Grand Canyon Railway experience; Williams, Arizona

The Grand Canyon Railway experience is essentially a two-hour train ride from Williams, Arizona to the Grand Canyon… if you return the same day (another two hours) you will have gotten to stay there for about three hours (so a taste). OR — if you are the hiking type, you can opt to stay at a hotel at the Canyon and return a different day.  The “experience” includes a cute little show before the ride, and then some entertainment while on the train, and concludes with a “faux” train robbery on the way back. All in all, when you add up the prices, IF you’re doing route 66 and just want to pop over to the Grand Canyon, to see it… this actually works out to be a pretty good deal money wise.

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The CHEAPEST ticket, which is what I got, was $62.86. This was for the Pullman car, their most historic car (No air-conditioning) and did not include the park entrance fee (as I have been buying the National Park’s yearly pass since I first started traveling… I have yet to not get my money’s worth — when you buy the ticket you tell you have it, when you pick up the tickets you show them the pass and they write down its ID number to submit to the park officials). IF you consider the cost of gas (maybe 3 hours there and back — the train does it slower), wear and tear on your car, finding parking, etc etc…. and the fact that the train includes live entertainment … I think it’s worth it to do it once.

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A lot of the people who do this opted to stay at their hotel as well, but this is not necessary and not what I did. (There is a Harvey House at that location, but its not where you’ll be staying… and you don’t have to stay at the hotel to see it. Essentially, its been replaced by a fairly generic building that looks like pretty much every other 3 star hotel along our highways)… I stayed at the Howard Johnson located about 2 blocks north, for substantially less money. (That said the hotel is OK, but the owners … an Indian couple… just don’t get it. The rooms are clean and comfortable, the WiFi was BLAZING fast… but the security is suspiciously lax. IF You go to this hotel make sure you check in early enough that you can change rooms if you need to. The hotel has no elevators, and they won’t help you with your bags if you have mobility issues like I do. The room I ultimately got did NOT have a chain on the door, or any sort of way for me to keep hotel staff out while I was sleeping. By the time I realized this — after dinner — it was too late to change rooms. The next day the woman who works for them — MUCH better at customer service than they are — and I looked for a suitable room, and we had to go through THREE before we found one with a working chain.)

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So… I checked the weather report for the next day at the Grand Canyon the night I arrived, and it said rain… eek… then checked again the day of, this time specifying the South Rim (which is where the train goes) and it said no rain… phew!! NOTE: It’s important to remember the Grand Canyon is a VERY big place, so when checking the weather, be specific for which part.

With the Train Ride, come a whole package of entertainments. The first happens BEFORE the ride and is cute… I THINK the whole point of it is actually a ploy to make sure customers are on site and ready to go a good 45 minutes before the train leaves… but still…it adds to the ‘ambiance’

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Looking around at the audience, I at first thought there may be one person in this whole crowd under the age of 40, But then I took that back … I just spotted a baby. That said, it was late September and most kids were in school, so the crowd consisted mostly of retirees who prefer to come to places like this when they are LESS crowded. It’s a cute show, funny even, more than a few good laughs. You can tell the actors have done this may be 1000 times but they’re not phoning it in

After seeing the show myself, and many days later… I watched this video and I guess the attitude of the organizers is, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” because in spite of the fact that I saw the show almost six years after this YouTube video was posted — this is almost word for word the same show I saw, just with different actors.

The actors do a bit of improve around what the audience does or does not do, and the audience member roped into the skit, but otherwise, I saw the exact same show. (They even found a guy wearing shorts who had a bag… albeit this bag was backpack)

IMG_3008And after the show, that’s when you’re led by the actors to the train, and you line up by the car you’re assigned to…IMG_7977.jpg

And this is where things got wonky. So the deal is this…. APPARENTLY if you sign up for the Pullman (which is the most affordable ticket) they tell you to show up at 8:30 like everybody else, for what you think will be a 9:15 departure…  but you won’t actually Leave until 10:00. IF they get a lot of people showing up, they’re going to break it up into two trains (according to the manager this is on behest of the park which doesn’t want a boat load of people showing up at once. He said they could easily put everyone on one train). Everybody who bought a ticket on the expensive cars — the ones with the observation bubbles on top of the train for better viewing…. and the MOST expensive cars which are old-fashioned luxury (but with air-conditioning), have a buffet and dedicated performers who are there just for you  — THOSE trains… they’ll leave on time … Those of us with tickets that have air-conditioning but no bubble up top, or those like me who purchased a Pullman car with no air-con…. they’ll leave you standing around and waiting for the second train (and there was NOTHING on my tickets denoting that).

GRRRRRR……

You do however get the same amount of time at the park because your return train also leaves later. That said, once we were on the train, it was actually very pleasant… first a guy comes on, and makes sure you understand all the thing you need to know

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Then we were introduced to our carriage’s aid, the girl in the blue and white outfit, and the photographer (the guy in the red shirt with the massive camera, whose job it is to wander between carriages taking photos on first leg of the trip, and then he tries to sell you your photos on our return one).

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While the downsides of being in the cheap Pullman car is that it goes last (leaving the station) and has no air-conditioning, the upsides are that one, it’s always placed directly adjacent to the dining car (they told me this when I was booking the trip)

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Although this also means everyone in the cars behind us has to pass through us to get to said dining car… for their drinks, snacks and ice-cream

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The other benefit… and this is the more important one I think… is that sitting in an old-fashioned Pullman with no aircon traveling through almost wild country it’s really easy to almost feel like you’ve drifted back in time to when train, horse or foot were your only options for getting out west … a mental fantasy that the more modern trains don’t really support.

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On the way to the Canyon we were serenaded by this young musician, who wasn’t bad

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And then on the way back (when we were all really pooped) we were played at by this guy

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Who was trying just a bit too hard to get us to be clapping our hand and tapping our feet, when all we really wanted to do was rest…

Towards the end of the ride to the Canyon we passed an area that had clearly had a forest fire, which made me wonder how it’d happened and if it were the fault of the train, or the people on it.

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And then right as we were approaching the park, our carriage’s aide (the gal in the blue and white outfit) began to tell us things like, that the red ponderosa pines that grown in the park have a scent. If you smell vanilla, than the tree is a female but if you smell butterscotch, the tree is male. (I never managed to get close enough to one to test it) That, and there’s a $500 fine for feeding the animals … even if it’s a squirrel who stole it from you .. and that we should all beware because they WILL steal your food if you let them.

And then we got to the park….

IMG_3023(I’m talking about the Park in a separate blog post, click here to see it)

And THIS is what you get to avoid by taking the train

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That said, the ride back was also very pretty,

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and the rain that the first weather report I had looked at promised, could be seen approaching us in the distance

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But it included rainbows, which made me happy….

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(and in fact greeted us as with a very light rain just as we arrived back in Williams, which got more intense later in the evening).

 

Towards the very end of the ride, we had a last bit of excitement…  there’s a train heist… it’s actually kind of cute

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(My video this time… Note how the train obligingly stops for the 2 riders )

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But somehow, even though there were TWO riders attacking the train, and TWO gunmen stealing from us… somehow one of them managed to be in two places at the same time (note: two horses carrying two gunmen, two gunmen stealing from us… yet one left over to take care of the horses… this happened how?)

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And then you’re ever so politely robbed. (They threaten to take your stuff, but never do.) We were instructed (by our conductor lady in the blue outfit) that if we wanted to we were supposed to take any money we wanted them to actually rob, and fold it and hold it out for them to take, which a few of the customers did… tips in other-words.

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And then a little later (after the thieves have had time to get all the way to the back of the train, where apparently the guy who plays the sheriff was waiting to arrest them (it’s a shame that only THAT car gets to see the arrest) he waltzes them back through the train to the front, and we all get to laugh about how law and order triumphs.

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Before I got someone to take our photo, the guy with the long white hair, who plays the sheriff, turns out he’s actually Dutch, has spent some time living in Japan, and speaks 9 languages at least a enough to get by… I didn’t get around to finding out how it ended up here doing this.

One thing to beware of… on the train, while you’re close to town WiFi is pretty decent, and from time to time it’ll pop back up…. but at the park and for most of the ride you can forget about connectivity. As such, save your battery and just put you phone on airplane mode to save the battery. This is especially true at the Park… Even though there is signal, you just can’t connect to it because TOO many people are also trying.

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Swing Dancing at Disneyland; Anaheim, CA

Wow! Every Saturday night Disney hosts a dance at Disneyland! WHO KNEW? The dance happens in Disneyland’s Royal Hall, a spot normally reserved for character meet and greets. (How they convert it from that to a dance space I don’t know.)

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I was wandering around Disneyland on a Saturday night, heard jazz music, assumed it was yet another of the obligatory Disney entertainments and found THIS… HOW COOL!

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From what I read, not only does this dance happen almost weekly (and has for a few years) but it has a dedicated group of regular dancers.

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From what I could it’s a very friendly crowd of very good dancers (for the most part) and more than few of them seemed to know each other. Back before my inner ear broke making spinning an impossibility for me anymore, I’d totally have been here every week.

Where to stay when booking a Tokyo Disneyland Vacation?

Let’s assume that you are a major Disney fan who has probably never been to Japan before and your number one priority on this trip is to visit Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea, because you a have to see ALL the Disney parks… but you ALSO want to see Tokyo!  So, that said: Where do you stay?

In short, the answer is to find lodgings as near as possible to Tokyo Station. Look for either hotels, and/or (if you want to save money) any of the many Airbnbs that are an easy walk to the JR line’s Tokyo station, on what I like to refer to as the green circle (i.e., Yamanote) line. (If you want a GOOD and cheap Airbnb in that neighborhood, and I’m talking under $67/night for your own apartment, there are more than few, but you’ll need to book well in advance, and by that I mean months.)

I strongly suggest doing this rather than staying at any of the Disney Resort hotels out in Urayasu City, next to the JR Maihama Station which is located directly adjacent to Tokyo Disneyland (but which is NOT Tokyo). Here’s why….

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The red arrow points to the Maihama Station, which is directly adjacent to the Disney properties.

Firstly, Tokyo is NOT Orlando, and while Orlando might not have much to draw you away from the Disney parks, Tokyo does. That said, Tokyo station sits right in the center of historic Tokyo; it is just east of the government buildings, the Emperor’s Palace, and it is an easy walk away from the Ginza, which is just south of it (i.e., wedged firmly between the historic and the modern);

Additionally, the station sits at the nexus of the red Marunouchi Line, which will take you directly to Tokyo Disney, and the green Yamanote line, which will take you to pretty much everywhere else that you as a tourist might want to go while in Tokyo. And while from the above map, Tokyo might not look so big, the reality is from Shinjuku (the station on the far left of the circle, and also one of the major Tokyo hotspots) to Disney by train will cost close to $4, and take you a good 40 minutes to an hour of travel time, where as from Tokyo station to Disney is a short 15 minute hop that costs all of around $2.20. And will drop you off a five minute walk from the front gates of Disneyland.

To get to DisneySea is a good 20 minutes walk through the adjacent mall and past multiple parking lots, so I STRONGLY suggest changing train lines at that point and buying a ticket for the Disney only line that circles the park (unlike at the Magic Kingdom, here transportation within the kingdom is not free).

And, as I will discuss in more detail later in this post, Tokyo station is an attraction in and of itself.

Let’s face it, Orlando is essentially a midsized American town with a population of only around 270+ thousand, making it only the 73rd largest city (out of 19,354 “incorporated places”) in the country. While established in 1875 (mostly as a farming town near which rich people from northern cities, like Chicago, went to spend their winters after the first highways were built — and hence still has some nice historic homes from that period in the adjacent suburbs, like the aptly named Winter Park), the whole of the Orlando greater metropolitan area (population 2,387,138 million) does not in fact, other than some good food and a TON of amusement parks have much going for it. In fact, of that population 32.4% of the inhabitants, a 2003 study found, owe their employment to the Disney parks; and this number does NOT include the jobs created by Universal, Sea World, etc.  The whole area really doesn’t have ALL that much to offer in the way of history and/or culture; granted, there’s a decent ballet, some local theater groups (made up of mostly park employees yearning to be noticed by Broadway or Hollywood), a tiny handful of museums (if you don’t include tourist traps like chocolate museums) but really not much. Yes it is one of the entertainment capitols of the world, with an unusually VAST number of amusement park options within its metropolitan area, and hence an equally large selection of top of the line restaurants drawn there to feed the affluent locals, and tourists who want to eat outside of the parks; but I mean really, how many people go to the Orlando area for their vacation, and even bother stepping foot in downtown Orlando’s museums (let alone Kissimmee proper) or even know that those historic homes are even there? Let alone do any of them care? In fact, till Disney, in the mid 1960’s surreptitiously decided to buy up land in order to build his 2nd Disney park in the undeveloped areas between Orlando, Florida and Kissimmee, most people had never heard of the place. So if you go to Orlando, really… most visitors want to be on or right near the parks, because that is what they come for as a tourists.

Tokyo is not that, this is FRIGGING Tokyo! Tokyo’s history dates back to the late twelfth century, and has been the capital city of Japan since 1868. Historically it’s one of the largest and oldest and yet most modern cities on the planet, with a city population of 9.2+ MILLION (versus Orlando’s 270,934 thousand), with a greater metropolitan population of 13 million (to Orlando’s 2.4+ million)! In fact since 1968, it has been the world’s largest city. In terms of culture and history, it’s up there with London & Paris, let alone New York City,  for criminy sakes!!  It’s one of the best, most most modern, most exciting cities in the whole world with some of the best food on the planet (in Tokyo the bar is raised so high that even places like Denny’s are forced to be better than they would be here in the US)! So, as much as I LOVE me my Disney, if you come to Tokyo and don’t take some time to see Tokyo, especially if you’re someone whose not already very well aquainted with the place … then I’m sorry to say it, but something is seriously wrong with you.

Now granted, the Disney corporation wants you to stay at one of their hotels, or at least at one of the non-Disney owned hotels located on what is ostensibly their Island…. and of course that is an option. There are a HUGE number of hotels options scattered around the island, and in the case of DisneySea, there is one that is essentially inside the park. And you could, if that’s what you want to do, come to Tokyo Disney and JUST see all of what is on offer within the Disney bubble. The Hotels are of course very nice, and have a lot of nice amenities — as is ALWAYS true for Disney properties

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While there’s one of these princess beauty salons inside the park, there’s also one at the hotel
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As noted elsewhere, convienience stores in Japan area a whole different experience, and the one located in the hotel specializes in all products Disney, along with a really nice selection of affordable eats to take up to your room or eat there …. (in fact I am pretty sure that the same seafood gratin meal I ate freshly made while inside the park was being sold cold in the refrigerator here)

And Disney has built a fairly large mall called Ikspiari (similar to Disney Springs) with over a hundred businesses (shops, restaurants, a food court, etc.,) as well as a 16 screen movie theater, that is attached to the train line that links Disneyland and DisneySea.

And by the way, if you go to DisneySea, even though you could walk everywhere, you will REALLY DO want to buy a ticket for the special Disney train extension, in part because it kind of rocks.

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but mostly because, while it’s an easy five-minute walk from Maihama station to Disneyland, it’s a good 20 minute+ walk from there to Disney Sea… and who in the heck wants to do that at the end of along day at the park?

… but the reality is if you stay at the Disney resort, while you’re very close to Disney and save maybe a 40 min total in commute time per day (depending on how long it takes you to walk from your hotel to Tokyo Station)… there’s really not anywhere near as much to do out there as there is in Tokyo proper. And if you have never been to Toyko, even just the walk from your hotel to the train, or hanging out for a late night bite (the park and the mall essentially close around 10pm, while Tokyo is a 24 hour town) after returning from the park, will give you a taste of the place. In fact, you could easily spend a full day just exploring the maze that is Tokyo train station, because with its two hotels, art museum, multiple department stores and independent shops… and lord knows how many restaurants, it arguably has way more to offer than Disney’s tiny Ikspiari does.

For those who don’t know, Tokyo Disneyland is located on what at this point is mostly an artificially constructed island that sits in Tokyo Bay. While there’s always been a small island in the area, which is the Edo River’s delta, that previously held a tiny fishing village, the reality is that island was greately expanded through the creative use of garbage. There are in fact a whole series of these constructed islands in the bay, and ALL of them are essentially Tokyo’s Garbage dump. Once you get outside of the resort, what you’ll find is a small sleepy bedroom community for those who either work at the parks, or can’t afford to live in Tokyo proper, i.e., not much. You’re really, in my own opinion, better off staying near Tokyo station.

Halloween at Three Disney Parks, worldwide: Paris, Tokyo, & Orlando

Every year, all of the Disney parks celebrate a selection of the major ‘western’ holidays, and this includes Halloween. As no two parks are exactly alike, neither do any of them do the Halloween festivities alike. As such, I’ve decided to dedicate a blog post to those differences — As I experienced them. So far I’ve been lucky enough to be in three of the six Disneyland parks during Halloween: Paris in 2008, Tokyo in 2013, and Orlando in 2015 (the only one called the Magic Kingdom instead of Disneyland).

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So for instance, while Disney bounding (wearing modern street clothes that echo Disney characters) is something you’ll see year round at the US parks (if you know what you’re looking for)

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The girl on the left is Disney Bounding Snow White, the other girl is doing Minnie mouse

full-out costumes/Cosplay for anyone above the age of 14 are not allowed at any of the parks, in order to protect the brand and more importantly for fear of people confusing staff with visitors; except, that is, during the Halloween festivities (although even that is regulated, and the rules –often as reflection of security concerns — vary by park). That said, the extent to which the regular customers embrace that varies wildly both individually and culturally. That said, each of the parks has a very different ‘flavor’ as to how Halloween is done.

 

Paris Disney: where Spooky and eerie Halloweens rule

On October 29, 2008 I was in Disneyland Paris; this was back when it was still called Euro Disney Resort, and controlled not by the US Disney corporation but rather by local interests, and as such, much may have changed in the last 10 years in how Halloween is celebrated. To be honest … my experience of the park at that time was that, as a whole sucked rocks so bad that I was not at all surprised when a few years later I heard that Disney US had suspended any expansion plans, and initiated a take-back of control of the park; it was a process that began with the aforementioned name change, and that was completed just last year — so that they have only recently announced plans to begin the expansion that had been intended from when the park first opened in 1992. When I visited, it had been open about 16 years, was managed still by a subsidiary, (created I think in order to make the French feel like they were in control of the thing…) and well, like I said it sucked… BAD. The staff was impressively lazy and rude (oh have I got stories!!), the bathrooms was offensively dirty and smelly, and well… a far cry from “The happiest place on earth.”

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All of the Disney parks are intentionally designed to provide similar yet unique experiences, as a draw for folks like me to visit all of them, and Paris has some really good rides. For example, while I think EVER park has a variation of the “Haunted Mansion,” most of these rides tend to be more fun and quirky then they are spooky or scary, with the exception of the Paris version. Called “Phantom Manor,” this ride dark to the point of being down right creepy; unlike the other versions it includes a cohesive story line that is intentionally eerie. (Read this story synopsis to see just how much).
(Also watch this ‘ride-through’ YouTube video shot in 2015, and even if you don’t speak French you’ll note that music is also a heck of a lot spookier than at the other rides.)

Here’s also an interesting hour-long documentary on YouTube about what the Imagineers where going for when they developed the Disneyland Paris’ Phantom Manor, if you’re so inclined.

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The Phantom Manor decorated for Halloween, complete with the cast member in the green gown, with a pumpkin head, standing on its balcony behaving ghoulishly towards the crowds

ANYWAY, back to the topic at hand…. the same way that Disneyland Paris does a creepier haunted mansion, it also has a much creepier Halloween than the other parks do. Rather than the normal array of Disney characters posing for photos with the guests, you’re more likely to see staffers dressed as happy Jack-o-lantern and smiling ghouls were everywhere. As are Pumpkins, ghoulish decorations and the almost constant presence of orange paint, so that from the moment you walk into Main street, you are CLEAR that Halloween is being celebrated at Disney.

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Note the orange paint on the ground in he upper right corner

For the kids there were bright red candy apples (ala the poison apple from Snow White), and face-painting

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Halloween themed gifts and collectables

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And pumpkin themed decorations, both to look at and to have one’s picture taken with

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All of these is relatively normal, although the more you looked at the decorations, the more they became dark, grotesque and marginally perverted.

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Children posing with burial vaults?
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There’s something vaguely “Little Shop of Horrors“-esq about this decoration
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I’m not sure what is going on with this skull, but I surely didn’t expect to see something like this at a Disney park
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Is it me, or is this dark-o-lantern eating the brains of character below her?

So yes,Halloween at Disneyland Paris’ like it’s haunted mansion ride, is a good deal darker and more ghoulish than what one would expect from a Disney attraction.

 

Tokyo Disney: subtlety and nuances of Japanese culture

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On October 24th, 2013, while working in Seoul, South Korea as a professor, during one of the school holidays I had a chance to visit Tokyo, mostly with the intention of going to Tokyo Disneyland (YES, when I go to Tokyo I want to go to Disney, what’s your point?). This was actually my 2nd, or possibly third visit. The first time(s?) I went was back in the mid 1990’s while I was doing a summer internship with Eisai Pharmaceuticals in Tokyo. This (third?) visit in 2013 was my first chance to see the adjacent DisneySea park, which opened it’s doors in 2001. While there are things about the Tokyo Disney parks that frustrate me the Tokyo parks are among my favorites, in large part because they offer some of the best people watching opportunities. (Among the annoyances: the ATM’s in the park do NOT accept foreign bank cards — the mind boggles, especially since the food carts are cash only. For the restaurants you need a preexisting reservation, or you have to stand in line, literally — and sometimes for over an hour. There is no ‘come back at around 2:00’ with a txt messaging system if something opens up earlier, like in the states. And unlike the US parks there’s no service that allows you to spend your money at will and have all your purchases sent to the front gate for later pick up.)

The major reason the people watching is so good is that the Japanese love all things ‘Kawaii, aka, cute‘ to the point of a national obsession, and when the Japanese go to Disneyland they embrace that element of all things Disney with childlike abandon. As a result, wearable for sale items, like Disney ears, hats etc., exist in a much larger variety than in the USA, and they are pretty much ALL gender neutral. Unlike the USA where almost everything is Minnie Mouse (with the requisite bow), since men and boys are as likely to want to wear these things as women, Disney provides. So, not surprisingly, when they celebrate Halloween, they want to embrace the cute (and not the scary, like in Paris), and Disney delivers on that end as well.

That and, as the Japanese also appreciate subtlety in aesthetic (Shibui),  the holiday is a lot less, “in your face’ than it was in Paris.

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The above image for instance is Disney Main street during the Halloween period, compares it to the pictures of the same local in Paris that I posted and you’ll noticed a distinct difference. In fact but for the orange flowers on the lamp-post there really isn’t much in the way of Halloween happening. A little further into the park, just past main street, and you begin to see decorations,

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but again the decorations are no where as near in your face as in Paris ones, in fact its as though you’re being eased into Halloween. As there are bigger ones to come, behind the castle. Think of the parks this way, you enter the park through World Bazar (otherwise known as Main street USA) at 6:00 (where there was almost nothing in the way of holiday decorations), while it is possible to exit from there directly to AdventureLand, MOST people keep going straight, towards the castle, which is at the center of the clock.

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Once they’ve reached central park, most people will then go left to Adventureland which in Tokyo has New Orleans theme/Pirates of the Caribbean, 7:00 on the map, but it really isn’t till you hit

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Westernland (9:00) that you start to see decorations, and these are for the most part, up on top of building, rather than down at ground level (i.e., in your face)

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Note how the decorations mimic actual carved pumpkins, and are fun, rather than something out of child’s nightmare, like in they were in Paris… also older Japanese women will often use an outing to Disney as an excuse to wear their Kimono.

Even those decorations are not the garish bright orange that we saw in Paris, but a more subdued naturalistic looking pumpkin type decorations that could almost pass for real.

When you leave Westernland (10:00), heading towards where Crittercountry and Fantasyland meet — where the haunted mansion is located, the decorations get much more vibrant, but still cute, and with a lot of pumpkins that almost look real.

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Note all the people politely lined up in order to have a staff member take their pictures with the decorations. (In Japan this is done with the customer’s cameras, I was just there a few weeks ago, and they still don’t have the photo services with professional photographers at the ready, that you see at the Magic Kingdom.

And then of course, there are more of them around the Haunted Mansion (please forgive the poor quality of the photos), if anything, the tree of jack-o-lanterns that sat before it is probably the scarriest decoration in the whole park

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Forgive the poor quality of these photos, my old iphone 4s wasn’t up to the job

When you get into Fantasyland at 9:00, that is where you the colors and decorations become intense, but by this point you’ve been eased into it, so it not in any way shocking to the sensibilities, like in Paris. (If you DO go to Tokyo Disneyland I strongly suggest going on the Winnie the Pooh ride, there’s nothing like it in any of the other parks — it does NOT ride on tracks — see this video.)

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And then, if you enter Toontown section of the Disney park, which is designed for young children, that is when the decorations become their most extreme, but EVERYTHING in that section of the park is oversized and cartoonish, so it’s in keeping…

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A common thing at the park is to see girls in pairs who have gone to extreme lengths to dress alike, like these girls have… also note the little girl in the duck costume

After Toontown, Tomorrowland didn’t have much going on in the way of Halloween decorations, so that the total effect is of the most extreme decorations all being towards the back of the park (10:00 to 2:00, if viewing the map as a clock)

In addition to decorations, Tokyo Disney had some Halloween/orange themed eats (had all of them, they weren’t bad… although I remember wondering why the cream in the doughnut was orange flavored instead of pumpkin).

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One of the “big things” at Tokyo Disney is there are popcorn carts everywhere, but (unlike in the states where they’re pretty much either buttered or caramel, with the most distinctive thing about the carts being each has a different character spinning the wheel)

in Japan (sort of like their obsession for flavored Kit Kat bars) there’s a WIDE variety of flavors come of which change seasonally, and some of those can get a bit wacky… the curry smells better than it tastes (in my opinion), and I strongly suggest avoiding the shrimp flavored popcorn.  (And here’s a few different videos I found on YouTube of people taste testing various flavors)

That said, just like at the popcorn places in the US parks, Tokyo Disneyland sells collectible popcorn cases that vary with the themes of the rides, or major holidays like Halloween. The major difference I’ve found between the two is that the US ones seem to be intended for single use and hence fall-apart quickly — I purchased a vampire Mickey at DisneyWorld’s Halloween party and it fell apart as soon as I got it home — the Japanese popcorn cases are impressively durable; in Japan if you bring it back on subsequent visits you will get a small discount on the cost of a refill, so they are built with that in mind; after I purchased the one pictured below, I gave it to the 7-year-old daughter of the friends I was staying with, she and it was reported to me that she continued to use it for about a year afterwards as a purse, in addition to bringing it with her to Disney for popcorn refills. That is how strong these suckers are.

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Flavored popcorns at Tokyo DisneyLand and DisneySea, and the special Halloween case being offered

And of course there is a special Halloween influence to the parades

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But as I said, some of my favorite aspects of Tokyo Disney is the people watching, because just as the whole Cosplay movement began in Japan, the Japanese are far more likely ‘enthusiastically’ embrace the opportunity to show up to the parks in FULL costume (this article was posted 2015 two years after my visit —  at which point it had gotten so extreme, seriously check out the article, that in 2016 I heard that Disney had finally reeled them back in a bit) than other folks do. Back when I went in 2013, the trend was still a bit more laid back, but still impressive. Then, as I noted below the picture above, one of common trends was seeing girls coordinating their outfits, and the other is men who are unabashed in wearing cute stuff alongside the women (something you’d almost never see in the states).

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Two middle-aged Japanese housewives embracing the orange: standing up they were also coordinated, but in a much more subtle way than younger girls

That said, what really blew my mind was I saw a few different couples (men with their girlfriends and or wives) where the wife was dressed normally, but man was dressed in what the Japanese refer to as “Lolita Fashion” a trend that’s been going on in Japan for about as long as I can remember (so at least 30 years — I remember buying some of this back when I was in my 20’s and Japanese sizes still fit me). Think of it as a MUCH cuter version of Goth fashion.

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Don’t be confused, the person in the purplish dress is most definitively a male, the one in the Alice in Wonderland influenced baby-doll outfit I’m also pretty sure is a guy (look at the hands), but in this case not entirely

Like I said, the Lolita style is a very big deal in Japan, people will invest thousands of dollars in these outfits (they are definitely NOT cheap), and there are malls in trendy places like Harajuku and also Shinjuku that have whole floors of department stores devoted to the devotees of these styles. I even once spotted a Japanese girl at Epcot in Florida who showed up wearing Lolita fashion (the moment I saw the dress, she was ahead of me in line at one of the Epcot food festivals, I started chatting with her in my limited Japanese).

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This Japanese girl was at Epcot in 2017 with her boyfriend, she is also dressed in a Lolita Fashion; She’s wearing a Beauty and the Beast inspired outfit — note her dress’ fringe pattern
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Minishops in a Mall in Shinjuku that has a full floor devoted to the style

 

 

So while these styles are a thing in Japan, and some of them are highly influenced by Disney characters, such as Lewis Carol’s Alice… it’s a questionable line of are they Cosplay or fashion. As such, individuals who show up wearing it other than during Halloween may face some problems with the costume police at Tokyo Disneyland’s front gates. That said, what amazed me was not people were wearing it, but that Japanese MEN were wearing it… and wearing what was decidedly and clearly women’s fashions.

One of the things about Japanese culture is that there’s a time and a place for everything. Japan has had a long history of cross dressing, and, apparently, Disney’s Halloween has become one of the times and places where it is now acceptable for the growing trend of Japanese men with cross dressing tendencies, which the Japanese refer to as Otokonoko, to embrace their inner princess. So if you’re there during Halloween, make sure to keep an eye out.

As I mentioned before, there are currently two parks at Tokyo Disney, the Land (which is essentially Disneyland like in Los Angelus, or the The Magic Kingdom) which is a family oriented park, and DisneySea, which has a distinct nautical theme (although with touches of Epcot, as it offers a chance to “travel” to places like Venice, the Arabian Coast, Cape Cod & historic New York, Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island, a lost river delta in South America (which has the AWESOME Raiders of the Lost Ark Ride), and an area for smaller children (that you really HAVE to see, it’s awesome) aimed directly at the Little Mermaid — you get to essentially go “under the sea.” DisneySea is considered the more “adult” park, and was intentionally designed to be suitable for taking your girlfriend on a romantic date.

Here while there are Halloween decorations they are kept subtle throughout the park, when you first enter the park, there’s a venetian styled banner above the doorway that if you look very closely, says Halloween 2013… and has a bit more orange in it that usual, but that’s about it…

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And then when you pass the gate and enter the central lake — effectively the design replacement of garden at the center of the Magic kingdom — again more orange has been added to color pallet, but that’s about it.

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This statue had a carved pumpkin hanging by a cord around his neck (??, no I don’t get it either)

When you enter American section again there are orange banners that say happy Halloween

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Note the couple (boyfriend/girlfriend) off to the side dressed alike, this tends to be more of a Korean trend than a Japanese one, based on what I’ve seen. (So there’s a good chance those two are in fact Korean,

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and the decorations that were at ground level were so naturalistic that I remember thinking they might have even been using real pumpkins, trying to replicate what it would look like in the states, but I wasn’t sure. IMG_0942

And of course there were girls dressed alike, and men embracing the cute, just like across the park at Tokyo Disneyland.

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Besides the decorations I showed, I found very little else (in the non-European sections of DisneySea that were celebrating the holiday. For instance, while you might think this is a Halloween decoration,

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in fact it’s a “Día de Muertos” decoration that’s a permanent fixture in the South American section of the park.

Disney in the DisneyWorld:

In the US while there are a nice selection of Halloween decorations scattered throughout the park, MOST of them can be found near the entrance and in the main street area

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Other than that, really not so much… Instead Disney has used it as yet another opportunity to separate you from your money. I.e., if you want to really experience Halloween at the US parks, you’ll need to buy a special ticket (pass holders only get a tiny discount, and only on low attendance nights) to”Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party,” (which was a counter bid to Universal Studio‘s far more popular “Horror Nights/Fright Nights” events. (I think I’ve noticed a pattern, in that the discounted nights at Disney seem to be the ones that are scheduled directly against a Horror night, so that tells you something. Personally I HATED Horror Nights, but I’m 50, it’s not designed for me, even the Wikipedia page admits as much.)

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The special even essentially consists of three additional aspects, which even though I had a top of the line season pass with no block out dates, etc., I had to pay an extra $69 for… 1) access to trick or treating from various spots around the park (the candy was pretty run of the mill);

2) The ability to watch a special show called the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular:

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then 3) a special parade, called Mickey’s “Boo-to-You” Halloween Parade

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The coolest parts I got photos of, the headless horseman, especially when he pops up in a very dark spot, like where I was sitting is very cool…

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And then if you’re sitting in a dark place the ghosts from the haunted mansion dance by, and they’re slightly glow in the dark

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And then finally, 4) what I feel is the REAL draw for hard-core Disney fans, is the ability to stand in some VERY long lines… I’m talking like well over an hour in some cases, to have you picture taken with character that are never otherwise available to have your picture taken with, which includes ALL of the dwarves at one time, some of the Disney villains:

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Found a YouTube video where a woman goes through all the things to do at the party, and since unlike me she wasn’t on a diet, she ate all special party only deserts they were selling (yah, you paid $69+ to get in, and you have to pay to buy these special deserts)

So that said, one of my favorite things to do is people watch, and since Halloween is one of the few times the parks allow adults to come in costume, it can get interesting.

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The bottom left group was really creative, they’re the emotions from the Pixar movie “Inside out”
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This family, the adults came dressed as the Orcs from Frozen while the children came dressed as Anna, Elsa and Kristoff (how brilliant is that?)

Tokyo DisneyLand and DisneySea, entering on the Nightpassport tickets

If you can’t do a full day at Tokyo Disney I strongly suggest taking advantage of the Night passport tickets. I was in Tokyo for three weeks after the first aborted visit to Tokyo Disney at the beginning of my trip, but because of my ill-health, and the weather, I kept pushing off my visits till the very end of my stay. By that time, my sleep patterns had gotten serious screwed up, so that my body clock was almost back on US/East coast time a full week before I was set to return. As in, I was going to sleep at around 6am and waking up at around 3pm. Buying full day tickets was therefore an utter waste of money. Luckily, while a full day ticket costs close to $74, they offer a 6pm entrance on week nights ticket that only costs around $42; and they also have for Saturdays and Sundays for entering at 3pm or after ticket that costs $54.

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Note to self: I need to remember to check when Japanese school holidays happen before I go next time, because my timing this year sort of sucked. When I finally got back (on April 3rd — a Tuesday)  the seller warned me, as I was buying my ticket to enter the park, that I could expect three-hours or longer waits for rides (with an, “are you SURE you want to go tonight?” sort of look). When I asked her why it was SO busy on a weeknight, she said it was because it of it being ‘Spring vacation’ time for the schools.

To be honest, that first night this didn’t bother me too much as my main goal was to people-watch, experience the place, and do some shopping. Tokyo Disney used to Sell these incredibly cute, high-quality, tiny and light, umbrellas every time it rained. I have one that I have been carrying around with me for over 10 years now, which has suffered being turned inside out by 50 mph wind gusts, and STILL works. So, the MAIN thing I was hopping to buy while here was more of those. It makes me very sad to announce that they seem to have discontinued them. It really was the single thing I was hoping to load up on while I was in Tokyo. Now, instead, they’re only selling those plastic ponchos, like in the USA… and the only umbrellas are big heavy ones. So sad….

So, among the first things I did (after looking at some shops) was to go and get something to eat. In the US parks you can walk up to a restaurant without a reservation, and its often possible to make one for later in the day (although usually in a not popular time slot) … and then they’ll send you a text to your phone about 15 min before your table is ready, to tell you to come back — with the caveat of if you arrive later than a certain time you’ll lose the table. This allows you to maximize your time in the park … In Tokyo Disney no such service is offered, instead they actually make you just stand inline and wait for your turn … even if the estimated wait is over two hours. (Crazy right?) I HAD wanted to get the Sea food Gratin dish sold in the Mainstreet area, but the wait was bonkers, so instead I moseyed over to…..

…The Star Wars section of the park and got a ginger drink w/tapioca in a star wars cup. Firstly, I LOVE Ginger drinks — I had just spent the last two months in Australia buying every brand of ginger beer I could find and taste-testing them; and, on top of that, I’m very into all things Star Wars, although not a full card-carrying geek about it… and I have more than a few friends who are, who I thought might love the cup.

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Saved the cup to bring home to a friend of mine who collects Star Wars paraphernalia

The drink was really good, it had actual bits of ginger floating around in it along with those great big tapioca balls which alway freak me out a little because of the risk of choking to death on them when you suck them in via a straw should they get stuck in your airway … the Heimlich maneuver won’t work to get those suckers out

With the drink I got the oh so adorable looking Stormtrooper Mochi (a kind of pounded rice desert dumpling) which I assumed would be filled with red bean paste…

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— but I was wrong, the first was a lemon tasting custard, the second was a sort strawberry one, and the third was what I thought might be a coffee cream … (when I googled it the official flavors are Custard Cream, Berry Cream, Milk & Caramel Cream, so close but no cigar) Apparently if I had upgraded to nine dumplings instead of three it would included some black Darth Vader ones full of chocolate cream.

I was then tempted to buy, but did not purchase, this Soy Sauce and butter flavored popcorn which was being sold in either this Darth Vader head (which very few people seemed to be buying), OR… IMG_0172

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The case is visible just left of the woman with the broom… don’t know why but I LOVE this picture

… one of these way too adorable R2D2 cases (the really big one held by the girl below), but if I bought it I would want to take it home and there was simply NO room left in my suitcases for anything that big. (It being one week before my flight I had packed and weighed all my suitcases and knew exactly how much weight and space I had left.)

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Pictures of all the food related Star Wars collectibles available when I was at Disney

So I wandered around the park, checking out all the stores. (The crush of people was WORSE than it had been on the weekend day I had come two weeks earlier.) The category of items that called to me most were the headgear. In the US parks most of the headgear are wire headbands with either Minnie Mouse Ears, i.e., ears of various colors with a bows in various colors attached to them (about 98% of the time) or Mickey Mouse ears (black ears sans the bow, about 2%), and then various hats with things attached, and that’s about it. In Tokyo the variety of options is a lot greater, in large part because Japanese boys and men are far more likely to buy something like this and wear it around the parks than their US Western counterparts.

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What particularly caught my eye were the soft material headbands, which I thought I could easily shove into my suitcase, as well as into my car’s back pockets. I purchased the White Rabbit ears and thought I could buy the Winnie-the-poo ears next time I came… but they were COMPLETELY sold out by then, and I checked everywhere.

Learned something important, like the Americans in the Magic Kingdom, pretty much all the Japanese guests with kids abandon the park at around 8 PM — after the fireworks, and from that point till the 10pm closing you can actually do rides, EVEN though it was a school vacation day. At around 9:15 I rode the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, TWICE!!! There was only a five-minute wait, i.e., the amount of time it takes to walk from the entrance to the boats.

And then I learned something that I found a little odd; namely, they close all of the main street stores at closing time, except the ones selling freshly baked treats that go stale. In Disneyworld in Florida, they keep ALL of the mainstreet stores open for a good hour after everything else closes, because ‘you should never lose an opportunity to separate the customer from his or her money.’ So if you’re used to the US pattern, be prepared. When they say the park closes at 10pm they mean pretty much the WHOLE park.

My next visit to Tokyo DisneyLand was a few days later on Friday April 6; I was taking the gamble that MAYBE since the weather that night was supposed to seriously suck (there was a gale scheduled to hit town around 7pm), AND it was the last vacation day before the weekend before kids were supposed to return to school (and I was guessing most of them had not even started their homework yet) that the parks would be a lot less full than they had been on Tuesday… And I was RIGHT!

As I had arrived about a half hour before the late tickets went into effect, I decided to check out the hotel next to the Disneyland park.

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It is a nice looking hotel, and it has a Princess salon that is MUCH larger than anything I’ve seen at the magic Kingdom, with very different selection of outfits. (In fact if you have an age appropriate daughter I’d suggest it, as these outfits are NOT available in the US from what I’ve seen… and these ones look nicer and higher quality.)

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Also while wandering around the hotel I found this convenience store, selling the same sort of items you’d normally find, only all of them were Disney branded… so for instance there was even a box of lens wipes for glasses with a mickey on the box, and Cinderella lip gloss, etc. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, convenience stores in Japan are WAY better than what we’re used to in the states, and this one had the same impressive selection of prepared foods you could take back to your hotel room. (In fact I’m pretty sure some of the dishes were cold versions of what’s sold in the park’s restaurants.)

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 Tokyo Disney, like Disneyland in Los Angeles has the Magic Shop on main street, which is kind of seriously cool (I’ve never understood why the Magic Kingdom in Orlando doesn’t have it), with a guy who demonstrates
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So remember how I had wanted to get the Sea food Gratin from the restaurant on main street and they had told me it was going to be a 40 minute wait? Well this time I went to the same place and I asked how long the wait was, she said 20 min. One of the important things to remember is that at Disney staff are trained to give predetermined wait times, and in Japan 20 minutes is sort of like the default 15 minutes an American restaurant might tell you that you’ll need to wait to be seated (because the Japanese are far more inherently patient than Americans are).
So I looked in the window and saw that there were a bunch of empty tables… I got in line and it was 5 minuets… “maybe”… I ordered the shrimp gratin and corn soup— two dishes that Japanese think are western but that do not exist in these forms anywhere else
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After dinner like I said, the weather on this day was supposed to seriously suck, and the weather app hadn’t lied.  It was cold, wet and raining (spitting really)… which meant pretty much all the Tokyo area residents with yearly passes stayed home, which allowed me to get on the haunted mansion ride with NO waiting — twice in a row… in the US when the wait is this short the number shown is 10 min. Here it’s 13 because all Japanese know that in the west 13 is an unlucky number which makes the ride spookier …
The thing to remember is that in Japan the number 13 is NOT unlucky … in Japan, the number four is unlucky. The reason is fairly simple, the word for four in Japanese is “She” which is also the sound of the word for death, although spelled differently. This is also true in Chinese and Korean… but NOT in Vietnamese, etc.
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After the rides I did more shopping. When I was in Tokyo Disney in 2014 one of my major bitches was that there was very little I felt I needed to buy (I even found a TripAdvisor review I wrote about it). Let’s face it “Disney” stuff is available world-wide. When you’re at the parks, if you’re a hard-core collector you want stuff that is simply unavailable elsewhere (which with Ebay and such is becoming less and less true) or you want stuff that shows your friends you were there … something that actually SAYS Tokyo Disney on it… and at that time items like that simply did not exist.

This time around that is no longer the case. Pretty much EVERY category of items had Tokyo Disney written on it… Hats, shirts, etc…. I even found Disney resort band aids…

I’m buying them mostly for the clear silicon cases they come with, I am going to store my microfiber things that I bought in Australia (with Aboriginal designs on them) for cleaning glasses in them…

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They also now have Disney Park bathroom sets!!! Seriously, toilet seat and paper covers, and matching bathroom shoes.
IMG_1243 In case you didn’t know, the Japanese NEVER wear outdoor shoes into a house or apartment (it would track in dirt). Instead you switch from your outdoor shoes into provided slippers. On top of that, Japanese have special slippers for wearing inside toilets (which is a level of hygienic westerners don’t even think about).
And then, after the shopping  I watched the night parade …
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After the parade and the fireworks were over (trying to watch the fireworks when the clouds were below the level where the rockets explode was… amusing), once again the parents with kids, the few who had braved the cold and wet weather, all headed home … making the park EVEN emptier.
While waiting in line for the Snow White ride — at this point only a 15 minute wait… I saw this happening that I had never seen in the US parks, the staff were brushing stuff (I’m thinking a combination of popcorn and fireworks ash) out of the carts, but doing it WHILE the customers were still in the park.
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Note the pile of tan stuff in the right corner, that’s what she’s brushing out

One of the things I love about the dark house rides in Japan is they are WAY WAY WAY darker and scarier than the US version… (watch the YouTube below, make sure to keep the volume for the sound up to really appreciate it)

Now compare it to the Disneyland version of the same ride

Firstly the Japan ride feels longer to me, and more importantly, apparently little Japanese kids are either not scared as easily as American ones … Or (more likely) Japanese parents see nothing wrong with their kid getting a mild scare.

After that I got a small container of the chocolate popcorn, cause CHOCOLATE…  that said it tasted a bit like coco puffs but nowhere near as sweet. Not really my idea of chocolate.

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And then popcorn in hand I walked over to the Splash Mountain ride to see if I could get on that (normally like a two-hour wait) … and while I was standing in the 30 minute line (longer than I’d like, but doable) a staff member who was passing by me in the fast pace lane realized my popcorn box was now empty and offered to throw it out for me… welcome to Japan.  THAT level of service I’ve NEVER seen in the USA.

After that, I still had time for another ride before the park was due to close; I rode on the Pinocchio ride… and since it was close to closing time, no lines, NONE — for one of the most popular rides for little kids.

That said… take a look at the picture below of parents taking small children on the Pinocchio ride and tell me if anything seems off to you…..

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THIS is something you’d never see in the US… that the kids on this ride (see image above) are WAY too small to be riding safety… The kid in the front seat is maybe five or six years old, and the kid in the back seat is a toddler. But, here’s the difference…  in Japan no parent would sue Disney for their choice to be stupid if their kid (who they CHOSE to put on the ride) got hurt … Disney won’t let the kids on a ride like this alone, but if the parent is there, SURE…

Seriously, that kid in the back seat isn’t even two years old, the kid in the front seat didn’t look tall enough for any of the, “you must be this height” signs at Orlando

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After I got off the ride, this was the length of the line to get back on. The Park wasn’t closed yet and the staff were waving to me that I could get back on if I wanted to.

Oh, and to be fair the Pinocchio rides in the Tokyo and LA Disneylands are almost identical, neither is particularly scary — if you don’t believe me google videos of each

 

 

—————

The next day was Saturday the 7th (remember the never go to Disney on a weekend rule?), but the gale that had been heading into to Tokyo the day before had arrived with a will, and the weather was EVEN more horrible… Not much rain but Oh my lord the wind!!!! So what did I do? I went to go see the DisneySea Park!! Overall not a horrible idea, but I did it wrong.

My first mistake was a strategic error… SINCE I had been able to walk from the train station to DisneyLand with no trouble, and because it wasn’t raining, I tried walking to DisneySea… against 40 to 50 mile per hour wind gusts… instead of paying to take the train. TO get there you walk from the subway station to the Disney specific train station, then THROUGH the shopping mall, past the movie theaters, and then ask for help. It took multiple tries before I found a shop person (most of them spoke some English) who could direct me to the correct exit from the mall… to sidewalks… and then it’s a good 20 minute walk past parking lots most of which were empty, just like this one (photo from 2013)

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The public train access to the parks is so good that I have a feeling they’ve got way more parking here than they will ever actually use

and such till you get there. Had the weather been pleasant it wouldn’t have been bad, but I was walking against high-speed winds and it SUCKED. Finally, already tired out, irritated, and sniffly (from the cold and damp) I arrived at the park.

Once I got there, it was SO dark that it was pointless to try to take many pictures. I do have some from when I was there in October of 2013

So, that said, the Japanese seem to have developed a serious Duffy Bear obsession since I was last there. He is a character that was originally sold in Orlando but didn’t take off (it’s not like there were any cartoons connected with him) but then executives decided to heavily market him as the mascot of Tokyo DisneySea. The Tokyo customers loved him and I remembered Disney brought him back to Epcot, where and he even was given a prominent character signing area right near the entrance to the international area (but the lines to have your photo with him were always short), Americans not only didn’t really see the point of him, but I know for myself I actually resented him. I think it’s a general rule that Americans HATE obvious attempts at separating us from our money.  (this blog post from the Disney Tourist Blog has a pretty good discussion of the Duffy phenomena) and in 2015, he got removed from Epcot, although you can still find his toys if you look.

Last time I was in Tokyo he was way more popular than in the US, but NOTHING like now. His popularity with the Asian Disney customers has gone beyond all bounds and I just don’t get it. Any store in DisneySea that was selling Duffy merchandise has a 20 minute to 30 minute line just to get into the store, and the are LIMITS on how much of anything you can buy. I shit you not! The mania is such that they’ve even created a friend for him because … more things to sell, and the Japanese are lapping it up. I kept seeing these massive lines in front of various stores and when I asked what was going on I was told, “We’re in line to buy Duffy things.” They were allowing people in a handful at a time and the stores that had the stuff were stuffed with people. And some folks were coming out of the store and elatedly showing off their purchases like athletes holding up the first prize trophy after a contest of endurance.

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And then, I kept seeing people taking photos of themselves with their Duffy dolls. For instance, I caught these folks setting up their Duffy dolls and doing an almost professional photo shot of them in the park (the woman is holding a reflector while the guy was using a fairly professional looking camera).

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Walking around looking for things to eat, I found more cute mochi dumpling — These were chocolate, vanilla and strawberry flavored. I had purchased some other foods to eat, stuff where you could sit down… but the indoor tables were take and then after I found an outdoor table a gust of wind blew away my dinner… seriously

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Even with the horrible weather, the wait for the Raiders of the Lost Arc ride was too long for me

On the topic of popcorn in every flavor…. this one was so bizarre that I HAD to try it

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I am sorry to say that it was SO disgusting that after the first few mouthfuls, I threw the rest away… just NASTY. The garlic part was nice but the shrimp tasted like fish that had gone off.

DisneySea has an Arabian Coast section, which includes a Pirates of the Caribbean type ride dedicated to Sinbad…. with NO LINE

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By the end of the day I was so exhausted that I even left the park a bit early and headed for the train station. I was completely and utterly exhausted after having almost every step being against 30 to 40 mph gusts, not to mention spitting rain … I had dressed for cold, but it never came. It’s currently midnight and 68 F … I had my long sleeve hemp t-shirt, my thick black turtle neck sweater and my leather jacket (which I ended up carrying the whole time) my ankles and legs are exhausted from fighting to walk against a few hours of non stop wind.

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The red arrow points to the Maihama Station, which is where Disney is…  IF your intent is to both visit Tokyo AND engoy the park, then I STRONGLY suggest that you try to find lodgings near Tokyo Station, which puts you an easy walk from the Ginaz, the royal palace, etc., and an easy ride to the park.

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My aborted visit to Tokyo DisneyLand (pout): with lots of cultural notes once you get past the gripping

Why yes, when I go to the Tokyo I DO want to go to Tokyo Disney more than I want to look at temples, what’s your point? unfortunately, my travel partner (he’s only going to be here during my first few days in Japan), wasn’t anywhere as enthusiastic as I was, and went pretty much straight into a teenage funk upon our arrival, which made it much less fun for me. By the time we’d only been there for only three hours (after paying $75 to get in.. grrrr), he declared he was leaving, and I could stay if I wanted to….

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen these two characters wandering the parks in DisneyWorld

To be fair: He hadn’t wanted to go the park in the first place (claiming he’d been to Disneyland in LA already), and had thought we might go to DisneySea instead… and then because we went on the Saturday, instead of the Friday as initially planned (because it had been raining, and my brain was unusually fatigued from flying only two months after a major concussion; so instead of Disney, I given him the first day agreeing to do whatever he wanted, which was indoor stuff mostly anyway, and also because fair is fair); but I therefore expected that on the second day we’d do the parks, which is what I wanted and was a more outdoor thing. But, as a result, however, we ended up going on weekend day (and where it’s a general rule to NEVER go to any of the Disney’s on weekends, this is doubly true for Tokyo). As such, the park was densely packed with massive crowds and almost every ride had waits of over an hour or more. When he cried uncle, offering that I should stay by myself, I knew I wasn’t well enough to do that; that it was in effect actually unsafe for me to be there alone … because my balance was still a bit off (an actually worsened by the recent flight), and too much information was coming at my brain at once, so that it was a tad overwhelming, etc. …. so we left. (By the time we were doing dinner… not at the park, I had decided to spend the tomorrow at the airbnb resting and let him wander on his own).

That said, he was the one who took the above photos of me with Jiminy Cricket and Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother … because for SOME bizarre reason Tokyo Disneyland has not instituted roaming professional photographers everywhere, like the US parks have. (One of my ongoing annoyances with Tokyo Disney is they are nowhere near as skilled as the US parks at separating the customer from his/her money… but then again they don’t need to be because, it’s also been one of Disney’s most profitable parks, since its opening… in large part because of how much the Japanese love all things Disney.)

… Anyway, on this day we were able to have grab a meal, at Plazma Ray’s diner, one of the new (since my last visit) counter service/takeaway restaurants in Tomorrow Land

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I had the vegetarian curry. First, I am seriously curious about how did they get the eggs to look like that, and secondly, in my 30 years of coming to Japan, translation into English has only barely improved. It SHOULD say, “Please dispose of sharp objects in the specified/designated container”

After our lunch we walked around a little bit; and this was an interesting thing to see. Historically Disneyland USED to have the canoe rides, then got rid of them, and then brought them back temporarily while the Rivers of America steam boat was undergoing refurbishment… but

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I think Tokyo Disneyland MAY (and I could be wrong about this) be the only place left which still has Walt’s original plan of canoes, rafts and a Steamboat all sharing the Rivers of America area at once. It would make sense if that were true, because Japanese, even today, would never do something like intentionally try to tip the canoes, etc., which is something US teenagers would totally do.

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I was really tempted to get some of this barbecue flavored popcorn in the Lightning McQueen popcorn case; I mean could a combo be more southern than a NASCAR based cartoon character and barbecue?  That and it would have been a new flavor of popcorn for me to have tried (As I discuss in this post, Tokyo Disney is into multiple flavors of popcorn — and please note barbecue isn’t even on the list of the blog post I linked to — the same way their Kit-Kat bars come in huge assortment of flavor), but it was off my diet and I wanted to lose some of the weight I’d gained in Australia

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Anyone who has ever been to Japan knows they really LOVE, I mean LOVE vending machines. they are everywhere, and while most of these sell drinks, if you look hard enough you’ll find vending machines selling pretty much EVERYTHING (and I mean everything, check out this blog), so it was no surprise that in spite of there being no shortage of shops, food stand and restaurants, Tokyo Disneyland would of course also have a vending machine.

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For those who don’t know it, cleanliness in Japan is a cultural obsession, to the extent that the same word “Kirei” is used to mean clean/tidy and/or pretty/beautiful. But whereas, in Korea the focus is on making things look clean (in actuality if you were to walked barefoot in the hallways of my university, or run your hands along the handrails, both would be quite black with muck by the time you were done) Koreans don’t so much clean as they try to hide the dirt by spreading it around. The Japanese aren’t like that, for them clean is hygienically clean. Japanese traditionally take hot soaks daily, but only after scrubbing themselves clean outside of the bath, so as to not dirty the water; in places like hotels, after maids clean a surface, like a handrail, you’re sure to find inspectors coming along as soon as they’re done and giving the surface the white glove test, just to be sure. You find this same obsession in the park.

Although on this first day we only managed to be there for three hours (after paying $75, grrrr) I was really happy that we managed to get at LEAST into the Japanese version of Country Bear Jamboree  (I have at this point located and downloaded to my iPhone pretty much all of the original songs the original show was based on, no I’m not a geek, why do you say that?) This show was slightly different that the US one, so for instance I know enough Japanese to know the translation of “Mama don’t whop little Buford” isn’t correct, plus there are some additional songs.

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I was tempted to buy these, Countree Bear Jamboree dolls aren’t sold at DisneyWorld, here they have one for every character

and, we also managed to get into the Enchanted Tiki Room, which had been modified to include the Lilo and Stitch movie — I have to say this new version it beats the crap out of when the Magic Kingdom changed its show to include Iago, annoying parrot from Aladdin, a change which happily they have undone (its back to the original)

A nasty habit that I’ve been trying to break my travel partner of (since he was an undergraduate) is smoking. He’s not a particularly heavy smoker, but he is addicted. One of the interesting changes I’ve noticed this trip (in most part because of him, I don’t smoke so not my issue) is Japan is increasingly ostracizing her smokers. Where in the US there are smoking sections off to the side, in Tokyo Disney they were forced COMPLETELY out of the way. So for instance, we were near the Big Thunder Mountain ride (please note just how LONG the line is for this thing)
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when my friend decided he needed a smoke…. THIS is where he got sent to, quite litterally down a hole in the side of the mountain. I didn’t go in to see what exactly the situation was, but it was a far walk from where all the other people were, and in Japanese society, that’s meaningful.
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Some suggestions on how to do a Disney World vacation and not go broke

I’ve had a one year Disney world pass now for two years now, and I’ve sort of gotten it down.

Where to stay:
Pretty much all of the areas that are just off of the DW campus, where the hotels are, are also ‘cheek to jowl’ with Airbnb rentals that are often nicer, and for less money than what the hotels have to offer. ALSO, if you’re someone who cares about a good reliable wifi connection, the reality is that I’ve NEVER found Wifi at a hotel to be anywhere as good as the wifi in a private home, particularly if it’s one where they’re renting you a room in their own home — rather than a property they rent out entirely.

When I first got to Orlando this year I was renting an Airbnb space from a perfectly nice divorced elderly guy. The “home” was actually a double wide/trailer (but from the inside you can’t REALLY tell that) located just south west of the park. I was paying about $34/night for a HUGE air conditioned bedroom with a ceiling fan, that has a walk in closet, an ensuite bathroom that has a shower and a jacuzzi tub, free parking in his driveway, full usage of the kitchen, and located in a gated development with a guard that has a pool and a weight room. My host offers up free coffee from his Keurig (most Airbnb hosts do). Now granted, I could stay at a flea bag motel for around $45 a night, but why would I want to?

For Thanksgiving I drove up to Georgia to stay with my friends up in Dalton, and then came back to Orlando a 2nd time, and am now staying at a different Airbnb in the newly developing (I remember 20 years ago when this whole area was NOTHING but orange groves) west side of campus… in a home that can’t be more than a year or so old. I have a beautiful and comfortable room in the home of a young Brazilian couple again for about $34/night.

Additionally, if wifi is important to you, my experience is the wifi at Airbnb’s where the owner is living in the same space with you are almost always way better than what is offered from the hotels. (AVOID the ones where the owner seems to have 4 or 5 spaces to rent in different locations… I want my owner living IN my house, this may mean a bit less privacy but it USUALLY, emphasis on the usually, assures a much higher standard of customer service, in my experience.)

This year, I’m going to be headed to my friend in GA for Thanksgiving holidays, and then moving to a different Airbnb that’s again just at the edge of the park, but this time a bit north west of it in an area that was all orange groves in 2002 (the first time I came to Disney for an extended stay) but is now housing developments and strip malls … again for about $34/night. And around Disney there’s very little new home building that isn’t part of a development, and all of those include pools and weight rooms, some of the more expensive ones even have golf courses — but those Airbnb’s in those, when they exist, are much pricer as a result, although still less than at a hotel resort with a golf course.

I think Disney is aware of the problem (for them) and is as such upping their hotel game. Currently the ONLY Disney hotels that call to me ‘enough’ for me to be willing to pay their rates, is 1) the infinitely long Wilderness Lodge next to animal kingdom, where every single room overlooks a sort of zoo like area, so you can look out of your bedroom window and see giraffes and wildebeests; and 2) the currently in development star wars themed hotel where apparently the “windows” will make you feel like your on a space ship, your assigned a story line upon arrival that you’re supposed to play out, and all the staff are in costume and character at all times (including some aliens) … THAT would be worth $300/night — but even then I would want to find friends to share the room with.

Shopping:
Disney is impressively expensive. As a rule, I do NOT BUY ANYTHING on campus until I have had a chance to visit the two (and you should go to both) outlet shops that sell discontinued Disney merchandise, and Disney discontinues stuff every few weeks. These shops ONLY carry things that were either available ONLY at DisneyWorld shops (not the Disney stores in malls), or are left over from various Disney Cruises. To give you an idea of the prices, T-shirts that sold for $36.99 on campus are $12.99 at these stores, stuff that was $39.99 sell for $14.99, and items that were $14.99 are marked down to $2.99…. and unless marked “as is” or “all sales final” (in which case the discounts will be steeper, because the merchandise is damaged), all items come with a full refund 30 day guarantee. SO, you can grab that Mickey Mouse jacket that they only had one size too large for you at one store, and then return it to the other one if that branch has it in your size.

While the selection is much smaller, odds are you’ll find at least a handful of items you like, and at those prices, well, the items seem to get cuter. So where allow yourself only one item, (because if you look the prices are essentially 1/3 of what they’d be in the park) here you can get three items for the same price. AND if you think about how much you’d have paid for that “reasonably priced” hotel room located equidistant from DW as your Airbnb — which would currently be between between $70 and $150 night…  (although there are flea bag places going for $45 a night just a bit father off) well…

Like I said there are TWO of these stores, both are in outlet malls in shops adjacent to the food courts (so ask folks where the food court is, as to my experience the teenagers working in those places often don’t know the Disney stores are even there):

One is in the ‘Premium Outlet on Vineland Ave’, located just a bit east of DisneyWorld:

while the other is about 20 minutes north in the ‘Orlando International Premium Outlets’ that are just east of the Universal Amusement parks Campus:

Once I have “satiated” my need for cute Disney stuff…. I currently have six new really cute Disney T-shirts that I picked up last night, as well as some new luggage tags (star wars themed), that’s when I start shopping the parks in earnest…. usually finding I can’t justify their prices, especially having just purchased six new T-shirts.

Food:
Firstly, you CAN of course always bring your own snacks to the park, or eat a good breakfast at home, limit yourself to a light lunch, and then wait to get off campus to eat dinner… There’s no shortage of Denny’s, Ihops, etc., not to mention there are a few Bahama Breeze restaurants scattered just outside the edges of the park, that offer a late night happy hour from 9pm to midnight where they have really good/tasty half price appetizers, where the calorie hit is listed on the menu (I like the fresh crab, shrimp, mango and avocado stack, for about $7.50  @300 calories ).

BUT assuming you don’t want to… one of the best held food secrets of Disney world is that firstly, there are Macdonald’s scattered around the parks, but of course this means getting in your car and driving over there because none of the DW rapid transit goes there.

AND the gas station food: You know that gas station that’s one right near Magic Kingdom? Pretty much every park has one not TOO far outside the parking area, if you willing to walk it. The one next to the Magic Kingdom is the one where they have actual mechanics available to fix flat tires, or swap out dead batteries so that you can at least get home. It, and all the other ones, actually have REALLY tasty hot food for sale, not kidding. These stations on the Disney property (all of them) are NOT offering up your normal gas station food, which you’d have to be a little desperate to eat… nope, these are the same sort of fare at the same sort of prices, but at MUCH higher quality. The wings for instance, are REALLY good, and their nice big pieces of chicken like at a restaurant (my mouth is actually watering as I write this). So, don’t be surprised to see Disney staffers at these places, dressed up in the outfits they wear working for on site restaurants, all of them buying pizza, subs and wings from these places during their lunch and dinner breaks.

Kid’s portions:
While Disney’s sit down restaurants won’t let you do this, the fact of the matter is that if you approach a fast food location and as an adult ask for the child’s portion, the staff will never question you about it… they’ll just assume the child is with a different adult already seated at a table. Even at Hollywood’s canteen, where waiters bring the food to the table, no one has ever made an issue that I opted for the child’s $7 half portion of grilled salmon rather than paying $15 for the adult sized portion.

 

 

 

Dapper Day at the Magic Kingdom

It’s Nov 17th, 2017 (well, 2am in the morning on the 18th) and today Dapper Day held one of its multiyear events at the Magic Kingdom in Florida, i.e., people watching extraordinaire — which is a good thing because the park was so ridiculously full that I could forget about doing anything else (the thanksgiving schools vacation period has started).

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While the Dapper organization co-ordinates with Disney, and works hard to stay on their good side, and is best known for their regular Disney outings, the Dapper organization isn’t actually part of Disney, nor is it promoted by them. However, since the events celebrate fashion, and are not a form of Cosplay (and their website STRONGLY discourages anyone from showing up in any sort of full costume), as long as none of the attendees to their events show up in anything that could be considered “a costume” they are not, technically, affected by the Disney rules against costumes.

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Dapper Days currently happen in both of the U.S. Parks, and the Paris park, and according to their website, “All sophisticated attire is encouraged from vintage-inspired classics to chic, contemporary looks. Active and retired military are encouraged to wear their dress blues or service uniforms if they like.”

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In honor of dapper day, I got new ears… when I got it home I snipped away the black veil that was attached to it…

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Hanging with friends in Eastern Tennessee

This last few days were sort of a new thing for me, but highly enjoyable. I met up with an old (platonic) friend of mine who I knew from when I was living in the SF area, and we spent four days traveling together in Tennessee as a test of our compatibility as travel-partners, before we committed to longer trips.

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First we rented an affordable hotel room in the Pigeon Forge, Tennessee area (Dollywood/Gatlinburg/Smokey Mountains National Park) — with two beds, because I usually don’t sleep well with others. I was really happy to discover 1) he’s a very heavy sleeper who, 2) doesn’t snore — like not at all. Apparently… I don’t snore either, I am however quite the chatterbox while dreaming, but he said it didn’t bother him (like I said, heavy sleeper). Also, he has a job that allows him to work remotely, so he’d wake at around 7am, work at his computer till noon — about when I finally woke up — and then once I was awake did his business calls/meetings with co/workers while I was checking emails and getting ready — i.e., he’d get about 6+ solid hours of work in — and then we went to lunch (see my post, “I stand corrected: There IS good food in Dollywood!”)

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and do tourist stuff together in the afternoons and evenings. The first day we opted to go to Gatlinburg, which is right down the road from Pigeon Forge, a town I am said to say that I had completely overlooked last time I was here. All I’m going to stay is next time I think I’ll SKIP Pigeon forge and focus on Gatlinburg… we both liked it a lot more.

Granted, we were there for only a few hours, and essentially spent all our time at the Anakeesta attraction, a chair lift to the top of the mountain, and then when you get to the top it’s sort of a bridge among the trees… which bounces around a lot when you walk on it.

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Photos from the Anakeesta Attraction in Gatlinberg, TN

Afterwards, in the late evening we walked around Gatlinburg, and did some shopping.

 

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I’m a sucker for leather. I negotiated down the price of this hat (it is utterly impractical to my current lifestyle), which was already on sale, so I had no choice but to buy it. Happily, when we got back to the hotel I searched for it on-line and found I’d gotten quite the deal on it.

While walking around a shop keeper called out to my friend, who stands a good 6’5″ or such, and asked him to help her hang her Xmas decorations in front of her shop. He’s such a sweet guy that he agreed.

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After hanging out and doing tourist stuff, he went to sleep at his normal time, while I stayed up doing my computer stuff and watching movies on my laptop (with the screen strength turned down and wearing earplugs so as to not disturb him).

UNFORTUNATELY on our second day, when we had intended to try going to Dollywood, or driving around the Smokey Mountains National Park, his job went into a little over-gear unexpectedly, so we had to work around that, but it was ultimately all good. For myself, I spend so much time traveling that it’s no biggie if weather or life derails my plans, and I told him that going forward, we’d be doing longer stays (I prefer 2 weeks in a place rather than 2 days), so that if the same were to ever happen it would really NOT be a big deal for me. But it stressed him out, so he found himself a place where he could get some work done and, since we had two separate cars, we agreed to meet up at his friend’s home in Cookeville, TN (essentially what will one day be a suburb of Nashville, assuming it ever turns into a major city) later that evening.

Since I had about two hours to kill before we were supposed to arrive at his friend’s home — even considering the drive there — I decided to do a quick swing through the Smokey Mountains National Park.

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Note the kayaker about to brave the rapids, there were in fact two guys.

Later that night (which was Halloween’s eve) we met up at his friends home…. to find her dressed like a cat… So, I got inspired, and dressed us up in some costume bits that I conveniently had stashed in my car. (In about a month I was going to go to a Dr. Seuss costume party at the home of friends in Florida.)
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I’m supposed to be the skeptical pet gold fish from The Cat in the Hat story, while I dressed my friend as The Lorax . Being Australian and unfamiliar with Dr. Seuss for the most part, at first he wasn’t game with wearing the hat; but, then once we had explained to him how the Lorax was the ultimate conservationist fable for kids…

… conservation being a cause that my friend totally supports — he got into it with a will (the hat was mine, the rest of the outfit is something he picked up at a hippy type music festival he’d attended on his travels, cause he swings like that). We all went out to dinner dressed like that…

Later her friend showed up, and she remembered she actually had a “Cat in the Hat” hat in her garage and dug it out for him… and we went out again to meet up with some friends of theirs at a bonfire (where everyone immediately recognized which characters we were, which was gratifying).

Anyway… a good time was had by all, and I may have found myself a travel partner for some of my future travels… now we just need to decide where we want to go.

 

 

 

 

Cherry blossoms in D.C.– or one more item off from the ol’bucket list (with comparisons to S. Korea)

My whole life I’ve always wanted to see Japanese Cherry blossoms in bloom, and in particular wanted to see them in Washington, D.C.. I am a Japan-o-phile, almost by trade, and I’ve “lived” (or more rightly had extended stays) in Japan, but never in the spring, and as such have not until this week actually seen Japanese Sakura in full bloom

This feeling of a deficit in my lifetime experience is even more odd when you consider that I’ve lived in Korea for two and a half years; not only that, but I was working (as a professor) at the Kyung Hee University Campus in Seoul, which is renowened as one of the best cherry blossom viewing locations in the city.

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The view from the front steps of the Business School, where I taught courses for the Marketing Department
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Multiple images taken from around the KHU campus

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Not to mention I made regular visits to the Lotte World Amusement park (World’s largest indoor theme park (and yes, of course I had a season pass), which is one of the other “go to” viewing locations in Seoul during the few fleetings days of Cherry Blossom season.

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See the Disneyesque wonderland in front of the gargantuan “forest” of 56 identical apartment blocks? That’s the outdoor section of Lotte world. The Indoor section is across the bridge and in that big white building off to the rightIMG_9972

Just like DisneyWorld’s Magic Kingdom, Lotte World sits alongside a man made lake, around which are planted a massive quantity of Cherry trees. While there is an entrance fee to the section of the Lotte park where the rides are, pedestrians are free take the path that circles the lake, making this another favorite spot for the residents of Seoul to enjoy the cherry blossoms.IMG_9973

While I won’t go into it here at length, but every time I entered Lotte World I was always wondered how Lotte managed to NOT get sued by Disney for infringment (the extent to which the former is almost a mirror image of the latter is almost laughable); but, I ultimately decided that the sheer size of the Lotte corporation — or to use the Korean term, Chaebol — which is a multinational in it’s own right just like Disney, probably has a lot to do with their immunity from Disney’s legal team.

For some reason, as I was in Korea and I regularly walked to work along paths that quite litterally rained cherry blossoms on my head….IMG_4138

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those trees never looked “quite right” to me, as they were willowy, and looked more like regular cherry trees, rather than the thickly gnarled wood and blossom heavy branches that hung with twisted beauty, as depicted in Japanese paintings. And therefore, these Korean trees never filled my personal need in me to see that beauty in the real world.

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As such, I still LONGED to have that experience before I died, and part of how I timed my current trip to D.C. (arriving on March 18th), was that I  should have arrived WELL in advance of the cherry blossoms (normally early to mid April) …

Can we say Global Climate change?

This last winter while I was in Florida, avoiding normal “cold” of Chicago’s winter, and the the folks back home were busy playing golf in Feburary, and walking around in shorts… while we snowbirds down in Florida had maybe one or two days that actually made it into the low 70’s. Washington D.C. was also uncharacteristically warm, so that friends of mine who had to be there for work in late Febuary were commenting on how trees were already starting to blossom, and everyone was talking about how the cherry blossom season was most likely going to be over a month early this year. ARGH!!!!

The weather gods were however on my side, and early March brought with it a dive in the tempretures and a late nor’easter complete with snow, followed by alternating warm and freezing days, so that the risk then became that of the cold damaging the blossoms that had started to bud too early.

But, as luck would have it, I was FINALLY able to get my cherry blossom fix in a way that was fully satisfying, albeit FREEZING COLD:

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Don’t let the Sunny skies fool you, what the pictures don’t show was that while the temps were in the mid 50’s (Ferinheit) there were wind gusts of almost 60mph so that it felt more like sub freezing; and there are lots of pictures (not shown) of me holding on to my hat for dear life.  As it was in the 50’s I had not thought I needed gloves, so that by the end of the day my fingers had frozen were frozen so solid that I could no longer manipulate the buttons on my iphone

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After I’d had my fill … or more to the point I could no longer move my fingers enough to take any more photos … I headed to a Japanese inspired resturant that my friend in Dalton, GA (who used to live in D.C.) STRONGLY suggested I HAD to try…

Teaism is a teashop/resturant chain with three locations in the D.C. area, and rotating seasonal menus, that offers up popular and highly affordable dishes. The one I went to was in Penn Quarter  and proved to be very tasty. 

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Ochazuke: A very traditional Japanese dish of rice and tea “soup,” served with your choice of pickled plum/ salmon or shrimp (I opted for the salmon)

O’chazuke is something I’ve never seen served in the U.S.A., but have had before on my trips to Japan. It is a VERY old and traditional Japanese dish that became popular in the Heian period (794 to 1185 A.D.)