Tokyo has two Disney theme parks – Tokyo Disney, and Tokyo Disney Sea. We decided that one dose of Disney would be enough. It’s doubtful we’ll ever go to a US Disney Park (pretty low on my travel bucket list), so this was a good chance for a theme park fix while the girls are still old enough to really enjoy it. We studied both parks back home, and after reading review after review from Disney nuts announcing Disney Sea as not only the best of the two, but the best Disney in the world, we thought that the best option.
It’s a bit of a weird setup to be honest. Neither of the Disneys in Japan are actually owned by Disney Corp., but by The Oriental Land Company, which licenses the theme from The Walt Disney Company. The head mascot isn’t even Mickey Mouse, but a fairly nondescript bear called Duffy, and his weird greenish cat friend Gelatoni. I’d never seen, nor heard of these characters before our Disney visit, and they were EVERYWHERE!
But first, to our arrival at the park. The monorail that shoots you to either park gets you in the Disney mood, with Mickey shaped windows and grab handles. Passengers were all buzzing. Mostly adults, all decked out in their Disney gear…Minnie ears, Duffy backpacks, every imaginable Disney character dripping from their Disney bags.
In doing our “which park do we choose?” research, we had seen vision of Disney Sea. On video, we thought “oh yeah, that looks pretty good”, but in real life, this place was just incredible. Attention to detail in every part of the park was astounding. From the banana scent pumped into the air on Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage, to seagull sound effects in the American Waterfront world. The mosaic work in Mermaid lagoon wasn’t just in under-the-sea colours. Each tile had been hand made with images of Ariel and her friends from The Little Mermaid.
The plants, the harbours, the vehicles and buildings…it was like strolling through an immaculate movie set, with perfection at every turn.
The seven key worlds are:
Mediterranean Harbour: Why go to Venice when you can go in Japan? Travel by gondola under the Ponte di Rialto, or explore a turreted castle. Most of this area was filled with shops (and man, people had baskets LOADED with Disney themed biscuits, apparel and homewares) and restaurants.
American Waterfront: A life-sized steam ship. A wild western town. A haunted castle converted into the Tower of Terror (no thanks!) That’s the tower…enormous and scary, even from the outside, in the background below.
Port Discovery: A fururistic marina. A bit meh for me.
And my four favourites…
Lost River Delta: we’re in a Central American Jungle! There are Aztec ruins, waterfalls ablaze with fire (HOW did they do THAT?!), and my favourite ride of the park, “Indiana Jones Adventure:Temple of the Crystal Skull”. After weaving through corridors inside the Aztec pyramid, we hurtled through the darkness guided by a fluent-in -Japanese Indy, spinning past skeletons and insects, dodging blow darts, curses and rolling boulders. An Aztec skull shoots a puff of fire and smoke. Every moment of this ride was incredible. We fast-passed (pre-ordering your time slot, and then cruising past everyone in line like you know someone on the door) our way onto it twice. I cannot handle whizzing, twisting, stomach-churning rides at carnivals. This was another level.
Mysterious Isand: An oh-so-realistic volcano, and an exploration of the”Journey to the Centre of the Earth”.
This ride was just incredible. We were immersed into an alternate universe…a Jules Verne world drilling into the earth’s core. Even lining up for the ride involved mysterious caves, the sound of people and machines drilling and picking, sets of explorers’ equipment and tools. Lifts took us deep down into the earth, and onto mini trains that start gently past bizarre luminescent beasts and flora, and starts speeding and dropping. There’s a ground dwelling monster, fire that shoots form the walls, more darkness, and then when you glimpse a ray of light…you fall, fast out the side of the volcano. If Hello Kitty World was Milana’s moment, this was Avalon’s. She was cheering and screeching with joy. Milana was in tears. The first time anyway. The second, we were all ready for it, and loved it even more.
Mermaid Lagoon: Magical underwater kingdom with loads of rides aimed at younger kids. Plus a big play centre where our two could get lost for a bit while we shut our eyes. It’s been a long day!
Arabian Coast: Again, so perfect. A Moroccan bazaar, with rugs hanging from walls, pots, tiles, and a huge food area where we ate curry for lunch. The Sinbad ride was a gentle animatronic show with incredible puppetry. All in Japanese, but we got the jist.
It was a full, fantastic day, with us roaming around with our mouths open. Not just at the park, but the people in it! I love that it’s totally acceptable for the Japanese to be kitted out in dress-ups, and nobody is self conscious about it at all. It’s cool to be a 15 year old guy wearing Mickey ears with a prince hat attached. Girlfriends wear total matchy outfits as each other…I mean TOTAL, with same same shoes, handbags and Minnie bows, and that’s cool too. Couples wear matching Disney hoodies, and have matching popcorn carriers round their necks.
We didn’t line up (for hours) like the locals for any of the shows, parades or meet and greets. The shows are all in Japanese anyway, and the thought of watching Mickey prance about playing drums or whatever doesn’t interest any of us. The excitement levels surrounding the meet and greets was surprising too. Again, this wasn’t eye rolling parents saying “oh, my kid just loves Ariel, so we’ll get a photo for Gran”. It was adults all abuzz, and happy to wait for ages, and pay a packet to get a photo with AN ACTOR IN A COSTUME. Not a movie star, favourite singer, or sporting hero. I found it very strange. Staff at the park were wonderful, cheery and helpful, and were clearly given a memo “time to lean, time to smile and wave”, with oodles of them grinning and yes, waving as you pass.
But, definite thumbs up from all of us. That’s Disney off the list! Now Tokyo…let’s go shopping!