Experiencing the Magic that is Tokyo Disneyland20 March, 2011 by Chad
For some traveling to Japan would be worth it even if only for Disneyland. Every day tens of thousands flock over to Chiba to bask in the inexplicable atmosphere of Japan’s most popular theme park. While Disneyland wasn’t part of our initial itinerary, we had shuffled our plans enough to make time today for the happiest place on earth (or at least Japan).
We reached Maihama just half hour after Disneyland’s opening so many were still making their way there. Being a normal working Thursday, estimates put the number of people visiting the park today at about 40,000 only so queues wouldn’t get too insane today.
Disneyland as far from Maihama Station as DisneySea, so we could save a few bucks from the monorail by walking there instead. Just the car park to the resort that we passed by was probably bigger than Universal Studios Singapore.
It was actually drizzling this morning but no one walking there seemed to pay any mind. Everyone was already in their excited “We’re going to Disneyland!” mood.
The primary audience at Disneyland were families, couples, tourists, groups of teenage guys, adult women or JK schoolgirls who’ve skipped school to visit Disneyland.
We could have gotten tickets from the convenience stores but Wilson suggested that we queue at the entrance for the actual Disney issue tickets with random characters printed on them. Mostly everyone who enters the park queues for their tickets too, either for the ticket stub or to savor the anticipation of getting onto Disneyland.
Some parts of Tokyo Disneyland will seem familiar to those who’ve experienced other Disney parks overseas. But the Japanese version has adapted a unique culture of its own for various reasons. In fact the two Japanese theme parks are the only official Disney parks not actually owned by Disney.
If you haven’t already read about our previous experience with DisneySea, I suggest you do that first. There’s going to be lots of references to Disneyland’s sister park in today’s post.
Disneyland is only about half the size of DisneySea but is still rather spacious. Like DisneySea, the park is split up into a number of different themed zones but attractions are concentrated on the outer circumference. This results in a lot of wide open areas around the center of the park so despite the sheer number of people on any given day, there was more enough room to move about.
The first course of action after entering the park was to find a suitable ride to book. As explained in last year’s post, all tickets at Tokyo Disney Resort come with a function called “Fast Pass” included free of charge. Basically it allows you to queue up for a number of extra rides without having to be physically there. You can fast past a number of different rides and then go about actually queuing for others to maximize your time.
The first ride we would Fast Pass would be the Space Mountain ride in the futuristic Tomorrowland section of the park. Since the Thunder Dolphin at Tokyo Dome was closed, this was to be Yan’s consolation.
I’ve never been good at coasters, considering that I get motion sickness just from Singapore transport but I decided to give Space Mountain a go anyways. The queue for the ride was the longest, so we got Fast Passes for later in the afternoon.
I wondered if it was a decision I would regret later. The ride was housed in a large metal dome so there was no clear way to tell how big the coaster really was but the building was about 10 floors high at its peak. It was also the only ride in the park to repeat the warning announcements like at the Tower of Terror in DisneySea so I feared for the worst.
With Space Mountain tickets, we could only book our next ride a couple of hours later so in the meantime we could find another attraction to queue for. Each area had its own unique flavor of popcorn in the park too. Food at Disney parks are a whole attraction on their own but queues today weren’t nearly as long as those we witness before.
Adjacent to Tomorrowland were the more child friendly Toontown and Fantasyland areas. I had heard great things about the Pooh’s Hunny Hunt ride here so we decided to join the hour long queue.
About a third of a way into the queue, there was a giant book thing which was a popular photo spot among the locals. Large groups would actually coordinate splitting up with their other friends such that when they reached the window here there were others in the queue outside to take their photo.
As we had been previous, Yan was impressed by the quality and level of detail to every part of the park. No expense was spared in shaping the fantasy that was Disneyland, no plastic trees or crudely painted on textures here. Every inch of the park and even each queuing area felt real, whatever that is.
While in queue Wilson told us about how he sat a similarly named ride at Hong Kong Disneyland that was really disappointing but I tried to assure him otherwise. This Winnie the Pooh themed ride was reputed for being the world’s first trackless ride, a technology unique to Japan’s Disney Resort.
Sure enough, Pooh’s Hunny Hunt did not disappoint. It was a mind blowing combination of a simulation ride together with a novel take on the classic teacups concept.
The whole ride consisted of a number of large rooms that were tackled in sequence of the story. On its own the rooms were already a display of animatronic marvels, a mechanical Winnie the Pooh “floated” from room to room where everything in the background moved. But as mentioned, the most amazing part of the ride was the complete lack of tracks. Instead, we were seated in honey pots that ran on rollers and the ground was embedded with microchips that tracked the position of our car.
The magical part was that apart from when we had to be consolidated to move on to new rooms, there was no fixed course for the ride. The position of our cars were generated on the fly randomly and for the duration of the ride we would be continuously bounced around the large psychedelic sets. No two times on the ride were exactly the same. At parts the ground itself moved, bouncing us into the air or sliding us down ramps. Crazy, surreal, fun.
The three of us left the ride thoroughly impressed. Appropriately all the rides leave you in their own ride specific souvenir shop, when you are at your most vulnerable state. But unlike the junk they sell you at ridiculous prices at Universal Studios Singapore, the souvenirs at Tokyo Disney Resort were comparatively cheap and much more attractive (more about this later in this photo tour).
We weren’t even Pooh fans so you could understand how great the ride had to be to leave such a favorable impression. We managed to walk away from the shop without succumbing to any of the trinkets within but the it would have lasting effects later. Particularly for Yan who finally understood the wonder that was Disneyland.
One of the attractions at Disneyland was a musical stage show called One Man’s Dream 2. One Man’s Dream was a gallery exhibit in America that showed the timeline of Walt Disney’s career but in typical Asian fashion, the Japanese have taken the concept and one upped it.
The show is performed 5 times a day in a large but not nearly big enough outdoor theater. The first show each day was on a first come first serve basis, while tickets for subsequent shows had to be balloted for so we headed over to the lottery center.
The building housed some Fast Pass-like terminals that were attended to by the park staff. You slot your park tickets inside select a show timing and pray for the best. You could only ballot for one given show so it was slightly worrying.
But with whatever remaining luck, we managed to secure tickets and the woman beside the machine congratulated us. At first we wondered if the tickets were really that rare, but we thanked our good fortune after seeing all the other people leave the building without any.
Like at DisneySea, there was only one single shop selling churros that attracted the longest queues among all other snack shops. I didn’t want to miss getting this standard issue food this time. Thankfully, the queue moved quickly.
It was well churros. Slightly milder and more airy than other churros elsewhere, which made it easier to eat without feeling thirsty but nothing amazing enough to warrant the long queues though.
It was more than an hour before the scheduled daytime parade in the park but many had already started camping (probably since the morning) at key spot along the path such as in front of the Cinderella castle where the floats came out from.
I guess the most fanatical of Disney fans will get the yearly pass, so it wasn’t a real loss even if they came here just for a picnic. For us who had to pay the full price, it was a race against time with so many sights everywhere. Photo hobbyist will no doubt find the two Disney parks a great trip, with things waiting to be captured on film around every corner.
Beside the castle were some ponds and gardens. At first glance Yan presumed the ducks there to be fake and was overly amused when they turned out to be real.
We had about an hour until One Man’s Dream 2, which also coincided with when we could Fast Pass our next ride so we decided to explore the rest of the park in the meantime. Yan finally gave in to temptation and purchased one of the Disney hoods there. Pretty much everyone else in the park was wearing one or something similar.
Everyone dresses crazy in Disneyland, regardless of age or gender. It’s completely normal to see groups of guys wearing Minnie Mouse ears, women equipped with decapitated Disney character heads or even Kigurumi wandering around the park. In fact, we were the most odd group with our all normal clothing so Yan helped fixed that.
There was another jet coaster ride at Westernland, the cowboy themed zone. The estimated queue time was 90 minutes though so we had to give it a miss, a least till later. Beside the coaster was a shooting gallery, the park’s only paid attraction.
You were given a infrared gun to shoot different different moving or stationary targets. Each round cost 200 yen. If all 10 of your shots landed, you would win a special sheriff’s badge.
We each gave it a try, with me and Wilson failing horribly. It was pretty difficult to figure out exactly how off you were without any real life feedback. Even if you lose, there’s still a random chance to win a bronze version of the badge but we had already used up all our luck today.
Yan walked out with a perfect score on the first try though, stumped as to how we could had done otherwise. Skills learned in National Service are useful in Disneyland. The only other person we saw walking away with a badge was a local guy who just shot the same target repeatedly.
When it comes to attractions, Disneyland has a higher proportion of life shows to thrill rides (as opposed to DisneySea). This meant that most of the queues were centered around the 3 or 4 coaster type rides in the park and due to the sheer amount of people aiming for these rides, Fast Passes either ran out quickly or were completely unavailable.
We weren’t about to use our Fast Pass for a log ride, haunted house or any of the other child rides so we decided to head back toward Tomorrowland where we saw more rides that did accept Fast Passes. You could also use your Fast Pass to book a seat in the dinners too, which might had been a good idea had we known better.
We had seen a tall triangle shape building beside Space Mountain, which judging from its sized looked like it might house another potentially fearful thrill ride. Curiously, there wasn’t a queue outside. Asked an attendant and she explained that it was just a simulation ride.
Yan didn’t have a good impression of simulation rides, especially after the Shrek attraction at Universal Studios Singapore but since there wasn’t a queue we thought we’d might as well give it a try.
It turned out to be quite an entertaining ride. The ships were given quite a bit of space to move about so we were actually thrown around with a significant amount of force rather than just watching a 3D movie with moving seats.
The afternoon’s stage show was already about to start so we found the nearest ride to Fast Pass, the adjacent Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters ride. Based on all the prams parked outside we concurred that it was another childrens’ ride but so were the other rides in the immediate vicinity. Then we rushed back to the theater.
One Man’s Dream 2 brought to life some of the classic Walt Disney cartoons in the form of a musical stage production.
I must admit that there were points in the show that I found rather unsettling. Such as a human proportioned singing and dancing Mickey Mouse or the emphasis on how everything in the Disney universe seemed to be the will of just one man (as opposed to the years of hard work by countless individuals) but the show hid up its sleeve many amusing gimmicks that kept the audience entertained throughout.
The local crowd cheered for Mickey Mouse like he was a pop star at a concert.
Between the fantastic display and every other experience in Disneyland, we couldn’t help but weep at how depraved our childhoods were compared to the thousands of Japanese kids in the park today.
We reckoned it was about time to get some lunch so wandered around the park in search for a suitable candidate, stopping on our way to take a look inside the castle. The Cinderella Castle played home to The Glass Slipper, one of the park’s more expensive gift shops that specialized in crystal ornaments and glass works. You could see the artisans here making the glassware for sale in the shop.
We also passed by the site of Mickey’s PhilharMagic, which had just launched a few weeks ago. The queue for the new attraction looped around the entire center of the park which looked pretty daunting at first but a high capacity meant that there was only an hour’s wait.
I was keen to give it a go but it was another 4D ride, so it didn’t place high enough on our list of priorities. Lunch came first.
We considered coming back later in the evening, but the lack of time meant that we would eventually give it a miss.
Many dining areas in Disneyland offer some sort of entertainment but those were all full by this time, otherwise there were the more expensive restaurants or fast food places too but the variety just wasn’t quite as attractive as in DisneySea. No one wanted to eat pizzas or sandwiches so we decided to look toward Westernland for our other options. Along the way, Yan stopped to get some curry popcorn.
The drizzled had progressed into a full fledged shower. But that didn’t stop people from waiting in the rain for the parade. Notice how it has been more than two full hours since we first saw them camping along the parade route.
We ended up settling for cafeteria serving curry by the House brand of instant curry.
Eating here was quite the mistake. Yan commented that his Beef curry was horrible. Wilson and I went with the Katsu curry which was better, but still instant curry no less. At least the cutlets were crispy.
Looking through the brochures given to us at the ticketing booth, we learned that the “Jubilation!” parade had already started outside. Which also explained why there weren’t too many people still having their lunch. Finishing quickly, we headed outside. About half of the floats had already left the zone.
The parade went on as normal even in the rain, with the cast adorning transparent raincoats over their regular costumes. Not even the gloomy weather dampened the moods of the guests in the park. At least not by much.
The park’s patrons formed their own human barrier for the floats to pass by. The regular visits (the ones who had camped since morning) knew the exact route and distance required for the parade so they kept their distance without any actual physical markers or barriers. This alone was amazing to us since we came from a country that needs $4 million dollar barriers (per station) just so its people would stop falling onto train tracks.
Another amusing sight was how the crowd dissolved around the parade. As soon as the last float passed through any particular area, the people would just pack up and go back to whatever they were doing, walking through the parade floats and the like, without obstructing the flow or getting crushed by the floats.
With time before our appointment at Space Mountain and our next Fast Pass, we could take a more leisurely walk around the park but opted to take shelter from the rain in the nearest attraction, an unknown Lilo & Stitch attraction.
As we would learn, Lilo & Stitch Enchanted Tiki Room was a dark room musical type performance reminiscent of the Mermaid Lagoon Theater. But unlike DisneySea’s amazing show of acrobatics, the Disneyland equivalent relied entirely on dozens of animatronic parrots and a mechanical dancing Stitch. Pretty disappointing.
The show took longer than expected so we had to make a rush back to Tomorrowland for Space Mountain. Fast Passes for this ride let us skip most of the entire queue so there wasn’t any time to be nervous. There were a dozen cars on the coaster at any point of time, so traffic was fast.
It turned out to be not as scary as I had feared, in fact it was rather fun. Space Mountain was of course a coaster type ride inside large pitch black dome littered with stars. Instead of steep drops, the ride relied on countless high speed spirals and sharp turns for thrills. The entire ride lasted really long for a coaster. There rides tracks ran parallel to each other so that while we couldn’t see them, we could hear the frenzied screams of passengers from the other cars that sped by us.
Outside we Fast Passed yet another attraction, Captain EO, a old sci-fi 3D film from the 80s starring Michael Jackson. It was made obsolete two decades ago but was brought back to Disney parks this year to cash in on the tragedy. I’ve seen snippets of it before and honestly wasn’t too impressed but by this time there weren’t much other stuff to Fast Pass anyways.
After the thrills at Space Mountain it was time for a more laid back ride so we ended up at the Western River Railroad. The train toured the Westernland, Adventureland and Critter Country parts of the park.
The ride featured a real steam train that took a slow journey across the park’s landscape. In each area there were mechanical people, animals or dinosaurs that would bound to fascinate younger audiences.
The train also passed by the Big Thunder Mountain coaster that we saw earlier in the day. We could get a better view from up here and it kind of looked fun, so we agreed to head there next.
In front of us in the carriage were a bunch of young adult women. At moments they would unanimously wave at a bunch of people down in the park who would in turn wave back. It took us a while before we realized that they weren’t in fact waving at their friends but at complete random strangers. But regardless of whoever they waved at, they would always wholeheartedly wave back happily. Fun!
As planned we headed straight for the coaster after getting off the train. This being one of the few thrill ride meant that there would be quite a queue at all times. The estimated wait time was 90 minutes which was still manageable, during which we’d hear countless shrieks coming from the mountain. It didn’t seem that bad though, just really fast.
Big Thunder Mountain was indeed much fun. It was kind of like Space Mountain in the sense that the coaster sped at high speeds along a very long track. The two were probably some of the longer (duration) roller coasters we’ve sat.
The coaster took the form of a train, that ducked in and out of the mountain. There weren’t any sharp turns and the highest drop was only about 3 floors high, so most of the thrills came from the speed at which which the coaster tackled the tight tunnels. It was just good fun speeding through a course that lasted that long. Screaming from the ride were in glee rather than fear.
The sun was already setting when we were queuing for the ride so it got dark not long after we were done. It really wasn’t that late, just that the sun set far too early but since most of the rides were indoors, they continued to run into the night. We still had a couple of rides Fast Passed so like most people by this time, we were content just roaming around the park to experience the night time atmosphere.
The shopping area at Tokyo Disneyland was pretty huge, so we decided to get a head start in checking out the goodies there. There were over a dozen stores at the World Bazaar, each focusing on different range of Disney themed items. The largest being the Grand Emporium which was basically a Disney departmental store selling toys, stationery, accessories and novelty items.
There were two star attractions for the evening, a night parade called Dreamlights and the famous Magic in the Sky fireworks show an hour later. We still had some time before the first show so we managed to slot in the Buzz Lightyear ride before that.
Astro Blasters was a tracked shooting ride inherently for the youngest of audience but that didn’t mean we didn’t find it amusing. We were fitted into small round carts with laser pistols and had to shoot brightly lit mechanical robots of varying sizes in the rooms that followed. The ride followed a set path but there was a joystick to manually rotate the vehicle 360 degrees. Successful shots on target were added up on the on-board LED counter. Were we grade school children, this must had been the dope.
All of us sucked equally as bad at the ride, apparently there were hidden “weak points” that you have to fire at for more points. Outside, we were released into the Toy Story themed souvenir shop.
There was a woman here who would overly fascinated by these aliens inside of the claw catcher. She kept trying to convince her son whom she brought along how awesome this was but he was uninterested. Thing is, you’ve got to be pretty old to remember the Toy Story franchise as excitedly.
Outside, the parade was already about to start. Everyone sat down on the freezing cold pavement so they wouldn’t block the people behind them, which was really thoughtful. The park staff liaised with each other via radio to inform patrons where there was space to sit. They conducted human traffic with their green light batons and I couldn’t help but resist joking that they were Team K fans.
The staff told us that there were better spots further up or we could stay here if we wanted. It was pretty pitch dark so we opted to just stay here and wait for the floats to reach this zone.
Not one to hold back on showmanship, the parade starts off with a grand announcement followed by the spontaneous playing of music over the speakers throughout the park. The timing of the music was synced to each area of the park, so that the speakers in our area would play the music and greetings for whatever float was passing by our street.
There were about 15 different themes, mostly consisting of a couple of large floats each. The main characters of the animation waved at audience or danced atop the vehicles while followed by a convoy of dancers or smaller remote controlled floats. I haven’t seen that many lights in one place since Yokohama Arena, the show advertised having millions of LEDs.
As with all other places in the park, the characters spoke Japanese, which is always amusing.
The show lasted for half an hour, so we still had some time before the fireworks. All of the crowd had dispersed since you could really see the fireworks from anywhere in the park (or outside) but we decided to find a good spot and just wait it out. There was still the Fast Pass for the Michael Jackson show, but that was bound to last for a while and would clash with the park’s highlight.
Sadly after a while, it was announced that the night’s Disney Magic on the Sky would be canceled due to the bad weather. It’s not like I hadn’t seen it before but it was still really disappointing to miss Disneyland’s most iconic attraction.
You could hear everyone in the park sigh unanimously at the announcement before they packed up and left. There was only one thing left to do on everyone’s minds, shop.
A sizable portion of Disney Resort’s income is probably derived from their merchandise sales. The things for sale at Disneyland have transcended the boundaries of being your usual theme park souvenirs and have become a whole lifestyle.
You could get Disney anything in the World Bazaar, from the usual Disney toys and trinkets to daily necessities like toiletries and food. If you really wanted to go that far, you could replace everything in your house with a Disney equivalent. It was basically a Disney supermarket. And that was only one shop among the dozens.
Business was good and it was hard not to be. For the Japanese who have grown up with Disneyland in their backyard, the franchise was the embodiment of their childhood. Holding on to that dream was affordable as far as prices went too. The stuff sold at the park weren’t inflated like souvenir items, they cost whatever you’d expect to pay for a similar item elsewhere.
We also visited The Home Store, which was a home depot that sold everything you needed to fill your home with Disney. The items weren’t just the usual gaudy nonsense. $50 bucks for a T-shirt with a Jurassic Park or other irrelevant 90s movie logo slapped on? You’ve got to be kidding. Items were of course themed to their respective Disney properties but often in a subtle or novel way so you wouldn’t be embarrassed when your friends come over.
Mickey was just like any other brand, the merchandise had to be actually branded with a design. In order to continue to sell items to their primarily local audience, the park rotated new items into their inventory each season. This kept customers returning to the park, if only to shop. Some of the locals come in with their yearly passes, or evening tickets just to shop in Disneyland.
As a testament to the successful commercialization of the Disney dream, no one leaves Disneyland without shopping bags. We were no exception. I ended up getting a jacket and parka from the Town Center Fashion, which sold some actually wearable Disney clothing.
Each of the jackets only set me back about 2000 yen or $30 Singapore dollars. Part of the draw was the fact that I’d have a hard time finding decent jackets for $30 bucks in any normal shop in Singapore, much less inside of souvenir store.
The Japanese really rampage through the shop (in a polite way!), taking home with them large bags of Disney merchandise. I guess for local tourist who do not have to factor in the exchange rate, the items here were even cheaper and then there’s the whole concept of “omiyage” or gifting whenever they go anywhere outside their hometown. They didn’t have Duffy The Disney Bear items here since it was exclusive to DisneySea. or I might have grabbed more stuff too.
It was still more than an hour from closing time by the time we were done shopping but we were already satisfied from the day’s experience. That and we had forgotten about dinner so it was time to head back.
Was Disneyland truly the happiest place on earth? Probably not. Because I’ll still reserve that title for my beloved DisneySea. Instead, Disneyland will have to settle for second place.Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.