On September 4, 2001, Tokyo DisneySea had its grand opening. Like EPCOT Center before it, DisneySea demonstrated the quality and ambition possible in a second gate. I’ve gushed over Tokyo DisneySea time and time again on this blog, repeatedly calling it the greatest theme park in the world.
It’s hard for me to believe DisneySea has been open for 14 years. It simultaneously looks decades to centuries old–thanks to brilliant theming–and only a few weeks old–thanks to exemplary maintenance. We’ve been to Japan several times now, but I still get chills each time I step through the entrance breezeway and see Mount Prometheus. It’s such an amazing, full-sensory experience and no words or photos can even remotely do justice to it.
Before we get to today’s post, if you dream of visiting Tokyo DisneySea, I’d implore you to try to make that a reality in 2016. Airfare is cheap right now (I routinely get alerts for $550-700 roundtrip flights out of LAX) and the dollar is incredibly strong against the yen. More importantly, on April 16, “The Year of Wishes” kicks off for Tokyo DisneySea’s 15th Anniversary, and Shanghai Disneyland also opens in Spring 2016. You can use our tips for leveraging airline stopover rules to visit both China and Japan for the price of a single airfare to experience both Shanghai Disney Resort and Tokyo Disney Resort.
For this post, in honor of Tokyo DisneySea’s 14th Anniversary, I thought it would be fun to share some of my new photos from the park, taking a quick tour of its ports…
I don’t play the game of speculating as to “what would Walt Disney think/do?” as I think it’s a fool’s errand to guess as to what an unpredictable visionary would do decades after his death. I find most of the time, people who do this are simply trying to give more weight to their own opinions with Walt’s “endorsement.” Given that, I won’t comment as to how he might feel about Tokyo DisneySea. I will say, though, that I think just about anyone would be proud to consider this park part of their legacy.
Here’s Mediterranean Harbor (and a bit of American Waterfront). This is DisneySea’s “opening act,” so to speak, and its true genius is how Hotel MiraCosta forms the facades of this port. If you think about it, this was really savvy Imagineering: the hotel would be themed regardless, so locate it inside the park and utilize some of that theming to form part of the park. Not only is there probably some budgetary savings because of the dual purpose served by the hotel exterior, but you instantly have a flagship hotel with stunning views into the park that can command premium pricing. Conversely, guests also win, as they have the incomparable experience of staying at a hotel inside a Disney theme park. This is a “win” for all parties impacted.
Mysterious Island is probably the most drool-worthy port at Tokyo DisneySea. It has a lot going for it: 1) Active volcano, 2) Journey to the Center of the Earth, 3) 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 4) Gyoza Dog, and 5) Did I mention the volcano?!
Mermaid Lagoon scores major points for its beautiful exterior, which is both form and function. This is because Mermaid Lagoon is largely a port of off-the-shelf kiddie rides. Despite that, it’s rarely scrutinized the same way as ‘a bug’s land’ or Toy Story Land, and that’s because of the way this port is put together inside the beautiful King Triton’s Castle in a setting that feels like it’s under the sea.
Arabian Coast might just me my favorite port. Picking is like choosing a favorite child (if your kids had awesome stuff like volcanoes and Chandu the tiger). It has my favorite attraction the entire world, Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage; my favorite snack, Chandu Tails; one of my favorite counter service restaurants, Casbah Food Court; and, lived-in theming that takes on an evolving character as the time of day changes.
From one extreme to another, Lost River Delta is next. This land does a great job of blending the world of Indiana Jones with places uniquely its own in a way that makes it so much more than just “the Indiana Jones port.” If the Frozen port–to be built on a plot adjacent to Lost River Delta–takes this same approach, it has the potential to be one of the best ports at Tokyo DisneySea.
Port Discovery is a steampunk-inspired, Tomorrowland on the water. It’s a bit of a divisive port, as Aquatopia and StormRider are sometimes derided as the biggest “flops” of Tokyo DisneySea. This is my least favorite port, but least favorite in DisneySea is relative, and it has really grown on me. I love StormRider for what it is: the quintessential, bizarrely Japanese attraction that just couldn’t exist anywhere else in the world. I hope the addition to Nemo doesn’t disrupt the thematics of this port.
Cape Cod is not its own port–it’s part of American Waterfront–but the location makes it feel distinct. This has become “Port Duffy,” but it’s so much more. Cape Code has that lived-in feeling and a really intimate vibe. I love just sitting here, listening to the background music, and soaking in the ambiance. I especially love hanging out here on gloomy days, as those seem fit the New England theme particularly well.
American Waterfront is our final port, and a really impressive one from the perspective of an American. I love it because it is so rich. Posters, billboards, bric-a-brac, and other little details that are spot-on elements of New York City–and American–history. It very much reminds me of the gritty detail found in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It’s crazy to think that a theme park in Japan does America better than any park in America, until you think about the fact that this area was likely designed largely by American Imagineers. Clearly this team had a great grasp of history.
For this photo tour of Tokyo DisneySea, I used my Nikon D810 and Nikon D750 cameras, plus Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lenses. For more information on my photography gear and tips for photographing the parks, check out my Ultimate Guide to Disney Parks Photography.
If you want to continue celebrating the anniversary of the world’s greatest theme park, I’d suggest heading over to TDRExplorer.com, where this post contains a slew of opening day videos and other cool stuff.
If you’re thinking of visiting Japan for the first time and are overwhelmed with planning, definitely check out our Tokyo Disney Resort Planning Guide. It covers much more than the parks, from getting there to WiFi to currency and much, much more. For more photos and an idea of what we did day-by-day during our first visit, read our Tokyo Disney Resort Trip Report.
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Is Tokyo DisneySea on your bucket list? Have you been to the park? What do you think of DisneySea? Have any additional questions or thoughts? Please ask or share below, and I’ll offer my feedback!