How much Disney can one take?

I have to say this: I am not a big fan of theme parks.

Never really knew why, but someone who absolutely adores them once offered an analysis. “You had ‘no childhood’,” my fiancee averred. “Why else would you not love a place where you get transported back to when you were a child?”

I don’t know. My heart doesn’t skip a beat when a gorgeous, life-size Snow White fawns over me (well, maybe it does — but definitely not because I’ve suddenly imagined myself as a dwarf). And you know how, in theme parks, the guides on the river safari rides are somehow always animated and (almost) convincingly stunned when the hippopotamus spouts water toward the vessel? Or how there are hidden cameras on every roller coaster ride to capture your facial contortions as you swoosh around suavely?

All I have say about that is this: The Truman Show.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but theme parks always made me feel like that Jim Carrey character in that movie. I feel like I am in some made-up world and nothing but the subject of a television programme.

In the same way, everything that happens — the looks, sounds, and hell, even smells — in any theme park are a sort of manufactured reality. They’re all meant to combine into an intoxicating concoction that makes you think, however momentarily, you are back in your childhood world.

In some ways, Tokyo Disney Resort was the hyper-reality of all that. Because it was not just the employees who were perfect in playing their parts in this kink-free made-up world. The visitors contributed too. They head straight for the stores to buy their Mickey tees and princess outfits and change into them before wandering into the park, creating a dizzying atmosphere. The ground was free of litter, the queues were orderly, their looks of wonderment genuine. It was truly, a perfect, wholesome made-up world. 

But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Tokyo Disney Resort. There, I’ve said it.

Here’s why: One, it’s true that theme parks invariably mean lots of sweaty people jostling and elbowing you, and you have to contend with frustrating, endless queues where everyone around you seems to be fighting to be the main attraction (going by how loudly they talk). But that wasn’t the case with the Japanese.

You get the feeling that practically anyone you ask would gladly and quickly take photographs of you — even with you. They even look like they might just share their pop-corn with you (and no, they’re the standard fare you get at cinema concession stand — I would strongly suggest the apple and cinnamon flavoured ones). All this makes for a less stressful and more pleasant environment for you to actually become a child again, back in the days when you didn’t yet know that many colourful words or euphemisms to express yourself when you were frustrated.

Also, this year mark’s Tokyo Disney Resort’s 30th anniversary. To that effect, what they have anointed it The Happiness Year. In celebration of that, there is a massive “Happiness Is Here” parade at 3pm daily, featuring all your favourite characters, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Snow White, the Little Mermaid, Shrek and Buzz Lightyear — the whole lot.

And if there’s anyone you can trust to put up a good show, it’s the Japanese. After all, aren’t they the creators of ridiculously hilarious variety shows? The performers really got into it: Their boundless energy dancing and skipping along the long parade route amazed me. And the excitement was palpable. And here’s another plus: Everyone around you will get out of your way when you’re trying to snap that perfect picture of Mickey and Minnie bounding along hand-in-hand. 

If Disney merchandise is your thing, this is the place to be. The nearby Ikspiari mall — alight at the Resort Gateway Station on the Disney Resort Line — houses a large World Of Disney store, where you can find, well, towels, mugs, figurines, pillows, well, just about everything emblazoned with your favourite Disney characters.

And if you’re not Disney-mad, the five-storey mall, with its 140 shops and restaurants, is also a nice place to hang out while you wait for your significant other to get their Disney fill. Children will love the Rainforest Cafe — you dine in a rainforest setting, complete with “elephants”, et al; and we’re told the Kua’Aina Cafe, a hamburger chain from Hawaii, is pretty good.

As we made our way back to the airport after the three-day whirlwind trip, I recalled what a like-minded colleague said at the start of our visit: “How much manufactured happiness can one take?”

Fumbling with my cabin bag and the Mickey Mouse-shaped popcorn container (I won it as a prize from our hosts for aceing the Toy Story Mania! ride, by the way) I could only think that if I had to choose only one theme park in the world to visit again, Tokyo Disney Resort would be it. -, August 1, 2013.


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