Sunday, 26 May 2013

Tokyo Disney Resort Day 1, or Why You Should Take A Break

From the title, it's possible to glean that this post may have some drama. You'd be right, but there's also a lot of fun, so follow along and you'll see ;)

I woke up to my alarm at 6am ready to get myself dressed and to Disney. I got dressed, put on sunscreen, make-up (which has better sunscreen in it than my stuff for my body) and packed my breakfast, and was out the door by 6:30am. I had researched the train journey previously and discovered that since my hotel was already on the Hibiya line, I could change to the Keiyo line at Hatchobori and avoid Tokyo station's staircase and tunnel of doom (To those not in the know, if changing to Keiyo at Tokyo station be prepared to lug your stuff down a really long staircase then walk a tunnel that literally takes about 10-15 minutes to walk).

The whole journey I was on the lookout for a bottle of Coke Zero, as I understood it was not common in the parks and as it is my main vice I wanted to take one in with me. Amazingly Tokyo's millions of vendo were letting me down on this particular journey.

When I finally reached Maihama station and exited the train, I couldn't help but notice something familiar. Was that...the Happiness is Here song playing as the station music? Yes, it was. Train stations in Tokyo each have their own unique bit of tinny music they play whenever a train stops there to subliminally let those on the train realise it's their stop if they tuned out the stop announcement. This by the way is also how Tokyoites are able to sleep on the train and somehow 'magically' wake up just before their stop. Their subconscious brain knows the music, and that of the station before. I stood for a moment in giggly marvel of the fact that Maihama had managed to change theirs. As it turns out, this is not the only time I would find 'Happiness is here' invading things like an adorable, well-meaning virus.

Sadly, I continued out of the station before thinking to look at the vending machines, and neither the famous Becker's or the less famous Beck's Coffee House had diet cola to offer. So I continued on, figuring I'd either get lucky or go without.

I passed Bon Voyage bang on 7:30am. I know this because I got to see the Bon Voyage employees do all the bowing and scraping that comes with opening the store. They were so incredibly smiley, they reminded me of the chirpy Japanese Disney cast members I had in store. I ducked in to the store quickly to see if I could grab a passholder (a sort of tiny, flat purse just for holding your ticket and fastpasses) because I'd heard for fastpass commandos like me they made all the difference. I was expecting to have to settle for something not that interesting, but my eyes quickly trained on an Alice one that I simply HAD to have. Within seconds I was at the register, able to communicate to the happy Cast Member that I would love her to cut the tag off, and bowing my way out the door to a chorus of 'Irrasshai!'

Tell me friends, does this seem like something I would buy? ;) When I get home I'm thinking necklace or giant pinbadge.

The bag checkers did a cursory look in my backpack ('Ohayo gozaimasu ' *glances at my cardigan on top of all my stuff, doesn't look under it* 'Ok!') and I headed for a spot on one of the side lines that everyone seems to ignore. I was happily only about 3 or 4 people back. I then proceeded to spread out my scarf as a picnic blanket, eat my breakfast, check my game plan (Beginning with running past Star Tours for a fastpass, then heading to Pooh's Hunny Hunt), and spend about an hour typing my blog from the last day on my phone only to have it fail to publish and lose it all. Grr! A note to all blogging from a phone: save before posting if your app has the function. Don't worry, as you saw I was able to retype it in line the next day.

As it came closer to opening time people started to look excited. A few minor characters came out to get the crowd riled up. They started letting the Resort guests in for their extra 15 minutes, and the rest of us tried not to look too scowly as they all streamed past the gates. Then Mickey and Minnie came out on opposite sides and started waving to people in line. 'Suddenly' Mickey saw Minnie and made a big show of rushing to get to her and hug her. I must admit this made me smile. These guys are pretty dedicated to creating special moments for the guests. The cast members then came out and did a long speech the gist of which I got was: don't push, have your passports ready, put your passport on the machine barcode down, and that's about all my Japanese would give me. Luckily if you know how to be nice and do what the guy in front of you does, you don't really need the speech. It's just an important thing to give the speech to the Japanese. Whenever you go to do anything, you get the smiley 'Here are the rules' speech. Even when you go to buy food you'll often get your food with a 'If you'll please proceed to the counter over there and pick up your milk, sweetener, straws and napkins'. Just smile, say hai, and look apologetic if you misunderstand anything.

Quite suddenly after the speech, at 9 on the dot, they started letting us in. Here the big difference between Tokyo Disney openings and others showed itself in full force: people RAN. They have carefully filled the entry area with Cast Members so that if you want to run, you have to duck and weave a bit, but they don't stop you. Also for every 7 Cast Members or so they have one Security Cast Member who is holding up their hands yelling 'Please be careful. Move at a safe speed please!' but again, they don't stop you, and everyone either ignores them, or momentarily slows down to a jog as they pass as if to say 'Look, I'm slowing down' then immediately speeds up again once past each security guy. I'll admit, I did this. Mwahahaha!

Unfortunately by the time I passed Monsters Inc I had to slow my run a bit because my asthma was playing up, but I rushed the rest of the way 'at a safe speed' and made my way to Star Tours for an 10am fastpass. Yes! If you are new to the fastpass system, it's basically a system where if you go to a bank of machines outside a popular ride and scan your park ticket, the machine will spit out a pass with a one hour window on it (starting from the first hour the park is open and moving forward in time as they sell out of fastpasses for that hour). If you return to the ride during your time window you can bypass a large part of the standby line and get on the ride faster. This ticket can turn a 2 hour line up into a 15 minute one, so I recommend getting one as soon as you can when you enter the park, and getting a new one as soon as you are allowed (it will say when you are allowed, in English, on your ticket).

After the fastpass I began to rush over toward Pooh's Hunny Hunt. I was distracted however when I passed Space Place Foodport, and discovered there in their display window - Coke Zero! One 'Kora zero o kudasai' later I continued on my way to find Pooh's Hunny Hunt with a 5 minute wait!

For those who don't know Pooh's Hunny Hunt, it is entirely different from the Pooh rides at other Disney parks for two reasons: it is popular, and it is popular for a reason. [SLIGHT RIDE SPOILERS AHEAD] The ride takes you through the story of the blustery day, Pooh's nightmares of Heffalumps and Woozles, and his attempts to get hunny using a blue balloon, but does so using ride vehicles that are not on a track, but guided by a radio control system that make your 'hunny pot' appear to have a mind of it's own. There are three pots in each set that will take different courses around each room, spin, go backwards and occasionally dance around each other in circles. It makes what would have been a cute animatronic story with great theming into a really fun experience. [END SPOILERS]

This tech is why the ride commonly has 110 minute lines on only averagely crowded days, so 5 minutes was really, really good. I ran onto the ride. My only regret was that I got on too fast to take any pictures of the queue, where you pass rooms of Christopher Robin's house and then weave between giant pages from the Pooh books. The ride was just as fun as I remembered it, and I was hit with that amazing joyous feeling holiday planners get, that 'I'm finally here' feeling.

When I got off the ride the wait was 20 minutes. I was weighing up whether to go again when I saw that the characters were out in force in Fantasyland. I quickly went and got photos with the Mad Hatter, who was slightly disturbed by the red and black card suits all over my hat and backpack, took photos of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, and frightenedly snapped photos of Cinderella's Fairy Godmother from a distance.

Beware her scary plastic mask face!

I then realized Peter Pan's Flight had no wait, so I jumped on that. This ride not surprisingly takes you through the story of Peter Pan, and is one of the older, less technologically advanced dark rides, but I love it because it flies you over the scenes. Also because the ride vehicles look like this:

Sorry for the blur, but it's the best shot I got of the little pirate ships. So cute! They're about big enough to fit two people.

I then ran across and jumped on Haunted Mansion, also with a 5 minute wait. Yes, for those of you used to the other parks, the Haunted Mansion is in Fantasyland here. The main reason for this is because for the Japanese, who have very strong and different ghost legends, ghosts very much belong in the realm of fantasy. Of course, it probably didn't hurt to save space in Adventureland either.

[SMALL RIDE SPOILERS AHEAD] The Haunted Mansion is a ride where you get taken on a tour of a mansion that houses 999 ghosts, and they're looking to make it an even 1000. You are put in a two person magically moving chair and narrated by a ghost somewhere in your vicinity who takes you through hallways of haunted pictures, ghost parties, ominously knocking doors, haunted attics and graveyards just to name a few. [END SPOILERS]

The scenes of this ride are lovingly done and include a lovely amount of detail to notice on subsequent ride throughs. I also love this rider's tech because your 'doom buggy', much like the Peter Pan's Flight vehicles, is constantly moving, and loads with passengers standing on a conveyor belt moving in time with the vehicle. This means it loads faster and the queue moves faster too. I also took note this trip that they keep their Haunted Mansion, and their dark rides in general, very dark in Tokyo. I had trouble making out some of the scenes at first. You also cannot see any technical tricks like the dusty scrims you can sometimes catch in other parks, as the Oriental Land Company who own Tokyo Disney Resort have the money (and the Japanese love of cleaning) to keep their rides very well maintained. I noticed this a lot in the parks actually. Most of the effects that have ever worked, do work, which is nice in comparison to the 'oh that broke years ago' issue going on in some parks.

After the Haunted Mansion I took a wander through Cinderella's Fairy Tale Hall with no wait. This is an attraction that has popped up since my last visit, when the Cinderella's Castle Mystery Tour was still running. It's a sort of walk through gallery inside Cinderella Castle that has all sorts of artworks depicting scenes from Cinderella.

Cinderella papercraft anyone?

Some of the artwork is really detailed, moving, or even uses tricks of light to change it's shape. There are also images in the throne room that change if you photograph them with flash. You can take photos on Cinderella's throne and pretending to try on her glass slipper. I spent some time doing the 'I'm a funny gaijin' dance behind a mother to help her get her twins to look in the same direction for their throne photo (for my twin friends reading this don't worry, they got seperate photos too). I then took some very silly photos of myself, which I won't put you through the pain of. What I will show you is my favourite part about going into this hall: the fact that you exit part way up the castle.

Fantasyland is pretty!

It was now finally time to head for Star Tours, but as a fastpass junkie, I had to get a new fastpass on the way. You are able to get a new fastpass either two hours after you got your last fastpass, or at the time your current fastpass window begins, whichever is earlier. The queue for Space Mountain had already grown huge, so at one minute past I grabbed a fastpass for that and headed on to Star Tours.

I would like to take a moment to point out how much I love fastpass. It's a system that rewards you for being the early bird and for being willing to structure your day, and that sits very well with a planner like me. The other reason I love it is because of the pure fun of actually bypassing the line. First you approach a ride like Star Tours to find a big line outside. Instead of getting in it, you idle on past to the fastpass attendant who waves you in to the building. Inside you will usually find a huge line looping backward and forward, full of people waiting. Try not to smile or wave smugly as you skirt around the side of this entire line in a queue of your own that is virtually empty. Feel free to let yourself think 'Later, suckers!' though, I always do ;) Finally reach the part where the fastpass and standby queues merge, and enjoy the moment when the Cast Member stops the standby line to let you go first. A short line later you will be on the ride and out of here.

This was very much my experience with Star Tours, in the first room I was even able to stop and take a picture of the room and the line I'd bypassed:

I then spent 10 minutes or so waiting in a line where C-3PO was doing his planning next to R2 and a big version of the 'ship' we were about to 'board'. We all listened carefully as cutesy ladybot gave us the story on a television screen, then we were off in to the next room that took us through customs and security. Here we encountered entertaining talking droids, infra-red cameras checking us over, a really cute 'window' showing us the silhouettes of the variety of other types of passenger boarding at this station, and of course a few hitchhiking droids:

Tee hee, Haunted Mansion, tee hee.

We then moved into the loading room where I was all set to wait another 10 minutes to board when a Cast Member came up the line looking for a single rider. Score! I was loaded into the last seat at the back, which is right next to the entry doors and has no seats directly in front of it. Double score! I had great fun with this ride, especially it's randomly generated story, as in this run through we bumped into Vader himself within the first minute and were thrown around the hangar by his powers. I won't spoil any other scenes for future riders, but suffice it to say it was more exciting and fun than I expected a simulator ride to be.

After this I wandered around for a little purchasing my Happiness Pendant (a special, light-up anniversary necklace that interacts with statues called Happiness Spots around the park), looking for Happiness Spots, and trying to find the popcorn bucket I wanted. I couldn't find the popcorn bucket, but I did get to two Happiness Spots. One in the the plaza, then on the way to one in Toontown, I discovered characters out in force yet again. Scrooge McDuck, Daisy, Chip and Dale, and the Three Little Pigs with the Wolf were all entertaining the crowd. Once I'd hung out with them for a bit I headed for the Happiness Spot, put the pendant on the statue, pressed the button, and the statue lit up and played sound effects. It was quite cute, especially because it seemed to thrill the kids around the place who didn't have pendants. One more Happiness Spot and I'd have visited enough to get a special medallion to wear on my Happiness Pendant, yay!

The Pigs and Wolf enjoying a bit of farce, 'running into' the Jolly Trolley.

After this it was 11:00, time to head for lunch before the lunch rush. I got into the Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall with a small line, which ten minutes later stretched far out the door behind me. Hurrah for the early bird! Not long after this I was seated in what I consider one of the prettiest themed dining rooms in Tokyo Disneyland. It features giant flowers, a hedge maze, and a lot of castle scenery.

I chose the Heart Shaped Hamburger Patty, which, face it, was theme park food, but the vegetables and sauce were nice, and I loved the tray and it's little crown. I also like how they carry your tray to the table they know is empty for you, it saves you a lot of time looking around awkwardly balancing a tray trying to find a seat without tripping over strollers.

Now as my hotel room was about an hour's travel away, I decided to take my time with this lunch and take another long sit before parade time rather than taking a break in the middle of the day like most Disneyland lovers do. I'd done the parks before without a break, and figured I could do it with just some restful time in the middle. This would turn out to be a mistake, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

I realized that soon my fastpass window would be up and Big Thunder Mountain still had fastpasses available, so I headed over to Westernland (the Japanese don't really understand the word 'frontier' as it's not a part of their history, so Frontierland makes little sense to them). I was distracted by a moment by a very animated Woody and Jessie from Toy Story but I soon managed to move through their crowds of fans. Bam! Third fastpass.

I then headed back over to Tomorrowland, and once again did the VIP walk past a huge line onto the ride. I have a soft spot for Space Mountain, as I'm a bit of a wimp with coasters but since Space is all in the dark and I can't see how high up I am, I love every second of it. I will say Tokyo's version is a bit odd though with it's lack of music. All you can hear is coaster tracks and excited squealing. Still, so much fun. I then wandered around having a preliminary look at the Monsters Inc. store and giving in and buying the Star Wars popcorn bucket, which I also quite liked, since the one I wanted seemed to be nowhere to be found.

I decided it was time for another rest so I bought an Orange Mickey Bar pop and wandered over to Fantasyland to eat it and people watch. As I sat there people started to gather around me to save seating for the parade. Hold on, I thought, it's hours before the parade and people are only usually allowed to set up an hour beforehand, and it's not usually nearly this popular. Ah but wait, this is a NEW, SPECIAL EDITION parade, and the only thing Tokyo Disney Resort visitors seem to like more than shows and parades are new things. The Cast Members weren't even stopping them as long as they were sitting on benches and fences and not putting down mats yet. This concerned me however as I had a fastpass for Big Thunder coming up and no-one to save my seat. Luckily, I realised at the last moment that the girl who I'd been speaking broken Japanese to for a bit after she sat down next to me might be willing to hold my place. I managed between bad Japanese, putting a scarf down on my seat, and showing her my fastpass to ask, and she was fine with it, so I ran over to Big Thunder. This is another coaster ride I love because while it has speed, it lacks the two things I hate on coasters: height and drops. True to fastpass standard I was on the ride quickly and able to be back at my spot, dutifully saved, in time for my new friend to go get some food while I saved her spot, and watched her bags! She must have trusted me, but I suppose she knew I wasn't going anywhere before the parade started.

The parade was adorable and included a few characters I didn't expect, especially Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh who doesn't always rate a parade appearance it seems. I think I will always have a soft spot for Jubilation! and its variety of floats, but these ones were nothing to sneeze at either:

The final float (excepting sponsor floats) with Mickey and Minnie.

I was starting to feel quite tired, but once the parade route began to clear I ran over to Splash Mountain to take advantage of the single rider line. Single rider is a rule on a few select rides that if you're riding alone, you can use the fastpass queue without a fastpass to put you in a line for filling up ride cars with uneven passenger numbers. It's a really cool trick for taking a ride with a 110 minute wait, like Splash did at that time, and turning it into a 10 minute one. I had never had a chance to use it before as I usually go to Disney with at least one person who needs hand holding/wants a companion on all single rider applicable rides, but not this time. I walked up to the fastpass queue, indicated by status by holding up one finger and saying 'Singuru rider desu' and was waved through. I felt pretty cool as I wandered up the queue without a fastpass, then when I got to the section where the lady takes your fastpass from you, I explained again, and instead of waving me through she unclipped a section of the queue and motioned for me to go down an entirely empty queue right to the loading area! I then had to stand on a little line waiting for an uneven number, but this happened in minutes. So I now know that single rider is not only a free fastpass that can be used more than once, it's sometimes BETTER than a fastpass! Use it people. Even if you're with a group, unless you're planning a photo pose I suggest trying it at least once.

Now, some of you may remember me saying something about hating drops. Splash Mountain, in order to create significant splashes, has quite a few of these, culminating in the big outdoor one at the end. I love the theming and the Brer Rabbit storyline though so I tend to ride it anyway. It was no less stomach churning this time, and my fellow riders seemed amused by my hesitancy so I decided my Splash Mountain photo pose would be the 'scaredy cat':

See if you can spot me. Hint: you can't see my face ;)

When this photo came up at the booth after the ride the girls on the ride with me cracked up laughing, and when they saw I was laughing too had a giggly chat with me in Japanese.

After Splash it was time to revisit one of my favourite Tokyo Disney foods: the maple churro. I had been thinking about maple churros since I had them on my trip three years ago and I was terrified they wouldn't be as I remembered, but I knew they sold them at the Splash exit so I got one. It was exactly the same! I savoured every memory-filled bite. After this I jumped on Mickey's Philharmagic because I was a fairly tired, there was little wait, and I hadn't seen it since Hong Kong Disneyland about 6 years ago. I then wandered around Fantasyland, Adventureland, and Westernland trying to get a read on the shops for when I did my buying.

It was somewhere here, among the tired feet and previous Disney shopping memories that I got a bit gloomy. I didn't have someone to point the funny souvenirs out to. I didn't have as much money as last time, so I had to weigh up every single purchase. Was I spending too much money? I decided the shopping wasn't helping my mood so I headed off to the Hungry Bear for dinner. Unfortunately, the moodiness followed me there. I sat alone at a table in the corner in a spiral of unhelpful, unreasonable thoughts. Why was I sad? I was at Disneyland! I'd spent so much money on this trip, how could I not be enjoying myself? I decided to do a trip just for me, if I wasn't enjoying it what was the point? Was I ruining Disneyland for myself by having this freak out? Was it even worth coming back tomorrow? All of this effort for nothing!

I had let myself get too tired, and I hadn't given my brain a break from the songs and the crowds and the rushing all day. I was having a textbook Disney crash. I'm sad to say, dear readers, that I sat at that table quietly crying into my curry, frantically messaging my partner hoping he'd cheer me up somehow. He did a half decent job, as he eventually managed to convince me that if this trip was for me, I could do whatever I wanted to, including leave. I decided I didn't want to leave, but instead wanted to get up, go see Dreamlights (the evening electrical parade) as it was soon, and then leave if I wanted, as long as it de-stressed me.

I was still in a bit of a mood as I waited for the parade, but knowing I could leave anytime the parade actually reminded me why I wanted to be there. I giggled at my favourite childhood characters; I took note of the technical differences in this parade discussed online; I watched foreign cast members and remembered when I wanted to audition to be one. The magic wasn't exactly back, but the passion was there, and that was enough. After the parade I had a quick wander through the lands, checking for short queues but mostly enjoying the night scenery and reminding myself why I love these parks, and why I wanted to come back tomorrow. I left about an hour before closing, shaky but satisfied with my evening.

That, my friends, was the story of my first Disney crash. I sincerely hope I never let it happen again, and I hope you can all avoid my mistakes. If you're doing a full day in the park, and there is any way to leave the parks and take a break, DO IT. Your feet, eyes, body and especially brain will thank you for it.

Next up, believe it or not, a mostly enjoyable day at DisneySea!

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