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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. I'd visited every Disney and Universal Studios theme park in California and Florida, and so 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.

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. I had my heart set on eating there, and so 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. I was struck by the feeling that we had arrived someplace special. I felt completely underdressed, but the woman at the reception desk seemed unfazed by my rain jacket, t-shirt, and 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, my friend and I walked 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. The 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 meal one of my favorite experiences at the park.

Journey to the Center of the Earth

I had heard that Journey to the Center of the Earth was the best ride at Tokyo Disney Resort, and that the lines were sometimes hours long, and so my friend and I raced there as soon as the park opened. When we arrived, we found only 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 all day.
The entrance to the Journey to the Center of the Earth ride
My friend and I boarded open air cars (which had built-in umbrella holders (believe it or not)), and we set off into the unknown. The initial part of our journey offered views of beautiful otherworldly plants that reminded me of those in the movie, Avatar, and the Disney ride, Splash Mountain. As we traveled deeper into the ride, I got the sense that something “bad” was about to happen. And then we met it: a scary-looking creature. To "escape," our car raced us out of the darkness and burst into the daylight through an opening in the volcano. After a few minutes on a speedy, harrowing journey in and out of the darkness, the ride was over. When we emerged from the ride exit, the wait time was still only five minutes, and so we rode again. Since there was so much to take in, it was definitely a ride that warranted a second visit.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Left: A view of Mysterious Island (Mysterious Island is the Tokyo DisneySea "port" (ie. land) where the rides Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea are located). Right: A replica ride vehicle from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea that is on display outside the ride entrance.
When it was our turn to ride 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, my friend and I boarded tiny “submarines” that can seat up to four adults (my friend and I were given our own private sub). Then we journeyed “under the sea.” (SPOILER: Thanks to a bubble effect in the windows, we only appeared to be underwater. The ride vehicles are never actually submerged.) 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.

Our visit to the undersea world soon turned “dangerous” when we found our submarine at risk of being enveloped by a giant sea creature. Fortunately, we were able to ward off the attack and, after an encounter with some cuter 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 very few songs that I heard at Tokyo DisneySea or Tokyo Disneyland that were sung 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 little Chandu that stole the show for me.

A scene from Sinbad's Storybook Voyage
Indiana Jones Adventure

The Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland in California is my favorite theme park ride in the world. Thanks to countless visits to Disneyland in California, I have committed the Indiana Jones Adventure ride soundtrack to memory, along with every dip, turn, and room of the ride. I was eager to see if there were any differences in the DisneySea version of the ride. There were!

The queue area for DisneySea’s Indiana Jones Adventure was very different from that of its sister ride in California. In a large room, there 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 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 rather than Mara.

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 did notice that the smoke and lighting effects were somewhat different. Also, instead of a huge snake, there was a snake-like dragon in the Tokyo version of the ride. 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 U.S. one, offers a ride photo available for purchase. My friend and I 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 everyone else 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, we noticed the DisneySea Transit Steamer Line boat making its loop through the park. We ended up taking our journey on the boat at night, once we had finished all of our must-do activities. With the park romantically lit, the boat ride was a peaceful, relaxing, beautiful way to see 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 is also a worthy attraction for adults. My friend and I spent over half an hour exploring the fortress. We found great views of Mediterranean Harbor and awesome cannons that look and sound as if they are actually firing!

There was a fun-looking activity here called “The Leonardo Challenge,” where guests were given a map that they used to complete a quest as they visited various parts of the fortress. Unfortunately for my friend and me, the challenge was entirely in Japanese, and so we were unable to figure it out. We were able to get an idea of what participants experienced by watching others.  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.

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

There is a Tower of Terror ride at Disney California Adventure and at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but the ride at Tokyo DisneySea had a completely different backstory from those versions. The ride itself felt extremely similar to the DCA version, but the pre-show, with an extremely cool special effect that made a "cursed idol" appear to magically disappear, 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 geared toward young 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, absolutely 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. And for me, the best theme park ride in the world is Indiana Jones Adventure at Tokyo DisneySea, with the Disneyland version a very close second.

I did this in 2013 near Tokyo, Japan.

Jen is also known as J.W. Lynne, a best selling author of eleven novels. Click on any of the titles below to see the book on Amazon!

THE UNKNOWN: Eight kids learn the shocking reason why they were kidnapped.

ABOVE THE SKY: A girl lives in a world where touching her soulmate is forbidden.

: A teen is locked in a bunker to take a simulated trip to the moon.

KID DOCS: An experimental program turns kids into doctors.

WILD ANIMAL SCHOOL: A girl falls in love with a boy at an exotic animal ranch.

IF I TELL: A teen wonders if her father is a serial killer.

WHAT HE DIDN'T TELL ME: A traumatized girl meets a boy with a horrible secret.

Besides reading books and dreaming up stories to write, Jen's favorite activities are singing along to musical theater soundtracks and hiking in California's beautiful parks.

**Jen's books are available on Kindle Unlimited.**

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