But my skepticism was thwarted by the Tokyo Disney Resort restaurants' outstanding service, cleanliness, efficiency and — most importantly — food! It's not by accident that DisneySea's fabulous S.S. Columbia Dining Room was named Theme Park Insider's Best Restaurant for 2013. But instead of discussing the many wonderful sit-down establishments at these two parks, today we're sweating the small stuff: snacks.
Before we snack our way through Tokyo Disney, I should explain that Japan is not a grab-n-go culture when it comes to food or drink. For instance, Japanese Starbucks franchises offer a "short," which is a tiny coffee that commuters buy, stand there and gulp, then continue on their way to the office (as opposed to the millions of Americans that you see toting Starbucks cups everywhere). It seems that this idea is relaxed a bit in the Tokyo theme parks, where we sometimes witnessed guests walking with ice pops or popcorn. But, more often than not, visitors bought their snacks, found a spot to sit where they could enjoy their purchase (or simply stood next to the snack stand and chowed down), and then moved along. With the exception of a Fastpass time crunch, we did our best to follow the local custom.
Of course, another local custom (when it comes to Tokyo Disney, at least) is the popularity of any food that is shaped like Mickey's head. There was Mickey-shaped mac and cheese, Mickey-shaped chicken fingers, even Mickey-shaped churros.
We were not immune to the charms of these round-eared delights, and found ourselves indulging in a giant, Mickey-shaped waffle topped with vanilla ice cream and mango (680 yen, or about $7), the seasonal special at the Great American Waffle Company. While waiting in a short line, we watched workers flip the Mickey waffle irons, ensuring that the treats were never in short supply.
A minute after ordering at the counter, our waffle arrived, fresh and hot, crispy on the outside and soft and light on the inside. It was topped with a zig-zag of maple syrup and surrounded by whipped cream, custard, ice cream and chopped mango (none of which were generous servings, but enough to get the job done and all plenty delicious).
Just around the way from the Waffle Company is Boiler Room Bites, a snack stand seemingly built out of the wreckage of an old ship (with the boiler room turned into a kitchen). The Adventureland outpost is home to the Mickey-Shaped Steamed Bun filled with pork and chicken (400 yen, $4.10). Craving something savory, we opted for this option over the Minnie-shaped bun with strawberry and milk. We were thrilled with our decision; not only was the bun warm and soft, the fillings were rich and plentiful. The Mickey shape doesn't just offer a gimmick, but an interesting way to deliver different flavors — the ears were packed with barbecue pork, while the head was filled with teriyaki chicken.
And with a Japanese heat wave in full swing, we couldn't stop ourselves from a few snacks to help us cool down. Instead of the Mickey-shaped ice cream bars found all over Disneyland and Walt Disney World, the Tokyo parks offer Mickey- and Minnie-shaped, fruit-flavored ice pops. In DisneySea, your options were tropical fruit (Mickey) or peach and raspberry (Minnie), and in Disneyland, you could choose between orange (Mickey) and pineapple (Minnie) — all 300 yen ($3.07). They were pretty huge, delicious and refreshing — as was the 300 yen frozen mango. But it's not Mickey-shaped, so where's the fun in that?
Another one of Tokyo Disney's unique offerings is the Tipo Torta, which consists of a dense, sweet cream wrapped in long, thin layers of pastry dough. At the time of our visit, the Tipo Tortas were available in three flavors: strawberry and caramel (available at the Village Pastry wagon in Fantasyland at Disneyland) and honey-lemon (available at Tropic Al's stand in Lost River Delta at DisneySea). We tried the caramel and honey-lemon versions (each 350 yen, $3.60), and both were akin to having an ice-cream sandwich in churro form. The honey-lemon flavor was more complex and worked better than caramel as a cold treat.
Snack stands aren't the only place you can treat your sweet tooth at Tokyo Disney. One of my absolute favorite dishes during my time at the parks came as a side item at the Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall — which is worth a stop for a meal or a snack, if only to check out the brilliantly decorated dining room, themed to "Alice in Wonderland."
While passing through this crowded-but-efficient buffeteria, I added a cup of Chilled Cream of Purple Sweet Potato Soup (400 yen, $4.10) — maybe because if you're going to eat in Wonderland, you ought to have something that looks like the Cheshire Cat. The gamble paid off — the soup was silky smooth, with a surprising depth of flavor as sweet and savory layers intermingled. If this dish had been as readily available as ice pops or churros, I would have probably indulged in another bowl each day.
Keeping in line with previous Magic Kingdoms, Tokyo Disneyland doesn't serve alcohol (Club 33 excluded, of course). But you can enjoy an array of adult beverages at Tokyo DisneySea. Rather than downing a run-of-the mill American brew in the park's American Waterfront area, enjoy a little atmosphere with your libation at The Teddy Roosevelt Lounge, located on the second deck of the S.S. Columbia. (Even if you're not a drinker, come get a juice, a parfait or a sandwich — this place is worth checking out!)
The gorgeous, dark wood pub is festooned with tributes to the 26th president, from portraits of Teddy throughout his life to Rough Rider paraphernalia to carved bears that serve as columns along the bar. Stepping out of the sun to wet our whistles, we ordered a Grasshopper and a Screwdriver. Both drinks were as carefully crafted as the relaxed, elegant surroundings. (An alcoholic beverage will cost you between $8 and $15, depending on your drink of choice.)
And what would a trip to the Tokyo Disney Resort be without daily (or hourly) doses of the parks' creatively flavored popcorn? During our trip, the two parks were offering 11 varieties of their famous corn. Unlike most Japanese visitors, who carry their popcorn in souvenir tubs shaped like Mickey or the "Toy Story" aliens or the oh-so-popular Duffy, we opted for the 300 yen ($3.07) regular size, in order to taste as many flavors as possible. In the end, we tried eight versions — because who can get excited about Salt or Caramel when you can try Milk Tea and Corn Potage? Speaking of Corn Potage, it might have been my favorite. Available exclusively in Toontown, this popcorn was covered in a bright yellow candy coating that gave it the flavor of sweet corn soup. Apparently, I really like my corn with extra corn — can you tell I'm originally from the Midwest?
Another big winner was the Curry popcorn, available in Adventureland in Disneyland and in Arabian Coast in DisneySea, where we grabbed a box. The mixture of spices provided plenty of kick, but was restrained enough not to wear out its welcome. Unlike the Black Pepper (which became a bit one-note, flavor-wise), the Curry corn kept us coming back. It reminded us of something we had at Memphis's rib mecca The Rendezvous — a legendary barbecue establishment that sells popcorn coated in their secret spice rub.
As for the other flavors, Honey (two locations in Fantasyland, with one by — what else? — Pooh's Hunny Hunt) was predictably delicious and Strawberry (Port Discovery, although you can smell it from Mysterious Island) was wonderful with a more delicate sweetness than most, cloying strawberry candies. Even more delicate were Milk Tea (the Cape Cod section of American Waterfront) and Apple Cinnamon (the harbor section of American Waterfront). The Milk Tea's subtle mixture of sugary and salty flavors was a nice balance, but I expected a little more oomph from the Apple Cinnamon corn.
Although I was hoping for a revelation with the Soy Sauce & Butter flavor (Adventureland and Tomorrowland), I didn't get it — although the butter and salt flavor profiles were a good match, as you'd expect. (I'd find my sublime Soy Sauce dessert delight elsewhere in Japan when I tried Soy Sauce ice cream.) As I said before, Black Pepper was a one-note flavor — but it was a fine note, with taste-bud tingling pepper dispersed nicely on every kernel.
So, what did we learn as we snacked our way through Tokyo's twin Disney parks? Purple potatoes can make for a soup that'll make you grin like the Cheshire Cat. The Mickey shape provides a creative way to get additional flavors into a steamed bun. Some extra corn can lend corn-flavored popcorn some extra pop. And, finally, instead of scarfing your snack while jetting around the parks, it's nice to have a seat, enjoy your food and revel in a quiet moment — even if it's in the middle of Toontown.Tweet
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We're still waiting on these: