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A tour of Tokyo Disneyland: Westernland and Critter Country

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Published: December 14, 2011 at 1:30 PM
Today, we'll take a look at Tokyo Disneyland's Westernland and Critter Country.

Westernland

Westernland is just Tokyo Disney's name for what American Disney theme park fans know as Frontierland. Critter Country was a later addition to the park, debuting in 1992 as the new home for Splash Mountain.

Splash Mountain

Keeping with the theme that Tokyo is a blend of California's Disneyland and Florida's Walt Disney World, Critter Country is the name of the land where Splash Mountain is found at Disneyland, but Tokyo's version of the ride is essentially identical to Disney World's.

Splash Mountain wasn't high on my priority list on a chilly December morning, so I lingered a bit on the Frontierland Westernland street...

...Noticing some of the details up above, including this tribute to Walt. (Elias was his middle name. The 1883, I presume, is a tribute to the opening year of the park - 1983 - minus 100.)

Elias Hotel

And the details down below. Yes, that's a vending machine, hidden in the side of a Westernland building.

Westernland vending machine

One element of the park that I can't show you here is the smell, which is amazing. Every few yards in the park, you'll pass a popcorn wagon. But unlike in the U.S. theme parks, where Disney serves only traditional buttered popcorn with an occasional caramel corn now and then, Tokyo Disney raises popcorn to an art form, serving at least six different flavors in Tokyo Disneyland alone.

So I paid my 300 yen (about $3.85) and tried a box of the curry popcorn.

Curry popcorn

Thank goodness Disney doesn't sell this in Anaheim, because it is crack. Yeah, it's got a spicy kick, as you'd expect from curry, but it tastes, well, the only way I can describe it is cleaner than the spicy dust you'd find on tortilla or corn chips in a U.S. snack aisle. There's no chemical aftertaste, just the warmth of the curry on your tongue.

I also loved the soy sauce popcorn, which had the salty flavor of traditional buttered popcorn, but with an almost umami savoriness to it that American popcorn lacks. (I'll write about the sweet popcorn flavors when we get to Tokyo DisneySea.)

Since I'm a former Tom Sawyer Island raft driver, I knew that I'd have to make my way over to the Rivers of America at some point. But I was stunned to see that Tokyo Disneyland actually publicly labels the River with its name, unlike Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom (*Update: The MK has a sign now. See the comments).

Rivers of America

After riding the Western River Railroad earlier in the day, I couldn't wait to get over to Tom Sawyer Island. I'd seen on the railroad trip around the river that the burning settler's cabin was actually burning, an effect that hasn't worked in Anaheim in years. What else would be working over on Tokyo's version of the island?

TSI sign

What's this? A free map of the island for the taking at the dock? You better believe I grabbed one - which will soon be framed in my office.

Map

Here's Harper's Mill. With the wheels turning, thank you very much.

Grist mill

And… could this be? Fort Sam Clemens is open?

Fort Sam Clemens

Not only that, but the snack bar is open in the fort, too, and serving milkshakes as well as cheese-and-banana-stuffed Mickey pastries.

Fort Clemens snack bar

Behind the fort, you'll find an accessible Indian village to explore. (Though in my shock at seeing the fort open, I'm ashamed to admit that I forgot to try to go upstairs and see if there were working rifles, too. It's probably for the best, though. If I'd found those, too, the shock would have killed me.)

Indian Village

I spent waaaaay too much time on the island for someone over the age of 12, but as I waited for my return raft to the mainland, I couldn't help but watching the ducks paddle by. It occurred to me, as one munched on a popcorn kernel, that these ducks aren't just munching on regular old popcorn. They're eating curry popcorn. Or soy sauce popcorn. Could these ducks be flavoring themselves with all this savory popcorn? What a deliciously evil thought.

Duck

I also noticed that the Explorer Canoes cast members don't wear coonskin caps - they wear red bandanas. How very Japanese?

Canoes

If you're looking for a less intense trip around the river, there's always the Mark Twain Riverboat.

Mark Twain, with canoes and Splash Mountain

Not only has Tokyo Disneyland kept all the show elements working on its version of Tom Sawyer Island, it's kept all the seasonal versions of the Country Bear show running, too. So I headed over to the Country Bear Theater to watch the Christmas show I hadn't seen in years, here called the "Jingle Bell Jamboree."

Country Bear Theater

I tried recording some of the show, but for the life of me I can't find the file now. My apologies. But it's the same Christmas show I remember from my years working Bear Band in Orlando, save for the fact that the dialogue's all in Japanese and they've substituted "Jingle Bells" for "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas." Still, it's nice to see the holiday show again, even if seeing it reminded me how much I wish Disney World would bring it back each year. I'm told that Tokyo also runs the Vacation Hoedown show in rotation with the original Country Bear Jamboree. (The Tokyo Country Bear Theater has two theaters, just like the old Country Bear Playhouse in Disneyland did.)

Don't worry, roller coaster fans, I haven't forgotten about Big Thunder Mountain.

Big Thunder Mountain

I saved my ride on Thunder for after dinner, when the park had gotten dark and, I think, rides on Thunder are the best.

Thunder at night

Tokyo's version is essentially the same as Orlando's, except that the ghost town is replaced by a longer tunnel (a la Disneyland) and there's another tunnel and a U-turn after the final drop and run past the dinosaur bones. But the goat trick still works. ;^)

Tomorrow, we'll visit Fantasyland, which is the home of Tokyo's Haunted Mansion, believe it or not.

Previously: Adventureland, World Bazaar

Readers' Opinions

From Andrew Swanson on December 14, 2011 at 4:21 PM
Do Anaheim and Orlando intentionally not publicly advertise the name of Rivers of America for some specific reason? Or is it unintentional and just another example of how TDL operates with a higher level of detail and guest service than its American counterparts?
From Skipper Adam on December 14, 2011 at 4:32 PM
It's new, but MK has a duel purpose meet and greet space/ Rivers of America sign by the Little Mississippi. Donald wearing a coon skin cap is seen there. Only Disneyland is left without a sign for it.
From Brandon Mendoza on December 14, 2011 at 4:41 PM
Oddly enough, my favorite part of this section of the tour was the popcorn! I've heard wonderful things and can only imagine. Too bad we can't ship this stuff to us here!
From Robert Niles on December 14, 2011 at 4:52 PM
Hadn't seen that before, Skipper. Thanks for the update!
From James Rao on December 14, 2011 at 5:14 PM
Gotta agree with Brandon, those popcorn options (and the corresponding duck joke) were the focus of my attention. Anyone know why Disney won't bring those flavors to our home parks?
From Stevo B on December 14, 2011 at 5:22 PM
I'm in with exporting the popcorn. Could be a nice add to EPCOT and/or California Adventure.
From Robert Niles on December 14, 2011 at 6:15 PM
Tokyo Disney is raking it in with the popcorn. Throughout the parks, I saw people wearing souvenir popcorn buckets on lanyards, around their necks. Each bucket held about the same amount as a box, but a refill cost 500 yen, as opposed to the 300 yen for the box. Each stand had its own bucket design, usually featuring some character, and the buckets sold for 2,100 yen - 3,200 yen with the strap. That's 40 bucks!
From Joe Brown on December 15, 2011 at 8:31 AM
When did the Fort close at WDW? We were there last November and it was open. We went up and fired shots at BTM for fun.
From Anon Mouse on December 15, 2011 at 8:51 AM
Disneyland/WDW believe in maximum profits through simplicity of the menu items. That's why you see less variety and more standardization. There's a decrease in inventory and less training of CMs. More profits from less customer service via quicker turnaround/faster transactions. See, its all in the math except that more people are keeping them money in their wallets like myself.

I usually don't eat popcorn. I quite enjoy a caramel version, but they are much too sweet to eat regularly. A salted version with garlic or onion might get me to buy one.

From Brandon Mendoza on December 15, 2011 at 9:10 AM
I would definitely spend more money at the parks if they included options like the popcorn stuff! I'm not asking for a menu like at Burger King or McDonald's (I'm actually more of an In & Out guy... simplicity and freshness!), but regular buttered popcorn? Give us something that we can't get outside of the parks!

I will say that Disney does give us the best Churros in So Cal. I can't say I've been able to find anything close at any hole in the wall Mexican restaurant, sit down, or chain restaurant! Heck, not even in from a grocery store!

Oh and I'm definitely jealous of how an AWESOME map is just given out! Great find Robert! Definitely frame that thing!

From Ricardo K on December 15, 2011 at 9:22 AM
I knew I should have tried the curry popcorn when I went there!! I didn't because I spotted them right after I had lunch... Oh well, next time...

Loving the articles on TDL! Keep them coming!

From David Sutter on December 15, 2011 at 11:18 AM
Rober, Fantastic reporting. Once quick question. It appears that its a largwe island then the US counterparts? Or am i wrong here?
From Robert Niles on December 15, 2011 at 1:12 PM
I think the Florida TSI is larger, and certainly so if you count the large non-public areas on that island. The Tokyo island seemed about the same size as Disneyland's to me, but with the open fort and Indian village.
From Nancy Mast on December 17, 2011 at 12:04 AM
The ducks were flavoring themselves!?! Brilliant. Simply brilliant! :)
From Marc Ricketts on December 17, 2011 at 11:43 AM
Fort and rifle were definitely there in MK last summer. I just looked at a pic of my hand firing a rifle. I don't really feel any loss that there's no sign identifying the ROA. It's labeled on my wall map, not really a big secret.

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