Monthly Archive: September 2015

A trip to Tokyo Disneyland

Today, I went with a good friend to Tokyo Disneyland. This is my third time visiting Tokyo Disneyland, and my fifth time in the Tokyo Disney Resort in general – which is to say, I’ve been to Disney Sea twice as well. If you’re not familiar with Tokyo Disney Resort, it’s divided into two parts – a Disneyland much like the others, and Disney Sea with slightly more adult theming and thrilling rides. My first time in Tokyo Disneyland, I was only small, around six years old. The next time I went was in 2005, when I also went to Disney Sea. I went to Disney Sea again almost exactly two years ago, but that time I didn’t go to the main Disneyland part. So this was actually my first time in the Disneyland park in 10 years. 20150926 (1) The day began with a slight disappointment, but was fantastic overall. The disappointment was in the big central hub of the park, the Cinderella Castle. As we had only a short time before a big parade, we decided to go into the attraction there, because I remembered it very well. It seemed a bit off when there were no mentions of dragons or mirrors on the map, and ‘Cinderella’s Fairy Tale Hall’ didn’t sound like what I remembered. In the end, it was a lame walk-through exhibit with some iffy artistic representations of the Cinderella Story and then a glass slipper and a throne to pose on for Instagram pictures. We watched some babies being dangled over the slipper and then left. It turns out that the Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour closed in 2006. I’m a little sad about this. Firstly, it would have been perfect for Hallowe’en, being themed around Disney villains. Secondly, it was about the only place to see any Black Cauldron references in any Disneyland attraction. Thirdly, my family enjoys an anecdote about when we went when I was small and the Japanese guide was trying to urge us to run away from a dragon and we were just standing there oblivious, nobody in the family then having any Japanese. But fourthly and most importantly, I miss it because it was a cool attraction! It had the awesome Magic Mirror, a big dragon and then a huge Horned King. I’m sad it’s gone and replaced by a rather unappealing walk-through. Especially since this was my companion’s first time in any sort of Disneyland, and that will always be his very first experience of a Disneyland attraction! IMG_2175 After that, though, things got better. As the attraction had only taken a very short time we went to the new(ish) Star Wars attraction, the simulator ride Star Tours, in which a bungling C3PO had to fly a passenger shuttle through a series of misadventures. It was well done and pretty fun, but the reason it was fun was mostly the other guests behind us who got very, very excited and were screaming away all through it. The ride was only so-so, really, a decent simulator ride with a cute bumbling-robot plot, but forgettable. My favourite part was the hitchhiking droids as a tribute to the Haunted Mansion ghosts. IMAG0850 Outside, the Happiness is Here parade was fun and up-tempo, with several genuinely impressive floats. I particularly liked the enormous Queen of Hearts, though Aladdin’s elephant from the Prince Ali sequence was also impressive. It was surprising to see Mary Poppins and Aristocrats floats, but nice to see lesser-represented properties. It was a classic parade experience, and I can’t fault the enthusiasm of the face characters. IMG_2254   After that we went to the Stitch-themed store, Stitch being vastly more popular in the Far East than in the West and able to carry whole sections of the park alone. Bought a nice little folder and a T-shirt there. IMG_2377 The big box to tick was The Haunted Mansion, because after all it’s the run-up to Hallowe’en. There was a longer queue than I think is average for that attraction, because everyone wanted to do the spooky business while the park is themed for Hallowe’en. The ride is a favourite of mine, with the Pepper’s Ghost effect in the dining room particularly satisfying. They’d overlaid the ride with Nightmare Before Christmas stuff, which detracted from the nice more realistic ambiance the ride has a bit, but I’m glad to have seen it both ways, and the large Jack Skellington animatronics were impressive. IMG_2317 It was about lunchtime by then, so we went to eat at the Plaza Pavillion restaurant, which had tasty burgers in a relaxing setting and was only a little painful for the wallet. IMG_2318 Satisfied with that, we watched most of the next parade, Happy Halloween Harvest, which was similar to the previous parade, only with lots more pumpkins. Decided to capitalise on a lot of the park being distracted by the event and left early to go on Big Thunder Mountain. Some rain started to fall while we queued, but luckily it stopped in time for us to ride the trusty old coaster. Disney rides are tame, especially compared with the likes of Fuji Q, and Tokyo Disneyland’s are significantly less thrilling than Disney Sea’s, but the light rollercoasters are still enjoyable and we’d chosen a good day to go, just after the national holidays of Silver Week but on a work/school day with light rain forecast. IMG_2334 Once we came off Big Thunder Mountain, it was time for something a little more restful, so we went to the nearby Tiki Lounge, which here was Stitch-themed. Naughty Stitch interrupts the usual singing birds and flowers, a nicely-made animatronic appearing from the centre to sing the staple Hawaiian songs, which sound funny in Japanese. IMG_2319 Fired up by this Stitch experience, we went on a quest to find the Stitch popcorn holder we’d seen around the park, which turned out to be in a corner of Tomorrowland we hadn’t checked. Happy we’d managed to grab one, I even munched on some of the more thickly-coated pieces of caramel popcorn. Normally I can’t stand popcorn! 20150926 (2) As we were there and needed somewhere to snack, plus the rain had started again, we decided to go into Space Mountain, which was probably the longest queue of the day but another of the staples of a Disneyland visit. Okay, I could say the same for A Small World, but honestly I wasn’t too bothered about going on that so we skipped it. Apparently I was delighted by it when I came as a very young child and insisted we went several times, so I’ve filled my lifetime Small World quota. Space Mountain was another one made more amusing by fellow passengers who were far more excited than the ride really warranted and screamed as if they genuinely thought they were going to die. After Space Mountain, we decided to get another snack, getting some vaguely Mickey-shaped nuggets and yummy cheesecake in the Tomorrowland Plaza restaurant. IMG_2351 From there, we crossed the park to go to Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s been updated with figures from the movies that are noticeably of a better quality than the original animatronics, but their integration was still good and the bigger rooms of the ride are still impressive. IMG_2345 From Pirates we crossed the park again ahead of another parade, the Electrical Parade Dreamlights. While the illuminated floats we saw were impressive, we felt like we’d seen plenty of parades and joined the quick queue of the Pooh’s Hunny Hunt ride. I remembered enjoying it in 2005, and while it was rather too short and I think they would have been better off theming it to A Blustery Day rather than Heffalumps and Woozles, but I really like how each cart has its individual path and moves about nice and fast. Though it wasn’t our last attraction of the day, it was our last ride, and even if it was tame, it was well-executed and I like the English Country House theming you pass through in the queues. IMG_2348 We got out of the ride at an excellent time to see the fireworks. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to another fireworks display this summer, so this actually scratched a bit of an itch for me. The display was short, but certainly more in the Western style – spectacular and intense, with thumping music playing and a big finale. There were some nice gimmick fireworks in there too, most notably ones that exploded in the shape of apples. IMG_2365 Next was the only attraction we’d managed to get Fastpass tickets for, the Stitch Encounter. Yes, more Stitch! Other than Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Stitch was certainly the best-represented character in the park, with two dedicated attractions, a presence in every parade, a shop of goods dedicated almost entirely to him and a popcorn holder. I’m pretty sure that the event before the park got themed for Hallowe’en was Stitch-related. IMG_2370 Stitch Encounter is a curiosity, as it entirely excludes non-Japanese speakers. The Tiki Lounge might be a little confusing if you don’t understand Japanese, but Stitch Encounter would just be incomprehensible. Essentially, it’s a stand-up routine with Stitch. It’s quite impressively-executed, and I think the park’s newest attraction: a big screen shows a CG Stitch, and someone who can do his voice is on-site to interact with the audience. The CG Stitch’s mouth syncs to whatever he says, and he can trigger various animations – joyful, sad, suspicious. He can also whip out a guitar for a sing-along. There’s a camera on the audience, and Stitch interacts with the visitors. He asks kids the names of their family and sings a nice song about ‘Ohana’, and then follows up with typical stand-up routine staples. One guy is singled out as a criminal and embarrassed, and a pretty girl is selected for Stitch to flirt with. A girl almost certainly with her boyfriend was obviously chosen, because then he can be teased, and more songs are sung with references to these groups. It’s safe stuff that can be repeated for any audience, but the Japanese audience members getting lightly embarrassed was very funny and it was cleverly done. It’s just a little surprising that without some degree of Japanese very little of this could be enjoyed. But hey, it’s not as though theme parks in other parts of the world, especially the English-speaking world, need to cater on any but a very basic level to non-native speakers. IMG_2374 We came out of Stitch Encounter during the Once Upon a Time projection show, where various scenes appear on the Cinderella Castle. That was a good finale, so after looking in another shop or two, we decided that was enough for our Disney trip, and headed home. IMG_2376 Not much has changed in ten years, really. I think Disney Sea changes much more dramatically – and will change more in the next few years with the Frozen world on its way. I think it’s a real shame the Mystery Tour is gone, because I thought it was a highlight of the park and its replacement is really not worth going to. As someone who likes Stitch, I think it’s gratifying that the character is so well-represented, though a little odd that I didn’t see a single item representing The Lion King. There are still no rides I would call thrilling, but that’s no really the point of Disney parks. The atmosphere is great, and it’s very easy to pass the time there and simply have a lot of fun. And that’s exactly what happened – and I’m grateful it did. IMG_2144

New camera lens

The first thing I bought when my book advance came through was a new lens for myself! A nice 35mm prime that goes down to f2.0: a step up from the trusty old Nifty Fifty. After picking up some new figures and essentials for my apartment, I decided to give the lens a roadtest. 20150908 02   First pic isn’t a new purchase, it was just a chance to try out the shallow depth-of-field. 20150908 03 New Ikea lighting fixture- no more having to set off the motion detector to keep lights on! 20150908 04 Haikyuu! figurine – I’ve wanted this for a while! 20150908 05 New bunny bowl and Stitch tumblers!