Tokyo DisneySea’s 15th Anniversary “Year of Wishes” event runs from April 15, 2016 until March 17, 2017, as Disney’s best theme park celebrates its milestone anniversary. This post will cover our tips for experiencing the festivities, photos from the new entertainment, and other commentary for making the most of your visit to Tokyo Disney Resort during the Year of Wishes celebration.
Yes, a celebration. Unlike Walt Disney World, which pays lip service to anniversaries to dupe fans (including us) into buying “limited edition” commemorative merchandise, Tokyo DisneySea is actually celebrating its 15th Anniversary during an 11-month event that will feature new and refreshed entertainment, themed decorations, catchy theme song, special menus, and yes, merchandise.
For its 15th Anniversary, Tokyo DisneySea is fully decked out, with “Wishes” themed decor everywhere, from interactive “Crystal Points” in each port to a huge ship in AquaSphere Plaza, the park is really in the spirit of festivities. In addition to smaller entertainment, the main draws for the Year of Wishes are Crystal Wishes Journey, a 25-minute harbor show, and a new version of Big Band Beat, a 30-minute broadway show.
We experienced all of the entertainment for the Year of Wishes, tried many (many!) of the special menu items, and even caved and bought some merchandise. Here’s what we thought…
Let’s start with Big Band Beat, which I think is the highlight of the Year of Wishes, and one of the crown jewels of Tokyo DisneySea, a park with an embarrassment of riches. (Note: photography is not allowed in Big Band Beat–the photos here were taken with permission.)
I’ll be honest: when a 15th Anniversary update was announced for Big Band Beat, I was apprehensive. Big Band Beat was pretty darn-near perfect, and recent changes at Tokyo DisneySea definitely skew towards characters. Big Band Beat had already been a more character-infused show as compared to the show it replaced, Encore!, after all.
It turned out that my ‘toonification concerns were not unfounded, but my worries that the show would suffer as a result were. Before we get to that, it’s probably worth covering just what has changed to the show in Broadway Music Theatre. Basically, everything. While the nature of the show and drumming Mickey are still there, the substantive musical numbers are almost entirely different.
In short, it’s a totally different show. It’s not just a 15th Anniversary “tag” or finale, nor is it a couple of songs swapped out simply to market it as new. Big Band Beat is totally different in substance, but with the same style, production value, overall quality, and wow moments that made the original one of Disney’s finest shows, and one that required a lotto system years after its debut.
Now, as for the characters. I think their presence in Big Band Beat has increased slightly, but they are utilized far better. By this, I mean they are blended into the show more organically, so they feel more appropriate. One of my favorite parts of the show before was Minnie and Marie’s musical number, and while I really enjoyed this, it was character-driven and a non-sequitur that didn’t totally flow with the numbers bookending it. (Obviously a slight quibble, as this was one of my favorite numbers.)
The characters in the show seem to have increased slightly, but not to Big Band Beat’s detriment. One of my new favorite numbers opens with Goofy sitting at a candlelit table during a cocktail party of human performers. I don’t know what it is, but there’s just something inexplicably cool about this. It sets the tone for Goofy as a somehow suave performer, a debonair and more musically-inclined version of himself. Think of him like Hipster Mickey…except not lame.
The new Big Band Beat thrives as a result of presenting its anthropomorphic character performers in similar fashion, with Minnie and Daisy each convincingly playing similar roles as entertainers. Like the original, it ends with Mickey’s drum solo stealing the show, and wowing audiences as a true “magic” moment.
Which show Big Band Beat veterans will prefer likely will come down to personal preference on the show choices and nostalgia. Personally, I think this version of Big Band Beat is slightly superior to the original, but I’ll need to give it another viewing before making any definitive assertions. Regardless of which is the better version, it’s a close call, and the 15th Anniversary Big Band Beat is a worthy update to the original. You’ll have to watch for yourself to see if you prefer the new show.
Now, as for how you’ll go about watching it…that’s tricky. Big Band Beat uses the same random lottery system for tickets as the original, and increased demand for the new show means that the lottery algorithm has been adjusted to make it even harder to score tickets. There is no science to winning the lottery (a sentence that sounds absurd as I re-read it…think of it just like the “normal” lottery), and as with any lottery, your odds increase the more you play.
So, if you buy a 4-day ticket, you (potentially) have 3 tries at the lotto. I suspect the odds are on your side with 3 weekday tries, but perhaps not overwhelmingly so. A standby line is also available, and this should be considered as a last resort on day 3 if you strike out every time at the lotto.
As for Crystal Wishes Journey, our expectations were not high. Tokyo DisneySea does a lot of harbor shows for various seasonal events, and most of them follow a common trend of being heavy on characters hamming it up for guests taking photos (some of the smaller ones are actually known as “meet & smile” shows–and that’s an apt description), but light on substance.
A few have a good sense of pageantry or some other zany element to make them worthwhile, but otherwise, they are not particularly noteworthy. Part of this is probably attributable to the shows being in Japanese, so whatever “plot” they have is lost on us, but not all of the “blame” can lie in us not getting the plot. Language did not stop us from enjoying the exceptional Legend of Mythica show–nor does it stop us from enjoying the Tokyo parks’ attractions. The bigger issue is that many of the stage shows are superficial.
Crystal Wishes Journey does not meet the high bar set by Legend of Mythica, but it should not be so quickly dismissed as superficial fluff. Rather, the show falls somewhere in the middle. It’s captivating thanks to its costuming, dance numbers, and catchy music (Tokyo Disney Resort’s entertainment division has a real penchant for musical ear-worms). The flimsy plot likely exists for the sake of trotting out the characters, but the show manages to be captivating despite this.
We found ourselves engaged with the show during its entire 25-minute run, and I’d watch it again. (At least, until I get an epic photo of Gelatoni dancing that I can blow up to 30 x 40″ size and hang in our living room.) I’d stop short of saying I was mesmerized by it and would watch again and again–as was the case with Legend of Mythica–but it’s a decent entry into the history of Tokyo DisneySea harbor shows.
As with these harbor shows, there’s no lottery, but guests camp out early for prime spots around the stages, particularly before the first show. Unless you’re obsessed with getting ‘clean’ character photos, we’d recommend grabbing a seat at the Piazza Topolino stage (front of the park) 30-45 minutes before the last show of the day. This stage rises, so your view will be fine even if you’re several rows back.
If that’s more of a wait than you want, find a spot in Fortress Explorations 15 minutes before the show. You want have an up close view of performers from there, but it’s an interesting perspective. You’ll have an enjoyable experience without the time commitment, which might be better if your trip is shorter. Plus–and you didn’t hear this from me–a photo of Duffy and ShellieMay hugging taken from the Fortress is one of the secret steps towards S.E.A. initiation.
Beyond the main entertainment that’s currently running, there are also new nightly fireworks, and the characters ride around American Waterfront a few times per day. Don’t pencil either of these into your agenda. In the case of the fireworks, they seem to be cancelled 50%+ of the time (and are short, anyway) while the character car thing is really nothing special. Later this summer, the new Out of Shadowland show debuts in Lost River Delta’s Hangar Stage.
In addition, Tokyo DisneySea is really decked out for the 15th Anniversary. Even with the 2 lengthy shows, arguably the centerpiece of the Year of Wishes is the giant ship in AquaSphere Plaza. I stopped in my tracks the first time I saw this, and that seems to be a common reaction among guests. At roughly the same height as the earth (well, as represented by the AquaSphere), this ship towers over guests inside the park’s entrance. It is truly stunning.
There are also banners adorning just about every lamppost throughout Tokyo DisneySea, and those Crystal Points mentioned above.
These are popular interactive spots that are like portals that can be “opened” when guests make a wish and touch it with a “Crystal Compass” (which is, naturally, a piece of merchandise…wishing alone won’t get you anywhere!)
Then there’s the merchandise. According to TDR Explorer, there are over 200 items for the 15th Anniversary, many of which you can see in their Tokyo DisneySea 15th Anniversary Merchandise Guide. We have a lot of qualms with Tokyo Disney Resort’s merchandise, but it’s hard to take issue with this merchandise, which features some cool designs. I only ended up buying one thing (you KNOW I needed a novelty hat!), the captain hat I’m wearing in the photo above. If only a tasteful and understated Tokyo DisneySea 15th Anniversary shirt were among them…
TDR Explorer’s guide also covers the unique menu items. With virtually every counter service restaurant having a special and several other restaurants having special items, there’s a lot to try. It seems like overkill to detail everything we tried, so here’s one recommendation: the butter curry at Casbah Food Court.
On the other end of the spectrum, steer clear of the purple egg salad and pork sandwich at Sebastian’s Calypso Kitchen; it’s the worst thing I’ve ever tried at Tokyo DisneySea. Oh, and don’t miss the special buffet at Sailing Day Buffet (with unlimited Fanta Melon floats, we always recommend Sailing Day Buffet!)
That about covers it for Tokyo DisneySea’s 15th Anniversary. All in all, it’s a pretty good slate of offerings that will likely only be around for the 15th. If you get the chance to visit Tokyo DisneySea during the Year of Wishes, hope you have a great time! In addition to the festivities here, Tokyo Disneyland is celebrating something or another for virtually the entire year, so each park will have its own, unique seasonal event for you to enjoy.
If you’re thinking of visiting Japan for the first time and are overwhelmed with planning, definitely check out our Tokyo Disney Resort Planning Guide. It covers much more than the parks, from getting there to WiFi to currency and much, much more. For more photos and an idea of what we did day-by-day during our first visit, read our Tokyo Disney Resort Trip Report.
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Have you been to Tokyo DisneySea during the Year of Wishes? What did you think? Planning on visiting during the 15th Anniversary? Share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have in the comments!