Early in our Tokyo trip, we headed out to the Tokyo Sea Life Aquarium, which is a bit of a trek from central Tokyo – and happens to be on the same train line to Tokyo Disneyland. Most of the families we met on that train were in fact headed to Disneyland, and I vaguely remember thinking, eh, we live close enough to Anaheim, there’s no way I am wasting Japan time going to an American theme park we live only a few hours from in “real” life.
Ha! By the time December rolled around, and Aardvark had been SUCH a trooper through three months of being removed from her preschool, her friends, her familiar routines of library story times, gymnastics, Fizzle Pop classes, etc., and subjected to culture shock, pretty intensive and unrelenting travel, often going several days in a row not sleeping in the same town – or even region – twice, I thought she had earned an entirely kid-centric treat.
Plus, I realized Tokyo Disneyland actually made a lot of sense: in CA, we might live a few hours from Disneyland, but it would definitely require a stay in a hotel – not so in Tokyo! Plus, in Japan Disney is free for kids under four, so she still had a few months left of being free – all I’d need to do is purchase one adult ticket.
But we are not huge Disney fans. Although I might be related to some Disney-obsessed folks (ahem, my brother, ahem!), I’ve never taken to a particular Disney character, I’ve always had mixed feelings about the sexism and unrealistic portrayals of females in Disney movies (and insert any other feminist misgivings a former professor of gender studies would be likely to have regarding Disney – I’ve had ‘em!), and have been somewhat even anti-Disney.
Plus, we try to discourage princess stuff for Aardvark. And she does not get a lot of screentime, so she hasn’t seen any Disney TV shows and the only movie she’s seen is Finding Nemo – which she saw on a plane coming back from FL this summer. And it was in Japanese, which we didn’t realize until Don checked her headphones halfway through the flight. She did have a Finding Nemo book in Japan, as well as a Winnie-the-Pooh story collection, and since we did not have many books there, she read those constantly. So she was super into Nemo and Pooh. But other than that, and knowing Minnie Mouse courtesy of her classmates and Donald Duck courtesy of her Uncle Liam, she was not really familiar with Disney characters.
So going to Disney still seemed somewhat a strange choice for us. But I asked Aardvark if she wanted to go, and she was VERY excited about the idea. She talked about it for days. She was totally sold. (This is why you never tell kids anything until plans are set in stone! What was I thinking?!)
Then I asked her what going to Disneyland meant, and she replied, “It’s when you go somewhere and you get a Minnie Mouse bag!” excitedly.
Ahhhh. That makes more sense. There is an (amazing! If you’re ever in Tokyo, go!) vegan ramen noodle place in Tokyo train station, and it is right at the top of the escalators up from the Keio line platform – the train that goes to Tokyo Disneyland. So everytime we go to the vegan ramen place for dinner, we see HORDES of people coming up from the platform fresh from Tokyo Disneyland or Disneysea. They are often in Disney costume, and they are always carrying Disney bags.
So basically, I could get away with just taking her to a Disney store – the one in Shibuya is even shaped like a castle!
She really believed we were at Disney and was THRILLED! But it felt too much like all the times we’d drive down I-95 and my dad would tell us we were going to Disney – and for a second we’d believe him, until it turned out he was just joking, and pointing to the Mormon temple in MD instead (which, to be fair, did look like an impressive castle rising up over the highway. But is in no way, shape or form the same thing as DISNEY to a kid.)
So we told her we were just there to buy our tickets, and were going to the real Disneyland later that week.
And I planned more for this one day trip to Disneyland than I planned for any of our week-long trips all around Japan. I read blog after blog about tips for Tokyo Disney. I read about each ride, and watched the little video on Tokyo Disney Resort (TDR)’s website, running many by Aardvark to see if they were appropriate for her and whether or not she was even interested in them. I had Don print out maps well in advance so I could plan our initial route, first Fastpass grab and first ride. I downloaded three different apps with up-to-the-minute wait times for rides and Fastpass return times. I was all packed the night before, ready for the chaos of going to Disney.
Which is full on chaos.
But at least it’s in a Japanese, orderly-chaos kind of way!
Apparently, people start lining up at the entrance hours ahead of time. Lines for the popular rides are usually 3-6 hours long. And this seemed to be no joke: I downloaded the park apps the night before, and at 8:30 at night, there was still a 2+ hour wait for Splash Mountain and some of the other most popular rides, including Pan’s Flight, Monsters Inc and Pooh’s Hunny Hunt. The park wasn’t even going to be open for another two hours!
The two most popular rides (Monsters Inc. Ride and Go Seek and Pooh’s Hunny Hunt) are incredibly popular because they are unique to TDR (apparently there is another Hunny Hunt at a different park? But it’s not like the Tokyo one?). So the usual move is to grab a Fastpass for Monsters Inc and ride standby for the Hunny Hunt, when the line is likely to be less than an hour long.
And by “grab a Fastpass,” I mean RUN to the ride as soon as the gates open, then RUN to the Hunny Hunt. Most blogs suggest getting the fastest runner in your party to go get Monsters Inc Fastpasses for all while the rest of the group runs straight to the Hunny Hunt. Which was no use to me, since it was just Aardvark and me, and my injured foot meant I was slower than usual, plus I’d be pushing a stroller with a 3 year old in it. The odds were not in our favor.
Due to her obsession with Pooh, though, Aardvark was incredibly excited about the Hunny Hunt. Plus she decided she was scared of the Monsters Inc. ride (she wouldn’t even watch the preview video to see that it’s not scary at all). So we decided to skip Monsters Inc, pick up a FastPass for the Hunny Hunt, and then ride it stand-by. And probably get all our other Fastpasses for the Hunny Hunt, too, since there are only a few rides at TDR that have Fastpass and Aardvark was only interested in the Hunny Hunt. I was hoping that would help make up for our lack of a fastpass runner!
We planned to arrive about an hour before the park opened, and, as expected, there were already hundreds, if not thousands, of people already waiting. But one hour early – leaving the house at 6:45 am – was all I could muster. I’d packed some yogurt and fruit for us to eat breakfast while waiting in line, which seemed to be what everyone else was doing, too.
Everyone had whipped out their “leisure sheets” (one does not just sit on the ground in Japan, as the ground is considered dirty) and was sitting politely in their lines. Ah, having lined up a few times since returning to the US, I already miss Japan’s orderly, polite queues.
One thing that seemed strange to me was the crowd itself: there were some kids, but more often than not, the crowd was comprised of pairs or groups of adults, with nary a kid in sight. I’ve heard TDR is a big date spot, but this still seemed funny to me. Are all Disney parks this much of a draw for people of all ages, or is it just Japan?
Not only were adults the main “guest” base, but boy, were they into it! Everyone was decked out in Disney gear but us. (Thankfully, Aardvark had her Minnie ears from Cousin Sukhoon! That helped her blend in. And they were especially cool at night! But she also brought her beloved stuffed animal, Giraffey, a constant travel companion in Japan. Giraffey was the only non-Disney stuffed animal in sight, I can guarantee. But definitely NOT the only stuffed animal. Almost everyone was toting some stuffed Disney animal with them – mostly the unique-to-Tokyo characters, like Duffy and Gelatoni, but there were many Mickeys and Minnies, etc. too.
Which seems extra crazy to me. Why bring a bunch of Disney toys INTO Disneyland, where you will just have to lug them around all day? If you’re the kind of person who loves Disney that much, my guess is you are also going to buy a lot of Disney stuff while here, so starting the day with a bag full of Disney toys seemed silly to me (I mean, come on! I had a stroller full of: healthy snacks – because there seemed to be no main course vegetarian offerings, and if we were going to live on popcorn and sweets for the day, I thought we might need some fruit & veg to balance it out; diapers; leisure sheet and fold up cushions for the parades; warm layers, including hats, scarves, gloves, additional jackets, and blankets; hand warmers; sunscreen; entertainment for the long waits in line; water bottles; umbrellas; rain coat for Aardvark just in case; pjs and nighttime diaper for the train ride home in case Aardvark fell asleep; probably more stuff but I’ve already forgotten. So I totally know about packing lightly 😉 Ha! But in all honesty, I clearly DO know about packing too much stuff and regretting it.) So, if anyone understands WHY people (and I mean grown-ups, I don’t mean kids with a beloved toy like A’s Giraffey or another child’s favorite Disney character, that makes sense to me) bring their stuffed Disney toys to Disney, please let me know! I’m totally curious.
About 20 minutes before the gates opened, the characters streamed out of the World Bazaar and across the courtyard – Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Captain Hook, the Three Little Pigs (is that a Disney thing? We saw a lot of pig characters) – you name it, and the characters-in-big-costumers (I didn’t see any Princesses, etc.) were out, roaming around, waving enthusiastically while we waited. Which was very nice and got the crowd very excited.
AND THEN THE GATES WERE OPENED.
And it was absolute madness. People surging forward through the gates and then just a full-on running of the crazy bulls. Just to get on a ride at Disney.
I laugh and mock, but I totally did it too.
Despite the “cast members” holding up signs urging us not to run.
[Is this what happens when the gates open at EVERY Disney park?! I hear it’s even worse at Tokyo DisneySea, but it’s the only DisneySea park, so I’m guessing nearly every ride is unique there?]
And yet….EVEN being anti-Disney, even feeling the panicked Must. Get. Hunny. Hunt. Fast. Pass urge, I also emerged from the World Bazaar to look out on the Cinderella Castle and could not stop smiling.
Yes, this is super cheesy, but it really DID feel like the Happiest Place on Earth. Aardvark was squealing with delight, and I was SO glad we’d decided to come. We were going to have a blast!
And we did.
We got our FastPass for the Hunny Hunt – with a return time of 10:45, already, at 9:05 in the morning. We went to get in the regular line for the Hunny Hunt, but the ride was closed, so we wandered over to the Castle to take some pictures.
And then we just hit up rides in Fantasyland that had nearly no wait.
We went on Pan’s Flight, with a 5 minute wait. (The first part is great! You ride in a flying ship, suspended on a track from above, over London at night – I enjoyed pointing out to Aardvark the important landmarks like Big Ben and Tower Bridge, as well as The Place Where I Told Daddy We Were Going to Have a Baby, and The Bridge We Walked Over After I Told Him, etc. Weirdly, she was not as into this oral history tour as I was.
Then you fly through a starry sky, and it’s pretty cool.
Then you fly past the ship where Wendy & co. are tied up, and Pan is fighting the pirates, and from there the rest of the ride is super blah. The animatronics are so cheesy they are painful. I thought it was so cheap looking it was ridiculous; Aardvark thought it was terrifying, so neither of us were thrilled with the ride. And it’s regularly got a 2+ hour wait, so I’d give it a hard pass.)
Then we went to PhilharMagic, a 3-D movie that I thought was pretty awesome – it was basically a recap of major Disney movies, with Donald leading the narration, but it made amazing use of 3D and special effects. It was adorable to see Aardvark, who has never been to a real movie before, try to swat 3D objects out of the air. And one point, it seemed so much like Donald was shooting out of the screen – and right into Aardvark’s face, in fact – that not only did she duck (no pun intended), but the kids sitting in front of her turned around to see if he landed on her.
And when the Sorcerer’s Apprentice brooms were mopping on screen, the audience got splashed with real water as their buckets sloshed around. When corks popped off champagne bottles in the audience’s direction, we also had blasts of air come at us that made it feel so real I ducked!
But at one point, the walls become parts of the screen and the movie is projected nearly 270 degrees around the theater, and the music gets louder and a bit scarier, and Aardvark was freaked out for the rest of it and ended up hating the whole thing. (This is also why she’s never seen a real movie – we’ve tried a couple times, but the dark room and the loud previews scare her so much we need to leave before we even take a seat).
So back to the Hunny Hunt! It was open, the wait was 40 minutes, and it was totally worth it. It was a GREAT ride. As the line gets closer, it feeds through pages of a Winnie-the-Pooh story book.
The ride itself is “trackless” (I’d read that before going; I had no idea what that really meant though, but it turns out it’s just as it sounds and it makes for a really neat, more interactive-feeling ride), so each car gets a slightly different experience. We rode in the first car the first time, and we were in the second car the second time we did the ride, and we got to see different parts, characters, etc. in the different spots.
You ride through the Hundred Acre Wood, into a weird Tigger-tv land, through Pooh’s bedroom, and then into his acid-trippy/disco-jazz Heffalump dream, which is in a cavernous black room full of black-light painted characters and jazzy music, and the cars do-si-do each other in a sort of dance and whip around individually to different corners with different trippy things happening – it’s hard to explain, but as an adult, I found it fun and not too juvenile. I was afraid Aardvark would be terrified, but we’d talked about this part of the ride before (I’d heard from some other mamas their kids did NOT like the Heffalump part), and since Pooh’s Heffalump nightmares are one of the stories in the book we had in Japan, we talked about how Pooh deals with the Heffalump, yada yada, in advance.
I’m pretty sure that’s the only thing that kept her from freaking out, because this definitely was scary-seeming at parts – way more so than Pan’s Flight or the PhilharMagic, both of which terrified her.
But instead, she loved this ride and was ready for more!
Which was good, because when we were finished with the ride, we had just enough time to get some Honey popcorn (TDR is apparently famous for its wacky popcorn flavors, and popcorn is a must-have snack there? Anyway, the smell of the honey popcorn across from the Hunny Hunt was so cloying when we first walked over I thought there was no way we were getting any. But after 40 minutes in line, and a whole honey-themed ride, which dumps you right into a Pooh/honey themed gift shop, honey popcorn sounded like the perfect thing. And it turned out it was pretty yummy!) before using our FastPass for our second Hunny Huny ride.
In Pooh’s bedroom
A special, post-ride, Winnie-the-Pooh themed gift shop. Very clever, Disney, very clever.
When we got off the ride this time, we were eligible to get another Fast Pass, but the return times for the Hunny Hunt – at 11:00 am! – were already 8:30. I figured there was no way we’d still be there by then (I was wrong, btw), so didn’t bother getting a FastPass for it – not wanting to waste the opportunity to get a different FastPass (bad call. We didn’t use it again; there really wasn’t any other FP ride Aardvark wanted to go on).
Then it was off to the “Flying Elephants” [Dumbo] ride, and then the Teacups, both of which were fun. They are sort of slightly-more-extreme versions of rides available at Gilroy Gardens though – not so special or extraordinary. And then we went on It’s a Small World and I took a million photos, so they might get their own post. I couldn’t tell for sure whether I was being overly sensitive or if the ride was straight up racist, until we hit the “Africa” portion, and then it sealed it for me: straight up racist. [Also, for those who have been on this ride at any Disney: what is the white/sparkly land at the end? Is it like, everyone living together in harmony (but they are still mostly segregated?!), or is it some sort of Disney version of the afterlife?!]
Then we saw “Minnie! Oh Minnie!” which is a Latin-music & dance inspired show that just seemed a bit random (and at times, like when the singers are talking about making love all night, maybe not so Disney-appropriate?!) to me but is apparently hugely popular. And Aardvark loves dancing, so she was psyched.
Then lunch, then “One Man’s Dream,” a sort of combo origin-story, retrospective and behind-the-scenes bio of the Disney Story, but with large doses of creative liberty and imagination thrown in (Walt Disney is played by Mickey Mouse, if I followed what was happening). I loved it and thought it was great; the Maleficient/Evil Queen scenes scared Aardvark beyond redemption: she hated it.
But then the holiday parade!
Which is why I want to get this post done tonight, before Christmas! Because holy gee wow, it’s already 3000 words long. Sheesh. (Sorry, readers! Every night at bedtime, Aardvark used to ask me to “Tell me what we did today.” Ever since Disney though, she’s asked me to “Tell me what we did at Disneyland,” so I’ve told variations of this story every day for the last two weeks, so I have ALL. THE. DETAILS nice and fresh for ya.)
But never mind….should have done all the blogging in Japan, where internet was somewhat fast. Now that we’re back in CA and our internet is so slow I could just pop by all your homes, all over the world, and tell you this story over a cup of tea in less time than it is taking to upload these photos, I’m going to save the rest for subsequent posts.
Stay tuned not just for “Christmas at TDR,” but for what I think will be my favorite one: “Only in Tokyo Disneyland!”