April 15th, Tokyo Disneyland Celebrated its 25th Anniversary, so special events are planned throughout the year.
We learned a few weeks ago that K had to work on Sunday the 20th, and was given a make up holiday on the 23rd. She had not visited Disneyland in about 10 years, and I much longer than that (and never the Tokyo park), so I offered to take her.
We rose early to catch the 7:45 a.m. highway express bus from neighboring Itako City. From there, depending on traffic, it is only a 50 minute ride to Tokyo Disneyland, which, I should explain is not really in Tokyo. It is actually in Urayasu City, Chiba Prefecture. (It is close, though, and Tokyo is obviously the more marketable name with global recognition.) Due to traffic near the park, it took us 90 minutes.
As one might expect, Tokyo Disneyland is laid out differently than the original park in Anaheim, California. There is no Matterhorn or submarine ride, but some other rides are unique to Tokyo. Main Street shopping area is covered by a glass canopy done in a style that does not detract from the 19th century architecture.
The main street architecture is scaled for pedestrian use and is intended to reassure visitors as they enter the park that this a safe, friendly place. An article on the National Building Museum website titled "The Architecture of Reassurance: Designing the Disney Theme Parks" relates that "...Disney saw the park as a tacit critique of the chaotic American city and the meandering post-war suburbs that were ruled by the automobile." and "Walt Disney based Main Street on his own memories of turn-of-the-century Marceline, Missouri. It is a child's-eye-view of a perfect place - always clean, safe, and bright, its windows filled with delights. Unlike the new suburban streets of the 1950s, it was a pedestrian environment, geared to the pace of a stroll and scaled for comfort. The apparent height of the buildings is an illusion engineered through the set-designer's forced perspective: while main floors are almost life size, second and third stories are smaller, creating the impression of tallness in buildings of modest, domestic height. This toytown scale - impossible in the real world - gives adults the same feeling of mastery and control that children feel when playing with dollhouses or miniature villages or a model-train layout."
Walt Disney, rather than being behind the times in this regard was really way ahead of his time. Suburbia has proved to be unsustainable and a social and environmental disaster. As James Howard Kunstler, author of "The Geography of Nowhere" puts it, "the greatest mis-allocation of wealth in history". There is now a movement in planning and architecture called "New Urbanism" which designs towns and cities to be people friendly, walkable spaces, much like Walt's Main Streets, if with a more modern appearance.
I was surprised and delighted to find that the park was not at all crowded. It wasn't a holiday, it was mid-week, and a week ahead of the major vacation period in Japan known as Golden Week. As a result, official estimated waiting times for rides were anywhere from 10 minutes to 70 minutes and even those estimates were overstated. We were able to get on a LOT of rides and still have plenty of time to explore, shop, and have a leisurely lunch and dinner. K was thrilled because during her past visits, the place was so mobbed that she could only get on a a couple of rides and had no time for slower paced activities like Tom Sawyer's Island, or the Western River Railroad.
The first order of 'business' was to do a bit of gift shopping and store the bags in a locker, which are located near the entrance. That out of the way, we headed for Fantasy Land, checking out the castle on the way. The castle at Tokyo is Cinderella's, whereas the original one in Anaheim is Sleeping Beauty's. The Tokyo one is the same design as that of Walt Disney World in Florida and in Hong Kong. This one is painted in different colors than the other two. It is also big. Sleeping Beauty's Castle in Anaheim is 77 feet (23.5 meters) tall, Cinderella's Castle is 189 feet (54.5 meters) high. So, it's pretty awe in-"spire"-ing. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
The first ride of the day was to be The Haunted Mansion. We only had to wait in line about 30 minutes. I got caught up in trying to take a picture of Pluto and Donald on a passing float and was passed up by a group of school girls. I nearly lost my place in line and didn't get the picture. The voice that narrates the story of the Haunted Mansion is even spookier in Japanese than it is in English - no translation needed. Must be due to Japan's long tradition of telling tales of ghosts, monsters, and changelings. The ride itself is as I remembered it - good fun.
The next ride was one I had read rave reviews about while researching what to do at Tokyo Disneyland. Good thing I had, as I would never have chosen this one otherwise, and it turned out to be, IMO, the best ride of the day. "Pooh's Hunny Hunt". Really.
On this ride, you sit in a hunny (Pooh's spelling) bucket, with two or three people on a slightly elevated rear seat, and two in front. The coolest thing is that the buckets are not on a track. A computer system uses an LPS (local positioning system) to keep track of each car. The patented system works by directional data being relayed from a master control computer directly to each individual honey pot car through a complicated matrix embedded in the floor. What this means is that they follow each other through connecting tunnels into large rooms with smooth floors, where the buckets spread out and zoom around from one scene to another within the room - they accelerate, reverse, and spin around to give riders a view of each feature, before once again going single file to the next room. Each room is full of effects and animatronics (which are excellent), and tells a part of the story. It's brilliant, works like magic, and it was reportedly so expensive to build that Michael Eisner, when head of Disney, chose not to spend the money on it and opted for a standard tame (yawn) Winnie the Pooh ride. Only Tokyo has Pooh's Hunny Hunt.
One really great effect is a room where you see Tigger come out and start to bounce up and down. As he does, the entire floor of the room bounces up and down, along with the buckets and of course you! Mind your camera and eyeglasses or you might lose them. The final room is like a big dance hall with an giant anamatronic dance band at one end. The honey pots twirl around the room (not too fast) as if dancing and a bucket full of animatronic characters joins fun. Your honey pot will zoom to the sides here and there, where you will see some fun things and a surprise or two (like a hunny bucket canon that goes off in your face with a blast of air). It's a great ride - like an "E ticket" ride for kids that adults will love too.
Watching Pooh bear get fat on honey made this Panda hungry, so we went over to dine with royalty - The King and Queen of Hearts. The food was good, but as you might expect, expensive. Actually, if we had stuck with the entree and a drink we would have been OK, but we made the mistake of loading up our trays with rice, salad, soup, etc. and before I knew it - cha-ching! - about $52 was gone from my wallet. Oh well, it was a banquet fit for a Queen after all.
We enjoyed our lunch in spite of the chorus of crying little kids in the booths across from us. Japan is supposedly in a population decline, but you'd never know it from the number of toddlers in strollers at Disneyland. Speaking of demographics, with Japan's population aging, Tokyo Disneyland has made a smart move by offering heavily discounted annual passes for people 60 or over. I told K to "zip it" when she started reading to me about the "Seniors" discount pass at the gate. I'm NOT there yet.
We went over to Splash Mountain and got fast pass which would allow us to come back later and not have to wait in line. Then, almost without waiting, we boarded the Mark Twain river boat, something K had never had time to do. The scenery on Tom Sawyer's Island intrigued her, and the canoes looked fun too. We took the raft over to the island and had fun exploring the caves, fort, and tree house.
From Tom Sawyer's Island, we could see where the canoes launched from. Unfortunately it was quite a walk from where we would come ashore on the raft, so we headed for Big Thunder Mountain roller coaster instead. The wait was about 40 minutes or so and I enjoyed looking over the authentic antique mining equipment (some of it made in Minnesota and Colorado) that is displayed throughout the building. Then it was white knuckle time...
Loads of high school kids guaranteed a scream filled ride. K found it scarier than she had remembered from a decade ago. I hadn't ridden it in a lot longer and didn't find it scary at all, just "rough" or "turbulent" as the warning signs call it. Age certainly does change one's perceptions. That said, it was still fun, and I liked waving to the people waiting in line as we rounded curves in front of them.
I felt like I'd been riding in a tumble dryer after that, so we did some more shopping for my granddaughters. I wanted to take my jacket and the gifts down to the lockers so I didn't have to carry them around the rest of the day. The main street was blocked for yet another parade which made the locker plan complicated. Our feet needed a rest and I had encouraged K to give the Jungle Cruise a try, as it was one of the original rides when Disneyland opened in 1955 and is fun. As we waited to board the boat, I commented on how they looked like the African Queen in the Bogart and Hepburn film. K asked if we'd have a torpedo on board. (I decided it safer not to call K "old girl" like Bogart did Hepburn). The ride was relaxing, the old style animatronics entertaining and the patter of silly jokes by the operator "punny".
Next we boarded the Western River Railroad for a ride. In Anaheim, the train circles the entire park, but in Tokyo it circles about half the park - Adventure Land, Western Land, and Critter Country - and takes about 15 minutes. It also includes a dark section with a diorama of dinosaurs. There is only one station because Japanese rail regulations stipulate that if a train has more than one stop, it comes under a whole host of rules, including the requirement to have a fixed timetable. Anyway, there are three trains, each of which are pulled by a beautiful steam engine named for a US river - Colorado, Missouri, and Rio Grande.
Our feet somewhat rested, I took the baggage to a locker and we got in line for Pirates of the Caribbean. The line was just 20 minutes long. I had not been on this since long before the movie came out, and did not know that they had modified the ride to incorporate elements of the movie. I always liked this ride, and think they did a good job with the new version. The core of it is the same, but there are added elements done with high tech illusions and newer animatronics that add to it. The animatronic Jack Sparrow at the end of the ride is very well done.
As we exited the ride and were heading toward a refreshment stand, who should be bump into but Jack Sparrow himself. Well, a Disney cast member actually, who was staggering down the street, mobbed by people (mostly women), and doing an excellent impression of the character. (Makes one wonder why Johnny Depp gets paid so much.) I ran ahead of him and got this shot...
He then walked up to me, shook my hand, and asked, "and how are you today, sir?" He even sounded like Johnny Depp.
It was getting on in the day and after a snack we went over to Tomorrow Land for the final rides of our day. A performance was starting - Mickey and the crew on a big float set to music, so we watched that first.
We had decided to skip "Toon Town" this trip. After Big Thunder Mountain, K was not interested in riding Space Mountain, so we opted for more subdued, but still fun, rides.
Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters was sort of fun. It's like playing an arcade game from the inside. I tried to take a picture of Buzz - a full size robot with 3D holographic face - at the start of the ride, but he wouldn't hold still :) As you walk past him on the way to board the cars, he gives a talk about the attack of some space alien robots which you are to help him fend off. The cars are typical 2 seat ones on a track, but they are equipped with two laser hand guns (real lasers) with which to shoot at special targets on the invading robots. If your laser hits the target it flashes, as does a light on your gun, and a digital scoreboards on your car keep track of points. Entertaining, but I was glad I didn't wait longer than 20 minutes to get in.
We wanted to catch the 7:05 pm bus for home as there wouldn't be another for two hours, so we had just enough time for one more ride.
Directly across the street from Buzz is "Micro Adventure", a 3D-plus experience based on the "Honey I Shrank the Kids" and "Honey, I Blew Up the Kids" movies. You sit in a theater with polarized 3D glasses on (and headset if you want to hear it in English or Chinese). In the course of the show you some see things get shrunk, including you, and others blown up (enlarged). It offers some really excellent 3D effects with things appearing to come out of the screen and right up to within a foot of your face. Everyone experiences it the same way as if the object, or animal, is singling you out. The only problem is that after the first couple of times they do that, you know what to expect and it loses its surprise value. They add other effects as well, such as shaking the entire theater, a simulation of mice running under the seats brushing up against your legs as they go by, and a spray of mist in your face when a giant dog sneezes on you...ewww.
Well, it was almost time to go. We weren't hungry, but we would not be getting home until about 8:30 pm, so we stopped to have a sandwich at the Sweetheart Cafe. This time the price wasn't as bad - I had shrimp and smoked salmon and K had pastrami and 'something or other' on a roll for about 450 yen ($4.50) each.
If you've come along this far, you may have caught the fact that we never went back to ride Splash Mountain. So much to see, so little time.
We don't remember the bus ride home - we slept the whole way. Momo the Wonder Dog was super happy to see us - we got the royal tail wagging, supplicating greeting - and, and of course, she was equally happy to be served her late dinner.
For someone who wasn't all that enthusiastic about going in the first place, I really enjoyed it. Perhaps we'll go again some time, but first, we'll check out DisneySea...