Theme Park Insider

Asian Adventure, Part 5 - DisneySeaquel

November 9, 2017, 7:22 AM · TDS 2.0
Day 9: DisneySea’s Regular Rope Drop

Despite an 8 A.M. rope drop at DisneySea this morning, I permit myself the time to enjoy Hilton Tokyo Bay’s complimentary breakfast buffet. I failed to photograph it, but we don’t really need to see a picture of jellied fruits alongside sushi and a bowl of Corn Flakes.

Now it’s off to DisneySea! Oh boy oh boy oh boy! Just since yesterday, the Monorail’s Mickey-shaped handholds have been redecorated for Halloween. My but they work fast!

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So, the DisneySea entry area is atypical. The AquaSphere Plaza within DisneySea abuts directly against the Monorail station. Entry gates are on either side of this plaza, like both ends of an upside-down T. I go to the side opposite hotel entry for a new view of the immaculate MiraCosta facades. Higher floors are set back, allowing a tiered look which I can’t get enough of.

My plans today are more low-key than before, with a focus on shows and exploring every nook and cranny. I no longer have early entry anyway. When 7:45 rolls around, the hotel guests on the opposite side of the plaza run like Usain Bolt to reach Toy Story Mania first. Mania indeed! At 8 when the remaining gates open, everyone else joins in the frenzy, with the same crazed pitchfork mob dash into oblivion.

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For once, I control myself and saunter through, granting myself the leisurely time to admire the AquaSphere up close – a rotating globe seemingly juggled atop a water spigot, a symbol of global unity. Then I amble amidst scrambling lunatics through the MiraCosta passageway, this time finally savoring the procession. Archways perfectly frame Mt. Prometheus and Fortress Explorations across the lagoon. This entry moment must be on par with rounding Main Street and first glimpsing the castle! An entire theme park summarized in a single moment!

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While the enraged maniacs headed left towards American Waterfront, I took the road less traveled, which has made all the difference. Journey to the Center of the Earth is my goal, to no reader’s surprise I hope. Toy Story I can redo at home with shorter lines. Besides, just look at the mass of human bodies on the other path, all with the same ride in mind. Yikes!

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A few of the Mediterranean Harbor characters are already out, scattered, the Pinocchio B-team. Here in this nearly vacant Renaissance plaza, they seemed surprised to see a single white guy. I managed to snag a selfie with Gideon the Cat (I’m the one on the right):

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Over bridges, past lava flows, into the shadow of an erupting volcano high overhead, through a drilled tunnel into a cavernous expanse…Every step towards Journey is designed to build anticipation. That is a big reason why Journey is so great! I first grab a FastPass, then I ride Journey via standby two times in a row before the lines become unreasonable. Loving every moment of it, a spotless reintroduction to an amazing theme park.

While I’m in Mysterious Island, I do a ride or two on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Mostly I linger about, admiring the multitude of machinery Captain Nemo has scattered about the caldera. I mean to enter every single shop and restaurant today, to fully tour this park. Mysterious Island has little to offer on that front – the restaurants where I’ve already dined, and a single store called Nautilus Gifts. The outside is a dome directly above the Nautilus Galley (part of the same superstructure). The window display has some handsome deep sea diving props. The merchandise inside is of zero interest, as it honestly is park-wide, all cutesy plushes and candy tins and Duffy merch which just isn’t my thing. I don't do souvenirs anyplace, really. I’ll save my money for food. (Mmm, food…)

Now when discussing Tokyo Disneyland, I made a big stink about the wide walkways creating a misjudged scale. Raised on Disneyland CA, I’m used to that older park’s intimacy. DisneySea’s walkways are as wide as next door, and the park is built on an incredibly massive scale…it’s intimate only in select hidden corners. And yet DisneySea never feels uninviting to me. Its wide walkways are well-proportioned with the larger buildings, the mammoth volcano, the titanic steamship, the towering Tower. And where Tokyo Disneyland’s walkways often feel bulbous and directionless, every route in DisneySea is focused on a distant sightline, every walkway is a corridor to someplace. Even the ground texture here constantly changes. It’s just an immaculately designed space!

Ride-wise, my next big goal is securing a Tower of Terror FastPass. It’s not time yet, but still I ride the Electric Railway over to American Waterfront. True to today’s pace, I fiddle away my time by exploring the land’s many alcoves.

I love how this land’s facades create the impression of a crowded, vibrant city. One building looks like several, with irregular rooflines and setback storefronts. There’s a story to tell. Near the Broadway Music Theater are upstairs boarding schools for would-be singers. Next to gas lamps are gilt-trimmed street clocks declaring “Time for talent.” Some storefronts have clearly changed ownership, with past names faded underneath new murals.

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Behind several of these facades is New York Deli, reputed as among DisneySea’s finest counter service restaurants, with its famous “Mile High Sandwich.” I opted for less American meals, so I didn’t feast here, though I did explore several of the Deli’s dining rooms. Again, a story emerges. Flush with apparent success, the initial corner deli has expanded into its neighbors’ shops. You order under a glass-roofed Tin Pan Alley, and dine in a converted tavern, or a milliner’s, or et cetera.

At the entry to American Waterfront is Columbus Circle – a clever thematic transition to Mediterranean Harbor. Here is McDuck’s Department Store, which I’ve described before. Exploring slowly, I admire a decorative fountain made from stacks of gold coins. The multi-level interior (like a Tardis, larger than the outside) is crammed with vintage props. I snap a photo of a Duffy & Pals display. After doing so, a flustered cast member quickly rearranges the stuffed bears so they’re all in exactly the same pose. Such fastidiousness! I must’ve embarrassed her, the poor dear, immortalizing such “poor show.” It hadn’t even occurred to me!

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McDuck’s pawn shop exit leads to the piers opposite the theater district. The railway roars overhead. It’s a little grittier here, with longshoremen clubs and a sailor inn with rooms described as “clean enough.” Posters on every surface reference old-timey baseball teams, or Tammany Hall politicians, or even reference Steamboat Mickey. In fact, there’s a warehouse shop by that name, its décor all rigging and nautical flags.

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On the far side of the warehouses is a secluded pier looking across the Hudson towards Cape Code. Here is overflow seating for things like the nearby Restaurant Sakura (the inevitable Japanese restaurant in a shipping storehouse). The clutter of details never lets up. Scaffolding displays assorted seaman knots, just because. Grooves in the oil-stained floor show where carts have once passed.

Leaving the docks, American Waterfront again grows ritzy in the foot of Hotel Hightower. Here in the Beaux Artes Waterfront Park, the villains are performing an outdoor Halloween show. I pause to watch a musical dance number similar to the Villains World lagoon show, but my attention is soon diverted by an adorable toddler splashing around in the park’s dancing water spigots.

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There’s plenty more to be seen in American Waterfront – and I hope I’m not becoming redundant in my detailed descriptions, but I feel DisneySea warrants it. But for now, with a fresh Tower of Terror FastPass newly in hand, I set out for new environs.

Up next: Let’s Finally Explore Cape Cod!

Replies (6)

November 9, 2017, 6:00 PM · TDS 2.1
Cape Cod & Environs

Going with the day’s low-key, exploratory pace (ya gotta do one slow DisneySea day!), let’s slow down now as I’m strolling through Cape Cod and take a look around.

Cape Cod is a curious beast. It’s a mini-land, technically a part of American Waterfront, but with enough identity to almost qualify as its own land. Preventing that: no attractions. What it has instead are shops, eateries, and an extraordinary dose of ambiance. A tiny little harbor, teeming with moored fishing boats, perfectly framing a peninsula lighthouse. The quaint village, with its New England church steeple and hominess, is a calming change of pace from the park’s epic scale. Also Duffy.

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This is a definitive DisneySea moment. This park is far more than a collection of rides and shows, however good those all are. DisneySea is all about a peaceful seaside stroll, the breeze on your face, the transportative effect on all five senses. If DisneySea’s place-making qualities didn’t work, then Cape Cod would be wasted acreage. The walkway through here is ridiculously circuitous, basically a double horseshoe between New York and Port Discovery. The tranquil little bay, which could’ve housed an entire E-ticket, is instead all negative space. It’s a moment to decompress, making the grand moments elsewhere seem all the grander. Even Mt. Prometheus appears smaller here, like merely a rolling hill behind the church.

Also Duffy. Yes, Duffy, the Disney bear with the Hidden Mickey for a face. A cutesy nonentity who could be accused of being a soulless, cynical marketing ploy. I know some U.S. Disney fans who loaaaaathe this bear (hi Jim!)! To them, he’s saccharine, cloying, a total cypher. To Japanese guests, Duffy is a blank slate who represents their own dreams and desires. He is theirs. He’s a child, a pet, a best friend, a receptacle for so many of the positive emotions people bring to a Disney day. Duffy’s scant backstory – he’s a stuffed toy Minnie gave Mickey before a big sea voyage – makes him a DisneySea traveler just like every guest. The contemplative pace DisneySea demands, Duffy personifies that. I mean, to me personally he’s some mid-level stuffed bear (Smokey Bear shall forever remain the ursine champion!), but he clearly means a lot more in Japan.

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And Cape Cod is Duffy’s home. While his merch sells park-wide, this is his flagship. A portion of the original DisneySea Steamer queue has been converted into a Duffy meet ‘n’ greet. The Cape Cod Cookhouse is maybe the toughest meal reservation to score, despite apparently indifferent food, all because it hosts a live Duffy stage show. (I didn’t do that.) This bear mania is surely a great revenue stream, and if it keeps Cape Cod safe from demolition then so be it!

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I made it a point this day to marvel at Duffy mania wherever I found it. Endlessly, you’ll find guests carting Duffies in their arms. Fifty percent of the strollers I did see (not nearly as many as in U.S. parks, granted) were used exclusively to chauffeur Duffy. There are Duffy photo planks all over, little unfolding seats where you can sit your Duffy for a photo op. Duffy gets his own seat at lunch. He goes on rides. He poses with his pals. Duffy is a full-on phenomenon!

Duffy is soothing, like a warm blanket. So is Cape Cod, whose rustic appeal (though exotic in Japan) feels like home. In its way, Cape Cod is DisneySea’s Main Street. Sure, Mediterranean Harbor is the entry land, but its Renaissance tone suggests adventure, not nostalgia. It is a pleasure to wander Cape Cod’s white picket side streets, whose folksy details are never eye-popping, but they’re oh so familiar and warm.

Moving on from that essay…I trek from Cape Cod into Port Discovery. On the border is the Seaside Snacks food cart. It’s another signature grub hub. I snag a yummy shrimp-filled Ukiwah Bun. Normally these are themed to Donald’s butt, but since it’s Halloween season they’re themed to Ursula’s butt.

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Following a quick morning cruise on Aquatopia (they’re running it “wet,” which amounted to a fine misting), I proceed into Mysterious Island…for more snacking! I snag the other great steamed Halloween treat, a Queen of Hearts gyoza sausage bun. And a Kirin. I had one my first night, and I needed another!

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Sipping and supping, again I pause to admire Mysterious Island’s place-making. The Nautilus Galley is below decks at the water’s edge, alongside that full-scale Harper Goff Nautilus. (Was that recycled from Magic Kingdom?) The sub’s nuclear core never stops humming and bubbling.

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For those of us who’ve seen Disney’s 1954 classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Mysterious Island is an evocative masterpiece. It’s as transporting as Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but applied to a ‘50s cult classic (such a wonderfully iconoclastic choice!) instead of a hot modern IP. With this leftfield subject matter, its creators had great design freedom. I would love to see more overlooked properties like this featured in the parks!

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FastPass time for Journey to the Center of the Earth! I just can’t get enough of this ride. Notice how you’re continually traveling down, down, down (even when the elevators are secretly carrying you up), a wonderful psychological ploy.

Then once more on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Another really good ride, made better still by complimenting its pitch-perfect land. This one is underrated for sure.

Next up…I’m heading back again to American Waterfront. There is just so, so much to explore there, attractions I haven’t managed yet, and Tower of Terror FastPasses to both collect and redeem. By now I’m retracing my steps for the twelfth time or so, so I hope you’ll permit me. Even when reminiscing about DisneySea, it’s a park I just don’t want to leave!

Up next: Basically a Bunch of Shops and Details

November 10, 2017, 7:12 AM · TDS 2.2
Discovering the Finer Details of American Waterfront and Mediterranean Harbor

Even my route back to American Waterfront is chosen for exploration. Slowly passing through Fortress Explorations, again soaking that in, I saunter across the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. I make it a special point to linger inside every Italian villa atop this Old World crossing. In little niches I find carved marble friezes, bleached statuary, careful brickwork. They totally didn’t need to do this! These villas don’t house shops, rides or eateries. They’re just there, like so many of DisneySea’s best things, existing just because. The effect? Every acre of DisneySea feels like an E-ticket. That really affects a visitor’s mental state, creating a low-level euphoria at all times.

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There’s an A-ticket live show occurring in Columbus Circle in front of McDuck’s. This isn’t something listed on any map or show schedule. It’s simply two 1920s flappers doing a high-kicking show for their pinstriped sheik. I’m in no rush today! I pause on hand-carved alabaster steps and enjoy this performance for a good decent while.

Following this, I return to my original plan – aimlessly lingering in American Waterfront to no end. So I wander through the New York Deli, down dead-end alleys, into Toyville Trolley Park, across the piers. Each stop reveals more goodness previously unseen. Toyville especially, such a blur from my previous Happy 15, is an Easter egg trove. It’s more than Toy Story Mania. It’s a carnivalesque mini-land! There’s a cutout photo op with Hamm and Bullseye. A little games-of-chance stand. A Toybox Playhouse for live shows, perfectly situated in view of Mania’s hours-long switchback queue. None of these are on the map. Again, they’re just niceties. What a park! (I love the area’s nods to Pixar’s shorts, like Presto or Tin Toy.)

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Now for all my lollygagging, there are indeed two nearby headliners which keep me lingering: Big Band Beats, and the Venetian Gondolas. These are actually tricky to schedule. Big Bands Beats particularly since it’s the resort’s premiere live show, considered on a par with Journey or Mania. Even with a 2,000 person theater and half a dozen daily show times, demand outstrips capacity.

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At long last I discover DisneySea’s show lottery center. It’s across the canals in Mediterranean Harbor, near the gondolas. So I go in, try my luck…nothing! Honestly, has any DisneySea trip report included a successful lottery attempt?!

So, how about those Venetian Gondolas? Welp, they’re temporarily closed because there’s an upcoming harbor show. Seems intermittent 30-minute windows are the only times when you can effectively do these. I’m sticking nearby until then!

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Hanging around, let’s wander the shops of Mediterranean Harbor. It’s the entry land, shops are plentiful, and each has a unique personality and décor. Often, it’s as simple as plugging classic Disney characters into a familiar Italian motif. Villa Donaldo’s centerpiece – done with a combined statue and mural – shows Donald serenading Daisy a-la Romeo. Venetian Carnival Market features Gondolier Goofy. Famous Renaissance paintings (which embarrassingly I cannot I.D.) now star Ducks and Mice. Oh, and speaking of cool details? Where most Disney Parks’ backstage doors say “Cast members only,” in DisneySea it’s always setting-appropriate, e.g. “Gondoliers only” or “Villagers only.”

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Though the gondolas are sleeping now, let’s explore Venice. Here’s another unique mini-land, the Venetian canals just off the main drag. Gondolas aside, there’s nothing back here to draw guests. Just a quiet Medici ambiance. It’s an overlooked pocket sandwiched between a MiraCosta wing and the Broadway Musical Theater backstage. Bless them for making this! I don’t want to say it’s just like the real Venice – I don’t think theme parks should do mindless copying. DisneySea is above that. Even when recalling a real world locale, they add a layer of romantic magical realism atop it. It’s transporting in its own right, and here I get that same savoir faire sensation I got staying in MiraCosta.

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More details! There’s a storefront for a (non-existent) candle shop; in its window are wax sculptures of famous Italian originals. Waterspouts resemble medieval fish. The standard drinking fountain is made from Roman aqueducts. Carved faces adorn archways. Even the boilerplate Duffy photo plank fits the setting, part of an amateur artist’s easel setup.

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The gondolas won’t be starting anytime soon. I can hear the Villains World harbor show in all its bombastic glory, and I can see the gondolier cast members loitering in a shaded dock enjoying cigarettes (how Italian!). With my Tower of Terror Fastpass coming online, I stroll in that direction, admiring Waterfront details like a bootlegger’s jalopy. Before riding, I get a fresh Tower FastPass.

The Tower’s drop remains shockingly underwhelming – DisneySea altogether has some fairly tame thrills, even for Disney. Still, the Tower’s wholly worth revisiting for those extensive queue details. Each elevator loading spot has its own theme. Could be the storeroom for Merovingian antiquities, or Mesoamerican totems, or something else which I never saw. There is so, so much to see!

From the Tower’s top pre-drop, I see the harbor show wrapping up. Hence I rush back towards the Venetian Gondolas! This ride obviously has its fandom, because the queue is actively filling up even though it hasn’t reopened yet. Thank goodness every DisneySea queue is overflowing with visual delights. Watching the other gondolas load is a ton of fun too, because the gondoliers are jocular and genial like Jungle Cruise skippers, entertaining despite the language barrier.

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The Venetian Gondolas are interesting. They’re exactly what you’re imagining: Just a simple gondola cruise around the canals. The gondoliers do all the punting. There’s no elaborate Disney backstory, no hidden animatronic show scenes. In many regards, it’s the same gondola experience you’d find in Venice Italy, or Venice California, or The Venetian in Las Vegas. It’s a languid boat ride through settings you’ve already seen, highlighted by the gondolier’s songs echoing under the Bridge of Sighs.

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What makes this ride special, really, is that it’s in DisneySea. Is that a copout? I don’t think so. It’s like how I described Cape Cod, where the frantic theme park pace slows to a crawl and lets you admire the same sights in a unique new way. It’s like a slow, meandering cruise on the Mark Twain. Endless overstimulating bombardment recedes into the distance, and for a precious quarter hour you’re enjoying a relaxed pace akin to a river raft journey or a nature hike or lounging in a swimming pool.

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I’ve talked a lot about DisneySea’s amazing decorative texture, but it has incredible functional texture too. You could visit DisneySea for two straight weeks, I assume, and have a wholly distinct day each time. That’s perfect for a local’s park, for a place as crawling with Passholders as my own Disneyland. Basically every theme park that’s opened since 1955 has attempted to duplicate Disneyland’s rich essence, and here for the first time I think is a park which succeeds wholeheartedly at that!

Up next: Shows, Shows, Shows!

November 10, 2017, 6:15 PM · TDS 2.2
Showtime at DisneySea

I’m in such a “devil may care” mood upon exiting the Venetian Gondolas that I head straight for a bar. Gotta relax NOW! So I cross back through American Waterfront to the S.S. Columbia, to the Teddy Roosevelt Lounge. Nearing noon, there isn’t the same long Lounge line as that previous night, so I’m quickly seated at the bar.

This dark, woodsy lounge is a full restaurant, but I’m simply interested in a drink. I opt for an Old Fashioned. It’s good (despite the plastic cup – really, Tokyo?!) and the bartender is professional. He lacks that warmth of the better American bartenders, like Steve in DCA’s Carthay Circle Lounge, which I think is a fair one-to-one comparison. Of course there’s the language barrier. Still, I’m curious if any DisneySea locals are regulars here just as I am at the DCA bar.

I don’t linger here long, since I noticed on the way over that an early showing of Big Band Beats is letting standby guests into the balcony are. My timing is perfection, as I reach the Broadway Musical Theater just as the doors open, but also just in time that I manage to get inside. Groups who arrived even a minute later were turned away. Wow, whatever goes on inside this theater must be completely off-the-hook insane!

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The theater itself is insane. Like everything in DisneySea. On every available surface are exquisite hand painted murals, all telling a historical story of the Hudson River. Fine velvet curtains, elaborate chandeliers, you’d think it’s an actual Broadway musical palace. Consider that DCA’s Hyperion Theater opened the same year, with the same basic purpose – to stage Broadway-level live shows. The 2001 DCA venue feels cheaply-made in the details (which often don’t exist at all), which is the starkest contrast between the parks’ investment strategies. I’d say DisneySea’s generous moneymen made the better call.

As the lights go down, I’m anxious for a show to match the venue. Big Band Beats for me remained just a reputation. I didn’t even know the premise.

It’s not another condensed cartoon recapitulation, that’s a gigantic plus right off the bat. Nope, instead Big Band Beats is, well, big band beats. It’s a Broadway musical revue, the type you wouldn’t simply see on Broadway, but specifically on Broadway during the American Waterfront era. I love that synchronicity! On stage is a complete live jazz orchestra (!) and a full complement of professional dancers (!!), all clad in their Jazz Age best. They run through a dozen or so American musical standards, always with extraordinary energy and production values to match. The details slip away as I write this a month later, but that energy remains.

And because Disney nerds riot in the streets, Stravinsky-style, if Disney-branded elements are absent…Big Band Beats includes Disney-branded elements. Specifically, the Fab Five take a big part in the band’s beats. Costumed characters – those felt big-heads from the meet ‘n’ greets – they dance and sing with the humans. It’s all a bit of spectacle, really. For the show’s climax, costume Mickey plays a drum solo. It would be an ovation-worthy drum solo with a humans, then factor in the drummer is wearing that lumbering Mouse outfit! I’ve worn such costumes before – had to dress as Smokey Bear as firefighter – and this performer had some genuine talent!

Dang, that show was excellent!

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Exiting the theater, I get a really good glimpse of DisneySea’s famous crowds. It’s noontime Friday, and the bodies are piling up. I was very careful to visit on off-season weekdays, so I can only imagine what peak days are like here. (Universal Studios Japan the coming Monday would give me a good taste of overcrowding.)

Now, my actual touring plan saw me grabbing a final Journey FastPass, followed by a lunch. But let’s continue enjoying DisneySea’s shows for now, and let’s metaphorically travel up the river to Lost River Delta for Out of Shadowland.

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Actually, with my nitwit memory, I only now realize I watched that one on Wednesday! That day’s recap seemed overstuffed even without a 30 minute stage show. Oh well, let’s pretend it was today, and travel now into the Hangar Stage.

Out of Shadowland premiered last year, replacing the long-running Mystic Rhythms. Many fans have lamented this loss, like I have with DCA’s Aladdin. Not knowing Mystic Rhythms, I can’t opine. It’s a lovely show in its own right, Shadowland is, telling a wholly original story, a sort of Shinto-lite environmentalist fable about an imaginative young Girl Scout getting lost in the woods and freeing the forest spirits from a tyrannical bird-fire-demon-thing. The show’s in Japanese, that’s merely what I got from the visuals. It’s like something Studio Ghibli might do. There’s lots of spoken dialogue, where I just zone out and admire the sets, but there’s also lots of original songs (all kinda New Agey) belted out by a talented cast. Some of the acrobatics involved in creating the bizarre forest creatures are interesting too, especially the Giant Claw-style evil bird puppet.

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The stage dressing is done 100% with projections. This gives them the freedom to organically shift the forest’s feel to fit the dramatic tone. From sun-dappled dust specks to a raging forest fire, there’s plenty of wild imagery. It’s a cool approach, though it loses the tactility of physical sets. Out of Shadowland doesn’t feel like a show they’d actually perform in Lost River Delta’s setting, which for a DisneySea show actually makes it an outlier.

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King Triton’s Concert in Mermaid Lagoon, meanwhile, is exactly the sort of live show hidden mermaid kingdoms watch in real life. Remember the first five minutes of The Little Mermaid, where Ariel is a no-show at her father’s concert? Yeah, that’s the same show we’re now gathered to watch. Of course they stretch it out to 20 minutes with Ariel as the lead, and with musical numbers for “Part of Your World,” “Under the Sea,” several of the film’s faves. It comes dangerously close to being a movie retelling. Thankfully, they never complicate things by bringing in Ursula or Eric, though speaking as a paying merman opera-lover I’m not sure why Ariel is so quick to sing to me about her land-lust.

The theater-in-the-round setting is what really distinguishes this production. Ariel “swims” overhead on wires. Puppeteers enter via the aisles to play Flounder and Sebastian. Screens and animatronics in the walls round out the cast. It’s a unique setup, and it gives Mermaid Lagoon a little more meat on its kiddie land bones.

Magic Lamp Theater was closed for upkeep, so that covers DisneySea’s major shows. There’s a good variety across the board, and the park’s entertainment department never fails to go all-out. Big Band Beats is in the stratosphere! It’s an excellent show, perfect for its land, and different from standard theme park entertainment. The others are all good too, just another wonderful texture to a park which overflows with excellence.

(Apologies to photo fans. I took no mid-show pics. Promise the next update will make up for it!)

Up next: DisneySea’s Loose Ends

Edited: November 11, 2017, 8:02 AM · TDS 2.3
DisneySea Miscellanea

With one exception to come, I’ve now done all of DisneySea’s available attractions. It’s midday.

Well, the third day ticket is a “Park Hopper.” I could…Nope! I’m staying here.

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Many of DisneySea’s best rides, I’ll still be revisiting: Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage, Indiana Jones Adventure, Tower of Terror. There’s no need to follow my steps chronologically. How about just random details and food and such as I find it?

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Alright then, let’s backtrack! Back to lunch. This time, I chose the Casbah Food Court in Arabian Coast. The ordering counters are in a bazaar alleyway, a see-through thatch roof hiding protective glass. For my feast – ordering from display windows, a very Japanese nicety – I get a spicy curry with naan bread and a Coke. The custard was…a flan?!

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There are several dining halls, including the Sultan’s palace and the impoverished hovels. I pick the palace, seated under elaborate bronze lanterns near a Jafar statue. (A Jafar costumed character is later seen skulking outside.) The food is expectedly tasty, but what stands out about this meal is the performance!

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I think he was the magician from Magic Lamp Theater, making himself useful while that attraction underwent maintenance. No matter, unexpectedly he entered the dining hall with a flourish on live trumpets. Then using a rope, a stuffed Duffy, and guests’ yens, he roamed the room doing all manner of impressive close-up magic tricks. It’s a shame I never got a good pic of him. And whatever inspired this magician to come entertain us, kudos! Again you’ve outdone yourself, DisneySea. Unexpected live entertainment awaits at any moment!

Apparently, the resort’s custodial staff even does percussive dances with their brooms, which sadly I never saw.

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Afterwards, I wander. I check my phone’s newsfeed. It’s all Hurricane Irma updates, specifically stories about Disney World closing for a few days. Boy did that make me feel guilty! Here I am enjoying a perfect Disney day in Japan.

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If it’s any consolation, this was the day (one of them at least) when a North Korean missile flew over Japan. Not that I’d’ve known it from the locals. “Keep calm and carry on” was their attitude. My friends in the U.S. were less relaxed. It must’ve been morning back home, because over the next few hours I was bombarded with endless text messages asking about my safety. Ah, guys, appreciated!

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During all this, I’m wandering DisneySea’s leeward lands seeking out details. There aren’t nearly as many shops or restaurants back here. New to me in Lost River Delta were assorted festive Mexican alcoves in various buildings. Miguel’s El Dorado Cantina served Mexican rice molded into Donald’s head, which was cute. Mostly, I discovered how multi-leveled this land is, with a river level one floor below hiding extra restaurant seating and even an entire Saludos Amigos meet ‘n’ greet.

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On the river’s opposite bank, the Expedition Eats restaurant in the foot of the Mayan pyramid is a trove of unique details. The pyramid walls are themselves hyper-detailed. And the eating patio is set above an archeological dig, where you’ll find an exposed Olmec head (Xtapolapocetl), ruined pottery, even a charming human skeleton. Japanese guests were actively throwing their coins at him! Get that skeleton!

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Roaming the land was Goofy’s son Max dressed as a Mexican. That’s…weird. And that Mulan cast member right next to him is even m- Oh wait, that’s a guest!

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Poking around Mermaid Lagoon’s indoor crannies, there’s the Sleepy Whale Shoppe. It’s a whole store set inside the open mouth of a friendly whale, complete with uvula and ribcage ceiling. This is super charming! The land’s other shops are cute enough, from Mermaid Treasures to Mermaid Souvenirs. The former is Ariel’s knickknack grotto. The latter had a static prop of fish spitting water. The land’s big indoors restaurant, Sebastian’s Calypso Kitchen, was echoing with screaming toddlers and I mostly steered clear of there.

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Eventually my Tower of Terror FastPass would draw me back to American Waterfront. After dropping in (heh), I go check out that one remaining undone attraction, which was…drumroll please…

Turtle Talk with Crush!

In Japanese!!!

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The line was short enough, and I was curious. How on earth will they justify placing this in the hull of a 1912 American cruise ship?! With surprising elegance! The hull’s interior queue features framed newspapers – in every necessary language – describing a “Hydrophone” which lets mankind talk with fishkind. The preshow slideshow even inserts Crush hilariously into historical photographs. And turtles live well over 100 years, so Crush was alive in 1912.

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The show itself, in Japanese, well, I was happy to sit down. The local audience was doubtlessly engaged, and I even learned by rote how to say "Duuuuuuuuude" in Japanese. A sneaky cast member clearly wanted to put me on the spot as a Crush interviewee, but luckily a nearby parent used her child to protect me. The kid's question was better than mine might've been anyway.

I admire how this attraction’s typical window screen is justified in DisneySea. We’re looking out from a cruise ship straight into the ocean. In DCA, this is just a thing placed in the Animation building. Here, it’s an extension of its land, and it’s all the more imaginatively engaging as a result. Hail DisneySea!

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Post-Crush, I go right back up to Arabian Coast, stopping for assorted rides along the way. Though I have a dinner planned, I continue to snack. So it’s back to the Sultan’s Oasis, because its menu has more to offer than just the tasty Chandy Tail. It has these fried caramel dough balls in sweet milk soft serve. The balls were a little hard and dry, but I love that subtle sweet milk flavor. And as I take my final bite, Mt. Prometheus erupts in perfect synch! Well then, the volcano calls, and it’s time to go do one final amazing thing…

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Up next: DisneySea’s Grand Finale!

Edited: November 11, 2017, 7:43 PM · TDS 2.3

For my DisneySea Grand Finale, I ride Journey to the Center of the Earth a seventh time!!!

And then I dine at Magellan’s.

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Magellan’s is DisneySea’s flagship four-star restaurant, expertly hidden within the citadel surrounded on all sides by Fortress Explorations. This was the secret meeting headquarters of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers’ founding members during the grand Age of Exploration. Here under an illuminated dome, great minds such as Galileo, Da Vinci an even Magellan himself would gather to discuss lofty ideals. Also they got drunk.

“We, the members of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers, herewith establish Explorers Landing in order to promote the sharing of nautical and scientific knowledge for world exploration.

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I made my Magellan’s dinner reservation two months prior, made possible almost entirely thanks to my booking at Hotel MiraCosta. Even then, availability was minimal. I had to settle for the Fantasmic lull. Since I saw that show the other night from my hotel room, that’s fine.

In fact, I’d already scoped out Magellan’s earlier in the day while waiting out my Tower of Terror FastPass. The idea at midafternoon was simply to pause in a cozy setting and enjoy a pint. Magellan’s Lounge upstairs doesn’t require reservations. Even then, I had quite the challenge getting the hostess to seat me, mostly I think because of language matters.

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Magellan’s interiors effectively sum up the Mediterranean Harbor spirit. From the grand central rotunda to the private side halls, there is the same romantic sun-drenched Old World charm. Much like MiraCosta, furnishings are of the utmost quality but also never stuffy. It’s formal yet relaxed, like so much high Italian culture. Finely carved woods contrast with off-white plaster walls, all highlighted by curlicue wrought iron railings. Light fixtures resemble Mediterranean candleholders. I’m vaguely reminded of Toledo, of the old Spanish nobility, of artifacts from defunct aristocracies repurposed for S.E.A. Naturally, a nautical motif pulls everything together, with much of the artwork styled after 16th century maps.

For my afternoon repose, I enjoyed a Kirin. Like all of Disney’s best lounges, Magellan’s boasts a far more complex drink menu, including cocktails and a full selection of wines, but sometimes you thirst for something simpler – especially after many miles walked outside in the sun.

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Enjoying my beer, I admire the rotunda’s centerpiece. Imagine a medieval explorer’s globe, only scaled up to the same size as – come to think of it! – the iconic Universal Studios globe. Hmm! Universal Studios Japan opened in 2001 as well. Could this be Disney paying their rival a cheeky tribute? I can’t say for sure. I also can’t say if this globe is slowly rotating, or if that’s just the combined effect of the beer and exhaustion.

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I’m glad I got to relax in the rotunda for a drink, because my dinner reservation saw me seated in a smaller antechamber down a subterranean side passage. The feeling is of a catacomb buried deep beneath fertile volcanic soil. In some ways, this private chamber reminds me of ancient family a good way. It is incredibly intimate. There is supposed to be an additional “secret” room, a wine cellar, where VIPs and high-profile Disney bloggers get to dine. I didn't think to look into it.

Much like Ristorante di Canaletto, dinner is four course Italian prix fixe. The food is of very high quality, well beyond what you’d typically expect in a theme park. DCA’s Carthay Circle is functionally similar, and more to my tastes with its playful Californian fusion menu, but Magellan’s more formal food is entirely appropriate.

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For appetizers, sautéed scallops. Always tasty! To drink…yup, another Kirin!

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Salad was a simple mixed greens affair with a few slices of Spanish cheese and mild vinaigrette.

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For the entrée, I opted for the night’s special – fresh Chilean sea bass. Fine filet mignon was available too, but I’ll wait until they create a DisneyLAND to order that!

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Lastly for dessert, a classic: crème brulee.

This was a slow meal, with every bite savored. One common complaint I’ve heard about Magellan’s is that the portions are too small for the price. That’s typical of haute cuisine, and honestly I never felt undernourished, possibly because I’d been grazing on snack foods all day long. No, I was entirely sated. The flavor profile was a little mild, that’s my main caveat. Still, what a lovely, elegant capper to the Tokyo Disney Resort!

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Climbing the winding stairs out of Magellan’s, Fantasmic is long over. Most queues are closed. But I’m not ready to leave! Instead I head into American Waterfront, keen to soak in every last possible drop of nighttime ambiance. In particularly, I want to see Toyville Trolley Park all lit up with popcorn bulbs. In DisneySea, Imagineering managed to capture that vintage boardwalk aura more effectively than with DCA’s Paradise Pier, in a smaller area. If the proposed DCA revamp into Pixar Pier takes some design cues from Toyville, then I’m cautiously optimistic about the Pier’s future. It looks like it won’t, but hope remains.

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Not long afterwards I’m relaxing in Waterfront Park when the speakers come on. Tokyo DisneySea is closed for the night. It’s 10 PM, and time to go. My final journey across the Mediterranean Harbor esplanade is not a hasty one. I linger as long as seems permissible looking out over the gently tranquility of Porto Paradiso. Even with the ongoing musical loop, it’s noticeably quieter here now, quiet enough to listen to the manmade waves in the harbor. Mt. Prometheus behind Explorers Landing gives off a warm, maternal glow.

The AquaSphere all aglow is my last memory of DisneySea. Leaving this park one final time is bittersweet. I was enormously overhyped prior to my vacation, and if anything DisneySea somehow managed to prove even better!

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Now, is DisneySea the greatest theme park on earth, as many have claimed?

I’m not ready to make such a bold statement. It’s the third park I’ve visited which I’d call “perfect.” (I haven't been to Orlando.) The other two are Disneyland and Cedar Point. About a half century separates the creation of each, and each is a perfect realization of its creative aspirations. They’re also the only genuine two-day parks I’ve visited.

Cedar Point is the perfect roller coaster park. It has the strongest collection of thrill rides that I know, all in an astounding coastal location.

Disneyland is the perfect realization of a brand-new concept. It is overflowing with creative ideas, and the model for everything since.

DisneySea is the culmination of the lessons began at Disneyland. It is to date the most fully enveloping park I’ve seen, with all sorts of delightful new design tricks.

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I’ve called all three perfect, but none is flawless. Cedar Point is mostly unthemed. Disneyland is congested. DisneySea, honestly, is fairly average on paper. It has no good roller coasters, too many flat rides, and a few clones. In person, none of that matters. The park’s overwhelming ambiance elevates dross like Aquatopia into gold. DisneySea’s best attractions are among the world’s best attractions. I could happily spend a day here without doing a single ride. If theming alone improves a park for you, then I cannot recommend visiting DisneySea highly enough!

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Lastly, while I could write a whole essay (at least) on DisneySea’s design choices, I might at least list some. Its countless details all serve a larger whole. Its sightlines never waver. Mt. Prometheus brilliantly pulls every land together, and fits each. The scale is perfect. It is incredibly multi-layered. It fits the coastal setting flawlessly. Nearly every attraction is a natural extension of its land. Franchises are used appropriately. Stuff like MiraCosta elevates the theme park form. Honestly, I cannot gush enough!

Up next: Day 10 – Shinkansen to Dotonbori

November 12, 2017, 12:06 PM · The Toy Story Mania with Woody's head reminds me of Luna Park Melbourne and Sydney.. and show what I am talking about there.

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