Let’s start this with a disclaimer. Growing up in Southern California in the 1970s – Disney was a big part of my childhood. You could almost say that Disney defined my childhood. My mom’s first job was working for Walt Disney at Disneyland. She was one of the original mermaids in the Disneyland lagoon. My 8th Grade class took part in grad-night where all the Southern California 8th graders have a closed park just for them. My cousin and I dropped acid and went into Disneyland – possibly more than once when we were teenagers where we literally tripped out on Star Tours and Michael Jackson’s Captain Neo show. And of course, Sunday Nights and wide wide world of Disney as a little kid were key family time during the good part of my childhood. So, Disneyland sort of stands out as the good part of my childhood which is in high contrast to what became a pretty serious nightmare of a childhood. My childhood turned into an awful nightmare – so, becoming a father myself eleven years ago, it was essential that I share the good parts but not the bad parts – and not surprisingly, Disneyland became a part of that.
The first time I took Sophia to Disneyland was magical. She was exactly that age where the princesses were real and the characters were come to life versions of cartoons. Money was tight and this trip strapped me, but it was worth it. Earlier this year, as my marriage was becoming an obvious failure, I wanted to make sure that there were happy memories of this time for her – so we took a father daughter trip to Disney California Adventure which was really fun. Picking her up from Morocco and starting our trip halfway around the world – she really wanted to go to Paris Disneyland – and I admit, the allure of seeing a foreign Disneyland hit me too. So, I booked us in and we had a great time at Paris Disneyland and Walt Disney Studios Park. Somehow, she was still a little kid but also able to go on some of the better rides (with some cardboard stacked in her shoes) even if the characters no longer interested her. At this point, I was starting to understand just how big the Disneyland monster really is and how all the parks are very much the same but have little quirks that make them different. This is the first Christmas that our nuclear family is broken (we live apart for about six months now) and I didn’t really want to deal with the Daddy does Christmas this way and Mommy does Christmas this way thing – so with my wife’s permission, I booked Sophia and I this trip to Japan. I wanted it to be a totally foreign non-Christmas Christmas and this fit the bill. If Tokyo Disneyland had been the only option – I probably would have skipped it but since the other theme park here is completely unique in the world – Tokyo Disney Sea – I had to see it. I decided that for once, we would experience Disneyland the way the rich folks do by staying in a Disney Hotel, enjoying the golden hour, and being one of those Disney families that is so idealized. Even though it was October when I booked, the only Disneyland Hotel left available was Disney Celebration – which was the cheapest option but still more than I’ve ever paid for a hotel. I booked us for two nights. The first day we would go to Disneyland and the next we would go to Disney Sea. The Disney Sea day fell on my birthday and I liked the idea of celebrating my 51st in a unique Disney theme park.
So- all of that to explain – I’m not a Disney nut, but I’ve been to six Disney parks now in three different countries and in 2022, I’ve been to five different Disneyland parks. Maybe I am a Disney nut – but here’s the thing. I don’t really like Disneyland. The food inside is generally about as good as you get at a convenience store but priced like a fancy restaurant. The lines are long and the crowds are thick – which are two of my least favorite things. The rides aren’t very fun for me and generally, after a 45 minute wait, a five minute ride simply bothers me for the unbalanced aspect of it. I’m not wealthy so it also bugs me to have to pay hefty park fees and then in order to not wait two hours in line to have to pay $20-$30 to fast pass or to wait in line and watch the wealthy ones buying fast pass walk right by you. For the record, that’s hypocrisy because I do splurge for fast passes (at least a couple) and it feels good to walk by the big line, so I get it. I’ve never been a big fan of Disney gender stereotypes and there are definitely issues with cultural appropriation in most things Disney. In truth, I sort of hate Disneyland and Disney. So, it’s complicated because as I said – some of my happiest childhood memories are associated and also – my kid really has a blast in every park we’ve gone to. She doesn’t mind the food, the lines, the wealth disparity, the cultural appropriation, the cost or anything else. She’s simply happy to be there. So I roll with it and that makes me happy to be there too.
We had arrived early at the hotel and stored our bags (checkin is a firm 3 pm) before heading to Disneyland. The Celebration Hotel is the ghetto hotel of Disneyland. No characters, no restaurant except an expensive self serve cafeteria, no instant coffee in the rooms (but they sell it at the in-house convenience store), and no tram – instead you can ride a bus to the park. There are no facilities to speak of except the convenience store and a room filled with vending machines or QR code purchases. I would never ever never recommend that anyone stay in Disney Celebration. The room was nice but you could get a nicer one, closer to the parks, with actual hotel amenities for less than half the price at a non-Disney hotel. Also, Disney Sea doesn’t have a golden hour – so the prime reason for staying in a Disneyland hotel is null and void if that is the park you are going to after a night of sleep. There is no allowance made for guests at Disney Celebration. They’re like ‘You booked Budget Disney so fuck off’ – okay, maybe not that harsh because they are ultra polite Japanese, but you get the point. Also – if you are going to go to Disneyland for the golden hour – make sure you leave at least an hour early because the shuttle bus fills up fast and you may have to wait for the next one.
As far as Tokyo Disneyland, there were some favorites there that I can’t deny. The Jungle Cruise was particularly good. The boat ‘driver’ was wacky and fun. She over-exaggerated everything in a very Japanese way and though we don’t speak Japanese (or maybe because) it was awesomely fun. In American style, I was taking a video and then noticed no one else had their cameras out – I think filming might be forbidden – so I put mine away after noticing that. The ride and the ‘guide’ were both amazing.
The Country Bear Jamboree was insanely good. How can there be anything better than hillbilly country bears singing and making jokes IN JAPANESE!!!! Winnie the Pooh’s Hunny Hunt was perhaps the closest I’ve felt to being on an acid trip when I wasn’t on one and the Nightmare Before Christmas haunted mansion was an amazing change to an old favorite. The Enchanted Tiki Room was fun but I prefer the original to this one – they threw Stitch in the mix – Sophia loved that, by the way. We missed several of the biggest rides – the lines were just too overwhelming and I couldn’t figure out how to add our tickets to the app to get the fast passes.
Tokyo Disney Sea is amazing. The architecture, the volcano, the lagoons, the different geographic locations- all of it is mind blowing. I particularly loved Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – does Disney own the rights to Jules Verne? I have no idea but it was amazing to find them here – even though they might have been better suited in France. Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage was a beautiful ride- something like It’s a Small World but less creepy and better. The Nemo and Friends Searider was Sophia’s favorite (sort of like Star Tours but Nemo themed) and the Big Band Beat ‘Broadway’ style show was enjoyable for both of us and offered a nice chance to get off our feet. The lines for Soaring, Tower of Terror, and Toy Story Mania were never less than 120 minutes that we saw (same for Journey but we fast passed (Premier Access) that one). Indiana Jones and Raging Spirits were both around 65-95 minutes for most of the day. Neither of these offered Premier Access).
The atmosphere and beauty of this park is the biggest draw in my opinion. Oh, also the popcorn. There are dozens of different popcorn stands and different flavors of popcorn. We had curry which Sophia didn’t like and we both enjoyed the Garlic Shrimp popcorn. As far as the rest of the food – meh- we had a nice omelet over rice with curry on day 1 and shared a steak meal on day 2. They were park food – not terrible for a theme park.
Would I have come here by myself? No way. I would have been exploring Japan. Do I regret it? No way. It was fun to experience these (and all the others) with my daughter and the memories really will last a lifetime. What would I have done different? Skip the Disney Celebration hotel and either go budget or go expensive Disney hotel. This in between one is not worth it on any level.
So that’s it. I don’t think I ever need to go to another Disney theme park again – except if I am in Florida I’ll need to go to Epcot and of course, the Chinese ones must be a real trip….