Tokyo DisneySea Review and Report – Part 2
Astute Twitter followers of Coaster101 noticed that last month I visited Tokyo DisneySea, widely regarded as one of the best theme parks in the world. After getting back from Japan and digging through loads of photos, I’ve finally got a full report on DisneySea and what makes it such an amazing park. In part 1 of my review (which you should definitely read if you haven’t yet), I covered the general overview of the park and the first half of the lands, known as Ports of Call at DisneySea, we visited, including several of the parks signature attractions. I also dove into one of the things that makes it arguably the best theme park in the world, the astounding level of immersion created by the theming, which tops even Disneyland for the quality and depth of the details. Here in part 2 I’m going to go over the remaining Ports that we visited in the second half of the day, and also touch on some of the other things that make the park great. And yeah, I’ll finally try to decide if this is the best theme park I’ve ever been to.
First, a quick refresher: DisneySea is broken into seven “Ports of Call”, with the Mediterranean Harbor being essentially the entrance, the dominating Mysterious Island and its volcano, Mt. Prometheus, forming the center of the park, and the other ports surrounding the island separated by a river/canal/harbor. We started our day at the back of the park, at the Lost River Delta, then worked our way back to the front through the Mysterious Island followed by lunch in the Mediterranean Harbor.
With our excellent lunch at Magellan’s completed, we headed down to grab a fastpass for one of the parks most popular rides, the DisneySeas version of Tower of Terror. Unfortunately with the popularity of the ride, our return time was after 7Pm, about 5 hours later. So with fast passes in hand we went back across the park to the lands not yet visited, figuring we would end the night at the American Waterfront.
With that, first on the list, back on the other side of Mediterranean Harbor, was the Arabian Coast. In regards to theming, this was probably my favorite land for its level of detail and immersion. Similar to the Lost River Delta, the Arabian Coast isolates visitors from the rest of the park. Guests enter the main area of the Port through a large gate that opens into a giant central plaza.
From here the land stretches up along the edge of the park with buildings on both sides, so it feels like you’re walking down the streets of a fantasy Arabian city, without allowing you to see other sections of the park (see part 1 of our review for more on how good the park is at doing this). The design of the area makes it feel like guests really are transported to Agrabah, with the sounds, sights, and smells all playing into the theme.
The Magic Lamp
The first attraction we visited here was the Magic Lamp Theater, which features a show involving interactions between two actors and a 3D version of Genie from Aladdin. The show is amusing, and the visuals are well done. Of course, it’s all in Japanese, but when you reach the front of the line to enter ask the staff members about getting an English translation and they’ll give you (if they can find one, which they had trouble doing for us) a small device that will show subtitles for the action. It mostly works, but really I thought I had a better time when I stopped trying to read and just watched the show. Knowing what’s going on is overrated. Either way it’s an amusing story, and the 3D Genie is well done. A nice stop on a rainy day.
After the show we made our way through the coast, tempted by various snacks, confused by the huge line of people waiting to play some sort of game (maybe the Japanese really like semi-gambling? edit: As a former employee mentioned in the comments, there were likely special souvenirs not available in stores, and as we all know some Disney fans really want every souvenir!), eventually heading towards Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage.
Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage
This is sort of like DisneySea’s version of A Small World, except the animatronics are better done, there is a story of some kind, and the song isn’t nearly as annoying. In his detailed review of it Tom Bricker over at DisneyTourisBlog described it as sort of a cross of Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean, which I think is about right. Guests travel around in small boats, following along as Sinbad, with his trusty tiger pal Chandu, departs on his voyage of exploration in search of treasure.
Each scene is a vignette from one of the fantastic lands he visits, where he often battles or escapes brigands while rescuing some kind of creature and getting a boatload of gold (or bananas). The voyage ends with his triumphant return home laden with treasures. Its a long ride, over 11 minutes, packed with details and more animatronics than I think I’ve seen on a Disney dark ride before. I was also really impressed by how well timed the singing and instrument playing was to the actual song. That shear number and quality of visuals is what made me really enjoy it, to the point where I wish I had had time to ride it again because there were so many things happening that I’m sure I missed a lot of the best animations and little amusing actions. For me it executed the parts of good dark ride nearly flawlessly. My one complaint was that, like on Small World, the ceilings are not decorated, which is sort of disappointing. Of course, the other downside is that the songs and story are in Japanese, so you have to imagine the story. Apparently it is possible to get a sheet from the cast members with English translations for each room, though (which we didn’t know so we didn’t ask).
Next to Sinbads Voyage is the relatively new Jasmine’s Flying Carpets, a dumbo-esque ride. Which we of course rode and enjoyed (especially being able to control the height of the vehicle). Actually, one of my favorite effects is at DisneySea is in the center of this ride, where two textured glass discs rotate next to each other giving the impression of a crazy water feature on the hub of the spinner (You can sort of see it in the center of the picture below).
With that ride down, it was time to head out from the Arabian Coast, so we made our way across the park. Port Discovery was our destination, but we headed that way via the Mermaid Lagoon kids area.
Mermaid Lagoon is the main kid friendly port at DisneySea, so we didn’t actually ride anything here, but the design of the land is pretty interesting. The Lagoon is nestled against the side of the Mysterious Island opposite the Arabian Coast, with a few attractions and shops outside, like a small roller coaster (which was closed) and the Ariel meet and greet. However, the majority of the attractions (and the port) are inside in “Triton’s Kindgom”.
The elaborately decorated and colorful indoor facility is designed to make it look and feel like you’re in the undersea world of the Little Mermaid. Small kids rides fill the giant indoor space, along with shops and restaurants, all surrounded by detailed theming. Again, another area that does an excellent job isolating guests from the rest of the park so that you feel like you’re in a totally separate area. Although we didn’t ride anything, it was pretty neat to walk through. The major downside is that as far as we could tell there’s only one entrance. It would have been nice to pop out into the inside of the Mysterious Island from it. Actually, maybe there was a way to do it, but we sort of got lost on the inside. It’s easy to get disoriented inside a themed facility like this.
Avoiding getting too lost, we emerged out of the Mermaid Lagoon and made our way through the Mysterious Island (stopping for one of the best snacks in the park, which I’ll get into later), and to Port Discovery.
Port Discovery serves as the retro-future Tomorrowland of DisneySea. Filled with gold, copper, and blue buildings topped by spires and antennas. The area is primarily focused on the “Center for Weather Control”, which is also home to one of my favorite rides at the park, StormRider. The theming of the Port Discovery area is probably the least immersive of any ports at DisneySea, which is largely related to it being more sparsely built up, but also partly because it doesn’t have as specific a setting as the other areas (which are all based on either real locations or locations from Disney lore). That doesn’t mean it isn’t good, it’s a great retro future design (and I think more consistent than the design of Tomorrowland), just less all encompassing than the other ports.
As I mentioned, StormRider was one of my favorite rides at DisneySea. It’s similar StarTours, but in a unique setting and with some “4D” (or 5D?) effects. The story as I could gather (again, in Japanese, although some of the preshow had subtitles) is that the Center for Weather Control has developed a missile like device that can diffuse large storms. Guests board a “StormRider” plane that carries the diffusion device (like the plane in the poster below), and fly into the center of an approaching giant storm where they will break-up the hurricane. Of course, some issues occur which leads to an exciting up close encounter with the storm diffusion device.
The ride story is presented pre-show with a live actor, and is presented in a sort of campy, semi-comedic way, as is the adventure on the ride itself. Not understanding Japanese I’m sure I missed out on some, but enough of the humor comes through to make it entertaining. The ride itself featured a great mix of on screen visuals, lighting effects, and a few practical effects and animatronics. It also featured my favorite use of water on any “4-5D” simulator ride I’ve ever been on. It was the first time that splashing me with water actually felt like it made sense with what was happening around me (essentially, your plane gets damaged, which of course means that rain from the storm and water from the ocean below should be coming into the cabin of the ride vehicle and splashing riders). I loved the mix of camp, action, and effects. It might be the best simulator ride I’ve ever been on (except of course Back to the Future, but that’s partly nostalgia based). Unfortunately for everyone reading this, despite my love of StormRider, it’s now gone. The ride closed a week after we visited (lucky us!) and is going to reopen next year as a Finding Nemo/Finding Dory ride. Sadly that means the lost of a neat sci-fi story from Disney, and a great ride. I hope the new one keeps up the excellent mix of effects.
Across from StormRider is Aquatopia. The ride is one of only four to use the trackless ride design developed by Disney Imagineers for “Pooh’s Honey Hunt” at Tokyo Disneyland and used in the US only on the new “Luigi’s Rollicking Roadsters” at California Adventure. The vehicles, which look like small hovercrafts, zig zag through the lagoon (there are two halves that are kept separate) with vehicles crisscrossing each other and taking different paths.
The ride is a fun, mild ride with an interesting experience, especially as you see the path of friends in other boats diverge from your own. It’s not particularly enjoyable in the pouring rain, and the spinning in circles the vehicles occasionally do can be headache inducing, but the trackless design and crossing paths with other vehicles is fun. I imagine on a nice sunny day it would be really fun, and the art design of the ride is also excellent.
The only other attraction in Port Discovery is the terminus for the DisneySea Electric Railway that heads to the American Waterfront, so while StormRider is closed it might become sort of a dead zone of the park with only Aquatopia, but when Finding Nemo opens next Spring I imagine it will become one of the most popular rides in the park.
With time to kill before our FastPass, we decided to take a circuitous route back to the American waterfront, going via the DisneySea steamer from Lost River Delta. This took us through the canals and lakes of the park, past the Arabian Coast, under the Mysterious Island, along the Venetian buildings and castle of Mediterranean Harbor, until eventually docking back at the American Waterfront. If you need a break on your trip to DisneySea, this is a great way to see the park from a different point of view (you’re basically below everything).
The American Waterfront is home to two main attractions, Tower of Terror, which we were waiting for, and Toy Story Mania. We ended up actually skipping Toy Story, as the ride itself is an exact clone of the versions in the US (although the queue is apparently brilliantly themed), and it gets by far the worst lines at the park, with fast pass running out early in the day. With limited time, and the fact it’s a clone, we decided it’d be better to experience more of the park than to wait. So we spent our time wandering through the Waterfront and buying popcorn (see more on popcorn at the end of the post).
As with many of the other areas, the American Waterfront is beautifully detailed. The large buildings do an excellent job of isolating the land and making guests feel immersed. Amusing advertising signage covers every building of the main section, which is designed to look like early 20th century New York. The best part, all of the fun signs are actually in English (since it’s New York).
The other part of American Waterfront is designed to look like a New England dock, with boats of all sizes moored, and various little theme elements along the docks.
As dusk turned to night, we made our way to the Hotel Hightower…
DisneySea’s Tower of Terror
So, Tower of Terror is one of my favorite rides at California Adventure. Or, more accurately, it’s one of my favorite queues. The DisneySea version has now taken the crown, no question, of my favorite queue.
At DisneySea the Tower ride itself is about the same as the ones in the US, but everything else about it is unique. Because the Twilight Zone isn’t really known in Japan, the Tower instead takes on an original theme. The idea is that the tower is the former hotel of a super rich explorer and collector of antiquities, Harrison Hightower, and guests are being given a tour (by the New York Preservation Society) of the hotel and its collections. The story revolves roughly around Hightower’s disappearance after receiving an idol as a “gift” from an African king, which it turns out is cursed.
The outside of the hotel is beautifully designed, although signs of its trouble are apparent. As guests enter the lobby and waiting rooms, walls are lined with photographs of Hightower in various places across the globe, generally looking pompous while being surrounded by unhappy looking locals.
As guests go deeper into the hotel they enter a giant room filled with artifacts collected from across the globe. The number of objects in here is staggering, from Egyptian statues to Turkish carpets to medieval weapons. Aside from objects littering the floors and walls of this room, there are hundreds of drawers, each with labels describing what they contain, down to dates and locations of the expeditions they contain (and types of artifacts). No, I didn’t try opening any, but I was happy enough just to read the labels. Sadly, no photos were allowed in this part. The ride itself was enjoyable, very similar to the experience on the other versions, although the effects in the mirror I think were maybe better on this one (or it just carried over from the wonderful theme and story).
After the ride guests exit into the gift shop area that is themed as if it’s in the pool of the hotel, which comes with its own delightful theming. I think of all the rides we experienced, I think this is the one where I most wished I could have spoken Japanese (or gotten an English translastion), as the guides and the preshow are so good that I felt like I was missing out on an excellent backstory. Still, I honestly think I could have spent several hours in these rooms just looking at all of the objects and photographs, and there’s no question this was my favorite queue area, and my favorite version of Tower of Terror. You can get the full backstory of the ride on the Disney wiki (or at least the original version of it).
With our last new ride of the day complete, we used the electric railway to head back for re-rides on Indiana Jones and Journey to the Center of the Earth (see part 1 for my thoughts on those), took in Fantasmic, and did some souvenir shopping before heading home at closing time. But, before wrapping this up, I want to go into the last two things that really make DisneySea stand out: the quality of the food, and the quality of the cast members.
The Cast Members and The Food: The Other Things That Set DisneySea Apart
One of the great things about Disneyland is how efficient and friendly all the staff (cast members) is. DisneySea at least matches that, probably takes it to another level. Granted, most of the time I couldn’t tell what anyone was saying, but you could still tell how friendly they were (and most spoke a little English, they knew to say hi in English to the white guys).
The best example of this is that the day we were there was the birthday of one of my friends. Any Disney expert knows that if it’s your birthday you can get a “birthday” button at the front of the park, and then cast members throughout the park will wish you a happy birthday. I’d say usually about half to two-thirds of them there notice and say something. DisneySea doesn’t have buttons, but they do have birthday stickers. Actually, EVERY cast member seems to carry them, which is great when they stop sticking in the rain. So throughout the day my friend collected new stickers, each with custom little drawings made by each cast member (including one who went up to her colleagues to get more colors).
Even more wonderful than the custom stickers, I’d say 90% of cast members we passed wished her happy birthday, usually saying it very excitedly (in English) and clapping for us! I can honestly say there is little more amusing than having dozens of Japanese people excitedly say happy birthday to you while clapping all day. It never failed to make us giggle. That might actually say more about us, but it was amazing to find a place where people seemed even friendlier and more excited than at Disneyland!
I also want to acknowledge one of my favorite parts of the park, the water artists. Sadly they were only out during the morning, but we saw a couple of these people around. Initially, I assume this woman was some kind of weird Japanese janitor with a small broom and bucket. But luckily we were nearby when she started working.
With ease and skill she sketched on the sidewalk, in front of a growing crowd a pair of drawings, an amazing representations of Chip and Dale. Maybe this is something that can only be done at a park that’s large enough that the sidewalks aren’t completely packed with guests, but I’d never seen this before and was amazed.
These are just a couple examples of how the cast member around DisneySea do their job wonderfully, and that’s without even being able to acknowledge the ones who gave the backstories in every ride (which I couldn’t understand). It really was probably the friendliest, most excited park staff I’ve ever seen.
Finally, The Food
OK, so finally what is maybe the most important part of DisneySea, the food. DisneySea is known for its food selection, from its full meals to its unique snacks to the wide variety of popcorns available. Back in Part 1 I talked a bit about our lunch at Magellan’s, the best meal I’ve had in a theme park. Multiple courses of well made quality food at a not too unreasonable price for lunch. Again, I highly recommend making a reservation there if you’re ever in DisneySea. But, our eating was surely not limited to this one meal.
So one of the odd things DisneySea is best known for is the variety of popcorn flavors carried by the park. Its so popular at the park that if you look in the bottom left of the map at the top of the post, you’ll see all the different popcorn stands are called out especially, including what flavor each cart has. It should also be noted that the popcorn flavors change, so what was there when we were there is not always there (and the locations change). The other thing with the popcorn stands is that they all carry a different, large souvenir popcorn bucket (which you can have refilled at any cart). So you’ll notice in the pictures below that one cart had a Micky torso, a few had a crystal Micky head in honor of the 15th Anniversary of the park (the Crystal Anniversary), one with Mr. Potato Head. Yes, I had to get myself some popcorn, so decided to go with the White Chocolate to start and the Mr. Potato Head bucket (which was not easy to fit in the suitcase home, it may have been filled with socks later on). In total we tried the white chocolate, the cappuccino, the black pepper, and the curry. All were good, although I think the white chocolate (which was a little kettle corny) and black pepper were my favorite. The cappuccino was not sufficiently coffee flavored for me. If I ever go back to Japan, I’ll make sure to bring my Potatohead with me for all the refills (you could tell people definitely brought back previously bought buckets, there were a lot that no one was selling).
Snacks, Dessert, Gyoza Dogs
Beyond the popcorn, the park was filled with delicious smelling snacks. We tried things from potato filled churros (kind of like a giant french fry) to ice cream covered snacks. Tasty smells filled the park, and we were very sad that we missed out on the smoked chicken legs in the Lost River Delta. Word of warning, almost all the food closes at 9PM, an hour before the park closes, so get your snacks early!
Maybe the best thing at the park, other than Magellan’s, was the gyoza sausage bun, also known among American guests as the “gyoza dog”. Essentially this is a gigantic pork steam bun dumpling. Rather than been small and bit sized like most dim sum, this was, well, hot dog shaped. I believe they usually (or used to) sell them up from a small cart in Mysterious Island, but when we got ours downstairs at the Nautilus Galley, looking across the water at the 20,000 Leagues ride.
If you like pork dumplings, then this should definitely be on the list of things to try.
This of course only touches on the wide range of snack options available, and I kind of wish we had been able to eat more, but the important thing to know is that everything we had was good. Our meal may have been the best I’ve ever had in a theme park, but I would have been plenty happy just snacking on things the whole day. If you’re ever at the park, find something that seems unique and dig in!
As we left DisneySea I made sure to stop in and grab some souvenirs, since, hey, who knows when I’ll be back to Tokyo. Although we didn’t really join in too much of the 15th anniversary celebrations (like the show about the anniversary all in Japanese that we caught part of, or the crystal “wish” locations), I figured I should get something related to it. I decided to go with a commemorative spoon (along with some other things). As you can see, quite the variety of souvenir options available.
Although if you really want to fit in, follow the advice of our Twitter follower Kathy Woodcock (@safeandsilent) and get yourself a Duffy bear. I honestly had no idea what Duffy was until Kathy told us, but as she said, EVERYONE carries their Duffy Bear (for those also unfamiliar, apparently he’s Mickey’s Teddy Bear, who was created for Disney Parks in 2002). There is Duffy everything; he themes the monorail rides, there are purses and backpacks, shirts, teddy bears of course, and pretty much every other souvenir you could think of. It’s kind of crazy how popular he is, we kept seeing people with some Duffy object. Although I didn’t actually get a Duffy (but did try really hard to get one of my friends to buy one), it’s still good advice if you really want to fit in.
So now I feel like I need to decide if I really think DisneySea is the World’s Best Theme Park. That’s always a hard question, since it depends what you’re most interested in. But, if you asked me if it was the most immersive theme park, I’d probably say yes. And did it have my favorite themed ride? Yeah, probably that too (Journey to the Center of the Earth). And my favorite themed queue? Yep, I could spend a full day just in the Tower of Terror lobby. The friendliest, most excited staff and best theme park food? Yeah, I think that too. So, I guess if you put all those together, then the answer is yes, I think DisneySea is the best theme park I’ve ever been to, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the best in the world. So if you ever find yourself in Tokyo, do yourself a solid and take a day (or two if you think it’ll be crowded or you don’t want to go for 13 hours) and go to Tokyo DisneySea. Many of the rides are unique, the themed lands are the best I’ve ever seen, and the food is excellent. Plus, it’s kind of neat to experience a park in a foreign country (this was my first), and DisneySea makes it pretty easy to do. Oh, and compared to Disneyland the park is cheap, tickets are only about $70 at todays exchange rates.
If you want to learn more about DisneySea, go check out their official site. If you think you might go soon, use the super helpful crowd calendar (one of the nice things about being a tourist on vacation is you’ll probably be able to go on a week day). If for some reason you’ve read part 2 of our review but not part 1, go do that. And most importantly, if you’ve been to DisneySea tell us what you think! Yell at me about what I missed, or what I’m wrong about either here in the comments, on Twitter, on Facebook, or even better join our new Facebook Readers group and talk about DisneySea with all the fine people there. Thanks very much for reading, and tell us what you think!