Prior to our trip, when I roughly planned the itinerary, I didn’t give much thought to what “Land of the Rising Sun” means. I quickly surmised what it means when I checked sunrise times to figure out when I’d have to be up if I wanted to photograph the sunrise. Each morning while we were there, the sunrise occurred between 4:30 am and 4:40 am. It wasn’t going to be a ‘rest and relaxation’ type of trip.
The problem with timing the sunrise is that it’s not exact. Well, maybe it is exact, but for photography purposes, it isn’t. The best light may come before or after the official sunrise, so you can’t set your watch to the time of sunset, show up, take photos at that exact time, and leave. You have to arrive earlier and stay later. In this case, that meant getting up around 3:30 am, quickly getting ready, and meeting my contact, who picked me up to head to Tokyo DisneySea, in the lobby of the Hilton at 4 am. I’m sure I became somewhat of a familiar face with the staff working the front desk of the Hilton, who greeted me after every late evening and at the start of every early morning.
There was nowhere to get coffee that early, but I had enough adrenaline and excitement that I didn’t much need it. I would’ve happily gotten an hour of sleep if it meant having the opportunity to photograph the sunrise in those parks! It was a fun shoot, racing from one end of the park to the other (I think I walked approximately 36.4 miles that morning!) as I chased the light.
Here are some of the photos from that morning shoot:
This installment is all downhill from there, so if you want to bounce, now is the time. When you find yourself reading about men’s lipstick later in this post, don’t say I didn’t warn you…
Once I was done with the sunrise shoot, I headed into the Hotel MiraCosta, thinking I might get breakfast before meeting up with everyone else. I still had enough time to go back to the Hilton and take a short nap before the parks opened, but I figured the likelihood of actually falling asleep was slim to none.
The options at the MiraCosta were all too expensive, but I decided to explore and take some photos before heading to the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel to see if they had any more reasonably priced options.
The best way to describe the Miracosta is opulent. When booking our room for the trip, we balked at the roughly $500/night price of the MiraCosta (Henry and Kate wisely booked a night there at the end of the trip) in favor of the roughly $150/night Hilton Tokyo Bay. The Hilton was a great hotel and a great value, but in retrospect, I wish we had done one night at the MiraCosta. It would’ve been an easy transfer and would have been well worth it for one night. I probably should have read some reviews before booking.
None of the hotels at Tokyo Disney Resort have a large footprint a la a Walt Disney World resort hotel, but the MiraCosta has the largest footprint of these, since it also functions as a part of Tokyo DisneySea. Parts of it are actually in the park! To me, the true genius of the MiraCosta is how well this is pulled off. A hotel in a theme park has so much potential to fail as a cash grab attempting to cash-in on location with high prices, but that’s not the case with the Hotel MiraCosta at all.
Instead, the exterior of the MiraCosta provides the facades for Mediterranean Harbor, and does so in a way that the hotel actually looks like actually buildings you’d find in the mediterranean. I doubt many of you were looking at those photos of the Venetian waterways above and thinking, “this would be a lot better if there weren’t a hotel in the background.” To the contrary, you were probably thinking that it looked so authentic because of the buildings in the background, which were, in fact, actually the MiraCosta.
Those buildings could have been built as false facades, but I can only imagine how exorbitant the cost for that would have been. To be sure, the cost for the MiraCosta was undoubtedly much, much higher, but in the case of the MiraCosta, the cost could quickly be recouped since it’s a high priced hotel.
To me, the MiraCosta is an example of how to do things right when balancing out the business logistics of operating a theme park resort with the guest experience. Both guests and management wins with the MiraCosta. Guests have a visually rich experience in the Mediterranean Harbor that probably wouldn’t be as good without the hotel, and management gets a hotel that’s a cash cow.
This is probably the best example of this “balance” I can think of at Tokyo Disney Resort, but it’s really all over the place. It’s very difficult to think of any situation where we viewed things as “greedy,” because most of the time, there was that balance.
I think this contrasts with the current philosophy at Walt Disney World. There, rather than striking that balance, it seems like it’s a matter of making decisions from the perspective that the decision “won’t noticeably hurt the existing guest experience.” The Grand Floridian Disney Vacation Club seems like a good example of this. Disney Vacation Club there will unquestionably be lucrative for management, but they had to find a way to build it without harming the guest experience at the Grand Floridian or the Wedding Pavilion to the extent that guests would notice and complain at unacceptable levels. The key motivation isn’t building something that’s a good idea or works well, it’s building something that they can make work because it’s profitable.
I still love Walt Disney World, but I found myself having to self-justify things a lot less at Tokyo Disney Resort than I do in Florida. There’s no need to be reminded that ‘theme parks are a business that exist to make money,’ because you don’t have reason to stop and wonder why certain things are being done in a manner that’s counter-intuitive to the guest experience. Instead, you’re too busy just having an awesome experience as a guest.
Enough tangenting for now; from the MiraCosta, I headed off to the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel to find somewhere to eat there. Again, the only options were too pricey. (If anyone knows of an inexpensive Disney restaurant outside of the parks for breakfast at Tokyo Disney Resort, I’d love to hear it!)
I just wandered around again there, as breakfast was too expensive there. I’ve heard from a few people that the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel is actually nicer than the MiraCosta (it’s actually the newest hotel there, having opened in 2008), and I assume this is from the perspective of the guest rooms. I only saw a MiraCosta room, so I can’t speak to that, but in terms of the whole picture, I think MiraCosta pretty easily trumps the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel.
I was about the only person on the monorail, and as I boarded and deboarded, I creepily stopped to take photos of the pilot.
This is not to say the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel is a slouch by any means. Of the Disney hotels we’ve visited in California, Florida, Paris, and Tokyo, I’d probably rank the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel #2 overall to the MiraCosta. However, where the MiraCosta is head and shoulders above any other Disney hotel, I think the flagship hotels around the world compete with the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel in terms of quality or draw pretty well. What other hotels may lack in terms of maintenance or design they make up in other ways.
Finally realizing I wasn’t going to find an inexpensive breakfast that morning, I headed back to the Hilton where we had snacks in the room. It was time to leave for Tokyo DisneySea almost as soon as I arrived.
This time, our morning was a bit slower-paced since we had already done just about every headliner in which we were interested. We still made an effort to be efficient, but there was a lot of wandering and exploring, too. Tokyo DisneySea really is great at accommodating both those who want to enjoy attractions and those who just want to wander and soak up ambiance. It’s the perfect ‘locals’ park, and although I know we’ll be back, I really wish Port Disney would’ve been built in Long Beach so we had a closer version of it. Of course, chances are the US version would’ve been butchered, with a pop-culture dark ride called Superstar Subs and a wild-mouse called EAC Madness. Oh well, I guess.
Since we were mostly doing more of the same, I’ll let the photos speak for themselves most of the time in this installment and interject commentary about random other stuff that doesn’t seem to fit elsewhere. It’ll be like one tangent after another…as if that’s any different from the norm.
I’ve been using it less and less, but I decided to bring my infrared Nikon D70 along to Tokyo. I only ended up using it for about 40 photos, so it probably wasn’t worth the space it took up in my suitcase, but I really like infrared photos in small doses. Here’s some more information about infrared photography for those who are unfamiliar with it. Here are a few from that day:
I’ve touched on this a bit, but I think part of what makes Tokyo Disney Resort so special is the Cast Members. This isn’t meant as a slight at any of you who are Cast Members in the US parks. If you’re one of the many great Cast Members in the US, a sincere thanks for helping to make the places we enjoy visiting so special. If you are a Cast Member in the US, I’m sure you’ll also agree that not every Cast Member is exemplary. This is no surprise–when you hire that many employees at a single site, you’re bound to end up with some bad apples.
This is not the case in Tokyo, or at least it was not our experience. I know I am already elevating Tokyo Disney Resort to seemingly mythical heights, but I swear that we didn’t encounter a single Cast Member in Tokyo who was anything short of great. The level of respect and pride in their positions was a bit shocking, and the parks were staffed at such high levels (on a few occasions, we counted three Cast Members for a single ODV cart!) that there always was someone around to offer assistance.
In fairness, this was the case all throughout Japan, not just in Disney, and I believe it’s a cultural thing. I’ve heard that the service industries are not viewed as simple entry-level jobs there, but are esteemed positions that workers hold with pride. We were never out of our element in the parks, but the level of hospitality when people helped us outside of the parks was great.
The question that’s probably on everyone’s mind right now is what the cape selection is like in Tokyo Disney Resort. One of the leading complaints in the US is the poor cape selection, and I’m happy to report that there are plenty of capes to be found at Tokyo Disney Resort. Chalk it up to…well, I don’t really know what…but both Sarah and Kate purchased capes the previous night in Tokyo Disneyland, and proudly wore them around the next day in DisneySea. I assume the cape craze will soon sweep the US and if it does, don’t worry, you too can have your own Disney cape. So long as you’re a toddler.
In their defense, Henry’s wearing of Ichiban, lipstick for men was way odder than the capes. Although I have to admit that he pulled it off!
We spent most of the late morning just wandering around. We stopped at a snack stand that–I kid you not–was themed to dinosaurs and sold meat on a stick and red beer. Between this and the Teddy Roosevelt Lounge, Tokyo DisneySea became the leading exemplar of American Patriotism in my mind. If only the red beer were topped with white foam and had some blue sprinkles in it or something, right?!
More time was spent exploring the Tower of Terror and its queue, and even then we still didn’t come close to seeing it all. It’s sort of like the Louvre–they say you could spend a year in there and never see it all. DisneySea vet Jeanine described Tower of Terror on Twitter as “basically a walk-through with a small drop at the end.” I think that describes it perfectly. Here are a few more photos of that brilliant queue.
Our next stop was the DisneySea Transit Steamer Line. This was basically just a relaxed boat cruise around the park, but its queue-area was anything but relaxed, thanks to sharing space with the Duffy and Shellie May meet & greet (at least I think it was both of them). The boat ride was nice, and that park is so beautiful that I could see doing this attraction on a regular basis if I were a DisneySea local.
As always, Duffy-mania was in full force that day. Two of the more interesting things I saw were Duffy in a stroller and Duffy and Shellie May with Pinocchio costumes. I talked to the guests who had these things, and the woman with the Pinocchio costumes indicated that she had made them by hand herself, and that she tried to make different costumes for her bears each time she came to the park. Regardless of what you think of Duffy, I think that’s pretty awesome. It demonstrates a certain pride and passion that I think is great. Not to mention that the costumes (these ones at least) were really well made. I know literally nothing about sewing (in college I once attempted to sew an element of a Halloween costume, but I got frustrated so I stapled it instead), but I can only imagine how long these took to make. She was very happy that I wanted to photograph the bears, too.
While I think Duffy’s current presence in Tokyo DisneySea is just about perfect (the dinner show, meet and greet, and random small-ish stage shows) but I wonder how long it is before he gets his own attraction. I think the only thing preventing that at this point is space. Duffy’s home is Cape Cod, and there is literally no room to expand in Cape Cod because it abuts Mount Prometheus and is otherwise surrounded by water.
In general, I’m not sure how many expansion pads in Tokyo DisneySea there even are. I think there might be some room back in the Lost River Delta and Arabian Coast, but the park is closely bordered by monorail track, roads, ocean, and Tokyo Disneyland, so the options are sort of limited unless more land is reclaimed. Given the infrastructure changes that would be needed for reclaiming land, I can’t see that happening for anything short of a third park.
Sarah had yet to do Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage, so that was our next stop. Why that wasn’t our first stop is beyond me, but she was anxious to finally ride it after the rest of us had hyped it up during the Tokyo Disneyland day. She loved it so much that she said we’d name our next child “Chandu Kitty.” Here’s hoping that child is a cat and not a human, otherwise we’ve just sentenced that kid to a grade school life of being bullied.
After the ride, I wanted to eat some Chandu Tails, but lunch was next, so we decided to wait. (Spoiler alert: we forgot about this and never ended up getting them–justification for a return trip?) Instead, Sarah went in a gift shop and bought some Chandu-stuff.
We wandered around the Arabian Coast for a bit, and Sarah stopped to take a series of photos on this camel with the Happiness Cam (a Tokyo Disney Resort iPhone app). Someone who saw her photo thought it was a real camel, but I assure you that it is not.
Prior to the trip, we decided to do a few table service meals at restaurants that were highly regarded. The S.S. Columbia Dining Room was one such restaurant. Once again I forgot to take a photo of the menu, so I’m not sure of the official names of what everyone ordered. I know that I had the S.S. Columbia Sirloin Steak. Below are photos of what everyone else had.
My steak was good, but in hindsight, I would have been better off ordering seafood since that seemed to be their specialty. Although this restaurant is frequently cited as one of the most expensive at Tokyo Disney Resort, the bill for all four of us ended up being only $192, and we had appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Remember, there’s no tipping in Japan, so that’s $192 total. Just try to have full meals for four at Le Cellier for less than $200. Unless a couple of you are only getting salads, it’s not going to happen.
I probably wouldn’t eat at the S.S. Columbia Dining Room again. Not because it was a bad meal, but because the ambiance didn’t do anything for me. It has an elegant art nouveau look, which I guess just isn’t my style. I think both Sarah and Kate liked the restaurant more than Henry and me, and I’ve read positive reviews of it from other guests, so if you’re planning a trip, you might want to read more about this restaurant before writing it off on my account. My opinions are normally unreliable, anyway!
I really don’t know what I expected, but the S.S. Columbia Dining Room just wasn’t memorable for me. Whereas the Teddy Roosevelt Lounge was masculine and detailed, and Magellan’s was also masculine and detailed, S.S. Columbia felt feminine and less interesting. Perhaps it’s because I was tired, but I can’t even recall much about the meal now without consulting photos. By contrast, I was much more tired when we ate at Magellan’s, and I remember little details from both the restaurant and the meal. S.S. Columbia Dining Room was elegant and the food was good, but overall, the restaurant just didn’t knock my socks off.
After lunch, we headed over to Mediterranean Harbor to watch The Legend of Mythica. We had no clue what sorts of awesome awaited us with this show, but I’ll save that for the next installment…
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!
Does S.S. Columbia Dining Room look good to you? What do you think of the Tower of Terror queue? Any thoughts on any of the other attractions or anything else in this installment? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your thoughts in the comments!