Asian Adventure Part 4 - Tokyo Disneyland

November 6, 2017, 7:30 AM

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Tokyo Disneyland’s Happy 15

It was with a heavy heart this morning as I checked out of Hotel MiraCosta, depositing my luggage with reception, who will transfer it to the Hilton Tokyo Bay.

Then I follow the pedestrian footbridge to the Monorail station bright and early for my 15 whole minutes of early access into Tokyo Disneyland. I’m using my complimentary Monorail ticket from the hotel. Otherwise you gotta pay to ride. Yeah, this Monorail is actually a part of the Tokyo Metro system, and it’s equivalently clean and efficient and futuristic. City transportation laws prevented Disney from creating free train loops. We’ll see later how that impacts the railroad in Tokyo Disneyland.

This Monorail does a simple loop around the resort with four stops. First we pause at the Ikspiari station, home of the resort’s curiously-named Downtown Disney equivalent (which I never visited) and their economy class Ambassador Hotel (which I never visited). Then we reach the Tokyo Disneyland station, and I’m off, rushing excitedly down stairs to find…

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No one is here. The park is gated and deserted. I feel like Clark Griswald.

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Checking the internet, it turns out Tokyo Disneyland opens an hour later than the almighty DisneySea, at 9 AM. Oh well, at least today I’ll have time for breakfast! So I immediately do a 180 spin and head into the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel, yet another “Mictorian” flagship with that same formal, starched aesthetic which does little for me personally. The grounds of Tokyo’s hotel, at least, I found fairly charming, with their Fab Five topiaries and little secluded gardens dedicated to different Disney films, even the obscure ones from the ‘60s and ‘70s.

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Even now I’m early to the 6:30 AM breakfast buffet. The hostess is surprised that a MiraCostan came to her hotel. Then it’s an all-you-can-eat rope drop! I alone start at the western station with waffles and fruits and suspect egg dishes. Following that I try Japanese breakfast, which involves miso soups, steamed rice with your choice of fixings, green salads, and generally good foods which I don’t associate with breakfast.

That matter settled, I head out to the Tokyo Disneyland entry gates just as the crowds are gathering. Again Happy 15 VIPs get their own specialized cattle corral, perfect to observe the great heaping throngs of humanity. It’s no more crowded than DisneySea, but the entry layout here makes you feel it more. And remember, this is an off-season weekday at 7 AM.

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Looking through the gates, Tokyo Disneyland looks…odd. Familiar yet alien. There’s no train station with floral Mickey, but a single central entrance to the fully enclosed World Bazaar entry land. They put a big glass ceiling over Main Street because of rains (DisneySea seemingly just ignored this issue, and it turned out fine). The park’s layout changed as a result in some strange ways. More on that later.

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In a pre-opening procession, over a dozen costumed characters gallop out from Main St-er, World Bazaar. Each gate gets a selected caperer; near the center, we got Minnie. Off near the edges was a Fairy Godmother in a motionless rubber face mask, with soulless eyes, the blackest eyes, the devil's eyes...genuinely creepy. Wished I’d gotten a picture of her. Maybe a quick image search -

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HYEAAAAAAAEEHHH! Burn it!

The Happy 15 Sprint once again swept me up in a manic Olympian footrace. World Bazaar entry was a blur. Not that there’s much there. The rooftop layout obscures castle views pretty completely. And quickly I’ve made a hard right turn well before the hub, into Tomorrowland.

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Wait, before the hub?!

Yup, TDL has side streets in Main Str-World Bazaar, “short cuts” into the nearest lands. This layout addition, which I actually generally like, creates a complete outer circle. It’s possible to fully tour TDL and never once enter the hub. This adds space near the front for more rides, and makes crossing the park easier.

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World Bazaar itself barely makes an impression. It’s a bland compromise, American nostalgia watered down for Japan. Beyond these side streets, the outsides of the roofed building have storefronts as well. It’s sort of a grid pattern layout, not Main Street’s long corridor lead up, and it’s not nearly as effective as a grand opening statement.

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But it’s efficient for touring! I reach my destination, Monsters Inc. Ride ‘n’ Go Seek, just in time to…It’s closed?! Dang, I really didn’t plan this morning well! Happy 15 only opens select rides, usually the most popular E-tickets. I’d’ve totally expected Monsters Inc. to be running, but a cast member informed me that Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters was the only thing open. Sigh!

So I crossed Tomorrowland and rode Buzz. This one wasn’t a must-do, really. It’s pretty much like Disneyland’s or France’s (the ones I know), with some minor set variations across the three.

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My aim with Tokyo Disneyland was to do the unique-to-me stuff first. There’s a lot in this park which is a lower priority for that reason, stuff copied from Disneyland. Following Buzz (my score was lousy) I return to Monsters Inc., planning now to snag a FastPass when those open at 9 and then do standby. The crowds to both have beaten me, so it takes about 10 minutes for each line. Versus the 3 hours for Monsters Inc. later that day, I can’t complain, but the early morning time is hugely valuable and so far I haven’t matched my efficient triumph in DisneySea yesterday.

Next up: TDL’s Two Best Rides

Replies (6)

November 6, 2017, 6:11 PM

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Monsters Inc. Ride ‘n’ Go Seek & Pooh’s Hunny Hunt (& Tomorrowland)

Before I continue, this is technically not my first time visiting Tokyo Disneyland. I last visited as a one-year-old circa 1983…the year it opened! Ah, the memories.

My late father was a lawyer for the Mouse in the pre-Eisner era. His biggest project was doing the contracts which made Tokyo Disneyland possible. Uniquely, Disney does not own Tokyo Disney Resort, the Oriental Land Company does, and leases the Disney brand. At the time, the Mouse wasn’t sure if international parks would work, and they played it safe. Their agreement with the OLC is filled with unique stipulations, among them a clause which forces OLC to overinvest in the parks. Imagineering, evidently, has a free hand to design in Tokyo, budget be damned. There’s a specific reason the Tokyo park additions have always been the best, and I’d like to think that my father had a hand in making that possible.

Now back to my touristy antics:

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The interior of the Monsters Inc. queue is grand and imaginative. (The outside is switchbacks.) It’s a replica of the Monsters Inc. lobby, complete with a door-themed map mural on the ceiling dome which is seemingly made from real tiles. There’s a Monsters Inc. dark ride back home in DCA, a good ride considering its history but also nothing world-breaking. Already with the Oriental Land Company’s penchant for overspending, theirs is looking superior.

It is superior. Lots of that is just better execution, such as fully-fluid monster animatronics (hundreds of them!), with real fur and careful shading. Part is in the ride premise, which isn’t a “book report” ride, but a “sequel to the movie” where Boo has come back to laughter-obsessed Monstropolis for a game of flashlight tag with her pals. Part is the interactivity which the flashlight tag conceit allows, for each rider has a flashlight and is encouraged to shine it on Monsters Inc. symbols to trigger fun effects throughout the ride. It’s sort of like a shooter ride, but without the scoring competition or the implied violence. And unlike Toy Story Mania, here the interactivity isn’t the sole point. It’s a good story-driven dark ride anyway, thanks to Randall Q. Boggs trying to kidnap Boo. The interactivity simply engages guests further. This is a really good ride, like a Fantasyland dark ride given the E-ticket treatment (a TDL specialty).

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I still don’t know what Monsters Inc. has to do with Tomorrowland, but Tokyo’s Tomorrowland is such a strange beast to begin with. It’s distinctly stuck in 1983’s version of 1972, when the future was sterile and timid. The U.S. Tomorrowlands were once this way too, and while their retro-futuristic upgrades are considered mixed bags, they’re a lot more visually engaging than the sparse nothingness of Tokyo’s tomorrow. Even newer facades, like the one for Star Tours, are intentionally under-detailed to fit the existing blankness nearby.

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I honestly can't say that I'm nostalgic for this.

One thing that’s most apparent in Tomorrowland is the cleanliness. The entire resort is immaculately spotless, with custodian cast members making a point (and an entertaining show) of continuously cleaning. Tokyo Disneyland is almost too clean, because no buildings seem to have aged. Few buildings have texture. It’s antiseptic, the sort of fakeness decried by Disney’s worst critics. DisneySea was designed with painted-on dirt and grime, likely in response, making it feel a whole lot more lived-in.

The other thing, resort-wide, is the quality of the cast members and the guests. This is the best run Disney Resort I’ve seen easily. The Japanese are fastidious, and this care shows. Guests know how to tour. No one raises a stink. No one clogs walkways. Sick people in Japan wear facemasks, to keep everyone else healthy. No visible tattoos. No mullets. No parents in vulgar T-shirts. And the cast members aren’t simply efficient, they’re ebullient. They seem genuinely joyful in every guest encounter, always chipper and attentive and personable. There’s plenty of that with Disneyland’s cast as well, but there’s always the occasional “too cool” world-weary Orange County CA twenty-something bringing things down.

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We’re twenty minutes into park operations once I finally reach Pooh’s Hunny Hunt. I intend to do standby, then get a FastPass when available. Standby is 30 minutes, the shortest (by at least an hour) that it’ll be today. That’s also longer than I ever waited in DisneySea, mostly due to my own efficiency over there. It’s a very pleasant Pooh queue, thankfully, winding through bucolic woods over babbling brooks and past apiaries before entering the quaint cottage of Christopher Robin. The indoors queue is set amidst towering pages from Milne’s books, both A) creating a storybook quality, and B) tricking guests into expecting a more standard Fantasyland dark ride. (Interviews with the ride’s creator, Eddie Sotto, show he intended that misdirection.)

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Pooh’s Hunny Hunt is anything but standard. It is the world’s first LPS trackless dark ride. And you don’t even learn that until long after you’ve boarded your hunny pot, which leaves the station in classic tracked dark ride style. But then three pots gather together before an oversized book like it’s story time. No dark ride’s done this before! The pages give way, and the pots drift and glide into the 100 Acre Woods. The pots dance, spin and meander down different paths spying different sights. For another several minutes guests enjoy a tranquil, playful journey with Pooh which will blow your mind, man!!!

Pooh’s Hunny Hunt is drunk on its technology. The hunny pots do every move trackless tech allows – they spin, they stop, reverse, dance around each other, even glide over a motion base floor which simulates Tigger’s bouncing.

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With the scenery, Hunny Hunt uses every trick in the book as well, many of them ancient. Here we see animatronics, screens, projections (all are appropriate techniques when used right). We experience Pepper’s Ghost, starfield effects, scents, air blasts. None of that stuff is as singularly revolutionary as the ride vehicles, but it’s combined in a revolutionary way.

Every scene feels different because of how the ride functions. This isn’t just riding passively past some static scenes. Even though riders don’t participate, we feel like we do. It’s an exceptional ride, undoubtedly world class, a Top 10 for sure, this park’s best…and not the trip’s ride highlight. Not with Journey to the Center of the Earth next door, or Mystic Manor down in Hong Kong, or even a couple of Universal Studios Japan’s offerings to come. What a fun trip!

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Exiting Pooh, I grab a FastPass to revisit it later. Luckily, the early morning FastPass rush has ebbed. (Top rides see 30 minute FastPass queues at rope drop.) I also grab a box of "delicious" honey popcorn from the nearby cart, which is just perfect following this ride. Maybe the resort's most apt flavored popcorn cart. My Monsters Inc. FastPass is a go, but with an hour to spare I effectively have the entire park to briefly explore first. Where to go next?

Up next: We Shall See.

November 7, 2017, 8:32 AM

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Toontown & Fantasyland (& Tomorrowland)

With lines still kinda short, and a dozen Magic Kingdom attractions available, where did my Californian self go next? Straight to Toontown, Tokyo’s most direct Californian clone!

What am I, a moron? Eh. Maybe. Fantasyland’s wait times were actually a little nasty, and I feared Toontown would be next. Besides, I was gonna see it eventually. The conclusion? It’s pretty much Disneyland’s, only mirrored and repainted requently. You don’t pass under the railroad to reach it, because there is no railroad. There’s also no berm, giving me a sneak preview of the evening’s hotel.

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Riding on Gadget’s Go-Coaster (for some reason) I get a better view of that Hilton, plus a wonderful view of a construction site. The future looks bright, because Fantasyland is annexing Tomorrowland. On the former site of the Tomorrowland Speedway (pronounced “Autopia”) they’re building a Beauty & the Beast mini-land, which with surely solve this berm problem. It will be amazing too, another cartoon E-ticket trackless masterpiece like Hunny Hunt set to open for the Tokyo Olympics.

I do Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin with no wait. It’s an exact copy of Disneyland’s, queue and all. It’s a really underrated gem (a Fantasyland dark ride at a D-ticket level), always fun. And spotlessly maintained out here too.

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Tokyo’s Toontown did have one unique attraction: Goofy’s Paint ‘n’ Playhouse. Using pull cord paint guns, guests help repaint Goofy’s interior. It’s basically Toy Story Mania without the ride vehicles, and with incredibly low capacity. A fun diversion for the younglings, one I watched in action but ultimately didn’t try myself. That would’ve been weird of me.

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Toontown down, it’s back towards Monsters Inc. I pass the Star Jets – the Tomorrowland spinner here in their vintage ‘70s glory, several floors up and not blocking Tomorrowland’s entryway (ahem, Disneyland!). The line was 120 minutes, because they were getting removed in a few weeks (they’re long gone once you’re reading this) and locals were there saying goodbye. I miss these from Disneyland.

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Continuing on, I zoom into the show lottery distribution center. The huh?! In Tokyo’s parks, live shows are so popular that you need a ticket to see ‘em. You have to gamble for that ticket, in a version of Disney Electronic Pachinko. I made a try for One Man’s Dream II (the sequel), but with instructions only in Japanese I failed miserably. A big “loser” sound poured out for all to hear. Dejectedly I trudge onwards…to reride Monsters Inc.!!!

Following that (great ride!) I head back towards Fantasyland, now marching straight through the hub for my first delayed view of Cinderella Castle. At last, in a way, I’ve seen Magic Kingdom’s famous castle, the reason East Coasters dismiss Disneyland CA. It’s big, I’ll give ya that.

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Actually, I’ll get back to that castle discussion later. It’s a really fantastic bit of design whose purpose is almost entirely distinct from Anaheim’s regal cottage, but right now I need to eat.

It’s early yet, a perfect time to enjoy the Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall. Once I’d finished feasting, the line here was a cool 60 minutes. Yikes!

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This is a neat place, sandwiched inconceivably in between “it’s a small world” and Haunted Mansion, and somehow managing to aesthetically unite them. The outer façade is a cool receding hedge maze and castle, an effective use of forced perspective. The inside is full of playful Alice in Wonderland props and gags, like a cartoony kitchen hall where playing cards cook our food.

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The food is equally wonderful…to look at. Heart-shaped cheese on a burger patty in sauce. It tastes like one too. It never did look appetizing during research, it wasn’t in person, but the overall experience of eating here outweighed that.

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Next up, Haunted Mansion. I’m excited about this one, a clone of the Magic Kingdom version which is supposed to be exceptional. And…they have Haunted Mansion Holiday out here! Of course! I’m just doing all the California classics today! (Their Magic Kingdom versions of “small world,” Big Thunder and Jungle Cruise are all closed.) Oh, and the wait is 50 minutes. Even though Haunted Mansion has FastPass, they only activate it irregularly, and currently the queue is snaking past sleeping FastPass machines.

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This gives me plenty of time to admire Tokyo’s Fantasyland, just as dated and vintage as their Tomorrowland. The Dumbo within earshot of Haunted Mansion (!) is behind carnival fences atop parking lot concrete. The dark ride facades are all 1970s jousting tents. And the walkways are wiiiiiiide! This element really strikes me, and it makes every building feel like it’s floating alone in the ether. Many of Tokyo Disneyland’s individual components are exceptional, but this over-scaled copy-and-paste layout hurts it for me. It’s obvious that Imagineering’s chief energies were on designing EPCOT Center back when this park was initially assembled.

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Haunted Mansion Holiday, for those unaware, is a Halloween/Christmas overlay themed to Nightmare Before Christmas. It’s a really good overlay, and it makes the Mansion feel like a different ride entirely. Tokyo’s version includes all those extra scenes from Florida, which now I’ve ridden through and still I haven’t seen. Instead I rode an expanded version of a Disneyland seasonal event, which is also fun. They have a lot of Sally animatronics in the early part of the ride, plus 999 other scenes from Tim Burton’s flick which Disneyland doesn’t have the space for.

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As I exit, another park-to-park comparison occurs. There are barely any strollers here! This pic is the first stroller corral I’ve noticed. It was the same in Hong Kong. Kids walk earlier here, in cities where walking longer distances is a daily part of life already. We could all rant about egregious stroller laziness in our home parks, so it’s pleasant to see a park function differently. Tokyo’s guests and cast members really are the greatest!

Next up: The Park’s West Side

November 7, 2017, 6:09 PM

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Adventureland & Westernland (& Tomorrowland)

I move on now towards the park’s west side…Tomorrowland. Tokyo Disneyland faces south, which actually kind of screws up the morning sunlight on Cinderella Castle.

My goal is another Monsters Inc. FastPass, which are now distributing for 9:30 PM (park closes at 10). By the time my availability window opens, they’re gone. Noooo!!! Instead I snag a Space Mountain FastPass, why not, and duck into Tony Solaroni’s Pan Galactic Pizza Port.

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Nothing in Tokyo’s Tomorrowland has anything to do with anything. It’s a mélange, some things crazed, some things tepid. Tony Solaroni is crazed, a pizza-making alien whose ridiculous 1990s contraption sits atop the ordering counters. Tony, I think, teleports pizza ingredients from throughout the cosmos and combines them together in a Rube Goldberg device, creating Disney-quality pizza (so, not very good honestly). This lunatic animatronic performs Disney’s version of a Chuck E. Cheese’s show, which is creative, technically accomplished…and also flabbergastingly bizarre in that manner peculiar to Japanese culture. This insanity helped pass a longish food line.

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Wait, I’m eating again? Yeah, because they have mochi balls in the shape of the Toy Story aliens. They’re filled with a cold soft cream, like a looser cream cheese. I expected ice cream, but this was even better. Flavors included chocolate, strawberry and mango. Would definitely seek these out again, and anything else like them. Kawaii and tasty. The fizzy lemonade soda with mini boba was simply okay.

Here in the heart of Tomorrowland, I head straight for Pirates of the Caribbean. Odd, right? I cross World Bazaar’s shortcuts and I immediately – immediately – find the Disneyland façade, minus the bridge crossing or outdoor queue. There is no outdoor queue here because Pirates’ wait never surpasses 5 minutes. I don’t get it. Disneyland locals love Pirates (it’s our best ride, maybe the best worldwide), but the same basic version here is mostly ignored. Sindbad in DisneySea seems overlooked too, despite its excellence, so maybe Japanese guests just don’t enjoy long slow boat rides. Based on observations, they like interactivity and cuteness. Pirates is passive and cruel.

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As stated, it’s basically a Disneyland clone. It has the important things, like the bayou and the long caves. A few differences make Tokyo’s lesser. There’s only one drop, and because we're not as far down the cave ceiling is lower and less epic. Guests exit before the boat travels the final lift hill. Jack Sparrow is here too. For my favorite ride of all time, somehow I’m underwhelmed. Nonplussed. Can’t really explain it.

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Pirates lets out into a smaller copy of New Orleans Square. Again, for one of Disneyland’s most accomplished sections, this imitation feels strangely lifeless despite the similarities. There are no curbs – common in Japan, actually. No crowds – uncommon. It’s not a distinct land like in Disneyland, but a tiny portion of Adventureland, which I now explore.

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I pass another Duffy stage show, here in Tokyo Duffyland. Ah hah, here are the crowds!

When it’s open, Jungle Cruise apparently has crowds too. I’m fascinated with what works in different cultures.

Above the hedge-blocked JC queue is the station for Western River Railroad. This is Tokyo’s version of the Disneyland Railroad, confined to a smaller loop circling Adventureland and Westernland. Due to Tokyo metro laws, additional stations would qualify it as a public railway, so it’s a normal ride loop now instead.

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The route through Adventureland offers views of foliage 5 feet away, and Japanese narration. Meh. When the train reaches Westernland, however, it comes into glorious life. Extended views of the Rivers of America are fantastic, and the waterfront boasts many fun show scenes like the Indian village. (Oh, and their cabin’s still burning!) The train comes within feet of Splash Mountain, then crosses a trestle straight past the Mark Twain harbor towards Big Thunder. Since Big Thunder is closed, this is a good consolation prize offering great lengthy views of the majestic Magic Kingdom mesas.

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That’s all fine and well, but the railroad isn’t complete unless…Did we just pass a triceratops skull?! (Paging Barnacle Bill!) Indeed, it’s time for the Primeval World diorama. Excellent! The Grand Canyon is absent, but that’s a small thing. I love the dinos at Disneyland, and arguably they’re even better positioned here as the climax of a rather lengthy singular ride.

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From the train, views into Fronti- Westernland and Adventureland confirm a suspicion. The wide walkways and random attraction placement undermine this park’s sense of place. That huge, huge, huge concrete expanse in Westernland does a whole lot to destroy any Old Western flair. This is the Disneylander in me talking, because I’m used to our narrow corridor-like walkways and the larger-than-life dollhouse effect they create.

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It’s possible I’m critiquing something Magic Kingdom does too. Wider paths are necessary for crowd control. Disneyland is congested, with more guests than it was designed to comfortably hold. Wider walkways fix this problem – DCA is a breeze to visit – but for my tastes a lot of artistry and place-making is lost in the process. Sense-of-place is diminished. DisneySea has wider walkways, and uniquely it’s the only Disney Park other than Disneyland (and possibly Disneyland Paris) where the scale has felt appropriate. Will be visiting it again tomorrow, will be curious to see how it manages that feat.

Next up: Parades, Where Tokyo Disneyland’s Scale Totally Works!

Edited: November 8, 2017, 1:07 AM

Great article, Douglas. It's always fun to travel vicariously with someone if you can't be there yourself. And the connection your family has with the creation of TDL is something you should definitely be proud of.
I also appreciate the sensibilities and decorum of the guests and cast members at Tokyo Disney. Everyone seems to genuinely enjoy being at the parks, which creates a great vibe. (With the exception of the mad morning rush towards Toy Story Midway Mania, which is actually entertaining if you can avoid being run over by an elderly lady with FastPass fury in her eyes.)
I do, however, disagree with your Pirates ranking. Having experienced all of the PotC rides, Shanghai is leaps and bounds above the rest and second behind that would be Paris, IMO.
Looking forward to hearing more about your trip.

November 8, 2017, 7:24 AM

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Parades & Critter Country (& Tomorrowland)s

Parade time! Tokyo’s are supposed to be excellent, so I proceed giddily to the hub to wait for Happiness is Here.

Now, typically in Disneyland I don’t watch the parades. My home park is famously congested, which parades exacerbate. It’s not much fun at all staking out a spot for hours on end, only to fight some flatulent tourist who tries sitting on top of me at the last minute.

Tokyo solves a lot of this simply because you’re not allowed to start reserving spots until an hour before show time. Tokyo’s guests across the board are rule-abiding and polite too, with their comfy branded floor mats, making it a joy to sit amongst them. Plus, I sat on a bench! The quality of cast members and guests at Tokyo Disney Resort is simply the best, and it’s most apparent in scenarios like this where I can directly compare to the other Disney Parks. Incidentally, there were some simply adorable families here, such as the lads who sat near me:

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Sitting here, let’s examine the hub…Let’s talk about the layout, about Cinderella Cas- Is that grass real?!?!

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I swear, until touching it I thought that was astroturf. Nope, that grass is alive! How is Tokyo keeping every single blade precisely the same length?! This detail, for me, sums up the insane cleanliness and precision of Tokyo Disney Resort.

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Now, about that Cinderella Castle. Actually, about that hub altogether. My understanding is that all this is a near-exact duplicate of the same space in Magic Kingdom (minus some later renovations in Florida). It’s a design which Disney’s first-generation Imagineers fine-tuned in Orlando, and it works wonderfully. It’s the only part of Tokyo Disneyland I’ve seen so far where the scale seems appropriate. The wide parade pathways are proportioned well with the tall castle. The castle itself is massive – same exact height as Mt. Prometheus – but light, airy and inviting. Further castle thoughts I’ll save for visiting Magic Kingdom. It’s certainly not Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland (or Hong Kong). Tiny SBC is perhaps mostly symbolic; CC is a constant looming presence, which gives the entire park a different feel since it's almost always visible.

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At last Happiness is Here is here. It is a procession of assorted random popular Disney characters (all the parades are) with floats resembling, like, colorful oversized Victorian toys.

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These vehicles are nicely designed and perfectly maintained, as is the fur on the life-size characters. The felt-heads are really clean in Tokyo!

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We see some uncommon characters, particularly a dapper centipede gentleman from an early, forgotten Silly Symphony.

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As with the live shows of Hong Kong, I’m at a loss to better praise this parade without simply listing out float units, but trust me that it was exceptional. Again, there was an indefinable energy in the air, a joy and professionalism which made this seem, to me, a well-above-average daytime parade.

Following that, I use my Hunny Hunt FastPass. Then I grab one for the park’s final half hour, the day’s last FastPass.

Then I skip over to Critter Country, where Splash Mountain is the park’s sole Single Rider. Good thing, too, since Splash’s wait times are always multi-hour affairs.

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They’ve called this the best Splash of all. From the Critter Country lead-in alone I must concur. This land alone in Tokyo Disneyland (hub aside) doesn’t feel disproportioned. Every element fits together at the same scale, the wide walkways feel right with the hilly animal structures. It’s also the only part of TDL with hills of any sort, elevation changes to carry guests over the flume ride’s waterways, to create a changing topography, which is more in keeping with DisneySea’s design. Indeed, yesterday I’d climbed nearly 30 floors, and today so far only one (for Western River Railroad).

There are so, so many details in this Critter Country, like tiny animal houses of all sizes, including little mouse doors at the bases of lampposts. It is impeccably designed, giving Chickapin Hill an ideal uncompromised picturesque location.

Even with Single Rider – sharing the FastPass queue until the merge (how elegant!) – the Splash Mountain wait is dang near 40 minutes. They were dispatching the logs very slowly, and unload had a mighty backup too. This is uncharacteristic in this efficient Resort, so I’ll consider it a fluke. Good thing the queue’s underground details were as elaborate as all the rest.

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The ride is substantially slower, more relaxed than Disneyland’s, giving it a laidback rustic vibe. Tokyo’s phenomenal upkeep meant every single animatronic was working at 100%. Not chipped rockwork. Bluegrass music and unique (to me) scenes suggest a lazy backwoods swamp cruise. By the pacing alone, this felt more family-friendly than Disneyland’s rather frantic thrill ride. The drops were similarly less hair-raising, in part due to the side-by-side lap bar seating. Disneyland has you straddling a central bench without restraints, making that final drop always feel genuinely dangerous.

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My only issue with Tokyo’s Splash Mountain – otherwise a top tier ride, a true competitor to Hunny Hunt as the park’s best – is the seating. Too small for me. I’m tall by Japanese standards, 5’11”, and this is the only ride where I felt it. I had to curve my legs unnaturally for that lap bar to come down. Worse still, a cruel plastic mold in the seat continually dug into my…laughing place. After 14 minutes of ride time, I was super ready to be free of that torture instrument!

One other problem, my fault: I’d been carrying this dinky paper bag around for my gear (rechargers, mifi, maps). It rode on the log’s floor, and halfway through the exit queue I realize its bottom had worn away. So I collect my strewn possessions – helped by courteous Japanese guests, who are simply the best – trashing what I don’t need and awkwardly pocketing the rest.

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Recovering, I stop at Raccoon Saloon for a snack. The soft serve was a swirl of sweet milk and seasonal pumpkin. It was definitely to my taste, really refreshing. There’s also a hotdog wrapped in a tortilla, which sounds like something I’d’ve done as a college freshman, but it was actually really good.

Critter Country also boasts a Beaver Brothers Canoes ride (guest-powered like Disneyland’s), but I choose to go explore the Rivers of America by other means.

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As I’m strolling towards the Mark Twain in Westernland, soaking in the beautiful bucolic ambiance of the wilderness, I blurt out the loudest profanity you’ve ever heard!

My eReader is still riding Splash Mountain!

Stupid me, I’d been rereading “IT” some more before rope drop, and then completely forgotten about it. Hastily, I rush back towards Splash Mountain and very, very awkwardly explain the situation to the ride’s greeter. What with language barriers, I use Google image search to describe the problem. And bless the exceptional Tokyo cast members, they came through! They understood the problem, they retrieved the eReader (it floats too), and I spent some more time taking in Critter Country’s details while waiting.

Now, I’d hoped to spend this time on the Mark Twain, or on Tom Sawyer’s Island, but after the greatest non-crisis of the trip there just wasn’t the time. Instead my Space Mountain FastPass was nearly expired, so once again I found myself in Tomorrowland.

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Note this photo was taken during Happy 15 early entry, this is in no way indicative of TDL's normal crowd patterns. (Hong Kong's, maybe.)

Tokyo’s Space Mountain is like Disneyland’s, but old school. The same tracks, but no onboard audio. Otherwise, everything else once you enter the Space Age dome is entirely the same. The ride vehicles have no plastic torture devices. But the audio accounts for a lot, particularly with Michael Giacchino’s great new score, so Disneyland’s is still better. Score home team!

And I gotta now leave Tokyo Disneyland early, to figure out the evening’s hotel situation, but I will return tonight!

Up next: Hotel Transfer and Nighttime Parades

Edited: November 8, 2017, 6:14 PM

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The Hilton Tokyo Bay & Dream Lights

Maybe I could’ve stayed in the park until rope lift (or whatever theme park closing time is called), but around 4:30 it seemed wise to go check into the Hilton Tokyo Bay anyway. Besides, I relished the chance to discard my gear, enjoy a shower, and relax.

The “good neighbor” non-Disney hotel complex is one Monorail station over from Tokyo Disneyland. It’s so easy! The Hilton is 5 minutes on foot from that station. Their check-in process (and all other common hotel functions) was so effortlessly efficient.

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The room was nice and big, with plenty of western accommodations. Kind of a sterile white interior, but obviously designed, and comfortable enough in its minimalist way. The view is pretty special, straight into the park.

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Okay, so it’s across a tacky parking lot and a construction zone. Still, there’s Space Mountain. This view gives a good impression of the resort’s overall feel. Tokyo Disney Resort is built on a landfill in the Urayasu Chiba Prefecture (not technically Tokyo) surrounded by rather ugly industrial facilities. The Oriental Land Company was originally a land reclamation firm which randomly decided one day to own and operate a Disney theme park. Other than the parks and hotels and Ikspiari, all the remaining land is parking lot. The Disney bubble bursts super-fast here! Good thing the parks are utterly world-class

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Once I’m recovered and in a new outfit, it’s nighttime. Reentering Tokyo Disneyland – after a tantalizing loop around DisneySea via Monorail – the Halloween décor plays better in the dark. I love the jack-o-lantern, um, lanterns.

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Had it been daytime, I might’ve considered another try at the Rivers of America. In fact, I wandered up into Westernland before deciding not to, even though their Mark Twain doesn’t shut down at night like Disneyland’s (for Fantasmic). Rather, there was enough time before the evening parade to grab a proper meal.

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I duck into the Hungry Bear Restaurant. The setting is an Old West saloon. And the meal, historically accurate to the Old West, is Japanese curry over rice. I specifically opt for breaded panko chicken in thick curry gravy. It’s tasty, yummy and filling. I’m a hungry guy, generally, and I feared from other reports that TDR’s food quantities wouldn’t be enough. Maybe it was my snacking throughout the day, but I rarely found this the case. Found lots of good food here!

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Then it’s back to the hub to wait for Tokyo Disneyland Electrical Parade Dream Lights, from the same bench where I watched Happiness is Here. Again, Tokyo stages a wonderfully engaging parade in a perfect setting. Dream Lights feels like a legitimate upgrade to the classic Electrical Parade – the 1970s original has recently returned to Disneyland, and it’s aging worse than I’d expected. Dream Lights is the Electric Parade as I remember it from my youth, with some good tech upgrades and new characters. The coolest one was Genie, whose colored lights shifted constantly from one form to another. I managed to capture him imitating Donald Duck.

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Compared to Paint the Night, still my favorite Disney parade (Rose Parade wins overall parade, handily), Dream Lights definitely channels that specific Electrical Parade spirit better. Paint the Night is really its own thing, more contemporary and more driven by pop fads. My tastes say I oughta prefer Dream Lights’ classicalism, but I love the crazed hyperactive neon spirit of Paint the Night just a little bit more! Dream Lights in comparison feels staid, but incredibly classy.

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It takes a while to escape the hub once Dream Lights has passed me by. Many people are hanging around for the fireworks...which never wound up happening (lousy offshore breezes!). Following my Disneyland CA instincts, I’m more keen on reaching Fantasyland to do some short lines before the crowds reform. I’m not wholly successful there. Peter Pan never saw a sane wait time; it never does. Eventually I settled on riding Pinocchio’s Daring Journey.

Again, this is another steadfastly old school attraction. Yeah, inside it’s like Disneyland’s (actually, it premiered in Tokyo and then migrated to Anaheim), but the queue really is just metal bar switchbacks, the façade just a tourney tent, and the vehicles…They skip and screech with every slowdown, like those funky old traveling carnival Laff in the Dark carts. Way to contrast with Hunny Hunt directly across the street! None of this ever seemed worthy of photography.

Now, I’m lingering due to a late night Hunny Hunt FastPass. It’s worth waiting for! To kill more time, I return to Westernland – not to do those Rivers, but to see the Country Bear Jamboree…along with 3 other people. It was ignored in Disneyland too, pooh-poohed ‘til it became Pooh. Thought I’d check in on a bit of lost Anaheim history.

It’s not often you get to hear country western music sung by cartoon bears in Japanese. Without understanding the script, this was just a bit of kitsch. I’m not sure it holds up, and I’m speaking here as a dyed-in-the-wool Enchanted Tiki Room apologist. The animatronics are more impressive (than the world’s first?! Obviously!), but it lacks Tiki Room’s intimate theater-in-the-round setting which never fails to transport me to the South Seas. Plus Tiki culture is a big part of Southern California, and I realize I’ve now devoted this paragraph to the Tiki Birds somehow.

Maybe I should’ve just done Tokyo’s Tiki Room. They have Stitch in theirs! They also have the Stitch Encounter in Tomorrowland, which…nope, not doin’ that!

(Okay, somehow I assumed this was Stitch Escape, which would be waaaaaaaaay below Tokyo's quality standards. Nope, Stitch Encounter is a Turtle Talk variation, in Japanese. Still not doin' that!)

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The time has come! I ride Pooh’s Hunny Hunt a third time! It remains as transcendent as ever! Following that I’m tired, and most of the park’s lines are closed now with 10 PM nearing, so I simply trundle on over to the Hilton Tokyo Bay for the evening.

That does it for exploring Tokyo Disneyland. Compared to DisneySea, I feel I wasn’t very efficient, partly because I focused on just doing Pooh and Monsters repeatedly. I’ve barely examined this park. I’m kind of torn on it. The guests and cast and maintenance are through-the-roof, the best in the world. Some newer rides are truly exceptional. The 1983 foundation is lacking, too compromised by thoughtless copying. Scale seems out-of-whack, so it’s never as inviting and warm as, say, Disneyland. From Tomorrowland you can see Big Thunder straight down the street, and that shouldn’t be. It’s too flat. The rubbery street surfaces lack texture. It’s all somewhat airless, passionless. I do think the park suffers in comparison to the incomparable DisneySea next door, and by being a copy (a well-made copy) of something I’m very familiar with. Simply on its own terms, Tokyo Disneyland remains an utterly professional, world-class park.

Up next: Day 9 – DisneySeaquel!!!!

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