2002 Japan
Tokyo Disney Resort, World Figure Skating Championships in Nagano, Kamakura, Nikko, and Takayama
Once upon a time, when I first heard about the Tokyo DisneySea (TDS) theme park, I vowed that I would use my frequent flier miles to go to Japan soon after it opened. Additionally, I heard they were building a hotel inside the park, and I planned to use the money I saved on airfare to stay at this hotel; In the world of dreams, things like affordability and budgets needn't be considered. I'd studied Japanese in college and been to Japan once before; this seemed like the excuse I was waiting for to make a return trip. But the reality of life intervened. In the midst of getting my life together and changing careers, I barely thought of my plan to visit Japan.

Sometime in December 2001, I started reading glowing reports about the park- I wondered how I could have let things slip so much that I hadn't even really been aware that it had been open for 3 months already. Naturally, I recalled my original goal of visiting the new Disney park. I also realized that the World Figure Skating championships would be held in late March in Nagano. How perfectly wonderful would it be to plan a trip in mid-March to coincide with my birthday?! My personal situation had finally stabilized- I'd recently grown to realize that my relatively new job would be working out- which of course also meant that I had a dependable source of income! As luck would have it, my 2 weeks vacation time would kick in around then too.

But everything hinged upon getting a reservation at the Hotel MiraCosta, the hotel inside TDS which looked incredible. My dream had included staying there and since Japan is not exactly around the corner, this might be my only chance. Eventually I mustered up the courage to call and see if I could make a reservation. I was pretty sure my little dream would be shattered but I figured that it was pretty insane to decide to go to Japan less than 3 months in advance, anyway, so it might be best to save my money and go later. In my ideal world, I wanted a Porto Paradiso view room- which would have a view of the park- and I wanted it for 3 nights; however, as long as I could get anything for at least the night of my birthday, I'd take it. They had a non smoking room in the Tuscany view (the cheapest view) available for 2 nights starting in my birthday. I said I'd take it (though I was slightly nervous that they only took my name and telephone number) and thus a trip was born!

From then on, the planning went as smooth as one could hope as I pieced my trip together. I soon learned that it would indeed be possible to get tickets to 3 days of the World Figure Skating competitions as well as affordable hotel reservations. I was able to get a terrific rate for the Tokyo Bay Hilton, an official TDR hotel, for the first few days in Japan before I would transfer to the Mira Costa. Then, it would be time to save money by spending 2 nights at the New Koyo hotel in Tokyo ($21/ night) while taking day trips outside the city. I'd also spend a day or 2 in Takayama, where I would stay at a traditional Japanese Ryokan (Inn); that was the hardest reservation to make as the Welcome Inn Group required me to send all sorts of information including a copy of my airplane ticket. In order to get to Nagano by noon for my first day of skating, I'd spend the prior night 2 hours away in Nagoya. I figured out that the cost of my train travels would be about enough to justify the added convenience of a 7 day Japan rail pass. Other than Tokyo Disneyland, my plan focused on places I hadn't seen on my prior trip.

I have to say that the wealth of information available on the Internet made this trip MUCH easier to plan than my prior one.

To sum things up...
Travelers: Just me- a young, female computer programmer
Disney Experience: Extensive- many visits to WDW, several visits to both DL and DLP and one prior trip to Tokyo Disneyland
Language Experience: Basic- I've studied Japanese for 2.5 years. Although it's been awhile since my studies and I've obviously forgotten a lot, I've tried to keep some language ability alive by listening to Japanese language recordings of Broadway shows (musical theatre is a huge passion of mine, though I did not see any shows on this trip).
Travel Experience: Fairly extensive- including several trips throughout Europe as well as a prior trip to Japan; many of these were solo excursions.
Other Relevant Info: I follow the world of figure skating the way some people follow football or baseball; I'd attended one other major competition which was the 1998 US Nationals and I was very excited to be able to see a World Championships.

And now, please join me as the adventure begins...

The time between leaving my house at about 5am on March 12 and arriving in Tokyo at about 3pm on March 13 was mostly uneventful. Considering things that might have happened, this was a Good Thing. Luckily, I was one day too early to run into a major Minneapolis snow storm, so my connection went perfectly smoothly. Although I was not fortunate enough to be upgraded to business class (I asked- hey, it never hurts!) as I was on my prior trip home from Japan, I was fortunate enough to be seated next to one of very few vacant seats on the airplane. For some reason, I could only sleep well when sitting with crosslegged- and not when I sat normally with my feet on the floor. Ah yes, it's nice to be small sometimes! I skipped the movies in favor of getting some sleep; I even slept through one point when the stewardesses were handing out snacks. I have vague memories of seeing some of the end of "Shallow Hal." For both my meal options, I chose the more "Japanese" menu choice since, after all, I was going to Japan!

When they handed out disembarkation cards shortly after we took off from Minneapolis, it finally started to sink in that I was really and truly going to be in Japan in a matter of hours! I was terribly excited, slightly scared, and determined to take full advantage of the next 2 weeks. During some of my waking moments, I listed to a couple of my absolute favorite recordings on minidisc player. One of these was the Broadway cast recording of Jane Eyre, a show which has been very special to me. In fact, this recording contains a few lines that motivated me to "go for it" and follow my heart when I was debating whether or not I should really take the trip. As I gazed outside my window, I was quite moved listening to Jane sing

And I wake from my bed with the urge to depart
And follow the dreams of my heart

It's 12 o'clock in the pitch black night
I can't contain my wanderlust
I seek a new adventure
I search the skies because I must...
The song continues with the lyrics
Over mountains, over oceans
Heaven take me away
. . .
'Cross the rivers
Past the highlands
With God's wind in my hair
I look out over boundless skies. . .
It's hard to describe how truly blessed I felt to be living an adventure which could also be described by these beautiful lyrics. (incidentally, the lyrics to the song have always moved me- they always remind me of the joy and adventure of my personal travels)

Although my plane landed over a half hour early at 3:10, we were not parked at a gate so it took a small amount of time to take a shuttle bus to the airport. There was also a long line for customs. Thankfully, it went more smoothly than my last trip to Japan, when I'd been taken aside because I couldn't initially find the address of the home where I would be staying. By the time I was through with customs, the luggage from my flight had already finished coming out on the carousel. According to my schedule, it would be awhile until there was another shuttle bus to the Tokyo Disney area, so I opted for the Narita Express train to Tokyo station. I just barely made the 4:14 train.

When I got into Tokyo, I easily found the place to get the JR train to Maihama. All I wanted to do was to buy a ticket and there seemed to be no way to do so; the guy at the information booth wouldn't even sell me one. I now realize that my Narita Express ticket must still have been valid- though I might have needed to add to the fare at my destination. However, at the time, I just didn't understand what was going on. Hey, I've lived in NY- the concept of not fully paying for your train ride until your destination is completely foreign to me. ;) At about that time, a young Japanese man came up to me and told me he'd ride with me to Tokyo Disney. I was surprised when he ended up talking to the station guy at Maihama and paying my fare! Of course, I had enough yen and I wanted to repay him but he would not take my money. This was my first experience this trip with how friendly and helpful the Japanese can be. There was seldom a time when I was trying to lug my suitcase up/ down stairs when someone stronger didn't offer to help me. At any rate, this young gentleman was very friendly and he spoke English very well.

When we got to Maihama, I was totally prepared to get to the Hilton. But still, this young man insisted on leaving me with a young lady from the welcome office who directly showed me how to buy a ticket and get to the monorail. After riding to Bayside station, the resort cruiser (bus) bound for the Hilton was waiting and I boarded it for the short ride to the hotel. These buses are adorable! They even have sounds of Mickey Mouse when the ride starts and stops. During the ride, you can generally hear the Tokyo DisneySea theme song, which definitely got me excited to see the new park!

As I checked in to the hotel, the desk clerk gave me my room key and told me it was a Bayside view. I mentioned, with just a tiny note of disappointment, that my reservation said that I'd have a park view. I had a print out of my reservation, of course, but that was irrelevant; the clerk had me sit down on a couch and wait. Eventually, someone told me my room was ready and a bellhop took my bags and led me to a room on the 11th floor. I could see Space Mountain, the castle, the Bayside monorail station, among other things. It was just what I'd wanted!

Thinking I'd get in a little earlier, I'd planned on getting a discounted after 6pm passport to Tokyo Disneyland (TDL) if I felt up to it. Even though it was already past 7, the sight of Tokyo Disneyland (TDL) was way too enticing to resist. So I went back to the monorail and set off in hopes of magic and fun. I also wanted to pre-purchase my 4 day passport that would start the next day; however, they were not only able to sell same day tickets from the ticket booth.

After over a year and a half hiatus, I was bursting with excitement to be back at a Disney park! My first stop was Splash Mountain, one of my absolute favorite Disney attractions. The Dreamlights evening parade was about to start and the posted wait was 35 minutes; however, I knew I could be see the parade another day and I couldn't resist the urge to ride Splash Mountain, one of my favorite attractions! I'd almost forgotten how fun it could be and I was instantly glad I hadn't just stayed in my hotel room. With its furry creatures, exciting drop, and the Zip-a-dee-do-dah finale, it was the perfect start to my trip. Also, it turns out that the wait was much less than 35 minutes; the parade was just about ending as I got off the ride.

I was very curious about the (relatively) new Pooh's Hunny Hunt ride, so that was my next destination. As I arrived there, Dreamlights was just starting at that end of the park and I was able to see much of it from the line. It looked terrific and I looked forward to catching it in full later in my trip. The wait was only about 20 minutes; I think that was slightly less than what was posted. The ride was very cute- obviously better than the WDW version. I particularly enjoyed the room where you bounce with Tigger. If I had any criticism, I'd say that it felt a little too short. But with lines as long as this attraction can get, I guess it couldn't be much longer.

Next up for me was another classic attraction: Space Mountain. I still remember waiting in a huge line my last trip, only to have the ride break down just as I got close to the boarding area. However, this time there was only a moderate wait- though it was slightly longer than my prior 2 rides. I laughed and smiled as I always do, though at this point I was starting to feel a little tired and a lot hungry. Despite my hunger, I couldn't resist an empty queue for Star Tours. Just a note of warning to anyone reading this... it may not be the best idea in the world to ride a motion simulator when one is tired and hungry, especially if one can sometimes be prone to motion sickness. ;) I didn't feel sick or anything- just a little groggy and perhaps more tired, though I enjoyed the ride.

At this point, I decided that it was an absolute necessity to eat dinner. I finally settled on the nearby Center Street Coffeehouse, a sit down restaurant off World Bazaar (TDL's version of Main Street), where I dined on spaghetti and meat sauce. At some point before dinner, they'd announced that the Fantasy in the Sky fireworks were cancelled due to inclement weather- I was somewhat puzzled as it seemed to be a very nice evening. In any event, I was glad I hadn't taken the bellhop's suggestion that I watch the fireworks from my hotel room!

After dinner, I returned to the hotel and tried to purchase my 4 day passport there, only to be told I'd have to come down to the window the next morning. I'd really wanted to have the passport in hand before starting out, but it wasn't a big deal. Actually, as exhausted as I was, it wouldn't have been that big a deal if they'd told me the park wouldn't be opening until noon the next day. When I got to my room, I was so dead tired that I didn't even have the strength to wash my face; I just changed into my Grumpy pajamas, collapsed onto my comfortable bed, and fell asleep immediately.

Most Magical Moment: Riding Splash Mountain after a 1.5 year hiatus
Least Magical Moment: Being confused at the Tokyo train station

After about 8 hours of sleep, I woke up at about 7am feeling quite refreshed and ready to go. This surprised me because I remembered having jet lag for about a week on my prior trip to Japan. Lesson learned: to combat jet lag, just kill yourself with activity the day you arrive and don't stop! :)

There was no line at the ticket window in the Hilton lobby, so I easily got my 4 day passport. For those who may not know: the first 2 days of the passport must be assigned to specific parks while the last days allow park hopping. Very eager to see the brand spanking new Tokyo DisneySea (TDS) park, I opted for that park for day 1 with a return to TDL for day 2. I figured I'd play it by ear for the latter 2 days, with much of my time to be spent at TDS since 1- there is no other park like it anywhere else in the world and 2- I'd be staying at the ever-so-convenient (and luxurious) Hotel MiraCosta which is right at TDS.

So I once again took the Resort Cruiser to the Monorail; this might be an appropriate time to mention how enjoyable it is to ride on this Monorail, which features instrumental/ muzak versions of Disney tunes in the background. It also features such wonderful Disney touches as windows in the shape of Mickey's head and Disney collectibles encased in glass at the ends of the monorail cars. As I mentioned before, there is a small charge to ride this monorail; however, as a guest of any of the official hotels (such as the Tokyo Bay Hilton), you are provided with passes for the length of your stay.

I arrived at TDS at around 8:30, a half an hour before the park opened. I wasn't too far back from the turnstiles; I'm sure I would have been further back if it had been a weekend. It was exciting when I started to hear them playing music or something inside the gate, though I was too short to see what they were doing exactly. Remembering the many pictures I'd seen online, it was hard to believe that I was really here.

Once the gates opened, I wanted to take a little time to take things in. I was still slightly overwhelmed with the realization that I was truly at this park about which I'd been dreaming. I noticed that Mickey and Minnie were signing autographs near the entrance; I took time to appreciate how photos just don't do justice the Aquasphere in the main courtyard; I appreciated the beauty of the whole Porto Paradiso area which emerges as you walk under the MiraCosta hotel into the main park area. And, wow, I would be staying at that amazing hotel myself in a couple days!

But enough of that- all the "experts" seemed to agree that the first thing one should do at TDS is to head to Journey to the Center of the Earth, possibly the most popular attraction in the park. I saw a really long line beginning to form at a steady rate- the banner the CM was carrying was in Japanese but I could make out the katakana for "Center of the Earth" so I assumed I was in the right place. I figured it had to be the standby line since it was so long. But after waiting awhile, I realized to my disappointment that it was the FastPass line. So I grabbed a FastPass and was surprised my ride time wasn't until the 1:10 - 2:10pm time period. I was quite curious about this ride, so I decided to seek out the standby line even though I figured it had to be insane by then if even the FP line was so long. Truthfully, I was a little mad at myself for not finding the correct line to begin with. However, it turned out that the ride was down so I had to move on.

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is another popular ride in the same area, so I decided to give it a try. Well, I had a bit of a struggle just trying to find the end of the line; I couldn't even keep up with the incredibly rapid pace at which it was building. At this point, I felt like I'd been in the park for awhile but I'd yet to actually be able to do anything. So despite admiring the obvious beauty of the park, I couldn't help but feel a little frustrated and overwhelmed. I guess I am just spoiled by being so familiar with the ins and outs of the current Disney parks. Moreover, extreme crowds aren't conducive to getting one's bearings in a new park.

I wandered into the Mermaid Lagoon area and again found that this was an area that really cannot be fully captured in still photos. Full of bright colors and whimsical detail, it reminded me of the movie I love. And I was finally able to experience my first TDS attraction! There was just a short line for the Little Mermaid themed "Under the Sea" show. When the doors opened, I felt slightly overwhelmed again by all the people racing in front of me for good seats, but I managed to get something decent slightly to the side. The worst thing about my seat was that the 2 girls next to me seemed to chat incessantly during the show. But that couldn't have been predicted.

The puppetry and staging in this show are gorgeous- you are really under the sea with Ariel, who files above the audience. However, I am sure I am in the vast minority when I say I still prefer the WDW/ MGM studios Little Mermaid show. For one thing, the TDS show felt shorter- it only includes "Part of Your World", "Poor Unfortunate Soul", and "Under the Sea"- these are all sung in English though the small amount of dialogue is in Japanese. Also, the TDS show completely cuts out Eric and the entire romance aspect. I'm a sucker for romance so I definitely missed all of that. It also seemed less true to the movie- my Japanese isn't that great, but it seemed to me like somehow Sebastien saved Ariel from signing her soul away to Ursula. I don't mean to seem so critical as I definitely enjoyed the show; however, based on the raves I'd read, I was disappointed.

After checking out the shop and fast food place (and these are so well themed at TDS that they are definitely worth at least a quick look!) at the Mermaid Lagoon, I was off to the Arabian Coast section of the park! Most, if not all, of this area is themed to Disney's Aladdin movie. After walking around a bit, I headed to Sindbad's Seven Voyages, which did not have any line. This is a dark ride along the lines of Pirates of the Caribbean or It's A Small World and it's very well done with lots of audio-animatronic figures. I might have appreciated it more if I'd had more of a familiarity with the story of Sindbad but it was fun and it was very Disney. I was starting to feel like my day was getting better.

Moving counterclockwise, the next area of the park which I entered was the Lost River Delta. This area houses another popular ride- Indiana Jones- Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull, which is almost identical to the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, CA. The posted wait time was either 140 or 160 minutes, so I passed right by! Since there's a similar ride in the US, it wasn't high on my priority list anyway.

Although I was hungry when I reached the Port Discovery area, the posted wait time for StormRider was only 40 minutes so I figured I might as well check it out before lunch. Unfortunately for me, the wait turned out to be more like 70 minutes; had I known this in advance, I'd have passed until later. Not only was I starting to get *real* hungry, but the wait seemed much longer due to the fact that the line only moves once every 5-10 minutes. Of course, at those times, the line moves a good deal since they allow a lot of people inside the pre-show area at once. Nonetheless, it seemed interminable. When I got just about to the front door and was not allowed in, I was nearly in tears at the thought of waiting another 5-10 minutes. Fortunately, they allowed a few more people in, including me.

We were lined up in rows to go into the theatre on the left but first we watched the pre-show in the center of the room. After the pre-show, there was a delay and then an announcement in Japanese which I correctly gathered to mean that we would have to use the other theatre as there was a problem with this one. So we were led in an exceedingly orderly fashion, row by row, across the room. StormRider is a large simulator type ride and the premise is that you are descending into the eye of a storm. After how painful I found the wait, I think the ride would have had to be Splash Mountain and Tower of Terror multiplied together in order for me to want to experience it again. So it's probably not surprising that I never again felt an urge to go anywhere near that building. I think it was a fun enough ride on its own merits; they started to offer FastPasses for this attraction after my trip and I'd probably try it again with a FastPass.

It was surprisingly warm, and I was certainly glad I didn't wear a sweatshirt under my winter coat. I think I got some sunburn while waiting in line and standing in one place. In general, I was pleasantly surprised with the weather during the early part of my trip.

Once again, I reached a point where food was an absolute must. However, I can be picky so I wandered around until I finally decided on Café Portofino, a cafeteria style restaurant on Mediterranean Harbor. I ordered the Sea Bass entrée which came with caramelized onions and gnocchi. I am big on drinking water and I was surprised not to see bottled water on sale much at the Tokyo Disney parks; there also was no Diet Coke (or any other diet soda) which is my second choice beverage. There was a bit of a problem communicating when I asked for water at the restaurant- eventually, I realized that if you want to drink water at a TDR cafeteria restaurant, you can find a water fountain and cups provided. In this case, eventually a CM poured me some water and took my tray to a table for me. In general, the portions in Japan are smaller than those I am used to in the US- perhaps this is one reason why there seem to be far fewer overweight people at Tokyo Disney than at the US parks. Even if I hadn't felt like I was about to drop, I would have found the food to be quite delicious!

In an effort to prevent any future attacks of hunger, I purchased a chocolate gelato at the nearby Gondolier Snacks. While not quite as good as the stuff you get in Italy, it was a most welcome treat! Chocolate is almost always a Very Good Thing.

By now, it was well beyond the start time for my 1:10pm Journey to the Center of the Earth (JTTCOTE) FastPass, so that is exactly where I headed. JTTCOTE starts out as a calm expedition to the center of the earth, and ends with a drop from the side of the park's dramatic centerpiece volcano. However, it really is not as big a drop as it may appear; it felt more like a large hill. It's nowhere near as intimidating as the drop for Splash Mountain, for example, though it is quite a bit fun. The queue for this ride is quite well themed and detailed; the elevators you take to the load area even have a distinct scent. The ride itself is a lot of fun, especially at the end.

As it was about 2pm when I got off the ride, I figured it was about time to get a place to watch the 2:30 pm Porto Paradiso Water Carnival which takes place on the body of water at the center of the park. However, I was thirsty and since there was no bottled water to be found, I got a Kirin Lemon drink at Refrescos. I then staked out a spot on the bridge to the front of Mysterious Island, opposite the Hotel MiraCosta.

I eventually realized that perhaps I wasn't in an ideal spot since certain areas on the shores of Mediterranean Harbor featured performers dancing in front of the crowd. However, it would be almost impossible imo to resist this charming, very Disney show. The background music of "Listen to the Sea" sets a bouncy, cheerful mood with a slight Italian flavor to it. Once you start enjoying the sounds, your eyes are treated to a series of boats entering the harbor area and circling around. These boats are themed gorgeously and they have more than enough touches to entertain the watchful eye; for example, one boat features trimming that suggests Pluto doing the dog paddle. As might be expected, Disney characters and more colorfully costumed CM's are riding on the boats. During the course of the show, riders on little water sprite type craft decorated with banners criss cross through the waters, often creating an attractive maze of waves in their wake. At what is perhaps the pinnacle of the performance, some streamers are flown into the air. All in all, this is one festive and cheerful show that should not be missed. Things were definitely starting to pick up!

While waiting for the water carnival, I'd checked the entertainment schedule in my guide map and decided that I could probably make the 4pm show of Mystic Rhythms followed by the 5:20pm performance of Sail Away. So after the Carnival, I got in line for the DisneySea Transit Steamer Line which would take me from Mediterranean Harbor to Lost River Delta. On my way to the show, I was able to get a FastPass for the Indiana Jones ride; my time to return was 8:05- 9:05 pm.

I didn't really know what to expect from Mystic Rhythms but I wanted to see it because I wanted to see "everything." Well count me as someone who was totally blown away! This was my favorite stage show of the ones I was able to catch at TDR. I've been told by someone who has seen a clip that it's reminiscent of Cirque du Soliel; however, it's not like anything I'd ever seen before. Described in the park guide as "showcasing the mystic rhythms of the rainforest", this show is highlighted by dance and movement and features the themes of water and fire. From the moment the musicians energetically ran down the aisle as they started the show, I was hooked. I particularly enjoyed the woman who, in the tradition of the Lion King, was acting the role of her butterfly puppet and who was seemed to be acting as the observer of the show's activity. I also enjoyed the water sections, including people suspended on wires who would be dipped into the water and who would then glide through the air and somersault as water dripped from their bodies. I think this show could work really well at WDW's Animal Kingdom park and it would be terrific if it could make its way to the US.

After a quick ride on the DisneySea Electric Railway, I made my way to the S.S. Columbia, a replica of a ship, which is parked in the American Waterfront section of the park. I was able to stake out a nice spot on the ground for the 5:20 showing of "Sail Away", which takes place in front of the ship and whose premise is a celebration of the ship's maiden voyage. While waiting, I noticed that many guests had brought plastic mats upon which they could sit for shows such as this. Also, many groups had sent a representative to bring back snacks; many gyoza sausage buns started to arrive near me and they smelled really good.

Featuring Disney characters and an energetic chorus, the show was a lot of fun. Many of the songs were in English so that helped make it more accessible. My afternoon watching shows was much more relaxing and enjoyable than the morning when I'd been so concerned with trying to fit everything in as soon as possible.

For dinner, I decided to stop off at the Horizon Bay Restaurant, a cafeteria service restaurant at Port Discovery where I ordered the Tiger Pasta. Once again, I definitely enjoyed my meal; in all, I felt that the food choices at TDS were wonderful and superior to those at TDL. Also, the prices at the cafeteria places were quite affordable, generally less than $10 for an entrée. True, the portions are much smaller than in the US- but I'm known at work for eating like a bird (that can happen when you are a tiny female who works mainly with males) and it wasn't a big deal save for the fact that all the food was so tasty that I wouldn't have minded a little more.

After dinner, I noticed that there was not much of a line for the nearby Aquatopia, so I decided to ride. The Aquatopia looks like a bumper boat ride, but the watercraft are actually out of the rider's control. It seemed like they were controlled in a bit of a random fashion, as each one carried its passengers in various directions, at times stopping to spin around.

As I walked, I thought of how I love being able to experience theme parks as it gets dark; all the lights give a slightly different feel than during the day. I definitely wanted to catch the Disney Sea Symphony at 8:15, so I bought a souvenir bucket of cappuccino popcorn to snack on while I waited. It didn't really taste like cappuccino to me- it tasted better. ;) It was a sweet taste, along the lines of caramel corn, though the topping wasn't quite as thick. Before I even got a chance to stake out a spot, however, an announcement was broadcast that the Disney Sea Symphony was cancelled due to inclement weather; again, I didn't quite see what was so bad about the conditions. The fireworks were also cancelled.

The one good thing about the show's cancellation is that it made it less of a worry to make the Indiana Jones ride during my appointed FastPass time. FastPass is a wonderful invention for TDR, especially when you get to breeze right onto a ride that has huge waits. The ride was just as fun as the Disneyland version.

I went back to check 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (20K) and since its line had shortened to only about 20-30 minutes, I decided to go for it. Like some other attractions, 20K features a wonderfully detailed queue once you get to the bottom of the circular ramp where the line was currently ending; during the day, I've seen the line extend well beyond point. I was a little claustrophobic in the 6 person sized vehicles but I kept reminding myself that we weren't really underwater. I guess I didn't quite "get" the attraction, though the effects were wonderful.

Returning to Arabian Coast, I noticed that the line for the Magic Lamp Theater was very short so I figured I'd give it a try. I hadn't remembered reading about this attraction, but it consisted of a 3D theatre with a pre-show, and it featured Aladdin's Genie. Since I am not fluent in Japanese, I am sure some of the slapstick humor was lost on me; however I was able to grasp the basic storyline and to enjoy the attraction.

I wandered around the Mermaid Lagoon area at night and just soaked up the atmosphere. Seeing that the Gyoza Dog (sausage roll) line wasn't nearly as insane as it can be during the day, I stood in line at the cart located between Mermaid Lagoon and Mysterious Island. It was quite tasty, though I don't think any food item is worth the huge lines this stand boasts during the day. By the time I was done, it was about time for the park to close.

So it turned out that I needn't have stressed about fitting everything in as I was able to experience virtually all the major attractions except for the Encore! stage show and the Disney Sea Symphony. And aside from StormRider, I really didn't have to endure any major waits. Also, I felt much better once I got my bearings about where everything was located at TDS- no amount of looking at maps can ever compare to wandering around in person.

Still terribly excited about my first full day in Japan and specifically my first day at the Tokyo Disney Resort, I got off the monorail at the Resort Gateway station and then walked and browsed my way through the large Bon Voyage store. I noticed they sold bottled water, but there was nothing else I really wanted to buy so I didn't make a purchase. I walked all the way to the TDL station to reboard the monorail. I walked around a little at my hotel and discovered a small bakery type shop where I was able to buy some water. After such a full day, it should be no surprise that I was very tired once again when I got to my room- though this time, at least I was alive enough to wash my face!

Most magical moment: Being completely captivated by Mystic Rhythms
Least magical moment: The long, boring, endless StormRider line

After having moved at a breakneck pace in the day and a half since my arrival in Japan, I let myself sleep in a little. This was day 2 of my 4 day passport, and I was scheduled to spend it at Tokyo Disneyland. Before leaving my hotel, I stopped off at a drug store near the lobby which I'd spotted the prior evening and bought something to drink later as well as some Pacific exclusive Beanie Baby bears which are just darling! There are 6 in the set, and it was great to find 3 of them at my hotel without even making any effort to look for them.

I can't remember exactly what time I arrived at the park, though I do remember being so warm that I tied my jacket around my waist! It was another beautiful day. Knowing that the stores can get immensely crowded later in the day, I enjoyed browsing them at leisure as I entered the park. I tried to make a note of things I might buy on my way out of the park; but I couldn't resist buying a small Beauty and the Beast notepad and a couple pens so that I wouldn't forget them later.

Since I was most eager to experience the attractions not found in the U.S., my first destination was the Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour which had a short wait of perhaps 10-15 minutes. Based at least in some measure on The Black Cauldron, this attraction is a guided walking tour. Although the tour is conducted entirely in Japanese and although I couldn't understand the exact meaning of every word, it's easy to get the general gist of the battle between good and evil that complicates what is "supposed" to be a simple tour, and to see how a child from the group is able to defeat the villains. It's a great attraction- and it would be very cool if Disney could hand out written translations of the script in other languages, such as English and Chinese.

Since I was already in Fantasyland, I decided next to head to the Mickey Mouse Revue. However, I had just missed a show so I took a quick ride on "It's A Small World" (no wait) and then returned. This is a good old fashioned Disney attraction with audioanimatronics of classic Disney characters and classic Disney tunes.

At this point, I was getting annoyed with my coat being around my waist, so I decided to go back near main street and get a locker for it. My next stop was Meet the World, an attraction that details Japan's dealings with foreign cultures. While watching the show, my mind randomly wondered about the 2 children in the video in the first scene and who were also the models for audio-animatronic figures in latter scenes; since the park opened about 19 years ago, they must now be adults and so I was curious as to what they might think when they see their younger selves in a theme park attraction or if they now have children of their own that they bring to the park. Interestingly, I had very few active memories of this attraction from my first trip, but once it started, it seemed very familiar. This show has headphones with English language translation available though it was sometimes a little hard to understand the translation due to accents and possibly due to the age of the tapes.

Ready for some lunch, I decided to try my luck at Restaurant Hokusai at the World Bazaar. Since I was in Japan, I decided to take advantage of the single Japanese dining option. On my way there, I realized I'd missed the D-Pop magic show at the hub; for some reason, I'd had the idea in my head that this was scheduled for 2pm. Clearly, I was very wrong, and there was nothing in my guidebook with show schedules. I made a mental note to get a schedule and hoped there would be another performance.

Before I ate, I also stopped at the bank at World Bazaar to change a traveller's check. I got an excellent rate there, approximately 128 yen to the dollar, which turned out to be at least as good as the rates I received from my credit card company. And there was no conversion fee.

I was directed to go up to the 2nd floor to dine at restaurant Hokusai, and I had a vague recollection that I'd eaten there on my prior trip. My meal consisted a rice bowl topped with chicken and egg. Of course, it came with green tea and miso soup. I was somewhat disconcerted when a waitress asked me if I wanted a fork, and downright embarrassed when another waitress brought me a fork without asking. I may not be the best at eating with chopsticks, but I can manage just fine! At any event, I enjoyed my meal and I was glad to finally eat something Japanese. It was also very peaceful to spend a little time away from the hectic pace of the park.

After lunch, I got a FastPass for Space Mountain and saw Visionarium, though I am not quite sure which order I did these in. Visionarium is almost identical to the Timekeeper attraction in WDW, except it maintains the Gerard Depardieu cameo scene from the Disneyland Paris version which was cut from the US version. This was another attraction that offered English and Chinese language headphones- and it was easier to understand the English in this attraction than in Meet The World.

Somehow I figured out when I should try and get an early spot for the 100 Years of Magic Parade, which started at 2; I still did not have a show schedule. I sat near the hub, and the little toddler son of the woman next to me kept smiling at me and wanting to open my pocketbook! He was adorable. She had me pose for a picture with the boy, and I was glad to oblige. Since I hate photos of myself, I did not think to ask her to take one of me. I smiled at her a lot and hoped I was able to convey the fact that I was enjoying her son. The parade itself was terrific and I was glad I'd gotten a nice spot. All the floats were a lot of fun, and the theme music was very catchy.

Afterwards, I went to use my Space Mountain FastPass but the ride was down. I stood there for awhile and eventually I understood that I could indeed use my FastPass later in the day. Meanwhile, I decided to get in line for the 3:10pm Once Upon a Mouse show at the nearby theatre in Tomorrowland. While in line, I noticed that they just were opening Space Mountain so I ducked out of line, rode it, and then returned to the line. "Once Upon a Mouse" was obviously full of Disney characters and it was a very cute, enjoyable show.

After the show, I finally remembered to go to Guest Services to get an English language map which thankfully included a show schedule. I discovered that the second showing of D-Pop magic would be at 4pm, which meant I only had 15 minutes to get there! Obviously, I couldn't get a great spot at such a late time, and that was disappointing. But I stood off to the side and at least got to see something. This show feaures pop versions of the Tokyo Disneyland theme song as well as the theme songs from the different lands. As it starts, floats bring the characters in front of the stage which is at the end of world bazaar near the castle; the front of the stage faces the castle. It was fun and energetic but I didn't enjoy it was much as I'd enjoyed the parade.

I think I next went to pick up a FastPass for Big Thunder Mountain. I accidentally took out my After 6 Passport from my first night. When the machine gave me a fast pass, I realized I'd accidentally discovered a flaw in the system. So, I used my 4 day passport to get a fast pass for nearby Splash Mountain. I believe that this is when I went on the Haunted Mansion which, in Tokyo, is located in Fantasyland. Unless I missed it, the ride seems to be lacking the standard scene in the large hall with the ghosts partying.

For dinner, I grabbed a Potato and Bacon calzone at Captain Hook's Gallery in Fantasyland. Afterwards, I was able to zip through Splash and Thunder Mountains. Since I was getting tired and since I wanted a good view of the 7:30pm Dreamlights parade, I decided to stake out a spot early. I ended up sitting in the second row; I believe I was vaguely near the Diamond Horseshow in Westernland. While waiting, the woman in white pants in front of me started up a conversation- she was asking me about my trip and it turned out she lives near Kamakura, one of the places I planned to visit after my time at TDR. Her daughter was laying down (they had one of those rectangular plastic covers to lay on their ground space) until the parade began.

The Tokyo Disneyland Electric Parade Dreamlights was wonderful! It looked like they'd spruced up some of the old Electric Parade floats in addition to adding new ones; the characters on the new floats spoke Japanese while the others spoke English. Unlike the US Electric Parade which features a patriotic finale, the finale of this parade was themed to "It's A Small World" On a whole, the parade was much more beautiful and dynamic than I remember the Main Street Electric Parade. It was well worth the wait to get a good view!

While biding my time before the fireworks, I headed over to Peter Pan's Flight which had a moderate 15 minute wait. I then took a spot in front of the castle and sat and watched the fireworks. Once they started, I realized I didn't exactly have the best view, but I was too exhausted to jockey for a better one.

I felt satisfied with my day so I decided to head back to my hotel before the park closed. At some point earlier in the day, I'd managed to purchase some CD's and videos; since TDL only gives out paper bags without nice handles (in contrast to the plastic ones at TDS), I had to buy a larger plastic bag in which to carry everything. I think I made these purchases when I'd retrieved my coat from the locker when I got chilly after the sun went down; probably right before I rode the mountains.

Most magical moment: Interacting with people while waiting for the parades
Least magical moment: Thinking I'd missed my only chance to see the D-Pop magic show

My birthday got off to an early start so that I could transfer my bags to the Hotel MiraCosta and still make it to the TDS park by its 8am opening time. I wanted to be sure to get there early to confirm I had a reservation since I slightly worried that they'd only taken my name and phone number and obviously I had nothing in print; I figured I wouldn't be able to relax all day until I was assured my room was safe and waiting. It had occurred to me to take a taxi from the Hilton; but since none were waiting, I figured I might as well be cheap and take the monorail. So I dealt with taking my luggage onto the shuttle bus and onto the monorail. After getting off the monorail, I didn't realize that there was a walkway to the hotel so I ended up going the looooong way and I was treated to a nice steep uphill climb at the end of my journey to the front door. Needless to say, I felt a little worn out by I was more than happy to hand over my luggage to a bellhop; since I'd been so hot for the past 2 days, I left my coat with them as well.

I went to the front desk and I was relieved and excited when they indeed had my reservation. What a dream to be able to stay at this gorgeous hotel right in the heart of TDS! They were able to give me my monorail passes for my length of stay, but I wouldn't be able to check in until 3pm. I asked where my room would be; in my little dream world, I imagined them telling me that they'd upgraded me to the Porto Paradiso view, which has a lovely view of the main part of the TDS park. Realistically, I was just hoping I would have a view of the Aquasphere within the park entryway rather than the front of the hotel; both of these views are considered to be in the price range I'd booked. However, all they said was that I had booked the Tuscany view but rooms are not assigned until the check in time.

So I headed to the MiraCosta's private TDS entryway, where there were perhaps 18 people ahead of me. At approximately 7:45, they started taking tickets and letting us stand just outside the doorway, near Mama Biscotti's Bakery which was open for breakfast. At the official opening, I joined the crowds in running to get a JTTCOTE FastPass and managed to get one for 9:00- 10:00am. Realizing that I was still ahead of the crowds from the main gate (who had to come from a further distance than the MiraCosta entrance), I went in the standby line and somehow managed to be in the first JTCOTE car of guests for the day. It was already becoming clear to me that staying at the MiraCosta was *the* way to do TDS! If one can at least delude oneself into thinking that one can afford it, at any rate.

At this point, the line for 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea still hadn't built up so I was able to ride with minimal wait. I still didn't "get" it any more than I had the first time, but it was a pleasant ride.

Now that I already had 2 rides and a FastPass under my belt, I tried to get reservations for Ristorante di Canaletto for dinner. I was disappointed that they were already booked, so I made a lunch reservation for 12:10. I saw Gondolas passing through the canals and I decided to take a ride since they hadn't been open on Thursday. I couldn't really understand what the gondolier was saying but he seemed to amuse everyone. It was ironic to me that the day I finally gave up on bringing my coat with me to the parks was actually rather chilly. I couldn't wait to be able to check in and retrieve my coat!

All morning I'd been carrying a bag with 2 videotapes I'd made for an online acquaintance who is a cast member in the Encore! Show at TDS, and finally I had a chance to see if his instructions to drop them off at Guest Services would work. I tried to explain what I wanted in Japanese, but the CM to whom I was speaking did not understand me; she brought another CM out who spoke some English and who assured me that the tape would go to my acquaintance. I found out after I got home that the tapes did in fact arrive successfully, though apparently not until Monday.

Relieved of having to carry the tapes, I got in line an hour early for the 11am performance of Encore!, which was the first of the day. I watched the CM's arranging the ropes for the queue with some interest. I was also amazed at how orderly they maintained the line. At some points, they would bring parts of the line parallel to each other, but the order was never broken as they slowly let us get closer and closer to the theatre, and finally let us into the auditorium. I happily managed to snag a seat in the center section of the front row.

Just as the show was about to start, I began to feel the urge to have to pee. This was obviously not the ideal circumstance in which to see the show! ;) Some people who know me might have expected Encore! to have been my favorite Disney show of the trip. However, despite the fact that I enjoyed it and loved the music, I guess I am spoiled by the ease and frequency with which I see the "real thing" on Broadway. Give me a full fledged show with character and stories with which I can relate over a revue any day! So it was cool, but I prefer seeing things that are different. And yes, I headed straight to a restroom after the show- mercilessly, this was the only time I encountered a restroom line at TDR.

Despite the fact that I was still feeling rather chilly, I spent some time wandering around the Fortress Explorations on Mediterranean Harbor while I was waiting for my appointed time for lunch reservations. I was glad I'd made reservations because there was a decent sized standby line at the Ristorante di Canaletto. I was quickly seated, and I enjoyed my lunch of chicken and garlic soup followed by spaghetti with tomato and bacon sauce.

Before lunch, I tried to use my JTTCOTE FastPass, but the ride was down again so I figured I'd try later. After lunch, I could see that vehicles were at least going down the track, so I headed back over and see if it was open yet. It was still down but since the vehicles were running, I hung around as I had a hunch the ride would be back up soon. I was right, and since there was no standby line to bypass, I decided to hang on to my FastPass until later and to follow the chaos that was being converted into the new standby line. It was only a short wait until I was able to be on the ride.

At some point earlier in the day, I'd passed the line to get a FastPass for the Indiana Jones line and it had been insane; however, after lunch, it was much shorter so I got a pass for 9:05- 9:55pm. While in the area, I caught the 2pm show of Mystic Rhythms and enjoyed it as much as I had the first time. This was definitely something I had to experience more than once.

By now, it was 2:30 and most everyone was crowded around the Mediterranean Harbor to watch the Porto Paradiso Water Carnival. The park was very crowded and it was far too late to snag even a mediocre spot, so I went back to the MiraCosta to see if I could check in. It was a good time to go because there was no line at the check in desk; I later saw longer lines at other times of the day. Everything went smoothly, and they handed me a room key. I asked where the room was located and, specifically, if it would have a view of the Aquasphere. Once my check in agent understood what I was saying, she told me to wait. Then she did some things with her computer and went in the back room a couple of times.

Despite the fact that I'd been wishing for it in the back of my head, it was a delightful surprise when she eventually spoke to me again with words something like "Your reservation is for Tuscany view but tonight and tomorrow night, we are upgrading you." And no kiddies, I was not upgraded to the Venetian view (the 2nd level of rooms) but all the way to the Porto Paradiso view which I'd dreamed of. The ironic thing was that I'd originally tried to book the Porto Paradiso view but I was told it was unavailable. So ok, I figure I'll get a room on the side with a bit of a vague view, whatever- it's still amazing! I almost wanted to cry, there was so much happiness in my heart at that moment. What a birthday present! True Disney magic.

So a very nice and friendly female bellhop retrieved my bags from storage and led me to my room. Naturally, the first thing I did was to run to the window to check out the view. Oh my lord! It was amazing!!! I later figured out that my 4th floor room was directly above the hotel's private park entrance. I don't think that it would have been possible for anyone to appreciate that view any more than I did. I mean, I'd thought it was cool to be able to catch sight of teeny logs going down Splash Mountain in the distance from the Contemporary at WDW; from the MiraCosta, I had a much better view of the cars doing down the drop on JTTCOTE. It was also easy to see various watercraft, such as the Disney Transit Steamer line and the Gondolas, traveling through the shimmering water. If I looked to the left, in the distance I could see the DisneySea Electric railway shuttling back and forth between Port Discovery and the American Waterfront. And of course, I could see all the little people below me- walking around this way and that, and standing in the long lines for JTTCOTE and/or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Needless to say, the view itself was gorgeous and dramatic, with the volcano on Mysterious Island as the centerpiece. You could easily hear the theme music in the background; and to my delight, the windows opened a little which also allowed you to hear it even better. WOW!

This will not be the last time that I mention my lovely view, but for now, let's go back to the narrative. The bell hop suggested to me that I watch the DisneySea Symphony right from my room; I could definitely be into that idea! We'd talked a little more as she seemed interested in my trip and in the fact that it was my birthday. Eventually, I spoke a little Japanese and she complimented me on my ability and suggested that I try talking in Japanese since none of the hotel workers can speak English that well. Now, believe me, their English ran circles around my Japanese! In any event, it was a delight talking to my bellhop as she explained everything in the room (while I just kept thinking of that View!). She's just one example of how wonderful and attentive the staff was at the MiraCosta, and in the Japanese service industry in general. This is especially impressive since there is no tipping in Japan, so there was no possible ulterior motive to being friendly to a foreigner.

Being tired and having the rights to this new and lovely room, I decided to enjoy my surroundings for a little bit. I loved the Disneyfied little packages of toiletries in the bathroom, and the mickey shaped stirrers beside the hot water machine. I also must say that it was interesting to me that the toilet seat was heated. It took me awhile to figure out how the heck to flush the thing, and I accidentally hit a distress button in the process as I found out when the hotel phoned 5-10 minutes later. (had this been an actual emergency, it might have been too late) I tried to rest but I was still so very excited about my Porto Paradiso view. Eventually, I decided to wander around a little on the lobby level (and to take some pictures while doing so!) Even the smallest of touches, such as discovering depictions of Pinnochio in the hallways, were exciting. Since I'd been unable to get dinner reservations in the park, I tried Oceano; I couldn't get a reservation for my first choice 6pm, but I was able to make one for 5:40pm. I bought some cookies in one of the shops and returned to my room where I eventually succeeded in taking a light nap. It was definitely better to stay at the MiraCosta for the latter part of my TDR adventure (as opposed to the earlier part) since I had already done the Commando thing in the parks and I was better able to take some time to enjoy my room.

Feeling refreshed, I headed down to Oceano to enjoy my birthday dinner buffet. Actually, they explained to me that there were 3 buffet tables. I never really made it to the 3rd because I was so full! The first buffet featured cold items such as smoked salmon. The second one featured hot entrees, such as carved tuna head topped with onion straws, chicken, beef, potatoes au gratin, etc. I treated myself to little samples of many different foods and I really enjoyed everything I ate! I made a brief stop at the 3rd buffet just to get some candy as part of my dessert; I also grabbed a piece of cheesecake from another table. Although I am not a big soda drinker at home, it was very nice that I could get a Diet Coke with my meal; I never found any diet soda throughout the parks and it was not always easy to find diet soda anywhere in Japan. Incidentally, I never found any diet sodas in Japan beyond Diet Coke and the very occasional Diet Pepsi. While enjoying my meal, I was seated by a window so I was able once again to enjoy a lovely view of the park.

After dinner, I treated myself to some purchases at MickeyAngelo Gifts. I figured that since it was my birthday, I was more than entitled to some presents! Among my purchases was a maroon MiraCosta � sleeved shirt, the Tokyo DisneySea music album, a Resort Cruiser play set, and a small replica of the Resort Liner (monorail). The latter 2 items are now a part of the Disney area of my living room which includes a replica of the WDW monorail on a track with models of the Contemporary Resort and Epcot's Spaceship Earth as well as a Mattel castle set. Obviously, I had to pop up to my room to drop off my purchases! Of course I did not mind this in the least.

Since I still had my JTTCOTE FastPass from when the ride had broken down, I decided to make use of it. I got a bit of a look until the CM realized I must have tried to use it when the ride had been down. Either that or she just figured she wouldn't bother the poor Gaijin (foreigner). I wanted to sit up front for a change, but that still did not happen.

My inner child emerged as I explored Ariel's Playground in Mermaid Lagoon, even walking on the rope thingies. I was pleasantly surprised that some CD's slated to be released on 3/20 were already on display at The Sleepy Whale Shop, so I purchased the CD's of the Aquasphere, Porto Paradiso Water Carnival, and DisneySea Symphony. I also bought a copy of the Disney Fan magazine. I may not be able to read 90% of it, but it has great photos!

At 8pm, after walking around a bit, I followed my bellhop's most excellent suggestion of returning to my room to watch the 8:15 Tokyo DisneySea Symphony from my personal superbox seat. Did I mention yet that the MiraCosta is *the* way to experience the park? :) I couldn't see the 8:30 fireworks from my room, but I was able to clearly hear the background music, which was nice.

Ah, the convenience of staying right at the park... it only took an elevator ride for me to return to enjoying evening at TDS. I was able to use the FastPass I'd gotten earlier for the Indiana Jones ride. Then, I returned to Mermaid Lagoon and rode Flounder's Flying Fish Coaster (a kiddie coaster) and the indoor Blowfish Balloon Race, since neither had a line. Hey, you're only as old as you feel, right? :) I finished my enchanted day by attending the last performance of Under The Sea at the Mermaid Lagoon Theater.

After returning to my room, I looked outside the window and watched as some CM's walked around the park. I stayed up awhile to wind down and to eat some cookies I'd purchased earlier. The park music was still playing when I went to bed at 12am. I couldn't bear to shut myself off from my incredible view, so I slept with the curtains open. The one thing that would have made my amazing room even more perfect would have been if the bed had been placed on the opposite wall so that I would have been able to see the Volcano while laying in bed. But I have absolutely no complaints! In fact, it's probably corny, but more than once that day I caught myself silently humming "A dream is a wish your heart makes. . ."

Most Magical Moment: Being upgraded at the MiraCosta to Porto Paradiso View
Least Magical Moment: Taking the long route to walk to the MiraCosta

I randomly awoke at 5 am; normally when I wake up too early, I just roll over and go back to sleep. But this was the MiraCosta and I had to get up to take a look at daybreak from my wonderful Porto Paradiso view room (if you are joining this report in progress- I was upgraded to this dreamy view when I checked in). Even though I didn't have my glasses on, I decided the view was worthy of being photographed. I also noticed that the park music had been shut down overnight. And then, after satisfying my curiosity, I had no trouble falling back to sleep until the alarm went off.

When I went downstairs at about 7:30am, I was shocked that the line to enter the park was already much longer than it had been at about the same time the previous day. I was just standing in the lobby for a bit until a kind CM pointed me to the end; where I was standing was merely a break to allow traffic to pass. It turns out that the line stretched from the doors on the first floor, up the stairs to the 2nd floor, into the lobby and then down the hall past the Minnie Lisa Sundries store. Fortunately, it moved fairly briskly once they started letting us into the courtyard at 7:45. Since I'd been a little winded from my sprint the prior day, I walked- albeit at a steady pace- to JTTCOTE once the park opened. I still managed to get a FastPass for 9:05-10:05 before getting into the standby line which was only about a 5 minute wait. When I exited the line, I noticed the wait was *still* only 15 minutes so I rode again. Staying at the MiraCosta really gives you an advantage as far as getting to the attractions before everyone who enters at the main gate. The JTTCOTE line seriously gets to well over an hour's length during the height of the day, and weekends are even busier than weekdays! This time, I was finally able to get a seat in the front row, which I'd been coveting; it was especially fun getting more wind, as it often is with thrill rides. I still loved the part at the end where the vehicle picks up speed and zooms in circles upward until you reach the small drop.

Still taking a more relaxed tour of the park than on some of my earlier days, I wandered around a little until I saw that the Caravan Carousel in Arabian Coast had no line. I chose to board on the 2nd floor of the Carousel where I was able to ride on a "horse" shaped like the Genie from Aladdin. Afterwards, I noticed a walkaround Jafar just standing around in the courtyard and posing for photos- no waiting in lines for him, he just mingled with the crowd. I also rode the Sinbad ride once again; this time it had a wait of only a couple minutes. The FastPass entry line for JTTCOTE looked a little long, so I decided to keep my FastPass as a souvenir rather than to use it.

I went up to my room to see if I could see the Lido Isle Meet and Smile from there; unfortunately, I was only able to see the boat which was carrying the characters. The audio for the rest of the show was not broadcast to my area. Meanwhile, I called home since I knew my parents would want to wish me a happy birthday (it was still my birthday in the US). I opened my window and stuck the phone out so that my mom could hear the park's background music. And how many times can you ask your parent "Do you hear that? That's the volcano erupting in the background." *g*

Since I had park hopping privileges with my 4 day passport and since I'd experienced most everything but a few of the children's rides at TDS, I decided to hop on over to TDL. I was amazed at how TDL was so much more crowded than it had been on Friday! I wanted to ride the Pooh ride again but the standby line was an absolutely insane (imo) 2.5 hrs; the line just to get a FastPass looked like it had to be at least 20-30 minutes! Even It's A Small World had a 20 minute wait. I was able to get a FastPass for Splash Mountain with a return time of 5:30- 6:30pm, though I wasn't sure I'd want to be around the park then to use it.

I headed over to the Enchanted Tiki Room since I correctly guessed that it would not have a line. It's not my favorite attraction but it was fun to see how different the "Get the Fever" version was from the US versions. At least I think it's different; I must admit to having napped through the WDW version at least once. But I think it had Iago in the new version and International birds in the old one.

I was rather hungry, so I went to the Café Orleans counter service restaurant and got a sausage crepe topped with cheese. All the indoor seats were taken, so I had to eat outside which proved to be a challenge as the wind had really started to pick up. While eating, I could hear the D-Pop magic show which was being performed nearby. I also must note that in Japanese restaurants, you are not expected to take your tray/ trash to a trashcan; a CM will come and clean up. Since I didn't want my paper items to blow away, I intended to carry them to the nearest trashcan- but a CM took them from me before I could do so.

One of my main reasons for hopping over to TDL was to see the Mickey's Adventureland Mardi Gras show, which I'd missed on Friday. I got in line for the 12pm show which was to be the first performance of the day. However, soon after they started letting guests into the theatre, they began letting them out. It turned out that the show was cancelled due to the strong winds. So unfortunately, I was never able to see this show.

While heading over to see the "It All Started With a Mouse" exhibit at the Disney Gallery in World Bazaar, I saw a waffle restaurant (The Great American Waffle Co.) so I got in line since I was still hungry. I ordered a Mickey waffle with chocolate syrup on it, which was yummy in addition to being adorable. Once again, I survived the challenge of eating outside in high winds!

Fortunately, the exhibit had signs in both Japanese and English so I was able to read about the artwork on display. I enjoyed leisurely looking the various posters and other Mickey/ Disney memorabilia. The Disney Gallery is on the second floor and it was quiet and not crowded, so it felt nicely removed from the crowds. However, I must note that despite the huge lines, the crowds were never as bothersome as they can be at other Disney parks; this is probably because all the guests I encountered were polite and respected each other's space. After some souvenir shopping, I left the park.

Since I'd missed having a view of the dancers at the Porto Paradiso Water Carnival on Thursday, I thought it would be great to see the show from the comfort of my room. I'd really enjoyed the show and I'd been hoping for a repeat viewing. So I headed back to my hotel only to hear an announcement that this show was also cancelled due to the wind. I wasn't at all surprised, but I'd figured I ought to check just in case.

After all this running around, I needed a nap. Again, I kept the curtains open- I just couldn't bear to close them and I think I left them open during my entire stay. When I woke up at about 5, I was anxious to head out to see the final Encore! show of the day at 5:30pm. The line was already long, but I hoped to get a decent seat since I was alone. I was quite disappointed when the show was cancelled due to technical issues. When I checked the ride tip board (why doesn't TDL have one of these?), it looked like all the day's Encore! performances had been cancelled so I didn't feel too bad. I'd really wanted to see the show again and to try again to recognize my acquaintance in the cast, but at least I'd been able to see it once. And you know what they say about bad things coming in threes- this was my third cancellation of the day.

I did a little more shopping at TDS and popped up to my room to drop off my purchases. Since I wouldn't be able to see Encore!, I figured I might as well hop back over to TDL to use my Splash Mountain FastPass. I really wanted to experience Pooh's Hunny Hunt again, so I went over at about 6:45 to check out the wait. Even though the wait was posted as being 70 minutes, I decided to wait since when else would I get a chance to ride this attraction? I was very pleasantly surprised when the wait turned out to be only about 45 minutes. The best thing was that when I got off, the Dreamlights Parade hadn't yet arrived at that area of the park. So I managed to get a halfway decent seat to watch the entire parade again. Yay!

It was dinner time for me, and I was able to get a table at the Sweetheart Café, a sit down restaurant which had a nice old fashioned atmosphere. I ate the Rigatoni Bolognese which was very tasty.

At this point I was tired, but more importantly, I felt satisfied that I'd seen just about everything I wanted to see at the 2 parks. So I headed back to my room to enjoy one last relaxing night at the MiraCosta. As I heard them broadcast the 10pm message that TDS was now closed, I realized that the Disney portion of my vacation was drawing to a close. Before going to sleep, I had to pack up my suitcase. After some experimentation, I expanded it so that all my souvenirs would fit- this would allow me to make my way around Tokyo the next day with just the single suitcase in addition to my small backpack. I was sad that my TDR adventure was ending, I was looking forward to other adventures yet to come. I knew I'd always have my memories. . . as well as a bunch of nifty souvenirs. ;)

Most Magical Moment: Finally getting the front seat on JTTCOTE
Least Magical Moment: The 3 cancellations of shows I tried to see

My original pre-trip plans for the day were to get up very early, take my bags to my next hotel in Tokyo by 10am and then spend the day in Kamakura. However, I adored my Porto Paradiso view room and thought it might be nice to sleep in a little and take advantage of the fact that check out wasn't until noon. Especially since my enthusiasm for Disney had led me to run around so much that I was happily exhausted.

My alarm was set for 9am, but I awoke at 8. Hearing music that seemed slightly louder than usual, I went over to the window (again, the shades were open) and peered out. Well, it seemed that some of the cast was rehearsing the Porto Paradiso water carnival. Cool! Several groups were practicing their dancing, including one group right below my window. The lovely boats featured in the show were lining the harbor, though of course no characters were on them. A few of the water sprites even went by at one point. Well, I didn't get the bright colorful costumes, but at least I got to see the dancing and to hear the catchy theme song once again! I felt so lucky to be able to witness a rehearsal for a Disney show, something I assume very few guests have been able to see (except obviously for any other curious people with Porto Paradiso view at the MiraCosta; however, I didn't notice anyone else watching that morning). What a great way to sweeten what I knew were my last hours on Disney property! Of course, plenty of photographs were taken.

Since I didn't have park access for the day, I was able to enjoy a bird's eye view of opening. Again, I was able to take photos of the MiraCosta guests waiting patiently for the official opening and of the guests running to JTTCOTE once the clock struck 9am. After this, I mainly relaxed at the table by the window. This was really the first chance I'd had to breathe and I was finally able to start a letter I'd been intending to write to someone back in the US; I hoped it would be a nice surprise and that it would make him smile. I hadn't been in touch for awhile so I thought it would be more fun to send him a letter from Japan than from home. The stationary in the MiraCosta included nice large envelopes which were perfect since I'd intended to include a postcard with the letter once I visited someplace a little more Japanese/ historical. As I wrote, I also glanced out the window periodically, savoring the last few hours in which I'd have my beloved view.

I also filled out a guest questionnaire while I was relaxing. Not surprisingly, my comments were overwhelmingly positive and I particularly emphasized how wonderful the staff was despite the language difference. I concluded by writing "Doomo arigatoo gozaimsu" (Thank you very much) in Japanese Hiragana. In the body of my comments, I mentioned that it had confused me that there was a sign by the pool indicating that there was a charge since there was no mention of this in the literature in the room and since I've never seen a charge to use the pool in the West. Well wouldn't you know it- just a few days after I got home, I received my own letter on Mira Costa stationary! The letter thanked me for my positive words. It went on to say that they would take note of my other comments and that they intended to include mention of the charge when they update the literature in the rooms. I am very impressed with the fact that they replied- the Mira Costa is truly a class act, as is the entire Tokyo Disney resort. It's not cheap, but if you can afford the splurge, it will provide you with a once in a lifetime experience of being truly immersed in the best of Disney as far as location, luxury, and- most of all- service. The fact that I was able to be upgraded to the room of my dreams made my stay truly magical; it still brings tears to my eyes to think of it. But even if I'd had a plain old Tuscany view, I believe that I would still have treasured my experience there.

At about 11am, I decided that it was about time to say Sayonara to Mickey and to move on with the rest of my trip. After stopping by the front desk to check out, I took one last trip on the monorail followed by a train to Tokyo Station. My new plan was to store my suitcase at the station during the day since the reception at my hotel was not supposed to be open between 10am and 3pm (or was it 6pm?). While walking through the station, I found and purchased 2 more of the Pacific Beanie Babies. I was hoping the station would have a Left Luggage office since the guidebook said major stations had one, but I couldn't find any. To my dismay, my suitcase was just a little too large for any of the lockers I could see. Eventually, I asked a police officer who guided me to a place inside the train turnstiles which had some larger lockers; he even got me change since I didn't have 7 100 yen pieces. Conveniently, the locker was near the train I'd need for Kamakura. I bought a ticket and had a little trouble finding the correct platform. However, just as I was realizing where I had to go, a Japanese lady came up to me and asked me where I was going; she was also taking the same train and she insisted I follow her.

My first stop in Kamakura- and my main reason for going there- was to see the Daibutsu. On the way, I met a couple from England and we discussed our trips as well as some of the cultural differences between our countries and Japan. I paid the extra money to be able to walk around inside the base of the Daibutsu which was pretty nifty. I spent some time selecting the right postcard to send to some family and friends, as well as a different one to enclose in the letter I'd started that morning.

I'm not a big museum person; I prefer to wander around. So that's exactly what I did after taking a bus back to the train station when I noticed a nearby shopping street. I couldn't figure out where to eat, so eventually I settled on a scoop of Millennium Pop Rocks ice cream at a Baskin Robbins. I don't know if they ever had this flavor in the US, but it was definitely yummy!

I'd picked up a map when I arrived at the station and I decided to use it to try and find some of the city's historic temples. After wandering aimlessly, it became clear to me that I might be lost. A Japanese lady followed soon by 2 English speaking young women came up to me to try to help; I am convinced that if you stand long enough on a street anywhere in Japan holding a map, someone will eventually ask if they can help you. It turned out that somehow I'd been way off in my interpretation of the map, so I backtracked and eventually came to the area I wanted to see.

I was still rather worn out from walking so much at Disney, so I left to return to Tokyo in early afternoon. I walked around Tokyo station and tried to decide what to do about eating dinner. Between feeling a little faint from lack of food and not being able to read menus, I couldn't decide what to do. It was only the next day that I realized that there was a whole shopping floor below which seemed to feature some better food options. In any event, I found a Kinkos in the station, checked my Email quickly, and was slightly disappointed that people didn't seem to miss me.

Despite feeling rather faint, I eventually made it to my hotel, the New Koyo aka the cheapest single rooms in Tokyo. And let's just say that I rediscovered the fact that I really have no affinity for visiting the city of Tokyo. In any event, I'd called the hotel the prior evening to be sure they wouldn't cancel my reservation and my room was waiting for me.

I was looking forward to watching late night TV coverage of the first day of the World Figure Skating Championships, so I was horribly disappointed that the TV and VCR in the room were both horribly busted- just because a place is $21/ night is no cause to vandalize. Any place would have been a let down after the MiraCosta, but I guess the New Koyo was particularly bleak, though certainly functional (even if you had to lean on a button in the shower to keep the water going). I grabbed some food at the nearby convenience store- bread, cheese and soda. Thick and butter flavored, the bread was particularly yummy. Upon my return to the hotel, I talked with the guy behind the counter and he was eventually able to get me a brand spanking new TV. More than anything, however, I was concerned that I shouldn't be charged for the damages.

While waiting for the skating to begin, I finished the letter I'd begun that morning and filled out the postcards I'd bought for other people. I'd been feeling so alone and it was comforting to reach out to some of the people I care about. Despite not catching most of the Japanese, the skating coverage was a hoot; it helped that they interviewed all the non-Japanese skaters in English. Much of the show was focused on Alexei Yagudin, who is surely a heartthrob to the Japanese girls. He was interviewed on a bus from the airport to Nagano (I assume). And at one point, they showed him a bunch of photos of Japanese females and asked which ones he found to be cute; like me, he only recognized Midori Ito. Eventually he gave a very diplomatic answer. During the course of the coverage, they showed the qualifying round skates of Yagudin and Takeshi Honda, as well as excerpts of the other Japanese man, Timothy Goebel, and Michael Weiss. The pre-event coverage of the women's event, which followed the men's recap, focused on Michelle Kwan, Yoshie Onda, Sasha Cohen, and a little on Fumie Suguri. It was fun to see another country's skating coverage for a change.

Most Magical Moment: Waking up to the practice for Porto Paradiso Water Carnival.
Least Magical Moment: Feeling tired and overwhelmed trying to get my luggage from Tokyo station to my hotel.

My original plan had been to get up early and take a day trip to Nikko, approximately 2 hours outside of Tokyo. However, I'd felt so worn out the previous evening that I'd decided not to set my alarm and to just play things by ear. I ended up getting up relatively early, since I could hear people walking around outside my room even though I was sleeping with ear plugs in my ears. I wasn't upset; that's just what you get when you are paying $21 a night for a room rather than MiraCosta rates. ;) In fact, I had to put my backpack by my door so as to block out some of the light that was creeping through small slots in the bottom.

After getting myself together and checking Email at the computer in the lobby, I returned to Tokyo station where I was able to validate my railpass, make a reservation on the train to Utsunomiya where I'd have to transfer for Nikko, and make my train reservations to go to Takayama the following morning. Actually, since the first train to Utsunomiya would require a long layover, the lady at the reservation office also made me another on the following train because she thought that might work out better for me. She gave me both reservation slips and I ended up deciding on the first one. I bought a simple boxed meal of chicken, egg, and rice to eat on the train.

Once I arrived in Nikko, I thought to myself how much better I like small cities in Japan compared to Tokyo. I surmised that the historic sites were atop a hill and I did the smart thing and took a bus up there. After walking around a little, I visited Tosho-Gu, one of the historic shrines. One of the details that was nifty to see was a carving of 3 monkeys that was the basis for "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil." I took my time exploring the area and paid the extra fee to see the tomb of Shogun Ieyasu as well as the famous Nemuri Neko (sleeping cat) carving. After paying my fee, I ascended some steep stairs... and found more stairs... and found even more stairs... I think I read somewhere that there were 209 stairs. Or something like that. Yeah, I was winded when I got to the top and glad I'd stuck something to drink in my backpack! So I saw the tomb, but still the cat was nowhere to be found. I *very* carefully descended the stairs and eventually found it.; I'd walked right past it initially.

After wandering around a little more, I decided to walk back to the station instead of taking a bus since it was all downhill. While walking, I talked with a nice couple from California. I knew from the map I'd picked up earlier that there was a Post Office on the way to the JR train station, and I was indeed able to send off my postcards and letter. Back at the station, I decided to make a reservation on the train I'd need to transfer to at Utsunomiya to take back to Tokyo (the first one did not take reservations). I was behind an English speaking man who was having trouble getting the gentleman behind the window to make his train reservations to Kyoto. However, he was very adamant and eventually he got the reservations. When it was my turn, I was told to go take the bus. There was supposed to be some time before my train and I was somewhat confused. But eventually I got the idea that there was a problem with the track that was causing them to bus us all to the next station. While on the bus, I noticed a female backpacker from Germany-I was envious that her Japanese was good enough so that she could converse with the Japanese woman sitting next to her.

It was still fairly early when I got back to Tokyo so I decided to find some dinner. First, I realized I was getting low on cash- I checked my Lonely Planet guide and I was able to find the foreign language ATM it mentioned at Tokyo station. It surprised me that the minimum withdrawal was 10,000 yen (about $80), though it was fine since I had about a week of spending left. While in the station, I was able to find the 6th and final Pacific Beanie baby. Since one of the possible subway connections to my hotel was through Ginza, I stopped there. I wandered around awhile, trying to find a place that would appeal to me. I noticed a TGI Fridays, which is probably the same one that was in photographs taken by my co-worker's son who is stationed in Japan. I rejected it, since it's not even my favorite restaurant in the US. Eventually I found a tiny, inexpensive pasta restaurant near the subway station. Since their menus had English language descriptions, I was able to find something even more appealing than the choices in the window. I chose one of the Japanese style spaghetti selections which had chicken and spinach in a butter soy sauce. Yet another meal that was a winner in my book! Even if Japanese portions are much smaller than the generously sized portions I am used to in US restaurants. On my way out of the restaurant, I complimented the older waitress/hostess that the meal was "oishii" (delicious) and she smiled at me.

Once back at the hotel, I checked my Email and spent a few moments relaxing before going to sleep. I also was able to get my 1000 yen key deposit back since I'd be leaving before the front desk opened the next morning.

Most Magical Moment: My dinner at the little Italian restaurant at Ginza
Least Magical Moment: Climbing and descending all those steps in Nikko

Okay kiddies, this may be the day to skip reading if you're pressed for time. ;)

I woke up insanely early and somehow managed to get my expanded expandable suitcase to Tokyo Station from my hotel. It wasn't pretty, but hey, I must say that I came back from Japan looking better and more in shape than when I'd left. ;)

Today's journey was to Takayama via a change of trains in Nagoya. When I got on my first train, which was a Shinkansen, I knew I was in for trouble since I couldn't figure out where I should put my suitcase. I kept it next to my seat, which was fine until the train filled up and someone had to sit next to me. So I asked the conductor as best I could- given that I was dead exhausted from lugging the thing to begin with- and he showed me where to put it in back of the last row of seats.

When I got on my next train, I felt like I was now super savvy, and I immediately went to the last row of seats to put my suitcase in back. But there was a problem- it wouldn't fit. Nor would it fit in the convenient spaces for holding luggage. This was a smaller train than the Shinkansen. So I was really having issues, in addition to just feeling overwhelmed, alone, exhausted, etc. I was trying to explain my predicament to the Japanese gentleman behind me, who didn't quite understand. I finally just said to myself something like "Where can I put this?"

And I heard a reply. You might think I would have welcomed a voice speaking to me in fluent English. You'd be right... had the voice not said in a rude tone "How about up your ass?"

"Umm, excuse me?" I said, with total disbelief. And I must mention that all train cars in the direction she was heading were reserved and that there was still at least 10-15 minutes before the departure time. So while I was clearly in the way, it wasn't like I was causing people to be in jeopardy of not getting seats or of missing the train. I think I might have said something more about how I was just trying to figure out where to put my suitcase.

"No, you were just being stupid," the lady continued in her abrupt and condescending tone as I wondered how the gentleman traveling with her could stand to be around her. "You're holding up the entire train. Everyone else figured it out ok."

Now 1- Everyone else appeared to be native Japanese and 2- no one else had a suitcase of even moderate size. But I knew I'd get nowhere trying to point this out, so I just moved my suitcase onto the seat next to my reserved seat (it wouldn't even easily fit on the floor there) so I could get rid of her.

Apparently, she moved into the car in front of me which was a Green car (1st class). Not long into the ride, I saw her and her companion walking through my car toward the rear of the train. I assumed she had sat in the Green Car without a reservation or proper ticket- I just glared at her with the thought "So who's stupid now?" I mean, I was able to find the appropriate entrance for my car and to find my reserved seat. ;) (and as I saw her later in Takayama, it was not that she had moved in order to get off the train) It's a bit amusing now, but at the time it really stung. I may not be the warmest person, but I always try to be nice to people and I can't understand why someone would be so deliberately hurtful and insulting to a stranger, especially when in the polite environment of Japan. I assume she was American since I can't imagine anyone but an American being so rude.

So eventually I tried to communicate my problem to the conductor- or whomever it is who comes to check tickets. BTW, I thought it was interesting how this person would go to the front of the car and bow before doing his duty. At any rate, when there were only about 30-45 minutes to my stop and clearly no chance that anyone would need the seat next to me, he motioned for me to sit in the Green Car, which had plenty of room for my luggage. I don't think he was too happy about it but I felt just as bad getting in everyone's way. I already figured that if my suitcase wasn't expanded, it would probably have little trouble fitting behind the sears. So I planned to reorganize my belongings overnight so as to use one of my large Tokyo Disney bags in addition to the suitcase and carryon. Actually, it would have been just as problematic had I done so earlier since I really needed my arms free to maneuver to get my suitcase through the various subways to Tokyo station.

Once I arrived in Takayama, I had little to no trouble using a map to find the Ryokan I'd booked from the Welcome Inn Group. I was VERY happy to be able to leave my suitcase, backpack, and heavy coat there. I understood that I couldn't check in yet- I just did not want to see that suitcase any more! They also gave me some coupons for local sites.

Since it was a gorgeous day and since I am not really a museum person, I decided to head to the Hida Folk Village which is an open air museum of traditional houses. On the way, I stopped by the Hida Kokubun-ji, a temple located near my ryokan. As I walked to the Hida Folk Village, I couldn't help but admiring the mountains in the distance. I can see why this area is called the Japan Alps- in some ways, it made me feel like I was in Innsbruck or other parts of the European alps.

In retrospect, I probably should have tried harder to find information on taking a bus since a lot of the walk was uphill and since I was starting to feel seriously worn down. When I got near my destination, I realized I'd enjoy it more if I ate something first. So I stopped at a noodle shop near the entrance. I always feel apprehensive about trying to eat at places that may not have English menus, but food was a must! I asked if they had an English language menu and the lady led me back outside to see the models of food that were in the window (it's common for Japanese restaurants to display models of their food in the window). Without knowing exactly what was in anything, I pointed to some soup with noodles and other stuff on top. I was able to choose either soba or udon noodles, and I chose soba. After enjoying some nourishment, I told the woman that the food was "oishii" (delicious) which usually makes people smile. I wish I could converse better, but at the very least, I liked to try to make some effort to use the Japanese that I could remember.

Despite my fatigue, I enjoyed walking around the Hida Folk Village. It was a feast for the senses to see the beautiful alps in the distance while hearing the calming trickle of water and inhaling the smell of the fires that were burning inside some of the buildings. To enter some of the buildings, you had to remove your shoes and use the slippers provided. I got sick of taking my sneakers on and off, so I stopped going inside those particular buildings. All in all, it was just nice to be outside on such a lovely, sunny day. I spent a few minutes sitting at a bench and just relaxing before I finally left.

After walking back to the area by the station, I decided to test if the municipal building had free internet as my guidebook claimed. I was really anxious to see the results of the Ladies qualifying skates for the World Championships. One of the reasons I tried to go online during this trip was to check skating results. Indeed, the building had access. However, I had to delay checking the results a bit while I talked to an overly enthusiastic young Japanese woman who sat down next to me. Her English was only slightly better than my Japanese. Don't get me wrong- I was definitely glad to meet a local resident. But she seemed a little pushy about making plans with me later that day or the next when I really just wanted to be by myself and to get some rest. Also, she started asking me too many questions about myself- ranging from my age to whether I was married/ had a boyfriend. Eventually, I guess she sensed my discomfort and I was able to check the Internet and Email in peace.

I waited until the ladies qualifying was finished and I could see the final results before returning to the ryokan. If anyone reading this is not familiar with it- a ryokan is a traditional Japanese Inn where you stay in a room with tatami mats and sleep on a futon. In most ryokans, they also serve you a dinner in your room and I was greatly looking forward to a traditional Japanese meal. However, the lines referencing dinner and breakfast were crossed off the information form they gave me. Had they asked, I would have gladly paid extra for dinner but it didn't appear to be an option at all, though I know they served meals. I don't know if I should have done something different while making my reservation online or what. I was led to my room by a woman who poured green tea which I enjoyed while sitting on the floor at the low table in the center of the room.

Exhaustion had completely overtaken me at this point. So despite the fact that I'd just bought some drinks at the nearby convenience store, I went back to buy an onigiri (salmon surrounded by rice and seaweed) and some instant udon soup. I just ate the onigiri at first and then wished they would come to bring out my futon; I was almost ready to sleep on the bare floor. At some point, I reorganized my luggage as I'd planned. My throat was starting to feel a little scratchy so I took some Advil.

When it became apparent that no one was coming to make the futon, I decided to eat the udon. Wouldn't you know it, as soon as I poured the water into the bowl, they came to arrange the futon but insisted that they would come back since I was eating. Argh! I think they laughed at me eating the instant udon- but hey, it wasn't my top choice! After eating, I sat on the floor by my low table, sometimes laying my head on the table. After what seemed like an eternity, they came back to do the futon and despite it being so early (perhaps 8:30), I turned off the lights and laid down. I had no trouble falling asleep.

At around 10, I woke up with a start. I felt like the whole room was shaking as if there was an earthquake. But as soon as I was fully awake, I saw that none of my belongings was disturbed in the least, so it must have been a dream. Weird. I had some trouble falling back to sleep because my nose was a little stuffed and my throat was still scratchy. I was still awake when the skating was due to be on TV (I was able to find schedules in English language newspapers), so I turned it on with the volume way down and I was able to see Michelle Kwan's qualifying skate. I must have seen other things as well, but that is what I remember most clearly. After that was over, I went back to sleep.

Despite the fact that I might seem ambivalent to negative about my ryokan experience, I'm glad I had a chance to stay at one- I'd always regretted not having the guts to try in during my previous trip to Japan. The people and service were great- they even had banners in front personally welcoming new guests; mine was the only one in Roman letters. And it's something you can't even come close to experiencing back home. I'd definitely try one again- though I'd try to make sure next time that it came with dinner!

Most Magical Moment: The Hida Takayama Folk Village
Least Magical Moment: The extremely rude American on the train

I slept in a little- at least compared to how insanely early I'd gotten up the previous day! This day was completely free in the sense that I had no pre-set times or set activities to worry about. After getting myself together, I left my luggage by the front desk and went out to do some sight seeing. My first stop was the Festival Float Exhibition Hall which contains floats used in the city's annual festival. I figured this would definitely be something unique to see, and I was glad I went there. They were really accommodating in this museum- they insisted I take a small cassette player with English language narration, though this was the same as the signs that were posted at the exhibits. My ticket also gave me free admission to the next door museum, where I was able to see small models of the temple I'd visited in Nikko a couple days earlier- the lighting was done so as to simulate the sunrise or sunset lighting there.

I thought about seeing the nearby Lion Mask Exhibition Hall, but I was intimidated since they didn't even have a sign in Roman letters. So I just walked around Takayama a little. I went back to the Municipal office to try to check my Email again but it was closed due to the national holiday (Spring Equinox). I still wasn't feeling great, so I decided to return to the ryokan for my stuff and head on to Nagoya, where I was staying so I'd be able to get to Nagano early the following morning. The young lady behind the counter asked if she should get me a taxi, but it was just a 5 minute walk so I instinctively said it was not necessary. I had no problem getting a reservation for the next train to Nagoya.

The train ride was uneventful- which, after the previous day, was a Good Thing. As I'd guessed, I had no trouble finding space for my suitcase on the train now that it was not expanded. My hotel in Nagoya was the Marriott Associa Hotel, which couldn't be more convenient- it was just an elevator ride from the station! The hotel lobby was on the 15th floor, and they assigned me to a room on the 34th floor. From my room, which had a faint view of Nagoya's castle, I could see that it was dreary outside so I decided to just spoil myself and spend the day relaxing. I mean, it was *my* vacation- so why not take a day to just pamper myself in luxury and relaxation?

I went downstairs to the train station to make reservations for the next morning and to get some snacks/ drinks to get me through the day. Then I returned to my room indulged in room service. I ordered kishimen (a noodle) with Nagoya Cochin chicken since it consisted of 2 of the area's culinary specialties. It was a little spicier than I'd expected, but I enjoyed it.

After taking a short nap, I watched English language TV, did my nails with a new glittery polish I'd purchased the prior day, read some of my novel (Therese Raquine by Emil Zola; basis for the Broadway flop musical from the past fall, Thou Shalt Not), and tried to play catch up with the journal I hadn't updated for days and days. At 8pm, the men's long program from the World Championships was televised live, so of course I tuned in. Go Takeshi Honda! :) He's always been a favorite of mine and it was great to see him finally pull it together and win himself a medal. When I was hungry, I once again treated myself to room service- this time, spaghetti with meat sauce.

After running around ever since I'd arrived in Japan, it was a treat to have time to kick back and do nothing- especially in surroundings as comfortable as the Marriott.

Most Magical Moment: Watching Takeshi Honda's long program live from the comfort of my hotel room
Least Magical Moment: The dreary weather

I had to get up early to take the first Shinkansen from Nagoya to Nagano, where I would be attending the last few days of the figure skating World Championships. It was very convenient to be able to take the elevator down to the train station after I checked out. It wasn't intuitively obvious to me where the Hotel Sunroute might be in Nagano, so I checked with the visitor office in the station and it turned out to be practically across the street from the station. Very cool. Plus, the station was well equipped with *elevators*, even when there were just a few stairs within the station. I greatly appreciated that, especially as I was still feeling a bit worn out with a mild cold.

It was too early to get into my room, so I just left my bags at the front desk. I'd somehow been under the impression that the M-Wave arena was within walking distance of the hotel, but on my city map it appeared to be rather far. I could see some information about shuttle busses on the board in the lobby, but it wasn't quite clear. So I asked the front desk, and it turned out that there were shuttle buses from the train station, which would be very convenient. According to my ticket, the arena would be open already so I decided to head on over.

When I got to the bus stop across the station, I realized that there was a charge- it was 600 yen roundtrip (less than $5.00). So I paid and received a strip of 4 little 150 yen vouchers. The ride was uneventful, and I tossed my 2 vouchers into a hat or bucket on my way out.

Ever since I'd received my Worlds tickets in the mail, it had been a total mystery to me where in the arena the seats were located; however, once I got into the arena, I realized the stands were labeled by their side of the arena: N, S, E or W. The guy taking my ticket pointed me to the left since I had a N ticket; I had to motion that I wanted to pick up a skate order on the table and then to follow the signs for restrooms, shops, and food. I went to the restrooms first- they turned out to be outdoor rows of Porta-Potty type things: one side Japanese style, one side Western style. I later discovered that there were indoor facilities near where I was sitting, which was great since it was COLD while I was in Nagano.

On the way to the food stands to seek out some lunch, I glanced at the souvenir booths. I saw that the official souvenir booth did not accept credit cards so I made a mental note that I'd need to get some more Japanese cash. I looked over the contents of the few food booths and nothing really appealed to me. I ended up going for a small container of spaghetti and meat sauce- you can never go wrong with pasta imo. I was very surprised that I didn't see any bottled water for sale; there was also no diet soda. So I improvised and bought a bottled drink named Aquarius- it was a clear liquid and based on the fact that there was a soccer player on the label, I figured it must be a sport drink. I ended up really enjoying it- it was like lightly sweetened/ subtly flavored water. All the sit down tables were taken so I had to eat at a stand up table. I was lucky I was early since those were beginning to fill up as well.

After eating, I bought an official program and went to find my seat. The arena is very small, so no seat was really bad. I ended up being on the 2nd tier of seats toward the end of one of the long sides of the arena, between the judges table and the Kiss and Cry area. I was still sore from running around so much since I'd arrived in Japan, so I was totally looking forward to just being able to sit in one place all day while enjoying figure skating! Plus, I'd only attended one National Championships (1998) and no prior World Championships, so I was excited beyond belief to be able to be attending such an important event and to be able to see all the skaters.

It turned out that virtually everyone seated in my section spoke English. During the course of the events, I had conversations with several of them, which was great since I was alone. There were several people who were Americans that were living and working in Japan, as well as at least one couple who realized Worlds would be in Nagano after they'd already planned a trip to Japan. Some of the same people were around me all 3 days, but some only came for a day or 2. On the tier directly in front of me (the first tier was only 3 rows) was an American tour group- during one of the breaks, someone from that group who I'd E-mailed via an online skating board (www.fsworld.com) came over to say hi. To the right of the American group was a Canadian tour group. The Canadians were great- they were directly above the Kiss and Cry (K&C) area and they applauded in support of each and every skater when they entered K&C to receive their marks. Many of the skaters clearly appreciated the cheers and waved up their thanks.

The first event of the day was the Ladies Short Program which began at noon. Rather than give a skater by skater review, I'll just list some of the more memorable moments. First of all, the skating in general was not that great- there were only about 4 programs which I would have considered clean, i.e. no falls or step outs on the jumps.

Galina Maniachenko had a particularly rough skate; her coach was drying her tears while she sat in K&C. She was lucky Maria Butyrskaya had withdrawn as she otherwise would have just missed qualifying to go on to the Free Skate. The very next skater, Zuzana Babiakova of Slovakia, had one of the few clean skates. Of all the skaters, she was probably the happiest with her skate- she was beaming and it was great to see someone be so happy with how they'd done. She had been 10th in her qualifying group (which consists of half the skaters, so she was actually tied for 21st overall) and ended up placing 9th in the short program. The end result was an 11th place ranking overall after the short.

Fumie Suguri was the first of the top skaters and she did not disappoint her fellow countrymen as she gave the best performance of the day to that point. The ice was littered with flowers after she was done. Michelle Kwan had to follow that performance and I nearly screamed when she missed her triple lutz double toe combination. I worried that she might be way down in the rankings, though the crowd still loved her. Yoshie Onda followed with a clean but unexciting performance; I held my breath when the placements came up, but thankfully she was behind Michelle. Sasha Cohen skated next, and when she fell it was clear that Michelle would be ranked 3rd- not in control of her destiny, but at least within reach of the Gold. Irina Slutskaya was the final skater, and as expected, she skated cleanly and moved into first place. What I did not expect, however, were the 2 6.0's that she received for presentation Irina had a great skate; however, even on her best day, I simply don't believe she ever deserves a 6.0 for presentation.

There was only about an hour before the Free Dance was to begin, so I decided I might as well stay in the arena. I wasn't quite sure I had an appetite after seeing Irina's 6.0's, though. ;) I realized there were food booths on the 2nd floor by my seat, so I explored those and I was excited to see little Pizza Hut boxes. I bought one of those and opened it only to be surprised that it came with just one piece of pizza- I'm not sure exactly what kind, although I had to pick off some peppers.

Ice Dancing is not at all my favorite discipline nor do I consider myself at all knowledgeable about it, but I still enjoyed the Free Dance. And hey, it was another 4 hours of being able to sit in one place! Though it was colder at the rink than I'd anticipated.

One of the more memorable early skates- though not necessarily in a good way- was by the Hungarian team who skated to selections from "Hair" The oddest music choice imo was the couple who skated from a Grease soundtrack with which I was not familiar; much of the dance was to "Look at me, I'm Sandra Dee" which just doesn't even seem like the best selection from the show, much less a good selection on its own merits. I believe this was the first Italian team.

I enjoyed the skates of both American teams- Belbin and Agosto's enthusiastic Yugoslavia themed dance and Lang And Tchernyshev's passionate Parisienne Walkways number. The Israeli team skated well and a part of me was hoping they'd pull up from 4th position and win a medal. However, after the 3rd place team of Drobiazko and Vanagas skated, I felt they gave a stronger overall performance. I was very surprised and somewhat pleased that they ended up below the Israelis; but the placement elicited clear shock and disapproval from the crowd. It turns out that virtually all the competitors signed a petition saying that this placement was unjust- so I got to see an event that will probably be talked about for years to come. Nonetheless, I thought it was great that Israel got their first ever World medal, especially since things were going so terribly in the country itself.

I stayed for the medal ceremony, which was really quite lovely. They had ladies dressed in kimonos come out and stand to either side of the podium- these ladies were holding the medals and flowers that were presented to each skater. A lot of people left early, possibly to be sure to make the last train to Tokyo. (I assume that the event started at the early hour of 5pm so as to be sure it would conclude in enough time for spectators to make the train).

When I left, there was a line of shuttle busses waiting to load passengers; as soon as one became full, another pulled up. The shuttle buses were really run efficiently and pleasantly- kudos to the event organizers. I didn't have to wait at all, though I did have to stand.

I bought a snack on the way back to the hotel, and I was finally able to get my room keys. They'd already moved my luggage into my room for me. The room turned out to be really small, though of course not as small as my Tokyo room, but comfortable. The one thing that seemed to be lacking was a climate control system- it was hot in there, despite how cold it was outside! I never figured out a way to change the room temperature other than by cracking open the window.

Most magical moment: Fumie Suguri's short program
Least magical moment: Michelle Kwan's stumble

Since the ladies free program didn't start until 5pm, my original plan for this day was to take a side trip to nearby Matsumoto to see a castle; however, since I had been feeling rather under the weather, I decided with some regret that it would be best not to push myself. So I let myself sleep in a little and then went out in search of at ATM and an Internet Café. The former was easy to find, thanks to the directions in my Lonely Planet guidebook. Armed with 10,000 yen more, I set out to find the Internet Café listed in the guidebook. I must have encircled the area in which it was supposed to be located for a good 20 minutes before I decided that it must not exist anymore. As I was walking, I ran into a couple who had been sitting near me at the skating. I also found a Tower Records, where I discovered and purchased a Tokyo Disneyland CD that I hadn't seen in the park.

One of the people I'd talked to the prior evening had mentioned an Internet Café in an adult book store but I couldn't remember the exact directions. I went to the tourist office in the station, and they ended up pointing me to that same internet café. It was... uh, an interesting place which featured various private booths for its customers. In any event, internet is internet and it was not expensive. I had to wait in a private booth until a computer freed up, but I had my book with me so that was no problem. Soon enough, I was shown to a computer where I was able to check the evening's start order as well as to catch up a little on message boards and Email.

Since I was hungry, I wandered around the food shops at the 5th floor of the Midori department store by the station. I found an Italian restaurant that appealed to me. Luckily, the menu was in Katakana, so I was able to browse and find something a little more interesting than meat sauce; I chose the salmon cream sauce which was excellent.

I made sure I dressed warmly that day- I was thankful for the heavy flannel top I'd purchased at Tokyo Disneyland! When I arrived at the arena for the Ladies Free Skate, I made some more purchases at the souvenir booth and stuck them in my backpack.

I have to mention that I was able to see some skaters sitting near me in the arena, including men's medalists Alexei Yagudin and Timothy Goebel. The young girls sitting next to me went over and were able to get Yadudin's autograph. The 3 seats to my left were empty and I thought it would be grand if, say, John Zimmerman or Peter Tchernyshev, took one of those seats. Well, that didn't happen- but Phillipe Candeloro was escorted there. He's not my favorite skater by any means- though I enjoyed his skating more in the days when he wasn't always stripping- but it was fun to see him jotting down notes. He only stayed for a few minutes; it looked like he scoped out a better location to sit. It was fine by me that no one sat next to me because the seats in that arena were extremely narrow- and I'm a small person so I can't even imagine how uncomfortable some of the larger spectators must have been.

One of the most memorable parts of the evening was when the gentleman in front of me took several rolls of film of Spain's Marta Andrade when she skated. It boggles my mind that anyone could use that many rolls of film in just a few short minutes. In any case, he tossed some red roses and a stuffed mascot down to her in Kiss and Cry; later, she came up to our section to thank him in person, which was cool of her. She was an enjoyable skater to watch- though I really do not find myself needing 100's of pix of her. . . or of any skater.

One of the better skates of the evening was turned in by Canada's Jennifer Robinson, who really skated to her potential. I was disappointed when Silvia Fontana did not skate quite as well as she is capable- Fontana may not be the world's best jumper, but she is a fun skater to watch. She's very expressive and mature on the ice, and I can even endure listening to Carmen when she is skating. It's not that I dislike Carmen at all- it just seems so overused in skating competitions.

The heartbreaker of the skating event was Tatiana Malinina of Uzbekistan. A skater who has often made it to the Grand Prix Final, she struggled terribly and I don't think she landed any triple jumps. The crowd kept applauding to try to encourage her, but to no avail. Malinina can be adorable in TV interviews and it was sad to see her do so poorly.

Irina Slutskaya skated first of the top ladies and when she put down a clean skate, albeit one lacking a triple-triple combination, I knew that the gold was her. Michelle Kwan would have only been able to win if she placed first and Irina placed 3rd or lower. As it turns out, Michelle did not win the free- though the popular opinion around me was that she should have. Since I'd already reconciled myself to the fact that she wouldn't win gold, I was just thrilled to see her skate so well, even though she too did not do a triple-triple. In a way, I'm glad she didn't place ahead of Irina in the long because it prevented anyone (including me) from thinking that she would have won if only compulsories hadn't counted.

With a memorable skate to Moonlight Sonata, Fumie Suguri won her first world medal in her home country. I love this program, which was choreographed by Michelle Kwan's former choreographer. Suguri skated wonderfully, putting a spell on the entire building.

Of course, I stayed for the medal ceremony. I enjoy seeing Irina Slutskaya's bubbly personality more than her "dramatic" programs like Tosca, and it would have been impossible to dislike someone who was so obviously excited about her medal. Fumie looked quite moved by her accomplishments. And Michelle looked happy enough- or maybe she was just relieved that the season was over. All 3 ladies received a great deal of applause and support from the audience, more of whom stayed for the medal ceremony than had done so the prior evening.

When I got outside, I couldn't believe that it was flurrying! I guess it really was colder than it had been earlier in my trip. Once again, I had no wait of any consequence for a shuttle bus to the station. Again, I got something to eat on the way back to my room- this time at a 7-11.

Most Magical Moment: Fumie Suguri's long program
Least Magical Moment: Searching in vain for the internet café listed in my guidebook

I couldn't believe I'd already reached the last full day of my trip. However, as I didn't feel great when I woke up, at least a part of me was relieved that I'd be going home soon. My room came with free breakfast coupons, so since I was up early, I decided to try breakfast. I was really hoping for something like corn flakes. But no- it was a Japanese style breakfast, which would have thrilled me had my stomach only felt normal. In any case, I chose some miso soup, a cup of rice, orange juice and a roll from among the buffet's offerings. Or something like that. I was seated at a table with a Japanese woman and we had a brief conversation while I was eating.

After breakfast, I withdrew another 10,000 yen from the ATM machine. I knew I wouldn't necessarily need all that much cash, but I certainly didn't have enough on me to cover basic expenses I might incur. I also took a bus to Zenko-ji, the temple that is the most famous tourist site in Nagano. While I was there, I recognized some people that I'd seen at the skating. I didn't actually go inside the temple because my guidebook mentioned something about a pitch black room and that really didn't sound like something I wanted to deal with. But I'm glad I went there and walked around.

Since it was downhill, I walked back to the area by my station and the hotel. Again, I went to the adult bookstore to check the Internet

and once again, I had to wait for a computer to free up. I'd made use of my time waiting by reading some more of my novel.

The skating exhibitions were due to start at 2pm, but a sign at the arena the prior night had suggested arriving early since a full crowd was expected. When I entered the arena, I was shocked at all the security measures that were now in place. It wouldn't normally have been shocking, but there had been no such measures in place the prior 2 days. Security people looked through my backpack and pocketbook. More problematic was the fact that I had to take a right to go to my seat while some kiosks and food vending places I wanted to see were in the other direction. Fortunately, I was able to take the long way around. I was able to get rid of some of my excess cash by purchasing a Nipponia beanie baby and a final bottle of Aquarius drink.

I was intending to read more of my novel before the exhibitions began, but I ended up getting involved in a conversation with a woman sitting near me who was waiting for her friends. It turned out that she was from an area in the US relatively near me, and she was in Japan teaching English. It was fun talking to her about some of the differences between Japan and the US. And she finally confirmed to me that yes, the reason some people walk around with white surgical face masks on is because they have colds and do not want to spread their germs. I can't ever see that kind of thing taking off in the US! She also educated me on the wonders of Japanese cell phones. I'd noticed at TDR that young people were always taking out their cell phones when it line for attractions- I learned that they have all sorts of games on them as well as Email. She said that she doesn't even have a phone at her residence in Japan, she just sticks to the cell.

Before the skating began, it became clear that the extra security was due to the attendance of the crown prince and his wife. Everyone turned their heads as the couple took their seats a few sections away. I'd speculated that it was probably due to some VIP in attendance.

All of the top 5 skaters in each discipline had a chance to skate, and some local skaters were also invited to participate. One of the early skaters who Daisuke Takahashi, a young Japanese who had recently won the Mens title at Junior Worlds. His skate to West Side Story showed much promise- I hope to see more of him in the future. Other memorable skates in act one included Drobiazko and Vanagas, Alexander Abt (skating to Louis Armstrong) and Ina and Zimmerman. Just as I started enjoying Fumie Suguri's skate to "Don't Cry For Me Argentina", it switched to a techno version. Aside from finding this jarring and a bit bizarre, I don't really think she did as good a job trying to keep up with the fast paced music as she had in the lyrical beginning. But still, she seemed happy, and it was fun to see her.

Throughout the show, the people in my section were chuckling at the English language announcer since the way she emphasized certain words- or didn't- made it sound like she didn't understand what she was saying. There's no problem with that, of course- and hey, at least she could pronounce the names of the US skaters better than our announcers can pronounce those of certain Japanese skaters. The script just shouldn't have given her such informal, conversational text as it did. After each performance, there was only Japanese announcements giving more information on the skater. I could only understand bits and pieces of these announcements.

Act 2 started with a cute number by pairs team Kawaguchi and Markuntsov who skated to "I'm a Barbie Girl." Other memorable skaters were Chait/ Sakhnovski (fitting since they skated to "Unforgettable"), Takeshi Honda, and Alexei Yagudin. I haven't mentioned Michelle Kwan, because her "Fields of Gold" was truly in a class by itself. She wasn't as emotional as at the Olympics when tears had been apparent in her eyes, but it was a beautiful skate. Each of the silver medallists were able to come out and do a small encore to a piece of their music while the gold medallists were able to skate to a small piece of different music. Irina Slutskaya did her cowboy number, which at least showcases more of her bubbly personality. Clearly a crowd favorite, Alexei Yagudin was amazing- he seems so confident and assured on the ice these days.

I guess it took me a little longer to make my way out of the arena, but I was shocked at how long the line was for the shuttle buses! If you recall, there was virtually no line the prior 2 days; this time, it stretched for a looooong way. However, it moved steadily and it didn't feel like a hassle at all.

I wanted to make train reservations for the following day, but since the train station was crowded, I decided to seek out some dinner. I ate at a nearby Italian restaurant named Pronto, where I ordered spaghetti with salmon cream sauce. Why is this dish not nearly as common in the US as it is in Japan and Europe? One negative is that Pronto either did not have a no smoking section or else it was not available. Someone sitting behind me was smoking right in my face, though eventually they left.

After dinner, I returned to the station to make my train reservations. On the positive side, I managed to conduct the entire conversation in Japanese- even inquiring about earlier trains and such. The only problem was that all the early trains, including the one I'd wanted to take, were sold out. With all my baggage, I didn't want to take a chance with an unreserved car. Especially since reservations are free (or they are with a railpass, at any rate). Eventually I settled on a combination of trains which would get me to the airport about 2-3 hours before my flight. I'd only have about 20 minutes transfer time at Tokyo station, so I hoped it wouldn't feel too rushed.

Back at the hotel, I spent much of my time repacking my bags for the long trip home.

Most Magical Moment: Michelle Kwan's skate to "Fields of Gold"
Least Magical Moment: Thinking I couldn't get to the food and stores at the arena.

So this was it- the final day of my vacation. My journey to the airport, including the transfer at Tokyo station, went smoothly. There were no problems fitting my luggage anywhere. ;) My original plan had been to leave Nagano a lot earlier so that I could spend some time in Tokyo, but I was just as happy not to have to worry about storing my bags.

As I checked into the airport, the nice lady told me that my plane was delayed for 2 hours. Since I had to make a connection in LA, that was not a Good Thing. She told me I could change my connecting flight when I arrived in LA, but I knew my parents would stress if they found out I'd missed my scheduled connection so I sweetly told her that I had people meeting me and asked if she could take care of it. I had 2 choices: an afternoon plane or one that left LA at 10pm and arrived home the next morning. The latter was tempting- when would I ever be able to check out Disney's California Adventure without having to pay to fly out there? But in the end, I selected the responsible option of the afternoon flight. It would have been fun to check out DCA, but that probably would have worn me out too much. Addendum: it turns out that I might have an excuse to fly to LA later in the year anyway.

Now that I had extra time to kill, I went to the shopping area of the airport after I phoned home. (the lady at the counter actually offered to call for me, but I wanted to talk myself) I noticed my plastic TDL bag was getting a little torn, so I bought myself a little rolling carryon suitcase. It wasn't the cheapest option, but it was purple and so cute! I also bought another set of Pacific Beanies for a friend who had E-mailed and asked me to try and get them for her if I found more. Since I still had some extra cash, I picked up a new set of headphones. Then I ate lunch- since it was my last meal in Japan, I chose a Japanese restaurant. I think I had some variation of Udon but I can't remember for sure. I sat and read in one of the lounges for the remainder of my time.

The flights were fine- I slept as much as possible. I don't remember there being a movie on the flight from Japan but I also couldn't hear the captain's announcements well enough to know if he'd said anything about it. I eventually found out why the plane was delayed so long- we were waiting for passengers connecting from a flight from the Philippines. That may seem silly- but it was probably about half our flight!

One thing I can mention is that the "new and improved" tightened airport security can just be silly. I was carrying a very small backpack, a purse, my new small rolling suitcase and a coat. It had never occurred to me that they wouldn't even let me past security with that many bags. I stuffed my purse into the backpack, even though the latter wouldn't close. But that still wasn't enough to satisfy them. I had to *wear* my heavy coat. In LAX. Over my sweatshirt. Once safely past security, I took it off and I was never bothered again.

The only other thing worth mentioning was that as soon as I opened my suitcase at home, I saw that the little pouch holding my barrettes and earrings was open. My first instincts were correct- they were nowhere to be found in my suitcase. All that was left were a large barrette and hair scrunchie which couldn't be hidden easily in a pocket. Nothing missing had any monetary value, but everything had sentimental value. And for crying out loud, even ponytail holders were gone! I hadn't had a key for the lock on the suitcase, but next time I will be sure to travel with locks. And to store any possible valuables deeper within the suitcase. (my $100 microphone which was stored deeper inside was still there- though I'd rather that had been stolen since it's easily replaceable) And possibly to throw tampons/ maxi pads on the top of everything. ;)

But hey, at least I arrived home safely and with memories that will last a lifetime.

Overall:
Although I didn't stick exactly to my plan, I was able to fit in most of the highlights and I have no regrets. I was glad that I did TDR first so that I was full of energy during my visit. It was also a good place to ease myself into adjusting to the Japanese culture. Although it may seem like every day I felt tired or worn out, it didn't really bother me until I started to feel sick during the latter part of the trip; I ended up having a miserable cold when I got home. Moreover, my spirits were high for the most part- except on certain occasions when the stress of travel started to get to me.

Hotels:
I doubt that many people take trips including hotels in as eclectic a price range as mine were. Obviously, the MiraCosta was my favorite as well as being the most memorable; I felt like a princess when I spent my birthday there. I experienced the truest Disney magic when my view was upgraded to the Porto Paradiso side. As much as I enjoyed spending only $21 a night at the New Koyo, I think that next time I ought to make convenience more of a priority than price. It was hard lugging my bags through the subways to and from the New Koyo. I'm glad I tried a Japanese style ryokan, and it's something I'd definitely do again.

Food:
Despite Japan's reputation for being high priced, I didn't find the prices to be any steeper than I'm used to paying during my frequent trips to NYC. I am sure there are pricey restaurants, but I didn't encounter any of them. Most of my meals ended up being around the equivalent of $10. I can't remember a negative experience at a restaurant- all of the food I tried was delicious. The food available at the World Championships was only adequate, though.

TDR:
I had an all-around wonderful time, and I have no complaints. In fact, despite the crowds, I was able to use some common sense to avoid any major waits while not missing out on any attractions. I can't say enough good things about the resort; I left wanting to go back whenever circumstances permit it. Particular highlights were the parades and shows. TDS is a gorgeous new park and I want to see what exciting things will be added in the coming years. I loved the fact that the parks were open until 10pm even when not high season since I am a night owl and I enjoy seeing the parks at night.

2002 World Figure Skating Championships
It was a thrill to attend, and especially to see Michelle Kwan. I applaud the event coordinators on their excellent work, especially with the shuttle buses. I also must note that I had an excellent experience dealing with the travel company linked from the official Worlds web page for ordering tickets for foreigners; they were always pleasant and they arranged my hotel in addition to the tickets. It was a little inconvenient that they only accepted payment via bank transfer. Our bank only transfered funds in US dollars so we had to estimate our payment; I was impressed that they left the extra money I'd paid in an envelope for me at the hotel, given that it was only the equivalent of a couple of dollars.

Random Tips
Be sure to lock checked baggage.
Expandable suitcases may not fit on Japanese trains unless you are riding in a Green Car (1st class).
Although language can be a problem, most Japanese people- especially those in service industries- will make every effort to help foreigners.

The Final Word
After I first came up with the idea of going to Japan, I kept going back and forth on deciding whether I should really go. After all, it was a lot of money to spend and a lot of vacation days to use. Bottom line: the trip lived up to my expectations and I feel I made the right choice.