By Steve & Tamami Laser reporting from Tokyo, Japan
We saw Tokyo DisneySea®, the companion theme park to Tokyo Disneyland®, being built in 1999 during one of our many trips to Japan. We made our first official visit to this amazing place in October 2001, a few weeks after the grand opening. We’ve returned many times over the years. Now that DisneySea is celebrating its 15th anniversary, we’d like to share our photos and videos from our last three trips. And we’ll try to explain why this is one of our favorite Disney theme parks.
We made this photo of the “Wing of Wishes” ship during our visit to DisneySea in early 2017 when the extended 15th Anniversary celebration of the park was still going strong. See our DisneySea Plaza video below for a closer look at this amazing work of art.
Our video above shows the spectacular entrance plaza to Tokyo DisneySea during the 15th Anniversary celebration with the “Wing of Wishes” ship. From there we walk underneath the Hotel MiraCosta and into the Mediterranean Harbor area of the park.
Let’s start our tour of Tokyo DisneySea at the entrance plaza. As we disembark from the Resort Line monorail and leave the station, we see an incredible view (above) of the Aquasphere globe that symbolizes our water planet and welcomes guests to the “sea of excitement” that awaits inside the park. The structure in the background is the artfully designed Hotel MiraCosta that frames the entrance to the park.
Before entering, we suggest turning around and spending a few minutes visiting with Walt and Mickey. The inscription on the plaque says, “To Our Partners at Tokyo Disney Resort, commemorating 30 years of sharing magic and memories. As Walt Disney one said, ‘We are just getting started,’ from the Walt Disney Company, April 15, 2013.” The date was the 30th anniversary of Tokyo Disneyland (which has its own “Partners” statue of Walt and Mickey).
As we mentioned in our first story in this series, Oriental Land Co. Ltd. (OLC), owns the Tokyo Disney Resort and operates the Disney brand facilities, including Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea, under license from Disney Enterprises, Inc.
We should also point out that DisneySea’s largest selection of shops is located here on the ground level of the hotel. The selection includes Valentina’s Sweets, the Emporio, and Bella Minni Confections.
In the above photo, we’re standing on a bridge in the Mediterranean Harbor area looking at Fortress Explorations while Mount Prometheus, a majestic “dormant” volcano in Mysterious Island towers over it.
Just like planet Earth, DisneySea is made up of large portions of water. The view above is from the other side of the harbor, looking back at the hotel and the main entrance. We also see the boarding station for the DisneySea Transit Steamer Line watercraft that transport guests on a long and enjoyable journey around the seven lands of the park.
It turns our that Mount Prometheus isn’t really dormant. Watch a minor (harmless of course) eruption in our video above.
Tokyo DisneySea is huge, encompassing about 176 acres. It’s even larger than neighboring Tokyo Disneyland. And its location close to Tokyo Bay fits well with the nautical theme.
Like Tokyo Disneyland, DisneySea is a huge success. According to OLC, attendance for both parks topped 30 million guests for calendar year 2015 alone. The crowd gathered in the photo above waits for a live show to begin in Mediterranean Harbor (see our video that follows).
While we won’t dive deeply into the origin of the DisneySea concept, the idea for this park was originally proposed in the early 1990s by the Walt Disney Company as part of a “Port Disney” resort planned for Long Beach, Calif. Instead, Disney California Adventure was added next to Disneyland® in Anaheim and DisneySea came to Japan.
Live entertainment and shows often take place in Mediterranean Harbor. We enjoyed this performance of “Crystal Wishes Journey” for the DisneySea 15th Anniversary Celebration highlighted in our video.
The immense size of Mediterranean Harbor also makes it an ideal place for shows. For example, “Fantasmic” plays here, as well as a special show for the 15th anniversary called “Crystal Wishes Journey.” It’s also a great location to watch fireworks staged at different times of the year.
This side street looks like a slice of old Italy with a scenic canal. To make guests feel like they’ve been transported to Italy, there’s a low-speed ride here that’s one of our favorites.
Hop aboard the Venetian Gondolas as we pass through the canals and waterways of Mediterranean Harbor in our video.
While we have yet to make the journey to the real Venice, this ride is a pretty romantic substitute. We enjoy the slow journey aboard a Venetian Gondola as it winds through the waterways of the this amazing land. It’s also fun to hear the gondolier sing.
Take a look at an example of the incredible attention to detail at DisneySea. We share the location of the Mona Lisa parody in our video above.
In typical Disney theme park fashion, Tokyo DisneySea is filled with “hidden” sight gags. We wonder what Leonardo would think about the clever spin on his timeless masterpiece?
Fortress Explorations is a splendid walk-trough attraction at DisneySea. We captured some of the sights in our video.
Tokyo DisneySea’s unique Fortress Explorations is a feast for the eyes and mind. It includes a beautifully designed and detailed fort with passageways that make it easy to get “lost” inside. There’s a separate galleon docked outside.
We’ve been inside the fort many times yet we still lose our way. Patience is a virtue in this attraction. Some of the displays are interactive while others are simply presented as points to ponder.
The galleon is a fun place for kids of all ages. It’s permanently docked so there’s no need to rush when climbing aboard.
Back on the fort, these cannons make convincing noises when they’re activated by guests. No worries, of course, as the cannon balls are just props.
If you can find your way to the roof, be sure to check out the Flying Machine that pays homage to Leonardo. The wings actually flap with pedal power supplied by guests.
Kids can take part in “The Leonardo Challenge” that offers hints and clues on a map (in Japanese). Those who participate can become members of the “Society of Explorers and Adventurers.”
Take a look around the breathtaking sights inside Mysterious Island in our video. No matter how many times we visit the park, we still stand in awe of this incredible sight.
It’s easy to spot Mysterious Island from other sections of the park. Just look for the menacing volcano. Inspired by Jules Verne’s classic novel, it’s the home base for Captain Nemo and his Nautilus submarine from “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”
One of the best rides in DisneySea (in our opinion), is “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” Videos inside the ride are not allowed, so we took a few photos before boarding.
Ride vehicles transport guests to a world of fantasy “beneath the earth.” The first part of the journey in the caverns is slow, yet things speed up quickly after that thanks to the volcano.
This ride is fast, on par with Splash Mountain, yet not quite as fast or scary as Space Mountain. If you’re up to the adventure (heed the warning signs before boarding) it’s definitely worth the wait (Fast Passes are usually available across from the ride entrance).
This beautifully detailed Nautilus reminds us of the 20,000 Leagues attraction that used to be at Walt Disney World. However, in this case, it’s simply eye candy. You can walk right up and peek inside, but it’s permanently docked.
The entrance to the actual 20,000 Leagues ride at DisneySea is across the lagoon. Instead of a large sub, guests ride in smaller diving-bell style vehicles in an “underwater” journey of adventure.
We can picture Captain Nemo at the wheel of the Nautilus from Disney’s classic movie. The full-size replica serves as a nice photo spot for those for those who want to take a “selfie.”
Captain Nemo’s quarters are located in the line for the 20,000 Leagues attraction. Like the rest of Mysterious Island, it’s beautifully built, dressed like a movie set, and a wonder to behold.
During the 15th anniversary, guests had the chance to purchase a “Crystal Compass” in one of the stores and then use it to activate stations around the park like this one in Mysterious Island.
Nautilus Gifts is a small shop that offers souvenirs. When DisneySea first opened, it featured limited-edition collectibles (we still have a nice Nautilus replica in our collection). Today, it offers an array of items similar to other stores in the park.
We stopped for lunch in the Vulcania restaurant that features dishes inspired by Chinese cuisine. Notice the “Hidden Mickey” in the window display.
Mysterious Island offers three places to dine. We selected the buffet restaurant called Vulcania that offers a full meal. The Nautilus Galley adjacent to the Nautilus submarine offers snacks and drinks. While the Refreshment Station, a walk-up cart, is the spot to grab a Churro.
As we mentioned earlier, DisneySea is situated next to Tokyo Bay. Yet in this section of the park we’re transported to the American Waterfront the early 1900s. New York Harbor occupies most of the space while a smaller area pays homage to Cape Cod.
Nicely detailed New York Harbor transports guest back to a time of Victorian era architecture blended with the likes of pawn shops and saloons. Except in this case, it’s “McDucks Pawn Shop” which will happily exchange your yen for gifts and merchandise.
All this walking works up an appetite. We stop by the New York Deli to grab a sandwich whenever we visit DisneySea. It’s easy to spot: Look for the “Statue of Liberty” sign outside.
While it looks like the big Columbia is ready to set sail, it’s actually a cleverly designed building. Check it our in our video above.
When we first saw the Columbia at DisneySea, we thought that perhaps it was a tribute to the Queen Mary in Long Beach, Calif., where DisneySea was originally proposed to be located. (Perhaps it’s just a coincidence.)
More than just a giant prop, Columbia offers spectacular vistas of American Waterfront and Tokyo Bay from the upper decks. It’s a beautifully decorated “ship” that houses the splendid S.S. Columbia Dining Room restaurant and Teddy Roosevelt Lounge.
One of the structures that we can see from Columbia is the Hotel Hightower, DisneySea’s version of the Tower of Terror. Yet this Tower that opened during the park’s 5th anniversary in 2006 is unique.
We’re transported to 1912 New York where the hotel became the Tower of Terror following the mysterious disappearance of its owner, Harrison Hightower, in 1899.
Take a look at the exterior of the Hotel Hightower and the Memorabilia shop next door in our video.
As the story continues, the “New York City Preservation Society” has restored the hotel and started public tours. Yet strange things happen when guests ride the elevator to the top floors.
The Tower of Terror is one of DisneySea’s most popular attractions. Fast Passes are often available during peak periods. (Japan uses the 24-hour clock for things like public rail timetables and Fast Pass tickets.)
We never know when or where he’s going to show up, yet this mine, disguised as a custodial host, sweeps guests off their feet. Watch him perform in our video from Waterfront Park.
Following a ride on the Tower of Terror, visiting a restroom is certainly a good idea. The nearby New York City “Waterworks” has an ornate entrance. The inscription on the fountain out front says, “Water is worth more than gold to a thirsty populace.” (The restroom entrance is located behind the fountain.)
Let’s go for a ride on the DisneySea Electric Railway that offers a short and scenic journey on an elevated track.
While many of DisneySea’s attractions are related to a nautical theme, some add to the ambience with exquisite detail. Such is the case with the Electric Railway that transports guests on a brief journey from American Waterfront to Port Discovery stations.
Toyville Trolley Park is a recent addition to the New York Harbor area of DisneySea. The design doesn’t quite segue with the other buildings so it’s separated by a wall.
Toy Story Mania is the big attraction here with the entrance going right through Woody’s mouth. In addition to the ride, guests can play carnival style games.
We captured the essence of the unique Aquatopia ride from vantage points on the shoreline for our video.
Port Discovery is a small land for DisneySea that’s positioned between American Waterfront and Lost River Delta.
Aquatopia is a wonderfully detailed attraction that uses a novel “trackless” control system similar to Pooh’s Hunny Hunt in Tokyo Disneyland. Since we can’t see a track, we don’t know where the ride vehicle is going. Unlike Autopia cars, for example, this ride is remotely controlled so don’t search for pedals or a steering wheel.
DisneySea must spend a fortune on maintenance since the real ocean and its corrosive salt spray is across the street. Yet everything looks shiny and new (except in areas where it’s supposed to look old and scary).
Until recently, this building across from Aquatopia housed the Storm Rider attraction. It’s under renovation and slated to reopen sometime this year with a new “Finding Nemo” theme.
The third attraction in Port Discovery is the Electric Railway that ends its journey from American Waterfront at this station.
Lost River Delta
Until the opening of the Raging Spirits coaster in 2005, Lost River Delta was a land with one major ride: Indiana Jones® Adventure and the Temple of the Crystal Skull.
The ride building is massive and artfully camouflaged with structures like this. The ride itself appears to be similar to its counterparts at other Disney parks.
A closer inspection of this area reveals a vintage truck with an artifact (Mickey) popping out of the back. It serves as a backdrop for a meet and greet location with Disney characters.
Raging Spirits is a nicely themed coaster next to Indiana Jones. We captured some of the details from the outside of the ride in our video.
While the Raging Spirits coaster gives folks something fun to do while waiting for their Fast Pass entry to Indiana Jones, it’s become so popular that it too has its own Fast Pass.
This sign alerts potential riders that a 360-degree loop is part of the ride (complete with bells and whistles).
It would be easy to walk by and dismiss this biplane as a prop for the Indy ride. Look closely and notice the clever tribute for Star Wars fans.
Mermaid Lagoon is a fun land for kids with rides that are less intense than Tower of Terror or Journey to the Center of the Earth. Yet there’s another hidden part to this land that’s easy to miss.
Join us for a walk into the underground cavern area of the Mermaid Lagoon in our video.
We were really surprised the first time we ventured into the cavern. Walking down a winding pathway in the dark reveals a hidden world of enchantment.
Rides inside the cavern include the Whirlpool with (Mad Hatter-like) “kelp cups” and Jumpin’ Jellyfish. There’s also a large 700-seat Mermaid Lagoon Theater in this area that offers performances of a musical concert.
Back on the surface is Flounder’s Flying Fish Coaster. We highlight this ride from several observation areas in our video.
Like Disneyland, DisneySea will “never be completed.” A new attraction is planned in an area between the Mermaid Lagoon and Mediterranean Harbor with a tentative “Soarin'” name. With a targeted opening in 2019, OLC says it’s planning to incorporate original scenes for this version of the popular Soaring ride found in other Disney parks.
We watch “Jasmine’s Flying Carpets” go for a spin in our video from the Arabian Coast area of DisneySea.
Arabian Coast is a large-scale themed land. The main attraction, Sinbad’s Storybook Village, is an indoor boat ride hosted by Sinbad the sailor and his tiger cub. This attraction is impressive with a scale similar to the old-favorite “It’s a Small World.”
Behind this attractive fountain stands the impressive two-story Caravan Carousel where visitors can ride camels and other steeds (including the Genie).
Nighttime was falling as we took our last photos of the day. This is the Magic Lamp Theater that seats more than 300 people. The show features “Shaban, the greatest magician in the world” with an appearance by our friend the Genie.
With tired feet and happy memories we took the advice of this friendly camel and returned to our hotel for a rest. Of course, we came back in the evening to enjoy DisneySea again under a moonlit sky.
As regular visitors to Japan, we’re already planning our next trip to DisneySea.
Click on the links below for our additional Tokyo Disney Resort stories.
Notes: Photographs and videos in this story are original and made by the editorial staff of CarNichiWa.com for editorial use (news reporting). Images, characters, music, artwork, and associated material in these photographs and videos may be copyrighted by other parties, including the Walt Disney Company, Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Oriental Land Co. Ltd. Information in this story is deemed to be accurate at the time of publication yet is subject to change without notice.
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