Tokyo Disneyland was a park we had high expectations for as we have many friends who regularly visit Japan and have spoke highly of the country, the culture, the people. It was, interestingly enough, the last park Nick had never visited and yet, several of our friends had.
We caught a bus from Narita Airport to the resort area that stopped at all the hotels, even the ones which weren’t Disney resorts. We were very impressed at the efficiency with which they boarded buses and straight out of the gate, everyone was incredibly polite and helpful and spoke to us in English.
The resorts here are a bit more expensive than other parks. We ended up staying at the Sheraton which was the cheapest at the time and even though we didn’t get the Disney immersion, we weren’t made to feel like second class Disney citizens – the monorail runs on a loop from both the Disney and non-Disney hotels and it was very quick and easy to hop between parks and hotels. One difference from other parks here is you have to pay for a ticket for this service.
We arrived at Disneyland on Friday night and made a beeline for the castle so Nick could tick off his sixth and final castle. The crowds were fairly substantial but we managed to get on a few rides quickly – Star Tours, Pirates of the Caribbean (the classic version) and a unique attraction ‘Monsters Inc. Rid and Go Seek’ with minimal wait times.
We had a very filling dinner at the Hungry bear and some waffles before calling it a night close to closing time.
And then came the weekend. We spent Saturday at Disney Sea because with their ticketing system, you must spend a day at each park before you can start park hopping. We had checked the crowd calendar and knew to expect parks to be at capacity – Disney Sea had even stopped selling tickets. We understand parks get busy and we knew we’d have to spend inevitably spend a weekend somewhere. But boy was it busy.
The paths at these parks are very wide so moving around the park was easy enough but wait times were through the roof. By early afternoon, most Fast Pass distributions had ended. As before, we focused on rides unique to Tokyo, many of which were at Disney Sea, as follows:
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – we queued about 40 minutes and enjoyed this dark ride style adventure where your submarine very cleverly simulates being submerged and encountering different things.
- Journey to the Centre of the Earth – one of the insanely popular rides of the park, we decided to bite the bullet and wait out the 90 minute queue as we had the time. There’s few things we’ve queued that long for and we ended up feeling a little short changed. The ride felt similar to Dinosaur at WDW Animal Kingdom but parts of it felt more like a thrill ride, relying on sudden movement and speed, rather than the story or theming. The visible outdoor and queueing area was detailed and impressive as always (they built an actual volcano), but we didn’t feel we got our 90 minutes worth of experience.
- Raging Spirits – a roller coaster at Disneyland we managed to grab fast passes for. The theming is excellent but unfortunately, it is a fairly standard roller coaster. Queue times were often well over an hour so we were glad we got Fast Passes.
- The Adventures of Sindbad – a fairly simple dark boat ride which we initially rode to get out of the sun one day and out of the rain on another day, on both occasions with 5 minute waits but it turned out to be a winner. It tells a unique story adapting the character and setting from Sindbad the Sailor with the animatronics Disney does so well. The song ‘Compass to your heart’ plays on loop through the ride in Japanese which may be stuck in your head later but you won’t be too upset about it.
- Monsters Inc. Ride and Go Seek: An interactive cart ride themed around Monsters Inc., where as you move through the ride, you have a flashlight you can shine on targets, trying to find the monsters to trigger reactions. It was a lot of fun and we’re glad we got on it on Friday night because the wait time didn’t come down over the weekend.
Also worth mentioning:
- Venetian Gondolas – this was an unexpected hit we accidentally found ourselves in a queue for while taking a sit down break in the Mediterranean Harbor themed part of the park. We were taken on a gondola ride around the rivers of the park while our steerers made conversation in Japanese. But the highlight as was as we entered a tunnel, one of them broke out in song. Never would we thought we’d find ourselves on a gondola ride in fake-Italy in Japan with a man singing Santa Lucia in Japanese. It was amazing.
- Pooh’s Hunny Hunt – we could not figure out why this ride always had a 2 hour wait until it was pointed out that it uses the same trackless technology as Mystic Manor . We managed to get on first thing Monday morning with a 30 minute wait and it was great to experience this more dynamic version of the classic, it was a lot of fun.
- Indiana Jones Adventure – we debated queueing up for this. Some poking around online revealed it was more or less the same as the version at Disneyland in Anaheim but with two new scenes. The wait time always hovered around 60-90 minutes and we didn’t end up doing it – something saved for next time!
- Triton’s Kingdom – A very well themed indoor area, mostly with attractions targeted for younger guests but worth wandering through and having a look.
- Tower of Terror – as we understand it, they didn’t buy the Twilight Zone licensing here so the theming is different here. The tower itself looks incredibly impressive from the outside with the story detailing that a man built the tower / hotel to show off his collections, which opened after his from Africa with a bunch of new pieces, including a sinister looking one. One night there was a terrible accident where the elevator crashed and he was never seen again, only the sinister monkey totem was found in the elevator. The entrance and queueing area is reminiscent of the classic Tower of Terror with the hotel vibe, but it feels like they got halfway through building the ride and realized they had to rebrand it and shoehorned this new story to fit. Once you get to the next queuing area, after the story set up, it suddenly feels like you’re in some kind of museum about to go on a tour. Perhaps we were missing some of the story because it was told only in Japanese but it just felt odd to us. The ride itself was more or less the same, but fun as always.
- Shows – there were several shows available, all of which seemed to be ridiculously popular. Tickets were on a lottery basis and then, queues and wait times would be insane so we didn’t even try.
Once again, we weren’t focusing on ticking off all the rides so we were okay with the crowd and spent a lot of time just walking around. There’s so much to see in theming and decoration here, some beautiful facades.
What we found difficult at this park beyond the crowd was the food. I think we’re too used to the focus on quick service at the US parks and the sheer inundation of available food. We had a really hard time getting food at this park – you have to get in early for lunch as queues even for the snack cars become longer than than of some rides. The key here is they focus on presentation and quality of food over speed – they do not compromise. On Sunday, we kept putting off eating lunch, adamant the rush would die down and ended up queueing from 2-3pm. There seems to be a lot less places to get food too, especially dinner, as many places start closing from 6pm.
There was no shortage in variety of snack carts, flavored popcorn is hugely popular with a dedicated section in the map for finding them and different refillable souvenir buckets. We tried curry, milk chocolate and cappuccino flavours. A tip on twitter sent us in search of Alien Mochi, a kind of rice cake with custard fillings which was a huge hit.
The most interesting thing we started realizing across the different parks is how the culture and customs of the locale influence the park, beyond things at like the signage and language.
In Tokyo, English appeared to be the predominant language in terms of signage, but most attractions and shows would only be in Japanese. All cast members addressed us in English and were nothing but polite which is from what we learned, both in our experience and from our friends, something that is engrained in the culture, not ‘because they have to’. It’s the little touches – they would wipe off a bottle of water from the ice bucket before handing it to you, they would go around after the rain drying off seats, they would squeegee water off the roads. They will often in vain try to deter people from walking behind you in photos. Beyond the park, Nick had to take off his shoes when going through airport security and they were incredibly apologetic and even provided a pair of slippers for him to wear while they X-rayed his shoes.
The people are beautiful in Japan and their attitudes make the park just a little bit more vibrant. A large percentage of the guests wear loud, colourful Disney attire and often matching outfits with their friends.
What Shanghai lacked in Halloween, this park certainly made up for – the stores were brimming with Halloween merchandise and novelty and themed snacks. They also don’t do a Halloween party here, instead, there’s specific days you’re allowed to dress in costume in the parks (we’d just missed the first window). This has similar restrictions to the Halloween parties at WDW, but here they additionally specify you must dress as a Disney character.
We actually found it very difficult to find the typical kind of souvenirs we usually buy – we made the decision to buy one t-shirt each and four souvenir magnets per park. Our criteria for shirts were that they need to stay the location of the park, and preferably be dated (i.e. 2017). This proved incredibly difficult – the majority of the shirts were the loud ones covered in a pattern of characters. We each managed to find a single shirt with the park’s name on it but only three different magnets.
Culture shock did start to hit a bit with frustrations hitting when things were hard to understand. In between the crowds and the rainy weather and the desperate hunts for food, it felt like an endurance exercise at times especially as we now hit over a week at Disney parks and the bodies start to ache.
Regardless, it is definitely a beautiful park worth visiting and we had a fantastic time. The people lived up to the many wonderful things we’d heard and we worked hard to fit in with their customs so we too wouldn’t come off as impolite.
So with our whirlwind of Asia done, it was onwards to Europe! Because as we know…