No wonder the kids all went to bed early the night before with no fuss – they knew they’d have to get up early for Disneyland!
We thought of walking to the nearby Sougo Recreation Park to get the shuttle to TDR but missed the earlier one. While we were there, the usual bus for the train station came by so we hopped on and went by bus/train instead, which was not a problem since Maihama station is only the next stop. The kids were jumping with pent up excitement – not only because it was Disneyland but because we were going to meet Auntie Rita and her brood!
The excitement in the air was palpable from the moment we stepped out of the train at Maihama as a familiar Disney theme tinkled in the air as the station’s ‘theme song’. For a weekday, we were stunned to see loads of people exiting the station and flooding towards Disney. At the main plaza area where the gates were, queues were already forming. We thought people were queing up for tickets and obediently joined the queues. Each line was at least 50min long! Later we discovered that they were not queing for tickets but queing to GET IN! They must have season tickets then? I wouldn’t be surprised, given the Japanese love for Pooh and the Mouse.
It was only 8.15am in the morning (TDR opened at 8.30am) and the place was already packed. Mainly young people in their late teens/early 20s. Didn’t they have to work or go to school? There were so many of them – and while the girls were dressed fashionably, tights, miniskirts, boots and jackets, many of them also wore those huge fluffy character hats eg a Pooh head, or Eeyore head, or Mike’s (from Monsters Inc.) head etc – complete with fluffy ears! It looked incongruous with their outfit but they gamely wore those! I think they really either love pop disney culture or they are enthusiastically just getting into the mood – probably a combination of both! Oh and I saw another Gothic Lolita, complete with petticoat skirts and bonnet!
It was cloudy overhead, chilly, but the mood was upbeat. When the gates opened, you could see hordes of people literally running into the park, heading for their favourite attractions to beat the queues. I’ve been to LA Disney and Paris Disney and never have I seen people run like this when the gates opened!
Disney characters were out in full force, taking pictures, shaking hands, posing and welcoming people into the park for the day. The queues/crowds around the secondary characters were not very long but you’d know where Mickey and Minnie were by the length of the queues – people just obediently lined up to take pictures/shake hands – no milling about or pushing and shoving, this was Japan after all! Trin was delighted and fascinated by the characters. We took a picture with Robin Hood then went to Main Street where I had agreed to meet Rita.
I went off to the loo and when I came back, the Tans were already there and all the kids were busy yakking and catching up. After a round of pictures, it was strategy time. We decided to get our Fast Passes for Pooh’s Hunny Hunt – I’d read that this was the best ride in Tokyo Disneyland, with the longest queues – firstly because the Japanese have a life-long love affair with the yellow bear and his pals and secondly because the ride has fantastic technology such that each ride you take may well be different as the cars will head off in different directions.
The Fastpass itself has a queue, but we got our tickets and were told to come back at 12.30pm. After our Fastpass, we went for the Small World ride. This is a Disney classic and it didn’t have a queue formed yet so there was no waiting in line. The ride was as fascinating and beautiful as I remembered. It was themed for Christmas, so the little animated dolls were singing Jingle Bells in different languages! The costumes were richly detailed and it was fun to see the different cultural national costumes. The kids asked me how come no Singapore though! I did wonder why there was nothing much on the South East Asian region – apart from Thailand and the Philippines. There was no baju kurong or any dress that represented Indonesia, Malaysia etc. Oh well.
After the Small World came the Haunted Mansion. I liked the US and Euro versions but felt the Japanese version was a letdown – firstly of course it can’t be helped that the narration was all in Japanese, but the elevator downward movement was also hardly significant. And yes, how scary can it be when you’re packed into a hallway with 50 other people!
Trin and I sat together and she enjoyed the ride. She didn’t think it was scary – just enjoyed the motion, the lights and the colours. The older kids of course just rolled their eyes and complained about how ‘not scary!’ it was. Which I do agree with. I think the Snow White ride was loads scarier than the Haunted Mansion – and that was one ride that Trin was also unnerved by, whimpering towards the end.
Well rather than give you a blow by blow account of our day at Disney, suffice to say that we took almost 70% of the rides. The big favourite of the kids – big and small – was Big Thunder Mountain. They loved the roller coaster element. And of course, Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blaster – where they went twice, happily zapping the Evil Emperor Zurg and his battery guzzling minions.
Going with the Tans was fun. The kids really enjoyed hanging out together in Disneyland. And its always nice to see familiar faces in a foreign land – gives a good feeling. The weather was good, skies were blue and queues were not too long. We took Fastpasses wherever we could – for Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain. So queing was minimal.
The Pooh’s Hunny Hunt was really good. Even with the Fastpass, there was still about a 20min waiting time. We walked through a lovely themed waiting area, literally through the pages of a Pooh story book. It was delightful to see some familiar pages there – the one about the time that Pooh got stuck in Rabbits’ door was one of them.
Lunch was a chicken meal. KH and I had seen a couple chewing on a huge drumstick. So KH, the insatiable chicken drumstick fan, tried to ask people where they had gotten it from by using a combination of grunts and sign language. It was a gigantic mutant turkey leg which I could not finish but was polished off by my eager barbarians who even after walloping their meal, could not wait to get their hands on mine.
Interesting things we noticed about Tokyo Disneyland were:
1) The place was super clean. You could practically eat off the floor. Although the park is old – about 20 years already, there were no signs of wear and tear, no peeling paint, no scuffed marks. Everything was maintained so well! Before a parade, you’d get groups of uniformed cleaners literally ‘clearing’ the path of any debris. These guys should be hired to walk airport runways! We were waiting in line for one attraction when we noticed that someone had spilt some popcorn and created a mess in the queuing area. The attendant manning the ride did not call for a cleaner, but just held the line back, took up a broom and swept it all up – every last crumb – before she let the line move. Had this happened in any theme park in Malaysia or elsewhere, I can imagine the mess being left there for yonks, people trampling on it and making it worse etc, before anything could be done. Not so here. And I found it interesting that they multi-tasked and took responsibility for their stations. Perhaps other park attendants (cast members they are called in Disney) in other theme parks would have just radioed for a cleaner to come, their main role being clearly crowd management into the ride itself only and not maintenance. I was impressed. I wondered if it was part of their training or their cultural make-up.
2) The rides seemed abbreviated. Nowhere was this clearer than the Dumbo ride. Thank God I didn’t queue. The others did and they queued for so long, only to have the ride last about a minute and a half! Truly a dumbo ride – we were left dumb-founded at the speed of it!
3) You know when and where a parade would be taking place well ahead of time. Not by looking into the park guide. As we wandered through the park, suddenly right in front of us would be a Japanese group on a mat. Seemingly right smack in the middle of the road. They were ‘choping’ their places for the parade – which, when we checked, was not likely to start for another hour! I think they really love the parades. We were relatively lucky. Our encounters with the parades were more by chance than design. We would be walking along and then realise, hey they’re cordoning off the place for a parade! But by evening, the crowd had thinned and while we didn’t have to ‘chope’ front row seats for the Christmas parade an hour ahead of time, we had no problems getting the spots we wanted.
4) While watching the parade, I was struck by the energy and enthusiasm of the performers. Some of them were no longer spring chickens. I was fascinated and in awe when I watched a man in his late 40s, mid 50s perform – he was just part of the walking/dancing band but he carried out his routine with such verve and expression – he really threw himself into it. It was marvellous to see! In Singapore, I think you’d be hard pressed to find people of that age in these jobs and doing them with such joy!
5) Watching the Japanese watch the parades confirmed my suspicion that these guys all had season passes. They knew ALL the moves – and danced/moved along to the choreography so well that I think they had to have seen this many times before to be so familiar! But hey, if I lived near Disney, I think I too would have season tickets to the park – it would be, for us, like being Friends of the Zoo – we’d drop in often! Watching them gamely go with the flow and then watching our group (I was across the road, photographing them watching the parade), I was struck by the difference in attitude. The Japanese would be clapping enthusiastically, waving at the characters, big smiles all around, joining in the choreography obediently when urged by the cast members. Our guys? Just watched the show passively, no waves, clapping at the end only and definitely no audience participation vibes! I could tell they were probably in awe and just watching the spectacle, but there was just no demonstrative joy!! sigh… We’re really a hard audience to please. I told them later what a killjoy they all were.
By around 6.30pm, the Tans left for their hotel – a sad parting for the kids. Very funny to watch. You’d think they were long-lost lovers separated for good the way they were acting. The Chongs stayed on for one more go at Small World – totally zero queue this time. And then they went on the teacups – which I begged off, thanks to one pukey incident at Euro Disney years ago.
Then came the night’s most embarrassing moment.
We headed for the carousel. Four concentric rows of lovely horses. KH picked the outermost one, I took the next inner row. Placed Trin on a horse and got up behind her. Before the ride could start, the attendant saw me and gestured with limited English: No sit! Cannot – No, no! No sit! Down!
Okay, okay. I got the message and came down, feeling a bit sheepish. Then KH, perched up on the horse behind said: Eh, why are you getting down? Sit lah!
When I explained why, he gestured dismissively and loftily pointed out: See, even the guy in front of us is sitting up there with a kid! Just get up and sit lah!
Yeah, it made sense – why on earth not? Why could I NOT sit up there with Trin? So I swung myself up and the ride began. Couple of seconds into the ride, I realised that the ride was pretty slow and even thought to myself: wah, kinda slow for a carousel right?? Whoa… now it’s even slowing down…
Next thing I knew the ride came to a stop and the attendant came up to me and said/gestured even more frantically and yet, in the apologetic Japanese way: Sumimasen NO! NO SIT!! CANNOT! NO NO NO!!
By then the horse had been lifted quite high so I had to swing my leg over in a hurry and come down. I did it so fast that I must have popped a ligament somewhere – it hurt to walk after that. I asked why I could not and indignantly pointed at the man in front. The attendant replied: Please, sorry, only outside horse!
Argh!! Great. Why didn’t anyone tell me earlier!
To make things worse, my horse had stopped right in front of the queuing area where all eyes were now trained on me. Everyone on the carousel was also looking at me. Then I heard a rush of Japanese and saw the nodding heads in the crowd, heard the murmuring and then understanding dawned – I was being used as an example! The attendant must have explained to the crowd – see this mad silly foreign woman here who can’t listen to instructions! blah blah blah…
Then the carousel started again. Trin stayed on the horse. I stayed down. But made sure I shot KH lots of murderous looks!
We called it a day at Disney only after catching the beautifully illuminated Electric Light Parade, and of course, the fireworks above the castle – which terrified Trin no end. The rides didn’t scare her but the boom of fireworks always do – be it NDP or TDR fireworks!
After that, it was a long, tiring struggle, carrying a sleeping Trin all the way back to the train station, to the bus, to the hotel to crash. I was so tired that I could only stagger. To make things worse, we all had to be up early and out of the hotel by 6am the next day to catch the shinkansen!