Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Trip Day 5, Disney Day 3: Park Hopping Part 2

On to part 2!

I arrived at the famous Becker’s for a nice, unhealthy burger and fries lunch.  Becker’s has been mentioned in many a trip report as a place to get food that is a little more ‘western’ at decent prices, so I thought I’d find out if it was true. I picked out a set with a bacon burger, fries, and an iced tea for around ¥650. The burger was quite small and consisted of mostly beef patty, bacon, and a variety of sauces, but it was delicious in an almost convincingly American food way. The fries and iced tea were both great also, especially now that I’d been back in Japan long enough to remember how much sugar syrup I liked in my iced tea (it comes unsweetened). I sat and took a much needed break from the noise and chaos of the parks, but I was still feeling quite tired. Determined that the lessons of the previous days should not be lost on me, I decided to head back to my hotel for a while. 

By the time I pulled in at the train station I realised that I had gone through a fair bit of my Disney spending money, I expected to spend more at DisneySea, and that I had no other cash left in my purse for food and necessities. The only places that you can get cash with a foreign card in Japan, even a travel money card, are 7-11s and post offices. Unfortunately, 7-11s only take a specific kind of foreign card, which it turns out mine wasn’t. This left only the post office, which wouldn’t be open early tomorrow when I planned to leave the hotel. I decided to head there so I didn’t end up accidentally stranded in a foreign store with no cash. This led to what I now refer to as the Epic of Yuubinkyouku (Post Office).

The trouble was, although the post office was marked on the map of the area I had printed out for myself, I was having trouble finding it. Suburban post offices in Japan tend to be small, and often do no advertise their presence with anything other than the Japanese postal symbol. This is a very useful thing to learn when travelling to Japan, given the money situation, and given that this is also how they tend to be marked on maps. It looks like this:
 Occasionally, you will see this:
 If you're unbelievably lucky, you might see this:

Despite my knowledge of this symbol from my previous trip, I seemed to walk too far. I tried the other side of the street, and still couldn’t find anything. I looked on a street map on the side of the road, and it seemed to correspond with mine. I walked that side of the street again and didn’t see it. I then spent about ten minutes just wandering the general area I knew it to be in looking confused. I’m sure I would have been pretty entertaining if anyone was watching! I decided I needed help so I headed in to a convenience store, bought a bottle of water and asked the clerk ‘Yuubinkyouku wa doko desu ka’ (Where is the post office?). He seemed to understand, led me outside, and gave me some directions back in the direction I came from. Here I was incredibly thankful for my understanding of Japanese directional words, but he also gave some helpful hand signals. I thanked him, bowed, and followed what I thought I understood from his directions. These led me to a corner beauty store. I thought I must have misunderstood him until I saw a post box on the sidewalk, and next to it a tiny narrow door, with the post office sign! Finally, I walked into the air conditioning, pressed the ‘English’ button on the ATM and got my cash.

This little guy seemed cute now that he was no longer simply a landmark for my disoriented brain!

After returning to the hotel and taking a short victory nap, I realised that since I had returned to my hotel I had a chance to look for the tag from my Happiness Pendant! After some searching I found I had not yet thrown it away and I began the journey back to the parks.

By 4:30pm I was back at DisneySea. I realised that I had barely taken any video the whole trip, and since DisneySea is one of my favourite places, I should. So I pulled out my video camera and proceeded to wander anticlockwise around the park, making a few inane comments as I showcased my favourite paths and trails of DisneySea. Unfortunately my battery, which I had forgotten to charge the night before, ran flat just as I reached the American Waterfront, but I made it most of the way around. This circuit really helped me remember how much I love amount of care and artistry that was put into the theming of DisneySea, and put me in a good mood for some relaxed exploring and shopping.
I headed back to the Mermaid Lagoon, and was about to head into Triton’s Kingdom when I spotted a rare sight: Prince Eric!

Pictured here with your typical adorable park goer.

I quickly went over and joined the short line to speak to him. I always try to spend extra time with face characters (as opposed to fully suited costume characters) in the parks, as they are allowed to speak and I love seeing how well they keep any conversation in character. I also found on my last trip that because the face characters are often native English speakers, they often seem to enjoy the opportunity to try out their character acting on other native English speakers. Eric and I had some nice banter, I explained that I was on my way to take pictures with his statue, and we had a little conversation about whether the statue really portrayed his likeness. Eric maintains that as handsome as I may think it is, it is still a little too serious for his liking.

I then headed off to spend a little time in Ariel’s Playground, one of the coolest favourite free play areas I’ve seen at a park. I dared myself to stay in the dark, fake shipwreck long enough for the ‘lightening’ to flash and reveal the creepy shark staring in at you. I then watched a couple of giggling teenage girls shine flashlights from their phones in the dark to see if the shark was still there, and squeal when it was. I bounced childishly between the bouncy sails, to the delight of a couple of small children watching, and then headed into the caves to one of my favourite rooms. One of the best rooms in the playground, in my opinion, is a cave room that appears empty until a bright light flashes, revealing that the paint on the wall is photosensitive and has preserved the shape of your shadow. On my first trip, I spent a lot of time in this room creating shadow puppets, creating jump shadows and generally laughing at the results with my travel companion. This time however, I found the room full of Japanese teenagers who couldn’t work out what the flashing light was for, as they were looking the wrong way. I strolled up to the correct wall, did a crazy pose, and pointed comically at the resulting shadow as they all cried out in surprise. After this, they couldn’t wait to pose at the wall themselves, and I left them to it. 

I then headed to my other favourite part of Ariel’s Playground, the replica of Ariel’s Grotto:

This place is really fun for Ariel fans. Looking around you can see Ariel’s fire painting, her case of thingamabobs, and of course the big statue of Eric, which I like to give a manly fist bump whenever I pass by. There are also several things in the grotto designed to be interactive, like clocks that make noise if you play with them and a treasure chest with an optical illusion jewel you can never reach. Also, be sure to look up and see the people staring down at you, as the hole at the top of this room is the hole next to King Triton’s statue as you enter Triton’s Kingdom.

After exploring more caves and touring Ursula’s Lair a little, I left the playground and continued on.

 Goofy was caught scuba diving in Triton's Kingdom

My next stop was the Sleepy Whale and the surrounding The Little Mermaid themed shops. I’m a big fan of Ariel, so I was hoping to find some good merchandise here. Sadly, there was a lot more generic Disney-themed merchandise and Sebastian and Flounder themed merchandise than anything Ariel. The few things that did have Ariel were mostly for small children. I assume this is a result of the Japanese obsession with cutesy animal characters that serves me so well in other stores, so I suppose it’s fair. Once I headed over to the Arabian Coast, I found that same obsession with cutesy animal characters provided me endless merchandise options in the Agrabah Marketplace. Although he is merely the result of a cosmetic change designed to make people like the Sindbad ride more, I am quite the fan of Changdu the tiger cub. I just can’t resist his little face! The racks of different plush Changdus, Genie-themed dustpans and crazily pretty crockery were really fun to browse amongst. I was heavily tempted to buy a replica magic lamp, but it was very fragile and I convinced myself it wasn’t worth spending the money on something that could break in transit. Instead I selected a small Changdu plushie and left before I could add any impulse purchases.

On the way out, I decided I might as well go on the one ride that I’ve never been on at DisneySea: Jasmine’s Flying Carpets. I knew that it was essentially Dumbo, but unlike Dumbo it had practically no line up and it gave a fun view of a very different park. After having a bit of fun steering my magic carpet up and down, I got off the ride and headed past Indy to yet again take advantage of the single rider line. Riding one of my favourite rides again as the Disney trip was coming to an end made me a little sentimental about leaving the parks, so I spent some time afterward wandering around the Port Discovery/Cape Cod/American Waterfront areas taking photos while I slowly made my way to Zambini Brothers Restaurant for dinner. 

I had eaten at Zambini Brothers on my last trip, and I found it to have half decent pasta at reasonable prices, which was just what I needed. I ate my pasta at one of the few outdoor tables, watching people set up to watch Fantasmic! on the lagoon. After finishing my dinner at around 7pm, I went and sat down in a space on the lagoon’s edge, right in front of the restaurant, and relaxed until the show started. It was here however that I started coughing, and I realised that either I had been coming down with something all Disney trip, or I had made myself sick by not taking it easy. Either way the lesson was clear: take breaks, drink water, or you’ll pay. Luckily, the show cheered me up.

Now I should say this to start with: I haven’t seen Fantasmic in its other forms. Many descriptions of this show have been posted by people who know a lot more about it than me, so I’d recommend looking those up if you want a play by play of the show. What I will say is that what I saw was excellent. The show focuses around the power of imagination, to create both good and bad things. Ultimately of course, Mickey is able to take control of his imagination and vanquish the evil, but I did like that there was a section of the show that was a little more sinister. I liked the way the light show worked with the water, and I especially enjoyed the use of a screen of water to make a giant magic mirror that could serve as both a projection screen and an entryway for things to emerge through. It was quite the spectacle, and Tokyo’s nightly fireworks show (which has much less set up space than other parks to prepare elaborate launches from) truly pales in comparison. Oh, and like all the other shows I had seen so far, they packed up the show to a slow, soft version of the 30th anniversary song ‘Happiness is here’. I would be singing that song all trip.

I then ran around taking some night time photos, and decided to go on the Sindbad ride as I hadn’t yet. Like It’s A Small World in Disneyland, this ride tends to divide people: You tend to love it or hate it. The two rides share a lot of similarities, both being boat rides past scenes of outdated animatronic scenes set to one catchy, looping song. Much like It’s A Small World, this ride isn’t my favourite, but I guess I fall in the pro column because I definitely don’t hate it. It’s less outdated than Small World, and the facial expressions on the characters, though stylised, are quite good. I like the over the top scenes from Sindbad’s story, and although it’s corny, I really do love the addition of Changdu. I also do like the song to which the ride is set, which was apparently written by Alan Menken. Warning: this song will get stuck in your head almost as badly as the Small World song. It does however give you a nice break from 'Happiness is here' ;)

After this, I realised I had done most of the things I really wanted to do except for re-rides and shopping, so I felt free to go back to Indy and use the single rider line another three or four times. The last ride, after a trip full of attempts to do a funny photo pose (‘Aaaahh!’ ‘Need a hug?’ and ‘Come at me bro!’ were my three favourites so far), I finally got put on a ride vehicle with people who share my sense of humour. 

When they saw the photo and realised I posed too they laughed and offered me high fives. Apparently high fives need no language.

Once I was done with Indy, I went over to Port Discovery and hopped on the Electric Railway to get one last overhead view of the park and do some shopping at the other end. The park is beautiful from the windows of the railway cars, which move super slowly so there’s time to take it in. I also met a couple of friendly Australians on board. We compared our trips and discovered we shared a tendency to continue shopping despite our tiredness, as that’s what we were all planning to do at the end of the ride.

So here I was, at the very end of my Disney days, with money left to spend and shops left to browse. I won’t lie, this brought out a bit of a browsing mania. I dodged through the late night crowds in almost all the shops at the front of the park, skipping the confectionery store as it gets PACKED near closing with Japanese visitors looking to buy omiyage (obligation gifts) for their friends and co-workers who didn’t get to visit Disney. Candy or cookies are a common gift choice as they are small and disposable, but thoughtful. A general warning for shoppers who like space to browse (or breathe) while shopping is to shop (or at least check out the shops) early, as they will always get crowded at night by locals bound by their gift giving traditions.

As I wasn’t looking for candy, and as I did not have to buy a small gift for EVERYONE I know, I was happy to skip some stores and rely on the location I had scouted earlier in the trip for the items I wanted. Among other things, I bought a couple of Spring Voyage trinkets, a document folder with a cool stylised map of Disneyland and DisneySea on it, a CD of the Jubilation! Soundtrack (which reminds me of my last trip better than anything else on earth, barring the smell of caramel popcorn) and a couple of other impulse buys, but I did not succumb to my merchandise cravings nearly as much as I had on my last trip to Japan, so I declared it a success. 

I resisted the temptation to buy this, mostly because I couldn't come up with a use or even a display spot in my house for it that didn't seem hilariously silly. I did give me a good laugh trying though!

By this point I had had enough, the park was nearly closed, and I didn’t want to stick around long enough to make any further purchases. So I said goodnight to DisneySea, stopping to witness the huge crowd taking photos of the lit up 30th anniversary statue on the way out. As I left I was happy, but I couldn’t help hoping that maybe this wasn’t goodbye, and that I may be able to return later in my trip when I was feeling better.

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