Tokyo Disney Resort Trip Report – Part 4

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After I picked my jaw up off the floor from my experience on Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage, I left the Arabian Coast and did some wandering. First stop was Mysterious Island, where I had some fortunate timing to catch Mount Prometheus erupting. I still prefer Spaceship Earth and the stateside castles, but Mount Prometheus has firmly cemented itself among those as one of the best Disney icons.

No one else had wanted to go into the World of Duffy (or whatever the shop is called) in Cape Cod earlier, so I checked it out by myself after a meandering around Mysterious Island for a bit. World of Duffy feels like The Emporium right before park closing (or on a park anniversary) at all hours of the day. It’s total mayhem in there–anything goes. They have Duffys for any budget (including “life-sized” ones for $500!).

I debated buying one of the standard preppy Duffys because…when in Rome?…but ultimately opted against it because it was just too expensive. Instead, I got a small Tippy Blue plush. Tippy Blue is, apparently, a bird that serves as Duffy’s mailman. He’s one of two Duffy family characters exclusive to DisneySea, with the other being Shellie May, or as I like to call her, “Lady Macduff.” Shellie May is probably as popular as Duffy, but Tippy Blue doesn’t seem popular. That’s okay, I like an underdog. Actually, I think he was recently introduced, and I just don’t think they’ve had the chance to make an entire product line for him.

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Henry was at Magellan’s waiting for Kate to return from her nap (for those keeping score at home, it turns out he never really went to take a nap), so we met up in the bar at Magellan’s. This seemed like as good of a time as any to grab some ice cream, so I did.

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I don’t think anyone else at the bar, and the upper floor of the restaurant was pretty quiet, so it was basically just us and a few servers at the bar. Not only did we receive great service as a result, but our servers actually made drawings for each of us. Mine was “Riceball Monster.” For a monster, it looked pretty cute (I think cute “monsters” might be common in Japan–in Kyoto, we stayed at a hotel that had what I would describe as a “happy opossum” on its logo, but it was actually also some sort of monster according to the man I asked at the front desk). It was pretty awesome that they drew these for us, and I think they were happy when we told them that we liked them.

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Just outside of Magellan’s in the Fortress Explorations area is a little snack window called Refrescos that seemed to specialize in churros. Henry got a Maple Mickey Churro there, which was delicious–the best churro I’ve ever had, but I’m not exactly a big churro guy. We wandered a bit around Fortress Explorations before meeting up with Kate and heading towards the front of Mediterranean Harbor. I messaged Sarah a few times to see when she’d be meeting back up with us, but she was lost for the rest of the night casualty to sleeping through her alarm. It really stunk that she wasn’t there for the last couple hours of the night and later she was really bummed that she didn’t wake up in time to get back to the park.

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Many of Tokyo DisneySea’s shops are located in Mediterranean Harbor, and we wandered through them as we spent some time exploring the park at a leisurely pace. Emporio is the main store up here (the name should sound vaguely familiar) and it was a madhouse whenever we were in there. We also made stops in Galleria Disney, Valentina’s Sweets, and a variety of other shops the names of which elude me now.

We also spotted our duck friends, who were still chilling at the American Waterfront Duffy display.

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While all of these shops are beautiful, the merchandise was mostly a major letdown. This was surprising and disappointing, but probably a good thing in the end. I had heard prior to our trip that it was nearly impossible to find anything with “Tokyo Disneyland” or “Tokyo DisneySea” on it, which turned out to be true–but I expected that, so it wasn’t the source of disappointment. What was the disappointment, and what I didn’t expect because I had heard so many rave reviews of Tokyo’s merchandise was that it was all mostly junk. Beyond the cultural stuff like the abundance of snack foods and sweets (to take home to give as gifts), the merchandise was all mostly cheap trinkets and novelty hats.

There were very few shirts, and what shirts there were all had large characters emblazoned on them. Characters are very popular there, and Tokyo Disney Resort isn’t exactly an American tourist destination, so I can understand this, but I was surprised that there wasn’t anything with understated designs.

Based on this first run-through of the stores in DisneySea, I was very disappointed by the merchandise offerings. World Bazaar in Tokyo Disneyland would later redeem Tokyo’s merchandise a bit (and I’ve heard that the best merchandise is the small batch runs of commemorative stuff–most of the 30th Anniversary small batch stuff was sold out when we visited, so this could partly explain what we saw), but it still was not impressive.

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Overall, I’d say that Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris all have better merchandise than Tokyo, and I regularly hear fans complain about the quality of merchandise at these other three destinations. It’s otherwise an amazing place, but one of the few areas where Tokyo Disney Resort is subpar is in merchandise. This turned out to be a good thing for me, as I ended up spending waaaaaaay too much money on one of Tokyo’s merchandising bright spots, and I can only imagine how much we would’ve spent if merchandise was great across the board.

From there we continued to the gondola area, which was gorgeous at night. I’ve never been to Venice, so I’m not the best judge, but it struck me as a dead ringer for what I’ve seen of Venice in photos. It’s just a little nook of the theme park, but when you’re back there, you don’t get a sense of the rest of the park. I would say more than any other Disney theme park, DisneySea does this type of immersion so incredibly well. There are very few lapses that cause the illusion to be broken, pulling you back to reality.

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I spent too much time taking photos back here, and only ended up with a couple keepers. There are lots of posts and great places to balance the camera, so I kept using these to take 30 second exposures. However, just as I started with one long exposure, I saw a better post for my composition. If that didn’t happen, at about second 29, my camera would move just a little on its perch, ruining the photo.

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Probably after seeing me struggle for a bit, a Cast Member came over and asked if he could see my camera. I let him, and he then adjusting the settings and showed me how I could take handheld photos at night by raising the ISO and opening up the aperture. Of course, I knew how to do this myself (it just wasn’t what I was going for), but I thought it was really nice that he would take the time to show me this, especially with a language barrier and so much likelihood of confusion. It seemed like every interaction we had with Cast Members there just furthered our impression that they are, collectively, the best Cast Members in the world. (In fairness to US Cast Members, I’m sure if guests here were as great as guests there, Cast Members here would be a lot better.)

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From there we wandered on to the New York Deli. None of us were hungry, but we doubted we’d be eating here later, so we figured we might as well check it out. The level of theming was awesome. Surprise, surprise. Each room in the restaurant was themed to a different shop run by a different proprietor. Despite being seating areas for a counter service restaurant, each area felt like it was carved out of an actual shop. There were props all around (some sitting out with little preventing guests from touching them) and huge shifts in design from room to room. Sort of mind blowing for a “simple” counter service restaurant.

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After maybe 45 minutes of wandering, we figured it was time to do a few attractions. We made our way through Mediterranean Harbor into Cape Cod and Port Discovery at a leisurely pace, stopping at Aquatopia when we noticed it had no wait.

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Aquatopia was bathed in a layer of deep blue lighting at night, so saturated to the point that it was virtually impossible to photograph. It looked beautiful this way, so just imagine that. Admittedly, all of Port Discovery looked much better at night, when it seemed more like a stunning sea version of Tomorrowland, and less like an amalgam of steampunk.

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There was a real kinetic energy (thanks largely to Aquatopia) and it just felt right for these reasons and others that are more difficult to articulate. The sea wall holding back the ocean (not really), with the ocean continuing behind it as far as the eye could see sort of gave the land an undertone of the vastness of the ocean and the great unknown. Every Tomorrowland I’ve ever seen works better at night for these same reasons (substitute the vastness of space for the ocean), so I guess it sort of makes sense.

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Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull was next, and the wait at this point wasn’t bad. I think we still ended up doing it via the single rider line, but normal standby wasn’t bad, either.

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Henry and Kate were both intrigued by Raging Spirits, so we went there next. Indiana Jones et le Temple du Péril was down when they went to Disneyland Paris, so they never had the joy of experiencing that. Raging Spirits was ostensibly the same, albeit with some cooler effects.

As we entered the queue, the Cast Member pulled Henry aside and measured him. He was too tall for the ride. Let that be a lesson, parents out there who encourage your kids to eat their vegetables so they can get “big enough to ride Space Mountain”–if you eat too many vegetables, you end up being too tall for some of the attractions!

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Standby was posted as like 45 minutes, but it didn’t seem like too long of a wait via Single Rider, so Kate and I got in line. Single Rider took forever. There were only like 10 people in front of us, but only like 1 person was pulled from our line every 4 minutes or so. I swear we waited almost 45 minutes, and it was an excruciating wait because we weren’t moving, and the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel was so close.

The ride itself was just as lame as Paris’ Indy, except with some neat mist and fire. Henry had a better view of that mist and fire where he stood and waited for us, and he could enjoy a beer while enjoying the effects, so I think he got the better end of the deal by being too tall to ride. Don’t think that negates my lesson above–I stand by my position that vegetable consumption is rife with peril.

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Our night concluded with Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage, which I had been hyping up to them since we had met back up. I doubt they bought into my hype, as my description then probably didn’t do it justice. My description now probably won’t do it justice, but luckily, now I have photos to back me up.

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A few things before we get into the greatness that is Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage. First, it’s “Sindbad,” not Sinbad. I don’t know why this bears mentioning (it probably doesn’t), but they opted for the traditional spelling at DisneySea rather than the modern one. Second, the attraction has been historically unpopular with Japanese guests–so much so that it was totally redone in 2007 and changed from Sindbad’s Seven Voyages to the current version of the attraction, with its tone totally changed, a new character (Chandu) added, and a song added. Having watched the video, this is one attraction that I think benefited SUBSTANTIALLY (the most, ever?) from a re-imagining. Third, in addition to not being the most popular attraction among guests, I’ve heard some (not a lot, but some) criticism of it from an artistic/design perspective–so it’s not universally loved. Finally, if you have visiting Tokyo DisneySea at some point on your Disney bucket list, you I’d highly recommend that you scroll past this section and experience this attraction in person for the first time…

START SINDBAD’S STORYBOOK VOYAGE DISCUSSION

The first time I did Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had heard it was good from the few Americans I know who had experienced it, but beyond them describing it as a cross between ‘it’s a small world’ and Pirates of the Caribbean, I didn’t have any clue what the ride entailed. I think they described it that way to give an idea of the overall feel for the attraction, but I’ll go as far as to say I think it should be considered a modern classic on par with those heavy hitters.

Describing it 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. The attraction proceeds with each room essentially glimpses at their various adventures, told through dialogue and the song “Compass Of Your Heart” by Alan Menken. Sindbad and Chandu save the day (although Chandu mostly just gets himself into mischief) in many of these scenes and ultimately return home with riches.

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When I first entered the first room in Sindbad’s, my jaw dropped. In that single room, there were more Audio Animatronics than I’ve seen in any other new Disney attraction in the last decade plus. All have amazingly fluid motion, and all together to give an incredible sense of life to Sindbad’s village as they wished 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 is one of the biggest marks of a classic Disney attraction.

This room struck me as a sharp contrast to the “Under the Sea” room in the new United States Little Mermaid dark rides. There, it seems that the question asked when the attraction was pitched was, “how few fully articulated Audio Animatronics can we get away with?” By contrast, the question the Oriental Land Company asked for Sindbad seems to have been, “how many fully articulated Audio Animatronics do we need in this room to really wow guests?”

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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.” A room like that is truly a situation where the whole is much more than a sum of the parts. While I know I could not identify a single missing figure or two, 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 at WDI, but it’s the feeling you should get when experiencing a Disney attraction.

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I enjoy The Little Mermaid dark ride, but at no time have I ever had that feeling on that attraction. I never once lost that feeling on each of our many rides on Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage.

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Based on that first scene, I could see guests being concerned that Sindbad’s peaks too early. Surprisingly, that doesn’t happen at all. The first scene sets expectations high, and as the journey starts in the scenes that follow, things start to build again until you are face to face with a tribe of monkeys, a giant singing genie, and a huge whale.

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I’m not going to go scene-by-scene describing the attraction (I’ll save that for a dedicated post on it), but I will say that towards the end of the attraction my eyes got wider and wider as each scene somehow managed to raise the already high bar set by the previous scene. It’s as if Walt’s “you can’t top pigs with pigs” mantra was always the minds of the Imagineers designing the attraction.

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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.

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Speaking of the characters, while Sindbad is the star of the show, Chandu is the show-stealer. He’s cute, but his appeal isn’t just in that he sits there and “is cute.” He has personality throughout the attraction, and he’s helpful, mischievous, and endearing–all without a single line of 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. I think Chandu has the potential to catch on in the United States, too.

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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? (This last one can only be partly true at best.) In terms of actual quality, this attraction deserves at least a constant 30-minute wait, even with its high capacity and location.

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Sindbad’s lack of popularity is inexplicable to me, and can’t be based on its quality. The only criticism of it that I’ve heard is on an artistic level, which is probably beyond the average guest: the layout of the attraction and its reveals aren’t the best (probably partly true) and that its set design is mediocre (I can sort of see this, although here I think the simplicity works to give it a “storybook” feel). In any case, I’ve only heard these comments from a couple of artistic types, and I don’t think even the most discerning guests would have these same complaints, so I don’t think they explain the attraction’s lack of popularity. Personally, I consider Sindbad’s to be flawless.

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I go back and forth on whether this or Tokyo’s Tower of Terror is my favorite DisneySea attraction, and it’s not really a fair comparison. Tower of Terror totally immerses you in an environment where you experience something from, more or less, a first person perspective. Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage is a passive attraction, but has equally impressive storytelling devices. Overall, I think Tower of Terror is probably the stronger complete attraction (from queue to post-show), whereas Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage is probably the stronger ride. Either way, they’re 1A and 1B in terms of my favorite attractions at my favorite Disney theme park in the world. So it’s not like either of them are doing too badly.

END SINDBAD’S STORYBOOK VOYAGE DISCUSSION

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DisneySea was closed when we finished Sindbad’s, and Henry and Kate left while I started photographing the Arabian Coast. I mostly shot handheld back here and many of my photos didn’t turn out.

One photo I spent about 15 minutes on, as I tried to balance my camera just right on a nearby ledge. I couldn’t see to compose the photo, so it was a matter of guessing, checking, adjusting, and retaking. I finally moved on after I thought I nailed it…only to find out that it was badly tilted when I saw it on my computer.

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My biggest “lesson” to any photographers based on all of this is to not fret too much trying to find “makeshift tripods.” If there is a spot that is there and convenient, take advantage of it, but don’t spend so much time trying to force it that you miss out on 5 good handheld/high ISO shots in the process. More photos is almost always better than fewer, and in 5 years you won’t care that the photo isn’t technically perfect, you’ll care that you have it as a preservation of the memory of that night. At least I know that’s how I feel about my photos from there, and I wonder what else I could’ve captured while I struggled with that one shot that didn’t even work.

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After Arabian Coast I headed to Mysterious Island before heading to the front of the park. Again, there were a lot of guests still at the 30th Anniversary display. It was clear I had some time before I’d have to leave, so I wandered around taking photos of the store windows and then set up for a good long exposure of the Aquasphere.

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All in all, a pretty spectacular first full day in Tokyo DisneySea. You know it’s a good night when you are on the last monorail, with the cleaning crew…

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We hope you enjoyed the conclusion of our first full day in Tokyo DisneySea! 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

Your Thoughts…

What do you think of this glimpse at Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage and its superstar in the making, Chandu? Do you agree that more effort seems to be put into the attractions at the Tokyo parks than the US ones? Surprised about the souvenirs? Please share any thoughts or questions below in the comments!


36 Responses to “Tokyo Disney Resort Trip Report – Part 4”
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