Tokyo Disney Resort Trip Report – Part 3
Arriving in Port Discovery, we deboarded the DisneySea Electric Railroad. Over the course of the trip, we didn’t spend a ton of time in Port Discovery. It was a cool land, but was my least favorite in Tokyo DisneySea. There are only two attractions there (three counting the Electric Railroad), the land was small, and the heavy steampunk look didn’t do a whole lot for me. Part of this is probably my bias–many elements of steampunk that have been added to other Disney parks have cluttered the parks, and I immediately noticed some very similar elements in Port Discovery. However, Mysterious Island has a steampunk influence, too, and I absolutely love that land. So it’s not as if I dislike steampunk.
The best way to describe the land in terms of other lands in Disney theme parks is Discoveryland (Disneyland Paris–see this trip report for photos of Discoveryland) meets Tomorrowland ‘98 (Disneyland). Conceptually, these two lands are similar. The only difference is that Discoveryland in Paris is brilliantly executed, and Tomorrowland ‘98 in Disneyland was horribly executed. Port Discovery fits somewhere in between. It has a lot of whirligigs and various other ornamentation on top of a industrial base, featuring lots of bronzes, greens, and other muted colors. It’s also a rather small land, perhaps the smallest of the DisneySea lands.
As we got off the DisneySea Electric Railroad, we did see what can only be described as “Mad Scientist Goofy.” I think his actual title is just “Port Discovery Goofy,” but with his wild white hair and long lab coat, he looks a bit mad. I don’t think he is supposed to bear a resemblance to any historical figure, but he could probably pass for a few. Minus the floppy shoes, tie, patchwork pants, and dog ears.
Mad Scientist Goofy was really popular, and once again showcased the free-for-all of character meet and greets at DisneySea. We really wanted our picture with him, but we had no idea what the protocol was (perhaps there was some sort of carefully orchestrated method to the madness) and didn’t want to be too aggressive. The mayhem was fun to watch, though.
After a couple minutes of this, we grabbed some FastPasses for StormRider while Henry and Kate got in line for some strawberry popcorn. This popcorn was pretty good, but as I mentioned in our “Awesome Tokyo Disneyland Snacks” article, I didn’t think any of the popcorn lived up to the immense hype it receives. Having so many interesting flavors is a clever way to generate buzz, but at the end of the day, it’s still just seasoned popcorn. Then again, I’m not really that big on popcorn, in general, so the fact that I wasn’t impressed doesn’t mean a whole lot.
While they were in line for the popcorn, I wandered around Port Discovery. These two children watching a duck caught my eye. The young boy was frightened by the duck at first, and he hid behind his sister as it approached him. Finally, as the duck got closer, the boy spontaneously jumped out and chased after it. Why the sudden change of mind, I’m not sure. It was pretty funny in person, but probably one of those “you had to be there” moments. As you can see by the below series of photos, Japanese guests are just as enamored with ducks as US guests.
Our next stop was Aquatopia via Standby. The posted wait was about 20 minutes or so, but it was a constantly moving line, so it didn’t seem too bad. Aquatopia is an interesting attraction. It uses the trackless ride system from Pooh’s Hunny Hunt and combines that with water, which undoubtedly made for an expensive attraction with high maintenance costs, but there’s not really any substance to it.
To its credit, it’s fun and pretty (especially at night). It’s more fun than Autopia and definitely looks cooler, but I was still left with a “that’s it?” feeling from Aquatopia that I don’t have with Autopia. I think this is largely because of my assumption that it was an expensive and ambitious attraction, and as such, there should be more to it. Sort of like how theme park fans give Mad Tea Party a pass for its simplicity because we know exactly what its role is, but we’re disappointed when a big budget attraction like the Little Mermaid dark ride doesn’t live up to its potential. These are probably things normal guests don’t even consider. To them, I suspect there’s much less subtext, and an attraction is either fun or not. In that sense, I suppose Aquatopia succeeds. It’s fun–it’s just a subpar use of the ride system.
From there, we walked toward Cape Cod. This now reminds me of one of the coolest experiences about the first night in Tokyo DisneySea that I can’t believe I forgot when writing that installment. I’ve gone back and added it into that installment, but here it is below for those who don’t want to re-read the full installment (I’m sure you’ve all read it several times as is ;)):
The point where I was wrought back to reality from the waking dream was also sort of the point where I descended deeper into it. Right after taking the photo above of the DisneySea Electric Railway, I turned to head back towards Cape Cod. As I did, I thought I heard the Epcot entrance music playing in Port Discovery.
For me, this was like the moment in a (real) dream where the continuity breaks down, you realize you’re dreaming, and you wake up. I mean, Epcot music in Tokyo DisneySea?! That’s a dead giveaway that something is amiss. In this case, I knew I was awake and actually in Tokyo DisneySea (okay…I was pretty sure), so I paused to try to figure out what was going on. It probably wasn’t actually Epcot music, just similar-sounding music. After a few minutes of just standing there, I came to the conclusion that it was, without a doubt, Epcot music.
After that, whenever we walked through Port Discovery, I paid extra close attention to the music. According to MagicMusic, the Epcot music is about 30% of the entire Port Discovery loop, so we ended up hearing it relatively often. It gave me a surreal feeling each and every time.
We didn’t have any real business in Cape Cod, which always seemed to be really busy during the middle of the day with Duffy-crowds. We just stopped and took a couple photos by the lighthouse and did some people-watching as walked through the land.
One of the first things we learned in Tokyo Disney Resort is that adding Duffy to anything in Tokyo makes it better (and by better, I mean more popular). Sort of like bacon in the United States. That right there should tell you everything you need to know about our cultural differences: in the US, we add a fatty meat to things to improve them, and in Japan, they add a cute animal. Shows, meals, and even topiary displays were all substantially improved upon (made more popular) by Duffy. In an effort to woe this lucrative new audience, I think lulls in this trip report can similarly be improved upon by adding Duffy. For example, we got in line for a snack and waited for a bit…AND THEN WE SAW DUFFY!
Just kidding. That would mean adding an AND THEN WE SAW DUFFY line every other sentence. Not just because there are that many lulls in this report, but because that’s about how often we saw Duffy.
Regular readers of this blog will know I’m not exactly a Duffy fan. Actually, I can’t stand his presence in the United States parks. However, it’s a different experience in Tokyo. Duffy’s popularity is organic there, and Japanese guests truly are passionate about him. They love Duffy so much that there are actually limits on how much of his merchandise you can purchase. Can you imagine that in the US?! Because of his natural popularity there, I didn’t mind him at all there. Hating Duffy in Japan would be tantamount to hating Mickey in the United States. You’d be an iconoclast. I’m not putting Duffy in the same league as Mickey in terms of historical significance, but you get the idea. In Japan, Duffy IS a symbol of everything positive that people love about Disney.
This is really difficult to convey, and people who are only used to our Duffy might have a hard time accepting it. I took photos throughout the trip to try to convey this, and I’m a bit reluctant to post them because I don’t want people to misconstrue them as mocking. I’m going to try it, anyway.
Moving on from Cape Cod, we headed back to American Waterfront to use our FastPasses for Tower of Terror. We picked up on details we hadn’t noticed before, which was pretty easy considering that there were thousands of details. I think you could ride every day for a year and still pick up on new details.
We were also sent to a new loading area (but still in the downstairs portion of the queue), which can be counted as at least a partial success. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos from the loading area because I was told to put my camera away. Most attractions didn’t have signs prohibiting photography (at least in English…and almost all signage was in English), but most informally prohibited it via Cast Members, who were very quick to approach you if they saw a camera drawn. (Every attraction in Tokyo had at least double the number of Cast Members you’d find working an attraction in the US; this was great for load efficiency, but bad for photos.) As the trip progressed, I became better at picking my spots to grab quick photos.
Our FastPass window for StormRider was closing, so we quickly headed back to Port Discovery after finishing Tower of Terror. StormRider is…uhh…I’m not sure how to describe StormRider.
I think the best way is via analogy. Imagine that you’re a visitor from another country who doesn’t speak English and has never heard of Michael Jackson. Now imagine going to see Captain EO. Having no history with Michael Jackson and not speaking English, what do you think your reaction to that would be?
StormRider is in no way, shape, or form similar to Captain EO, and it’s not even close to that bizarre (for what it’s worth, I’d love to see something like Captain EO with no baseline and in a different language…I’m sure it would be hilarious), but it is one of those attractions you walk off thinking, “what the heck just happened?” In this case, that was sort of in a good way.
The premise of StormRider is that you’re being sent into the eye of a storm with a missile to blow the storm up. Sounds like a foolproof plan to me. The pre-show consists of a presentation by a Cast Member and a video; it is funny (reminded me a bit of Dinosaur) and has English subtitles. Given the subtitles, I guess it’s not entirely like not speaking English and watching Captain EO, but I lost my grasp on what was going on during the pre-show, so it’s sort of the same.
The attraction itself is a simulator, much like the original Star Tours, but with a crazy amount of in-cabin effects. So many effects, in fact, that it’s hard to pay attention to where your vehicle is flying and what’s going on inside the cabin. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and the attraction is actually a ton of fun, it’s just wild and somewhat bizarre. I wanted to do it again to get a better idea of the attraction’s full plot, but we didn’t end up having time. It’s pretty nonsensical, so I’m not sure that a deeper understanding of the plot would’ve helped much. It’s one of those attractions that has grown on me even more as I look back on it, just because it’s so crazy.
As we left StormRider, a Japanese teenage couple stopped Sarah and was really enthusiastic about meeting her. They kept smiling and laughing, and it was clear that meeting Sarah made their day. Apparently they had been waving to her while we were in line for the attraction and she had been waving back. A number of Japanese guests stopped us while we were in the parks, but these were definitely the most excited.
Next up was Big Band Beat, so we walked back to American Waterfront. On our way there, I stopped to snap this photo of these ducks in the American Waterfront Duffy display. They seemed to be loving the attention–I’m confident in this because they (or two other ducks) were still sitting there about an hour later when we left Big Band Beat!
Big Band Beat was our first show in Tokyo DisneySea, and we had no idea what to expect, beyond what was implied by the name of the show. Even then, there’s a good amount of latitude as far as what the show could contain.
The show is housed in the Broadway Music Theatre, which is a pretty impressive venue, harking back to classic theatres in New York City. The lobby contains a variety of murals depicting American history, and the seating area is a lavish, with nicely upholstered seats and a pretty stage. Unfortunately, just as I got out my camera to take a photo of the empty theater, a Cast Member informed me that photos weren’t allowed in the theater. That applied even before the show had started, I guess.
The show itself was fantastic. The production value was incredible, and it felt like a true Broadway jazz concert. I was absolutely blown away by this, not just because of the production value, but that Tokyo DisneySea was able to get such a high caliber of English-speaking performers in Japan. These performers surpassed just about every performer we’ve seen in the US parks.
My favorite part of the show was the “Jazz Babies” peformance with Minnie and Marie from the Aristocats. The song itself and their performances weren’t as good as the rest of the show (my favorite musical number was “It Don’t Mean A Thing”), but the visuals were awesome, with Marie and Minnie dancing on a light-up staircase. It was awesome.
In terms of pure wow factor, Mickey Mouse took the cake. He came out towards the end, and I expected him to maybe do some light drumming or pretend to drum. To my surprise, he absolutely went to town on the drums with a performance that would put a good drummer to shame. After that, I have to say I have a new respect for Mickey Mouse.
I can see why Big Band Beat is such a popular show at Tokyo DisneySea. It was amazing, surpassing Finding Nemo: The Musical at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Aladdin – The Musical Spectacular at Disney California Adventure for me. This was just totally different, and while it certainly had elements of Disney in it via the mentioned characters, incredible jazz performers were the true stars. We enjoyed this show so much that we ended up buying the CD.
At the end of the show, I quickly took the above photo from the hip. It’s presented only to give you a rough idea of how incredible the show looks. Next time I might discretely try to get a few of the Marie and Minnie segment…although I don’t want to give Americans a bad rep in Japan.
Several of you have asked about the language barrier at Tokyo Disney Resort, and this seems like a good place to address it. There’s no more of a language barrier in Tokyo than you’d have to worry about if you were planning a trip to Disneyland Paris. A surprising amount of the attractions, especially shows involving song, are in English. I say surprising because native-English speakers probably make up less than 1% of guests at Tokyo Disney Resort. (We saw more westerners performing IN Big Band Beat than we did guests in total over the course of the entire day!) It’s more of a locals’ park than even Disneyland, with most guests being young, semi-frequent visitors from Tokyo.
Anyway, there are a decent number of attractions that are not in English, but this shouldn’t be much of a concern. Disney attractions don’t have complex stories for the most part, and it’s incredibly easy to pick up on what’s going on without speaking the language. The only time we wished we understood what was being said (that I can recall) was during the Tower of Terror pre-show presentations. Even then, we got the basic gist of it, but we didn’t know the precise details of what was being said.
As far as navigating the parks and communicating things like meal orders, that’s also very easy. All signage is in English, and almost all Cast Members can communicate in English. There were a couple of times when they didn’t understand what we were trying to order for our meals, but the problem was quickly resolved by them handing us a menu and us pointing at what we wanted.
Even outside of Tokyo Disney Resort, there were only a few times where we had any sort of language barrier. These were mostly when trying to find the right rail line or when dining at a restaurant off the path in Kyoto. By and large, there was no issue with not speaking Japanese. I’m sure it would have been easier if we did, but it wasn’t a problem.
One thing that might be worth noting is the sense of isolation you might feel there, especially if you’re going alone. There are far fewer American tourists in Japan than there are in Europe, and you can go for hours on end without hearing anyone speak any English. I’ve heard that this can be disconcerting for some people the first time, especially those visiting alone. Personally, I didn’t mind this at all. Most of the time I’m in my own little world, and being in a theme park without hearing (and understanding) a different dumb comment like, “how do we use the Fast Track?,” “where’s the Haunted House?,” or “what’s inside the giant golf ball?” every few minutes was very pleasant change of pace.
After Big Band Beat, we decided to do an early dinner at the BellaVista Lounge in the Hotel MiraCosta. We had heard this restaurant offered a good view (literally, that’s the translation of its name) and we wanted to dine in the MiraCosta, so we figured we’d give it a shot.
This is the one mistake I think we made in terms of dining. The MiraCosta is the most expensive hotel at Tokyo Disney Resort, higher in terms of pricing (and awesometacularness–an entirely measurable characteristic that I did not just make up) than any US Disney hotel. Its restaurants are priced accordingly.
I’m not sure whether the Lounge had just opened, but it was pretty dead. Our server there was awesome, and I think he spoke English better than me! It did offer a beautiful view, and was a beautiful lounge in general, but the prices were insane.
The four of us ended up ordering a cheese plate, a meat plate, and a couple of drinks (I got some specialty peach drink with a boss souvenir Spring Voyage cup…because the soda without the cup was only like $3 less) and our total was over $100. What we had wasn’t even memorable or filling. If you’re planning a trip to Tokyo Disney Resort, I might recommend going up here for drinks and Fantasmic, but don’t even think about a meal here.
We looked around the lobby and gift shop of the MiraCosta after leaving BellaVista, and the hotel was unsurprisingly beautiful. The lobby was smaller than I expected in terms of its footprint, but it had a high ceiling and ornate details everywhere, so this isn’t necessarily a complaint. I guess when you’re used to the sprawling lobbies of Walt Disney World’s hotels, you expect that from all Disney hotels. However, Tokyo Disney Resort doesn’t have “the blessing of size” (quite the converse, actually, land is at a premium in Tokyo), so designers must make the best use of their limited space there.
Everyone was still hungry after this, but I noticed another beautiful late afternoon light, so I said that I wasn’t that hungry and that I’d just grab a snack later while they all went to Vulcania. As I ran around shooting, I found myself in Mysterious Island right as they were sitting down with a bunch of food. There was no line (and truth be told, I was actually really hungry), so I went up and grabbed something, and sat with them and quickly ate.
Vulcania challenges for the top slot in terms of counter service restaurants at Tokyo Disney Resort. We didn’t try all of them, but of the ones we did, there were four that really stood out (two in each park). Vulcania is great in terms of both food and ambiance, serving Chinese dishes buffeteria style in a restaurant themed as a geothermal station carved out of the mountain. Like most of Mysterious Island, it is the intersection of nature and man, with large transformers, power devices, and man-made walls supporting the dining area that has been cut out of the rock.
It’s described on the Tokyo DisneySea website as a place that serves Captain Nemo’s hardworking crew. We thought the food was really good (Nemo treats his crew well!), but regardless of whether you like Chinese food, this is worth checking out to see one of the coolest Disney restaurants in the world.
We were seated at the edge of the restaurant by the walkway that went through Mysterious Island. As we finished our meal we noticed the teenage Japanese couple that I mentioned before lingering around on the sidewalk. They waved at Sarah, she waved back, and then they approached us. They were again really excited, and asked me to take a picture of them with her on each of their phones. I obliged, and they got even more excited. Judging by their reactions, the rest of us were pretty sure that they thought they recognized Sarah as an American celebrity.
Sarah, Kate, and Henry planned on going back to take naps, but I wasn’t going to miss out on a potentially awesome sunset, so I parted with them after the meal. As I left Vulcania, I noticed a beautiful sky over Mermaid Lagoon and the Arabian Coast. The sun wasn’t even to the horizon, but it was already lighting up the sky with beautiful colors.
Right after I grabbed these shots, it started raining. Not wanting to get wet, I ducked inside Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage for what would be a life-changing experience. I didn’t take any photos on my first ride-through, so I’ll wait to share my thoughts once I have some photos to accompany them.
This installment is getting far longer than expected, so rather than breeze through the rest of the night to keep its length in check, I’ll stop here and I’ll leave with this: Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage is how you do a modern dark ride. It became our favorite ride at Tokyo DisneySea and I still find myself humming its song on a daily basis. Wow.
As we mentioned in Part 2, thank you all so much for helping spread the word about this trip report. You’re probably starting to see why Tokyo DisneySea is the most beautiful Disney theme park in the world, and we really want to help spread the word about these relatively unseen (by westerners) parks in Tokyo. We are incredibly grateful for each “share” of this trip report. Whether it be on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or even by email…anything helps!
We also appreciate and read each comment left and try to respond to all of them (at least the ones that have a question or prompt a response). So if you have a comment or question about anything you see in this report, please post it below!
To read the other installments of this trip report, visit the Tokyo Disney Resort Trip Report Index.
What do you think of Big Band Beat, Aquatopia, and StormRider? What about the cultural zeitgeist that is Duffy the Disney Bear? Please share any thoughts or questions below in the comments!
Wow you do a great job taking pictures. I wish I could have taken some like that. If you don’t mind me asking, what camera did you use? My wife and I were recently at the Tokyo Disney resorts and absolutely loved it. Our favorite part was definitely the Big Band Beat. We won VIP seats and absolutely loved it! I also tried taking some pics but quickly got shut down.
I was surprised my first visit how few westerns there were too, unlike Hong Kong Disneyland which has lots, but I didn’t see that many westerners in Tokyo period.
The Duffy thing is odd – especially that people actually bring their Duffy bears to the park and take them on rides!
Did you notice that all the restaurants have their own trays? The devil is sure in the details!
Yeah, we did notice the trays, they were awesome!
Just getting back from my own visit at TDL, I am enjoying the trip report since I have context on what you are writing about.
Yes, I agree. My friend and I loved the Sinbad attraction. Did you guys get the cd for the attraction?
We got the Tokyo DisneySea Official Album, which includes a ride-through mix of Sindbad’s. Is that what you mean?
Your Tokyo Disney trip report is fantastic! You indicate that two counter service restaurants in each park really stood out. For DisneySea, I gathered that one of the two outstanding counter service restaurants was Vulcania. What was the other one?
Great blog! I’m going in Nov and can’t wait.
Question – what kind of camera do you use? The photos inside a dark ride like the tower of terror came out so great! Also, it appears there is a fisheye on some?