Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage: Disney’s Best Modern Dark Ride?

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Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage is a dark ride at Tokyo DisneySea located in the Arabian Coast port-of-call. The attraction is a long boat ride, best described to Disney fans who haven’t experienced it as a cross between Pirates of the Caribbean and ‘it’s a small world.’ This post is mostly a “ride-through” of the attraction via photos, but I also thought I’d throw in the question of whether it is the best modern Disney dark ride, or should be considered in the same breath as the elites, at the end of the piece.

By way of background, Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage has been historically unpopular with Japanese guests–so much so that it was totally redone in 2007 and changed from Sindbad’s Seven Voyages (video at the link) to the current version of the attraction, with its tone totally shifted from dark to cheery, a new sidekick–a tiger named Chandu–added to accompany Sindbad, and a song by Alan Menken called “Compass Of Your Heart” introduced that plays throughout the journey.

I didn’t watch the video until after riding the current version of Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage at Tokyo DisneySea, so perhaps I’m a bit biased, but I think this is a prime example of re-imagining something substantially benefiting it. The substance of the ride scenes are still largely the same, but the overall package is a wholly different.

Grab your pet cat and sense of adventure, and let’s hit the high seas with Sindbad!

Attraction Overview

Describing Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage as a cross between ‘it’s a small world’ and Pirates of the Caribbean is fairly apt in just about every respect. Basically, this attraction is the story of Sindbad and his tiger, Chandu, who go out in search of adventure, foiling various foes and helping cute creatures along the way. It’s a timeless story told with a distinctly Japanese sense of kawaii. The attraction is entirely in Japanese so I don’t know precisely what’s said, but I think I more or less got the jist of what was going on without dialogue.

Queue

The queue in Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage is cute, but nothing impressive in comparison to others found at Tokyo DisneySea. It’s switchbacks and brick walls with paintings of scenes from the attraction on them. Fairly basic as far as queues go. The load area is much like any other boat ride, and again contains nothing that bears mentioning.

Here are some queue photos:

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Sindbad’s Send-Off

The first room in Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage after leaving load is what I’m dubbing the ‘send-off’ scene. This is set in a small village, which I presume to be Sindbad’s hometown, where everyone is present to wish him good luck on his journey. There are with belly dancers, kids playing, pantomime performances, and fortune-tellers gazing into crystal balls foretelling of the dangers that await Sindbad. And, of course, we’re introduced to Sindbad and his pet tiger (and mischievous sidekick) Chandu.

Here are some photos from this scene:

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When I say everyone from the village is there, I mean everyone. In that single room, there were more Audio Animatronics than I’ve seen in any other Disney attraction built in the last decade plus. Perhaps ever–I didn’t count. All of these AAs have amazingly fluid motion, and all together they give an incredible sense of life to Sindbad’s village as the people wish him good luck on his adventures. It was so stunning and there was so much going on that it was impossible to see it all on one ride through. Even at the end of our trip, I was noticing details that I hadn’t seen before. For me, this repeatability is one of the biggest marks of a classic Disney attraction.

Mermaid Encounter

The next room features Sindbad’s encounter with mermaids during a storm. This room does not have the same sprawling scope; instead, Sindbad and the mermaids are positioned at the end of the room with spotlights illuminating only them (sort of like the light at the end of a tunnel) as the storm happens around them. There’s not really much to the scene beyond that, but the feel of Sindbad being a beacon of light during the storm is well-established.

Here are some photos from this scene:

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Roc Egg Thiefs

This scene is more elaborate in terms of both set design and Audio Animatronics. Here, Sindbad encounters thieves trying to steal Roc eggs. Sindbad successfully ties up the thieves with the help of Chandu. The mother of the Roc also assist, carrying away one of the thieves in its talons.

Here are some photos from this scene:

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Treasure & Jailed Giant

In this scene, Sindbad is in a room filled with mountains of treasure. Those pesky thieves are back again, and this time Chandu alone is taking care of business. (If there’s anything I learned from this attraction, it’s that tiger cubs are tougher on crime than Smokey the Bear is on forest fires.) Sindbad is using a beautiful feather to pick the lock that holds the Giant in a confined, little jail. In the traditional story of Sindbad, this giant is Polyphemus, from Homer’s The Odyssey. This character is more akin to the Jolly Green Giant than he is Polyphemus, but he’s best described as neither. Just a friendly, green giant.

Here are some photos from this scene:

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Green Giant Concert

In the next room, Sindbad and guests learn that not only is the green giant a friendly green giant, but he has some serious musical chops. The true size of the giant is apparent in this scene, as he towers over the boats. Definitely one of (if not the) largest Audio Animatronics I’ve seen.

Here are some photos from this scene:

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Sindbad’s Gift

Here, Sindbad is in another village, which contains elephants and numerous other Audio Animatronics. I’m not exactly sure what’s going on here, but I know elephants are a motif of the Sindbad stories, and one of Sindbad’s voyages often involves him receiving a special gift from one king that he is meant to take back to his king. As Sindbad and a prominent-looking man in this seen appear to be exchanging vases of some sort, I assume that’s what this scene is, but I could be wrong. Chandu is carried on a drum by four village people.

Here are some photos from this scene:

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Monkey Island

Sindbad and Chandu travel to an island of monkeys, and it appears that Sindbad becomes their king (sort of like Heart of Darkness, but with a much more upbeat vibe) as he sits in the center of them calmly beating on the drums while they wildly play music. (If there’s another thing I learned from this attraction, it’s that most animals and mythical creatures are musically-inclined.) There are also bananas literally everywhere, including in the boat where Chandu sits near the end of this room, beneath a pile of bananas.

Here are some photos from this scene:

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I’m betting this scene replaced the voyage where Sindbad visits the island of crazed cannibals. Something tells me that crazed cannibals definitely would not be kawaii.

Friendly Whale Encounter

With the stench of bananas still on their breath, Sindbad and Chandu head off on the water again, where they encounter a whale, who literally lifts their boat out of the water and carries them on in the dark of night. Seeing this larger than life whale is yet another ‘wow’ moment in Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage.

Here are some photos from this scene:

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Village Finale

Sindbad and Chandu return to their village with a boat full of riches, concluding their storybook voyage and cementing themselves as legends…or heroes…or whatever. In any case, the entire village is once again excited to see them, and fireworks explode overhead in celebration of their return. At the end of this room and the ride, Chandu and Sindbad bid guests farewell.

Here are some photos from this scene:

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From there, you exit your boat, head outside…and if you’re like us, get right back in line! 😉

Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage Analysis

In my mind, Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage is a can’t miss attraction that is exactly what Disney’s recent US dark rides should have been (I’m looking at you, Little Mermaid dark rides!). Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage has just about everything I could want from a Disney attraction. It has a catchy song, great sets, a wait time that is shorter than the ride duration, layer upon layer of details that lend to infinite re-rideability, and characters that resonate with me emotionally.

Sindbad is the star of the show, but Chandu is the show-stealer. He’s cute, but his appeal isn’t just in that he sits there and looks cute. He displays personality throughout, and he’s helpful, mischievous, and endearing–all without any dialogue. He’s right up there for me in terms of original theme park characters, behind only the original Figment and Dreamfinder. Chandu should be the “star” of Tokyo DisneySea, not Duffy. If Disney would take the risk and bring this expensive of an original attraction (rather than one based on Disney or licensed films) to the United States, I think Chandu would catch on in a big way here.

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Most guests probably wouldn’t notice if a few of the individual Animatronics in Sindbad’s were missing, but the collective presence of all of those Animatronics creates an experience that will leave most guests muttering “wow” repeatedly as they float through the scene. You don’t get that reaction by cutting as much as you can that “might go unnoticed.” Rooms like those in Sindbad’s like that is truly a situation where the whole is much more than a sum of the parts. I could not identify a single missing figure or two, but I can identify the feeling of wonder and awe I get when I see that whole scene alive with singing and dancing Audio Animatronics. It’s a feeling that is impossible to quantify, which may be cause for concern in Disney’s current culture where creative decisions seem to be made more and more by “numbers guys” and less by the creatives in Imagineering, but it’s the feeling you should get when experiencing a Disney attraction.

It does surprise me that Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage has not caught on more. I think this is mostly due to location. It’s tucked back in the quietest corner of the park (although they recently added a spinner, Jasmine’s Flying Carpets, to get more people back there), which could partly explain the issue. It also might be due to the original dark story of Sindbad’s Seven Voyages not appealing to guests, and perhaps the local fanbase doesn’t “buy” Sindbad’s about-face? Maybe it actually is decently popular, it just has such a high capacity that it’s never busy? All things being equal, Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage deserves at least a constant 20-minute wait.

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Sindbad’s lack of popularity is inexplicable to me, and can’t be based on its quality. I consider Sindbad’s to be a flawless attraction that combines great storytelling, excellent music, and a great quantity and quality of visuals that helps the attraction resonate emotionally with guests and creates a lot of re-rideability.

Best Modern Dark Ride?

Before getting to whether Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage is the best, it’s probably important to establish what’s meant by this. I don’t mean modern in the sense of technology; I’d pigeonhole those by calling them “Next Generation” dark rides. I mean modern in the sense that these rides are relatively new, and not from the first generation of dark rides built at Disneyland, or even from the generation built for the opening of EPCOT Center. Still, ‘modern’ is relatively subjective, but I’m going to make the cut-off the year 2000, which seems numerically logical, but also is the year when Pooh’s Hunny Hunt opened.

In addition to determining what’s modern, we also have to what’s a dark ride. It could be any ride in the dark, but I view this as too liberal of a definition that opens the door for including rollercoasters and other fast moving attractions (like Indiana Jones Adventure). It could also be any ride that uses a certain type of technology, but such a definition wouldn’t be evergreen. To me, a dark ride is a slow-moving indoor attraction that emphasizes scenes through which a story is told or vignettes are displayed.

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By my tally, there are 5 attractions that meet this definition and are worth mentioning in competition for the title of best: Pooh’s Hunny Hunt, Monster’s Inc. Ride & Go Seek, Mystic Manor, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, and Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage. We’ve experienced each of these besides Mystic Manor. Of these, I’d consider Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage a dark horse for the title of best. Here’s why it should be considered.

At 11+ minutes long, Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage is far longer than any of the other attractions besides the Nemo Subs. To me, lengthy rides are more satisfying, and when I walk off a ride that is longer in duration than my wait, I feel a sense of having received great value as a guest. This isn’t a decisive factor in which is the best, but it’s worth considering.

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With over 150 Audio Animatronics (per the internet), Sindbad’s has far more AAs than any of the other contenders. There’s a reason Audio Animatronics-based attractions remain popular decades after their introduction (beyond their great concepts and scripts), and that’s because they create a sense of spectacle and contain engaging scenes that more modern technology just hasn’t been able to replace. While Audio Animatronics are conceptually old tech, each new generation of AAs is more and more technically advanced, and the AAs in Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage bear this out. No, all 150 aren’t the most highly advanced AAs Disney has ever put out, but they’re all very advanced and on whole, they push the envelope. No other modern dark ride even comes close to Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage in terms of ambitiousness with AAs.

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Beyond that, it combines catchy music with good storytelling. While it’s true that not every dark ride tells a linear story, every good one uses good storytelling devices and has a catchy song. Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage continues this trend with “Compass Of Your Heart” and its beautiful storybook scenes. That I could write the scene by scene descriptions above without understanding Japanese speaks volumes to this.

While not without its faults in terms of layout and design, Sindbad’s also gets the little things right. It is awash in details, and the storybook backdrops are actually deceptively well done even if simplistic at first blush. It all comes together for an attraction that sort of sneaks up on you and surprises you on your first ride through–how could such a simple concept be so good?!

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In fairness, with the exception of Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (which everyone else seems to love a lot less than I do–I maintain it’s a well done attraction, but probably not in the same league as the other 4 discussed here), the other dark rides listed have a far greater “wow” factor thanks to the technology they utilize. With those, guests experience something they haven’t experienced before, and combine that fresh experience with solid storytelling. By contrast, Sindbad’s is amazing, but it seems like more of the same, just newer. It’s difficult to say that the other new classic dark rides are over-valued because of the technology they utilize, because their storytelling and technology are so inextricably intertwined that it’s hard to separate one from the other (the mark that technology is well-used in an attraction).

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It’s really difficult to peg the “best” anything, as that’s an entirely subjective term. Ultimately, while I think Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage is properly mentioned in the same breath as Pooh’s Hunny Hunt, Monster’s Inc Ride & Go Seek, and Mystic Manor, I can’t say that it’s better than any of them. While those push the envelope and hit all the right notes with regard to the fundamentals of what a dark ride should be (excepting, perhaps, duration), Sindbad’s is mostly an updated version of a classic dark ride that nails the fundamentals. This is not to downplay or diminish Sindbad’s. It’s a new classic in its own right. Personally, I enjoyed Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage more than Pooh’s Hunny Hunt or Monsters Inc Ride & Go Seek, but I can distinguish what I enjoy from what is the ‘best’ from an objective-as-possible perspective. It may seem like a distinction without a difference, but that’s my thought process!

If you want to learn more about Tokyo Disney Resort, make sure to check out our Tokyo Disney Resort Trip Report. It contains a lot of photos and our thoughts on the parks.

Your Thoughts…

Regardless of whether you’ve had the chance to experience Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage, what do you think of it? Does it sound and look like an attraction you’d enjoy? Do you think it continues Disney’s heritage of great and detailed dark rides? Hearing from readers is half the fun, so share your take in the comments!


30 Responses to “Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage: Disney’s Best Modern Dark Ride?”
  1. Paul Schnebelen July 27, 2017
  2. Melody June 9, 2017
  3. Scott April 22, 2017
  4. Rob Stevens January 23, 2017
    • Tom Bricker January 23, 2017

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