. To the left is the large volcano, which from this side of the park has a softer appearance, with evergreens and plants growing up the side of the hill. This made the mountain look more appropriate for the lands on this side of the park, which was the American Waterfront.
The American Waterfront had two distinct areas. The first area was a New England seaport, which was just a few shops and restaurants. But, it was very pretty, and had much needed restrooms. Then, around the corner, the area became a grittier, idealized New York. However, we detoured back to the Mediterranean Entry Harbor, to catch the afternoon lagoon water show, Porto Paradiso Water Carnival (PPWC for short).
The PPWC was an elaborate daytime water show, with small ships themed for each character that would sail around the harbor. Along the shore were 3 or 4 locations with dancers in costumes, and there were some daytime pyrotechnics. There was also an interesting segment utilizing jet skis and large kites. The kites would swoop and swirl around the sky, the boats would travel around in circles, and the dancers would dance. After about 20 min, you got the feel that boats have nothing more to do than go in circles. Around and around and around and around. It was like a parade that was caught in an infinite loop.
But, it was fun, the music catchy, and the boats and kites were nice. My favorite part was watching the kites dive into the water when their segment was over, and the people on the jet skis picking them up. I would give the whole thing a B.
We discovered later that there were 2 more (!) pageants on the harbor later in the evening. That harbor is a busy place. More on that later.
At this point, we realized we had ridden most of the rides, and it was only 3 in the afternoon. Hmmmm.... maybe this park did have a flaw or two! But, we had skipped the stage shows. So, we headed back around the loop to catch a show we'd missed (the Little Mermaid Show discussed earlier), and rode some of our favorite rides again.
We also attended the show in the Magic Lamp theatre, which was a 3D movie with real actors below the screen. The preshow was nice, with an animatronic snake giving some background information about the story of the magic lamp. Once inside the main theatre, an actor portrayed and Aladdin-type character, and another actor was a bad guy? businessman? sheik? ...not really sure. They did some slapstick interaction, then Genie from Aladdin appeared on the 3D screen. There was a lot of interaction, including some comments from a very involved small child in the front row. Haven't a clue what the kid said, but it was all very entertaining.
Because it was mid November, it was getting dark fairly early, and by 6 ish, we headed back to the Harbor to catch the water show Braviseamo! It is the big water/fire/fireworks show of the park. We stood up on a walkway near the volcano, and waited for the action to begin.
Braviseamo was excellent! It had water fountains (in the shape of a woman) and a the lake was set on fire, and dragon rose out of the center of the lake! The dragon shot fire and fireworks, and overall menaced everyone and everything, while menacing music menaced the audience. Very Menacing! The dragon summoned the volcano, which was just over our right shoulder, and the volcano rumbled and Exploded with fire and fireworks. Cool! Then the water woman came back and tamed the dragon. (Or something... We decided that in our minds, the water woman and dragon fell in love, and she tamed the fiery beast!) The story is quite loose... good conquers evil, blah, blah, blah, then Mickey, who was out on a boat sailing in the harbor, yells 'BRAVISEAMO!' and the show ends. Quite good!
We all liked it very much. We did find it odd that during the show, when the volcano was erupting, the Journey to the Center of the Earth ride seemed to still be running, even though the cars shoot out of the side of the volcano, near the explosive top. Not fun if you got a face full of firework ash! I assume they must have had some system to either briefly stop the ride, or worked out some details to keep bad things from happening. Or, it's a convenient lawsuit waiting to happen.
By this time, we were getting hungry again. So we headed over to the New York area for supper at a deli listed in the guidebook. But, they were starting the Broadway show Encore in the Broadway Music Theatre. So, we went in a grabbed a seat.
The theatre was very elaborate, and much nicer than any theater I'd been in on Broadway. It was quite large, and elaborately decorated. If you've ever been in the theatre at California Adventure in Anaheim, it was NOTHING like that. This was a real, finished, elaborate theatre, with a nicely detailed lobby, and decorated on the inside with Hudson River School art (I think, maybe. My art history classes were years ago.) The show was a Broadway revue, with lots of Broadway standards, performed mainly in English, by Americans/westerners, with elaborate sets and costumes. Not your typical amusement park entertainment. It ended with a Christmas finale, carols, and all the main Disney characters coming out to wish you a Merry Christmas.
It was well done. I was actually expecting something much more pedestrian, but most of the performers were quite talented. (Except one guy, who must have been ill or somethun... in case he reads this, and knows who he is, I'll give him the benefit of a doubt that it was an isolated off-night).
We left in an upbeat mood (although Ted and Louise had dozed a little, it had been a long day!). We bopped in next door to the Deli, and ordered deli sandwiches.
They were OK, but kinda wimpy compared to REAL New York deli sandwiches. Ted found a cup of coffee, and we think he may have stirred grated cheese into the drink by accident. Or it may have been coffee creamer. Don't know, as we don't read Japanese!
During supper, we realized they were doing the 3rd harbor show of the day, Candlelight Reflections, a special Christmas show. We caught just the end of the show, but decided we may be able to see the whole thing the next night. Following the Candlelight show, you could see the fireworks from Disneyland next door, and they piped in the music from that park. They were actually better from DisneySea, as they were more unexpected, and a surprise perk. Expectations were lower, so enjoyment was higher.
And, at this point, I must comment on the large new ride being built on the edge of the American Waterfront area: the DisneySea Tower of Terror! I'd heard it won't be themed to the Twighlight Zone, like those in the US, but will have a unique story for this park. Although covered in scaffolding, it's exterior appearance was very elaborate, unlike the clunky and boxy design in Anaheim. It will fit in well with the the themeing of the New York area, and the elaborate themeing of the entire park. It will also add a first rate E-ticket ride to an area of the park that is rideless. You can see it from many areas of the park, and it will be an excellent addition.
At this time, it was time to go. The train schedule was a bit confusing, so we decided to leave a little early just in case things went haywire. We poked around in a few shops in the American Waterfront area (McDucks Department store), and looked around some of the areas we missed. Sadly, we left the park, bought a monorail ticket, rode the monorail around to the train station, and caught the train back to our hotel.
Very nice day! Great Park! A+! We've still got one park hopping day left tomorrow!
Day 5: Thursday 11/17/2005
Our third Disney day allowed for park hopping between the two parks, so we decided to start at the Magic Kingdom, and then head to DisneySea later in the afternoon.
So, we left the hotel, rode the train over an hour (CURSE the hotel location!) and arrived at the park.
The weather was nicer than the first day at Disneyland, so it was nice to walk around and look at things. Because we arrived rather late, we ate lunch first at the Lucky Nugget Cafe in Westernland, overlooking the Rivers of America (Chicken Strips $8 to $10). They had very friendly ducks, who liked to beg for fries. We were also accosted by large chipmunks wearing cowboy hats, named Chip and Dale. They seem just as friendly and just as silent as their US counterparts.
Our small group of 3 decided to split in two, so we could all do the things we wanted to do. We'd brought walkie-talkies so we'd be able to separate, without losing one another entirely.
I ran off, and grabbed a fastpass for Haunted Mansion. I was able to ride again Splash Mountain, Pirates, Star Tours, Space Mountain, and the Haunted Mansion. I was completely unorganized, so I kept running back and forth across the park, who's larger size becomes even more apparent when you run from one side to the other.
During all the running around, I was able to witness the crowds preparation for the Christmas parade. The process seemed to be: 1)stake out a spot 2) save your spot with a blanket or tarp 3) wander off or leave one family member to guard the site 4) come back 15 min before the parade starts, and sit on your blanket to watch it go by. Seemed like a very civilized system, which would never work in the US! Some rude woman from Jersey would stand on your blanket, and claim she was there first. (Nothing against Jersey, its the Garden State! I just needed an adjective)
After a short ride through Pinnochio (seemed same as Disneyland, but in PERFECT condition), I decided to look for a shirt, and do some shopping. But, I couldn't find any clothing that I liked. In looking in the guidebook, I found a shop that sold clothing, but when I got there, it was fairly small, and the selection was just OK. They didn't have any shirts that said Tokyo Disneyland, or anything very park specific that was appropriate.
It was at this point I noted I was probably the only person in the park wearing a Disney character shirt. That morning, I had put on an embroidered Pluto shirt from Disneyland California, and it became obvious during the day that I was the only adult wearing cartoon apparel. Hmmm... I even noticed a security guard looking at my shirt closely. I must have looked odd, or incredibly stylish. I prefer the later explanation.
I was able to find some Disneyland music CDs (great! lots of Japanese versions), and a DisneySea CD (expensive, and not quite worth it, mostly instrumental background music). I also bought inexpensive gifts of stationary and pens to give as gifts back home.
After shopping, I quickly went through the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. There weren't many people in the house. Actually, I was the only person I saw. But the view were nice across the park. It was in nice condition, and the signs were in both languages.
I now had time for 1 last ride before we were to meet back. My two choices were the Jungle Cruise, or the train. The train was intriguing, because unlike the US parks, it only ran the perimeter of Westernland. It seemed to travel a wide track around the Rivers of America. Decisions, decisions....
But, I decided in the end to try the Jungle Cruise, cause I wanted to see what the skippers were like. Well, they are very similar to the US skippers. It was all in Japanese, but the jokes seemed to all be there. And, my skipper was very enthusiastic! He pointed out all the animals, and the various scenes with great enthusiasm. The only person who didn't seem to enjoy the journey was a child in the boat, who got nervous once the skipper shot the hippo. It was a fun ride, even though I couldn't understand a word.
Well, it was now time to meet back up with my group. We met at the Walt and Mickey statue. We all lamented the fact that we got to do what we wanted, except Peter Pan, so we decided that would be out last ride of the park. Like the US parks, the line was long and slow moving, but the ride was very nice. Again, it was very clean, and in very good working order. The only glitch was the ships became a bit congested at the end, because of slow loading/unloading. The good part was we were stopped over the pirate ship at the end, and got a longer view.
Sadly, it was time to leave the park. Oh well. It was getting dark, and the lights were coming on, and it was very pretty. But, time to go.
So, we headed out to the monorail station, bought a ticket, and zipped over to DisneySea. It was dark by the time we arrived, and they were just starting the Braviseamo harbor show. We ducked into the Cafe Portifino, and had a nice supper (Italian food, $20). After the show, we decided to split up, and finish up the rides we had wanted to do the day before.
I bopped over the American Waterfront, and rode the Electric Railway over to Port Discovery, then walked over to Lost River Delta to catch Raging Spirits, the newest ride in the park.
The ride was just a simple looping roller coaster, and is all pretty much in view from the walkway out front. You basically go in circles, up and down, and through a loop. It was OK, but a little uninspiring. Happily, it was the first ride I'd seen with a single rider line, so I was able to do it twice, with no wait. I always think they should call the single rider line the 'I'm a loser and have no friends' line.
The park had fairly light attendance, so within an hour 1/2, I was able to Electric Railway, Raging Spirits twice, Indiana Jones, Sinbad, and walked through the Little Mermaid area once again.
Our little group met up in time to watch the Christmas harbor show Candlelight Reflections. It involved lots of barges filled with electric candles. A large barge in the harbor formed a large Christmas tree in the center of the lagoon. Fireworks whizzed by, the music swelled, and everyone felt Christmasy! It was very nicely done, and followed by the fireworks from Disneyland next door.
We decided the last ride in the park would be Journey to the Center of the Earth. This time, since we were now familiar with the ride, as we shot out the side of the volcano, it was pretty to look out over the harbor and the candle Christmas tree. The view was quick, but nice.
As we were leaving, I commented that I hadn't gotten to see the Fortress Explorations (clunky name), so we wandered through. Maps are provided at one of the entrances.
The Fortress is opposite the main park entrance, and has 3 or 4 levels of chambers and rooms to explore. These rooms include a perspective painting, that looks normal when viewed through a large lens, an earth clock (one of those pendulum clocks, hanging from a long cable), and other chambers. One room had remote controlled boats, which you could control for 100 Yen ($1). They were highly detailed sailing ships, which would float around over a Renaissance map, and it would occasionally thunder/lighting/rain. Very nice!
Another large domed room had a large model of the solar system, with wooden hand cranks to move the planets around the sun. The room was about 30 to 40 ft round, with constellations painted on the ceiling. It was all wonderfully pointless!
The theme of the entire fortress had a Leonardo DaVinci feel, with the rooms feeling like they were his labs. One room actually was set up like a lab! Outside on a platform was a flying machine, in which you could sit and crank the wings up and down, and spin the propellors.
Docked at the base of the fortress is a large sailing ship, with 3 levels to explore. On the deck, you could fire the cannons, and explore the cabins of the ship. Down below, you could explore the hold, and up above, you could wander the decks, and look into the captain's quarters. Again, all very wonderfully pointless! Lots of detail to explore and discover.
We decided it was time to leave again, when I commented I hadn't seen the Venetian canals, or seen the gondolas. So, on our way past the hotel, we walked along the canal. Absolutely beautiful. The gondolas were giving rides under the bridges and strings of lights strung about the area. There were lots of fresh flowers, and many rooms of the hotel looked down into the area. Again, it was just great.
Now, it was time to go, but again we got distracted- this time by shopping! Under the hotel, on both sides of the exits, are large merchandise stores. So, we all bought a bunch of stuff. Ted was able to find some pins, and I was able to buy more worthless tchockies to give as gifts, or keep for myself. Again, I looked for a shirt, but they had very little. Mainly, the shirts were highlighting each land, but not the entire park. And, the ones they had a were a bit lame. Oh well, no shirt from Disney this time.
Once again, we got distracted from leaving when I said "Hey, we never saw the Mira Costa Hotel! Wanna go see it?" We all said "Yes!" So, we headed back to the park entrance of the hotel. A large sign said 'Hotel Guests Only Beyond This Point," but we must have looked as thought we belonged, as no one stopped us. (I live by the motto, 'It's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission') We took the elevator up to the main level of the hotel, and stepped out into the lobby.
Oooohhh! It was nice. A large, multi-floored, octagonal domed lobby was in the center of the hotel. Murals were painted within the dome of various seafaring concepts represented by women/spirits of the sea. In the center of the lobby, over the round poofy couch, was a large metal sculpture of a ship, with the various disney characters. The lobby and other areas were all marble and shiny stuff, so it was very pretty. Louise claimed the bathrooms in the lobby were the nicest she seen in Tokyo.
We poked around a bit, and visited the gift shop (of course) where Ted found some interesting pins that were on clearance. Like all the shops in the park, even this tiny gift shop was quite full and busy! I guess power-shopping isn't a hobby reserved just for Americans!
Finally, we exited the park through the front entrance of the hotel. I didn't want to, but it has to end sometime. We had a long trip back to the hotel.
Day 6 Friday
As this is a Disney trip report, I'll keep the non-Disney days report shorter.
This day we decided to go to the village of Kamakura. It is a village (?) which lies south of Tokyo on the bay, and has lots of temples and shrines. It is also home to one of the largest Buddah's in Japan.
We jumped on the train bright and early, and it took nearly 2 hours to get there from our #@%*! hotel. Oh my gosh, we should have planned our hotel location better!
Kamakura was very nice. After wandering for a 1/2 hour looking for the information booth (we passed it 3 times in the train station. Doh!) we grabbed a bus to the 'Big Buddha.'
The Big Buddha is about 15 min by bus from downtown Kamakura. It sits on a hill, and can probably see the ocean since he's so tall. Us short mortal people can't see above the trees. The Buddha was about 3 to 4 stories tall, and is the second largest Buddha in Japan. If you paid and extra 20 Yen (20 cents) you could go inside. He's hollow! People left coins inside in the folds of his clothes.
Afterwards, we headed down the street to the Hasedera temple, which is a series of temples, shrines, graves, and even a cave, all set on a hillside overlooking the ocean. The area is quite beautiful, and offers views of the city and ocean bay. The centerpiece is a 20 foot statue of a goddess, housed in the main temple/shrine. A side temple houses a gold Buddha, and is all surrounded by well manicured gardens. It was one of my favorite temple sites on this trip.
We also headed downtown, and walked up the hill to the city's large main temple site. The walk is framed by large ceremonial gates and cherry trees, and the temple site sits in a large park overlooking the city. Highlights included a nice temple, lakes, and attractive gardens. Near the main temple is a large ginko tree, which had to be the biggest ginko tree I'd ever seen. I think the trunk had a 25 foot circumference, which is much larger than the weenie 3 ft trees we have in Illinois!
Once it got dark, we did some shopping down the main street. The city had a nice selection of gift shops, featuring everything from imported goo-gaws, to galleries selling the local craft specialty: red lacquered wood carvings (hard to explain, look it up on the internet.)
We took the train back into Tokyo, and stopped in the Akihabra district for supper, and to look around. We ate supper at CoCo's (for those of you on the west coast, yes, THAT CoCo's). We looked around the neighborhood briefly, and got back on the train to head home. I'm beginning to think we live on that train!
Day 7 Saturday:
I had heard from my brother, who frequents Japan on business, that a nice way to spend the day was to get out of the city in an area called Hakone. It is a national park near Mt Fuji, and offers beautiful views of the mountain and surrounding area. A large lake, Lake Ashi, sits within the mountain range, and reflects Mt Fuji in it's waters. A pass is offered on the Odayku train line (from Shinjuku station) that provides transportation to, from, and within the park. It's called the Hakone Free Pass (approx. $55, not free)
We decided it would be nice way to spend the day, see Mt Fuji, and get us out of the city. We didn't anticipate how long the trip would be, as it was over 2 hours to get there once we had completed all the transfers from our far-flung hotel. We arrived just in time for a late lunch, which because of the remote location of the area, we had very few food choices. McDonalds had always been available as a choice for other meals, but not this time! It was the first complete non-western meal of the trip! And, it was very good! Not sure what some of it was (black stuff, crunchy yellow things, and ginger pork).
A unique feature of the day was the modes of transportation provided in a loop through the park. This included a commuter train to the park, a bus up the mountain, a pirate ship across the lake (!), cable gondolas (2), cable trains, and a hillside zigzag train down the mountain.
The area features all kinds of sites, which you can do at your leisure along the trip. These include fine art museums (Picassos, Rembrants), an outdoor sculpture park, hot springs, amusement parks, historic sites, and more. We didn't see even one tenth of the possible sites, as many people will spend a number of days enjoying the area.
Sadly, we also didn't see Mt. Fuji! I guess it was shy that day, and refused to come out from behind a large gray cloud. Luckily, we did get to see a glimpse of the top of it as we were heading into the area from the commuter train! Right before sunset, we were able to see a section of the slope from the gondola. But, we were unable to see all of it all at once.
I have to comment on the park, and the pirate ships. The area is loosely the same concept of a national park like in the US, but it is not nearly as pristine. There are lots of villages, attractions, and private businesses in the area. The most odd spectacle was the pirate ships and paddle wheel ships that plied Lake Ashi. Part of the transportation system of the Hakone Free Pass were rides across the lake on one of the many ships, which were aluminum ferries tricked-out to look like pirate ships or Mississippi paddlewheelers. At this point, we'd gotten accustomed to some of the eccentricities of the country, but the pirate ships still defied explanation. However, they did provide beautiful views of the lake.
Once the sun went down, the view in the mountains vanished, so it was time to head back into Tokyo. We stopped in the Shinjuku station to look around briefly, and after some confusion, caught the last train back to the hotel. I guess the commuter trains stop a little earlier on the weekends! We were lucky, as a taxi to our hotel from central Tokyo would have cost us over $200!
Day 8 Sunday
We had spent the last two days traveling way too much on trains, so we decided to stay in our local hotel area on this final day of the trip. Guide books mentioned that Narita had many sites that most people overlooked. We had seen some of the area temple sites our first evening, and decided to go back and see what we missed.
Narita is well worth a visit. The city, and the main street are quite interesting, and features the largest and most comprehensive temple sites we had seen on our trip. We did learn that the Narita temple is considered a very important religious site in Japan, and the expanse and care of the grounds make that very evident.
The temple grounds have many temple/shrines, including a tall pagoda, a large Buddhist temple, a new(ish) temple with elaborate paintings and sculptures, 100's of acres of well-tended gardens and forests, statues, and more. I was able to sit through a Buddhist service, witness live music in the garden, and enjoy a bit of serenity in what had been a very manic week.
The city has a long winding street between the train station and temple site, which houses lots of good restaurants and interesting stores. We at lunch in a small Japanese restaurant along Narita's main street (I had eel! Another authentic meal. Tastes like fish, sorta). We did some shopping to pick up last minute gifts and souvenirs, before we headed back to the hotel and onto the airport. The flight back to Chicago on onto Central Illinois was uneventful, and we were all very tired.
Japan had been quite an adventure, that I will want to do again someday soon. A small sign at the exit of a ride at DisneySea summed up our trip: "Life is An Astounding Journey."
I couldn't agree more.