Saturday, June 21, 2014

40 Days of Summer (in Japan) - Part Nijuushi


The last time I've been to a Disney theme park was when I was ten, in Orlando. (I love you, Orh-lahn-doh!) So it was with great excitement that I went with Xim, Josie, Mel, Nia, Payal, Brynne and Rachel to Tokyo DisneySEA, which on reflection is basically Disneyland with more water in it.

After a fruitless night trying to book tickets at a konbini and failing, Xim decided, in true Japanese fashion, to cue up at the ticket booths hours before they opened, to secure us tickets (and Fastpasses to the rides; more on that later). I guess we needn't have worried, because the lines at 8am weren't that crazy long.

To get to DisneySEA from the main train station, though (which is in Chiba, a neighbouring prefecture), we had to take a shuttle train, and almost immediately your are immersed in the billion-dollar franchise.

I mean, at least try to hide, Hidden Mickey.

They have these too. You're basically gripping a faceless Mickey with a hole in his head.

All the people who queued from sunrise had gone in already, making this the shortest queue in the whole park.
Upon entry into the fabled kingdom, we were greeted by a large spinning globe fountain, as if to signal that, Yes, we're the Disneyland with WATER! That's why we're DisneySEA!

"Look, oceans! Get it? Because we're DisneySEA, not LAND, and- oh, forget it."

Almost immediately - and I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner - Nia lost her ticket. Xim and I backtracked with her to the lost and found where - again, only in Japan - someone had found it and returned it moments before. In any other country, you can barely lose your breath, but here if you so much a leave your gold-plated Rolls Royce lying on the street, someone would have picked it up and returned it to the authorities. Keep this in mind, because it's going to be a recurring theme.

The entrance hall to the rest of the park. I haven't seen this many arches outside a cathedral.

Massive fake volcano! And there's a ride in there!

One of the first things we stopped for was popcorn, because apparently the park was famous for its wild varieties of popcorn flavours. This first one was Cream Melon Soda, and for a lot more money you could buy a box shaped like Minnie Mouse's bow to put it in, and get it refilled at any other popcorn stand around the park. Sounds like a deal!

A very expensive deal. For popcorn.

Our first stop was the area known as Mysterious Island, which I LOVED because it was done up in Steampunk style: brass fittings, leather jackets, eccentric scientists and steam technology. It was fabulous.

Because steam engines can help you drill to the centre of the earth.

Our first ride was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which I assume is based on the classic science fiction novel which presumably was made into a Disney movie at some point. It was here that we also had our first experience with the Fastpass system. Basically, you make an appointment for the ride in advance, go spend your time queuing up for something else, and come back for the ride when your time is up. it also usually lets you bypass a large section of the regular queue. It's a pretty convenient system, but as the day progressed, you had to literally wait hours for your appointment time.

Everything is steampunk. Everything is beautiful.
We had half an hour to kill while waiting for our Fastpass for this ride, so we split up to wander around for a bit. Xim and I went down to the lagoon and said hello to the Nautilus, or at least one of her smaller cousins.

Whom I captained. For a short while.

And then, of course, Xim lost his ticket. Keep in mind, this is barely an hour into the park. Facepalming, Xim split off to head back to the lost and found, and I wandered around some more, breathing in all the steampunk I could breathe.

Victorian ideas of submersibles kinda looked like telephone booths with a propeller.

Our slot finally came and we went 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea! Six people sat in a small bathysphere-like capsule with bubbles in the windows. I got a front seat with Mel:

Who, of course, looks the part of a Victorian-era deep sea explorer,

The ride wasn't so much of a ride but an immersive experience. You're basically ridden along a track, with the bubbles in the window simulating the underwater experience. There was some kind of storyline, but in Japanese, so. The ride was cool in and of itself though; there was even a portion where you could control the searchlight and aim it at different areas. I was particularly impressed with the lightning effects, some of which you can see in this photo of the battle with the giant squid:

Oh, Japan, you and your fascination with tentacles.

Many areas of the park are just next to each other, so on our way I managed to snap this picture of the neighbouring Arabian Coast:

We'll be right over in just a minaret.

I think the keyword for Disney theme parks is immersion. And here's the bit that is so important to me, which is what I think makes the whole place work. The beauty of Disneyland is its immersion, and for one whole day, you're transported to this magical place where the fantastical happens everyday. And they do it so well, with the decor, with the uniforms that the staff wear; everything down to the design of the trash cans. Everything is designed to tell you that, right now, you're in a fantasy world, and there's no hurry to leave. That's where the magic is.

Mermaid Lagoon, our next stop, pretty much exemplifies this. Most of it was kiddy rides in an indoor area, but all done up with the atmosphere to make it seem like you were underwater. And it worked.

Real coral never looks this pretty. Or has this much architecture.

The entryway to Triton's Kingdom even has the royal decree.

We had some time to go before our next ride back at Mysterious Island, so we queued up for this pufferfish ride which is really designed for kids but hey, they only had a twenty-minute queue, so.

Hey kids! Did you know that this fish is deadly poisonous?

I'm sorry; I couldn't resist.

That's the whale that swallowed Pinocchio! And you willing walk into its gaping maw to shop?!

We had lunch at the Mermaid Lagoon because it was the closest. I bought a croquette burger with fries, and it was so cute because even the bun was shaped like a seashell. It was pretty delicious as well, for mass-produced fast food.

I'd have shared it, but I was feeling shellfish.

Women: mermaid princesses. Men: dashing princes. Handicapped people: minimalist symbolic stick-figures.
We wandered over to the jungle adventure-themed area of the park, known as Lost River Delta, and were immediately transported from coral and fish architecture to mysterious wood-and-bamboo structures. We wanted a Fastpass for the Indiana Jones ride, which would bring us back here at 5pm.

Steamboat Willie takes you back to the entrance.

I'd have preferred they make it more realistic, and not such a violent shade of blue.

Arabian pirates off the port bow!

The line towards the Journey to the Centre of the Earth ride was two hours long; good thing we had a Fastpass. And also, they decorated it up so nicely that you'd have many things to see while you wait. That must be such an awesome job, designing up a room to look like a Victorian laboratory:

"I need five more of those round beakers, and can someone find me a mineral deposit?!"

I wanted to bring all the art home with me.

The ride was extremely fun; it had more excitement than the previous one because it had a roller coaster-esque bit that catapulted you down this slope, all while inside that giant fake volcano. It was a really cool and immersive ride though, but filled with alien subterranean creatures which made little sense to me.

On our way again, this time following the trail to the Tower of Terror, which is the plummeting ride which I don't like, but I didn't mind going to see.

You could ride giant floating teacups and almost smash them into others.

Remember what I said about immersion? Disney makes it such that everything is magical. Take this guy, for example. He's dressed up as one of the park litter attendants, and he's got his regulation dustbin and everything:

Time to clean up... my act! Hahaha!

But then you notice that everything action he makes has a cartoonish sound effect accompanying it. Whooshes and squeaks and magic sparkle sounds; its a whole performance act on its own. He did his whole routine of wiping those handrails, and then was perplexed when there wasn't a sound effect in one place, and got one of the kids to wipe it for him. There was a bit where he had high-fives with the audience, and the one guy's hand didn't make a sound. It's so totally brilliant, because it shows you that there can be magic even in the most unlikely of places. After he had juggled his feather dusters and went on his way, I saw kids going up to the handrail and start wiping it, wondering why there weren't any sounds coming from it.

We arrived at the American Waterfront, which was designed to look like a 1800s America port town. It kinda reminded me of Mystic Seaport, the beach-side place I visited near Yale. It was quaint, but nothing I hadn't seen before. The Americans in our group, Brynne, Josie and Nia, were very excited to see how other countries saw their country.

Of course, the Americans wanted an American photo.

The only American-style town with a volcano looming in the background.

Docked in the American Waterfront was a large 19th Century steam ship, complete with trimmings. It even had its own little tugboat:

"Just to inform you, Mr. Columbia, we ain't technic'ly goin' anywhere. We ain't even floatin', as it were."

Josie and I wanted to explore the ship, so we climbed the wood-panelled stairways and wandered the decks of the anachronistic cruise liner. It was all very, very posh, in a kind of that-was-so-two-centuries-ago fashion.

Yet they couldn't even afford chandeliers.

Inside was mostly restaurant, in what I assume would have been the ship's dining hall. For its size, it couldn't really fit that many tables, which I guess goes to show that Disney values authenticity over profits.

I don't think those are real shrivelled heads.

Teddy Roosevelt, immortalized in the same way as Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.


We made our way round to Port Discovery, still very American-themed but a lot more urban. Its main feature was the huge cable-car railway shuttle overhead, designed with the best iron girders from the Industrial Revolution.

...if you know what I mean.

I told Nia and Rachel to do the Mr Taxi dance, but they refused.

Little kids are the most adorable things.

Surrre, "fair price"...

There was a parade sometime in the midafternoon, and of course this being DisneySEA, the show is held on the water. There were lots of water vehicles and real actual floats (heh), and a lot of fountains of water splashing here and there. At one point, some of the floats even regurgitated groups of dancers onto the nearby ports.

This got way too Power Rangers-y for me.

Kites, doing what I wished the roller coasters would do.

It's like the invasion of Normandy, but with circus people.

That's one surprising Easter egg.

Once the parade was over, we rushed to the Raging Spirits roller coaster, which was the next ride on our list. We figured that since everyone was at the parade, nobody would be at the rides. (Oh, how foolish and naive we were.) On the way, we passed this brass band, who was playing some swing-jazz music which was simply wonderful, but we couldn't stay because RUSHING FOR RIDE OUT OF THE WAY PLEASE SUMIMASEEENN

It's a steampunk brass band, which makes it doubly brass!

The sight of the temple was magnificent to behold. It looked suitably Mayan, which was important, because if it didn't then the magic would be lost.

How the- the water is on fire!

Along the way, I was also sacrificed to the heathen gods.

(Photo credit: Payal)

I am this tall to ride the ride!

Jungle explorer maps, just like in a real life video game!

This coaster boasted a full 360-degree loop. It looked tiny though, not like one of those huge ones you see on television. Still, this was the first time for me.

The sign even spun around to warn you against riding it if you were injured.

This was one of the only rides we didn't get a Fastpass for, so it was a two-hour queue for us.

Look at those faces of abject terror.

The ride was pretty fun; I was way nervous before getting on the thing, but it was pretty exhilarating after that. That strange feeling when your stomach lurches for a moment in the zero gravity gets me every time. I was a bit disappointed though, because when we went through the loop, they sprayed the whole thing with mist, so you couldn't really see the world spin upside down. And it was way too short; like ninety seconds, tops, for two hours wait. Meh.

On the plus side, I think my vertigo is cured.

We wandered over to the Arabian Coast, which was Aladdin-themed. There were a couple of rides here but I don't think anyone was interested. The girls stopped for curry while Xim and I went to hunt down churros.

Rajah and I - we're like twins!

I don't think any of this is actual stone.

This place looks quite... bazaar! Ahahahaha!


We finally found the churros stall, selling chocolate churros in strawberry sugar. Hot damn. No wonder there was a queue.

I would wait longer for churros.

Oh man these were so good.

We finally made it to the Indiana Jones ride in the late afternoon, breezing past the queue with our handy Fastpasses.

These are all the people who waited too long in queue.

Somehow the ancient Mayans looked a lot like the Na'vi of Pandora.

It's the big giant mirror thing, which I know through pop culture references and not through any of the movies themselves!

This was another fun and exciting ride, through snake traps and darts shooting out through walls, and even the iconic giant boulder. I guess I got quite lucky, because I always ended up in the front seats on all the rides. This was karmically counterbalanced by the fact that Josie was always sitting behind me, and because she was terrified of roller coaster-esque rides, kept strangling me whenever the carriage lurched even an inch sideways.

We took the cable car train thing back to America town, and (again) had to queue up for about twenty minutes. I think we should have come on a weekday, but lessons.

Disney is really home to some of the best artists in the world.

Trundle trundle trundle.


The park's most famous ride, Toy Story Mania, was packed to the brim. Apparently it's interactive, and you can shoot things as you travel through the ride. Unfortunately, with a three hour queue, we'd just about get in when the park closed.

No, this doesn't look creepy at all.

And yet, people still queued.

We wandered through the Venetian part of town, and were amused to find all the gondola men sitting down because the ride was temporarily unavailable. I think they all just decided to take a break at the same time.

But where's all the pasta?

We were staying for the night parade, as well as one last ride, the StormRider, which we obtained a Fastpass from earlier in the day. Since a sit-down dinner at this point was nigh inconceivable (because crowds), we wandered around looking for portable food.

There was some kind of concert going on, but I couldn't tell what.

The consummate gentleman in his retro-fashionable automobile.

We ended up having hot dogs. They were good hot dogs though!

The night parade is pretty much the same as the day one, except with more lights and fancier fireworks. People were queuing up up to three hours before the event, sitting down on their maps in the courtyards and sending errant family members off to find food for dinner. The parade itself was pretty nice; there was some nice music in English, and though the sound system was pretty hazy, you could still pick out some of the words. Based on what I could make out, there story was along the lines of "Imagination", and there were real villains and everything; a proper Aristotelian storyline.

Singapore has never seemed so small.

They really played up the whole water thing. BECAUSE DISNEYSEA, GET IT?

A giant Maleficent dragon bursts through the magic mirror!

Pretty fireworks.

We were all pretty beat at this point, but we had one last ride: the StormRider. I was expecting much from a ride with such a badass name, and I'm pretty glad to say that I wasn't disappointed. It was a simulator ride, so you pretty much sat in place while the room shook around you, but the context was that we were flying into a hurricane on a StormRider-class jet, which was carrying a missile which was able to explode the storm. (Or something like that. It's Japan.) I also was very appreciative of the fact that this ride had English subtitles running overhead, the first of all the rides we visited today.

Fancy entrance hall!

They used this to demonstrate how they would explode the whirlwind.

It was a blast, sitting in there facing the viewport, which was essentially a giant screen. Of course the plane ran into trouble; the wind picked up the missile and crashed it into the roof of our StormRider (it actually physically came in through the roof, no kidding); we swerved and ducked and dodged debris and ships' masts and even dived into the water at one point, all because of our renegade pilot who doesn't want to listen to instructions.

We all headed home at the end of the day, tired but happy. I finally got to sit on a roller coaster without the paranoid nagging of my parents, and I had a lot of fun and much churros. And of course, thanks to the great friends who I spent the day with; it wouldn't have been much fun without you!

And there's Singapore!

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