Urayasu, Chiba, Japan
“Disney’s absolute masterpiece of theme park engineering”
Tokyo Disney Resort is one of the most legendary theme park destinations on the planet. This status is mostly due to Tokyo DisneySea, the absolute crown jewel of theme park engineering. DisneySea is the resort’s second gate and it was inaugurated in 2001. As the name suggests, the park is dedicated to the Seven Seas. DisneySea is divided into seven ports of call and these are all linked by water. Originally, the park was aimed at a more mature audience than the neighbouring Tokyo Disneyland. Although Disney characters appear in the park’s shows and attractions, their presence is rather subtle. DisneySea is home to some of the most immersive rides Disney has ever designed and they’re all integrated in a dazzling scenery. Welcome to Tokyo DisneySea, a.k.a. the most stunning theme park on Earth.
In my opinion, Tokyo DisneySea is the world’s best theme park. But perfection doesn’t exist, so even DisneySea has a weakness: roller coasters. The park currently offers two coasters and they’re both surprisingly ordinary. Mermaid Lagoon is home to a kiddie coaster and you’ll find Raging Spirits at Lost River Delta. Raging Spirits is set within an ancient temple site and the decoration is brilliant. However, the coaster is just way too simple for a Disney theme park. You might recognise the ride’s layout if you’re familiar with Disneyland Paris. It’s nearly identical to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril. Luckily for Japanese Disney fans, the trains run considerably smoother and the seats are more comfortable. Overall, I wouldn’t describe Raging Spirits as a horrible coaster, but it’s not that special either. DisneySea obviously deserves a better thrill coaster. Maybe a Japanese version of Expedition Everest or Big Grizzly Mountain?
DisneySea’s roller coaster department may be weak, but the dark rides make up for that. By a large margin. The park offers three dark rides which appear in my personal top 10. The first one is Journey to the Center of the Earth, an expedition which is located in the park’s iconic Mount Prometheus. The ride experience is characterised by mysterious inner-Earth scenes, sudden accelerations and a fantastic soundtrack. Expect to be amazed by one of the world’s best dark rides. The exterior, the entrance, the queue, the station, the ride, the story line and the incredible finale… every element is nearly perfect. So please don’t complain about the relatively short ride duration, as Disney filled every second with pure awesomeness. By the way: another dark ride called 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea can be found right next door. This is an unusual experience with a unique transportation system, but it’s not nearly as good as its neighbour.
Let’s continue at Lost River Delta, an area dedicated to the jungles of South America. When visiting this themed land, a ride on Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Crystal Skull should be your top priority. Some people might recognise Indiana Jones Adventure from Anaheim, but Disney made some adjustments. The building’s facade is more impressive, the queue is different and the Japanese got a mind-blowing extra scene with a fireball. Add some skeletons, swarming insects, a tornado, a scary snake and a rolling boulder. And there you go: dark ride perfection… again.
Last but not least I’d like to pay tribute to Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage, the largest ride in the Arabian Coast area. Some people describe this as some kind of Arabian version of It’s a Small World. I don’t agree. In fact, Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage is much better than that famous Disney classic. Agreed… the slow boat tour and the cheerful soundtrack are notable similarities, but don’t underestimate Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage. This dark ride is surprisingly long and it consists of 160 audio-animatronics that move with an impressive smoothness. I could literally admire this ride’s splendour for many hours and I’m sure I’d find new details every single time. It’s a little sad that crowds just don’t seem to notice how good this attraction really is.
These are the best dark rides at DisneySea. However, according to the wait times, the Japanese like Toy Story Mania even more. This ride is located at American Waterfront and its exterior looks fantastic. However, the interior and the ride are identical to the other versions. So if you’ve ever ridden Toy Story Mania at one of the American resorts, it would’t hurt to skip the Japanese version.
Tokyo DisneySea is like candy for the eyes. No rock or tile is here without a reason; Imagineers have thought about every element at least a hundred times. As a result, the scenery should also be considered as a top attraction. My tip while visiting Tokyo DisneySea: take a moment to admire the views, enjoy the atmosphere and listen to the music. The park is full of fantastic details, unparalleled beauty and subtle Disney references. Indulge yourself in the magic.
Of course, I understand that rides form the backbone of a theme park. So how about a visit to Tower of Terror? In Europe, this attraction automatically reminds us of Hollywood and The Twilight Zone. DisneySea, however, got a completely different story line about Harrison Hightower II (an arrogant hotel owner) and Shiriki Utundu (a cursed idol). Their story is told in the ride’s pre-show, which is one of the most convincing I’ve ever seen. Even without understanding the Japanese narration, it’s a true visual masterpiece. The best thing about the pre-show is an almost inexplicable special effect concerning the Shiriki Utundu statue. It all contributes to an amazing atmosphere (the very best of all Tower of Terror rides, imho) but the actual elevator ride turns out to be quite lame, compared to the other versions. The free fall part is relatively short and it doesn’t feel intense at all.
As you might expect at DisneySea, water is never too far away. There are quite a few ships docked at New York Harbor and the most iconic of them is the S.S. Columbia. This is probably one of the craziest ideas Disney Imagineers ever developed: building a Titanic copy and integrating an upscale restaurant and a cocktail lounge in it. S.S. Columbia is pure decadence, but exactly these kinds of splurges transform DisneySea into a world of superlatives. Be sure to pop in for a lunch at the S.S. Columbia Dining Room or a cocktail at the Teddy Roosevelt Lounge. Theme parks with a cocktail bar always steal my heart.
The Japanese love entertainment. Tokyo Disney Resort is well aware of that, so they filled both parks with great shows. Big Band Beat is the largest stage show at DisneySea and it’s well worth a visit. However, the most memorable shows take place on Mediterranean Lagoon near the park entrance. During our trips, we were able to attend The Legend of Mythica and Fantasmic, two amazing performances. Both shows have closed for good, but I’m sure that Tokyo DisneySea is working on replacements.
BEAT THE CROWDS
Tokyo Disney Resort is notorious for its huge crowds. Both parks attract approximately 15 million visitors per year, so the parks are almost never quiet. If you’re planning a trip, common sense dictates that you avoid the parks in weekends and (if possible) during Japanese school holidays. Use those Saturdays and Sundays to head to the city centre of Tokyo or visit some shrines, but please stay away from the Disney parks. Queues of up to 120 minutes even occur on weekdays, so I wouldn’t want to imagine the madness during weekends. Also, I strongly recommend arriving at the park gates at least 30 minutes prior to opening time. Unlike the American Disney parks, Tokyo DisneySea gets crowded very early. If the park opens at 8 AM, most of the big attractions will have long queues around 9 o’clock. Sleeping in may cause a huge disadvantage, as the best FastPasses will already be gone.
I’d like to point out that Soaring – Fantastic Flight was still under construction during my most recent visit to DisneySea. However, I suppose that this the park’s most popular ride nowadays. Logically, many guests will directly head to Soaring at opening time and FastPasses will be hard to get. This also means that the queues of many other rides will remain manageable early in the morning. Therefore, I would stick to the touring plan we used during all of our visits to DisneySea. After securing FastPasses for Tower of Terror, immediately ride Journey to the Center of the Earth and Indiana Jones Adventure. This has always proved to be a perfect way to experience three wildly popular rides without a long line. Use the busiest times to ride less popular attractions (e.g. Sindbad, Aquatopia, DisneySea Electric Railway and 20,000 Leagues) or make use of the single rider lines. By the way: DisneySea tends to get quieter in the evening, as many locals leave the park after the nighttime entertainment. This is ideal for some late night rides on the E-ticket attractions.
WORTH A VISIT?
At the top of this page, I gave Tokyo DisneySea a 5 star rating. But honestly… I should give the park an even higher score. I’m not the person who usually describes his theme park visits with words like ‘magical’ or ‘phenomenal’, but I’m making an exception here. Words and superlatives cannot describe what DisneySea means to me. Entering this park literally feels like stepping into a different world and that feeling is repeated with (almost) every attraction you ride. Besides, F&B offerings and Cast Members are brilliant. Things are about to get even better, by the way. Tokyo DisneySea will soon be expanded with an area called Fantasy Springs. This new port will be DisneySea’s alternative to Fantasyland and it will include three brand-new attractions. Very exciting addition to the park’s qualitative lineup, if you ask me.
Photo Gallery 2013, 2015 & 2016
TOKYO DISNEY RESORT
LOST RIVER DELTA
Have you ever visited Tokyo DisneySea? What’s your favourite dark ride at DisneySea? Is this really the world’s best theme park? Share your opinion in the comments section at the bottom of this page.