Legoland Japan

15th September 2017

The newest park in the Legoland family opened in April of this year on a small plot of land close to Kinjo pier in Nagoya. The location of the site is about as good as one gets for a tourist attraction, in that it sits right next to a pedestrianised area filled with shops and restaurants, a popular museum operated by Central Japan Railways, and Kinjō-futō Station on the Aonami Line. The short walk from there to the park entrance took us past Furniture Dome, Laundry Town and the improbably named Swanky Market, which we'd almost certainly have investigated if the day hadn't been tight on time. I'd fully expected admission tickets to carry a premium reflecting the Lego brand, but I was taken aback by the ¥6900 (~€52) price per adult charged at the gate for a single day. This sum made it the second most expensive park of our trip, coming in five percent higher than the daily rate charged at the Tokyo Disney Resort (though still well clear of the prices at Universal Studios Japan). I've since discovered that there are ten percent discounts for online purchases, though it's worth noting that these have to be booked a week in advance and the dates cannot be changed.

Lego Group Shot

Our itinerary had us spending a maximum of two hours at the park, an estimate based on what we'd needed to enjoy Legoland Dubai at the start of the year. This guess turned out to be utterly inadequate for what is by some margin the most elaborate and detailed member of the Legoland family, with bright colours everywhere and things to discover around every corner. I particularly liked the many locally inspired models and jokes, including a miniature Godzilla ravaging a building, an elderly man reading a paper titled old news, a police officer writing a speeding ticket for a woman with comedy jewellery, and a passed out medieval knight sleeping off a few too many drinks. There were also cast members wandering the park in elaborate Lego costumes, including one resembling an ancient Egyptian mummy and another dressed as Count Dracula, and all were happy to pose for photos. We stayed thirty minutes longer than intended, and would have remained longer still were it not for our already constrained afternoon at Nagashima Spa Land; those planning their own trips should take note.

Our first stop was at Miniland, a collection of model buildings including many local landmarks connected by a miniature Shinkansen. A landscaped version of Mount Fuji stood at one end, surrounded by a traditional village with a temple at its center. At the other end was a scale model amusement park with an unequivocally Japanese ferris wheel with sealed cars, a wave swinger, a carousel, and a variety of other attractions. There was a streetscape based loosely on Akihabara that was fabulously detailed, with whimsical billboards that the builders evidently had a lot of fun creating. There was even a fully working Lego Submarine with a sign indicating that it could dive up to sixty-five centimetres.

The park currently has two coasters placed side by side. The better looking of the two and the easier to photograph is Dragon's Apprentice (#2384), a second generation Zamperla 80STD with a castle turret in its centre and a hugely elaborate train sculpted to look like a Duplo model. There were a few minor bumps around the course, though nothing unmanageable, and in any case the overall comfort level was far better than earlier models. With that done we went for two laps on the larger Dragon Coaster (#2385), a cut back version of the usual installation that was enjoyable despite having no indoor drop section and no queue through a castle building. From there we went to the Lost Kingdom Adventure target shooter, which featured the same empty base arrangement seen in Dubai, presumably to allow for expansion at some point in the future if required. The lion's share of points obtainable during the ride were from a purple target in the final scene, and while I still lost to Megan (as usual) the difference was very small indeed.

Our favourite attraction in the park by some margin was Submarine Adventure, an underwater exploration featuring actual sea life rather than the visual trickery found on the 20000 Leagues ride at Tokyo DisneySea. The boarding process involved descending several steps into a sealed ride vehicle which then proceeded through an elaborately designed tank with a variety of Lego models and hundreds of real fish. Photographs were actively encouraged, and we rode twice in order to get the best possible selection. (Readers retracing our steps should be aware that the best view is on the right hand side of the submarine based on the direction of travel; those who only have time to ride once should make an effort to sit there).

Our final stop before leaving was at the Observation Tower, memorable chiefly for the air conditioning units located directly above the seats. The view from the apex wasn't particularly good, but it was still a treat to sit for a few minutes in a gentle stream of cool air.

Observation Tower


Nagashima Spa Land

15th September 2017

It is possible to travel between Legoland Japan and Nagashima Spa Land by public transport, but the quickest routing goes via the centre of Nagoya, takes ninety minutes, and involves two trains and a bus. We decided it was much more time efficient to take a taxi across the bay, which Google Maps estimated to be a fifteen minute journey. The fare came to ¥6000, which divided four ways wasn't drastically more than the slower option would have been. When we arrived at the park I thought briefly about trying to save some money by using individual ride tickets, but decided that it was more trouble than it was worth. This turned out to be the right decision, as we rode enough to pass the break-even point.

The park has a pair of Mack mice placed side by side, but the two sides are only run together on busy days. On my visits in 2005, 2007, and 2015 the right hand track was in use with the left hand track standing idle. Today however it was the other way round. I've always made a point of counting coasters with more than one track as a single credit, applying this rule without discrimination to parallel layouts like Steeplechase and drastically different routings like the late and much lamented Dragon Challenge. This approach makes logical sense for rides that share common supports and hardware, but it has never been ideal for standalone attractions that just happen to be placed side by side. The problem became apparent to me some years ago when Bobbejaanland sold one of its two mice to Parque de Atracciones de Madrid, splitting a ride that I'd considered a single credit between two countries. The same issue has also cropped up at German fairgrounds, where travelling mice have been known to operate both side by side and separately. After a lot of deliberation I've decided that Wild Mouse (Left) (#2386) is a new credit for my list, and I promise that's not just because we waited thirty minutes for it!

With that out of the way we headed over to the latest addition to the park, a brand new S&S Free Spin that the park has christened Arashi (#2387). There was a sign at the entrance advertising a thirty minute wait next to another indicating priority access with a zero minute wait could be purchased from a vending machine for ¥500 per person. The money-grabbing nature of this messaging was made even more shameless by the fact that the left hand side of the station was not in use today, reducing capacity to four per train instead of eight, while presumably also increasing sales. The queue appeared to be moving very slowly, and with that in mind we decided it was worth buying priority tickets. Moments later we were standing in the pre-boarding area.

The reason for the painfully slow throughput became apparent moments later as we were required to put everything that could possibly be considered as a loose object into a locker. With that done, a member of staff used a hand-held metal detector on each of us in turn to make sure that we'd not kept anything with us. It can be argued that these steps make sense for a ride like a Free Spin, though it would be infinitely more efficient to do them before guests arrive in the ride station. As it was it took a little over three minutes from the point that we passed through the gate to the point that our train was dispatched, giving a total throughput of less than eighty guests per hour.

Money Grab

Last year I wrote about my first experience of a Free Spin, describing it as "somewhat tamer than I'd expected". This version of the design was a very different beast, possibly because its balance was upset by having four empty seats. Regardless of the cause the car began to snap backwards and forwards in a horribly violent way from the moment it left the lift hill, almost as if the seats were spring-loaded. Meanwhile the restraints became progressively tighter, adding additional discomfort to the mix. As if that were not enough, there was a metallic protrusion on the bottom of Megan's seat that scraped skin off her ankle. The result was a disaster that I wouldn't have ridden a second time if paid to do so, and a definite contender for the worst coaster in Japan.

We decided to recuperate by going to Steel Dragon 2000. There was a sign at the entrance indicating a scheduled thirty minute maintenance check at 2:00pm, but we decided to join the queue anyway. Sure enough the ride closed down at the appointed time while two engineers made their way up the lift hill with their toolboxes. Twenty minutes later they were back at ground level having finished their task, and they headed away. One might have hoped that the ride would reopen early, but it wasn't to be; the operators stood around doing nothing for ten minutes until the end of the designated window. Once again it was necessary to move everything to a locker before being scanned with a hand-held metal detector, though in this case we did at least have the benefit of a decent coaster. The first drop was absolutely magnificent, as was the second. There was a minor rattle in the helix section of the layout, but not enough to impede overall enjoyment.

We disembarked and headed to White Cyclone, one of just four wood coasters remaining in Japan following the demolition of Aska last year. We arrived at the entrance to find no queue whatsoever, which in hindsight should have told us something. With a completely open choice we selected the front car. The section of track between the station and the base of the lift was uncomfortable, but it was nothing compared to the rest of the course which was both dull and brutally rough in equal measure. When we came to a halt on the brake run I spoke my mind, declaring that there was nothing wrong with the ride that couldn't have been fixed with a firebomb. By this stage we were basically out of time, as we had to retrieve our luggage in time for a series of trains bringing us to our overnight hotel next to Narita Airport. However, we managed to shoehorn in a quick run through the Haunted House before bidding goodbye to Bruno and Anita and heading to the exit.