Tokyo Disneyland's 20th Birthday
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The Welcome Gift
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Topsy Turvy Tokyo
After a hectic three days at the Disneyland Resort for the inauguration of the new attractions at both parks, Lindsay and I traversed the Pacific, en route to the Kingdom of Magic and Dreams. This is the story of Tokyo Disneyland's twentieth birthday celebrations.
We checked into the Disney Ambassador hotel on Sunday afternoon. Our superior room was on the fifth floor, with a beautiful view of the courtyard bridging the hotel and Ikspiari and a gap between the buildings that offered glimpses of Big Thunder Mountain and Cinderella's Castle in Tokyo Disneyland, whose outer berm was only a stone's throw away. We opted not to visit the parks that day and instead headed for the Disney Store and Bon Voyage, the stunning OLC-operated store that stands as the gateway to Disneyland from the Japan Railways' public station at Maihama. It became apparent that the rest of the resort was not celebrating the twentieth anniversary; a curious decision considering it is also the birthday of the resort as a whole.
An early night saw us heading to Tokyo Disneyland for 8am on Monday, as we met our closest Japanese Disney friends, Tetsuya and Yukari. Rumours had been circulating all weekend that there would be a special "dress rehearsalâ€? performance of the new Mickey's Gift of Dreams show on the castle forecourt stage. Cell phones had been buzzing as the tight network of local Disney enthusiasts emailed their friends to tempt them out to Maihama for this unique opportunity. The show itself was simply spectacular and was singled out by most watchers that day as one of the finest shows to feature at the castle hub. A full review and images will follow in a separate article.
The birthday itself turned out to be a damp squib of an affair. The queues in front of the turnstiles were substantial, but considerably reduced from those of September 4 2001, when Tokyo DisneySea entered service and rather muted by the squall and swirling winds. Again, the email network advised many to stay at home, with little prospect of the birthday celebrations taking place. It was eerily familiar of the opening itself, two decades prior, when OLC President Takahashi and Card Walker had to conduct an impromptu dedication ceremony at the crossroads in World Bazaar due to horrendous conditions. This simple revision became just a red, white and blue ribbon with a centre bow held up by Mickey as the two gentleman cut their sections, leaving Mickey to hold the centrepiece aloft, as the other pieces fell away. Little fanfare or spectacle, but deeply effective and appropriate for the park, whose early beginnings featured few major attractions.
The turnstiles opened early and OLC management greeted guests, distributing the special Mickey's Gift of Dreams zipper puller (pins are no longer distributed at TDL on special occasions, now being the exclusive domain of TDS these days). We quickly ran through the covered World Bazaar towards the infamous Blaine Gibson Partners statute, down the stairs to a small and colourful cavalcade, comprising of a train and several open-sided carriages. The rain continued to fall, leaving guests to wonder if this was an alternate version of the festivities planned. The Tokyo Disney Resort Ambassador welcomed guests to "this special dayâ€? as Mickey and the gang danced to the twentieth birthday anthem. The ceremony itself was short, with no extended speeches or fanfare that had heralded the debut of TDS just 19 months earlier.
As we headed back up to World Bazaar, President Tagami greeted us at the entrance. Not a single member of the Walt Disney Company's senior management or board attended the event. Not even Roy E., who has become the company's appointed attendee for many of these anniversaries and celebrations over the past decade. Tagami-san greeted us affectionately and was even allowing guest photographs, as he is a minor celebrity amongst local enthusiasts.
As we worked our way against the flow of traffic that was streaming through the structure, we noticed for the first time that a huge selection of cast members were lining the street, greeting guests were enthusiastic flag-waving and rapid hand gestures. The collection of individuals were grouped by costume and attraction and reminded me of the inauguration of the Walt Disney Studios Paris last year, when the huge gates were unveiled to exuberant cheering from the cast members, eager to welcome the first guests.
After attempting the lottery for "Mickey's Gift of Dreamsâ€?, and failing, we headed for the shelter of the Plaza restaurant for a coffee. Lindsay had been feeling under the weather and our group, which had expanded to include Nancy (from Hollywood, CA) and Debbie (from Mass.), decided that he needed medical examination. A quick visit to the first aid station in the Pirates show building, and the nurse sent him off to the local hospital in a TDR vehicle! It transpired that he had acute tonsillitis and needed to relax at the Disney Ambassador for the rest of the day. Luckily, the infection only knocked him out for one day.
The rest of the day was disappointing, as the heavens continued to empty on the unsuspecting guests, which literally dampened most people's enthusiasm, but we tried to stay in good spirits, despite the chilly temperatures, wind and rain. No presentations of the castle stage show were performed. However, one bright spot was the cancelling of Dreams on Parade. Usually, a cancellation due to inclement weather can be disheartening, but due to the fact that it happens so often at TDR, this was the first opportunity for Disneyland to debut the new Rainy Day parade. The train floats from the earlier Opening celebration were used, as the Disney characters performed in clear acrylic raingear to the Birthday song. Unlike it's predecessor, this version stopped at three points along the performance corridor, and the show was highly entertaining and welcome on a day when most outside entertainment had to be severely curtailed.
There is little else to report from the birthday itself. The now-aging Fantasy in the Sky fireworks (in desperate need of a Believe... makeover) was unchanged. The rest of our gang managed to hold out for the entire day, and left weary and damp, but feeling fortunate to have experienced another major milestone in the most popular Magic Kingdom of them all.
In future articles, we hope to show the remainder of the twentieth birthday celebrations and share with you the myriad of images that we captured during our unforgettable visit. We hope that you will join us on these future pictorial voyages. Happy Birthday Tokyo Disneyland!