* Time of Year: Summer
* Travel Method: Plane
* Resort: Offsite
* Accommodations: Executive Room
* Ages Represented in Group: Adult
* TDL Experience Represented in Group: Infrequent
* Comments: Rick gives a great intro of his own, "This trip report covers my wife's and my trip to Japan from June 21st through July 4th, 2002. Only July 1-4 was actually at the Tokyo Disney Resort. We are both 30 years old, don't have any kids, so our perspective may be different than that of a family or single traveler. We tend to splurge on our vacations, thinking that if time off from work isn't the right time to loosen the wallet, when is? We have high standards when it comes to customer service, but lavish correspondingly high praise when it is earned."
Rick Luce -- June 2002 -- Tokyo Disneyland (Offsite)
June 21 - July 4, 2002
(2nd trip to Tokyo Disneyland, the first was in 1996.)
This trip report covers my wife's and my trip to Japan from June 21st through July 4th, 2002. Only July 1-4 was actually at the Tokyo Disney Resort. We are both 30 years old, don't have any kids, so our perspective may be different than that of a family or single traveler. We tend to splurge on our vacations, thinking that if time off from work isn't the right time to loosen the wallet, when is? We have high standards when it comes to customer service, but lavish correspondingly high praise when it is earned.
I have decided to break this report into a few sections. For the first couple, I'm going to summarize my opinions about the Resort. I'm going to try to keep the bullets short so that you can actually read this in one sitting if you're dedicated enough. I will include positive and negative things, but please keep in mind as you read the negatives that this was a truly outstanding vacation. Overall I feel that I got more than my money's worth and I'm quite pleased with what the Oriental Land Company has done out there. Please don't take my nit-picking or suggestions for improvement to mean that I had anything less than a stellar time.
After the summary, I'm going to go to a prose style to describe my vacation. This will include more than the Disney stuff, and will probably be far too dry and boring for all but the most masochistic trip report reader. Still, if you care to put yourself through the pain, there may be the occasional nugget of good information in the narrative that makes it worth your while. That's also where I will talk about my impressions of specific rides and restaurants. If you're going to skim that stuff, please read the warning that precedes the Disney park specifics. I can't emphasize enough that I don't want to be responsible for biasing someone's view of the park before their own visit!
And so, after a long-winded introduction that should give you some idea of what to expect here on out, I present...
* The Tokyo Disney Resort is a complete vacation experience now, especially compared to my last visit in 1996. We spent four nights without leaving the property and felt immersed in Disney magic. It's not like Disney World where you can spend weeks, but they're working on it. Mickey is literally everywhere; the monorail windows and handholds were nice touches, as were the not-so-hidden Mickeys all over the Disney Resort Cruiser buses.
* DisneySea is the most beautiful theme park I've ever seen. Words cannot describe, and even pictures posted on the internet cannot adequately convey the splendor and majesty of what Disney created here. Seemingly no detail was forgotten, no vista unplanned, no concept executed less than perfectly when it came to theming and visual design. The music matches the visuals, effectively blending to create complete experiences in each of the "lands". We experienced "sensory tickles" when transitioning from one to another, weenies kept you moving forward, and I found myself repeatedly admiring the talent of the artists and the skill of the craftsmen who created this place.
* It's original. Disney went for a completely new concept for a theme park here, and in my opinion it works. Unlike the disjointed and helter-skelter Islands of Adventure, DisneySea is a seamless experience. The slogan of the park, "Where adventure and imagination set sail," is quite appropriate. The rides are almost all brand new, even if they use existing technologies.
* The Hotel MiraCosta is a lodging destination worthy of the theme park to which it's attached. It is a beautiful, no, a GORGEOUS hotel. I very much regret not staying here and won't make the same mistake next time.
* The monorail is a quick way to get from place to place. They had electronic signs telling you how many minutes it would be until the next train and, just like with the subways or JR trains, they were EXACTLY right. Still, we enjoy walking and found a pleasant path, for example, from the Bayside Station (where the official hotels are) to Tokyo Disneyland. Also, I'm not quite sure why they feel the need to charge for the use of the monorail. Sure, they can make some extra money that way but I'm guess I'm just too used to the Disney World model of free transportation for all guests.
* The lines were quite short everywhere. We never waited more than 20 minutes for anything at DisneySea, and most rides were walk-ons all day. I asked some of the proficient English-speaking cast members about this (because I had read here that the lines were horrendous), and found out that for the past few months things have been much quieter. Part of it is that we traveled during the hot season in Japan, which is not their typical tourist time, but it seemed to me like the novelty of the new park has now worn off and attendance is leveling out.
* Characters abound! At both parks we kept running into both face and regular characters, which seemed to keep the kids quite happy. The Western face characters are all played by Western actors, and they actually went out of their way to come to US when they saw fellow Americans. I must say that my wife didn't particularly care when a quite attractive Alice in Wonderland kept waving and smiling at me, but she got her revenge when Prince Eric turned a quick photo opportunity into a five-minute conversation...
* The food at DisneySea is actually quite good. We had four outstanding meals here for not unreasonable prices. The fine dining restaurants have surprisingly good and varied wine lists, the types of food offered are diverse, and the service was always impeccable. We also found a really pleasant little surprise-at every restaurant when you order a bottle of wine, it comes out with a little medallion on a ribbon with the name of the restaurant on it. Once we found out about that, we had to get wine with as many meals as possible to try and collect all the medallions. We got four, but I still don't know if any of the other restaurants do that as well. It was a nice, unexpected touch that made us happy as guests and also increased their revenue since we bought more wine than we otherwise would have. In fact, we ate more meals in the park than we planned to simply because of this little gift. These are the kinds of things I like to see Disney doing!
* There's not really much to draw you back to DisneySea for repeat visits. In fact, after our first day my wife and I were looking at the guide map and realized that we'd done everything and had no desire to do most of it again. The rides are ho-hum, and most of them are not worth standing in line for once you've seen them. We did do a lot of things over again on our second day, but mostly we just walked around soaking up the atmosphere and discovering all the details that make the place truly special. I can count several attractions that I miss dearly since moving away from Florida, but I can only think of one (Sinbad's Seven Voyages) that I feel drawn to go back to DisneySea for.
* Other than the Hotel MiraCosta, there's not much in the way of quality Disney lodging. We looked around Disney's Ambassador Hotel, and it looked okay but not special. The official hotels (like the Hilton where we stayed this time and the Sheraton Grande where we stayed in 1996) are not worthy of that "official" status-they are run-of-the-mill places that charge an arm and a leg due to their proximity, but they provide only minimal Disney magic.
* We only ate two meals at Tokyo Disneyland and they were both disappointments, especially compared to the quality of food at DisneySea. We tried the Blue Bayou because of how much we liked the Anaheim one. The food was mediocre and the service (despite the restaurant being almost empty) was the slowest we experienced anywhere. We also had Mickey-shaped waffles for a snack at the Great American Waffle Company; they were hard (probably overcooked) and the toppings provided were skimpy.
* The Bon Voyage shop is a flop. Apparently it gets busy sometimes, but sure not when we were there. My biggest disappointment, though, was when we went there hoping to complete most of our resort shopping in one stop. You know how you can go to World of Disney and find just about anything? Bon Voyage is NOT like that. It had a disappointing selection of items, so we ended up skipping it and shopping in the parks, then carrying our parcels around with us because...
* They only have package delivery to the two Disney hotels. You used to be able to get stuff you bought in the park delivered to the official hotels, but I guess they changed that policy when they opened Ambassador and MiraCosta. That's yet another reason not to pay the ridiculous prices at the official hotels.
* Ikspiari was quite busy, but I wonder why they didn't just combine it and Bon Voyage into a true Downtown Disney like in Orlando and Anaheim. Space constraints probably drove the decision to build Ikspiari multi-level, but I think a multi-level Downtown Disney could have been pretty neat. Ikspiari is built kind of like a maze, and each time we went back we found new nooks with shops and restaurants we didn't know were there before. One Italian place even stationed an employee at a main junction to direct guests to their out-of-the-way location. I had wanted to look at Wizardz and see how it compared to the one at CityWalk in Hollywood, but we never found it!
* The shows at DisneySea were disappointing. I didn't expect a "Legend of the Lion King" or "Illuminations"-quality show, and it's a good thing. The Porto Paradiso Water Carnival, the daytime show that takes place in the harbor, was a real sleeper. DisneySea Symphony, the nighttime "spectacular" was pretty neat, but it was way, way too short! It reminded me more of the nightly New Year's Eve show at Pleasure Island than, say, Fantasmic. Sail Away at the American Waterfront brought the Disney characters out, which kids seemed to love, but the show itself just didn't do much of anything. My wife and I aren't big into Broadway so we skipped Encore!, although I would probably hit that if we go back just to be able to see it. Mystic Rhythms in the Lost River Delta is another show I wish we had seen, but the show times always seemed to be inconvenient.
* I didn't like the ongoing construction for the show viewing areas. It seemed to me that there are already tons of great places to view the harbor shows, but I guess they've had guest complaints to the contrary. So some areas were walled off and there was loud jack-hammering all day. Hey, I know they can't do the work at night because of the hotel guests right there, but it still reduced my enjoyment somewhat-those jackhammering sounds are quite effective at reminding you you're in the real world.
* The place isn't all that English-friendly. I know all the reasons for this, but the end result was that it took away from our enjoyment. All signage was bilingual, but the ride narration was not, nor was any kind of technology employed to accommodate non-Japanese speakers. Interestingly, Tokyo Disneyland seems to put much more effort into universal experiences than DisneySea does. I have my theories on this, too...
The boring details:
We flew Northwest Airlines World Business Class ("First class service at a business class fare!", or so their marketing goes) nonstop from San Francisco to Tokyo Narita. I prefer Continental's international service much better; Northwest's food was only decent, the seats were tolerable, and the service was surprisingly surly. The outbound flight was on June 20, but because of crossing the International Date Line you actually arrive a day later.
We arrived at the airport, went to the JR Voucher Exchange Office, and picked up our 14-day green (first class) passes and got tickets on the Narita Express (NEX). This train runs quickly from the airport to Tokyo station downtown, but the ride still takes an hour. From Tokyo station we transferred to another JR line and went to Kinshicho station. Our hotel for the first three nights was the Tokyo Marriott Kinshicho Tobu, which is just steps from the station. Just as an aside, this is one of the Tokyo Disney Resort Good Neighbor Hotels. Also, if you ever travel to Japan, I can't recommend strongly enough getting a JR pass. They are only available to foreign tourists and are a bargain if you plan to do any amount of in-country travel. They're good on the NEX, bullet trains, and all JR routes throughout the country. The green pass costs just a little bit more but lets you reserve trains and also gives you more comfortable accommodations, so we thought it was well worth the slight price premium.
The Marriott hotel is very modern and clean with plenty of English-speaking staff. We paid 16,000 per night and got upgraded to a nice, big executive room because of my status with Marriott's frequent guest program. That also entitled us to free drinks in one of the lounges at night and a free breakfast buffet in the morning. Hotel restaurants are expensive in Japan, and this was no exception, so the freebies were nice.
If you've never been to Asia, then you probably have no idea what excellent customer service is all about. I'm not saying that Ritz-Carlton and the Four Seasons stink, but even they do not live up to the standards set by even moderately-priced hotels in Japan. Every employee is impeccably courteous and well-groomed. After checking you in, the bellman (usually a tiny Japanese woman who made me feel guilty for letting her lug our bags!) will escort you to your room. They politely explain the workings of the elevator, the location of the emergency escape stairs and ice machine as you walk by them, and how to use your key. None of this stuff is earth-shattering, but the professionalism with which it is done impresses me every time. After unloading your luggage in your room and asking if you have any questions, they politely excuse themselves and leave. Tipping is not only not encouraged, it is not allowed! In Japanese culture, people who work in the service industry do so because they love to serve. They see it as their job to provide exemplary service, so a tip is considered an insult. This is true in restaurants, too!
Anyway, we like to keep up our workout routines while on vacation, and although the hotel had an exercise room it was little more than a tiny closet in a subbasement. Luckily we burned plenty of calories walking the city.
We spent the next couple of days exploring Tokyo. When I visited in 1996 I only went to Tokyo Disneyland, so this was my first time in the city. My wife had been a couple of times before, so she knew which temples to see, what shopping districts to visit, and which train lines to take. We only rode the subway once; otherwise everything was reachable by JR or short walks. Walking is pleasant because the Japanese always obey traffic laws (even at a desolate intersection they would wait for the "walk" signal before crossing the street) and there are vending machines EVERYWHERE! Unless you've been there, you would not believe the variety of sodas, waters, teas, coffees, sports drinks, and even beer you can get all over the place.
On the 24th it was time to board the Shinkansen (bullet train) for our trip to Fukuoka. My wife had a college roommate who was an exchange student from Japan, and we spent three nights with her and her family. They own a large Buddhist temple and she recently completed training as a Buddhist priest. I'm glad her friend Noriko was driving, because the traffic is simply insane. I honestly don't know why there aren't more accidents with the number of cars, tiny roads, and speedy driving that goes on. Anyway, this was the most "authentic" part of our vacation because we slept on a futon and had the sliding paper doors and all that, plus we ate traditional Japanese breakfast and lunch with them each day. We did go out to restaurants for dinner, but that was a treat for the family because eating out is so expensive that they don't do it very often. It was also amazing to see four generations of a family living in the same home-I just haven't seen that very much in the U.S. Anyway, if you ever go to Fukuoka (a large, metropolitan city that most Americans have never heard of!), I recommend a visit to Canal City Hakata. It's a huge shopping and entertainment complex with a Grand Hyatt hotel, an AMC movie theater metroplex, a Sega World arcade, and lots of fun shops and restaurants.
All too quickly our time with Noriko was done, and on June 27th we boarded the Shinkansen again for the ride to Nagoya. There we stayed at the Marriott Nagoya Associa Hotel, a brand-new high-rise tower hotel. This place was NICE! I couldn't believe the rate was only 12,000 a night, because this is a four-star operation all the way. Again we got a nice room upgrade, but this hotel has a concierge floor so that's where the free evening appetizers/dessert and morning breakfast were available. Interestingly, most of the people we saw in the lounge were westerners, and sadly most of them really reinforced the stereotype that we Americans are loud, rude, boorish people. My wife and I tried to be especially respectful of the hotel employees in an attempt to make up for the bad manners we saw, but it was enough to make me understand why some people in the world see us the way they do. Most of the staff here spoke fluent English, and once of the concierges explained to me that they send many of their employees to America for six months of hotel work to hone their language and cultural skills. It's clear that this hotel caters to Western visitors, which I guess you'd expect from an American chain.
Anyway, Nagoya was our jumping off point to Kyoto. Again, my wife had visited before and wanted to show me a couple of famous sites. I never thought I'd be so interested in a Zen rock garden, but I was truly fascinated. We also spent a day in Nagoya itself, among other things visiting the castle which had been burned during WWII and basically seeing a different perspective on the war. We took the plunge and ate at the fancy Chinese restaurant at the hotel, and that one meal cost almost twice as much as the rest of our entire hotel bill. It was nice, but it wasn't worth it.
On the 30th began the part of the trip that you're probably most interested in. We hopped on another Shinkansen to Tokyo station, then boarded a JR train to Maihama. It was a challenge towing around the luggage from our two-week trip, but not impossible. Anyway, at Maihama they have a Tokyo Disney Resort Welcome Center. The top floor is for guests at the Disney hotels while downstairs each official resort hotel has a check-in desk. They are lined up like airline check-in stands, and your bags even go out on a little conveyor belt! They give you Disney Resort Liner (monorail) passes good for the length of your stay, and from the welcome center it is a short monorail ride to the hotels or the parks.
We were staying at the Hilton for the ridiculous rate of 44,000. Even though I'm big in the Hilton frequent guest program, too, I decided to pay for an executive level top floor room with a park view. When I booked the reservation we had wanted to stay in a fancy room at the Hotel MiraCosta that was going to cost almost twice that, so the Hilton seemed like a bargain in comparison. It turns out I probably could have booked a much cheaper room and gotten a free upgrade, and even then I would likely have been disappointed. It's not that the Hilton is so bad compared to other Hiltons, but it was certainly bad compared to the two Marriotts we stayed at in Japan. It seemed old and neglected, the executive lounge had very limited hours and even more limited services, half the restaurants were closed, we had trouble communicating with many of the employees, yet the service felt more American than Japanese.
Since our room wasn't ready and we were getting a little hungry, we decided to walk back to Ikspiari (right in the same area) and check it out. Ikspiari is a combination indoor/outdoor shopping center with lots of eateries thrown in for good measure. It was fun seeing familiar stores like Coach and BCBG alongside shops selling local wares and eclectic clothing. We finally settled on a Japanese restaurant called Kenzan.
I don't know what to say about Kenzan without making it sound like I'm loony, but the service in this place was like nothing I'd ever seen. You know how Walt Disney had placed microphones in Club 33 so that the staff could eavesdrop in order to provide outstanding service? So that if a guest was talking to the person next to him about how his napkin sure was dirty that suddenly a server would appear with a fresh piece of linen? It was like that, only I didn't see any microphones. We had grabbed a Tokyo Disney Resort map but it was in Japanese, so my wife and I were trying to figure things out by the pictures. I mentioned quietly to her that we'd have to search out an English-language map, and moments later the manager appeared with one. How he managed to get that so quickly, and at Ikspiari even, still amazes me. My wife mentioned to me that her water tasted kind of funny, and almost before the words were out of her mouth our waitress appeared with bottled water for each of us. I didn't mention it, but this is just a standard sit-down restaurant, not a fancy five-star place or anything. The food was great but it's that almost-eerie service that made the place truly memorable.
For dinner that night we just got small items in the Hilton's Patisserie, which is actually a pretty darn good little bakery. We never visited any of the other restaurants at the hotel, partially because they were only open certain days of the week and for limited hours, and partly because they were really expensive but didn't look that nice.
July 1st was our first day to go to DisneySea. Both my wife and I had trouble sleeping-we kept checking the alarm clock to make sure we didn't oversleep. The park opened at nine, and we wanted to be there early in case they did the U.S. park thing of opening the gates early. So we got there around eight and were not quite the first people there, but close to it-we were the very first people in our line at the turnstile. It had rained the night before and they had tons of guys with squeegees pushing water all around the entrance plaza. It wasn't entertainment per se, but watching them helped pass the time. Around quarter of nine some characters came out dressed in nautical gear and waved at the crowd (by this time, quite a few people had queued up behind us), and the big metal grates went up. Still, they waited until nine o'clock on the dot to let people through.
One thing we both remembered from our 1996 trip to Tokyo Disneyland was that the moment they let people in, the Japanese SPRINTED for their favorite attractions. We strolled leisurely down the World Bazaar and almost got trampled by people in such a rush! We noticed a difference this time. Although the visitors still tried to hurry, there was a veritable flotilla of cast members with their arms outstretched, telling everyone not to run and to take it easy (I assume that's what they said; it was in Japanese but sometimes body language and context can do a lot of translating).
Rather than trying to recreate our rather illogical and seemingly inexplicable chronological tour through the park, I'll just go through the attractions and let you know what we thought of each one. I will also describe each restaurant at which we ate. This is where the spoilers begin, so if you haven't been to DisneySea and think you will go in the next few years, PLEASE don't read any further. I say this because I absorbed as much information as I could about the park before my trip, and I think it skewed my expectations such that it reduced my enjoyment. I don't want to contribute to setting someone up for a letdown, so please, PLEASE keep your curiosity at bay and stop reading if you're planning to go to the park soon!
If you continue, I'm going to assume that you have already read the very nice photo tour of DisneySea presented by MousePlanet. If you can ignore the barbed attacks on California Adventure and just read the story lines and look at the photos, that's a great intro to the park. Those pictures are better than ANYTHING we took while there! Anyway, if you've read that then I don't have to go into detail about the ride stories or technologies employed and, since I'm basically lazy, that makes it easier on me!
* DisneySea Transit Steamer Line: Here you can board a small ship that steams around the park and also stops at American Waterfront and Lost River Delta. We never actually rode this, as it seemed more efficient just to walk from place to place rather than waiting at the dock for the next steamer to come by-kind of like the FriendShips that traverse World Showcase Lagoon at EPCOT. I will say that their whistle makes the most ear-piercing screech known to man and I predict that Imagineering will HAVE to change that because it's just so annoying!
* Venetian Gondolas: Again, we didn't ride these although they looked like fun. The gondoliers seemed to have a good time with the guests, and though all the dialogue was in Japanese, it appeared that they had almost a Jungle Cruise-like shtick. Just their presence made the area feel more genuine, more authentic.
* Fortress Explorations: This is on the other side of the harbor from the hotel and all the shops and is actually closer to Mysterious Island than the rest of Mediterranean Harbor, but the theming is definitely Italian. This was actually one of my favorite parts of the park, because it's one of those often-forgotten, little-used areas with tons of neat stuff. You get to crawl around an authentic-looking galleon, and there are lots of interactive areas and amazing exhibits. We also found this was a good place to get a view of DisneySea Symphony, their nighttime show.
* Ristorante di Canaletto: A great Italian place with fabulous views of the gondolas. My wife, who went to Venice last year, said they did an amazing job capturing the feel of the city. The food was great, we had a nice bottle of Italian wine, and the service was, as you'd expect, prompt, polite, and professional.
* Journey to the Center of the Earth: Where do I begin? I know that many people consider this the park premier E-ticket attraction. I would argue that there isn't a single true E-ticket in the whole park, and that this is one of the D-tickets at best. The test-track derived ride vehicles seem like a poor choice for the story they're trying to tell, and the high-speed run at the end of the ride felt forced, like it doesn't fit the story but they thought that going fast would be a neat thrill. Part of this could be the inability to translate the dialog, although the story seems pretty self-evident. Admittedly there is some beautiful scenery in the slow part of the ride and the queue is amazingly detailed. It's just that once things start going wrong you just hit the accelerator, fly out of the mountain, and the ride's over. My wife and I both found ourselves thinking, "That's it?"
* 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: This was actually the first attraction we hit in the whole park (after grabbing what turned out to be unnecessary FastPasses for Journey). In our opinion, it's another ride with great potential that left us underwhelmed. I will admit that the suspended track and simulated floating technology is amazingly convincing. That was an Imagineering home run to me, but the ride story itself again seems kind of thrown together. I will admit, again, that part of the problem may be my inability to understand the Japanese dialog, but I think that what happens during the ride is pretty self-evident, it just builds to a climax and then all of a sudden you're saved. Perhaps I'm looking for more denouement?
* Big City Vehicles: Not so much an attraction as just another way to avoid walking. On the beginning of our second day in the park we actually hopped on an old car and rode to the Cape Cod area as the Japanese tourists were rushing to and fro. It was neat seeing things from that perspective, and I think the cast member appreciated someone actually riding in her car first thing in the morning!
* DisneySea Electric Railway: Yet another mode of transportation, although this one is efficient and sometimes worthwhile to avoid clogged walkways. I think they had three sets of cars running at all times, so there was never a long wait for the train, and I was amazed at how well the retro-futuristic setup worked with the themes in both this area and Port Discovery.
* S.S. Columbia Dining Room: This is the fancy restaurant on board the huge and impressive steam ship. It reminded me of the Liberty Tree Tavern in its hey-day, only a little fancier even than that. What can I say about the meal except that the food was delicious, the wine tasty, and the service flawless.
* Teddy Roosevelt Lounge: We stopped in here for a cold beer on one of the hot afternoons. It's a very classy place and was surprisingly empty. I think maybe a lot of guests just miss it on their way up to the dining room.
* Restaurant Sakura: I've been trying to decide ever since we sat down there for our first meal at DisneySea what I wanted to say about it in the trip report. You're there in Japan, in an American theme park, in a Japanese restaurant, in the American Waterfront part of the park. So it's their idea of what they think Americans think a Japanese restaurant in New York would be like. Even I'm confused! It was a weird combination of concepts that somehow come together just right. Although this was my wife's most disappointing meal at the park (she had a tempura sampler that was just okay), we still loved the wine and the service!
* Barnacle Bill's: This little food cart is tucked away on a little pier and had no line whenever we walked by. All they serve is bacon and cheese epi, a little pastry-type thing that was absolutely delicious. Mark my words-this is one of Iceman's hidden gems of DisneySea!
* StormRider: This was perhaps the attraction I was most looking forward to seeing after reading about it on internet sites. I love simulator-based rides, and since this is supposed represent Disney's next-generation technology I was quite excited. I give it mixed reviews, but I had to fight to get my wife to even ride it a second time she was so unimpressed. Disclaimer: again we suffered from not understanding the dialog. The story is pretty easy to follow, though. The screen is certainly bigger and clearer than in Star Tours, and the ride vehicle is incredibly smooth especially considering how many people it holds. There is one absolutely amazing scene where you almost collide with a helicopter and the transition of sound from the front of the cabin to the back is chillingly realistic! But I thought the "danger" part of the ride left just as much room for improvement as the comet scene in Star Tours-you know, the one where you kind of glance off comets and end up shooting into a big one then burst through at the end and all of a sudden that part's over? This whole ride was like that. Bad things happened, at the end you crash into the water, and then the lights come up and you're rescued. I really think Disney needs to work harder at ending a story in lots of these attractions, because otherwise you walk out wondering, "What just happened?" There's no real closure, at least to me.
* Aquatopia: This was my wife's favorite ride in the whole park, and my number two. It's original, even if it borrows ride technology from Pooh's Hunny Hunt. I will admit that on our first ride I was mad at the reviewer who complained that you could see the tracks and that the ride was bumpy, because I thought he was being hopelessly nit-picky. After several rides, though, (and we did ride this one over and over) I find that I agree-you can clearly see the indentations in the concrete under the water that show you exactly where your vehicle is going to go next, and the motion is a bit rough. Still, I will say that this is the one ride in the whole park that I saw each and every guest, no matter what age, come off with a huge smile on their face. It's just so original and wacky and fun that EVERYONE seems to enjoy it.
* Seaside Snacks: If you want a world-famous (well, okay, that may be a stretch) Gyoza sausage bun, this is the place to get it. They also sell them at the Refreshment Station in Mysterious Island, but there was often the longest line we saw in the entire park, literally. Here my wife only had to wait behind two other people to get her snack. In case you care, she was a little disappointed and quite glad we bought it here rather than from the much busier cart.
Lost River Delta:
* Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull: This is a tough one to review, because if we had never ridden the Temple of the Forbidden Eye in Anaheim we probably would have thought it was great. Instead, we were left feeling cheated because here Disney's had a decade or so to develop new ride elements and technologies but instead put in a more limited version. I can't tell you how much the lack of pyrotechnics in the center of the ride area degrades the experience. The smoke ring that's blown at your car is quite cool, I will admit. And we got one of our best pictures at the park when we rode this late one evening and we were the only people in our Jeep. My wife was in the driver's seat, and when we got to the photo spot she acted all crazy and I did a "Home Alone" impression and it came out perfect. Also, I don't remember exactly how much it cost but it sure seemed less than ride photos at American Disney parks.
* Sinbad's Seven Voyages: Now we reach my favorite attraction and my wife's number two. It's a boat ride a la Small World or El Rio del Tiempo, but with a far more engaging storyline. The animatronics are fabulous-the same lifelike movements I first remember seeing with the animatronic Ellen DeGeneres at the Energy Pavilion at EPCOT. They are done, however, in a more comic way kind of like the caricatures at SuperStar Limo. Sinbad and his band of adventurers get themselves into all kinds of trouble, and scene after scene blew me away with the intricate sets, thrilling music, and realistic character movements. I especially liked the mermaid sirens, but I'll leave that one to your imagination for now. In more ways than one I was reminded of SuperStar Limo, for that was another attraction that I enjoyed that has received extensive derision. Sinbad never had a line, and I didn't get the impression that it was particularly well-received. I think the cast members were surprised the couple of times that we got off the ride and came right around to the entrance again. If nothing else, it was a nice sit in an air-conditioned building and the ride is actually pretty long. Unlike my criticism of other rides for having disjointed stories or sudden endings, this one really seemed to flow and I enjoyed it over and over.
* The Magic Lamp Theater: This is the one 3-D movie at the park, and it just didn't do much for me. Magic Journeys was amazing because it was the first use of that revolutionary polarization technique for creating three-dimensional cinema. Captain EO had some neat new effects. Muppet*Vision 3-D took things a step further with actual elements (bubbles, the exploding theater) that worked with the movie to enhance the experience. Honey, I Shrunk the Audience added the moving theater and further sensory experiences along with fantastic uses of the 3-D film. Finally, It's Tough to Be a Bug added olfactory tickles, back-stinging bees, and butt-tickling slugs so that the 3-D was almost in a supporting role. With each step, Disney has expanded the technology or the experience to make the attraction more fulfilling than its predecessor (although in my opinion, HISTA is still the best execution of that concept). The Magic Lamp Theater does nothing like that. The magic show is kind of cute (boy, I wish we knew some Japanese!), but the 3-D genie that appears near the end seems forced into the story. I can almost see that the magic show was supposed to be an attraction on its own and at some design meeting the 3-D guy stood up and said, "I think this should be a 3-D movie attraction!" and so they tried to turn it into one even though it really didn't work.
* Caravan Carousel: Carousel's just don't get old, no matter how old I am or how many times I ride different ones. This one was neat because it had two levels to it, and who hasn't dreamed of taking a ride on genie's back?
* Flounder's Flying Fish Coaster: A standard low-thrill coaster, but it was still fun!
* Scuttle's Scooters: You know what? I can't remember this ride at all. Sorry.
* Mermaid Lagoon Theater: This was a nicely presented show telling parts of Ariel's story. It was reminiscent of Legend of the Lion King or Cirque du Soleil as there were large, abstract representations of some of the characters (Ursula was particularly well done), but I didn't feel the energy or passion I would have hoped for. It was also funny to watch the obviously American girl playing Ariel lip-synching her Japanese dialog!
* Jumpin' Jellyfish: We're two adults without kids, so take this with a grain of salt, but keep in mind that we often act like kids, and the rest of the report should hopefully give you the idea that we aren't stuck on only adult activities. Still, this ride seemed pretty pointless.
* Blowfish Balloon Race: At least this one had the added benefit of going around in a circle, but again it wasn't anything special. I get the impression that the rides down here are the kind that kids will demand loudly to want to ride, but then after they do them once they won't be interested anymore.
* The Whirlpool: This was the Teacups for the 21st century. I saw the same technique employed at Pooh's Hunny Hunt, but I'm still impressed with the geometric planning that lets them having quick-moving spinning ride vehicles switching from track to track and back again.
So that's DisneySea. We spent our next day at Disneyland and enjoyed it as much as we do any of the Magic Kingdoms. That is to say it's fun, but we're kind of tired of the attractions. That attitude also gives us the flexibility to only hit some of the attractions, skip anything with a long line, and generally relax and enjoy the magic. The one thing I knew I had to see was the Visionarium, because the Timekeeper attraction is one of my favorites from Disney and it's getting ready to go away.
Pooh's Hunny Hunt only had a surprisingly short fifteen minute wait, and I must say it was well worth it. That time in line passed quickly thanks to the tremendous job they did with the larger-than-life storybooks. The ride itself is a marvel of Imagineering-a great story, innovative technology that aids in telling the story rather than getting in the way of it, and a couple of clever, unexpected things that really make you smile.
One of the funniest experiences is going into a ride where you basically know the script by heart (like the Haunted Mansion or Star Tours), and hearing the ride narration in Japanese. The best has to be the skull that warns you in Pirates of the Caribbean, "Ahoy, mateys! There be rough waters ahead!" and hearing that in (what is, to my ears) gibberish!
On our third day we park-hopped, starting at opening at DisneySea, popping over to Disneyland mainly for some shopping, and back to DisneySea to walk around and have dinner. We entered right at opening time, but this time we used the Hotel MiraCosta entrance. There were only five people in front of us, and they did not check for hotel room keys or anything to use that entrance. Anyway, no matter where you are in the world, the last day at Disney is bittersweet, as you try to soak in as much of the magic as you can knowing that the next day you'll be headed back for home. Returning home was painless-JR to Tokyo Station, NEX to the airport, and then Northwest back to San Francisco.
We're both really glad that we went to see the Tokyo Disney Resort again. The new theme park is definitely worth seeing, just for the visual delights if nothing else. Now we know what it's like, yet I can honestly say that I feel more draw to return to Disney World than Tokyo Disney. By the next time I return to Japan I'm sure they will have added even more, making it worthy of envy again. And if someone gave me a free vacation out there I for sure wouldn't turn it down. Somehow I suspect, though, that Disney would prefer my feelings be a little stronger than that.