Water world

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Aladdin and Sinbad await guests at the Arabian coast
Matt Wilce

Only in Japan would somebody spend over JY338 billion to build an ocean-themed park on land that used to be water. But very aptly Disney’s first ever sea-themed park, Tokyo DisneySea (TDS), occupies 71.4 hectares of reclaimed land adjacent to the original Tokyo Disney Land (TDL), completing the latest stage of the Disney Resort development.

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The Disney gang celebrate the maiden voyage of the S.S. Columbia with the musical revue Sail Away!
Matt Wilce

Opening September 4, the park features 9.2 hectares of water, one million plants, 6000 trees, seven themed “ports” of attractions-Mediterranean Harbor, American Waterfront, Port Discovery, Lost River Delta, Arabian Coast, Mermaid Lagoon and Mysterious Island-and a flame-spewing volcano that dwarfs poor Cindy’s enchanted castle next door. Full of stunning trompe l’oeil work-the artists were imported from Italy-and details that extend to steam rising from manholes in the New York waterfront area, the park is the result of four years of no-expense-spared construction. And with 40 percent of the land still available for development, the project is far from over-an additional ten attractions are in the pipeline.

Back story
The Mouse House first began mooting an ocean-themed park back in 1990, when plans for the US$2 billion development of a Long Beach, California, site were unveiled. In competition with the planned addition to the existing Disneyland park in Anaheim, DisneySea-or Port Disney as it was known-sank without trace and the Anaheim lot eventually became Disney’s California Adventure, which opened this February. Disney’s plans to create a water world were subsequently shifted to Tokyo Bay, to land originally created by their Japanese operating partner, Oriental Land Company (OLC).

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The S.S. Columbia docked in the American Waterfront
Matt Wilce

Founded in 1960, OLC-whose major stockholder is the Keisei Electric Railway Co-were responsible for the original bayside reclamation between 1964-75 and the construction of the first Disney park between 1980-83. The new venture, which like TDL will also be controlled and operated by OLC, expects admissions for the first year to total ten million, with a combined target of 25 million visitors for both parks within one year. Following OLC’s estimate that each visitor spends JY9610 on a single visit, annual revenue for the parks alone should exceed JY240 billion, with further income being generated by the two hotels, monorail, Ikspiari and other out-of-park outlets. Kansai’s Universal Studios Japan, which also opened this year, aims to clear a paltry-by-comparison US$8 million annually, while Disney’s California Adventure is aiming for around US$7 million in its first year of operation.

Mickey grows up
One innovation that is sure to appeal to adult visitors is the introduction of wine and beer to the park’s restaurants and bars. While alcohol was first introduced at Disney’s California Adventure earlier this year-most prominently with wine tastings in the Napa Valley zone-the availability of booze, along with fine dining outlets, appears to be part of the “adultification” process TDS is striving for. With the availability of prix fixe French, American and Mediterranean menus and a complete wine list at Magellan’s, Disney’s most expensive restaurant to date, the surrounding resort hotels face stiff competition. Magellan’s, S.S. Columbia Dining Room and The Teddy Roosevelt Lounge are the three flagship dining outlets that mark the biggest change in the food and beverage policy of the park. While fast food and cafeteria-style fare are still available, such high-end dining and the widespread availability of alcohol indicate that one of TDS’s main target groups is adult couples.

The Hotel MiraCosta, the first Disney hotel to be built inside of one of the resort’s parks, is a further example of the desire to move things upmarket. With around 500 rooms that include a suite at JY500,000 per night, four restaurants, swimming pools, banquet facilities and a wedding chapel, the MiraCosta gives the surrounding resort hotels some serious competition.

In comparison to its neighbor, TDS is lacking in cute character-themed attractions. The two official characters for the park, Ariel from The Little Mermaid and the Genie from Aladdin, appear in only an attraction apiece, while Mickey et al are consigned to meet-and-greet activities and a single musical show. The remaining attractions draw inspiration from either live-action Disney productions, such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or from the theme of the port, in the case of Stormrider. The only area clearly aimed at kids is the Mermaid Lagoon, but even there the 700-seater Mermaid Lagoon Theater houses a 14-minute show of aerial-no pun intended-choreography, effects and advanced oversized puppets that will equally entertain adults.

Ticket to ride
Linked by a snaking “sea” composed of 155 million liters-at nine hectares it's the largest body of water in a Disney park-the seven ports provide plenty of oceanic attractions. The longest lines will undoubtedly be for Journey to the Center of the Earth and the Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull, two of the most thrilling rides in the park. Inspired by the stories of Jules Verne, Journey may start off at a leisurely pace, but it concludes with the most roller coaster-ish finale in the park. While it’s worth the potentially long wait, taking advantage of the FastPass system that allows you to register for admission at a specific time slot is highly recommended. As the actual ride is only three minutes in duration, a lot of additional attention has been devoted to styling the waiting areas with scientific specimens, such as giant mushrooms and paraphernalia belonging to Captain Nemo, who uses Mysterious Island as the base for exploration. Less thrilling for grown-ups-who won’t be conned into believing they’re really submerged-but still enjoyable is the adjacent 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride.

The only attraction at TDS based on an existing ride-Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye in Anaheim-the Temple of the Crystal Skull is packed with state-of-the-art effects (watch out for one particularly stunning smoke effect) and plenty of excitement. Visitors travel through the Central American pyramid, which supposedly contains the Fountain of Youth, guarded by the vengeful Crystal Skull, in battered jeeps. Following Indy into the temple, visitors encounter plenty of booby traps, insects and the obligatory old rope bridge as well as a couple of set-piece moments from the movie series. The spot where superior SFX make you swear you’re moving backwards is the ride's brainteaser. Although the expected wait for the ride once the park opens will be around two hours or more, getting a FastPass will cut the time.

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Donald says "Ciao" to a young fan in the Mediterranean Harbor
Matt Wilce

The sleeper hit of the park is set to be the futuristic Stormrider, a simulator that takes visitors on a journey to the eye of a hurricane. The ride that has given the engineers the most headaches, Stormrider’s state-of-the-art cabins are packed with special effects-some big surprises await-and it makes Star Tours look prehistoric. At five and a half minutes, the ride is one of the longest-after the It’s a Small World-esque Sinbad’s Seven Voyages, which clocks in at seven minutes and thirty seconds-making it worth the wait.

Although several of the ports lack ride-type attractions, there are a plethora of live shows to entertain visitors. The Mediterranean Harbor’s 40-minute extravaganza Porto Paradiso Water Carnival (from 2:30pm daily) is the don’t-miss-it event, featuring a 200-strong cast who perform throughout the harbor. At night the port plays host to the DisneySea Symphony, conducted Fantasia-style by Mickey, who rides a giant sphere out on the water. The son et lumiere show starts at 8:50pm daily and combines water, pyrotechnics and effects. Mickey makes a further appearance over in the American Waterfront in Sail Away! (four shows daily). The 20-minute outdoor production is themed around the maiden voyage of the S.S. Columbia-the ship actually houses offices and cast dressing rooms in addition to a restaurant and bar-and features a crew of dancers and Disney favorites. The Waterfront is also home of the 1500-seat Broadway Musical Theater where the review Encore! is performed. The 35-minute show (performed five times daily) includes excerpts from 21 Broadway shows and is the main attraction in the New York-themed port.

Already dubbed a sure-fire hit by those lucky enough to attend the previews, TDS has cleverly reworked the Disney magic to provide a fresh and more mature theme park that really has cross-generational appeal. Mickey may have turned 73 already, but Tokyo DisneySea shows that sometimes you can teach an old mouse new tricks.



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James Cora
Chris Betros

Captain Disney

Chairman of Disney International James Cora’s latest park is set to make waves.

by Chris Betros

A million things have to be done before Tokyo DisneySea can open and James Cora has to check them all. As chairman of Disney International, Cora has been with the Walt Disney Co for 43 years since originally working as a ride operator in Fantasyland in Disneyland in Anaheim in 1958.

Cora was here back in 1979 as managing director of operations for the Tokyo Disneyland project. When he is not checking out potential sites for new Disney theme parks around the world, Cora oversees a group of people called Imagineers in Glendale, California, who design new attractions and merchandise. Chris Betros talks to the Disney tycoon about his latest enterprise, DisneySea.

How is the Disney resort better than, say, Universal Studios?
This is still the first and premier destination resort for Southeast Asia. We've got a better mix. Tokyo Disneyland is fantasy and magic. Tokyo DisneySea is romance and adventure. There is more variety and more for the family. If you have an extended vacation here, every hour is going to be filled with something new. Two parks give you a reason to stay longer and to come here and spend a real vacation. You'll have difficulty seeing this park in a day.

What are you doing about long lines?
It's our number one complaint at every park. That's why we came up with our new FastPass concept. It's a concept whereby you take your passport that you buy when you come in and you go to a major attraction and you put your passport into a machine and it will give you back a ticket for a specific time for you to come back. Now you've got that and you can go out and enjoy the rest of the park. You come back at your time and walk right onto your attraction, bypassing the regular line. We've installed the system for five attractions at Tokyo Disneyland and three here. We're putting them in as fast as we can.

What cultural changes have you made for Japan?
None, really. We made some concessions in France for language. But in Japan, they insist on more English signs because they prefer a more Western experience. There are some changes in food for Japanese tastes, but not Japanese food. For example, hamburgers are different. Here they are made of ground beef and soybean.

How does Tokyo Disneyland compare to theme parks in the US in terms of numbers?
As a single theme park, more people come to Tokyo Disneyland than any other Disney park. As an overall resort, more people go to Walt Disney World because we have four theme parks. We get a greater number of repeat visitors there than any other place.

Do you go out into the parks much?
The park is my favorite place to be. I'd much rather be out there than in here talking to you. You hear what guests are looking for-maybe a certain merchandise product that we don't carry the guests keeps asking for. Or the lines are too long, or a ride broke down, or the food wasn't good, or they can't find a drinking fountain. Some don't think a certain attraction was worth the money, or the park was too crowded. I hear more positive than negative comments.

What are you working on in the last few days before the opening?
There is a lot of fine-tuning to enhance the guest experience. We have got some areas we didn't think about putting music in. You walk through and it's kind of a dead space. We've been running rides without people. Now we have to see what happens with people.

Did you enjoy your time as a ride operator?
I was just trying to get through college. They kept offering me summer promotions and then full-time promotions and I would go to school nights. I thought when I graduated I would go get a real job. They offered me another promotion. Here I am, 43 years later looking for a real job.

What's your favorite attraction?
In Tokyo Disneyland, the Pirates of the Caribbean. In DisneySea, I'd have to say the Broadway Theater. It's 40 minutes of pure energy