Note: The Gaijin Ghost’s “TDR Museum” was originally conceived of as a series of features spotlighting extinct attractions at Tokyo Disney Resort. In the interest of having the blog’s TDR content all in one place, however, that series now serves as the umbrella for all posts related to the resort.
It spits you out of a volcano. Park experts have called it "the flagship attraction" at Tokyo DisneySea. And while the actual ride is a fleeting, two-minute affair, half dark ride, half rollercoaster, the intricacy on display in Journey to the Center of the Earth—one of two Jules-Verne-inspired attractions in Mysterious Island—makes for a truly immersive, one-of-a-kind theme park experience.
While the casual eye might write them off as mere decorative flourishes, there are many background features in Journey to the Center of the Earth that fit into the ride’s story and enhance its theming. Over the course of 40 photos, this post will take you on a walk-through in and around the attraction, sharing tips, and pointing out certain markers, in the hopes of bringing some of those overlooked details into the foreground.
One way to reach Mysterious Island, coming from the front of the park, is to set your sights on the long northern shoulder of Mount Prometheus: seen here across Mediterranean Harbor, the central port of call at Tokyo DisneySea.
In the midst of the morning madness, just after the park opens, people often hustle around the harbor, heading for the passage to Mysterious Island, which also serves as the gateway to ports like Mermaid Lagoon and Arabian Coast. If you are early enough, and they are still prepping those ports, there is a chance you might be headed off along the side wall by Disney Cast Members in back-of-the-park costumes.
In the next picture, the Cast Members have herded everyone forward, to where the morning mob is skirting the craggy volcano shoulder.
As you round the bend, you will see a castle wall swallowing up the path ahead of you. Exhibited here, in a black-and-white photo from our Mediterranean Harbor file, is the entrance to Fortress Explorations, a Tom-Sawyer's-Island-like attraction.
Our destination now, however, lies just before that, to the right, in the passage from Mediterranean Harbor to Mysterious Island.
Hang a left in the passage, and it will lead you down a long cave corridor.
On the guide map for Mysterious Island (see scanned segment below), there is a small inset where parts of Mount Prometheus are ghosted out to show the interior corridors, with a series of white dotted lines. This would be one of those paths.
It will actually take you deep inside the volcano. Your journey to the center of the earth has already begun.
Odds are, most of the morning mob is hurrying toward the same spot. On a busy day, it is not unheard of for Journey to the Center of the Earth to boast a standby wait in excess of three hours.
It would certainly be advisable, then, to arrive early and grab a Fastpass from one of the iron dispensers before Fastpass ticketing ends for the day.
In terms of popularity among the local Japanese, this ride is second only to Toy Story Mania, the star attraction which sends guests sprinting (or demurely speed-walking) in the morning. On a slow day, you might be able to do both rides, and still have time for other Fastpasses.
When the park is at peak attendance, however (consult the crowd calendar at tdrnavi for when that might be), you may have to choose one ride over the other, in which case you should probably give priority to Journey to the Center of the Earth, since this attraction is unique to Tokyo DisneySea (whereas Toy Story Mania can be found at other parks, like Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida.)
Mid-to-late March, for example, is especially busy, as this coincides with the end of the Japanese school year and there are many students on spring graduation trips. Weekends and public holidays are almost always crowded, but until early April, even on regular weekdays, kids flock to the park in their school uniforms, creating long lines outside the more exciting thrill rides at TDS, like this one.
According to the backstory from the Tokyo DisneySea Press Kit (by way of Disneyology), the entrance to the ride and the surrounding corridors are a combination of manmade and natural caverns.
Across from the entrance, you might notice two huge drill bits, boring like eyes into the volcano side. These are said to mark the place where the infamous Captain Nemo first discovered said caverns.
One last thing, before we take a look inside the ride queue. At the entrance, if you do a little creative communicating with a Cast Member (preferably one who understands a modicum of English), these friendly folks can usually furnish you with a story card. The story card helps set the stage for the ride, and also makes for a nifty free souvenir. This is what the front and back look like, together.
Inside, the queue kicks off with the Magma Sanctum, or Lava Sanctuary, where the rocks in the ground are alive with volcanic activity.
Next you will pass on to an iron enclosure, with glass windows ...
This is Nemo's pressurized Biological Laboratory, where he and his crew study rare specimens, like the flora and fauna of the Giant Mushroom Forest—one of your eventual ride destinations. The Bio-Lab is full of handwritten reference books, beakers with colored chemicals, and samples from the earth's core.
Around the Bio-Lab, bolted to the walls in iron picture frames, you can see some of the underground map spots you will visit in your "subterranean sightseeing excursion." One is the Crystal Caverns, and another is the aforementioned Mushroom Forest.
Before you set off to those places, however, you will need to avail yourself of the Terravator: a geothermal-powered elevator that, in the ride’s storyline, takes you half a mile below the earth's surface to Nemo's Base Station, where you then board your ride vehicle.
At the Base Station, the Terravator deposits you in front of a long ramp, which twists down around the Communication Center.
This workstation is supposed to monitor seismic activity via a system of speaking tubes, linked to Nemo's crew, throughout the tunnels. The light above it should shift from green to red whenever conditions become unstable in the cave system.
As is often the case with the premise for Disney attractions, however ... something has gone wrong. The Communication Center has been left unmanned. And so your bulldozer-like ride vehicle is about to mount an excursion into unstable territory.
As for the ride experience, like many fast-moving dark rides, Journey to the Center of the Earth can be difficult to capture in photos, unless you are a professional photographer with a high-end camera (someone like Tom Bricker, who kindly made the next picture available, over on DisneyTouristBlog.com). The Gaijin Ghost uses a bridge camera, which is better than the typical point-and-shoot, but still not enough to overcome the issue of blurry ride photos, even when adjusting the camera's metering and shooting in continuous mode.
Suffice it to say, the ride starts out peaceful enough, with your vehicle visiting the beautiful, rainbow-colored Crystal Caverns, and then passing through the Mushroom Forest, an exotic blue place full of bioluminescent toadstools. Some of the bigger toadstools seat so-called "skenks," of the moss-plucking variety.
These creatures, and most other visualizations for the ride, came from the mind of Tom Thordason, a former Disney Imagineer. You can read more about the attraction's development and his contribution to it at this link.
The ride takes an ominous turn as a cave collapse caused by a sudden earthquake re-routes your vehicle. Soon you encounter a weird nest of egg sacs, though your eyes barely have time to register them, and your mind barely has time to make the connection between them and the "species of monstrous, prehistoric creatures" whose fossilized eggs were pictured on the story card.
Before you know it, you are coming up alongside the Subterranean Sea, an underground lake in a cave so huge it has developed its own weather system.
Lightning crackles, when suddenly, a stray bolt sends your vehicle fleeing ... right into the lair of a lava monster. The impressive sight of this animatronic, rearing up its colossal, cobra-like head, is the last thing you see before your vehicle jets into rollercoaster mode.
Check it all out in the video below, however, note that this clip has been edited for time. In reality, there is a longer interval of darkness between the Subterranean Sea and Lava Monster, as your vehicle ascends a jerky track to the top of the volcano.
To escape the Lava Monster, your vehicle darts up a dark cavern, then plummets from the side of the volcano, onto a track around the caldera, or crater, of Mysterious Island. If you keep your eyes open during the drop, you will be able to enjoy a super-quick panorama of Tokyo DisneySea, similar to how you might catch a widescreen glimpse of Tokyo Disneyland from the top of Splash Mountain.
Seen from a different angle, the track exiting the volcano vaguely resembles a skull's gaping eye socket. This picture was taken from the top of the castle wall, inside Fortress Explorations, back out in Mediterranean Harbor.
As mentioned, the ride itself only runs about two minutes. In the vehicle, you are liable to hear first-time Japanese riders pronounce pithy utterances like, “Owari?” and, “Hayai,” meaning, “The end?” and, “Quick.”
When it does plonk you down again, you exit the ride through a staircase. This puts you right around the corner from a tunnel, where natural light filters in through the ceiling, as the tunnel's framework extends like a metal ribcage to the upper slope of Port Discovery.
Exhibited here in another black-and-white photo, this time from our Port Discovery file, is the back face of the Horizon Bay Restaurant, which does Disney character dining. This is where that tunnel lets out.
For now though, we are going to walk the opposite direction, toward where the cave opens out into an expanse of clear blue sky.
This is the caldera, the main hub of Mysterious Island, a busy steampunk cove, where the port’s other noteworthy spots like the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride can be found. As you mosey on out there into the caldera, you can look back and see the volcano cone, from within the volcano crater.
The level of detail here is so great that if you look over the side of the bridge, you will perceive a puddle of petrified lava.
You will also be able to see the machine whose huge drill bits dug those two holes across from the Journey to the Center of the Earth ride entrance.
As you progress along the bridge, back toward the entrance passage from Mediterranean Harbor, you will also pass under an enormous screen, which again, according to the backstory, is designed "to protect those below from falling debris and volcanic ash."
This brings us back, almost to the place where we started, at the entrance to Mysterious Island.
At Disney, it is easy to get caught up in the rat race of riding rides, without realizing the significance of what you are looking at half the time. Hopefully this tour has given you a greater appreciation for some of the unsung details in the bastion of pure escapist fun that is Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Ultimately, those details will only enrich your understanding and enjoyment of the fantasy world you can enter here in this attraction, which is available to ride exclusively at Tokyo DisneySea. If you are planning a trip to the park, consult the schedule of temporary ride closures ... and make sure you are going to be there when Journey to the Center of the Earth is open. This one ranks as a must.
The 2,000-word grand tour of DisneySea's flagship attraction is now concluded. Bon voyage!