Language no barrier to fun at Disneyland Tokyo
Disneyland Tokyo pulls in around 14 million visitors a year, making it the world's third most visited theme park. But on the day we went, it wasn't quite as busy as we'd feared.
The Japanese coast had been hit by Typhoon Francisco, and there were fears that the resort would have to close. Francisco instead went out to sea and much to our daughter's delight, our Japanese Disney adventure was on.
Our metro ride across Tokyo was an adventure in itself - negotiating the futuristic Shibuya district at rush hour is not for the faint-hearted. Our train eventually pulled away from the built-up sprawl of Tokyo and glided towards a sprawl of a different kind.
Spread out over 115-acres, the site at Urayasu occupies a whole peninsula jutting into Tokyo Bay and is ringed by a monorail system linking its nine hotels.
The site, which marked its 30th birthday last year, contains Tokyo Disneyland, similar to its sister sites in the US and Tokyo DisneySea - based on nautical exploration and adventure.
The park features such attractions as Toontown, Tomorrowland and Westernland, but for us Fantasyland with Pooh's Hunny Hunt was a big favourite.
The ride takes the form of a giant story book and takes the visitor through Hundred Acre Wood as Pooh and his chums seek out their honey. Despite much of the dialogue being in Japanese, the actual words written on the 'pages' throughout the ride are in English. This often happens, but does not seem to faze the locals very much. Tigger sings his song in Japanese, while I learnt 'Honey thief' in Japanese is 'Hashimitsu dorobo'.
The show-stealer for us was log flume on Splash Mountain. The slow, clinking climb couldn't prepare us for the heart-stopping plunge at the ride's climax as we looked up and saw a wall of water climb above us and plunge down, drenching us all.
Tempting food was everywhere. Stalls selling barbecued turkey legs and bizarrely, curry flavoured popcorn (among other flavours) were just some of the culinary delights to be had. They also did a fusion food version of the Spanish Churros, a long doughnut, but here instead of dipping in thick chocolate, they were encased in sugar and cinammon. Much to our daughter’s delight, a cafe selling chicken katsu curry and nothing else was where we had lunch. Our fellow diners startled us slightly by leaving their bags on tables as they went inside to order. Unthinkable to us, this was normal here, where fear of petty crime seemed non-existent.
Another highlight was the racing car track or Grand Circuit Raceway. Here you sit in a petrol-driven racing car, shaped like a half-size Corvette Stingray, with a proper accelerator. The nippy little cars buzz along on rails at around 10mph, so there's no danger of your child crashing (as my daughter would surely have done without it). We drove after sundown and it was great speeding along the lit-up racetrack as I watched my driver not looking where she was going.
As we walked to leave, we paused for one final attraction. The night-time parade, held at 8pm every day, was clearly popular, with locals putting their blankets down onto the tarmac early to get a good spot.
Characters old and new, from Mickey and Minnie Mouse to Monsters Inc were all illuminated by delicate strands of light. They glided past in a seemingly endless parade, leading to the climax of the firework display which lit the iconic Disney tower in explosive, brilliant, colour.
As with so many things in Tokyo, this was very well organised. When walkways become closed off in preparation for the parade, ever-smiling Disney staff stood in ranks bowing slightly and with a graceful sweep of their arm, guided you in the right direction.
For us, though, the fun was only just beginning, as we were going to hit Tokyo DisneySea the next day.
Costing around $4 billion, it is the most expensive theme park ever built, and it shows.
A stylised ‘Mediterranean Harbour’ complete with Venetian gondolas forms the entrance to the watery world. At the centre of the park is a volcano on the vast 'Mysterious Island'. This area hosts such nautical experiences as a ‘plunge’ in the Jules Verne-inspired 'Nautilus', the submarine from '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea'. Verne's other classic has a ride to the heart of the volcano in 'Journey to the Center of the Earth'.
The American Waterfront, designed in the style of a US port the early 20th century, is all bustle with Irish and Italian store names and baton-twirling cops. Its centrepiece is the Titanic-lookalike, the SS Columbia, which won't be sailing anywhere as it's not a real ship, but a well-made replica and hosts shows and numerous restaurants.
For our daughter, the stand-out had to be the Mermaid Lagoon, home to the characters from The Little Mermaid. After winding our way down the spiral ramp to the underground home of the ‘lagoon’, we were treated to an astonishing show from acrobats dressed as characters from the film. Safe to say it was ‘Under the Sea’ rather than ‘Going Undergound’ that was going round and round my head for the rest of the day.
Again, much of the performance was in English, but this seemed not to matter a jot.
Our exhausting two days at an end, our daughter slept most of the way back into Tokyo, dreaming no doubt of her incredible Oriental Disney adventure.
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