Friday, October 28, 2016

The Path of the Samurai

Here we were on Mother's Day weekend.  Options were a crazy day trip to Hakone, Tokyo or the Kamakura samurai tombs.  We opted for Kamakura for a number of reasons - close to the apartment, relatively low key, lots of outdoor time and the fact that the tombs are only open to the public on a very limited basis.  

The trails in the hills around Kamakura are insane.  They start from random stairways...thank goodness for amazing directions from other blog sites.

And, away we go!



This was part of the path that has been traveled by folks in this area since the time of the samurai.  Very cool..


And, the tombs are carved into the wall.  






Logan did an amazing job walking through all the trails and the stairs and the woods.  



This was one of the most solitary hikes we've had in Japan.  Until we got to a clearing and ran into a hiking group.  Everyone was so kind to us, insisting that we take popcorn for Logan and smiling, saying "hi".  Very cool and super impressive that this group was up here.  It was definitely a challenging hike (lots of ups and downs) with some great views.


Love all the shrines along the trail...


After what felt like forever, but was only about 8 miles, we emerged in Kamakura near some of the temples on the outskirts.  As much fun as we had, we were utterly exhausted, so we took a bus back to the train station, grabbed a late lunch and collapsed once we got home.


What we've been eating Round 3

Confession.  It's two days before Halloween.  Ugh...this has sat in the hopper for too long!  I have a few more blog posts to wrap up Japan and then I really need to get some new stuff up here.

Here's the third and final version of "What We've Been Eating" for the last part of our trip.  

First up...favorites from shrine and temple festivals - fresh lollipops served on ice.  Nom.


Next up...picnic gear!  Everyone picnics in Japan for just about any reason.  We were up in Tokyo around Children's Day and we found a nice park to have a picnic...and managed to find cans of a great Scottish beer!


Joe got quite good at the arcade candy games.  Very good.  This was one haul.  Suffice to say, we still have some of this candy around the house.


OMG.  My mouth is watering in remembrance of this mean.  Tsukemen ramen from Ichikanjin in Kamakura.  Funky place and omg, the noodles and dipping sauce were insane.  I wish I would have gone there more....sigh.


Ah, Children's Day...May 5th.  I had been wanting to get these adorable Disney cakes from the Cozy Corner at the Aeon mall.  These were Pixar themed.  Looking back on it, I wish I could buy these adorable little cakes.  And I'm already looking forward to getting out my koi flags next year.


Another one of those hole in the wall places that was utterly wonderful.  The shop was known for their gyoza...and the gyoza stuffed chicken wings were absolutely ridiculous.  Ask me to find it again, and I'd never be able to....


The Dominique Ansel Bakery.  Totally unique...very cool.



Afuri ramen in Yokohama station.  I had the hot yuzu ramen.  It was definitely delicious...


More ramen!  Once the boys left, I tried hitting up as many places as I could.  


On our last night we went to the shinkansen sushi go round.  This happy boy destroyed his kids meal.  All of this food was only something like $4.  I miss shinkansen sushi.


Post-samurai tomb hike in Kamakura, we were ravenous for burgers...the rooftop cafe hit the spot.  



I was so excited to try the super limited edition toasted cheesecake frappuccino.  It was available one day and sold out by the next.  Don't ask me how unhealthy it was.  Let me just tell you that it was oishi!









Thursday, June 02, 2016

Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea

***Apologies up front, the formatting on this is all wonky. My iPad doesn't give me great options for working in Blogger....***


This was the one thing that was at the top of my Bucket List for Japan.  A weekend at the Tokyo Disney parks…I had been enough times in the past on my own to have a general idea of crowds to expect, foods to eat and all that stuff.

Using the Disney Tourist Blog and Tokyo Disney Explorer sites extensively, I tried planning our optimum days at the parks, bouncing possible days off the crowd calendar that’s available online.  We were limited to weekend days, given our work schedule and we opted out of the lowest crowd days back in January and February when the weather is less predictable (and it’s much colder).  I considered staying at The New Sanno or Hardy Barracks, but with an approximate hour trip between the hotel and the parks, that was a lot of time spent on the train.  I stalked booking.com and expedia.comfor prices to drop on some of the non-Disney but still affiliated resorts – targeting specifically the Hilton Tokyo Bay or Sheraton Tokyo Bay.  I couldn’t bring myself to spend $400 on somewhere for sleeping, so I bit the bullet and went with the Sheraton – coming in around $250.  Yikes…we rarely (if ever) spend that kind of money on a room, so I was hoping that it would be worth it.

I bought tickets to do an after 3pm pass for Tokyo Disney Sea on Saturday and then a full day at Disneyland on Sunday.  The afternoon / evening passes are one of the awesome things about Tokyo Disney – during the week you can buy an after 6pm pass and then on the weekends an after 3pm pass.  You risk having all fastpasses gone, etc but if you’re wanting to get the nighttime shows and some lighter crowds later in the evening, this is definitely the way to go.  And, on the whole, Tokyo Disney ticket prices are much less than anywhere else.  You’re talking 7400 yen for an adult (all day) and then 4300 (or something like that) for kids.  Kids under 4 years old are FREE!  The nighttime passes are reduced in price…something to note, there’s no park hopping option available for 1 and 2 day passes. If you buy a 3-day pass, the third day you can hop.

The other perk of staying at the Sheraton, other than it being a monorail resort, was something I discovered just a few days before we went…there’s a check in desk for all the non-Disney but still “official” resorts at the transportation area after you get off the public train.  The desk is staffed from 0800-1500 and you can seriously check into your hotel room, give them your bags and get your room keys.  Your bags will magically show up in your room.  And, since we told them that we were going to be in our room a little later (8 or 9 at night), they gave us an upgrade!  No expedia bias here at all!  They could do something similar for check out, but there was a fee at that point and we had to pick our bag up by 7pm. Eh, lockers at the train station it is.

We didn’t tell Logan where we were heading, just that it was a surprise.  I’m a terrible surprise keeper.  Just ask Joe. I kept dropping hints to Logan (dressing him in a mickey shirt, noticing Mickey on the trains), but he wasn’t getting it.  FINALLY when we were standing in line for the Disney Monorail, after seeing the castle, the marketing, the Mickey logos everywhere. Logan goes, “DISNEY?!  Is DISNEY our surprise?!”  He was so excited and that spread to us so quickly.  I know that some folks (ok, probably a lot) don’t understand why we love going to Disney so much.  Believe me, Joe and I have our limits as well…but the magic of Disney is indescribable.  The small details make it…and it all started for us at Tokyo with the monorail.  Mickey shaped holds for when the train is crowded…mickey shaped windows…nice fabric..it was nice.  Quirk about Japan – there are no free train rides out in the public arena.  So we had to pay a nominal fee to use the monorail per trip.  Luckily, we made nearly a complete loop due to where we were and where we were heading.  We got to Disneysea a little bit early, so we wandered around and then queued up in a line.  We could have started the line for 3pm admission, but we chose to look around.  Logan was so excited by this point…

When I mention Disneysea to people, they all assume it’s an aquarium themed park.  Not so at all…this is all cultures and lands (real and imaginary) that have flourished around the ocean, including a futuristic one.  Most of the rides have some element of water in them or adventuring…don’t ask me about Toy Story or Tower of Terror.  That still doesn’t make sense to me.  The I knew the crowds were going to be fairly large for Disneysea and I had no idea if fastpasses would be available.  Joe immediately noticed the people sitting in the middle of the sidewalk when we got into the park, holding seats for parades.  This is so popular to do, that Disney sells little pads to sit on in their stores.  Too funny.. We played it by ear as we went around, with Logan and I doing the Under the Sea area and Arabian Coast while Joe was off at the Indiana Jones rides.  The whole park is beautiful, full of tons of little details that make Disney what it is.  There’s a great double decker carousel in the Arabian Coast that Logan loved..
We grabbed some snacks, which, in hindsight, messed us up for dinner and wandered around.  We kept checking out rides, which had very long lines.  It was a little tough to NOT jump in the lines for the amazing rides, but I was good with just exploring…and so was everyone else.



Yes, it was st it ll Easter at Disneyland!




Monorail fun



Oh man, the popcorn flavors! Butter and caramel don't do it anymore when you have options like cappuccino, curry, strawberry....and on, and on.  The park map contains a "popcorn map"







We went to Fortress Explorations, which I hadn’t really been around before and it was AWESOME!  It was an area themed to science….replicas of flying machines, boats that could be driven…it’s hard to describe, but this was a great place to let the kiddo go up and down stairs, checking out all kinds of nooks and crannies. There were also some cannons which were slightly terrifying (loud!) and a playground that was a ship…so cool.  We could have spent ages here…and Joe was already eyeing up a spot to watch Fantasmic later in the evening.



We wandered around the Cape Cod area a bit, stopping to check out a lighthouse and look at yummy foods…we were getting hungry and the Teddy Roosevelt lounge in SS Columbia was sounding really yummy.  Unfortunately, like most things, there was a decent line – estimated to between 60-90 minutes.  We bailed on that idea and instead found the New York Deli.  It seemed like a few of the menu items were the same between the two places, but the Deli was a counter serve…and the timing was good.  The food was decent…nothing terribly special.  Unfortunately, we didn’t plan dinner too well and were trying to fit in a sit down meal in a short-ish window at peak dining time.  DOH!

But, sitting and relaxing put us on the right track for the rest of the night.  We wandered around a little bit more, Logan suddenly decided the Journey to the Center of the Earth looked amazing and wanted to do it (luckily he understood that we didn’t want to wait in a 90 minute line) and then found our spot for Fantasmic at the Fortress.  Logan definitely wanted to keep climbing and exploring...but we settled into the chilly night for the show.  Unfortunately, we were on the "back" side of the show - it was definitely geared towards the entrance side of the park.


Even from our vantage point, it was still a great show.  It was a little windy at times...which ended up being chilly for all of us.  Mt. Prometheus "blew up" as part of the show, which was even more impressive because we were right there...Logan was pretty much done when the show was over...it had been a long day with no nap.



We headed back to the room and Joe caught up on a few more rides.  Our room was great - it was incredibly easy to get from DisneySea to the hotel...and it was so nice having our stuff all ready for us.  We did a quick bath and then the kiddo racked out hard.  Joe stayed all the way until the park closed...the list of rides he was able to get on was impressive...I have to say I'm a little envious!

We all racked out and were woken up by my alarm and then Logan decided to open up the curtains wide to let the sun in.  The thing with Japan...there's no daylight savings time. So the sun is rising easily by 4:15am and fully up by 4:30.  When my alarm went off at 6am, ugh...it was bright.

We got going a little bit before 7am, so that we could make it to the park and stand in line no later than 7:15.  We were easily there and not anywhere close to the front of the line.  We had a light breakfast while waiting in line (thank you Japanese convenience stores!) and then it was go time.  :-)  There are a couple of extremely unique features about TDL...the first is the entrance.  There isn't a Main Street per se...but there is a covered "World Bazaar" that has all the same features of a main street.  Second...most of the rides are nearly identical to Disneyland.  Except for two - Pooh's Hunny Hunt and Monster's Inc Hide and Seek (or something).  Pooh is by far the better of the two rides, as it was the first of the Disney rides to feature the trackless ride system that is now being used for the Luigi ride at Disney California Adventure.  Unfortunately, those are two of the most popular rides for TDL...both feature fastpass, so we could use that if we wanted, but we wanted to prioritize the faster rides.

So, off they went.  Joe and Logan took off for Pooh's Hunny Hunt to get in line while I ran to Big Thunder Mountain railroad to get fastpasses.  Joe had discovered a great app for TDL wait times which we used extensively on our trip.  It made it that we were doing a lot of walking back and forth to pick up fastpasses for later or to jump on a short line, but it was worth it.  Lines can be terrible - I've personally seen Space Mountain be over 120 minutes and Pooh well past that.  So, we prioritized jumping on the line while it was short and working fastpasses in as we could.

I scored early fastpasses for BTMRR and hustled over to Pooh to try to meet up with the guys.  Perfect timing!  Saw them in line and got right in there with them...only a 15 minute wait at that point.





Easter eggs are everywhere!  We could have bought a map and done an egg search, but it was more fun spotting them everywhere!


Ok, the most frustrating thing of the day was the characters.  There were no lines.  In Japan, this amazes me....people excel at forming and waiting in lines...for everything.  I don't understand why the character interactions weren't that way...

We literally stood there while chip spun around just grabbing kids...finally, Logan found his way to Chip and got a huge hug.  Whew,  combat Disney....


Autopia is always a hit!  The steering is getting better and better.




We got Logan past his fear of Pirates of the Caribbean (5 minute wait, all day long...crazy), went on Haunted Mansion and did an incredible amount of rides...

I won't go into excruciating details on how we moved around the park....we did well with our plan.  We wanted to have dinner be the last thing we did and head home, since it was a 2+ hour train ride home we wanted to be out of there by 7pm at the latest.  We snacked a lot, ate a light lunch..and we were able,to rides all the "Mountains" at least once...

We finished up on Space Mountain (another risky ride based on Disneyland last year) and Joe wasn't sure what Logan thought of it.  When we got off he turned around to us and went "That was AWESOME!!!!" Whew!  A roller coaster junkie!


It's a small world is a much shorter ride...and the Japan section was so cute!  Koi no bori, Mt Fuji...kawaii!!!


Same reaction from Space Mountain. Logan adored Splash Mountain. Absolutely adored it.


Planning our route on Tom Sawyer Island while Joe did single rider on Splash mountain.  



After turkey legs, ice cream and other treats, it was time for a real meal. We finished up Haunted Mansion and took advantage of the parade and slightly early hour to eat at the Queen of Hearts counter service buffeteria. The theming here is amazing...it's worth a trip inside just to look around. 

The food was great too...Logan had the kids meal, I had oishi flank steak and Joe had fish.  The star was the ombré dessert, that Logan picked out.  Beautiful and delish!



The sun was setting and we knew we had quite the day behind us.  I don't think we could have asked for a better weekend to see Disney.  The crowds were not bad at all in Sunday, which made our criss-cross around the park effective.  Logan was amazing....Disney Sea was a bit of a struggle with keeping him moving and happy but Disneyland was incredible.  He walked a ton, didn't complain and did great with everything.  We didn't wait in many lines at all...at most, maybe 30 minutes for once.  Otherwise, we used fast passes a ton and the app helped immensely.



One of my favorites...love all the experiences we've shared with the kiddo...



The kiddo zonked out on the train, after moving those little feet all day...I know for me, the memories of this Disney visit will be one of the highlights of our Japan adventure!

Until next time, Disney!