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Highlights of a Visit to Tokyo DisneySea

Tokyo DisneySea is considered by many to be one of the best theme parks in the world. Having visited every Disney and Universal Studios theme park in California and Florida, I was eager to see what Tokyo DisneySea had to offer. On an uncrowded, rainy June day, during my 14-day trip to Japan, I paid Tokyo DisneySea a visit. I found the park to be full of magical new experiences.

Lunch onboard the S.S. Columbia

S.S. Columbia, which looks like a scaled-down version of the Queen Mary, has an upscale table service restaurant inside. My friend and I headed to the S.S. Columbia shortly after the park opened to get Priority Seating reservations for lunch.

Inside the ship, we climbed a grand staircase lined with dark wood walls. We felt like we had arrived someplace special and exclusive. I had flashbacks to our experience at Club 33 at Disneyland. I felt completely underdressed, but the woman at the reception desk seemed unfazed by my rain jacket, t-shirt, and quick-dry workout pants. Despite the language barrier, we were able to glean that Priority Seating reservations were still available for lunch, but that reservations for tables that offered a view of the theme park were only available at the restaurant’s opening time: 11:30AM. There were also oceanview tables, with a view of Tokyo Bay, but I wanted a constant reminder that I was at Tokyo DisneySea. We accepted a reservation for 11:30AM.
Outside the S.S. Columbia
When we returned to the restaurant for lunch, I rushed off to the fancy restrooms to try to make my rain-whipped hair look more presentable. When I returned, we were led past a line of servers and chefs who bowed and greeted us on our way to our table; this is something that I believe only occurs at restaurant opening time, because the chefs returned to the kitchen shortly after they greeted us and did not reappear.

We selected warm rolls from a basket. Some of the rolls had hearts that had been created with the help of poppy seeds. Our server gave us a presentation, possibly about the day’s specials, entirely in Japanese. Fortunately for us, the menus, like all of the menus at Tokyo Disney Resort, listed choices in both English and Japanese. We sipped water from stemmed glasses while we made our selections.
Inside the S.S. Columbia dining room
The ambience made me feel like I was on a cruise ship. Though our park-view-porthole, I watched parkgoers with their umbrellas and raincoats walk through the American Waterfront area. Our view wasn’t spectacular, but it was a view of Tokyo DisneySea!

Our meals, mine a tiny half-chicken and my friend’s a small cut of fish, both with almost-purely-decorative-sized side dish offerings, were filling enough when combined with a few more of those warm rolls. Both meals were extremely tasty and the attentive, polite servers, and upscale, exclusive vibe, made the experience one of my favorite experiences at the park.

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Journey to the Center of the Earth was the first ride that we rode at Tokyo Disney Resort. I had heard that it was the best ride at the park, and that the lines were sometimes hours long, and so we raced there as soon as the park opened. When we arrived, we found a five-minute wait! Apparently the newly opened Toy Story Mania and the Tower of Terror (both rides have similar versions at Disney California Adventure) are now drawing the Japanese parkgoers; those rides had wait times of 45 minutes to an hour that day.
The entrance to the Journey to the Center of the Earth ride
We boarded open air cars, which had built in umbrella holders (believe it or not), and set off into the unknown. The initial part of our journey exposed us to beautiful otherworldly plants that reminded me of those in the movie, Avatar, or the Disney ride, Splash Mountain. As we traveled deeper, we could tell that something “bad” was about to happen. Then we met it: a scary-looking creature. To escape, we raced out of the darkness and burst into the daylight through a hole in the volcano. After a few more minutes on a speedy, harrowing journey in and out of the darkness, the ride was over. It was impossible to take it all in on one ride, especially with dialogue that was entirely in Japanese.

When we emerged from the ride exit, the wait time was still five minutes, and so we rode again. Unlike our first ride, where we’d been given a car all to ourselves, this time we were joined by two Japanese schoolgirls. The girls added to the soundtrack of the ride, with frequent, plaintive exclamations of “Kowai (Co-why),” which means “scary.” Partly because I was able to get more out of the ride the second time around, and partly because the girls reminded me that I was in Japan, I enjoyed my second ride even more than the first!

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Mysterious Island (the Tokyo DisneySea port (ie. land) where Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea are found) and a close-up view of a ride vehicle from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea on display outside the ride entrance
In 20,000 Leagues, we boarded tiny “submarines” that can seat up to four adults (although my friend and I were always given our own sub). Then we journeyed “under the sea” (thanks to a bubble effect in the windows, we never actually went underwater). The first part of the ride reminded me of the outdoor portion of the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage ride in California, but it was darker and not quite as colorful. Here, there were searchlights attached to the subs, which we could operate to get a closer look into cracks and crevices.

The dialogue during the ride was in Japanese, but I understood that our visit to the undersea world soon turned “dangerous.” At one point, our sub appeared to be in imminent risk of being enveloped by a sea creature. We were able to ward off the attack and, after an encounter with some cute, much-friendlier sea creatures, we returned to the dock, unscathed.

Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage

This ride felt like a cross between Pirates of the Caribbean and It’s a Small World. I loved the catchy song by Alan Menken. It was one of the few songs that I heard at Tokyo DisneySea or Tokyo Disneyland that were in Japanese, rather than English. We followed the adventures of a young man named Sinbad and his adorable little tiger, Chandu. There were other animals, a big genie, and “fireworks” at the happy ending, but it was the cute tiger that stole the show.

A scene from Sinbad's Storybook Voyage
Indiana Jones Adventure

This ride has a very similar sister ride by the same name at Disneyland in California. Prior to my visit to Tokyo, that ride was my favorite theme park ride in the world. I had more or less memorized the Indiana Jones Adventure soundtrack, along with every dip, turn, and room of the ride, and so I was eager to see if there were any differences in the DisneySea version. There were!

The queue area for DisneySea’s Indiana Jones Adventure was very different. In a large room were threatening-looking carvings with a pit full of skeletons below them. Another room of the queue featured a golden medallion that was occasionally hit with bright “sunlight” streaming through a window. The light was reflected onto a map across the room. This medallion/map effect is a nod to one of the scenes in the Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. The brief safety video (in Japanese with English subtitles) was different because the backstory for the Tokyo ride is different from that of the California ride. In the Tokyo version, riders’ search for the Fountain of Youth is hampered by a supernatural Crystal Skull.

In the beginning entryway of the ride, instead of Mara there was a Crystal Skull. After that, most people would probably consider the U.S. and Japan rides to be more or less the same. I even noticed, I think, that one of the skeletons in the corner of the first room was wearing Mickey Mouse ears, just like in California. The smoke and lighting effects were, however, somewhat different. Also, instead of a huge snake, there was a snake-like dragon in the Tokyo version. And the room where guests are “shot at with darts” had 3D walls rather than painted ones.

I was thrilled to learn that the Tokyo ride, unlike the US one, offers a ride photo available for purchase. We rode the ride a total of four times, trying to get the perfect shot (and because I loved the ride so much) but ended up purchasing our very first ride photo. In that photo, we looked very natural because, unlike the other people in our car, we had no idea that we were being photographed.

Our ride photo from Indiana Jones Adventure
DisneySea Transit Steamer Line

Throughout our day at DisneySea, I noticed the DisneySea Transit Steamer Line boat making its loop through the park. It looked like a fun way to see the park. We finally got our chance to take the journey at night. With the park winding down, and romantically lit, the boat ride was peaceful, relaxing, and an excellent way to gain another perspective of the DisneySea, including areas that are not accessible by foot.

The view from the DisneySea Transit Steamer Line boat at night
Fortress Explorations

This play area for children has been turned into an attraction for adults with the addition of “The Leonardo Challenge,” where guests are given a map that they use to complete a quest as they visit various parts of the fortress. Unfortunately for us, the challenge is entirely in Japanese. We watched a few people on their quest, and it looked somewhat fun. When they placed their maps on a special dock in certain rooms, a Harry Potter-esque wizard appeared on the map and led the participants in a challenge.

We spent most of our time at the fortress exploring on our own and were excited to find cannons that actually fire (or at least they look and sound like they fire) and great views of Mediterranean Harbor.

Firing a cannon at Fortress Explorations
We decided to watch the Legend of Mythica parade/show, held on the water of Mediterranean Harbor, from the Fortress. Though we were a bit removed from the main action, it was a fun vantage point.
Legend of Mythica parade/show as seen from Fortress Explorations
Tower of Terror

This ride has a completely different backstory from the Disney California Adventure and Disney’s Hollywood Studios versions, but it felt extremely similar to the DCA version. The main difference was the pre-show, with a magically disappearing “cursed” idol. That effect alone was worth the fifteen-minute wait with our FASTPASSES.

Tower of Terror
Raging Spirits

Raging Spirits is a mild roller coaster ride (aside from one 360-degree inversion) through an intricate, outdoor Indiana Jones-themed area. Just outside the attraction is its best special effect: fire burning on water.

Just outside Raging Spirits, fire burns on water
Walking through Mermaid Lagoon

The rides in Mermaid Lagoon are really for children, but the “underwater” indoor area that surrounds them is so beautiful that I was glad that we took a stroll through.

Mermaid Lagoon
My conclusions

Tokyo DisneySea is an elaborately crafted, beautiful theme park. It offers a number of rides and attractions that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, and, therefore, is an excellent addition to any theme park enthusiast’s bucket list.

When taking into account all of the Disney theme parks in the USA and Japan, I’d give my vote for the best theme park in the world to the original Disneyland, with so many wonderful rides, attractions, and experiences that one day is not enough to see all of the highlights. For me, the best theme park ride is still Indiana Jones Adventure... but at Tokyo DisneySea.

I did this in 2013 near Tokyo, Japan.

Jen (California, USA)

Inspired by my trip to Japan, I wrote a novel called LOST IN TOKYO, about a girl finding herself and falling in love. LOST IN TOKYO is available at Amazon.com!

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Nineteen-year-old Erin is hoping that her visit to Japan with her best friend, Adam, will be life-changing. When Erin was just four years old, her mother mysteriously vanished. Erin's only clue to her mother's possible whereabouts is a hand-written itinerary for a dream trip to Japan, a trip that Erin doesn't know if her mother ever had the chance to take. Erin has decided to carry out this itinerary, believing that it might help her find her mother.

But Erin's trip won't be going according to plan.

Hours after they arrive in Tokyo, in a jet-lagged fog, Erin and Adam end up in bed together. While struggling with the tension that now dominates their once innocent friendship and the trauma stirred up from Erin's painful past, Erin and Adam visit the places on her mother's list. As they explore the wonders of Japan, Erin finds herself haunted by strange "memories" that seem to belong to her mother. Could these memories be real? If so, perhaps her mother can be found.

Praise for LOST IN TOKYO:

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"Japan as a backdrop was such a unique story setting. It was both peaceful and exciting at the same time." -- Amanda, Goodreads

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LOST IN TOKYO provides a travel guide of wonderful things to see and do while on vacation in Japan (featuring attractions in Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Nikko, and Kamakura) wrapped in a coming-of-age story of healing and hope, with an unexpected ending that you'll never see coming.

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Find more reviews of Jen's adventures in Japan here.