I’m currently on a plane. I’m staring at a small screen and I’m enjoying the snacks and drinks provided by some charming flight attendants. Despite a wide choice of entertainment and surprisingly good airline catering, this ANA flight seems to last forever. It’s actually one of the longest direct flights I’ve ever experienced. After taking off in Brussels, we flew across Scandinavia and we’re currently in the endless skies above Siberia. It will take a vast eleven hours to change a Belgian evening to a Japanese afternoon. Luckily, there are great things to look forward to since I will spend the next nine days in Asia with some of my closest friends. We will reconquer the worldwide Disney Parks Bingo, we’ll visit one of the largest cities on Earth and we will rediscover an awesome theme park resort at Tokyo Bay. However, our very first stop will be Narita Airport. But while checking my airplane screen, I notice that I’ll be stuck in this tight seat for another four hours. Ouch.
Four hours later. I’m finally able to stretch my legs and I’m handing my passport to a Japanese customs officer. He checks my data and he looks at me in a very strange way. That’s probably because I don’t look like the guy in my passport picture after such an exhausting flight. While adjusting our watches to Japanese time, we notice that we skipped an entire night and day. Hi there, jetlag! And hi there, Tokyo! After getting the necessary stamps from this friendly guy, we’re officially back in Japan. This is the country where vending machines and toilets look totally different than elsewhere. It’s also the place where you’re able to take a bus or a train without one single minute of delay. And last but not least: Japan is the only country where you can meet Mickey Mouse right next to an erupting volcano. Without taking any unnecessary risks, of course.
Goosebumps all over. Our shuttle bus reaches the exit at Urayasu, where we can already see the bright lights of the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel and the contours of Cinderella Castle, Tower of Terror and Mount Prometheus. We have just crossed the globe and we’re exhausted, but my tiredness suddenly disappears at this point. Although this is our third visit to Tokyo Disney Resort in a four year time span, it’s still very thrilling to arrive here. Just like we did during our previous trips, we will be staying at ‘Hilton Tokyo Bay’. This hotel is located between Tokyo Bay and the Disney resort, so amazing views on the Tokyo skyline or the theme parks are always included. On top of that, this ‘Hilton’ is within a very short walk of a monorail station. The so called ‘Disney Resort Liner’ travels around both theme parks in an endless loop. Stops are provided at the main gates of both parks, at the shopping area ‘Ikspiari’ and at ‘Bayside Station’, where several official partner hotels (including ‘Hilton’) are located. The ‘Disney Resort Liner’ will be our first choice of transportation for the following week. For instance tomorrow morning, while travelling to Tokyo DisneySea.
It’s early. Very early in fact. And however I’m definitely not a morning lover, it hasn’t been this easy to wake up in months. I’m awakened by Templo de Fiesta, the most cheerful song of Phantasialand’s Chiapas-soundtrack. Usually I’d hate such an overly happy song at 6.30 AM. Unless I’m about to visit the very best theme park on the planet, of course. On top of that, I get to introduce both my boyfriend Steven and my coaster-buddy Phaedra into the world of Asian Disney parks today. My first task: try to convince them that Tokyo DisneySea is worth the torture of getting up at half past six. You might think: why would you wake up that early?! The answer is simple: because the park will open at 8 o’clock and in Tokyo, it’s quite important to be at the admission gates before they open. Or at least, that’s what locals do and you could easily miss some of the best Fastpasses if you arrived just 30 minutes later.
It’s 8 o’clock. I wrote about this specific moment in my Tokyo trip reports of 2013 and 2015, but I just need to write it again: Tokyo DisneySea is one enormous pot of craziness and chaos right after opening time. This park becomes a busy mess which is hard to understand if you’re not used to Japanese Disney parks. For instance: some Japanese arrive hours before the actual opening time, but they don’t necessarily do that to get to their favourite ride. They may just run to a souvenir shop once the gates have opened, trying to get the latest Duffy merchandise. Another group might walk straight to the shores of Mediterranean Lagoon, just to secure a great spot for the first showing of a seasonal performance. They then lay a small mat on the floor and take a seat, patiently waiting for nearly three hours! A vast majority of guests however is on their way to Toy Story Mania. This ride is so extremely popular that every morning, some kind of stampede takes place in its direction. Thousands of guests try to claim a Fastpass but unfortunately, supply and demand aren’t exactly on the same level. Those who aren’t lucky enough to get a Fastpass, are doomed to enter the stand-by queue which soars to an incredible 160 minutes right after park opening. That’s way too long for us, so we try again in the evening. Our wait would still be considerable (80 minutes…) but I wouldn’t want to skip this ride with first timers. We notice that ‘Toy Story Mania’ still provides great fun and that the Japanese version clearly has the most elaborately themed exterior. But would I ever stand in line for two and a half hours? No, definitely not.
Nick and I have spent quite a few days at Tokyo Disney Resort during the last few years. We got to know both parks pretty well and that pays off today. As long as those Japanese visitors flock the gates of ‘Toy Story Mania’, the queues of most other rides remain nearly empty. We developed some kind of ideal DisneySea touring plan and it once again proves its great value. We first get Fastpasses for ‘Tower of Terror’ and visit a lava monster and Indiana Jones afterwards. That’s the best way to experience three of the most popular rides without their usual lengthy lines. So after picking up our Fastpass tickets, we head to Journey to the Center of the Earth.
This ride is located inside ‘Mount Prometheus’, the volcano which is the visual icon of Tokyo DisneySea. Before entering the queue, just try to forget everything you know about darkrides. ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ goes further than almost every other ride on the planet. It all starts with an extremely well designed queue inside a mysterious cave. It doesn’t seem like you’re in a theme park anymore; it looks like you’re actually going on a dangerous underground excursion. The experience then continues inside a ‘Terravator’, a lift which transports us to the loading platform. This ride station is also very impressive: a huge drill seems to be stuck in steady rocks and steam escapes from tiny caverns. At the moment we close the lap bar, I’m fully convinced that we’re miles and miles underneath the Earth’s surface. The actual ride experience is characterized by stunning scenes which vary from sweet and colourful to frightening and mysterious. Expect to be amazed by one of the best darkrides ever and it’s almost impossible to tell something negative about it. The exterior, the entrance, the queue, the station, the ride, the storyline and the incredible finale… every element is nearly perfect. So please don’t complain about the relatively short track length, because Disney filled every single inch with pure awesomeness.
‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ still amazes me like it did three years ago. The rides’ atmosphere is wonderfully complemented by the themed land surrounding it. Mysterious Island lies within the volcanic rocks of ‘Mount Prometheus’ and it’s filled with bubbling waterholes and futuristic architecture. The vibrant atmosphere is extraordinary and it’s a true pleasure to wander around in this area. The eyecatcher of Mysterious Island is obviously ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’, but there’s another Jules Verne style ride called 20.000 Leagues Under The Sea. This darkride is not as well known as its famous neighbour and that’s no surprise. The dimensions of this ride are quite small and it’s hard to understand the storyline if you don’t know any Japanese. One thing I like about ‘20.000 Leagues Under The Sea’ is the original transportation system: we enter small (and very claustrophobic) submarines which perfectly create the illusion of travelling to great depths. The scenery behind the submarine windows however isn’t that impressive. That’s why one single ride is more than enough for me.
Did you know that 20.000 Leagues Under The Sea and the catchy Disney song Under The Sea are neighbours at DisneySea? That’s because right next to Mysterious Island, you’ll find Mermaid Lagoon, an area dedicated to ‘The Little Mermaid’. This area consists of an unmemorable kiddie coaster and a giant indoor section filled with colourful children’s rides. If European theme parks such as Plopsa and Toverland need inspiration for the decoration of their indoor areas, they should definitely take a look here. Everything about this underwater world is beautiful, but it’s mainly focused on very young visitors. The only part which could also be interesting for us, is King Triton’s Concert. Because of this show’s great popularity, we choose to get a Fastpass. When we return about an hour later, I’m pretty much disappointed by the quality of the performance. In 2013, we got to see a powerful show filled with special effects in this theatre, but this new version is less impressive. On top of that, Disney got rid of the portable translation devices which were distributed to those who don’t understand Japanese. Altogether I’m not overly impressed by ‘King Triton’s Concert’ and I think it’s not on the same high level as most entertainment at the resort. However, long lines may prove that most other guests don’t share my opinion.
Some people believe that every single thing about Tokyo DisneySea is awesome, but that isn’t true. The Magic Lamp Theater, for example, is quite meaningless. Please just skip this performance: it’s childish and difficult to understand if you don’t speak Japanese (just like the Mermaid show, this 3D performance used to have portable translation devices, but these aren’t there anymore). Just spend some extra time in the surrounding area, because the so called Arabian Coast is truly stunning. Colourful minarets are shining in the autumn sun and palm trees wave in a gentle breeze. Just like any other themed land at Tokyo DisneySea, Arabian Coast deserves a standing ovation. So go ahead and applaud… I know you want to.
Applause… that’s exactly what our next attraction deserves. That is Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage, the biggest and most impressive ride within the Arabian Coast. Some trip report writers describe this as some kind of Arabian version of ‘It’s a Small World’, but I don’t agree. In reality, ‘Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage’ is much better than that famous (and/or annoying) Disney classic. Let me put it this way: the gentle boat tour and the cheerful soundtrack are notable similarities, but just don’t underestimate ‘Sindbad’. This darkride is surprisingly long and it consists of 160 audio-animatronics which move impressively smooth. I could literally admire this ride’s splendidness for many hours and I’m sure I would find new details every single time. It’s actually a little sad that the crowds just don’t seem to notice how good this attraction is. ‘Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage’ is nearly walk-on during every time of the day, while some other rides get queues of nearly 100 minutes. This is clearly the most underrated darkride at Tokyo Disney Resort: everybody talks about ‘Pooh’s Hunny Hunt’ and ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’, but another true star is right here at Arabian Coast.
Imagine what you could do with 22 million dollars. Efteling spent that amount on ‘Baron 1898’ and Europa-Park paid a similar price for ‘Blue Fire Megacoaster’. Tokyo DisneySea however spent 22.000.000 dollars on a family friendly carousel with flying carpets. Why? Well… just because they can. And if you want to know the cost of the neighbouring rollercoaster Raging Spirits, you should even triple that amount. The price is unfortunately more shocking than the experience itself. ‘Raging Spirits’ is set within an ancient temple site and the scenery is stunning, but the coaster is just way too simple for a Disney theme park. You might recognize the ride’s lay-out if you’re familiar with Disneyland Paris, because 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 couldn’t describe ‘Raging Spirits’ as a horrible coaster, but it’s not that special either. DisneySea clearly deserves a better thrill coaster than this one.
‘Raging Spirits’ is a part of Lost River Delta, an area dedicated to the jungles of South-America. The very best ride in this part of the park is Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Crystal Skull. Because of the ride’s popularity, wait times of up to two hours aren’t exceptional. That’s why we usually visit this temple early in the morning or via the single rider line. Anyway: this ride is so awesome I wouldn’t mind queueing for a while. Some people might recognize it from Anaheim, but Disney made some major adjustments. The building’s facade is more impressive, the queue is different and the Japanese got a mind-blowing extra scene which creates the illusion of a fireball being aimed to our heads. Add some skeletons, swarming insects, a tornado, a scary snake and a rolling boulder. Et voilà: a darkride which approaches perfection. This ride is actually in my top 5 ranking of all-time favourites. In that list, it’s accompanied by its namesake in Los Angeles, ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’, the Shanghai version of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and the amazing ‘Mystic Manor’ at Hong Kong Disneyland. Yes, Disney built quite a few brilliant darkrides…
The two main attractions at Lost River Delta are quite thrilling. Fortunately, there’s also a great way to find some peace and quiet in this area. It’s called DisneySea Transit Steamer Line and it’s an appealing alternative for the ‘Disneyland Railroad’ at some classic Disney theme parks. This ‘Transit Steamer Line’ connects some of the park’s themed lands with frequent boat services. It also offers some astonishing views of the scenery and it’s an ideal way to escape the crowds. Talking about crowds… Early november appears to be a busy time for Tokyo Disney Resort. Queues for the most popular rides are displayed in three digits and it’s difficult to get a drink or snack without a considerable wait. Luckily, the weather is just beautiful and Fastpass helps us to avoid the craziest queues.
If you ever plan to book a room at one of the Disney hotels here in Tokyo, be sure to save some money in advance. A stay at the Disneyland Hotel or Hotel Miracosta is extremely expensive, even if you don’t necessarily need a view over the park. However, there is one single Disney hotel where you can just walk in without reservation and without a gigantic charge on your credit card: Hotel Hightower. This iconic building is the eyecatcher of American Waterfront and it towers over an area dedicated to New York City. As soon as we enter the lobby, we’re surrounded by the dark atmosphere of Tower or Terror.
In Europe, we automatically think about Hollywood and ‘The Twilight Zone’ while talking about this famous ride. DisneySea however got a completely different storyline about Harrison Hightower II, an arrogant hotel owner. After he stole the idol Shiriki Utundu from an African tribe, things started to go wrong at Hotel Hightower. Shiriki Utundu seemed cursed and Mr Hightower disappeared without a trace. This story is told in the ride’s preshow, which is one of the most convincing I’ve ever seen. Even without understanding the Japanese narration, it’s a true visual masterpiece. Besides, the best thing about this preshow is an almost inexplicable special effect concerning the Shiriki Utundu statue. It all contributes to an amazing atmosphere (te very best of all ‘Tower of Terror’ rides) but it’s regrettable that the actual elevator ride is quite lame if you’re used to the versions in France or the United States. The freefall part is relatively short and it doesn’t feel that intense. And that’s too bad, because the beautiful exterior and the sublime storytelling create high expectations.
If both Sinatra and Alicia Keys have written a song about it, then I guess New York City is worth it. Here at DisneySea, the famous North-American metropolis is recreated as it should have been in the early 20th century. The streets are filled with old timers, antique tramcars glide over a steel bridge and a big band performs at the ‘Broadway Music Theatre’. As you might expect at DisneySea, the waterfront is always nearby. There are quite a few boats docked at New York Harbor and the most iconic of them is the S.S. Columbia. With its steaming chimneys, this mighty ocean liner seems ready for a long journey. This is easily one of the craziest ideas Disney Imagineers ever developed: building a Titanic copy and filling it with an upscale restaurant, a cocktail lounge and a small attraction. It’s also possible to take a stroll over the decks, just to enjoy the beautiful views of DisneySea and Tokyo Bay. ‘S.S. Columbia’ is pure decadence, but exactly these kinds of splurges transform DisneySea into a world of superlatives.
Sometimes, Tokyo DisneySea feels like a Japanese alternative for Las Vegas. Spending twenty million on a carousel with flying carpets and building a huge steamship just for fun? Check. The area Mediterranean Harbor has been built with the same attitude. Building our own ‘Ponte Vecchio’? Sure. Creating an enormous lagoon in which we can perform a boat parade several times a day? Why not. Let’s also design a hotel with Italian facades and let’s recreate a part of Venice, including the typical canals and gondolas. By the way: those Venetian gondolas offer a great moment to relax and it’s hilarious to hear those Asian Cast Members sing O Sole Mio. The only problem is that this gondola tour doesn’t operate with the slightest breeze and it also closes during shows on Mediterranean Lagoon. So if you’re interested in this unique attraction, it may require some patience to board such a gondola.
Tokyo DisneySea is one of the world’s most intelligently designed theme parks. No rock or tile is here without a reason; Imagineers have thought about every element at least ten times. Bearing that in mind, it’s kind of funny to encounter a ride like Aquatopia at DisneySea. ‘Aquatopia’ is nothing more – and definitely nothing less – than a few minutes of pure brainless fun. Two people board some kind of strangely shaped boat and they then navigate through a shallow pool of water. That almost sounds too simple, but thanks to its beautiful futuristic theme ‘Aquatopia’ is actually worth a visit. The neighbouring simulator-type ride ‘StormRider’ is being rebuilt to ‘Nemo & Friends SeaRider’ during our visit. I’m not that sure whether a ‘Finding Nemo’ theme is the perfect choice for the Port Discovery area, but I will let you know after our next visit.
Not every part of DisneySea is about majesty and grandeur. There’s also an area which is just cute and cozy: Cape Cod. This peaceful part of American Waterfront is usually not too busy because it lacks a big ride. However, most Japanese visitors know Cape Cod as the hometown of Duffy, Mickey Mouse’s pretty uninteresting teddy bear. There’s a photo opportunity with Duffy (wait times under 60 minutes are rare) or you can spend all your money on Duffy merchandise. I really don’t get the hype, but locals seem to love it.
Disney parks are even better if they have cocktail bars. And however ‘Cove Bar’ at Disney California Adventure is my true favourite, DisneySea offers a great alternative. The stunning ‘Teddy Roosevelt Lounge’ is within ‘S.S. Columbia’ and the place is filled with a nostalgic flair. It’s an awesome place to enjoy some peace and quiet, especially if you’re enjoying the remainings of a jet lag. While enjoying our cocktail, night falls over Japan. That doesn’t only mean that it gets quite chilly outside; it’s also the perfect time to enjoy Tokyo DisneySea in a totally new (even more beautiful) way.
Enchantment. That’s the first word which comes to my mind when I think about Fantasmic. Every evening around 8 o’clock, Disney guarantees 20 minutes of first class eye candy on ‘Mediterranean Lagoon’. Video projections, dozens of live actors, fireworks, pyrotechnic effects and one frightening dragon… DisneySea is everything but thrifty when it comes to nightly entertainment. During ‘Fantasmic’, we discover Mickey Mouse’s dreams and they take us to some of Disney’s most famous movie scenes and songs. It all starts in a very gentle way, but eventually some creepy Disney villains show up in a dazzling finale. Maleficent shows her powers by setting the lagoon on fire and in the meantime, ‘Mount Prometheus’ errupts in full force. It sounds crazy, but it’s ordinary in the world of Tokyo DisneySea. I have seen the show multiple times during previous visits, but I’m still amazed by every second of it. ‘Fantasmic’ is beautiful in every way and in my opinion, only California’s ‘World of Color’ equals this level of perfection.
The biggest disadvantage of writing a trip report about Tokyo DisneySea: I ran out of superlatives. It’s not easy to describe this park without continuously using words like wow, fantastic and amazing. The rides are superb, the entertainment is world class, Cast Members are incredibly kind and you’re surrounded by stunning scenery all day long. So really… isn’t there anything negative I should tell about this place? Well, actually there’s one single thing: this is the very first time that a Disney theme park doesn’t allow us to enter queue lines until closing time. While trying to enter ‘Toy Story Mania’ at 9.30 PM, we’re sent away by Cast Members. Same story at the nearby ‘Tower of Terror’, where we are told that they close earlier depending on crowds. And although this day has been perfectly satisfying, it’s a shame that attraction closing times aren’t displayed properly.
We are tired. Or should I say exhausted? Those 14 full hours of Disney fun have been crazily tiring, but Tokyo DisneySea is totally worth it. I’m still in love with this place like I was on 9 April 2013, the day I visited DisneySea for the very first time. It’s kind of unbelievable that ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’, ‘Indiana Jones Adventure’, ‘Tower of Terror’, ‘Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage’ and ‘Fantasmic’ are all included in one single admission ticket. Honestly… I’d commit a crime to get only one of those experiences in Europe.
Tokyo DisneySea is extremely close to pure perfection and I’m pretty sure that it will remain my number one park forever. All that awesomeness almost made me forget that there’s another first class theme park right next door. Don’t worry: I’ve just set another early alarm clock to rediscover the beauty of Tokyo’s original ‘Magic Kingdom’-style park tomorrow. But before we enter Tokyo Disneyland, we really need to get some sleep. Before closing my eyes, I ask first timer Steven what he liked most about DisneySea. He doesn’t answer my question. I’m not sure whether he’s speechless or asleep, but I’m pretty sure about this: he will probably dream about volcanoes, cursed hotels and fire-breathing dragons tonight.