It would be remiss of me not to begin a trip report for Tokyo Disneyland by noting that for the next six days at least I can claim to have visited all the operational Disney resorts in the world. And yes, I'm very well aware of just how sad that is.
The weather was fairly rancid when we arrived at the park, and for that reason our group elected to go directly for something indoors. Space Mountain (#605) is a duplicate of the ride of the same name at Disneyland, albeit of the original 1977 version rather than the new version that operates today. This made it particularly interesting for those in our group including myself who had never seen the original. The single tracked ride seemed to go on for a very long time, and there were no dead spots either, a testament to the quality of the layout. The operators were in fine form today, dispatching my train within a second of the restraint being locked.
One of our group members, a Disney Imagineer, had told us not to miss Pooh's Hunny Hunt under any circumstances, even if we had to wait several hours to ride. This advice proved to be right on the money; what looked at first glance like a normal dark ride turned out to be a trackless experience with vehicles following apparently random paths through animatronic scenery. In addition to horizontal movement the seats were also capable of vertical movements which worked to great effect. Later in the day I learned that the installation had cost one hundred million dollars to complete, a multiple of what a park might pay for a record breaking coaster; somehow this wasn't surprising at all.
The lack of any "hot rail" presents an interesting engineering problem, namely how to power the vehicles. One approach might have been to use induction coils located underneath the carpet, but it seemed unlikely that even Disney could have managed this without limitations. I decided to ask, and learned that the design uses a battery pack in each car that is topped up automatically when the vehicles are in the loading station. It is this feature that limits overall throughput; though the recharging is rapid, the computer will not allow the vehicles to move until the batteries have reached the required level.
We made the semi-obligatory CreHo stop at Gadget's Go Coaster (#606), a variant of the usual 207m Junior Coaster from Vekoma. This installation had three distinguishing features; first, the layout was a mirror image of the usual with a left turn at the apex rather than a right; second, there was a chain lift instead of a tyre drive; third, there was a blocking system allowing for two train operation. The latter made for a very impressive dispatch speed though it did mean that we were only given a single lap. With that done, we ticked off Big Thunder Mountain (#607), an upgrade over the American versions of the ride albeit a definite second fiddle to the magnificent version in Paris.
At this point, we proceeded on a whirlwind tour through just about every major attraction in the park:
Splash Mountain. I was wearing my waterproofs anyway, not that they were really necessary. I did take quite a bit of flack for putting up my hood for the splashes, but as anyone who wears one will know, waterproof jackets are just as effective at keeping water in as out!
Jungle Cruise, a boat ride past animatronic animals and tribal indians. I am reliably informed this is the best of any of the Disney parks, but having never done another I don't know for sure.
Pirates of the Caribbean
Mystery Tour, located inside the park castle, which no doubt would have made far better sense if I could have understood the narration, all of which was in Japanese.
Snow White and Peter Pan, both basically equivalent to the same rides in the other Disney parks, but run at a much faster speed, resulting in riders being unable to properly appreciate each scene. Presumably this was done to increase capacity, though it really didn't work given that several vehicles formed a queue at the end of the ride as there was only one disembarkation point. It would surely have made more sense to slow the track by 10% so this wouldn't happen.
It's a Small World, an obligatory stop and a somewhat less offensive one than usual, given that the nauseating theme tune was being played at a relatively low volume. This is probably the first time I have ridden one of these attractions without the tune lodging itself in my brain for the rest of the day.
Pinnochio, which suffered from the same issue as Peter Pan, namely vehicles stacking at the exit. It seems that the tuning on these rides is not quite right; hopefully it'll be fixed at some stage.
Car Toon Spin, a new attraction to me; essentially an interactive dark ride, as individual passengers can control the rotation of their vehicles.
Queen of Hearts restaurant (we had to eat at some point!)
Tiki Room. In all my visits to Disney I had somehow managed to miss out on this attraction, consisting of singing animatronic birds. The enthusiasm of this attraction is difficult not to enjoy for a first time viewer, though I imagine that it would get very old very quickly.
Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters. I had a vehicle to myself for this so I took a blaster in each hand. It is a testament to my aim that the left hand gun, which I was firing aimlessly in all directions, received a better score than my right, where I was actually concentrating on the targets.
By the time we'd finished the above list it was early afternoon. It was tempting to go for some repeats, but a few of us decided instead to change plans on the fly.
Tokyo Dome City
6th September 2005
Many people may argue that it is sacrilege to leave Tokyo Disneyland early to head to another nearby park, especially on a day with short queues. However, the fact was that we had ridden all the major attractions, and another major one beckoned just down the road. I wasn't the only person to head down to Tokyo Dome City for a second time; George and Chris came down too, and indeed by the end of our visit something approaching two dozen participants had made the trip. The reason, naturally enough, was Thunder Dolphin (#608).
A full report on this ride is quite a challenge to write, and for this reason it seems best to begin with the positive. Thunder Dolphin is an upper class coaster, arguably a top ten ride, and it has without question the best visuals of any coaster I have ever ridden. Seeing the city scape of Tokyo rushing past you, especially at night, is truly magical, and adds more to a ride than any ordinary theming would. Some readers might think the experience is similar to the coasters of Las Vegas, but in reality nothing could be further from the truth. The scenery in Vegas is gaudy lights everywhere, with each casino trying to outdo the next for tackiness. Tokyo at night is a maze of skyscrapers with office lights lit up everywhere as the hundreds of thousands of salarymen work hard to advance their careers.
The layout features a superlative first drop, followed by bunny hops over the roof of a building and an over-banked turn through the middle of a hub less ferris wheel. There is no doubt that the terrain here is the among the most awkward of any coaster out there, and rather than come up with something boring the designers have gone completely outside the box and come up with something the like of which can be found nowhere else in the world. Additionally, the ride operators signalled each train dispatch with synchronised gestures indicating what the ride was about to do. This is better witnessed than explained, but suffice it to say that they had a lot of the guests laughing at their antics. There was a voice over for this, which was almost certainly the ride statistics followed by something like any last words in Japanese.
The only black mark against the layout was the second pass over the building roof, where the track wobbles from side to side causing riders with their hands up to give a simulated Mexican wave. This can only be described as a complete dead spot; it's boring, and it really doesn't do much; it would have been far more effective if it was right on the building edge making people think that they might fall off. As it was, it was the weakest moment of the ride by far, not helped by the fact that a lot of speed had been burnt off by that stage.
Unfortunately, the real problem with the overall experience was in the rules that the ride was being operated under. It is highly probable that the staff were not to blame for these policies, and my comments should not be taken as a criticism of them; see two paragraphs above for my impressions there. With that caveat out of the way, here goes; at the end of each ride, the operators were waiting for the station to be emptied of exiting riders before even assigning oncoming riders to rows (forget about choosing your seat here; it is decided for you). This procedure, which took a minute or so, could easily have been accomplished when the train was on course. Already capacity was being hurt substantially.
Additionally, no objects of any kind were allowed on board the ride. This is not unusual, but what was strange was that this covered coins, wallets, phones, and similar including those in closed zipped pockets. That's right folks; I had some change in my back pocket, zipped shut, which I was sitting on; I was forced to remove it from there and leave it in one of the lockers beside the ride. After all, they could easily have gone flying from there, right? Fortunately this is Japan and nothing is going to be stolen, but nevertheless it is utterly ridiculous. Nothing is going to come out of a pocket that is zipped shut, and certainly not one that a rider is sitting on.
I had removed what I thought was everything from my pockets and closed my lap bar when one of the operators came to check my restraint. There was a slight bulge in my front zip pocket, and I was told to remove whatever was in it. I moved the fabric around; as far as I could tell it was empty. The operator insisted it be opened. Sure enough, it contained a stub for a Japanese Rail ticket. A small piece of paper, about five centimetres by two, in a zipped pocket, which no doubt could have caused half a dozen fatal injuries should it have mysteriously managed to break through the zip lining. After a few rides we were joking that one should shave before riding, just in case a facial hair should fly out and hit someone. The craziest thing of all about this neurotic policy was its application, or lack thereof, to glasses. Regulars here will know my views about parks that will not allow secured glasses on a ride (see my trip report from Fantasiana). However, the operators here were allowing all glasses, secured or otherwise. That's right folks; items in zipped pockets were dangerous and could fly out, but loose glasses on the head were not.
At any rate, we managed to achieve a total of fifteen rides in a little under three hours before the ride closed down. We had been on every second train for the most part, indicating dispatches of about one train every six minutes. This was hardly ideal for such a huge coaster, but on the positive side we had at least been able to experience the ride in full.