New Year's Eve at Tokyo Disneyland
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A Different Kind of New Year
Many people have asked me "Why the fascination about Tokyo Disneyland?â€? to which I have a simple answer. It is not the park itself, which is an oddly shaped copy of Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. The rides themselves are largely carbon copies of those available on the attractions roster at the US parks. However, the answer does not lie in this vacation destination per se, but in the guests that populate the parks. My fascination is intrinsically linked to the experiences of the visitors to this hunk of Americana on reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay.
Nothing encapsulates that experience more than the Countdown Parade and the subsequent conclusion of the festivities on New Year's Eve itself. To the "coreâ€? TDL fan, there is one superior date in their calendar, vastly more important than any birthday, special event, entertainment debut or attraction unveiling. The westernization of Japan has ensured that December 31 is the preferred choice for the celebration of New Year, rather than any adoption of the Chinese New Year. After two consecutive years at Disneyland and the Millennium Celebration at EPCOT, Lindsay and I opted for a different New Year experience at the Tokyo Disney Resort ("TDRâ€?).
In the minds of the Oriental Land Company ("OLCâ€?, the parent company for the TDR) executive, Christmas reaches its climax on December 25. There is no Twelve Night concept and the festive decorations are stripped from the parks before they reopen to guests on December 26. In prior years, TDL has debuted the first of five countdown parade performances on that date, but for some reason be known only to the OLC, in 2003, the showings numbered only three and began on December 28.
Imagine for a second what is the longest queue or wait you would tolerate at a Disney park for a ride, show or parade. The likely answer is not more than a few hours. During the inaugural season of the Indiana Jones Adventure during the 40 Years of Adventure celebration at Disneyland, guests would frequently see queues of 180 minutes at the attraction entrance, and still join the line. The arrival of Fastpass may have shorted people's expectations for a wait at Disney, but that has done little to dampen the desire of the most ardent of TDL enthusiasts. Due to this fever-pitched crescendo of excitement that locals generate at the park, OLC imposed a 1-hour wait time for any parade. Any guests attempting to park their rear on the sidewalk for a parade outside this maximum will be politely (but tersely) requested to move on. In 2003, the power of the TDL Annual Passholder won a victory against park management.
On December 28, hundreds of guests were patiently parked outside the turnstiles before park opening. As soon as the gates were activated, the visitors thronged into the Magic Kingdom, complete with bulging backpacks. Collectively, a walk broke out into a gentle jog, before progressing to adrenaline-induced flat-out sprinting and all before the first guests reached the crossroads in World Bazaar. By 10am, the sidewalks along the parade corridor were full with guests. Locals were very orderly & prepared and arrive fully stocked for a lengthy wait. Every rucksack contains the necessary groundsheet (usually about a square meter of thin plastic, adorned with non-Disney cartoon characters), which is efficiently unfurled as the guest arrives at their designated spot. No one attempts to infiltrate this spot or encroach on the marked territory. The majority will be willing to sit on this concrete surface as long as necessary. In this instance, it was not just a handful of hours to the 3pm parade, but about 9 hours, as the countdown parade only steps off after dusk. Sadly, this does impact on the day guest, who has to make a snap decision on arrival at the central plaza whether to wait all day to secure a decent vantage point or enjoy the park and hope that they will catch a glimpse from a distance.
Thankfully, a close friend of LP, Joe from Joe's Tokyo Site (http://www.jtcent.com) had dutifully secured his patch early in the morning, and our small group were able to join Joe and his cast member friends for the parade. Now, the Countdown Parade is no small feat. It is the highlight of the TDL entertainment calendar and is the longest parade in Disney history. Although only the front leader float (featuring the Countdown logo) is debuted on these evenings, the parade is simply breath taking for its electricity and the sheer number of performers. The floats are recycled from the parades that have run throughout the past few years at the park, in this instance from the current daytime parade, Disney Dreams on Parade (due for retirement on April 11, but expected to run the rest of the year due to guest demand), last summer's night time spectacular Blazing Rhythms, the park's own Halloween offering and 2002's D-Pop Magic.
Despite being an eclectic mix of styles and costumes, the parade works. Even the music is recycled with 2003's being a reworking of the popular Gift of Dreams theme song (the stage show that ran last spring in front of Cinderella's Castle) from "It's a Birthday Partyâ€? to "It's a Countdown Partyâ€? with just a simple transposition of a few words. The unbridled energy that every performer exhibits towards the crowd ensures that everyone is involved in the show. At the half-way point, when Mickey reaches the spot in line with World Bazaar and the Castle, the parade enters a lengthy show mode, with the floats covering virtually the entire length of the performance corridor. The temporary lighting rigs installed sporadically along the route are dimmed as the vibrant colours of the costumes become visible in the dusk and the cast members produce glo-sticks, as props in their dances. The show mode includes a series of park songs; including "Make a Wishâ€? that serves a similar musical device in the daytime parade and a chorus of Auld Lang Syne (I'm not sure how many of the captivated audience would actually understand the Celtic origins!).