Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Disneysea - BraviSEAmo!

Day 2 (Tues, 27 May 2008)

The night before, we had checked the schedule for the opening time for Disneysea and it was 10am, so got up at 8.30am and were down for breakfast by 9am. You should always check the times as they differ from day to day and for the two parks.

The breakfast is simply super. It's a buffet with scrumptious eggs, many varieties of bread, ham, beans, and even a Japanese selection of rice porridge with toppings (pictures in tomorrow's post). It's a great way to top up the tank before a day at Disney and best part is, the charge is included in the hotel room. An interesting note, most of the guests at the hotel are Japanese with very young kids, presumably from out of town and staying here as part of their visit to Disney. Not many foreigners at all, I know in Singapore, this hotel is not offered by travel agents. This is really a hidden gem!

The night before, we had also decided to buy some of those yummy rice cakes for lunch, so we don't have to crush with the crowds like yesterday. But when we went to the Lawson after breakfast, the shelves were almost empty! It appears that everyone had the same idea. Luckily there were a few shrimp mayonnaise ones left so we bought five of those.

And then, it's off to Disneysea via the shuttle bus. There was a long queue at the entrance to go in and here, I make two interesting observations: one, as a population, the Japanese are really short. I mean, I'm only 1.57m and in Singapore, I'm generally shorter than most. But here, I find that I'm actually above average in height among the women. In fact, Lesley-Anne is as tall as some of the grown women!

Second, unlike other Disneylands, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneysea are mostly patronised by locals. The Japanese love their theme parks and we're not talking about just kids. I'm amazed and amused by the many adults who come to Disney all donned in costume. I saw a couple wearing a complete set of Tigger paws, ears, leggings and tails. I experienced a disconnect as groups of teenage boys would walk by, wearing grunge clothes and miniature Shrek ears. The kids, especially the little girls, were completely decked out as Snow White, Belle, Ariel and every other Disney princess you can think of. Too bad I forgot to take pictures, I was too busy gawking.

So the entrances opened and it was the charge of the horde brigade. Disneysea is built around a large lake and while Disneyland's central attraction is the castle, Disneysea's is a giant volcano. Because Disneysea is newer, its rides are more modern and there are more thrilling rides, which probably makes it not as appealing to very young kids. As a park, it's as large as Disneyland and the scenery scape is beautiful, very Mediterranean.

Ever strategic, we headed towards the back first. We took the Aquatopia ride, which follows a track along waterfalls, whirlpools, sometimes doing spins. What's fun about this ride is that there are several possible tracks, so you don't always see the same thing. We then headed to the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride close by, which is a submarine ride deep underground. It's quite pretty underwater scenery with fish, eels and other sea creatures. Towards the end, there is dramatic lightning and violent rocking of the submarine, to simulate the submarine being attacked by the giant squid. Quite interesting except all the dialogue was in Japanese. Hmmm...

We wanted to head straight for the Indiana Jones ride to get the Fast Pass as this is one of the most popular rides in Disneysea. For those who don't know what a Fast Pass (FP) is, it's an ingenious system where you use your Disney passport to get a ticket from the booth at the ride. The ticket states a time period, eg. 10.53am-11.23am. If you return within this time, you go straight to the FP line without having to stand in line. The FP line often gets you to the ride in less than 10mins, something worth planning for considering some rides can have wait times as long as 1½ hours, especially during peak periods! Not every ride offers an FP and you can only get a new FP after a certain time has passed from the earlier FP. Anyway, it sounds confusing but it's worth while planning for this, it sure saved us a heck of a lot of time and we basically could go on many of our favourite rides multiple times.

Anyway, enroute to Indiana Jones, we walked into Triton's Kingdom, which is an indoor land with rides catered to younger visitors. It's made to look like you're underwater, which is simply beautiful. It has your traditional rides like the teacups, ferris wheel, carousel, but all dressed up according to the theme so it makes the kids feel like they're in a fairy tale, which is really nice.

Just outside Triton's Kingdom is where Andre discovered his favourite ride - Flounder's Flying Fish Coaster! This is basically a coaster for kids. It has just the right amount of thrills and spills without those heart-stopping 90 degree plunges of adult coasters. Let me say that due to Kenneth's motion sickness and Lesley-Anne's chicken-heartedness, whenever Andre wants to go on a coaster, who's left to accompany him? Moi. Here we are on the right, in the second to last seat. Andre loved this ride so much he kept returning to it throughout the day. I think we rode it 5 times in total.

Finally, we made our way to Indiana Jones. This had been a much anticipated ride for the kids, the new Indiana Jones movie was just out and my kids had repeatedly watched the trilogy on DVD so they were very familiar with it. Andre, especially, had been using pieces of string like a whip, much to the annoyance of his sister. This picture on the right is enroute to the ride.

We had intended to take the FP but when we arrived, we found it wasn't even available yet as the wait time was minimal. (We had already begun to realise that Disneysea is way less crowded than Disneyland). So we just queued for the ride. Here we are at the queue. At this point, Lesley-Anne had started to bite her nails and kept bombarding me with "Are you sure it's not scary? Are you sure there are no drops?" We boarded this jeep which seats four in a row and off we went! You go through several rooms, one with bugs, another with a giant snake and there's the rope bridge which the jeep passes. The jeep itself is a simulator, so it shakes and bounces as if it's going through rocky terrain, way cool. We also pass by Indiana Jones who yells out at us (in Japanese unfortunately). But of course it's too late to turn back! At the end, a giant boulder rolls towards the jeep and amazingly, the jeep somehow slides under the rock and... you're safe! Indiana Jones calls out a sayonara to you and tells you he'll see you at the next adventure (not that I know Japanese, I googled this).

It was an awesome ride but when I turned around to ask Andre how he liked it, I found his head almost in his lap - he'd closed his eyes and missed the whole thing! Aiyah, full of bravado but actually also a chicken at heart! He claimed the sound was very loud. I told him he should have covered his ears and opened his eyes, not the other way around. As we exited, I asked if he wanted to go again later and he said ok, so I took the FPs.

Time for lunch! There were a few tables near the Indiana Jones ride so we decided to eat our rice cakes there. The tables were taken, but once again, when we drew near, a couple, who had not even finished eating, quickly took up their food and offered the table to us. I love the Japanese! The rice cakes are truly wonderful. It comes in a compact triangle, when you open them, there are two pieces of seaweed that wrap perfectly over the rice. It even comes with graphic instructions in case you're ignorant gai-jins like us.

After lunch, we caught the Mystic Rhythms show, which is a musical-type show with a forest theme and dancers dressed as animals. The set was rather good, they had this waterfall thingy and the dancers splash around in the water. Later, this waterfall is transformed into a volcano which spurts fire. Not bad at all.

Then we headed to Arabian Coast where we went on Sinbad's Storybook Voyage. Basically this ride takes you through Sinbad's adventures, which is an excuse for a showcase of pretty animatronics. It is Disneysea's version of Disneyland's It's a Small World. My feelings for both rides are the same. Meh. Kenneth thought it was quite enjoyable but this is coming from a man who thinks a cable car ride is thrilling.

We also caught the 4D show at the Magic Lamp Theatre. The effect was somewhat marred by the fact that we had to carry these hand contraptions with the English translation. Typical scenario: Aladdin's genie appears and says something in Japanese. We look down to read what he had just said. The audience laughs. We look back on the screen only to realise that we had missed something. Repeat 73 times. I think I had a crinked neck after that show bobbing up and down.

Some of the main highlights of Disneyland/sea are definitely their live shows. Just as Disneyland has its afternoon parade, Disneysea has the one on sea, called "The Legend of Mythica". A side note: the situation in Tokyo is unique because of its people. I have honestly not met a more homogeneous or polite people. They are conforming to a fault. Eg. for this show, people gather like one hour before the show around the lake to get a reasonable space. Every person or family that comes along automatically fills up the space beside the person next to them. In perfectly ordered rows. Once a whole section is filled up, an attendant ropes up the section to signify that it's filled. Even if you get up from your seat to go to the washroom, nobody takes that space, they know it's taken. During the show, NOBODY STANDS UP. Everyone remains seated, which means you get an unobstructed view of the show. (In contrast, when I was at the Paris Disneyland parade, I had to jostle a chaotic mess of arms, elbows and bodies. With everyone standing up and towering above me, I could hardly see the floats and had to raise my camera in the air just to get a shot).

Back to the sea parade, it's a half hour of beautiful choreography and breath-taking floats that's signature Disney. I'm always astounded by the scale of these shows and the fact they are held every single day. Almost all of the floats come with some special effect, spewing fire or water or towers that gradually extend upwards. Definitely not to be missed.

After the show, the afternoon sun was getting to be severe so we retreated to Triton's Kingdom where the kids went on several rides. We also caught the show at Mermaid Lagoon Theatre (within Triton's Kingdom). It's a live musical featuring Ariel, Ursula the sea witch, Sebastian, Flounder and other characters in the Little Mermaid. Although the dialogue was in Japanese, the songs are in English, so it wasn't too bad. Overall, I think the shows at Hong Kong Disneyland are way better than the ones in Tokyo. More impressive, more wow. But then the selection of rides at Hong Kong is rather pathetic so I guess they have to make up for it.

The rest of the afternoon, we spent mostly re-taking the rides we liked, like Aquatopia. While Lesley-Anne and Kenneth remained in Triton's Kingdom to chill out, I brought Andre on Indiana Jones again using the FP (he kept his eyes open this time) and of course, Flounder's Flying Fish Coaster.

I also caved and bought him an Indiana Jones hat. He beamed and looked at me expectantly, "Now all I need is the gun and the whip." No way, Jose!

By then, we were all pretty tired, so we opted to take the steamer boat which brought us halfway around the harbour. Then we trotted off to find a nice place for dinner. To avoid competition among their restaurants, each restaurant in Disneyland/sea sells only a limited type of food. Eg. if you want Japanese food, only one restaurant in Disneysea has it. Only a couple of places might sell burgers while another might sell steak.

We couldn't find a place that had food to appeal to all 4 of us, until we stumbled upon the Zambini Brothers Ristorante, an Italian joint at Mediterranean Harbour. It has several types of pasta and pizza, mostly at under Y1,300 (S$16) each. We ordered three dishes - a pizza, a pasta and a gratin (generally, we find that three adult portions can feed four of us, we prefer smaller and more frequent meals anyway). That small green packet is Meiji parmesan cheese.

We gobbled up the food, the kids LOVED it.

After dinner, we wanted to take the Venetian gondolas but it was already closed. We were just passing time before the night show. After a full day of walking, we weren't really up for much more activity. The perfect excuse came along when we passed an ice cream parlor. More eating! Yummy. The ice cream was Meiji, of course.

We made our way to the harbour to get a good seat for the night show, BraviSEAmo! Just like earlier, the perfect coordination and orderliness ensued. As we were really early (about an hour before the show), the boy-who-hates-to-wait had a sudden surge of energy and clammered to go on more rides. Daddy and sister decided to stay put while Mummy, groaning, did the chaperoning. I told him I would only bring him to the nearest land, which was Port Discovery. (Even then, you had to go up and down a hilly slope. My back did protesteth). By then, it was dark so there were hardly any queues. We went on Aquatopia like, oh I don't know, maybe 7 times, before Andre agreed to call it quits.

And now, on with the show! BraviSEAmo! is spectacular. First, a ginormous float comes out spewing water. Then, get this: from beneath the lake, a fire-breathing dragon with massive limbs EMERGES FROM THE WATER. Wah, impressive man!

After that, the two structures face each other, in harmonious movement, a superb contrast of water and fire. The dragon is clad with lightbulbs which change colour from red to green to blue. This from a contraption that is probably sopping wet! The folks at Disney who accomplish this are really something. And did I mention that in the background, the volcano occasionally lets loose an awe-inspiring roar of fire that lights up the sky?

After the spectacular show, we wanted to stay for the fireworks but an attendant came along and started jabbering loudly in Japanese. Many people started moving away so I went to him and said: "Sumimasen (excuse me), wakarimasen (I don't understand). English? (English? duh)" He said slowly "No fireworks... wind". Apparently, sometimes the wind conditions make it unsuitable for fireworks, so the display was cancelled.

Kinda disappointed but didn't have a choice, so we made our way to the exit. Just before the exit, there were two specially designed mosaic walls for Tokyo Disney's 25th anniversary. Each mosaic tile is actually a photo, I'm guessing of someone who had either visited or worked at Disney. Quite interesting, really. But what was more intriguing was that while there were two walls, one of Mickey and the other of Minnie, there was a QUEUE in front of the Mickey one. They were actually queuing to take a photo in front of the wall! Can you say orderliness? Also, obsession with Mickey Mouse??

Here are the kids in front of the Minnie wall, we didn't really care which one we had a photo of and we sure don't like queues.

Shuttle back to hotel, end of another great day.

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