The next morning was my second straight morning up before 3 am to get ready and head out for a 4 a.m. shoot. This time it was in Tokyo Disneyland. I prefer my sunrises to have some light clouds to bounce around vibrant and mixed colors, but that wasn’t the case either morning in Tokyo. Instead, we had mostly clear skies with an intense morning sun.
This worked better in DisneySea, where the environments were more varied and the early morning sun and shadows could be used to enhance the texture and dimensionality of the scenery. For whatever reason, this didn’t work as well in Tokyo Disneyland. I bounced all over the park trying to find good locations, but most spots didn’t pan out. It was still a fun shoot and I’m glad I did it, but it didn’t reap as nice of a bounty of photos.
As we wandered around looking for scenes to photograph both mornings (and to a lesser extent, late at night), I noticed a ton of Cast Members out working on the parks. This was really impressive to see (albeit at times difficult to work around!) and the level of meticulous attention to detail in maintaining and refreshing the parks was something I had n0t seen elsewhere.
I don’t want to lift the current with specific details, but it went a long way to explain to me why the Tokyo parks have a reputation for upkeep far exceeding that found stateside. Some of the work being done was akin to the urban legend that Walt Disney World repaints the hitching posts every night…except I saw these things, so they clearly weren’t urban legend!
Here are some of the photos I captured that morning:
The sun moves high in the sky pretty quickly there (I assume it moves with the same speed everywhere, so it was probably just a matter of “time flies when you’re having fun”), and once it was at a decent degree in the sky, I stopped shooting and we headed out.
I was in desperate need of some coffee, but I decided to stop at the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel to see if I could get any empty lobby shots (it was still pretty early) before heading back to the hotel.
Our early morning plan was basically the same as the previous morning in Tokyo Disneyland, again focusing on Pooh’s Hunny Hunt and Monster’s Inc. Ride & Go Seek. I promised my thoughts on Monster’s Inc. Ride & Go Seek previously, and here they are…
Unlike Pooh’s Hunny Hunt, which has drawn pretty much universal acclaim, I think the reaction to Monster’s Inc. Ride & Go Seek has been more mixed, but still pretty positive. Sarah and I both absolutely loved the attraction, finding it to be an incredibly well done linear attraction that tells a CliffNotes version of the Monsters, Inc. story with a fun (interactive) twist of revealing monsters and other effects by shining a flashlight tethered to the ride vehicle at them.
The Audio-Animatronics were advanced and lifelike (well, assuming a big blue monster is somehow “lifelike”), with very fluid motions. There is no comparison between the AAs at the Disney California Adventure Monsters dark ride and the AAs on this one. In fact, that Monsters dark ride is to Tokyo’s Monster’s Inc. Ride & Go Seek what Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is to Pooh’s Hunny Hunt.
The real highlight of this attraction, to me, was how much was going on in the streets of Monstropolis. We rode through several times, and I was still noticing new details each time. Granted, I did take photos on my third and fourth ride throughs, but Sarah commented that she was noticing new things, too. By our last ride-through, I had set down my flashlight to focus on absorbing the details.
Speaking of the flashlight, I think this is where there is a bit of a divide on the attraction. A friend of mine put this best by referring to the flashlight as a gimmick that doesn’t really add to the experience, but distracts you from the details. While I think he is right in a way, I think that puts too much of an emphasis on the flashlight.
This isn’t like Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters, where you are missing a big point of the attraction if you set down your gun and just focus on the experience. There, mediocre visuals are propped up by a fun gameplay experience. The two elements (visuals and gaming) play about 50/50 roles in the overall experience and are inextricably interwoven.
By contrast, you can just set the flashlight down on Monster’s Inc. Ride & Go Seek and enjoy the ride without suffering. In fact, that might be the better way to experience it if your time is limited. The flashlights here are not a crutch for weak visuals, they are their own element thrown on top of it all. Admittedly, I don’t think using the flashlight adds a ton to the attraction.
If anything, I did find myself fixated on them during our first couple of ride throughs, probably to the detriment of my overall experience. However, the fact that they are an optional component means that I don’t downgrade my opinion of Monster’s Inc. Ride & Go Seek as a result of them.
I think the argument can be made that if part of an attraction fails, the attraction fails, but that argument is better reserved for attractions where the experience is what it is and can’t be “corrected” by guests. In this case, I also think it’s going a bit far to say the flashlights “fail.” I don’t think they’re great, but I wouldn’t use strong language in either direction, good or bad, to describe them.
People nowadays seem to love interactive and participatory experiences, so perhaps this flashlight element is actually a big hit with “normal” park guests. I just know that it didn’t do a ton for me, but we both still absolutely loved the attraction. It was right behind Pooh’s Hunny Hunt for us. (In fairness, we probably weighted unique-to-Tokyo attractions a bit heavier…their Splash Mountain is the #1 version, and on a good day, Walt Disney World’s Splash Mountain is my favorite Magic Kingdom attraction.)
From there we did Jungle Cruise, which was an absolute hoot. I didn’t really pay attention to the scenes because I was mesmerized by the skipper (I know that sounds really weird, but bear with me…). I didn’t understand a word he was saying, but his mannerisms were insane, and many of the punchlines were at similar points and had similar cadence as their US counterparts. I felt like I understood what the skipper was saying, even though I definitely did not.
Jungle Cruise ended up being one of the most fun attractions we did, and I would strongly recommend that anyone who goes to Tokyo Disneyland do it a couple of times. Don’t get discouraged by the “no English” thing here, as Jungle Cruise might just be more fun when it’s in Japanese.
It was still early enough in the morning that efficient touring “rules” suggest we should have kept moving quickly, but we had seen just about every big draw, so we decided to take the rest of the day slow. That meant it was snack time in Adventureland, which leads into somewhat of a tangent.
The great thing about Tokyo Disney Resort is the tremendous amount of detail. This can also be a bad thing, sorta. I’m inquisitive by nature, and in the US parks, I often find myself Googling things that seem like they might have “more of a story” to them. Luckily, Walt Disney World and Disneyland have some fantastic history-oriented bloggers and authors, so the answers I seek are usually pretty easy to find. The story behind the parks (and I’m not talking about backstory) definitely add to my enjoyment of the park. Tokyo Disney Resort might have similar bloggers and historians, but I have yet to find them (even searching through some Japanese blogs).
Because of this, I have a lot of unanswered questions from the trip. Most are related to small details in DisneySea. Probably the biggest one in Tokyo Disneyland concerns this area of Adventureland. Walt Disney World fans, look through the next few photos and tell me what this reminds you of…
Typhoon Lagoon, right?! Okay, maybe it’s not apparent just from these photos, but once you walk it, it’s clear from the design and tone that it shares some bloodlines with Typhoon Lagoon. I would consider this a sub-land within Adventureland, and I was really curious about it after we got back. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything about this area, its history, or anything of the sort. I’ve since talked with some people who have more knowledge about Tokyo Disney Resort than me, and in fact, it was added to Tokyo Disneyland shortly after Typhoon Lagoon was built and it does share some bloodlines with Typhoon Lagoon, in that some of the Typhoon Lagoon design team also worked on this area of Adventureland with the intent of giving it a Typhoon Lagoon feel. One oddly divisive element of this land from a design perspective was the red buoy stuck in the pavement. So if anyone else was wondering, there ya go…
One round of snacks isn’t complete without following it up with another round of snacks, so our next stop was at the Gazebo where we stopped for snacks, notably, the Pork-Rice Ball with Fried Egg, which is basically a bacon-wrapped fried eggs with a bit rice tossed in. It was glorious.
After that we did a few other attractions, all of which have been discussed here in detail, so let’s skip them rather than a doing a play-by-play account lacking any insight.
We did do the Beaver Brothers Explorer Canoes to work up appetites, and that was pretty fun. Right after we boarded the boat, the Cast Member at the front of was speaking Japanese (quickly) and it was clear that the four of us had no idea what he was saying, but every once in a while he’d wave his oar into the air. The Japanese people then said something in unison (I don’t recall what, nor did I have any idea what it meant at the time). I picked up on this pattern quickly, and every time he put his oar into the air, I enthusiastically thrust my oar into the air and made an animated expression while saying whatever it was that everyone was saying.
He clearly knew that I had no idea what was going on, because he laughed each time I did this. For all I know they were mocking the Americans in the boat, and I was mocking myself. I doubt it, but that would’ve been pretty funny. About halfway through the boat ride the Japanese teens in front of me were taking “selfie” photos of their group–seeing a gap, I got into their photo with a big, dumb grin and a double thumbs up. Based on their reaction when they noticed me in the photo when reviewing the LCD screen, they were very pleased with the photos!
There’s a lesson to be learned in this for us, and that’s probably that we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss Disneyland’s Blue Bayou when first-timers ask where they should dine. We think the food at the Disneyland version is only so-so (and expensive), but the ambiance is a big redeeming factor.
With regard to this Blue Bayou, I think I was the most enthusiastic about it. I thought it was an all-around awesome restaurant. The ambiance is great at all three versions, but the difference here was the food. It was actually good! Beyond that, it felt ever-so-slightly more upscale, with nice flatware and dishes bearing a Blue Bayou logo.
I ordered steak, which was pretty good. Sarah and Kate both ordered some sort of pasta-rice dish covered in cheese and topped with scallops. I think they both thought the cheese was overpowering, but that’s insane. You can never have too much cheese. Being the hog that I am, after I finished my meal, I had half of Sarah’s. Granted, it was no culinary masterpiece, but it was tasty comfort food.
I might have mentioned this before (this is what taking months to complete a trip report will do to you!), but my overall impression of Tokyo dining was very favorable. With the exception of the SS Columbia Dining Room and the BelleVista Lounge, every place at which we dined exceeded my expectations. Part of this is probably selection bias, as we did a lot of research to choose the “best” restaurants, but we also tried a few places on whims. I also found that prices weren’t bad (but in fairness, my baseline is Walt Disney World restaurants where the Disney Dining Plan has caused some serious sticker price escalation in recent years).
Next on the agenda was the Happiness is Here Parade, which is the new parade that had debuted only a couple of weeks prior to our trip for the start of Tokyo Disneyland’s 30th Anniversary. This parade was designed by Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily, the primary designers responsible for Mickey’s Soundsational Parade at Disneyland, and probably no less than 50% of the good merchandise at Disneyland. They’ve also done merchandise for Walt Disney World from time to time, and the upcoming Festival of Fantasy Parade at Walt Disney World bears a striking resemblance to their design aesthetic, so they’re either behind that parade, too, or someone has ripped off their style. Point being, our expectations for this parade were high because it combined this design team with an OLC parade budget…a match made in a Disney geek’s dreams!
Happiness is Here did not disappoint. I’m normally not too big on daytime parades, but I loved this one. It was high energy and vibrant without being tacky, and also featured some great designs. For Disney fans, there were also little Easter Eggs scattered on the floats. My favorite are these bumper stickers:
A couple of these Tokyo Disney fans are likely to understand. A reasonable chunk of Tokyo Disney Resort fans visit Disneyland in Anaheim, so they probably get the Anaheim and Toad Hall bumper stickers. They’ll probably also get the Pleasure Island sticker, which seems to reference Pinocchio, not Walt Disney World. However, the Nature’s Wonderland sticker? My guess would be that about one guest per day ‘gets’ that one. It’s a nod to Mine Train Thru Nature’s Wonderland, an extinct Disneyland attraction that I mention from time to time on the blog, and this sticker lists several locations on the ride, including Rainbow Ridge and Bear Country. I have never seen the design used on this sticker, and if it’s new art created solely for this parade, I’ll be really impressed.
Words don’t really do the parade justice. Here are some photos to give you an idea of what it’s like. Unfortunately, these don’t really capture the scale of the parade…
Our next stop after the parade was Country Bear Jamboree. We’ll pick up with the awesome Tokyo version of this attraction in the next installment…wait until you see their pre-show and post-show areas! (I’m hoping you all are as big of fans as Country Bear Jamboree as I am, otherwise that might read like a real lame attempt at a cliffhanger!)
It’s our goal to convince every hardcore Disney fan to try to take a trip to Tokyo Disney Resort sometime in their life (okay…every fan might be a bit overzealous…if we could convince 10 people to make the trip, we’d consider it a success!), and we’d love your help in spreading the word!
What do you think of the flashlight interactivity of the Monsters dark ride? What about the glorious bacon-egg snack? Will you be sitting on pins and needles until you see photos from the Country Bear Jamboree in Tokyo Disneyland?!? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your thoughts in the comments!