My sister visited me in March and my first suggestion was to see Tokyo Disneyland. My friend lives in Chiba, and was only 30 minutes away. Unfortunately, my sister and I had to travel from Utsunomiya - about two hours with the Shinkansen. Still, a really nice ride if you're willing to spend the money.
We were both super psyched since neither of us had been to Disneyland before. After speaking with my friend, and doing a little research, we discovered that Disney Sea was the better alternative. You see, there is Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea. Disneyland is the more classic theme park and features rides designed for children, while Disney Sea features more adult rides. Obviously, Disney Sea is the better alternative.
The first step in visiting Disneyland is getting there. You need to catch a train to Maihama station, and before you wonder how you'll know which stop is the right one, let me just say that you'll recognize it when you see it. That's exactly what my friend said to me and it was very true. You could see the resort sprawled out beside the station, and more importantly, elaborately decorated with Mickey Mouse. If you don't notice all of that, then you'll definitely notice the throngs of people with Disney merchandise.
Now, if you want to get to Disney Sea, that means taking the Disney train. You purchase a ticket (or use your suica card) like anywhere else. The train is adorned with Mickey's iconic silhouette. (I do indeed have more photos of things like the gate, and the train, but I'm respecting the privacy of my friend and sister.)
Disney Sea is split into 7 sections and each section is clearly delineated with a particular theme.
Lost River Delta
For full details and a cost breakdown, read on!
First of all, I must congratulate whomever painstakingly designed and decorated the park. I've never seen such detail in an amusement park before. Each area of the park had a theme, and the theme was so consistently followed through that it was reflected in each and every detail. From the type of stone we were walking on, to the employees' uniforms, to the architecture designed to reflect their elaborately planned theme. If you were alone in this "small world", one might believe that you've actually travelled through space and time. I wouldn't be surprised if there were precise rules on employees' movement between sections. Wouldn't want to confuse the guests. (Feel free to search for Disney employee rules - they are strict.)
In New York, 1912, stands the hotel known as the "Tower of Terror," so called after the mysterious disappearance of its owner in 1899. Now, the New York City Preservation Society has finished restoring the infamous hotel, and started giving tours to the public. But what happens when you take the elevator to the top floor...?
The very first attraction we wanted to ride was named the, "Tower of Terror". This attraction truly embodied its origin story. Built in 1892, this hotel was originally named, "Hotel Hightower" after the owner, Harrison Hightower III. This is the description:
Despite the mediocre weather, we had to wait in line for 2 hours before we finally reached the ride. I was surprised it took so long and it seemed that past every bend was just another long wait. At one point we were let in a room as a large group and watched as the tour guide explained (in Japanese) that we were looking at a rare statue that the owner collected in Africa. Then the statue developed a life of its own and made ominous threats. So apparently, this hotel owner, Harrison Hightower III, was some sort of occidental tourist who freely appropriated cultural icons, and was subsequently punished for his actions when he went missing - all due to the statue's curse. A believable set-up - considering that this very thing has literally happened. In fact, Robert Ripley travelled around the world collecting oddities in the same time period, until he died of a heart attack in New York City. Which just so happens to be the very same place this hotel owner mysteriously disappeared! I'm sure that these coincidences are not by accident.
After we witnessed the statue's power, we exited the room and found ourselves following yet another large snaking line. We all laughed pretty hard about it since I had predicted this exact result. They just teased us before making us wait again.
While we were waiting, we had the opportunity to enjoy the extensively decorated basement of the hotel. It was filled with yet more "artifacts" and large, teasing, wooden crates. After waiting literal hours, we were finally at the front of the line before being ushered quickly to a standing area with numbers. The numbers corresponded to seats on the ride. The authentically dressed employee gave us a brief safety intro before opening the grand doors to a massive elevator.
We all sat down in our appointed seats and buckled in. The doors closed and the sounds began. What followed was an intense collection of outstanding effects, and unpredictable movements. There were many jolts and falls, and at one point I felt myself die a little. It was analogous to a drop tower, but surrounded by the most intricately detailed set.
So far, we had walked from the Mediterranean to the American Waterfront, ate at the New York Deli and visited the Tower of Terror, then proceeded through Port Discovery where we stopped for a drink and pretzels, and finally to the Lost River Delta. I saw the cool aztec temple from the distance, and realized that's where the Indiana Jones attraction was located, so I made it our next stop - Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull.
Experience the temple tours organized by Paco, a friend of Dr. Indiana Jones. But wait. The temple's vengeful guardian spirit, the Crystal Skull, is not happy about this at all. When the spirit's anger is unleashed, will you get out alive!?
I really, really wish I could have taken pictures inside of the pyramid. It was strictly forbidden. Sure, there were a few people who snuck pictures, but I argued that I really didn't want to risk being removed from the line. Although, really, I should have just taken pictures - we had to wait what felt like hours and hours before we got on the ride. Seriously. I wish I was joking. Let that be a lesson folks, if you go to Disneyland - buy a freakin' Fast Pass. Pay whatever it costs and do it. It cuts waiting time in half. On that note, make sure to also bring lots of money. Disneyland ain't cheap.
Besides the awful long, painful wait - which delightfully included my sister's near constant complaining - the ride itself was mind blowing. Once again, everything was painstakingly decorated. I felt like an adventurer in an ancient pyramid - well, until you watch a safety video before the ride. It features a rotund Japanese man proclaiming his name to be "Paco" and welcoming you on his tour. It was truly hilarious and magnificent.
From there you're brought to an open jeep, where you're quickly ushered to sit down and buckle in. I should mention that we had already picked up a souvenir (a photo from Tower of Terror) and were carrying our bags. This wasn't an issue since they had pockets on the ride to store your bags. Good planning on their part. The jeep departed down the rail and we came face to face with the incredibly realistic and masterfully decorated innards of the temple. At one point you go through an infested cave, over a "rickety" wooden bridge, and face a boulder rolling towards you. Yep, they nailed all of the Indiana Jones' tropes.
The ride really was excellent but I think it's necessary to show the math involved in this visit up to this point. First, the Tower of Terror. It was a 2 hour wait for about a 2 minute ride. Then the Indiana Jones ride was an hour and a half wait (felt like 3 hours) for about a 3 minute ride. Then let's look at the price of entry, it's ¥6,900 for 1 day (~$70). How about food? The New York Deli meals cost us about ¥2000 each (with liquor - ¥1000 without). Or incidentals? The souvenir photos were ¥1000 each and snacks/drinks along the way were another ¥1000. So far the visit had cost each of us ¥11,900 (~$125) for approximately 5 minutes of actual ride time, along with a sandwich, pretzels and two drinks.
The next area was the Arabian Coast. There was a flying carpet ride endearingly entitled, "Jasmine's Flying Carpets" that we almost went on, but upon seeing the length of the line, we said forget it. Before that, there was an awesome looking roller coaster ride at the Lost River Delta named, "Raging Spirits". Another ride we couldn't be bothered to wait for after standing in line for hours.
So we continued on our way through the Arabian Coast to Mermaid Lagoon. In between, we stopped for another restroom break and and smoke break. Yes, there are smoking rooms at Disney Sea. I don't smoke but my companions did. One of the smoke rooms was hidden behind a heavy door that was part of the market in the Arabian Coast, we had to ask where it was located since it wasn't obvious.
The Mermaid Lagoon was very beautiful. You go inside a cave mouth and discover an entire underwater world brought to life. It was appropriately darker and featured bioluminescent creatures. The ride that most caught my eye was a smattering of vibrantly coloured jellyfish moving up and down. This was of course named, "Jumpin' Jellyfish".
There was one more attraction I really wanted to go on - it was going to be final ride (actually, I tried to pitch it as the second last one) but it was closed! It's called, "Journey to the Center of the Earth". It looked fantastic. I was so excited! I found it on the map, went to the location and couldn't find it. I asked an employee and they informed me it was closed. I was disappointed but my sister and friend were relieved. They wanted to finish up. I begged them for one more ride. My sister agreed, so long as it didn't mean waiting another couple of hours. The next closest attraction, and my second choice was, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea". I had enjoyed both the book and movie, so why not the ride?
This attraction actually had a posted waiting time that was reasonable! It guessed that the current wait was about 38 minutes. I managed to convince my travelling companions that it was much better than the previous waits and the ride did look cool. Lucky for us, we only waited about half an hour. The ride consists of a mini submarine with large convex windows. We climbed inside and found seats in front of the windows, and discovered working joysticks that controlled a light. While the submarine explored an "underwater" world (which felt very realistic), you could shine the light and find mysterious creatures mired in darkness. Very unique! We all enjoyed the experience.
As the sun dipped beneath the horizon and the sky grew darker, we all realized how hungry and tired we were. Our feet ached, our stomachs growled and we just wanted some rest. So we wandered somewhat aimlessly toward the entrance. We arrived back at the Mediterranean Harbor, after successfully navigating the entire park. We saw a cool castle front we hadn't noticed before and decided to see what was there. Like moths drawn to the light, our curiosity guided us to a restaurant. Just inside the castle walls, there was a heavy wooden door with a placard out front which read, "Magellan's". It looked pricy but we wanted to sit down in a warm place. It was chilly outside, especially since the sun had gone down, and our collective need for comfort pushed us inside.
A little bit afraid of the exorbitant prices, we decided to sit in the lounge instead of the restaurant since we weren't starved. We could buy more food later. The restaurant was on the lower level, while the lounge was on the upper. We were seated by a very handsome, English speaking, Japanese waiter. He seemed embarrassed by his English, but it was actually near perfect. We all complimented him generously. Then we scanned our menus for warm, alcoholic beverages and snacks. It was a welcome relief.
After we finished relaxing, we bought a few trinkets then made our way back to the Maihama station via the Disney train. We parted ways with my friend, then headed back to my apartment in Utsunomiya.
Overall, Tokyo Disney Sea was a wonderful experience, albeit expensive and tiring. What really made the trip was the company - being with my sister and my bestie was really great. Would I recommend going to Disney Sea? Yes, but only if you purchase Fast Pass tickets. Make sure you don't go during a Japanese holiday, otherwise, forget about it. My friend had been to Tokyo Disneyland during Halloween, and was forced to wait 5 hours for one ride. So do your research! Check weather, holidays, closures etc. Just be thorough.
Collectively, the visit to Tokyo Disney Sea cost nearly 万6 (~$600) for the three of us (not including transportation). For the curious, here's the breakdown for 1 person (approximate cost and time):
In conclusion, it was a lot of fun. If I ever visit another Disneyland, I'll make sure to have a lot of money saved and go on all the rides. Are there perhaps better alternatives? Yes, if you're purely looking for amusement park fun around Tokyo, visit Yokohama's Cosmo World. It's home to one of the tallest ferris wheels in the world, the Cosmo Clock 21. It has everything you could want in an amusement park, without the crazy prices and long lines of Disneyland. However, if you desire the Disney experience, then clearly Disneyland is your only choice.
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