Had to write this after reading Ted's Journey article.
Disneysea is a beautiful park. It is a joy to walk through. All the stuff you have heard about attention to detail in the environmental design is right-on. What's more, it has a delicious sense of elevation changes--the ascent to Mt. Prometheus alone is marvelous, through an Italian vineyard, past ancient ruins, into a forest of rock so massive and enveloping and delicately worked that the experience grabs you by the heart.
I tell my buddies who haven't been to TDS that it's the first park built in "widescreen." I liken it to my initial visit to Animal Kingdom, the first time I experienced the vista toward the Tree of Life, how big and vast and new and rich the thing felt. Well ALL of TDS feels like this, all over!
But anyone who tries to sell you on the notion that the attractions at TDS are up to snuff with the environs is doing you a disservice. This is certainly true with Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Now, I am a huge fan of Disney's 20k Leagues film, so I was delighted in Mysterious Island, seeing a framed image of James Mason, walking past all these devices and structures you never saw in the film but felt right on the money. The queue for this attraction and the 20k attraction are alive with this stuff. Like on Indy in DL, I was happy to wait in line (not typical).
But you get on this attraction and it all falls apart. The sets are too-few and not the same level as the built environments you wander through at TDS. Ted mentions the mural (in the scene where "everything goes wrong") that is meant to convey a continuing tunnel but in application is unconvincing. This is maybe the worst of it, but each set carries at least some measure of that type of hokeum, and the black light just cheeses things up further. Matters are made worse by poor staging, at times revealing the next set before the guest is meant to see it.
The "Journey" itself is meant to feel winding, with unexpected turns and surprises, a sense that things can happen here. But of course, the inflexible ride system betrays this intention. The whole thing feels as spontaneous as Test Track, nothing like the improvisational flavor of DL's Indy.
Finally, the two big set pieces--the Lava Monster and the "escape"--are underwhelming.
This Lava creature is--to my eye--a Carnotaurus from Countdown to Extinction (sorry but I will always use this attraction's original name--cooler), redressed to look like the second cousin of the Alien Encounter monster. Maybe it's just that I heard the thing was huge and cool-looking, don't know, but it came off as rather puny, rather derivative. Not at all in scale with this BIG park's signature experience.
And the escape? Well, keep in mind that this ride platform is essentially Rocket Rods (though on a much better track as Ted points out). The thrill here is going fast-ish up hill (in the dark), down a meager drop, and then fast again around a curve. Very short and very tame. Like the AA, it felt out of scale with what this attraction represents in a park that professes a heavy lean toward adventure.
Now, I don't speak Japanese, so I know I'm handicapped a bit here, I know I didn't "get" everything, but I am not talking about whether this attraction made sense, I am talking about the visceral experience, that which transcends language and speaks to your senses, to your gut.
In my gut, this attraction is far from a "home run." It is barely 3 stars in my opinion, helped primarily by the queue's momentary sating of my Nemo-fetish. It is Rocket Rods in a thematic environment, winding past lackluster sets, climaxing with a Carnotaurus attack and the run-out from Test Track.
When I have voiced my opinion on TDS's attractions (because Journey is not the only ride that falls flat) I have been accused of not liking TDS. That is bunk, I LOVE TDS. But I have to tell you that I was disappointed after seeing many of the attractions, having heard all the reviews that just gush profusely.
TDS is wonderful. Kudos to WDI and OLC for an original mix of attractions. Hats off for a stable of great shows, environments that will knock you out, an amazing variety of merchandise, and food like you won't believe. And there are good attractions too--just not a full roster of great attractions.
You go to TDS, I promise you'll love it. Just keep in mind that not everything is as glitters as you've been told. If you choose to believe the hype about these attractions, you're being cheated. Your expectations for the rides will be like mine, out of whack with what they really are, and you'll no doubt feel pangs of disappointment.