Sunday, May 4, 2008

Japan VI


We found out, not long before the trip, that Thursday was a national holiday during our trip (I still don't know what holiday, but I'll take a day off any time!). One of my classmates and I had arranged for the free shuttle to take us to the Disney resort at 6 in the morning. I'm not kidding. But we were so excited!

We had a quick breakfast at the "American" buffet, and met the shuttle in the lobby. The "shuttle" was actually a charter bus, and it ended up only us and another couple took the hour drive to the resort. The only bad part was, for the whole drive, we kept praying it would stop raining! At times, it was even raining pretty hard. I was fine with sprinkling, but full-on rain??

In all honesty, I am so, very, glad we went (we both were!). We were there by 7, had our tickets for only 58,000 yen, and waiting for the gate to open at 8. After a long, wet wait, some warm tea out of the vending machine, and a chat with a lovely woman who made some recommendations for lunch and shopping, we were in! Despite the weather, there were still a lot of people.

In the entry plaza, there is a huge, fantastic fountain. Then, there's an almost mini-Main Street with stores. Through that is the Mediterranean plaza, which looks like a beautifully recreated Italian city. Really, truly, amazing and beautiful. People streamed in the left and right paths, and it was almost like a solid canopy of umbrellas. We took some pictures trying to pretend that it wasn't raining. On looking at the map, we realized that the park wasn't really like Sea World - instead of a train that circles the park, a waterway with a boat goes around.

Our first stop was the Mysterious Island, a fake volcano that houses some rides in the center of the park (rather than a castle). The first sign we saw was for Journey to the Center of the Earth, and with a short line and it's warning that it was a thrilling ride, we were game! At first, it was pretty calm going through the track in the roughed-up looking car. Thrilling? I suppose some of the creatures were a little creepy. But the car turned the corner, a huge monster appeared, and it took off! Altogether, a pretty long and fun ride.

Next, we got fast passes (they have them there too!) for 20,00 Leagues Under the Sea, and wandered over to the Mermaid Lagoon and went on Flounder's coaster. Cheesy, I know - it was a roller coaster designed for really small children. But it was still a good time! If you remember in the Little Mermaid, when they first show the underwater kingdom - the land was designed just like that. It was truly impressive with all the different colors and spires. We didn't go in the building, though; neither of us were too anxious to meet Ariel. We then walked around the Lost River Delta, which is obviously popular with the Indiana Jones and Raging Spirits rides. The lines for each of these was almost two hours, with a near hour wait just for the fast pass, so we skipped them and went through the Arabian Coast. Even there, the details, decoration, and architecture were amazing. It was mostly shows there, so we went back for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

The cars (or pods, I should say) for the ride were tiny, but they were somehow not claustrophobic either. The seats faced left, right, and straight ahead; each sat two and was equipped with a flashlight that you could move around to check things out. The Atlantis creatures creeped me out some, but it was altogether a fun ride. Afterward, we ran around the "fortress" across the Mediterranean Harbor from the gate - and that's when tragedy struck. With all of my enthusiastic picture-taking on the trip, I had filled what I thought was a 2 gb memory card. I tried to delete as many pictures as I could on the way to Port Discovery, without losing too much. But what a time to lose your camera!!

Once at Port Discovery, we tried some chocolate-covered popcorn and got fast passes for Storm Riders. Instead of Autopia, they have Aquatopia, where little boats stop and spin around on random tracks in the water. It was greatly entertaining for me ... maybe I'm just a little simple. But it would be a great ride for the California Adventure lagoon ...

We strolled around the American Waterfront next, and tried to take Titanic-style pictures on the SS Columbia (which I swear is a copy of the Queen Mary, but a little smaller), and got to look out over the ocean (hello California!). At the information desk, they'd recommended we have lunch at a restaurant with a show, and that was our plan for lunch. But, we realized that the show was entirely in Japanese, so it would be kind of a waste on us. We instead got lunch at an Italian restaurant, which served mostly seafood pasta dishes. Italian food seems extra popular in Japan!

Before our fast pass time, we started shopping. We both had intentions of spending a lot of money on gifts there, but there simply weren't any souvenirs that mentioned Tokyo Disney, or even the standard Mickey and Disney stuff you find here. On a recommendation from lunch, we left the park and paid 150 yen to ride the monorail (!) to Bon Voyage, the "biggest" store at the resort. The ride was nice & dry (and worked just like the Tokyo train), but even after a very long time in the crowded store, we couldn't find anything, and it was getting closer to our shuttle pickup time. So, we headed back in to the park to go back and buy some of the things we'd seen earlier, much easier said than done. We managed to pick up a few things, and with time to spare, decided to use our Storm Rider fast passes.

The ride itself was a neat experience. It was a lot like Star Tours, but a bigger theater. Before you enter the theater, a cast member explains that we're all getting on a special plane that drops storm-diffusing bombs into the storm's eye. How do I know all this? An LED sign that scrolled the translation in English. Since everything was in Japanese all day, it was kind of nice to know what was going on. But the translation stopped there - in the theater, the entire dialogs was in Japanese. Surprisingly, the story was still easy to follow. And yes, I'm aware that it was simple to begin with. All I could understand was "Cap-tan Davis!" One thing though - the ride was a heck of a lot scarier and surprising not knowing what was going on at all. At one point (and I'm going to spoil it for you), this giant beam comes crashing through the ceiling. I screamed, my classmate laughed at me, and the little boy next to me probably thinks that all white ladies are crazy.

All in all, we didn't go on too many rides, did a lot of shopping, and it was totally worth it despite the rain and being soaked and cold all day. I think a few classmates were jealous even - I'm so glad we went!

When we got back to the hotel, I decided to really cap off the perfect day, in my opinion - a trip to the Hello Kitty mecca. I changed into some drier clothes and, in the lobby, ran in to another classmate who was just kind of hanging out. Instead, he decided to come with me (again, the crazy white lady). It ended up the store was only a couple of blocks away, and the rain mostly stopped. It was on Yasukuni-dori in Shinjuku, which is famous for all of the neon lights. And, I would have missed it, if I hadn't seen a sign on a building that said "Gift Gate," and it hadn't been right down the steps off the street! Unfortunately, it was a lot like the Sanrio stores here, but much more expensive (as one of my classmates had warned me). I did buy a couple of things, but stopped at the $30 t shirt. Really??? I was happy with my tiny tote, cookie cutters (which turned out to be rice forms) and shinkansen cup for Andy (which the shopkeeper kindly filled with jelly candy for me, since I couldn't read the sign).

On the way back we stopped to eat, meaning, I said "Let's try this place!" It was a little diner-style restaurant with a counter and a couple of booths, a little run down but still exciting. Again, they were kind enough to show us the English menu, and told us to order from a vending machine. This is apparently pretty common, but so fun! {ed: I heard later that franchises do this, to make sure all the money goes somewhere controllable.} I ordered a pretty simple beef bowl, around $5, and it was perfect for a rainy day. A few other classmates popped in a little later, and were just excited about the vending machine, the quick service, and excellent food. We exchanged stories from the free day - they'd experienced the subway at rush hour - and then headed back to the hotel. I caught up with my roommate, who toured the city, and we went to bed.

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