The next day would be our first visit to Tokyo Disneyland. We were enthusiastic about this thanks to a few key attractions, like Pooh’s Hunny Hunt and Monster’s Inc. Ride and Go Seek, but otherwise the real draw was probably snacking and just wandering around to see details. We had heard that it was essentially a mash-up of the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland with World Bazaar instead of Main Street, so expectations weren’t too high.
Prior to the trip, I had set up a few photo sessions with a rep from Tokyo Disney Resort, which would happen later in the trip. The day before we left, she asked if I’d be like to attend the grand opening of Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, which was to be held that morning prior to park opening. Unsure of cultural customs, I didn’t want to offend anyone in the OLC or at Tokyo Disney Resort by declining (and who am I kidding…it sounded fun and I wanted to do it), so I accepted.
Thanks to this, my first experience of Tokyo Disneyland was an interesting one. As I walked down World Bazaar, the only other people there were a couple hundred guests (handpicked for the event as contest winners based on applications they submitted) all dressed in homemade Star Wars costumes. It was already a bit surreal seeing Cinderella Castle in Japan and peaking out from the end of the covered World Bazaar, but the fact that the only “inhabitants” of World Bazaar were a couple hundred Star Wars characters really made things interesting.
While I’d like to think of these trip reports as a weak exercise in Gonzo journalism, this is probably the closest I’ve ever come to a Hunter S. Thompson-esque experience in my life (and even so, it was within the tame confines of Tokyo Disneyland). Fortunately, I didn’t scream, “WE CAN’T STOP HERE, THIS IS EWOK COUNTRY!” as I walked down World Bazaar.
Even though that was technically my first time in Tokyo Disneyland, it didn’t feel like it for some reason. It wasn’t until after I left the park following those presentations, got in line with the rest of the crew, and we entered the park together that it felt like my “true” first time in Tokyo Disneyland.
The lines outside the turnstiles on this particular morning were far longer than the lines at Tokyo DisneySea the morning prior. This came as no surprise, since it was the first official day Star Tours: The Adventures Continue was open (it had been ‘soft open’ for a couple of weeks) and the local Tokyo Disney fanbase was eager to ride the attraction on its official opening day.
Of course, we ran when we got inside, going straight for the Monsters, Inc. Ride and Go Seek FastPass distribution, accessible via a “shortcut” side street off World Bazaar. These streets were pretty interesting.
Even without the Star Wars characters, this second “first visit” felt like Bizarro Magic Kingdom. The side streets connecting to Tomorrowland and Adventureland caught me off guard, and the idea that both of these lands were so close to Main Street was odd. (Even though I know they’re just as close in Disneyland–it’s just something I don’t think about when I’m in the park.) There were many things like this, from the sprawling hub to little details that were similar but different in Tokyo Disneyland. While its initial beauty wasn’t as surprising as Tokyo DisneySea, I soon learned that Tokyo Disneyland wasn’t a simple copy of the Magic Kingdom or Disneyland. But these weren’t thoughts that gelled until a bit later. For now, let’s continue with the breakneck-paced morning…
I’d wager that 95% of the crowd also went the same direction as us into Tomorrowland, but no one besides us stopped at the Monsters, Inc Ride and Go Seek FastPass kiosks. Everyone else continued on to Star Tours.
With our FastPasses, in hand, it was time to rush to Pooh’s Hunny Hunt. I think most guests who got FastPasses for Star Tours also got in line for it, because we encountered few other guests on our run to Hunny Hunt. The queue for Hunny Hunt shared some similarities with The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and that’s where the similarities ended. Well, besides the obvious inclusion of the Winnie the Pooh characters in both attractions.
Pooh’s Hunny Hunt is most well known among fans outside of Japan for its trackless ride system. While early reviews from SeaWorld’s Antarctica have demonstrated that a trackless ride system without more does not a good attraction make, but in this case, thanks to both the ride system and impressive visuals, Pooh’s Hunny Hunt is spectacular.
The success is probably attributable to how the trackless system immerses you in the action. Great dark rides have a way of doing this. Peter Pan’s Flight flies you over London, Haunted Mansion places you in the middle of a ghostly mansion, but nothing until Pooh’s Hunny Hunt has used the ride system so well to remove you from your world and make you a part of Pooh’s story. This is pretty remarkable since Hunny Hunt literally puts you into a storybook (broken up into multiple scenes very different in place), whereas something like Peter Pan’s Flight has you fly from place to place.
The way these ride vehicles dance with one another and engage their environments adds a new degree of immersion that I don’t recall having felt in a dark ride before. From the first scene when the vehicles gather around for storytime to bouncing with Tigger to spinning in Pooh’s dream with Heffalumps, you are “participating” in the attraction in such a manner that it seems like anything might be possible.
As compared to the versions of the Pooh dark rides in the United States, the visuals in Pooh’s Hunny Hunt are also superior, but it’s really the way the ride just organically ‘wanders about’ that makes it an absolute home run. In recent years it seems like Disney has taken a ‘technology-first’ approach with story being shoe-horned in to the detriment of the attraction, but that is absolutely not the case here. The trackless ride system is not just a fancy piece of tech about which fans and designers can talk shop, it’s an essential element of the attraction without which the ride simply wouldn’t “work.”
I’m pretty sure this was the favorite attraction of everyone in our party, and it’s unquestionably one of the best attractions at Tokyo Disneyland. I rode the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in Disneyland a couple weeks later, and moving along the jerky ride track felt like a cold, archiac experience by comparison.
We debated doing Pooh’s Hunny Hunt right away again, but the wait had quickly climbed to about 30 minutes (totally worth it), and we figured we’d be able to see it via FastPass plenty of times over the course of the trip, so we headed on to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was unique, and there are definitely some differences in effects and look of the attraction (I thought the geyser pools were prettier). I guess the best way to put it would be that it was substantially similar–a serious Big Thunder fan would be able to spot the differences easily, but a casual fan probably wouldn’t notice much. It certainly wasn’t as different as Paris’ Big Thunder, which is radically different thanks to its location on an island. That version remains my favorite.
It was still early in the morning, but lines were starting to form and we weren’t quite eligible for another FastPass or to use our Monsters, Inc. Ride and Go Seek ones yet, nor did we want to queue up in a long line, so we decided to head to Tomorrowland to see what we should do next.
We were then eligible for another set of FastPasses, and it was decision time. Part of our group wanted to do Star Tours on opening day and half wanted to get another FastPass for Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek or Pooh’s Hunny Hunt. Here were our positions: 1) part of the reason we visited when we did was because Star Tours should be pulling guests away from other FastPass attractions, and since it was a clone from the US version, we could safely skip it for the popular attractions unique to Tokyo; 2) as hardcore Disney fans, it’s a badge of honor to experience the official opening day of anything. I don’t want to prejudice you by revealing who wanted to do what, but what would you have done in that circumstance?
The FastPass distribution line was longer than any I had seen in my life, but rather than all of us wait in what was sure to be an hour long-line, we sent Henry as our official ambassador. Sarah and Kate got in line for stinky soy sauce and butter popcorn. I wandered off to “take photos.” I figured I had at least 45 minutes to screw around, so when I saw Alien Mochi Dumplings being sold without a line, I stopped there.
After that, I saw a bunch of guests photographing their Duffy Bears dressed in Star Wars attire. I started out by creepily taking photos of them photographing their bears, but talked to each of them afterward and had them pose for photos. They were all really enthusiastic about Star Wars, which seemed pretty common for guests we encountered. The two guys with the Duffy Bears below were seasoned Disney theme parks fans who had visited every park around the world. We saw a lot of people in the parks who had either been to other worldwide parks or purchased clothing from those parks online (I suspect the former).
It’s crazy to think that Disney fans in Japan are more passionate about the parks than American fans, but I think that might be the case. It’s pretty difficult to top Disneyland fans, but Tokyo fans come close. I would definitely say that Japanese fans make more of an effort to visit the international parks than American fans do. Even with the US parks, a lot of fans seem to be “polarized isolationists,” for lack of a better term. To a lot of Disneyland fans, the idea that Walt Disney World (or vice-a-versa) is in any way superior to Disneyland is heresy, punishable with death by guillotine.
On a domestic level, this is absolute nonsense, just as it’s absolute nonsense on an international level. Each of the resorts has its strengths and compelling reasons for visiting, just as each (including Tokyo), has its weaknesses. It’s great that Tokyo fans realize this and visit the parks outside of their comfort zones. I’ll be the first to admit that it took me far too long to realize this.
After chatting with these guys for a bit, I headed into the Pan Galactic Pizza Port. The best way to describe this restaurant is: “rad.” You remember how cool things like LA Lights, neon fanny packs, and Boy Meets World were back in the mid-1990s? (If not, then obviously you weren’t cool.) Remember how each of those things sort of faded away, but has now made a triumphant comeback as “90s-retro” has become hip? That’s sort of how I feel about Pan Galactic Pizza Port, except I assume the 1990s never really faded away here.
The reason this restaurant is so rad is thanks solely to a heroic alien named Tony Solaroni. To put this succinctly, Mr. Solaroni is basically the pizza world’s equivalent to Batman (or perhaps Sonny Eclipse). At least, that’s what I gathered from the videos that played in Japanese on the TV sets above the alien Audio-Animatronics figure’s head. From what I gathered, Mr. Solaroni uses his ginormous pizza-making machine to somehow save the galaxy from evil-doers…by delivering pizzas. In so doing, Mr. Solaroni is is the working man’s hero who is constantly harassed by his boss. Mr. Solaroni’s boss probably doubles as the bad guy who has been somehow secretly depriving the world of pizza. At least that’s how things are going to play out in the plot twist of the major motion picture treatment I’m writing for Tony Solaroni (also starring Nicolas Cage and Christopher Walken–it’s a sequel to National Treasure).
In this film, Tony Solaroni plays a cross between Rambo and Hooter from Captain EO, in a bit of a darker role than most audiences will be used to seeing him play. Spoiler alert: he saves the day by hiding the Declaration of Independence in a pizza. There are also some comic hijinks as Nic Cage almost accidentally eats the wrong pizza (the one that has the Declaration of Independence in it) while he’s being interrogated by Christopher Walken, who plays Cyborg Kim Jung-un. Look for this as an awards season 2015 release.
I previously mentioned that there were very few times when I had no idea what was going on thanks to the language barrier. The “plot” involving Tony Solaroni was one such time, but I’m actually not so sure that has much to do with it being in Japanese, since most of the show also has subtitles. I think I was just blown away by how bizarrely awesome it was. I’m actually quite glad I couldn’t understand it. It added to the mystique and intrigue, and allowed for me to concoct the nonsense you read above.
Noted Tony Solaroni aficionado James Hilger is perhaps the leading advocate of, and foremost authority on, Tony Solaroni fanfic; I encourage you to watch this video (and parts 2 and 3) and follow his inspiration by posting your own synopsis of the Tony Solaroni Story below in the comments. I’ll select the best one to win a major award. (Of the 5% of you who actually read the text in these reports, I’m sure approximately 0% of you will take me up on this…but you should!)
Okay, enough with that nonsense and on to other nonsense…It took Henry much less time than expected to get the FastPasses for Star Tours, but Sarah and Kate were just finishing in line for the popcorn when I was done with my first viewing of the Tony Solaroni Show.
Next, it was time to use our Monsters, Inc. Ride and Go Seek FastPasses. I’ll save our reaction to this attraction for a future installment when I have photos of it. Suffice to say, it’s a big part of the reason why I consider Tokyo Disneyland my favorite castle park, ahead of even the original Disneyland.
We returned to Pan Galactic Pizza Port for lunch, and we were all pleasantly surprised. No one else was as into the awesomeness that was Tony Solaroni as me (fools), but I think we all enjoyed the pizza. Sarah still mentions the snow crab pizza (previously listed as one of our favorite snacks at Tokyo Disneyland) when talking about Tokyo with friends, so I’d say it made an impression on her. For good reason, because it was shockingly good pizza for a counter service restaurant.
I wonder if anyone saw Sarah getting close-up with her iPhone Olloclip to photograph the Alien Mochi Dumplings. It’s a pretty odd sight, but those in glass houses (me), can’t throw stones…
It was still relatively early, and we had heard that Goofy’s Paint ‘N’ Play House’s line grew longer as the day wore on, so we headed to Toontoown.
This attraction opened last year, and I suppose it’s a neat diversion for kids. The idea is that Goofy has developed a “room in a can” painting system that is a runaway hit. How this works makes no sense, but that’s fine, because a talking dog doesn’t make a lot of sense, either. It is the kind of thing you’d see in a cartoon, so no complaints there.
My disappointment with the attraction is that it uses what I presume is a fairly complex system (it seems similar to Toy Story Mania in terms of tech) to accomplish something mundane. To be fair, it is in Toontown, which is aimed at kids, but I found myself bored with the attraction after about 20 seconds of spraying paint at the room. As best I could tell, there was no game or strategy to it…it was just a matter of spraying aiming and watching. Sort of like interactivity for the sake of interactivity. Again, maybe it resonates more with kids. To its credit, it’s much more ambitious than the standard Toontown houses.
Our next stop was Critter Country, and we passed through Fantasyland on our way there, snapping some pics along the way…
Along our way, we spotted the Mad Hatter meeting guests in typical ‘free for all’ manner. The photo below isn’t good at all, but I wanted to share it because it contains so many interesting things all in one scene. Take a few seconds to look it over.
Sarah and Kate stopped for photos with the characters. The Mad Hatter seemed happy to see them; I’d hazard a guess that they only encounter a few other westerners each day, so maybe it was nice to have the interaction?
From there we headed to Critter Country to do Splash Mountain via the single rider line. Critter Country blew us all away. So detailed, nuanced, and with tons of (as Calvin’s dad would say) character. It sort of came out of left field as none of us had heard much about this land before the trip, other than that Splash Mountain was a must-do. But Splash Mountain is a must-do everywhere, so that wasn’t really saying much. I’ll get more into Critter Country later, but I think it excelled because it all seemed to be built around Splash Mountain (unlike Disneyland’s, which was built around Country Bear Jamboree and later retrofit to match Pooh and Splash), with the two restaurants functioning as an extension of Splash Mountain, and the land having a lot of texture and gradiation (steps and branching pathways everywhere). Unlike so much of the rest of the park, this area was not built to be conducive to traffic flow, but instead was built to be an intimate experience that was built to feel like it could be ‘lived in’ by woodland critters.
As for Splash Mountain, it’s quite possibly my favorite attraction at Walt Disney World (or at least it is when it proper show condition), and Tokyo Disneyland’s Splash Mountain is slightly superior even to the Walt Disney World version.
The differences aren’t major, but they are there. First, the attraction queue goes right into the inside of the mountain, with plenty of details along the way (my favorite of which is Brer Owl, who talks to guests as they wait in line). This queue is awesome, and although we never waited long in it thanks to the single rider line, I’d hazard a guess that it’s so engaging because lines for Splash Mountain tend to be super long.
As for the ride itself, the scenes are similar to the Walt Disney World version, but with sometimes subtle (and sometimes extreme) differences. For example, the Laughing Place scene is radically different from Walt Disney World’s version, whereas there are only minor differences between the respective Zip-A-Dee Lady scenes.
Also notable is that the Audio Animatronics figures simply look nicer, with fuller coats of fur and more detail. I’m not sure if this is because they are America Sings cast-offs like the ones in Disneyland (I’ve seen speculation in the past that this is why the Disneyland AAs look nicer, while the rest of the Disneyland version of the attraction is inferior to the Walt Disney World version), or if it’s just because the Oriental Land Company ordered a nicer set…or if I’m just imagining it. In any case, they looked great.
The other noteworthy thing about the Tokyo Disneyland version…EVERYTHING WORKED! Now, to give credit where credit is due, Walt Disney World’s Splash Mountain is looking the best it has looked in years after its 2013 refurbishment, but both that version and the Disneyland version have had problems with maintenance over the years. I can’t think of any maintenance issues in Tokyo. Anywhere.
Anytime you witness an alien save the universe by delivering pizzas, it’s a good day. When, on that same day, you also visit a bar where raccoon gather to imbibe, you are experiencing near-fatal levels of awesomeness. Such was the case for us on this day, as we followed our Pan Galactic Pizza Port visit up with a stop at Rackety’s Raccoon Saloon. We got a number of things here, with the seasonal “Critter Sundae” being the highlight. Ours had a Mickey Churro, strawberry ice cream, and, of course, corn flakes. Corn flakes go surprisingly well in ice cream–gave this a nice texture. Dining with raccoon and aliens in the same day…it truly was a glorious time!
From there we headed to Adventureland, where we first did the Tiki Room. Tokyo Disneyland’s Tiki Room is called “The Enchanted Tiki Room: Stitch Presents Aloha E Komo Mai!.” It combines two things that history would inform us are a recipe for disaster: a modernized Tiki Room and a Stitch Audio-Animatronics figure in an “in the round” setting. After all, Under New Management was a dud and Stitch’s Great Escape is a dud. It should be a train wreck of epic proportions.
Yet, somehow, The Enchanted Tiki Room: Stitch Presents Aloha E Komo Mai! isn’t awful. I actually enjoy it, mostly for Stitch and his ukulele-playing at the end (I could do without the “Prankster Stitch” elements). It’s not as good as the original, but it’s unique, and it’s nice to have variations in the attractions from park to park.
This was one attraction that had a translation device, which were provided to us by Cast Members. Basically, it was a personal closed caption device. About halfway through the show I stopped looking at mine because I couldn’t take in both this, the music, and the visuals. I don’t feel like I missed out on anything that was going on by not understanding the dialogue or specific lyrics.
From there we hit Pirates of the Caribbean. This is another attraction that I’ll cover in more depth later, but for now, here are some photos:
Before grabbing snacks, we decided to make a quick pass through the Swiss Family Treehouse to check out the view. I now honestly can’t say how similar it was to the Walt Disney World version (even at the time, the primary purpose was the view), but it seemed roughly the same. Of course, the view was different.
Now, it was still relatively early in the day and you might notice that we had already stopped for food several times…but we stopped again. We quickly discovered that Adventureland is basically the culinary capital of Adventureland. It’s basically the Paris of snack foods (in Tokyo Disneyland). Here are some photos from this adventure in dining…
This is another topic we already hit on our Awesome Tokyo Disneyland Snacks article, so I won’t regurgitate it here. Suffice to say, this area of Adventureland became a frequent stop for us. All of these snacks were available in what I’d call a sub-land of Adventureland that I’d describe as Typhoon Lagoon-inspired. This mini-land really perplexed me throughout the trip, but I solved the mystery once we got home, and I’ll share more about it later This likely qualifies as the lamest cliffhanger ever.
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Does Pooh’s Hunny Hunt sound like something that you’d like to see in the United States? What about Tony Solaroni? Anything else at Tokyo Disneyland you’d like to have in the United States? Hearing from readers is half the fun, so be sure to share your thoughts (or Tony Solaroni fanfic) in the comments!