Tokyo Disney Sea: Culture Shock

The school year ended and Spring Break was upon me, but I had forgotten to plan anything in the chaos that was the last few weeks of school. The class that graduated was an amazing class. It was difficult to say good-bye.

grad sakura 02 small

So as Spring Break neared, I thought I should temper that sadness with something awesome: DISNEYLAND.

Getting there was a little more difficult than I expected, probably because I don’t usually procrastinate. But get there I did.

A Short History of “Tokyo” Disney Sea

Just like in California—with Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure—there are two connected Disney parks in Japan. Japan has Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea (usually abbreviated by my students as TDL and TDS, respectively).

It appears that Tokyo is slowly taking over Japan, because the Tokyo Disney Resorts are in Chiba.

Poor Chiba. Chiba Prefecture is always trying to get tourists to come here—with their michi-no-ekis and their outlet mall built specifically to lure in people from Tokyo—but they have to name everything after Tokyo in order to get anyone to come. Boo.

Tokyo Disney Sea opened in 2001, and surprisingly, it is not owned and operated by Disney. Another company licenses everything from Disney, which I expect is terribly expensive. Why doesn’t Disney run the parks?

The Wikipedia article on TDS is pretty informative about what makes the park special. Briefly: it was made with adults in mind (so you can drink!), and it was modeled after plans to build a second park in Long Beach, California. So it is a Disney park, even though it’s not run by The Walt Disney Company.

How to Get There

The Tokyo Disney Resorts are—surprise, surprise—accessible by train. That is what makes Japan so awesome—you can get almost anywhere by train. Even Disneyland! In California, you pretty much have no choice but to drive.

In Japan, you can take the Musashino Line straight to the front of the park. So convenient.

True to Japanese style, you can buy your tickets at a convenience store machine. It was a little confusing for me, but I just asked the clerks for help, and they knew exactly what to do. The tickets are called “passports.” Make sure you choose the right park!

Since the park is “for adults” (kids can go, too, obviously, but the rides are just more intense—for Disney, anyway), it’s often referred to as a “couples park.” From what I saw, I think that means that the seats are all arranged in two or four seats per row/car. So it’s best to go in even-numbered groups. My group was four people total, and we didn’t run into any problems—it was perfect. (There was a group of seven ahead of us at one point, and that seemed a little crazy, but I’m sure it’s fine.)

TokyoDisneySea 001

The Cost

Tickets to TDS are 6200 yen (approx. 62 USD) for one day, with discounts for children and seniors (I didn’t see any student discounts). This is a great price, when compared to California Disneyland’s $92. It was especially great for me that the tickets are cheaper, because I have to pay about 4000 yen for the train rides.

Despite all that, I feel like I saved so much money, because I was a thrifty muthafucka.

Here’s how much I spent:

Disney Sea 2014 Mar 26 yen
Train to Maihama 1890
Disney Sea ticket 6200
Lunch 760
Brownie (oops) 300
Train to Tomiura 1890
Total 11040

How did I do that, despite spending 13 hours in the park?

Look, you’re cute, but you are something I will never use again.

Look, Stitch Hat, you’re cute, but you are something I will never use again.

I brought my own food, snacks, and a water bottle. I only bought the smallest lunch available (which was a lot of food, luckily), and I did buy that one brownie. It was the water bottle that really saved me, because the drinks were way overpriced (and impossible to get, but I’ll get to that). I filled up my bottle at some drinking fountains (found only in ride lines) and at the restaurant (which offered free water), and I was fine all day with that.

Besides not buying food, I also didn’t waste money on any of the overpriced merchandise. I mean, sure, Disney hats are cute, but really? Do you really need that? For forty dollars? No. I’ve read that many people borrow hats from their friends or family when they go, so they won’t be tempted to buy any more hats. I just used my superpower of self-control and didn’t buy any useless junk.

There are ways to save money. But there is another cost at Tokyo Disney Sea: Time.

You may have noticed that the title of this entry mentions culture shock. Well, that brings me to…


At Disneyland in California, I never waited longer than an hour (maybe an hour and a half) for any ride, even in peak summer times. (Except perhaps Space Mountain, but that’s a very special ride.) Many people refuse to wait longer than an hour—they’ll just not go on that ride. When the Finding Nemo ride first opened, my friends and I were super excited about it. When we got there, we saw that the wait was 90 minutes—90 minutes!—and we said, “SCREW THAT WE’RE GOING TO SPACE MOUNTAIN.”

At Tokyo Disney Sea, on an overcast day in March, on a day that this website predicted would be moderately crowded (granted, also in the middle of Spring Break, and the prediction was wrong), the average wait time for everything—and I mean everything, from kiddie rides to snack stands—was 220 minutes.

220 minutes. For those of you who can’t do math (like me), that’s four hours.

A four hour wait! For a goddamn churro! For a bottle of water! For a kiddie ride! What is this madness?!?!

I was shocked. I was outraged. It was completely unacceptable that the wait times were so long. There was nothing we could do about it, so whatever, but what? What? Really? No. Just no.

That should not happen. If the wait times for your attractions (and snack stands, for crying out loud!) are four hours long, you have a problem that you need to fix.

My friends were apparently shocked by my shock, because they kept insisting that this was normal, that it’s normal to wait for four hours for every ride. How are you supposed to enjoy the park if you’re spending all day waiting in line?! WHAT IS THIS MADNESS?

madness at TDS

My friends said that Japanese people love queuing. Even in MMOs, they are infamous for standing in line. And I have seen people standing outside in the rain in Harajuku for some shop or other. So maybe they just endure it?

I don’t understand it. I’ve always hated standing in line. I can be patient, and standing in line that day was unavoidable, so I accepted it pretty quickly, but if I can avoid it, I do. It’s one of the reasons I always brought my own lunch in high school. I never wanted to stand in line for the cafeteria lunch. Ugh. LINES!

So how do you save time and enjoy the park if you have to spend four hours in line for every goddamn thing?

Well, apparently there’s this nifty little invention called Fast Passes, which I thought you could only get if you got stuck on Splash Mountain for an hour until they finally let you off to give you a Fast Pass onto Indiana Jones. (True story. Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah still haunts me to this day.)

Fast Passes are a must get at Tokyo Disney Sea. I have never used them before, so it was all new to me. My friends had to explain it to me. I felt like a noob. But also a hipster?


I was going to Disneyland and getting on rides quickly before Fast Passes were cool. (Me and my sister, circa mid-1990s.)

Getting Fast Passes is easy enough, as long as they aren’t sold out (figuratively; they’re free). And they often sell out by noon. BY NOON! Ridiculous!

Just go to the Fast Pass station in front of the ride, scan your passport/ticket, and a Fast Pass pops out. You can’t get more than one Fast Pass at once (per ticket), and it will say on your Fast Pass at what time you can get another one (for another ride). I believe the rule is three per day, so choose wisely.

We got a Fast Pass right away, because by 9:00, the wait times were already 220 minutes. And they stayed that way all day.

Why? Why are the wait times so long?

I have a theory: The park has so few rides, so everyone has to be in the few lines that there are. At Disneyland in California, there are tons of rides besides the big, famous ones, and those take up a lot of space. That way, everyone is spread out. But I’m not sure. Maybe we were just there on a bad day.

Toward the end of the day (after dark), the lines started to dwindle to normal length. We even got to buy snacks! (That’s when the brownie happened.) Even so, we only went on 7 rides the entire day. Seven! I can do three times that at Disneyland in California. Madness.

There is no right order to enjoy the attractions at TDS, but here’s what we did.

Attractions & Feigned Dissatisfactions

Our first stop was Indiana Jones. At 9:00, the line was already over 200 minutes long, so we got a Fast Pass and then went back to Storm Rider, which we had passed on the way and which only had a 20 minute wait. When we got back to it, though, it was a 45 minute wait. That was doable, and it gave us enough time to get back to Indy in time for our Fast Passes, so we hopped into line.

On Storm Rider, you go on a tour of a storm with a large group. You fly into a big storm—it was a level 5—in this helicopter-like ship, and it’s perfectly safe because they have a bomb that diffuses the storm! Totally safe! We were in good hands. Nothing could possibly go wrong…

And then everything went wrong. The ship in front of us got struck by lightning right away, we lost power, the bomb hit us instead, smashing a hole right into the ship, and blew up in front of us, and then we crashed nose-first into the water.

I don’t care how positive the captain was feeling about the success of the flight. I am pretty sure we died.

After we died, we got a second Fast Pass for Raging Spirits. Then we Fast-Passed our way onto Indiana Jones Adventure: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and it thankfully did not feature Shia Lebouf at all. Instead it featured such brand-new, never-before-seen-in-an-Indiana-Jones-ride adventures as: riding in a Jeep, getting attacked by a giant snake, almost getting smushed by a boulder, driving over a bridge, and a giant crystal skull.

After Indy’s archaeological expedition in which something went wrong and many things were familiar (deja vu?), we Fast Passed onto Raging Spirits, which was a “wooden” coaster with a loop and… sort of without a theme. I’m guessing something went wrong though.

TokyoDisneySea 006

Next, we took a Journey to the Center of the Earth, and boy, was it a long journey.

TokyoDisneySea 029

We lined up for Fast Passes, but there was not much hope: The signs said that the current Fast Pass time was for 9:15 – 10:00 PM. The very last Fast Passes. Unfortunately, just as we reached the Fast Pass machines, they announced that they were out of Fast Passes. The girl in front of us was just about to put her ticket in, too. She looked so upset. She couldn’t believe it. She kept looking at her boyfriend with the saddest eyes saying, “What? No. What? Really? We were so close! Noooo!”

It seemed that all of the Fast Passes were sold out—we checked Tower of Terror before returning to Journey—so there was nothing we could do.

wait time

We stood in line for Journey to the Center of the Earth, just at the 200 minute wait point. The line moved at a torturous pace and stopped for a long time, and then, quite suddenly, we began to move again. We moved so fast, we went from outside to inside, winding around the empty cavernous queuing area. It looked like something had happened inside, and they had cleared everyone out before letting us in. We never found out what happened, so we suspected the worst—that a dinosaur had escaped and killed everyone, and that they cleaned it all up and sent everyone off park grounds for “medical reasons,” where they died, before letting us in.

Because no one dies at Disneyland.

Once we journeyed into the center of the Earth, we saw Gohma!


Well, it looked like Gohma anyway. From

The park claims to have a “nautical” theme, but throughout the day, we encountered the same problem. In all of the adventures we went on, something went wrong! On Storm Rider, our ship lost power and the bomb misfired. On Indiana Jones, we got attacked during a simple archaeological expedition. On Raging Spirits, we… were raged at by spirits. On Journey to the Center of the Earth, Gohma attacked us in a place that I thought was supposed to be completely molten.

This park has problems. They really need to fix all their rides. What does it say about us that all these thrill rides always have something go wrong?

We were quite tired, so we headed over to Hightower Hotel—also known as the Tower of Terror—where we hoped to get some rest.

TokyoDisneySea 031

Yeah, that looks like a nice hotel. Nice, peaceful, and not haunted at all.

Unfortunately, the wait for the hotel was also dreadfully long—you guessed it, 220 minutes. It sprinkled a little while we were waiting in line, but it never fully rained on us, so I suppose the hotel had that going for it.

Unfortunately, it had little else to attract hotel guests, and I do not recommend the hotel to anyone. First of all, the garden was a wreck. Harrison Hightower, an explorer and collector (read: colonialist, looter, cultural thief, kleptomaniac), decorated the garden with exotic flowers and statues from all over the world—but unfortunately, it seems that after his death, no one bothered to upkeep the garden.

The painting shows the statue as it was, and in the back you can see that it's lost its head.

The painting shows the statue as it was, and in the back you can see that it’s lost its head.

It appeared that some of the statues broke at some point, but no one fixed them! For this statue, they even just put its head in its hand, instead of reattaching the head!

TokyoDisneySea 039

This one is being propped up with a stick! Dreadful.

My friends and I were greatly offended by the state of the garden. It was even worse when we got inside and saw what a conceited man Hightower was. There were pictures of him everywhere—portraits in varying styles, paintings of his great conquests (read: stealing cultural artifacts from native peoples). It was ridiculous. We couldn’t wait to just take the elevator up to our rooms and relax…

And then an African god, whose idol Hightower had stolen, attacked our elevator and we plummeted to our deaths. Well, I never! This hotel is getting zero stars on Yelp.

An Aside

…In all seriousness, I had a mild panic attack. I don’t have a phobia, but I’m… uncomfortable with heights (more specifically, falling from them). I’ve avoided rides like Tower of Terror (Supreme Scream at Knotts, etc.), and now I know it was for a good reason. I thought ToT would be okay, because it has a story to build up the ride and it’s inside a building (a very tall building…). But that didn’t make it better. I freaked out right before the elevator dropped, and then I panicked the whole ride through. Afterwards, I stumbled off the ride and huddled against a wall and probably scared everyone around me. It was awful. I’d never had a panic attack before.

I can see why people would like rides like that—I got the adrenaline rush, believe me—but it’s just not for me. And possibly for other people afraid of heights. O____O;;

I must be a masochist, because despite all that, I want to try it again. I don’t want it to beat me. I want to enjoy the ride, like I enjoy all other rollercoasters. Because before the actual ride was amazing. The setup, the scenery… The building was beautifully built, and the details were superb. If you can stand the type of ride, I recommend going on it. I honestly don’t know if I can do it again, and that makes me a little sad. And embarrassed. ^^;

Getting Back on the Rides

When we got out of our hotel (sans souls, probably), it was dark, and there weren’t as many people standing in line. (I would have warned them about how awful our stay was, but I was still shaky lacked a soul.) We decided to try our luck with the last few coasters we missed, even though we only had about two hours left before the park closed.

When we reached 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the line was only 45 minutes long—a perfectly acceptable wait time, thank you very much. We got to go down to the bottom of the ocean in small submarines, to look for new organisms.

TokyoDisneySea 020

And something went wrong.

An octopus attacked us—but we were saved by… mermaids? Aliens? Gremlins?

You decide.

You decide.

When we resurfaced, we went right back under water again at Flounder’s Flying Fish Coaster, which I think he stole from Gadget.

And thus, completely dry and having successfully ridden all the rides we meant to, we ended our day at Disney Sea.

Park Experience: Would I Go Again?

I’m really glad I got to go, and I had an awesome day (in spite of a certain hotel…). I love Disneyland, and being able to go while I was in Japan was wonderful.

But I feel like I didn’t get to experience as much in the Tokyo park as in the Anaheim park. There is so much detail in everything—the walkways, the buildings, the rides—but I was too busy standing in line to be able to really look around. I wish I had time to admire the artistry of the park, because seriously—Imagineers are geniuses. The tiny details really make the magic.

I’m glad I went once, but it’s probably not something I’ll repeat, unless we actually schedule it on an empty, empty day. Otherwise, it’s probably not worth a second visit.

Unless you REALLY like standing in line. If not, wait until you get to California.

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