A tour of Tokyo Disneyland: Westernland and Critter Country
Published: December 14, 2011 at 1:30 PM
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.
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.)
And the details down below. Yes, that's a vending machine, hidden in the side of a Westernland building.
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.
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).
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?
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.
Here's Harper's Mill. With the wheels turning, thank you very much.
And… could this be? Fort Sam Clemens is open?
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.
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.)
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.
I also noticed that the Explorer Canoes cast members don't wear coonskin caps - they wear red bandanas. How very Japanese?
If you're looking for a less intense trip around the river, there's always the Mark Twain Riverboat.
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."
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.
I saved my ride on Thunder for after dinner, when the park had gotten dark and, I think, rides on Thunder are the best.
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.