An energetic tourist’s day in New York 

I’ve recently come back from a short break in New York and I can’t help but wish I’d gone much sooner in my life. 32 is far too late to visit this wonderful city!

On one of the days, I managed to pack in a huge amount of activities and walking into one day. To achieve this you will need to be moderately fit – I run half-marathons so my stamina is certainly up to it, whilst my wife regularly does assault course races and boot camps.

The result is approximately 10k of walking, taking in four of the cities most renowned landmarks.

Morning
9/11 Memorial and Museum

07:30 – Starting from our hotel on 77th and Broadway in uptown Manhattan, we set off for the 9/11 Memorial Museum and World Trade Centre via the 2 or 3 subway line. 

08:00 – Beforehand we got breakfast at the nearby Hudson Eats, an upscale eatery in Brookfield Place that will satisfy any palet and any amount of hunger. We allowed an hour for this so arrived at 8am.

09:00 – We pre-booked our ticket for the museum at 9am but this wasn’t totally necessary – it was quite easy to get in.

You just need to know that the museum is adjacent to ground zero of both the north and south trade centre. It isn’t overly obvious where it is but there are loads of helpful staff members to guide you in. 

It’s a truly important and essential piece of New York’s history and can’t be missed.
I’d leave about 3 hours to get around this place. You don’t want to rush it.

Afternoon
Liberty Island and Ellis Island

The afternoon was all about visiting Liberty Island and Ellis Island, including the world-famous Statue of Liberty.

12:00 – We set off from the museum on foot at midday, allowing ourselves 20 minutes to get over there.

There is a ferry operating from Battery Park, which allows you to get to Liberty Island and then venture on to Ellis Island whenever you’re ready.

The official website is at Statue Cruises. You want at least the “reserve” tickets, though buying sooner will guarantee entry to the pedestal (the base of the statue) or to the crown if you buy around three months in advance.

12:30 – The queuing situation there is pretty abysmal. It’s pandemonium and the people working there have no idea about how to be helpful. In contrast to the brilliant help we got at the 9/11 memorial, here we were told incorrectly to queue in two different lines before ignoring both pieces of advice and using our own logic to work out where we needed to go. 

Essentially, if you have pre-bought, go straight to the main queue that says “reserve” in big lettering.

13:00 – Once on the boat, head for the top deck on the right hand side near the front for the best views and photograph opportunities on the approach to the statue. The photo below is from the top left, so we got the best views too early in the journey.

13:30 – For an additional challenge at the statue, try walking or running up the staircase. You’ll probably feel a burn at the top but you’ll save queuing time.

The statue itself is pretty stunning. Take a moment to soak in the grandness of it. There are lots of people everywhere taking photos and this is important, but like all great monuments it’s easy to forget to look at and absorb it.

15:00 – After getting your photos, it’s time to leave for Ellis Island. This is essentially a museum about immigration, which is really informative and educational. However, we didn’t spend too long here – most of it can be learned about in books or online. Sorry guys! It’s nothing personal!!

16:00 – Take the ferry back, being sure to follow the signs for Battery Park, New York rather than Jersey.

Distance = 1287m distance with a 27m climb in the pedestal (+46m in the statue itself if you buy in time)

Evening
Walking the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset

One of the cliche activities in New York is so popular simply because the views you get are so beautiful, though you won’t see those until later in the evening.

16:30 – Setting off from Battery Park, set your target for Park Row at the North end of the Brooklyn Bridge. Once there, find the Brooklyn Bridge Walkway (signposted) and set off on your trip over the bridge. There’s no rush here. Indeed, rushing is nigh on impossible with such large crowds.

17:15 – At the other side of the bridge, waiting for you is probably the best pizzeria in New York, Juliana’s Pizza. It’s located at 19 Old Fulton St, Brooklyn, NY 11201. Trust me, after all that walking you’ll be glad of the sit down. We were able to split a large pizza in two by having completely different toppings, and the total price – with two alcoholic drinks and a sizeable whole apple pie for dessert – was still only $60 including tax and a tip.

19:30 (or later depending on time at restaurant) – Walking back along the Brooklyn Bridge is the time when you’re really rewarded. The whole of Manhattan is now completely lit up and you get in the best uninterrupted views of the main centre of the city. Bask in it and feel your enriched life thanking you for excellent life choices.

Evening walk = 1600m to Park Row, 2414m to Juliana’s Pizza, 2500m back across the bridge to your favoured subway station.

Total walking activities 

21:00 – By the end of the day we were both absolutely tired out and ready for bed. The sense of achievement and knowledge we’d maximised our time in the city whilst getting fitter through walking was wonderfully satisfying.

Total walking distance = 7801m plus exhibition walking plus a 27m or 73m climb inside the Statue of Liberty.

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Doing DisneySea Tokyo in one day

My wife and I are huge fans of Disney films and of the theme parks. We’ve visited several of the parks around the world, so when we’d booked a trip to Japan we quickly realised that going to one or both of the theme parks would be a unique experience we’d likely never be able to repeat.

After a bit of online research, we found that Disneyland Tokyo was very much a replication of the Magical Kingdom seen frequently around the world, primarily aimed at children with lots of meet-and-greets, slow-moving story rides and not many faster roller-coasters.

DisneySea on the other hand was aimed at older parties, with a fair amount of thrill-seeker rides, some unique rides and events not in other parks and a few more adult-oriented restaurants.

What’s so special about it?

DisneySea features a number of rides and activities that are exclusive to the park. This includes two exceptional fast-moving rides at the top of the park in the Lost River Delta area: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Raging Spirits. For us these were the best two rides in the park: the first a fast, jolty, exciting adventure and the second an exceptionally quick roller-coaster.

Elsewhere there are two highly popular rides in the centre of the park at Mysterious Island, a handful of great stage shows, a great version of Fantasmic (a video projection, boat performance and fireworks display that features at a number of parks), some familiar favourites and a great choice of restaurants. If you’re in the Tokyo area of Japan and have enjoyed Disney theme parks in the past, this is definitely one you should add to your list.

Can it be done in a day?

All the advice we saw online said it couldn’t be done in one day, that you needed at least two or maybe three days to see everything. After almost but not quite doing everything in one day, we left the park feeling like we hadn’t missed anything we were desperate to do and could have done a ride or two more if we’d really known what we were doing.

Firstly, the layout of the park is a little confusing and everyone else seemed to know where they were going. This meant we were disoriented and, coupled with arriving a little late in the morning, meant we got to our first FastPass at 9:15. You can get a FastPass every two hours, but most of the rides were fully booked by about 13:30, so realistically we only were able to get three FastPass tickets. Actually, in the end we didn’t bother with a third one because we were in a queue and missed out so went for lunch instead.

Secondly, and most importantly, we didn’t realise some of the rides had a single rider feature on them until about midday. If we’d known earlier, we’d have done this much sooner. Without opting for single rider, you can’t realistically do all the big rides.

So how do you do it?

This guide assumes you get your first FastPass at 9am having arrived prior to this time, bought your ticket and spent a few minutes working out where to go.

Step one (09:00): head straight to Mysterious Island and get a FastPass for Journey to the Centre of the Earth. We weren’t overly enamoured by this ride, but it’s so popular you have to do it, especially since it’s a DisneySea-exclusive.

Step two (09:05): Get in the queue for 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. It’s right next to Journey… and thus makes sense. This should take about 45 minutes. This ride is sinilar to Pirates of the Caribbean in that it’s a slow-moving story-based ride with lots of animatronic characters, with the additional exception that it makes you feel like you’re underwater. Not many thrills here I’m afraid! However, it will be really popular later in the day and you need to do it – don’t just avoid it because we didn’t like it! Again, it’s a DisneySea-exclusive, plus if you understand Japanese you may get more enjoyment out of it.

Step three (09:50): Head up to the top of the park via the “stroooong bridge” and get onto Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull using single rider. This was one of two rides you can get on with single rider and doing so will knock about two hours off your queuing time. This is an excellent ride, especially for thrill-seekers, and is another park-exclusive. It’s possibly one of the best rides we’ve ever been on and would be perfect but for Harrison Ford speaking in Japanese.

Step four (10:10): Coming out of Indiana Jones, go left and do exactly the same for Raging Spirits, getting a single rider and jumping straight on to the ride. This will take, in total, about twenty minutes. Another fantastic ride for thrill seekers and well worth doing, especially for the 360 degree loop.

Step five (10:30): By this stage you will have the option to repeat one or both Indiana Jones and Raging Spirits, if you enjoyed them both enough to do so and have the time to. You’ll have time to kill before you get your next FastPass at 11:00, but you NEED to get it at the earliest opportunity. Another option would be to simply take a stroll over to the area for your next FastPass at the Tower of Terror. This is in the American Waterfront area, also home to two great stage shows: A Table Is Waiting on the Dockside Stage (a comedy show that is all visual) and the Big Band Beat at the Broadway Music Theatre (a brilliant and classy tribute to the music theatres of New York City). If you’re lucky you could catch one of them on your way through, or you could just grab a snack or drink somewhere and take in the fantastic scenery and ginormous ship in the New York Harbor – the SS Columbia.

Step six (11:00): Go to get a FastPass for the Tower of Terror. The time will be disappointingly late in the day for you, probably around 7pm, but it’s the only way you’ll enjoy this excellent ride that has a completely different back story to the USA version given it has no tie-in with The Twilight Zone. Don’t worry – they will provide a translation of the back story before you start.

Step Seven (11:10): Now will be about the right time to get in line for Journey to the Centre of the Earth. It’s mainly a dark-ride attraction that tells a story, but does speed up a bit near the end to give you a bit of a thrill.

Step Eight (11:30): If you want to single-rider any of the rides at Lost Island Delta again, now is your chance. It will take another 40 minutes but those two rides are well worth it.

Step Nine (12:10): It’s time to pick up some lunch from a vendor – we recommend the giant turkey legs located in the Mysterious Island – and get in line for the last big ride we’re yet to touch on: StormRider. It’s the only attraction of note in Port Discovery and is set to close in May 2016, so get this in whilst you can. Queuing for this is the only way now that you can get on it, but since there’s nothing else you haven’t done that’s aimed at adults this is the best option. Expect to queue for around 90-120 minutes for it.

Step Ten (14:30): After such a hectic morning, you now have about five hours to do with as you please before your Fast Pass for The Tower of Terror and Fantasmic. This was the point we chose to get on a gondola and ride around their interpretation of Venice, took a stroll through Mermaid Lagoon (none of the rides appealed) and really absorbed the park.

If any of the other rides take your fancy then now would be the time to go for them. However, there’s plenty to see and you need to take it all in! There’s also chance to do some shopping and pick up some souvenirs.

Step Eleven (17:30): Dinner time brings many options. For parties with fussy eaters not used to Japanese cuisine, a good option is Sailing Day Buffet in the American Waterfront, which offered some Asian options but also steak, steamed veg, loads of salad options, Italian-style pasta and free refill soda. You get to eat for up to two hours.

Step Twelve (19:30): Tower of Terror fast pass will be around now.

Step Thirteen (20:00): Fantasmic. A must-see!

Step fourteen (21:00): Home.

Conclusion

Hopefully this guide will help you get the most out of a single day at DisneySea. Sure, there is plenty to do if you want to spread it over two days, but if you’re short for time then plan ahead and it can be done.

Have a great time and let me know if you found this guide useful!

Visit to Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo, 23th March 2016

Today we visited the Studio Ghibli Museum, located within Mitaka Inokashira Park in Tokyo.

It was an excellent day and one of the highlights of the trip so far. It’s quite easy to find tickets and locate, with the right advice.

How do I buy tickets?

For residents of the U.K., buying tickets might seem tricky but is fairly straightforward. There’s only one place to buy them from, a company called The Japan Specialist.

To order them, you do need to be vigilant on the release dates and not forget to logon as soon as possible on the sale date.

The general rule is that tickets go on sale on the 1st of the month for dates three months in advance. So, if you want to buy tickets for any date in September 2016, you need to login on 1st June 2016. At any one time tickets are available for four consecutive months, though they are usually completely sold out about six weeks in advance.

The tickets will be sent out to your home address immediately and you will need to make sure you remember to take your tickets on the day as no re-issues are available.

How much is it?

£12 per person.

How do I get there?

The best way to get to Mitaka is by train. There are no parking facilities there.

The best train to get is the JR Chuo Line, which is covered by your Japan Rail Pass (if you have one) and is relatively cheap without one at less than £2 each way.

Then, once you get there, take the south exit from the station and walk about 1.5km. It’s a nice stroll and is well sign-posted so is difficult to miss.

What makes it so special?

The Ghibli Museum was designed and curated by legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki and his magic is felt throughout. There’s a replica of the Catbus for children to play in, a wonderful rooftop terrace garden to relax in, a permanent exhibition of the science of animation and a yearly temporary exhibition.

Another draw for Ghibli is fans is the opportunity to watch an exclusive Ghibli-produced short film in The Saturn Theatre. There are nine on offer and they are shown at random. You only get to see one film per ticket, making it difficult to see every single film unless you visit at least nine times.

The film we saw on our day is Yadosagashi (Looking For A Home), which I reviewed here.

  

Permanent Exhibition

The permanent exhibitions at the museum are absolutely stunning and well worth the trip out for fans of Studio Ghibli. The ground floor features several contraptions that provide an insight into the science and technology behind animation.

The most impressive item in the exhibition was a three-dimensional zoetrope called ‘Bouncing Totoro’, which is essentially a large rotating circular platform with around 200 small models that when viewed gives the impression of a short animated scene of characters from My Neighbour Totoro skipping and a running Catbus. Truly inspiring.

On the first floor there is a replica of an artists’ studio featuring 100s of sketches by Hayao Miyazaki and takes you through a journey from initial concepts to final production.  

Special Exhibition – The Haunted Tower: Perfect Popular Culture

The current exhibition is called The Haunted Tower and has been curated by Hayao Miyazaki.

It is a small exhibition based on Rampo Edogawa’s 1937 novel ‘The Haunted Tower’, a book that Hayao Miyazaki used as inspiration for his directorial debut ‘The Castle of Cagliostro’. It is laid out like a comic strip with the panels hand drawn by Miyazaki himself. There’s also a central labyrinth for children to get lost in.

One of the best features was a large diorama based on ‘The Castle of Cagliostro’, which was an impressive piece of art.

Does not speaking English hinder the experience?

Without a doubt there are things at the museum that can only be enjoyed fully with a complete grasp of the Japanese language. The temporary exhibition was almost impossible to understand, but it didn’t mean that it wasn’t highly enjoyable. 

If you are going to the Ghibli Museum then chances are you are a huge fan of the Studio Ghibli films, or at least animation in general. Like the films they have produced, the experience is very visual. Any fan would love this experience no matter what language they speak.