The sun is shining, and my friend Christine and I are on our way to Tokyo Disneyland. A 115-acre theme park in Urayasu, Chiba. A place where dreams come true, apparently. A badly written but strangely popular guidebook suggests that the best time to visit Tokyo Disneyland is in the winter months, especially toward the end of December. Today just happens to fit that category, so away we go.
We change trains from the Yamanote Line at Tokyo Station, to the hugely unpopular JR Keiyo Line. The Keiyo Line requires us to walk for twenty minutes through a busy train station and is highly inconvenient. Finally, after almost an hour on three trains, we arrive at the conveniently named, Tokyo Disneyland Station. On the train, the windows and handles are shaped like Mickey Mouse.
Outside Tokyo Disneyland, what would normally cost ¥100, costs over twice that. An early sign of the commercialism to come.
Full of overpriced green tea and a pocket full of change, we queue to enter the park at around 9 a.m. Eventually, after twenty minutes in the queue, we pay ¥6,400 each and enter.
We head for Critter Country to use our Fast Track ticket for Splash Mountain. Despite us being here so early in the morning, our Fast Track ticket won’t allow us to ride this ‘Hair-raising flume adventure’ until quarter to six. A mere nine-hour wait. We can’t use another Fast Track ticket for two hours, so we decide to get some breakfast.
It turns out that the only food on offer at Tokyo Disneyland is junk food and sugar. I buy a ¥310 strawberry sundae. The smallest ice cream in the world. In the bottom of the cup are Corn Flakes; something I’ve never associated with ice cream before, and something that I will never eat with ice cream again.
After breakfast, we decide to go on a ride. We head over to Fantasyland, to queue for It’s A Small World Presented by Nippon Express Co., Ltd. I write the name of the ride with capitalisation, but in the park, they don’t bother, and this annoys me. We queue for forty minutes, and with me not knowing Disney too well, I have no idea what to expect.
In the queue, I try to discuss the Pinocchio paradox, but Christine, who had previously worked in Disneyland Florida, tells me to, “Stop talking! Stop ruining Disney.”
Finally, we enter the ride and sit in a boat. Instructions in the boat say, “The boat may stop suddenly, so please sit well back.” I don’t really have a choice thanks to the length of my legs. The ride describes itself as the, “Happiest cruise that ever sailed,” so presumably it is well good.
The overall experience is terrible; a riverboat cruise of rooms depicting dancing characters from various countries. In each room, the characters are singing the same song, Jingle Bells. At the end of the ride, we have to join a queue of boats to leave. If I am completely honest, after being on my feet for most of the morning, it is just nice to have a sit-down.
Leaving the ride, a politically correct ‘happy holidays’ sign is also written in lower case, just to further add to my disappointment. Christine seems happy though, she was singing along during the ride. Afterwards, she waves at the other people queueing, and they wave back.
Next, we accidentally stroll into a gift shop and find a crystal castle that costs an arbitrary ¥5,142,860.
After it’s a small world, we go on to discover that it’s a small park. It actually takes us just ten minutes to walk the entire length of Tokyo Disneyland, despite having to push through the ever-increasing crowds of people.
We check out Thunder Mountain, but it seems there is a 300-minute queue for the ride. We wander around at a loss as more people appear from nowhere. The park now becoming extremely busy. Our second ‘attraction’ comes after almost three hours since we arrived, and is quite possibly the least popular attraction in Tokyo Disneyland, and perhaps the world.
We wander into a tipi with almost impeccable timing and take a seat on some padded benches around a stage.
The ‘ride’ is the oddly named, The Enchanted Tiki Room: Stitch Presents, “Aloha E Komo Mai!” Presented by Mizuho Securities Co., Ltd. The attraction describes itself as a fun-filled tropical music show.
Just like the photograph I took of the show before being told off for taking photographs, the whole thing was a disappointment. A few birds talking and singing in Japanese, a few flowers singing too. Just nothing that even offered the least bit of entertainment or anything that could be described as fun-filled or remotely tropical.
Outside, the queues have grown astronomically.
With two hours now elapsed since we first used our Fast Track tickets, we head to some of the other participating rides. We discover that all of the Fast Track tickets have now been issued, so only one Fast Track ride for us today. We spend some time queueing for toilets, queueing for vending machines, queueing for queues.
One thing we find scattered around the park are popcorn stands; eleven in total. They sell flavours such as caramel, soy sauce and butter, honey, and curry. Each stand appears to have an hour-long queue. Lucky for me, my friend is also from England, so we do what English people do best and moan about everything, together.
We head back to Adventureland, to queue for the Western River Railroad Presented by TOMY Company, Ltd. “Three hours,” the women tells us, remarking on the queue times. We brave it anyway. I came all this way, and certainly, don’t wish to pass up on an opportunity to climb aboard a real steam train for a trip around the wilderness.
Once forever passes and time no longer exists, we eventually get on the ride. It is one of those annoying rides that hates tall people. The train passes through caverns and low hanging beams of wood. Despite being in the safe happy environment of Tokyo Disneyland, I can’t help but get the feeling I will hit my head. I end up ducking under every tunnel and beam.
After one minute of satisfaction and three hours in a queue, we leave the ride, bumping into Donald Duck. Close to one hundred people are waiting to have their photograph taken with what is basically a man in a duck costume. Ridiculous.
One of my biggest gripes with Tokyo Disneyland is the lack of shops selling vegetarian food, healthy food, and alcohol. Despite wandering to almost every restaurant, it is practically all junk. Eventually, we settle for food at Tomorrowland Terrace Presented by Coca-Cola (Japan) Company, Ltd.
I order french fries, corn soup, and a salad. An overpriced ¥730. The salad has little-jellied carrots in the shape of Mickey Mouse. I squeeze the packet of Soy Dressing, aiming for my salad, but the packet bursts and squirts my coat with sauce. Embarrassed and soaked, I go and wipe away my tears, and the dressing, before returning to my salad. Hidden beneath the Mickey Mouse carrots is bacon.
I can’t eat the salad due to dietary I hate Disney. Instead, I eat my lukewarm french fries with ketchup, dropping one on my leg to further add to my misery. The cup of french fries mocks me with the catchphrase, “Where dreams come true.” At least they remembered to capitalise; but at this moment, it does very little to appease my trauma. Meanwhile, Christine dines on her ¥1,010 burger, fries and a drink; she eats it smugly and without dropping a single crumb. I finish my soup and want to scream.
We head back outside for the Happiness Is Here Parade Presented by NTT DOCOMO, Inc.
“This is the happiest parade ever! Enjoy the fun and excitement of this parade with all of your favourite Disney characters!” Right now, I am unhappy. I am not enjoying myself, but, I try to remain optimistic. We try to get a decent viewing spot on the parade route, but keep getting told off by the unfriendly staff for sitting on benches or loitering. Eventually, we find a place to watch our favourite characters, as they dance along the route, riding a series of increasingly elaborate floats.
All of the usual suspects are here. Snow White, Lilo and Stitch, Toy Story, a massive elephant, two giant six-armed caterpillars, Alice, a bright orange Tigger, Mickey Mouse with his stupid face that I want to punch, and my favourite float, Disney’s NTT DOCOMO, Inc. Presumably from the new Disney movie about mobile communication services.
After the parade, nothing can get any more horrible. Perhaps this is the turning point of the day. We still have a few hours before we can queue jump Splash Mountain, so we contemplate killing ourselves, but instead, we decide to go on a ride to kill time.
We head back to Adventureland, for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride Presented by Kirin Brewery. The jolly band of marauding Caribbean buccaneers is joined by Captain Jack Sparrow, or so I am told. We queue for ninety minutes, before, for a second time today, sit on a riverboat ride. Pirates of the Caribbean describes itself as, “A thrilling adventure cruise through dark mysterious caverns where dead men tell no tales.”
Our boat is called Patience, which I like. The irony being the least American thing we’ve found here today. The ride passes by a restaurant, and Christine and I miss the first section of the cruise, as we are too busy peering in to see if anyone in the restaurant is drinking alcohol. Just soft drinks with straws.
When we started queueing for the ride, it was daylight. As we exit, night has fallen and the castle in the middle of the park is illuminated.
We pass people asleep on benches; including a guy sleeping with his whole face covered by a three-eyed Alien mask from Toy Story. In the toilets, two unhappy ‘Cast Members’ are directing people to cubicles and urinals. It is almost quarter to six and is nearly time to finally use our Fast Track tickets.
As we walk toward Critter Country, four fireworks are let off above the castle. Perhaps the worst firework display I have ever seen. A projection mapping show is taking place, so presumably, the budget has been spent on that instead.
We arrive at Splash Mountain (not sponsored). As we flash our Fast Track ticket, we get to walk along, passing people who are enduring the three-hour queue; the most satisfying feeling of the whole day. The ride claims to have, “The wettest drop ever!” It doesn’t. “No splash, Captain.” This is the third ride on a boat today and is the best one I’ve experienced.
The excitement on my face sums up the day nicely.
In just under two hours time, the final parade of the day is taking place. With two hour queues for every ride, we risk it and head to Fantasyland for the Haunted Mansion (not sponsored). “Ride through an eerie Gothic mansion with 999 ghostly inhabitants.” Whilst we wait for 110 minutes to ride the Haunted House, I teach Christine some basic Japanese until she feels the need to repeat the same one phrase over and over. Not irritating in the slightest.
The Haunted Mansion turns out to be a Nightmare Before Christmas ride. It starts with two rooms where our group has to stand around. We listen to speeches from Jack Skellington. It turns out Jack Skellington is fluent in Japanese. Next, we take a seat in a chair shaped like a chocolate egg. This isn’t a roller coaster though, more of a tour through the animatronic world of the Nightmare Before Christmas.
After the ride, we head out into the crowded carnival that is the Tokyo Disneyland Electrical Parade, Dreamlights Presented by Nihon Unisys, Ltd. “Don’t miss this spectacular nighttime parade when the Park comes alive with millions of dazzling lights to the magical tunes of Disney music.”
Sadly, we only catch the last three floats of the parade, including the one for Nihon Unisys, Ltd.
After the parade, the park begins to empty out. We decide to sit down for a time and dine on more sugar in the form of a strawberry filled Mickey Mouse shaped cake, which tastes frankly weird. As we head toward the exit, we find that the queues for the popcorn stands have completely vanished. I order a box of regular sized ¥360 Orange Marmalade popcorn. The serving size is actually quite generous for something that costs about ¥10 to make.
We explore one of the many gift shops. Stocked with needless rubbish for a high price. Despite being almost closing time, the gift shops are packed full of people, and Frozen merchandise has almost sold out. Not that I care. We eventually leave empty-handed. The noise of fourteen hours in Tokyo Disneyland, the constant flashing of lights, cartoon characters, and the overall brightness, leaves me with only a headache.
As we endure the one-hour train ride back to Asakusa, I drift into dark Disney nightmares. If all of this was a bad dream, this day, and I woke up again this morning having never been to Tokyo Disneyland, I would certainly keep it that way.
At home, I feel tired and disjointed. I am angry and disappointed. I am certainly disgusted. Disney is a commercial success that exploits children and adults alike. Heavy sponsorship, overpriced snacks, no consideration for the queueing that people have to endure, a lack of drink vendors, no quality food, and a complete lack of alcohol. These things all add to the horror that is a trip to Tokyo Disneyland.