14 min read
To celebrate my 30th birthday, I wanted to do something special. For me, special meant spending the day at Tokyo DisneySea with my closest friends.
You may all know that I frequent the parks quite a bit. So, I figured planning my celebration (yeah, I am like that!) would be as easy as walking on Pooh’s Hunny Hunt during a typhoon in June. It was a welcomed challenge which paid off, in a huge way. My friends and I created memories that will last a lifetime, and I learned a few things about planning for a such a large group. Come and join us, as I take you through my 30th birthday celebration at Tokyo DisneySea!
No, we did not all simply show up at DisneySea in the morning hoping everything would go off without a hitch. If I said that, I would be lying. There was quite a bit of planning involved on my part. We were going on a Saturday – and with good weather that meant crowds. To make sure it was a success, it’d take some time and effort.
A total of 14 people attended my celebration. As you can imagine, coordinating and planning with that many people is challenging! I used Facebook’s Event functionality to coordinate everything, since it is dead simple to use.
First off, I knew for dinner I wanted to have it at Magellan’s. So, I had to ask which of the 14 would be attending the dinner. This way I could make a reservation ahead of time. Once I had the number of people who were attending (12 in this case), I went to make the reservation online. Sadly, you are only able to reserve for a party of 8 and the time slots for Saturday were already filled up (this was about 2-3 weeks before). In the end, we marched to Magellan’s as soon as the park opened and made the reservation. I worried that 12 people was too big of a group to accommodate, but the Cast Member ensured me that it was not an issue. We were able to get a reservation for 5pm that evening!
The second task was getting everyone to buy tickets ahead of time. This would let us save time by not having to buy tickets at the gate. About half the group purchased ahead of time, a couple bought Open Tickets (more on this in a moment), and the rest purchased tickets right at the gates. Now, those that had to buy tickets at the gates did have to wait a bit longer to get into the park.
A few people had to buy “Open Tickets”, meaning it had no fixed date and is good for one year. The only downside is, if the park reaches capacity then you are unable to enter the park. The reason some people had to buy these was the reserved tickets were already sold out ahead of time. This does not mean there are no tickets let, it simply means the allotted number of pre-sale tickets were gone (the ones you can buy at the Disney Store for example).
Deciding where we would have dinner and how everyone got their tickets, were the two big planning points. Everything else was “go with the flow”.
Making Reservations and Obtaining FastPasses
After everyone got into the park, at around 8:30am (the park opened at 8am), we divided and conquered. Myself and another friend went to make reservations at Magellan’s, while everyone else went to get FastPasses for Tower of Terror. Toy Story was not even an option by this point (if you do not get a FastPass right at park opening you’re not likely to get one at a decent time, if at all). Both groups were successful. We got a dinner reservation at 5pm and FastPasses for Tower of Terror were in our possession.
Before making the reservation, we stopped a Cast Member and informed them that it was my birthday. She quickly said Happy Birthday to me (お誕生日おめでとうございます) and pulled out a stack of stickers from her utility belt. She asked my name and began drawing on the top sticker. While she was drawing furiously, the Cast Member asked me questions such as: “Where are you from?” and “Do you speak any Japanese?”. This was all in Japanese, and she sheepishly said that she doesn’t speak any English. Smiling the entire time she continued to draw on the sticker, swapping out different coloured markers to write and draw on it. The end result was something I was not expecting, at all!
She not only took the time to not only write my name, but drew a detailed picture of Donald Duck. (That explains why she was swapping out the markers so much!) Receiving a sticker for your birthday is different from Disneyland and Walt Disney World (to my knowledge), where you receive birthday buttons instead. I was really blown away with the attention to detail and how quickly she was able to crank out a flawless drawing of Donald Duck on a sticker.
By this point it was about 9am and attraction wait times were going up. Most of us in the group can understand Japanese, so we used the mobile website to check attraction wait times (sadly it is not in English and only works inside the park.) Our first attempt was standby for Journey to the Center of the Earth, but by the time we got there it was already at 120 minute wait time. None of us wanted to wait for that. So, we all quickly made our way over to Raging Spirits, which had an 80 minute wait time posted.
Being in such a large group, the wait time flew by. Everyone was laughing, having great conversation, and deciding on what we wanted to do next. Overall, we waited maybe 60 minutes. But, it really did not feel that long. Being covered in the shade was welcoming, as the temperature rose throughout the morning. With such a large group, we got an entire cart to ourselves. Anyone that has gone with bigger groups to any theme park before, knows how much fun that is. There is nothing quite like experiencing a 360 loop with all of your closest friends. While Raging Spirits is not an intense roller coaster (compared to others in Japan), it an enjoyable attraction and theming of the queue is top-notch.
Who Drinks at 10am?
As a rule I never have a drink before 11am, but I was willing to make an exception. It was a unanimous vote to head on over to the American Waterfront and consume the seasonal cocktails that DisneySea offers. A couple of us wanted to try the Strawberry Beer Cocktail from Barnacle Bills, and the rest fancied the Kirin Frozen Draft (from the beer stand beside Restaurant Sakura). Everyone met on the docks, just behind Barnacle Bills, and enjoyed each others company. There is nothing quite like enjoying an ice-cold cocktail with great company while sitting on the dock looking over at Mt. Prometheus. I highly recommend you give it a try. By this point, everyone was eligible to get another FastPass. Most of the group decided on Journey to the Center of the Earth (my favourite attraction), while a few other opted for other rides.
Our FastPasses for Journey were not until 7:20pm, which worked out perfectly since dinner was at 5pm. At first, we wanted to do Standby for Journey but it was temporarily out of service, hence the reason for getting the FastPasses. There were a few first timers in the group, so we all headed over to Aquatopia in Port Discovery. The wait time was only 40 minutes. Our entire group got stuck on the attraction for about 10 minutes as something went wrong (not entire sure what), but at least we got to work on our tans.
It was close to lunch time, and everyone was starting to get a bit hungry. We figured it was best to have a small bite to eat, considering it was another 4-5 hours before we were going to eat at the magnificent Magellan’s (even now my mouth is watering as I type this).
Popcorn, Ice Cream, & Pizza for Lunch
Since we are all adults, we can eat whatever we want, whenever we want – right?! Before heading on over to Zambini Brothers, a few people got the tasty White Chocolate Popcorn and others opted for Frozen Mango.
The wait to get into Zambini Brothers and to order food took about 20 minutes for everyone. This is not too bad considering it was around noon on a Saturday at DisneySea. I tried the Fruit Wine Cocktail, which was not that bad but the alcohol content was pretty weak for the price. It had more rum in it than wine, but it was still nice and refreshing – just not as good as I was hoping.
Since I did not want to have a heavy lunch I got the tomato and cheese pizza, which was excellent (considering how poor pizza is in Japan, compared to North America) and I highly recommend it. Zambini Brothers itself has excellent theming and plenty of tables to sit at. If you can, sit on the balcony on the 2nd floor.
Tower of Terror Right After Lunch
Riding an attraction immediately following lunch is not the best idea, but we did it anyway. That, and we did not have much choice in selecting our return time for our FastPasses!
If you’ve never been to Tokyo DisneySea, the storyline for its Tower of Terror differs from the versions at Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios making it a unique experience, although the ride mechanics are somewhat familiar. (We recently talked about how on our podcast – TDR Now. Be sure to check out the episode!)
In addition to our group, a tour guide and her group were also on the elevator. The entire time she was holding a jacket and a couple other items, I am assuming these belonged to the guests she was touring around. Before the ride began, she sat there quietly and did not break her professional demeanor. I was unable to see how she reacted during the ride, since I was too busy screaming my head off (I am not the biggest fan of the falling feeling, so I tend to cope by screaming loudly and grabbing the person’s leg who is sitting next to me). But, I knew I could see her expression on the photo taken during the ride. After we exited the attraction, I quickly found ours and looked for her in the photo. Surprisingly, she kept her professional manner, even when the attraction was in operation. Either she has incredible poise, or she knew to put her “game” face for the photo. Either way, it’s impressive.
We met up with the rest of the group and had a short little break in front of Tower of Terror with mini Mickey Waffles and the Green Alien Mochi! Fun fact, the name in Japanese for the “Little Green Men” mochi is a play on words. リータルグリンまん which says “Little Green Man”. The word “man” in Japanese, is the word used for meat buns (which is a common snack in Japan). While these are not full of meat, they have sweet fillings (chocolate, strawberry, and cream). But, since the word “men” in English sounds very close to the Japanese word “man” (pronounced mah-n), they call it the “Little Green Man” (pronounced as “reetaru gurin mahn”). Have to give credit to my friend who pointed this out to me.
Our next attraction was the beloved Sinbad’s Storybook Adventure over in the Arabian Coast. Before we made it there, we took a little photo shoot break:
Sinbad is one of those attractions in which you think it will simply be another animatronics boat ride with annoyingly catchy music. You would be correct about all those things, but this attraction does it well. One of my favourite non-thrill attractions. It is one of my “highly recommended” attractions to anyone. I won’t ruin it for you, but if you find yourself at DisneySea then you cannot miss it.
Birthday Dinner at Magellan’s
Magellan’s is of my favourite restaurants in any Disney Park. From the exquisite decor to the flawless theming, this restaurant was my top pick for birthday dinner. I was hoping that we would get the “secret” cellar room, but due to the size of our party it was a bit hard to make that work. Our table was next to entrance of the cellar room, so I guess that was close enough.
I chose the Magellan’s Course meal and the table decided on a lovely bottle of red wine to share (I completely forgot the name and didn’t write it down, whoops). I was the only one who had dined at Magellan’s before, so it was a treat for me to see everyone’s reactions to the interior (the gigantic globe center piece) and the magnificent food. The rice bread won as the crowd favourite with a unanimous vote.
The Magellan’s Course meal was magnificent, as I had it before and knew I wanted it again. Each of the courses is meticulously crafted and presented flawlessly by the Cast Members. My appetizer was scallops with balsamic and I chose the cauliflower as my soup. In between, I had as much rice bread as humanly possible. Seriously, that bread is delicious and a Cast Member will keep bringing them to your table. I chose the dessert of the day, but it came with a pleasant surprise.
As the cast member placed it in front of me, I didn’t notice anything special about the dessert. But then, I realized that there was a candle on the plate, sticking out of the whipped cream along with a piece of chocolate that read “Happy Birthday”. Before I knew it, the candle was lit and everyone at our table was singing me happy birthday. Once my friends finished singing, I noticed that everyone in the restaurant was looking at me. Then, the entire restaurant (Cast Members and Guests) began applauding and yelling “Happy Birthday” (in Japanese) to me. One older woman was waving her hands in the air to grab my attention, which it did, and yelled from across the restaurant to wish me a happy birthday. What a surreal experience! I was not expecting the entire restaurant to applaud for my sake of being born, but I enjoyed every minute of it and I will never forget that. I can write that down as one of those “magical moments.””
Journey to the Center of the Shaking Earth
Everyone had one last FastPass before the night was over, which was Journey to the Center of the Earth. But, little did we know what was about to happen next. Just before we all got into the elevator (part of the attraction), an announcement came over the intercom. I immediately knew that this was not part of the attraction (I have been on Journey several times before). The voice was a little muffled, but I did hear the Japanese word for “earthquake”. My mind immediately thought, “seriously? This is going to happen now?” Earlier in the week there had been two earthquakes, and I didn’t think we’d have another so soon.
Seconds after the announcement started, Cast Members were instructing guests to stay where they were, due to the earthquake. You could feel the ground beginning to move back and forth, very slightly. Then it quickly started to get stronger. By this point, the Cast Members instructed us to get on the ground and put our hands above our heads. When we did, you could immediately tell this quake was a bit stronger than the ones earlier in the week. The light fixtures were swinging back and forth and it felt as if you were on a bus that kept on hitting the breaks. I happened to have my phone out, as I was recording us going through the queue.
The strong shaking lasted for under a minute, but we all sat on the ground for about 4-5 minutes since the ground was still moving. Shortly after the shaking stopped, the Cast Members evacuated us and the other guests from the attraction. They gave everyone a FastPass to return if it re-opened. We got one for our group of 7.
After leaving Journey to the Center of the Earth, we met up with the rest of our group. There was no damage or injuries, which was good news. Cast Members informed us that all attractions and restaurants closed (except shops near the front of the park). Many guests headed towards the front of the park, while quite a huge number just found a spot to sit down and wait. Our group opted to wait, since we checked Twitter and realized the train lines have stopped completely. That would mean Maihama Station would be crowded and unpleasant as people would head there en mass.
After about half an hour, we all walked around to see how bad the crowds were near the front. Many people had left and we heard and saw on Twitter that Maihama Station was at capacity and the trains were still not running.
Another half hour passed by and you could tell that many people were leaving the park. We decided to try our luck and check if any attractions re-opened. Journey did re-open at about 9:40pm. Which we took full advantage of and rode it twice (once with our re-issued FastPass and another time right after since there was no one waiting in the queue.)
The park closed at 10pm for the night and we all started to make our ways back to the station. Maihama station was still packed, but not as bad as before. We all had train delays but everyone made it home safely (even though it took many of us 2-3 times longer to get home.) My normal commute is about 90 minutes, that night took about 2.5 hours.
I have to mention that the level of service and professionalism the Cast Members expressed during the earthquake was outstanding. They kept the guests calm and gave us clear instructions on what to do. Even if you do not speak Japanese, the hand gestures they give are simple and easy to understand (you can also look to see what everyone around you is doing). My hat goes off to the Cast Members and to OLC for the excellent training. I truly felt safe, even when the ground beneath me was shaking.
What a day that was, from spending it with some of my closest friends to having an entire restaurant applaud me, to experiencing an earthquake at DisneySea. This will be one of those birthdays I will always remember. Thank you to all my friends and Cast Members for creating such a magical and memorable 30th.