The weather was far from ideal for our second day at the Tokyo Disney Resort, with overcast skies and intermittent light rain. I seriously considered bringing my raincoat with me, but decided that it'd be a bit heavy in the September heat. This proved to be a tactical error in hindsight, as the mercury reached just twenty-two degrees celsius at the height of the day, and that peak dropped off rapidly as night fell. The conditions were such that we decided to cut our visit short in favour of an earlier night, leaving Toy Story Mania for a future trip. (The wait time when we decided to abort was one hundred minutes, which is apparently quite a long way short of the all time record).
We began our visit with Journey to the Center of the Earth, a dark ride that I described in 2005 as the star attraction in the park. The wait time was a manageable thirty-five minutes, most of it in a lengthy themed cattle grid enclosed within an artificial mountain. Towards the end guests were separated into groups of ten to board simulated elevators to the main boarding platform, where we encountered a short additional queue with elaborate theming on all sides. My attempt to take a few discreet pictures of this today (without flash) earned me a reprimand from a surprisingly dour cast member, a bizarre and thoroughly unexpected policy in a country where it isn't all that unusual to see a five year old brandishing a SLR.
The ride uses the same basic transport system as Test Track at EPCOT, albeit with vastly superior theming. We took our places in row one and were quickly dispatched into a room full of brightly coloured crystals. There was a brief halt here, giving us a few seconds to admire things before the vehicle began its journey on a gentle descending route through a variety of different themed rooms featuring everything from mushrooms to lightning flashes. An encounter with a huge animatronic lava monster prefixed the highlight, a rapid curved ascent that broke into daylight briefly with an accompanying airtime float before the vehicle slowed down again at a dedicated unload platform. The experience was everything that I'd hoped it would be, and I decided on the spot that we should pick up fast passes to experience it again later on.
Our second stop was at 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, a sedate journey through a simulated underwater world made in miniature submarines. The interior of the vehicles is spartan, with three plain benches laid out in a triangular pattern. Each has a porthole window with a moving bubble effect and a steerable beam of light that can be used to illuminate the depths. The routing features sunken ships, coral beds, and a trip through Atlantis, though honestly the novelty of the presentation wore off for me after about fifteen seconds primarily due to the narrow viewing angle. Megan was more taken with the experience, though, expressing a desire to repeat it later in the day if time permitted.
There were several distinctly asinine operational policies in place on Raging Spirits, an Intamin looping coaster added to the park in 2005. Megan was officially grumbled at by an cast member for having the audacity to take a photograph of the lift hill from close to the end of the hour long open-air queue. Once in the station, we were directed to the second car despite being the first pair into the station; the front seats were assigned to two locals. Then, having taken our seats, we were instructed to remove our secured waist packs and to place them loose on the floor of our car despite the presence of a large cavity in the overhead restraints where they could have comfortably rested. It was no real surprise when mine floated into the air at several points in the layout, remaining on board only thanks to my late decision to buckle it around my ankles.
On the positive side, the comfort level in our assigned seat was absolutely fine. There were no bumps in the track that we noticed, rendering the soft padding on the restraints for the most part unnecessary. The artificial rockwork around the track and a dry ice effect at the final turn made the ride look good, but couldn't quite detract from the fact that the layout was essentially a tamed version of the Pinfari TL59, a basic carnival ride and something well below the standard of what one would ordinarily expect at the home of the mouse. More to the point, the layout lacked any significant drops beyond the one into the vertical loop, rendering the whole experience flaccid and pointless.
We used our passes to repeat Journey to the Center of the Earth before making our way across to Flounder's Flying Fish Coaster, a Togo-built family coaster that opened with the park in 2001. The ride consists primarily of an elongated helix, with almost all of the layout maintaining a slight descending right turn punctuated by gentle undulations, similar in appearance but considerably more lively than those found on Wacky Worms. There is a left turn towards the end of the course where the train picks up a little speed, providing a conclusion that is powerful enough to be satisfying without being overly forceful. My favourite feature of the ride was the diminutive figurehead on the front car that was small enough to avoid obstructing the view for even the youngest of children. It was also good to see two trains in use, keeping the wait to just twenty minutes.
The park has an indoor area dedicated to the world of Ariel, the little mermaid, and her aquatic friends. The attractions within are all targeted at children, though just about all are open to interested adults too. Today there were large construction boards surrounding the Whirlpool, a variant on the common tea cups ride where the individual cars move in a figure eight pattern, but everything else was fully operational. The wait times were prohibitive however, with the exception ot the show in the Mermaid Lagoon Theater which was walk on. Our cunning plan to enjoy this (and fifteen blessed minutes in climate-controlled seating) was sadly foiled when we narrowly missed the cut off.
The prospect of waiting thirty-five minutes for the next performance didn't appeal, and thus we headed back outside to Sindbad's Storybook Voyage, an attraction that has been described by the Disney Tourist Blog in somewhat hyperbolic terms as a contender for the best modern Disney dark ride. The ride began life as Sindbad's Seven Voyages in 2001, but was renovated and upgraded after six seasons because it was failing to resonate with local audiences. The key alteration was of mood, changing the original dark tone to a much more cheery one as befits the proverbial happiest place on earth. It feels almost churlish to speak negatively of a ride that others like so much, but honestly the experience felt lacking to me when compared against the magnificent Journey to the Center of the Earth. (To be fair I'd likely have enjoyed it considerably more had it not been for the persistent and somewhat grating theme tune, which reminded me very much of Fata Morgana at Efteling.)
We stopped for a quick lunch break before heading to the fast pass entrance for Indiana Jones® Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull, a heavily themed jeep ride and the only attraction in the entire resort (as of this writing) to have a trademark symbol in its name. Though I've no concrete information on why this is, my guess is that it stems from the fact that Lucasfilm was a standalone entity at construction time, rather than a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company, and some lawyer somewhere was trying to make herself seem important. The ride was lively and thrilling, with some particularly impressive visual effects, not least an animatronic Harrison Ford speaking fluent Japanese (who knew?) and a heavy rolling stone that our car dived underneath at the last minute.
Our third camera-related reprimand of the day occurred in the queue for Tower of Terror, where it was apparently against the rules to take a photograph of the ante-room just inside the lobby of the Hotel Hightower. This incident, about ten minutes into an eighty minute wait, marked the beginning of the end of our patience with the park, especially since we spotted lots of other people taking pictures with their mobile phones without issue. When we eventually made it into the pre-boarding area we listened to a five minute long recorded announcement about ride safety repeated in English, Japanese, and Mandarin Chinese, before taking our seats in the main ride vehicle where another two and a half minute long spiel was recited (in Japanese only) by a cast member. This monologue, delivered after seat belts were secured, clearly explained why we'd had to wait for as long as we had, and it cannot have been important; if it had been, why wasn't it repeated in English too? The on-ride photograph was as hilarious as it was telling; the Japanese in the car were all screaming excitedly, while Megan and I looked worn down and fed up. The wait might have been easier to forgive for a good ride, but the programme in use today was way too short, consisting of two short drops and one full height drop for a combined duration of no more than twenty seconds.
The newest attraction in the park is Nemo & Friends SeaRider, a simulator ride that opened to the public on May 12. We used fast passes to avoid the worst of the queue, though it's worth noting that the merge point was a good fifteen minutes from the entrance. We were expecting a dark ride, but instead discovered a simulator that reused the old StormRider hardware with some upgrades, including high definition projections both on the main screen and virtual portholes on the side of our miniature submarine. The motions were controlled and gentle, a definite improvement over similar attractions, and the presentation was augmented with a number of water splash effects. The only disappointment was a Japanese only narrative without subtitles, though to be fair the plot would likely be obvious to anyone with a passing familiarity with either Finding Nemo or Finding Dory.
Our final port of call (pun intended) ended up being at Aquatopia, broadly described as the ride system from Pooh's Hunny Hunt on water. Light rain was falling at this point, resulting in no wait at all, and honestly I doubt we'd have bothered stopping otherwise; though the ride was a novelty it wasn't a particularly exciting one, and definitely not something I'd categorise as one of Disney's finer efforts. Megan's unenthusiastic pronouncement "Wow, we're looking at a waterfall" summarised the experience nicely.