It’s probably a good thing the Tokyo parks don’t have the marathon hours that the Magic Kingdom sometimes does, as arriving for rope drop was essential–or so we heard–at Tokyo Disney Resort. Everything I had read suggested arriving about 30 minutes prior to park opening and running once inside. We left our hotel for Tokyo DisneySea (of course we were going there again) about 40 minutes in advance, and as we passed the main entrance on the monorail, about 30 minutes before park opening, this (the next photo…down a few paragraphs) is what we saw.
A few of you have asked about crowds, and although Tokyo Disney Resort is known for its huge crowds, we didn’t have much of a problem. This is partly because we consulted a Tokyo Disney Resort crowd calendar when planning our trip, and chose a week that wasn’t supposed to be that busy (with the exception of the prior evening…but our original plan was to *not* visit that night).
We also had the advantage of Toy Story Mania being relatively new and Star Tours: The Adventures Continue opening during our trip, making the biggest draw in each park something that didn’t matter all that much to us. This was deliberate on our part, as we could have visited a couple weeks earlier (but without Star Tours to pull people away from attractions we cared about) or later (but without Journey to the Center of the Earth, which was going down for refurbishment shortly after our visit) for lighter crowds.
For planning purposes, there are a few important considerations if you’re considering a trip to Tokyo Disney Resort: crowds, weather, refurbishments, and special events. The crowd calendar can help with the first consideration as can watching wait times here (if you have a lot of time), this page on weather in Tokyo will help on weather, and TDR’s refurbishments page will help on that. The only remaining thing to know about is special events (TDR’s official blog is a good resource for these, but it won’t give enough advance notice usually, so you might also watch MiceChat’s Tokyo Disney Resort forum), and this is an important one since Tokyo is constantly having special events that may or may not matter to you.
We were pretty far back in the line waiting for the turnstiles to open, and it was probably 5 minutes after the park was open until we were actually inside. Running is the name of the game in Tokyo when the parks open, and everyone from the elderly to women in dress attire pretty much all run. Unlike in the US where this behavior is verbally discouraged, that doesn’t appear to be the case in Tokyo. At least that’s what I assume–I don’t speak any Japanese, so they might very well have been telling me to slow down, but I’d like to think it was more like, “RUN FASTER, THIS IS AN IMPORTANT RACE!” Given that Japanese guests closely adhere to all park rules, I can’t imagine that they’d continue to run if the practice were discouraged by Cast Members.
It was determined that I’d be our designated runner, so I handed off my camera and camera bag to Sarah and Henry, collected our tickets, and was off in a dead sprint to Journey to the Center of the Earth. I don’t mean to boast (…okay, that’s exactly what I mean to do), but I was passing other guests left and right. I sprinted the entire way there, and was the first guest of the day to get FastPasses and the first guest in line for Journey to the Center of the Earth. In fairness, probably 75% of guests were heading towards American Waterfront for Toy Story Mania and Tower of Terror with only 25% heading towards Mysterious Island, but I still was proud. It’s not exactly a short stroll from the entrance to Mysterious Island, and by the end, I was exhausted, but it was so much fun. I mean, how often do you get to sprint through a Disney theme park? It sounds dorky, but this whole “event” was one of the highlights of my day.
Sarah, Henry, and Kate were a ways back, so I waited and let other guests go in front of me (which killed me…how cool would it have been to get the first FastPass and be the first to ride?!). It was still a walk-on when they arrived, but as guests lined up behind us there was a Cast Member going out with a sign on a stick indicating where the queue would start.
The queue for Journey to the Center of the Earth was incredible. It takes you throw a cavern area strewn with office desks and lab materials where Nemo and his crew have been studying their excavations, before you take a terravator deep down beneath the surface of the earth. There’s more queue once you get to the load area, with several monitoring stations. You get the impression that you’re about to go on a dangerous expedition deeper down where the crew has previously been. Everything is sort of makeshift (but not in a cheaply put together way). Man’s presence this deep alone is an accomplishment, and you get the feeling that the house of cards could come crumbling down at any time. With the exception of Tokyo DisneySea’s Tower of Terror, this is the best queue I’ve ever seen.
The ride vehicles aren’t excavators, but they have plow-like attachments on the front. Regardless of what they are, they’re awesome. The attraction takes you through several different areas deeper and deeper below the earth, from a forest of mushrooms with creatures that look like wiser versions of Skippy from Alien Encounter to a sea with a special effect that will make you jump from your seat. Things become more tense, and you suddenly encounter the Lava Monster, who also looks a bit like the alien from Alien Encounter. You are near him for a few seconds, and he is spectacular. Your vehicle then shoots up a short section of track and the ride is over.
This is often cited as the best Disney attraction in the world. It is awesome, no doubt, but I don’t feel the intense love for it. I think a big part of the appeal is that it’s in DisneySea and it’s not based on a franchise. The queue is awesome, the special effects are great, the scenery is great, and the Lava Monster is jaw-dropping, so what’s there not to love?
Well, for one thing, the ride is incredibly short. It’s also oddly paced. Things are slow when you go through the first few rooms, giving you the impression that this will be a meandering journey through awesome places that gradually builds up. It’s not. From those rooms, the build-up is quick, and no sooner than you encounter the Lava Monster does your vehicle shoot up and the ride is over. I think it could have greatly benefited from some more build-up before the confrontation with the Lava Monster, or a longer “escape.” It shares a version of the ride system used at Test Track and Radiator Springs Racers, and I think a longer runaway sequence at the end would probably quell my complaints about the rest of the ride being short.
This should not be construed as me saying that Journey to the Center of the Earth is anything short of amazing. It’s an incredible attraction, but based on the hype, I expected a bit more. As it stands, its queue and load area trounces Radiator Springs Racers, but I prefer the substance of the attraction on Racers, even if it does have the Cars IP. Journey to the Center of the Earth would easily surpass Radiator Springs Racers if the substance of the ride were a tad longer.
From Journey to the Center of the Earth, we rushed back to Lost River Delta for Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull via the single rider line. The Disneyland version of Indiana Jones Adventure is one of my favorite attractions in the US (and we had been on it after its big refurbishment only 2 days before), so I was really looking forward to this. There are some key differences between the rides, but in reading this article I found the other day, I realized that in person, I only picked up on some of the backstory. So rather than me clumsily share those differences, read that article for an idea of them.
One thing that article really doesn’t cover is how Lost River Delta sets the stage for Indy. Lost River Delta is basically the Indiana Jones land at DisneySea. It’s more than that, I know, but the whole place feels like a basecamp for one of his expeditions. Disneyland does a great job of immersing you in the experience once you enter the queue, but it’s as if all of Lost River Delta is a pre-show for its Indiana Jones Adventure. For me, this made it seem like the pre-show for Indiana Jones Adventure in Tokyo was a full fledged experience in the land, and completed the attraction experience. With few exceptions, attractions fit their lands better in DisneySea than in any other theme park.
A lot of people shrug off this attraction as being “basically the same” as the Disneyland one, and I didn’t find that to be the case at all. As is the case with a number of attractions in DisneySea, there were two effects that totally make the experience: the vortex and the smoke ring. There are a lot of other differences, but these are the jaw-dropping ones.
After seeing so many instances of effects like this in Tokyo, I really wonder if there are meetings at Imagineering that go something like this…
Imagineer A: “You know what would be cool, to have ___ in this new ride!” Imagineer B: “Yeah, that would be awesome, can we do that?” Imagineer A: “I don’t know, let’s figure it out!”
At this point, in meetings concerning things for the US parks, someone steps in and asks how much would it cost, which pretty much kills the conversation. In Tokyo, someone steps in and reaffirms the idea that it would be awesome, and that they should make it happen. So they do. At least this is how the scenario plays out in my head. I’m sure the reality is dramatically different, but the result is the same: the US parks get less in the way of killer effects because they’re expensive, whereas the same budgetary constraints just don’t exist for a lot of attractions in the Tokyo parks.
Anyway, I was blown away by Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull. I took one of my favorite Disneyland attractions and turned it up a notch, offering a different (and improved) experience with some real “wow” moments. We ended up doing it several times during the trip thanks to the single rider line, and it ranks right up there as one of the best Tokyo attractions for me.
Next up was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Again, spectacular queue. Also again, it was through Nemo’s offices (he has a lot of offices in Tokyo DisneySea!) which are filled with various nautical equipment and diving gear.
Unlike the old Walt Disney World version, you didn’t board a real sub here, you boarded a ride vehicle called Neptune with room for about 6 people that looks like a small sea rover. It still created the illusion that you were under sea, but it was a dressed up suspended dark ride.
This is another attraction that I found to be great. I don’t think the subs at Disneyland achieve the illusion of diving deep under water, but at several points these rovers clearly dipped deeper (I’m sure it was only a few feet, but still) and the scenes make it feel like you’re actually deep underwater.
In typical Tokyo DisneySea fashion, the scenes and effects are pretty spectacular. The lanterns that you can use to illuminate objects out the portholes make the experience engaging, and the various monsters and friendly creatures encountered along the way are cool. It’s a nice change of pace from the E-Ticket thrill rides, and I really enjoyed it. Too bad Disneyland didn’t get this instead of the Nemo subs!
It’s tough to rank these three attractions since they’re so different, but I think Indiana Jones Adventure was probably my favorite and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was my second favorite, with Journey to the Center of the Earth being third. It’s tough, though, and all are truly incredible.
After that, it was almost time to use our Journey to the Center of the Earth FastPasses, but we had some time to kill, so we figured we better get a snack first! This time, it was a Tiramisu Ice Cream Sandwich. We normally don’t go for packaged Disney ice cream (sorry, “Premium” Mickey Bar fans!), but made an exception for this. It was delicious.
We also stopped in the gift shop on Mysterious Island, where I creeped on people looking at Duffy plushes and the Cast Members in the store while Sarah and Kate contemplated which Duffy spring outfit was cutest (these are life’s tough decisions). I seldom take photos of American Cast Members, but I took tons in Tokyo. I had heard that they can sometimes be shy about this, but that was not my experience at all. Whenever I asked to take their photos, the “answer” I almost always received was excited giggling and big smiles.
It was then time for Journey to the Center of the Earth again. I shared a few queue photos last time, but I never photograph a ride on my first time through. I did the second time, and here are some photos from that journey. Expect a full tour of Journey to the Center of the Earth later.
After Journey, we headed back towards Mediterranean Harbor, ready for lunch. As we passed through, some random characters from Pinocchio were out. Tokyo Disney Resort has free roaming characters (except for the really popular ones, like Duffy and Shellie May; Mickey and Minnie), which leads to a bit of a mob scene.These elements of chaos like the character meet and greets and the morning mad dash seem like such a stark contrast against the culture of politeness and rule-adherence. It’s almost like those two things are their way to rebelling.
All told, in just over two hours at Tokyo DisneySea that morning, we managed to do Journey to the Center of the Earth twice, Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, snacks, and meet characters. That’s four E-Ticket attractions and a couple minor things…not too shabby, especially for a park that is notoriously busy!
We decided to eat at Ristorante di Cannaletto, which is a table service Italian restaurant in Mediterranean Harbor overlooking the canal and gondolas. We already had two table service meals planned at DisneySea, but from what we had heard, DisneySea was better for table service and Tokyo Disneyland was better for counter service.
Cannaletto had a standard a la carte menu and a prix fixe menu. The options on the prix fixe menu looked good to me, and it was only ~$25 for a drink, appetizer, entree, and dessert (and no tip). The seafood pizza on the regular menu also looked good, so Sarah and I opted to get one prix fixe order and one a la carte order of the seafood pizza.
The prix fixe meal also came with a Marinated Shrimp and Smoked Salmon with Carrot Mousse for an appetizer and Cassata with fresh berries for dessert.
Despite our initial apprehension, the seafood pizza was shockingly good. I’ve ordered seafood pizza in the states before, and it’s almost always a bust. Either the seafood tastes fake, is overcooked, or both. In this case, the seafood tasted fresh and was cooked perfectly along with the rest of the pizza.
As far as price goes, it was pretty comparable to a meal at Via Napoli at Epcot, but cheaper. Although we like Via Napoli, I much preferred Cannaletto, and would highly recommend it in the future. The ambiance alone was worth the price of the meal, as it truly felt like a lunch at an Italian restaurant by a canal in Venice.
On our way out of the restaurant, I snapped a photo of these guests. This was actually on the tamer side of the outfits we saw. I actually think it’s pretty awesome that guests get so into Disney over there that they dress up, make outfits for their Duffy bears, etc. In general, Japanese park guests are definitely way more emotionally invested in Disney than Americans. Pretty crazy since Disney is a quintessential American brand.
This is something I want to delve into a little deeper later in the report, because I think it’s pretty interesting, but I’ll wait until I’ve shared a few more photos like this so you can get a visual feel for what I’m talking about…
After lunch we decided to try our luck at the Big Band Beat ticket lottery. Success! We scored tickets for a show a couple of hours later.
I had no idea what this show was, but it was popular enough for a lotto…and it was at DisneySea, so I just assumed it would be awesome.
American Waterfront is absolutely rife with detail, and we decided to explore a little of this detail after grabbing FastPasses for Tower of Terror. We weren’t interested in the ride so much as going through that amazing queue again (and FastPass didn’t bypass any of the good parts).
McDuck’s Department Store is one of Tokyo DisneySea’s larger gift shops. and it has a pretty awesome theme. Any Disney fan is likely to know what that theme is just by hearing the name of the store. I think it was a solid move to incorporate the Scrooge character into this location. The lands at Tokyo DisneySea have very little native Disney character integration (besides the ex post facto addition of Duffy into Cape Cod) beyond the limited number of characters in rides.
While I think shoehorning characters into every place where they can conceivably work, when there is a natural fit that allows a location to simultaneously have an organic backstory AND have a Disney-centric backstory, I think that’s great. In the case of McDuck’s, you have your organic backstory of a wealthy department store tycoon, and you have that Disney infusion in that tycoon just so happening to be Scrooge McDuck. The perfect meddling, if you ask me.
Unfortunately, nothing special is sold in McDuck’s. It’s the same generic Tokyo Disney Resort merchandise that’s available everywhere, which is to say Duffy stuff and snacks. Before this trip I was under the impression that Tokyo Disney Resort has all this brilliant merchandise that’s incredibly unique. There are some bright spots, but for the most part, it’s a bunch of disposable, generic junk. By far the coolest and best made merchandise is the Duffy stuff. In general, Disneyland and Walt Disney World both have better merchandise than Tokyo Disney Resort. Yep.
Next on our agenda was the DisneySea Electric Railway. On our way up the stairs to board, I spotted this Cast Member and tried to grab a portrait of her. Unfortunately, there were people right behind us and I didn’t have time to change the settings. I still like the photo, but if I had a chance to get things right, it would be awesome. The conditions were perfect for some great tree bokeh behind her!
The DisneySea Electric Railway is awesome in the same way that the TTA is awesome. If I were a local, this is the relaxing attraction I would ride over and over to do some relaxing sightseeing between American Waterfront and Port Discovery. The views along the way are absolutely breathtaking, and I can’t imagine that there’s ever much of a wait for it. I wonder if they’d let you just stay on and go back and forth if there’s no line.
We’ll exit into Port Discovery in the next installment. There, we met some Disney Ducks. Did they quack English? Did they quack Japanese?! WERE THEY DUFFY FANS?!?! These are the pressing questions that I’m sure are on no one’s mind, but I’ll leave you with that cliffhanger until then, just the same.
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What do you think of our Tokyo DisneySea;s E-Tickets? Which do you think you’d prefer, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Indiana Jones Adventure, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, or Tower of Terror? Please share any thoughts or questions below in the comments!