Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Wet Electrical Parade & a "Large" Coffee at Tokyo Disneyland

It is very tough to describe the layout of Westernland. As we moved through the park, I kept comparing the layout to Disneyland in California. One could almost say their Country Bear Jamboree is where our Pioneer Mercantile merchandise store is located. I don’t know why this park was more confusing than Florida’s version, or even Paris (which I have been to). To throw a wrench in the wheel, it appeared Adventureland had to boast of its latest gain. The queue for the newly refurbished Jungle Cruise was spilling into Westernland. 
“Go home to Adventreland Jungle Cruise, you’re drunk! Just stay in your own land! We are confused as it is!”

The other queue Eric and I found to be surprising was that of the shooting gallery. Even with the rain there was a long queue to play the game. I never see that at any of the other parks. We couldn’t even get a good look at the game area, the crowd blocked it. I would have liked to see what it was that made this particular version so spectacular. If anyone knows please tell me. 
Eric was first to notice the plethora of Explorer Canoes out on the river. From what I recall, most rainy days the canoes at Disneyland in California will shut down. In Tokyo the guests had their rain gear on and were out there rowing away.  We were thrilled to see this! With each stroke, it seemed all the guests were yelling the equivalent of “Stroke” or Row”. I’ve seen American guests ride this during ideal weather. Most of the tourist in the US would rather take selfies and photos of the surrounding area, me included. We even have a video of it!

Eric suggested we checkout the rest of the Fantasland dark rides. We had heard these are basically copies of what is offered in Florida's park. This rumor turned out to be true. Even still, I like seeing the subtle differences in the queue layout and effects. I think a few of the scenes were a little brighter, but maybe they had just been painted. Our vehicle kept stalling while inside the Snow White attraction. That was annoying because the audio would cut out completely. There was also awkward silence as we sat with the other group of two. But, that made it easy for me to get this shot of the crone!

The Cast Member at unload was like a robot. Each time a vehicle returned to the station she threw her arms up, shook them, and began her exit spiel. I assume it was something like, "Welcome back, I see you survived! Raise your arms and prepare to exit. Have a nice evening." She performed it the same way for each vehicle. We were impressed. By the way, this was something we observed prior to riding. We weren't just standing there like weirdos. 

Although we knew when we booked our flight, we were disappointed that "it's a small world" was closed. They were preparing for their holiday season. 

Eric and I also took a flight on Peter Pan. I believe these dark rides were built about a decade after WDW's grand opening, it was obvious they used the exact design. There was a a tiny addition to the loading area. In the station, just as the Cast Member checks that your lap bar is secure, there is a Tinkerbell figure flying on a wire. Even as we waited in the queue, it was amusing to watch her swoop up and down. At this point Eric and I were getting slightly hungry, so it was decision time. 

Before we even left to Japan, I found out about of a hidden gem of a fast food location in Westernland that sells Chicken Strips, The Lucky Nugget Cafe. This knowledge was obtained thanks to our pal at Why chicken strips you ask? To that, I respond with another question, “Why not?” It’s a theme park and we aren’t at the park for anything gourmet, although the food is a lot better than people say. Also, we wanted to have enough time to eat and get a spot for the night parade. The parade was at 7:00 PM, so we had about 1.5 hours until that time. 
This cafe is located a little past the shooting gallery and Big Thunder Mountain, all the way in the far corner. Because of the rain, they have large sheets of waxed paper to cover everyone’s tray. When the Cast Member handed me that I was shocked! I was also a little embarrassed as we seemed to fit the American stereotype of enjoying our Coke products. We had to order the large because the small was a joke, child size in the US. But, you know what? I’ll salute the flag while carry around my Diet Coke any day! Speaking of Diet Coke, I didn't see any during our whole trip. We had to have Coke Zero instead. It's a decent replacement, but it's not our usual choice. 
As you may have noticed, we hadn’t really dived into any Japanese cuisine as of yet. We weren’t avoiding it, but I can’t say there was any huge push for Japanese cuisine here. Just like the signs are in English first and then Japanese, the food had an American influence. 
Soon after finishing our meal we were in the mood for a little coffee. The rain wasn’t letting up and we were pretty cold. I went over to order and asked for our coffee (sounds like “coh-he” in Japanese). The cashier asked me a question in Japanese. When I clearly didn’t understand, she asked in English, “hot?” I replied that I did want it hot. Internally I wondered why anyone would order an iced coffee in this cold weather. Throughout the rest of our time in Japan we were asked “hot or cold” no matter how cold the weather was. It wasn’t annoying to us. But, It seemed to add a step in the order process that wasn’t needed. 
 Now let’s take a moment to talk about what a Large coffee looks like in Japan? Here it is folks. I think as Americans we are labeled as “Greedy”, but this is definitely too small for the price of around 3.00.

 We took our coffee to go as we went in search of a decent parade spot. A lot of what would be considered “front row” was gone in the Fantasyland area of the route. Eric suggested we head to where the parade would begin, between Toowntown and the castle. Even at this point in time, 20 minutes from showtime, this section of the route had many open spots.
As we had experienced with the Happiness is Here parade, we weren’t sure what we were going to see. We knew that mostly likely they would perform the Nightfall Glow parade, their alternate show for Dreamlights. However; we did see those other two parades in the rain, so why wouldn’t they perform Dreamlights in the same weather? I even tweeted  earlier that day I wasn’t going to leave Japan until I saw Tokyo Disneyland’s Dreamlights. 

At last, the lights went out along the parade route and the announcement for Nightfall Glow began. The music is simple, but so perfect for this short cavalcade. As the floats move past we see Merryweather and Flora are arguing as to what the best color is. Flora wants the floats all to be pink and Merryweather prefers my favorite, blue. At one point Fauna gets them to compromise, and together they change all the floats various colors.

As the fairies argue and then work together, the characters on the other three floats are seeing this change. So, as colors are changing to their respective floats the other characters are reacting to them. Donald gets almost frustrated with what is happening, “Hey! What’s the big idea?!” But, he  also lets out an “Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy!” in his excitement. And of course the princesses (Belle, Jasmine, and Cinderella) talk about how “lovely” the lights are. The characters also reference the raindrops and how great it is that they too take on the color.

I don’t really need to say how great of a replacement this parade is on a rainy night. The photos speak for themselves. If you could hear the music I bet you’d enjoy that as well. From what I have seen in the other Disney Parks, when it rains you might see characters riding covered carriages. In Tokyo, this parade was designed especially for this situation. Replacing an electrical parade WITH an electrical parade is already a great idea! Then, the characters are acknowledging the rain and how the ground shimmers with the light. It’s almost too perfect of a design.

With the park set to close at 10 PM, we still had a little over two hours. We followed the parade to the World Bazaar area, remember that is Main St., so that we may take a look around. We hadn’t really don’t any shopping in that area. The stores were insanely packed. We read over and over to not wait until park closing, and here we were stuck in a sea of people, far from closing. 
There was this cute “kick line” pumpkin I wanted from the Happy Harvest parade, but at around $25.00 I just thought it was bit too expensive. I had the money, but where was I going to put this little lady? I went the cheap route and posed with her!
We also visited the gallery where nice sculptures can be found. There were also many selections of high end stationary. The trouble with stationary these days is that I have no use for it. I don’t think I ever had use for stationary and I didn’t think anyone else was dying to write a letter. There was so much stuff I wanted to buy just so that I may take it home To say, “Hey look! They sell this cool stuff there,” but then have no use for it afterward.

One item I had been looking for was a popcorn bucket. It was spherical in shape and had Mickey ears. The bottom half had a design of Mickey’s pants in red, and the top half has the black Mickey ears. I knew I wanted this “bucket” ever since I laid eyes on it a few weeks ago, online. I had been unlucky so far. My pal Chris, he is local, said he hadn’t seen it anywhere, but I wasn’t going to give up looking!

I was fascinated that guests were willing to keep the street clear for the show.

The time was now very close to the park's newest show "Once Upon a Time". It is a projected show onto the castle, accompanied with music and fireworks. As we approached the Plaza area, their firework show suddenly began. We had forgotten all about this, but were glad to catch it. I was surprised that they loaded the pyro shells in the rain, but I digress. Eric and I weren’t really “feeling” the show. It featured Disney music of course, but the fireworks were just random explosions. We knew that this show served both parks, but I still was hoping for something with a little more heart. 

After that was done, it was time for "Once Upon a Time"! Eric and I have already seen the various projection tricks used at Disneyland and Walt Disney World’s castle for those shows. Even with all the “bells and whistles”, we felt the show was just ok. It was definitely a huge spectacle, especially when the rain interacted with the massive laser lights. I can definitely understand the appeal because when this was first used at “it’s a small world” in California, everyone ate it up!

It pretty much poured the entire time. I couldn’t see well from where I was because everyone ahead of me had their umbrella out, as did we. Normally, during shows, the rules at this park dictate that nothing can obstruct anyone else’s view. For parades they go as far as asking someone to remove a large hat. In the rain, I know I personally understand the need for an umbrella. I became a little tired of craning my head to peek between two umbrellas, so I stepped over to the sidewalk area. I was fine with my partial view and was at least able to see the pyro.

We could tell the show was nearing its grand finale, so we decided to start heading to the Jungle Cruise. As I mentioned earlier, this was the most recent ride to have a rehab, so we hoped everyone else would be at the show. 
As we were rushing through Adventureland, we spotted a popcorn cart selling my bucket and chocolate flavored popcorn! At last it would be ours! We "stuck a pin in that" and knew we would return after riding Jungle Cruise. Anyway, we guessed correctly about the crowds! Our queue wait time was around 20 minutes! Can you believe it? This queue was consistently over an hour long!
Here is a photo of the queue from earlier. 

The ride was extremely dark, so taking photos made it tough. Eric and I agreed that unlike the Tiki Room at this park, we could somewhat follow along. We weren’t getting any of the jokes, but the ride path was extremely similar to Florida’s version. The great addition to this was all the new nighttime lighting. There were a lot of mysterious light bugs and even cool projections inside the temple. Don't worry Disney purists, I wouldn’t say the additions changed the ride completely. Instead, they enhanced the experience to the next level without taking away its original heart.
We hoped off the boat and headed straight to the vending cart for that bucket! When we found it we saw that the cart was already closed for the night! The crew was cleaning out the popcorn kettle and packing up their money. I was definitely disappointed. We had two more days at the parks so I hoped to find it at some point. We would be back at this park in two days time, but I would prefer to have the bucket more than one day. 
I loved the Tomorrowland entrance.

Although a little heartbroken and defeated, we rushed over to Star Tours. At first we were willing to skip this attraction because we have the exact same thing at home. But, we had covered a lot of ground and still had a little time. The concourse area is huge! They have six Starspeeders there! Aside from the impressive station, we appreciated that the Cast's costumes are brought in at the waist by a belt. At home it's the same costume. But, since the shirt hangs down while untucked, it looks sloppy. 

Saluting in the Star Tours exit bridge. 

The evening was drawing extremely close to the 10 PM hour. We wouldn’t have a lot of time to hang about after closing because we needed to catch our bus to the apartment. We strolled a bit around the Plaza and admired their Halloween decorations.

As I said, I knew we had two more days at the park, but I could feel myself getting sad. We've waited so long to come here and the time was rushing by too quickly. We had seen a lot of these parks, so the physical affects of that we're definitely taking their toll. But, if you've read my other posts from our trips together, we always push right through the fatigue. We had an excellent day and already excited to return to Disneysea! 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Determined to Find Critter Country

By this time in our day I appreciate the enthusiasm the people of Japan have as they frolic through the rain. I wouldn't say that anyone was literally splashing through puddles, but everyone was very determined to see as much as possible. I've been told that in Japan, dealing with the small, everyday negatives of life can be summed up in one small phrase, "sho ga nai" (show-gah-nigh). It literally can translate to "it can't be helped". In our part of the world we might say, "Don't sweat the small stuff". Whether it was in the city or here in the parks, people accepted busy stores, wet skies, long queues, or sold out fast passes. Disrupting the order can lead to a bad experience for all, and that's not their goal. Only being visitors and not native to the land, Eric and I were convinced this shone through in their excellent service. 

When Eric and I reached the parade route in the Hub area, we saw people waiting for the parade. This was not the normal massive sized crowd. There were less people on account of the weather. I asked Eric if he minded asking a Cast Member whether or not the parade would happen. It seemed to be drizzling a bit, so I was consulting the map to see what we'd do instead. But, Eric came back and he was told the parade was happening. Around that same time we could hear the parade music playing at the Westernland part of the route. I tried to play it cool and not show I was bursting with excitement! Finally, we would see the parade, "Happiness is Here"!

Just like we had noticed with the Halloween parade earlier, the dancers that accompany the floats had been cut for rain. Still, the characters on the colorful floats were enough for these two grateful Californians. I was geeking out as I took photos with both the iPhone and Nikon. 

All suited up in what appeared to be water resistant fabric and of course rain gear! 

The soundtrack for this parade has a very clever concept. Taking direction from the classic Main Street Electrical Parade, there is the main melody that acts as a background for each parade unit.  As the parade moves past a given point, the theme for that unit travels with that section. These musical sections are synced with the main melody that plays on a loop during the show. Although a rainy experience, it was a lot of fun.

By the time the parade ended it was "full on" raining and we didn't see a break in the clouds. From our parade viewing position, staring at us in the face was Cinderella Castle, our next stop. Recently the park opened a walk through where guests get to visit a few rooms of the palace. Although I had seen a few photos and a YouTube video, we weren't exactly sure what happens inside. 

The entrance for the tour is in the exact spot where in Walt Disney World one would enter for the Cinderella's Royal Table restaurant. Here in Tokyp, they used to have a type of mystery tour that would take you deep into the dungeons of the castle. I've seen a very dark video of that and I wish that tour was still there. But, it was gone and we were curious about this. One thing that seemed odd at the start is that we had to wait to ride an elevator to a higher level. I would've been fine taking stairs, which you do use in Florida's castle. 

Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall is seen in the center, even Mt. Prometheus from DisneySea. 

When we stepped off the elevator there is a nice view of Fantasyland. Too bad it was so gloomy this day. I bet the colors really would've "popped" in the sunlight. 

The interior was a mixture of wall murals and small dioramas that retold the story of Cinderella. And of course, the design highly reflected the Rococo era. The small vignettes depicted Cindy's struggle with her horrible family, and then her bravery as she attended the ball. They appeared to have been commissioned by the park, and each one was different. In my opinion it is always cool to see people put a spin on images that we are used to seeing. 

The whole experience was cute, but almost a little too cute for me. I was certain that there would be a meet n greet opportunity with Cinderella, but that moment never came. Besides the murals we had been seeing, there are some fun murals that when photographed reveal a hidden message. 

I had to get my chance at it too! They seemed to come out better with the iPhone's flash. 

We took one last look around and two friends appeared from their secret door. 

Something we did not get a photo of was the glass slipper in the center of the throne room. People were in a queue to snap a photo of them "trying it on". Well, I didn't want to look like some creeper trying to get take a photo of random children, and some mothers, so we opted out of that shot. But, here is the throne of the palace.

While doing research for for our trip, Eric found out that the Snow White Grotto has an odd location. It is near the castle and right across from the Golden Horseshoe. It was just another addition to the list that gave Tokyo Disneyland its internet nickname, "Bizarro Disneyland".

If we turn around.....

With The Country Bears, singing in Japanese, and performing the Vacation Hoedown, we practically ran to the theater! The waiting area looked very similar to Florida's. One thing I couldn't wrap my head around was this: Why would this audience even care about a show like this? The lobby was full of guests, and so was the theater. I know that Western culture attracts interest from Japan, I'm told. But, this show about country living bears seems far away from the main stream culture. As Americans we understand this part of our culture, but what would Japanese citizens think of this show? I wish I could ask someone's opinion. If the show became unpopular in California, how was it still holding up in Tokyo? And, from what I understand they even change over for the Christmas show!

Throughout the show I could hear the giggles and laughter from the crowd. Because the only Japanese words I could understand were "there", "here", and "look over there", I couldn't tell what exactly everyone found funny. Don't get me wrong, the show is funny. I just wish I knew exactly what the crowd found hilarious. The whole experience of the show being in Japanese and the crowd reaction was cute. Everyone, including Eric and I, really had a laugh when "Achy Breaky Heart" was performed by Trixie. The way that wine sloshed around in her glass, it seemed she had a bad day. So my guess is that just looking at these bears, you can definitely see each one's personality. Maybe everyone here is saying to themselves, "Oh man, I know someone just like that!"

Right near the theater exit was the ice cream window where, for Halloween, they were offering Pumpkin Soft Serve. I had read about this on our friend Jeff's blog so I had to try it. Eric isn't a fan of anything with the word "pumpkin", so he ordered the vanilla. And, just like Jeff's husband Lance said, "Yup, that's pumpkin alright!" There wasn't even a slight hint of pumpkin spice. This tasted like what the canned pumpkin smells like before you add anything to it. I wouldn't say it was awful, but Eric did! He did try it and definitely wasn't a fan. 

And then, because we apparently were starving to death, we also tried the White Chocolate Popcorn. The both of us were fans of this flavor! We decided to try and find a quiet spot to sit and enjoy. In Japan one doesn't walk and eat simultaneously, it is not good manners. I should have also mentioned we stood in one place as we ate our ice cream cones. We hoped to find a place to eat our snack in Critter Country, maybe near a critter or a creek.

In this park, Critter Country is extremely close to Fantasyland. Haunted Mansion marks the end of Fantasyland. As one turns the corner, to the right, away from the mansion, you're in Critter Country. The narrow walkway, that appears to lead no where, will guide you to your laughin' place at Splash Mountain. What we found very different was that while facing the mountain, the trestle where the Steam Train passes is directly behind you. Something else that stood out is the attraction appeared to be flipped. As we watched, the logs left the station like normal, but float from left to right in front of the briar patch. And, the watermill is still on the mountain's left, but the watermill is the queue entrance into the building. We definitely had plans to ride this, but we would wait until our "Day 2" at this park to maybe utilize Fast Pass. (We actually don't end up using fast pass here, but in that post I'll tell you what we did).

Looking behind Eric, you can see the logs cross the opposite direction and enter a tunnel, not the watermill. While you're at it, checkout that cool pumpkin popcorn bucket hanging off that stroller!

Looking the opposite direction, we see the train passing over. 

It took us a bit to find the entire area of this land. We had seen online that there was a path in Critter Country that took guests through a tunnel to an open area. Here was our small dilemma. We saw the Splash entrance, seen here with a cute little door...

But, all the we saw to the right was the exit walkway from Splash Mountain. Being a little nervous on how we would explain this, I tried this door. Maybe it would lead us to that area? JK

After a little debate between Eric and myself, we decided to walk against traffic, toward the Splash exit. We wanted to see if maybe this path would split. It sure did! We found the tunnel that housed a small merchandise cart. As we continued through the tunnel, the area opened up again. Here we found the location where guests purchase their on board photos and a small food location. It was there that Eric bought his Mickey shaped churro. 

I'm glad that we were so determined to find this area because it turned out to be the prettiest area in the park. I can't stress enough that people need to get back into this corner and see it for themselves. The Splash Mountain area really appears to be a dead end, but push on through and you'll find it. 

In the next installment of Tokyo Disneyland Day 1, we will finish out the day with another hidden corner of the park and more entertainment! There are three more pieces of entertainment to be experienced on this day! Is all this too much? It's been great reliving this with everyone and I'll be back again with a lot of more!