You've explored Mediterranean Harbor, walked the streets of American Waterfront, and seen the future in Port Discovery. Now, let's head inland. Remember to open Tokyo DisneySea's map (PDF) in a separate window to follow along as we tackle the inland half of this Japanese mega-park!
Lost River Delta
The trail from the seaside Port Discovery curves uphill and into a dense jungle. You’ve left the golden port of the future behind and entered Lost River Delta. Themed to a South American jungle outpost, Lost River Delta essentially takes place on two long, parallel islands. The first is a makeshift village with outposts, food carts, cantinas, and seaplane docks. It’s here that the port’s restaurants and shops are located, all under the guise of a village for archaeologists.
This is also where you’ll find the Hangar Stage, currently showing Mystic Rhythms. The Hangar Stage is indeed a large aircraft hangar made of scrap metal. Inside, nature has overrun with vines crawling through the steel body and forming a literal jungle on stage. The show features spirits of water, fire, and earth who interact, dance, and swim to jungle rhythms to demonstrate the power of nature.
The second long, parallel island of Lost River Delta is where the archaeologists who live on the first island work. Indeed, a number of mismatched, hastily constructed bridges cross the narrow river between the two and lead to an island of ancient temples, ruins, and angry spirits.
Raging Spirits is a roller coaster located there, diving in and out of a giant altar with flaming water running down its face. Apparently, the ride’s story has to do with a fire god and water god, though the exterior actually seems to hint to a temple idol and an amulet. Either way, it doesn’t matter – the ride is a clone of Paris’ Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril roller coaster. That is to say, it’s not very fast, exciting, or thrilling, but its single loop and picturesque placement make it popular.
Next door, in an expansive South American temple complex is Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull. Based on the original Indiana Jones Adventure in California, this enhanced-motion vehicle dark ride is a rough, off-roading adventure through the collapsing temple where a menacing Crystal Skull is sworn to protect the Fountain of Youth. (It should be noted, this ride is unrelated to the fourth Indiana Jones film, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and in fact predated it by a number of years.)
In California’s original ride, looking into the eyes of an ancient god triggers the temple to collapse and exposes the hideous, 40-foot tall skeletal face of the god whose Forbidden Eye shoots beams of light threatening to send you falling into a lava pit. Tokyo’s ride, technically, is nearly identical with a few changes (flat, blacklight walls in California’s are replaced with fully carved sets in Tokyo’s; an Indian cobra is replaced with a South American viper, etc) but the atmosphere and style of the ride are worlds apart. Instead of bursts of flame and a pool of lava, the centerpiece of Tokyo’s ride is a massive, stone-carved skull whose eyes drip green energy, which in turn powers a massive blue vortex – probably, the Fountain of Youth. The ride is just as wild and dark and was built with an even higher budget, but still isn’t the park’s signature ride (that’s a testament to how good the rides at Tokyo DisneySea really are, when you think about it).
A bridge from the Lost River Delta leads into Arabian Coast, briefly discussed earlier as perhaps a portion of Agrabah’s marketplace. Like the rest of DisneySea’s posts, Arabian Coast is styled from beginning to end, with elaborate back alleys and “unnecessary” theme elements that would quickly have been cut from any other park’s budget. The marketplace is, of course, comprised of narrow streets with familiar carpets drying on strings overhead. There are shops and food carts that look entirely like something from Disney’s Aladdin without outright claiming a connection.
The marketplace leads to a regal central courtyard with royal blue minaret towers surrounding and massive iron gates under stone arches. That plaza serves as the entrance to a 3-D / live action show in the Magic Lamp Theatre featuring the Genie (again, one of those characters that the Japanese seemingly-arbitrarily love and want to see anywhere and everywhere) interacting with a live action cast on stage. The show is in Japanese, but hand-held translating devices are available. On that note, those devices are available at Enchanted Tiki Room and the like, too, but it’s almost more fun to simply listen and follow the characters’ actions and reactions to understand the story.
The Caravan Carousel is a majestic two-story carousel at far end of the palatial plaza, surrounded in parapets as the carousel’s tigers and camels revolve under a massive blue and gold Arabesque dome.
On the outskirts of the marketplace are the crumbling ruins of Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage. In a sense, this dark ride is DisneySea’s answer to it’s a small world, a leisurely cruise through scenes populated with Audio Animatronics figures that are more or less waist-high. When the park opened in 2001, the ride was called The Seven Voyages of Sinbad and represented a rare miss – eerie blue-skinned sirens, a sinister gigantic genie, and murderous monkeys set a none-too-charming tone that was – frankly – terrifying, especially given the figures' lifelike quality. The “dolls” of Sinbad are among the most articulated and fluid animatronics ever created, which is especially impressive given their size. So when the shrieking monkeys with black eyes reared back to launch spears at the boat, it was honestly nerve-wracking.
The ride quickly closed and was retooled into its current “storybook” format, which elegantly reversed the ride’s dark atmosphere. The evil sirens hoping to lure you to your rocky doom became helpful mermaids. The evil giant became a smiling, singing ally, playing an oversized lyre instead of dangling Sinbad’s men over the river. A whale intent on devouring Sinbad became a friendly means of transportation. The monkeys (still terrifying) shake maracas instead of spears, and mash bananas instead of trying to tip a boulder onto the boat. Most noticeably, the ride was re-orchestrated with a new original song written and composed by Disney Legend Alan Menken, a sort of “in-the-round” song to match small world’s sweetly addictive tune. As well, Sinbad got a travel companion in the form of Chandu, a baby tiger who – like Duffy – flies off the shelves in all manner of merchandise. Now truly a new classic, it must be seen to be believed.
Sinbad represents yet another avenue in which Tokyo Disney brings new stories to life and creates characters who feel just as timeless and personable as the ones we’ve seen in Disney films. In other words, instead of relying on Aladdin, DisneySea builds a new mythology and a new cast of characters who – I’m certain – will become recognizable and loved in their own rights.
The final ride in Arabian Coast is Jasmine’s Flying Carpets, an aerial carousel type ride (in the vein of Dumbo or Astro Orbitor) that features flying carpets styled after Aladdin’s. Of course, in DisneySea style, the carpets fly around elegant pillars, golden peacocks, and ancient nozzles that appear to spray infinite streams of water into urns. The entrance to the ride is between two massive golden tiger statues – except Jasmine’s own Rajah has replaced one of the statues in a fun tribute to an often-forgotten character.
Seemingly nestled into a rocky outcropping of Mt. Prometheus is the pastel seashell castle populated by King Triton and his seven mermaid daughters. A number of rides (including a Vekoma roller skater family coaster) are built into the fanciful rockwork surrounding the castle, but the bulk of Mermaid Lagoon is actually located inside. Stepping into the castle, guests pass by a statue of Triton and then descend down a long ramp with rocky windows looking out over the undersea world. (One of my favorite elements: at the base of Triton’s statue is a hole down to the sea below where you can...
... glimpse the top of that massive grantite statue of Eric that Ariel so desired; later, you can enter the Grotto and visit the statue face-to-face. We just should've known, DisneySea!)
The innards of Triton’s Kingdom represent a bulk of the park’s family offerings: spinning teacup style rides, yo-yo swings, parachute towers, wet playgrounds, and a massive complex of caves and tunnels through the full-sized Ariel’s Grotto and Ursula’s Lair.
The massive indoor theme park also contains a restaurant, a gift shop (famously located in the mouth of a sleeping whale), and a theatre-in-the-round show whose no photo policy is so strict, it’s barely on YouTube. The show features massive overhead puppets, wirework, and an appearance by Ursula that’s literally indescribable.
Often considered the pinnacle of Disney Imagineering, Mysterious Island really is the heart of Tokyo DisneySea. The entirety of Mysterious Island is contained inside of a flooded caldera of Mt. Prometheus. Calderas are a naturally occurring landmark that comes about when a volcano’s lava chambers are emptied and the volcano collapses in on itself, creating a bowl. In fact, caldera comes from the Spanish word for cooking pot. And indeed, that describes Mysterious Island pretty well. The land can only be accessed by long, dark caves filled with flickering bronze lanterns. Once you reach the massive open interior, the land is comprised only of huge steel platforms around the flooded basin.
So 360-degrees, all around you are the rocky walls of the volcano. Cooled lava flows drip toward the water below, which bubbles constantly as steam seeps out of the mountain’s cracks. Geysers erupt regularly, splashing against the green oxidized copper platforms. One of DisneySea’s more famous details, the side of Mt. Prometheus is constantly being bored into by two massive diamond-tipped drills. The scoring of those drills can be seen throughout the land’s tunnels.
The unmistakable Nautilus, the famed submarine of Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, is docked in the water below with a set of staircases leading to its side. (Unlike Paris’ attraction, you cannot tour the Nautilus). Meanwhile, a wide spiraling platform leads to a cave at the water’s edge where you can board the eponymous 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a dark ride that would be any other park’s starring attraction in and of itself. While the ride is based on the same story that inspired Magic Kingdom’s ride of the same name and Disneyland’s Submarine Voyage, this attraction does not feature real submarines that are actually traveling underwater.
Instead, this is really a suspended dark ride (in the style of Peter Pan’s Flight) but in (what appear to be) six person submarines, with each pair provided a large porthole-style window. As the convoluted track sends the submarines to “dive,” the ride’s clever gimmick is revealed. Those windows are double paned, with a thin layer of water between the panes. When necessary, bubbles fill the windows, simulating diving and general underwater presence. The ride is incredibly dark. So much so that no YouTube video exists that gives even a partial understanding of any scene.
But the subs meander through ship graveyards, coral reefs, and into the tentacles of a squid in a particularly convincing scene. Of course, there’s also a trip to Atlantis and – in a unique twist on the tale – a race of kindly underwater beings provides for a quick ascent via a series of really incredible effects. 20,000 Leagues is perhaps one of the most underappreciated dark rides in the world in that you just never hear about it due to the park’s arsenal of incredible attractions, but it is an unbelievable family dark ride that any Disney Park on earth would benefit from having. Perhaps if there were even a single video that captured the experience well, people would rightfully appreciate its understated grandeur.
But of course, the main attraction in Mysterious Island (and perhaps the signature ride of DisneySea) is based on a different Jules Verne novel – Journey to the Center of the Earth. Keeping with the Captain Nemo theme, we’re lead into a rocky, cavernous laboratory belonging to the good Captain where he and a team of researchers have been studying the unique deep-earth properties below Mt. Prometheus. In effect, Nemo wants to know what’s happening down below that powers the massive geothermal vents that his secret hideout is powered by. The answer can only be accessed via a “terravator” ride down through the Earth’s crust (and yes, the elevator really does move) and into a misty underground chamber of pumps and valves that spew steam.
WARNING: What follows is a spoiler-laiden synopsis of the attraction. If you plan to visit Tokyo DisneySea in your lifetime, you should not spoil the experience of this attraction since it's so incomparable to anything else out there. Scroll no further, as even the photos reveal major elements of the attraction.
The attraction vehicle – often called one of Disney’s finest – is a six-person, narrow underground mine cart with a shovel affixed to the front. It travels through the tunnels carved by the drill on Mt. Prometheus’ face, of course, and begins its journey through the planet as described by Verne in his novel – a chamber of shimmering crystals, an underground forest populated by bioluminescent creatures, and a seemingly endless chamber with a subterranean sea.
Of course, a tremor collapses the cave you were meant to proceed into, and the ride begins to accelerate as it aimlessly navigates up and down through the increasingly hot and tight chambers of the planet. Tucked into the sharply twisted and scorched rock are gooey, glowing spheres about the size of a beach ball. Yep... eggs.
Suddenly, thin filaments between rocks reveal the backlit silhouettes of a sharp spidery leg attempting to smash through as booming and cracking resounds in the chamber. The car speeds up again as a few blasts of real flame signal an uncomfortable proximity to the Earth’s core.
And then, turning the corner, you see it – easily one of the most advanced animatronics creations ever conceived. Referred to as “the Lava Creature,” the monster that lives at the center of the earth is truly a terror. With a segmented body protected by thick organic armor and dozens of spindly spider-legs, this creature turns to look at the intruding car, leans forward to sniff it with mandibles clicking, then rears back and screams as it launches toward the car. (To see a video of the creature in action, click here.) Just then, we’re lead to assume, the car finds its bearings and knows exactly where it wants to be: out of the center of the earth.
The car accelerates away from the creature and into a pitch-black tunnel, spiraling up through the darkness in tighter and tighter circles before a dot of light appears ahead. Pedal to the metal, the car goes screaming out of the side of the volcano in a burst of fog and with a tremendous moment of airtime that rivals the best roller coaster (again, watch the video located here - you can practically feel the weightlessness just from watching.)
The car then accelerates around the rocky circular caldera before re-entering Nemo’s laboratory in the caverns of the mountain.
It’s a breathless ride that’s so full of intricate detail and incredible pacing; it’s often hailed as Disney’s most ambitious and extravagant ride ever. The setting, the story, the characters... Journey is a modern marvel technologically and in terms of its appointment of a classic work of literature into a thrill ride. Every element is designed and considered as revealed by Disney Imagineers: the way the rocks contort and grow more sinister as the ride progresses; the creature’s body being realistically adapted for the incredible pressures of deep earth, while also being sleek enough to quickly navigate rocky tunnels with deadly speed. Technologically, the ride takes place in a miniscule show building – so small, in fact, that it can’t be seen on aerial photos of the park, with the ride’s course and scenery using small space to great success.
In fact, that can be said of all of Mysterious Island. It is the definition of “immersive,” “all-encompassing,” and “grand” in terms of its scale, yet it contains minute details – perhaps the only Disney “land” in the world with no accompanying musical score, instead you only hear crashing waves, electrical noises, geysers, and rumbling bass of the active volcano. And the use of literature instead of current pop culture as a theme for an entire land is something that fans of the American parks can only dream of.
So there you have it. That leaves only one question unanswered – Is Tokyo DisneySea the best theme park on Earth? Opinions will vary. Some would find it laughable to even imagine that a park with no massive roller coasters could be considered one of the world’s finest, much less the absolute best. But for many, this park represents the paramount of design, attraction choice, intellectual properties, detail, and imagination.
So tell us – what do you think of Tokyo DisneySea? Is it on your “bucket list?” Do you think it truly may be the best theme park on Earth?
When you're ready, check out my round-up of the "best of the best" at Tokyo Disney Resort.