NEDERLANDS // ENGLISH
Tokyo DisneySea is the most legendary theme park Disney ever built. Unfortunately, you have to travel a long way from Europe to get there. Despite the fact that we got a direct flight from Brussels, it still took 11 hours to reach Tokyo’s Narita Airport. That causes a huge jet lag, but I’m not tired at all. When Cinderella Castle, Mount Prometheus and Tower Of Terror appear on the horizon, it feels like I’m the luckiest guy on Earth. We just traveled halfway around the world, but this is the moment I’ve been waiting for. Although this is my 3rd visit to Tokyo Disney Resort in just four years, arriving here remains an overwhelming feeling.
We’re staying at Hilton Tokyo Bay, one of Tokyo Disney Resort’s official partner hotels. Located on the corner of a peninsula, the hotel is built between the Disney parks and Tokyo Bay. Great views of Disneyland, DisneySea or the Tokyo skyline are guaranteed. From here, it’s super easy to reach the Disney parks by monorail. The so-called Disney Resort Liner travels in a loop around the parks. One of the stops is Bayside Station, located right next to the partner hotels. We’re about to become major users of the Monorail, since we ordered a 4-day pass for Tokyo Disney Resort. And the first park on our list is Tokyo DisneySea.
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 crazy and chaotic right after opening time. This park becomes a busy mess which is hard to understand if you’re not used to Japanese Disney parks. Some Japanese arrive hours before the actual opening time, but they don’t necessarily do that to get to their favourite ride. They may 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.
A vast majority of guests 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 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 know the parks pretty well and that pays off today. As long as those Japanese visitors rush to 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 we visit a lava monster and Indiana Jones afterwards. That’s the best way to experience three of the most popular rides without their 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 dark rides. 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. The experience then continues inside a Terravator, a lift which transports us to the loading platform. This 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 dark rides ever and it’s almost impossible to tell something negative about it. 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 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. The area is filled with bubbling waterholes and futuristic architecture. The vibrant atmosphere is extraordinary and it’s a pleasure to wander around in this area. The eye-catcher 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 dark ride is not as popular as its famous neighbour and that’s no surprise. The dimensions of this ride are quite small and it’s hard to understand the story line if you don’t speak 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 underwater. However, the scenery behind the submarine windows 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 Plopsa or Toverland ever 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 foreigners. Altogether I’m not overly impressed by King Triton’s Concert as it’s not on the same level as most entertainment at the resort. However, long lines prove that most 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.
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 reports describe this as some kind of Arabian version of It’s a Small World. I don’t agree. In reality, Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage is much better than that famous Disney classic. Let me put it this way: the slow boat tour and the cheerful soundtrack are notable similarities, but just don’t underestimate Sindbad. This dark ride is surprisingly long and it consists of 160 audio-animatronics which move impressively smooth. I could literally admire this ride’s splendour for many hours and I’m sure I would find new details every single time. It’s a little sad that crowds just don’t seem to notice how good this attraction is. Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage is nearly walk-on during every hour of the day, while some other rides get 2-hour queues. This clearly is the most underrated dark ride 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 roller coaster 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. 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 deserves a better thrill coaster, if you ask me.
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 150 minutes 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 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. 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 dark rides.
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 classic Disney theme parks. 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 credit card: Hotel Hightower. This iconic building is the eye-catcher 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, this ride 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. 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 (the very best of all Tower of Terror rides) 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 that intense. And that’s a shame, because the beautiful exterior and the sublime story created high expectations.
American Waterfront is the most lively area at Tokyo DisneySea. The streets are filled with old timers, antique trams glide over a steel bridge and a big band performs at the Broadway Music Theatre. As you might expect at DisneySea, water is never too far away. There are quite a few boats 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 filling it with an upscale restaurant, a cocktail lounge and a small attraction. 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 dollar on a carousel with flying carpets and building a huge steamship just for fun? Check. The area Mediterranean Harbor has been designed with the same attitude. Building our own Ponte Vecchio? Sure. Creating an enormous lagoon in which we can perform a boat parade? 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.
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 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’ll 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 it’s filled with nostalgic flair. It’s an awesome place to enjoy some peace and quiet, especially if you’re experiencing a slight 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 erupts in full force. I’ve 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. To be continued at Tokyo Disneyland.