About 15 minutes before my Starlight Pass became valid at 3pm, I started lurking around the entrance to Tokyo Disneyland. This meant I was second in line when they formed an official waiting line, which must’ve looked pretty silly to all the full-day passholders streaming by us into the park. At precisely 3pm, we all dashed through the gates (which must’ve looked pretty silly to those standing around inside) and through World Bazaar (a.k.a. Main Street, U.S.A.). My first official picture inside Tokyo Disneyland was….
Say what you will about Tokyo’s covered version of Main Street, but one thing it has all over the ones in the US is actual, working side streets that actually get you places—in this case, directly into Tomorrowland and directly in front of Monsters, Inc.! None of this long-way-round-the-barn stuff you have to do to get to Tomorrowland in Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom.
As I rounded the corner into Tomorrowland, I saw this and realized, “Whoa, I’d better make a pit stop first!”
Mission accomplished, I stepped into the The Longest Disney Park Line I Have Ever Waited In EVER, Except For Once When Splash Mountain First Opened And They Hadn’t Invented FASTPASS.
I took a picture of my watch so I could time how long the line actually took me.
I took a picture of this because I was still excited and interested.
Since I am out of practice at waiting in line, I hadn’t thought to bring something to do. Most of the people around me were playing videogames on PSPs. I had my iPhone, but its combo of ridiculously short battery life and AT&T’s ridiculously priced data roaming meant I could only use it for emergencies and the occasional Tweet.
The outdoor queue area has Monstervision, so at least there was that.
Unfortunately, the video loop gets to feel pretty short when you’ve been watching it for an hour. I liked that the line was constantly moving, if at a snail’s pace, but it meant that you couldn’t get too comfy if you came across a bench to sit on or railing to lean against.
And then, about 45 minutes in, when I had only reached this point…
… it finally dawned on me that 220 minutes is not 2 hours and 20 minutes—it’s THREE HOURS and 40 MINUTES!!! (Perhaps I should have been doing math flashcards in line…)
Fortunately, I was quickly distracted by something new to look at—more posters!
By this time, the line was finally beginning to round the corner to the front of the building, which meant a change of scenery and some decent people-watching (other than the backs of the heads of the tweens in front of me).
And then it happened. 70 minutes after I entered the line for Monsters, Inc., I finally got inside the building!
You don’t even get to go into the fabulous rotunda when you get inside. Instead, they funnel you off to a side room with another set of switchbacks.
I peered longingly into the rotunda with my camera…
And then something exciting happened!
Just kidding—a kid whacked me with his backpack. But we did finally move out into the main room, and judging from this nearly identical shot to the one I took when I entered the building 15 minutes before, it looked like we’d never moved at all!
Grasping desperately at something, anything to do, I became obsessed by photographing the beautiful mosaics on the ceiling.
However, I was still so out-of-it, I didn’t even realize these were doors until, like, yesterday.
(Believe me, this is the edited version. Originally there were dozens of photos…)
It really did feel like I’d entered a miniature version of the Monsters, Inc. lobby. I was also impressed enough with the CMs costumes to take two blurry photos of them for you:
When I got close enough to the reception desk, I had fun using the zoom on Patrick’s camera to check out what was on the desk.
The line spirals around inside the rotunda, then goes behind the reception desk and turns left into the load area.
When you get behind the reception desk, you can see this film running on a big screen. They show it once in English and once in Japanese, but I’ve created a custom mash-up for you here:
And then, because, you know, why theme when you can slap up a couple posters…
These shots aren’t great, but it gives you an idea what the ride cars look like…. And they look like “kawaii”!!!
I like to think that in three years of writing Disney trip reports I’ve gradually learned how not to let my obsession with reporting on the experience keep me from actually experiencing said experience. However, there are times when I still get carried away with the “You Are There!” coverage, and this was one of them. It probably had something to do with my guilt at going on the ride without Patrick, or maybe I watched too much TV or ate too much sugar in my youth. At any rate, like an idiot, I wasted at least the first third of the ride trying to snap pictures of the elaborate show scenes from a herky-jerky ride vehicle.
On the other hand… I got you these!
When I finally put my camera down, I had a great time! The ride is of course way better than the one in California Adventure, but I wish they didn’t whip you through it so fast—I’d love to be able to really absorb all that detail. I will also never again wait 2 hours and 15 minutes to ride it, because, great theming or no, it’s still just a Fantasyland-style dark ride, not an E-Ticket.
I didn’t notice this til later, but Monsters Inc. is one of only a handful of rides in Tokyo Disney that deposit you in a gift shop. I think this one is the best though—for merchandise and for theming.
Mixed in with the wares are trophy cases and other “company store” displays…
My favorite things were the actually useful items, like an official clipboard, the company letterhead, and this Harryhausen’s menu-themed folder.
Wrongly assuming that the shop would also be closed during the ride rehab and that the merchandise couldn’t be found elsewhere (what was I thinking? It’s Disney!) I went on a bit of a spending spree. Later I got buyer’s remorse about spending $120 of a family member’s Tokyo Disney souvenir budget on Monsters, Inc. pins, so I returned them all. The transaction was remarkably smooth, considering the clerk didn’t speak English and I was mangling words from my phrasebook!
I’d read all about the carts scattered around the two parks, each selling a different unusual flavor of popcorn (curry, sea salt, honey, etc.) in elaborately themed buckets, some of which can only be found at one cart. There is a huge craze for collecting the popcorn buckets, and you can get them refilled at other carts for slightly less money (but the cheapest way to do it is to skip the bucket and by a ¥300 cardboard box of the stuff!).
I am not really that into popcorn, and the idea of spending upwards of ¥1500 on an otherwise useless plastic bucket sounded pretty silly to me. And then I saw THIS:
The lid is a Monsters, Inc. helmet! How cute is that?! I’d seen dozens of popcorn buckets while I was in line, and I decided this was the very best one. So if buying a souvenir popcorn bucket was The Thing To Do at Disney, by golly, this was the one I was gonna get.
The carts are notorious for having long lines—sometimes longer than lines for nearby rides! This one wasn’t too bad.
¥1400 later, I was munching unremarkable caramel corn from a blue hardhat and LOVING IT! The bucket hangs on a strap around your neck like a feedbag. The popcorn is inches from your mouth, and you CANNOT stop shoveling it in!
As I was meandering and munching, I came across an adorable future anecdote: I always like to tell people about seeing a family pay $$ to get into Disneyland with their toddler, only to have her immediately take off running after a duck. Well guess what? The experience is universal!
Next I got a locker for all my stuff. They cost ¥300 and you have to pay (in coins) every time you take the key out—so you have to be really careful about what you leave and what you keep. I was surprised they didn’t have a credit card system like in the US, but I guess it goes back to that whole cash-oriented-society thing.
I resolved not to go on any other rides without Patrick cuz I felt so guilty. I thought I’d wait to see the Dreamlights parade and the fireworks, so in the meantime, I just wandered around trying to get a handle on Tokyo Disneyland.
I decided that anyone who says you don’t need to spend a lot of time in Tokyo Disneyland because it’s just like the Magic Kingdom is nuts. It’s like Bizarro Magic Kingdom—nothing’s in quite the same place and everything seems just a little off what you remember, kind of like when you dream about a place you’ve been. You start walking toward the castle, but it takes you twice as long to get there and you have to dodge around a fence behind the Partners statue.
Adventureland looks like it’s going to be the same, but the moment you step through that familiar gate, everything’s all turned around.
(Sorry these pix are so bad—they’ll be much better when we get to the part where Patrick had the camera!)
Don’t get me wrong—I loved that it was different! It was a little disorienting to be there for the first time at night, in a huge crowd, but I was glad to find that I hadn’t traveled halfway around the world to see a replica of a place I’d already been a bunch of times.
The one place that was eerily familiar was the New Orleans part of Adventureland. Stick a couple of caricature artists in this shot and you’re looking at New Orleans Square in Disneyland!
I poked my head in the Blue Bayou to get a preview.
I checked out the menu at the Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall but knew I’d better not eat there without Patrick cuz the theming was supposed to be amazing.
Instead I got a “Star-Shaped Bun” (filled with shrimp and pork) at a cart in Tomorrowland—delicious!
It’s hard to see from this angle, but Space Mountain has this dramatic canopied entrance with an escalator.
As I swung down through Tomorrowland toward Monsters, Inc., I discovered that even in Tokyo, Star Tours is a walk-on! I couldn’t resist and figured Patrick wouldn’t be too mad as long as I went back with him.
OK, you totally can’t tell in this underexposed shot, but believe me, the boarding area for Tokyo’s Star Tours is far more impressive than the ones in the US.
The cool thing about Star Tours in Tokyo is that the exit queue is really elaborate, with lots to look at, and, amazingly, it doesn’t dump you into a gift shop!
The exit puts you on the second floor of the building across the way, which has some great views of Tomorrowland.
The only Disney thing I collect is theme park concept art, so I was very excited to check out the Disney Gallery above Main Street.
What a dud—it was nothing more than a few awfully familiar-looking exhibits on the making of a handful of the animated movies. There was no theme park concept art and almost nothing to buy, except some of the same WDCC and Lenox pieces you can get in the US for cheaper. I guess it really is a gallery and not a gift shop of expensive stuff like at Disneyland.
Another place that looked promising was the stationery store, where I thought I would hit the jackpot in my quest for letter sets for Jensey.
But it was more just a typical Disney gift shop with a few added stationery items, and none of them were as interesting as the sets I found at Ito-ya in Tokyo.
On the other hand, this place really delivered on its promise…
I headed for the Hub in anticipation of the parade and fireworks, but a cast member was standing in the middle hollering that they’d both been cancelled due to high winds.
Now that I had all this free time, I decided to treat myself to a sit-down dinner. If only I could have eaten it here…
Instead, I let the crowds carry me down Main Street.
I thought I’d try Restaurant Hokusai, the one traditional Japanese restaurant inside the parks.
There was a queue area out front but no line, so I took that as a good sign. Until I got inside…
OK, so there was a 15-minute wait to go upstairs to the restaurant—I could handle that. I checked out the menu.
However, once I became The Chosen One and was called to the elevator, I discovered I’d been fooled by the classic Disney queue—there was a whole ‘nother waiting room upstairs!
At that point I thought, “Forget this—I can eat Japanese food anyplace else in Tokyo!” grabbed a couple reference shots, and took off.
Down the same street that leads you to Monsters, but on the opposite side of Main Street, I spotted Eastside Café. It had a line of its own, but at least it was entirely visible from the street so you knew what you were in for! The wait was less than 15 minutes.
The décor is turn-of-the-century American but the cuisine is vaguely Italian. I guess it’s sort of comparable to Tony’s at the Magic Kingdom, but with more windows and less grease!
The menu is prix fixe, but there are a ton of choices for each course, and you can skip dessert and pay less. It cost me about $18 for an appetizer, a pasta entrée and a drink that I turned down. It was decent, but nothing to write home about.
After dinner I wandered some more. I was kind of overwhelmed by the crowds and how unfamiliar everything was. When I say the experience felt like a nightmare to me, I don’t mean it hyperbolically—I mean it literally felt exactly like actual nightmares I’ve had about going to WDW at the last minute, getting there halfway through the day with no FASTPASSes, not being able to get on any rides, and wandering around stressing about everything I was missing. Except in this case, I was so dang happy to be in Tokyo, and I knew I’d have 5 days at Disney later with Patrick, that I just accepted that it felt weird and went with it!
Another thing they do at the Tokyo parks that I love is sell souvenir desserts in real “china” mugs and plates at shockingly reasonable prices!
I have a pal who collects Little Green Men merchandise, and I’d heard the Japanese were crazy for the characters, so I figured the Buzz Lightyear ride gift shop would be the jackpot. While there was an entire section devoted to the stuff, none of it was terribly interesting. It was all more disposable than collectible.
At that point it was getting on toward 9pm so I thought I’d beat the closing rush at 10pm. On my way out I passed the Confectionary shop, which appears to be ground zero for fulfilling the obligations of the Japanese tradition of omiyage. It was wall-to-wall bodies!
It was an hour before closing, but the shelves were already empty. There were cast members all over the store opening new cases of packaged candy and cookies, but the stuff never even made it to the shelves—people were taking them straight out of the cases!
Even crazier, half of the shop is a huge room filled with nothing but rows and rows of cash registers, each with a huge queue of people waiting to pay!
I would never have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.
As I headed out of the park, I stumbled on the perfect opportunity for a Twitter photo caption contest:
The eventual winner, submitted by Tw…eeter(?) Em0d:
So long, Tokyo Disneyland!
There were already crowds heading toward the train station, but it turned out to be OK – everyone knows what to do to keep the crowd moving, and I got right on a train back to Tokyo. At first I fit in pretty well with the other Disney fans, but as more and more of them got off at each stop, I began to look more and more like a rube with my backpack, camera, and ginormous popcorn bucket hanging from my neck. When I got to Tokyo Station, I discovered first-hand why MiceChatters make such a big deal about the walk from the JR train to the Tokyo Metro – my dogs were barkin’!
As I staggered into my hotel, I not only looked at this sign, I took a picture of it—yet I *still* didn’t register what this meant for us (hint: if I had, my dogs would most certainly not have been barkin’!)