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A Visit to Universal Orlando’s “Halloween Horror Nights 13”

Are you wondering what sort of scares await you this year at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure? A seasoned HHN veteran, JHM columnist Seth Kubersky catalogues the thrills and chills, taking you house by house, show by show, scare by scare.



Haunted houses, horror movies, ghost stories – none of it scares me any more. I enjoy it, I appreciate it, and I look forward to it every year. But it just doesn’t frighten me.

I wasn’t always like this. As a kid, the idea of anything spooky or gory scared the crap out of me, because I wasn’t allowed anywhere near it. The advertisements for the infamous Haunted Mansion in Long Branch, NJ, shook me so badly that I never got the nerve to go in during our family trips to the shore. Growing up, the scariest movie my dad ever took me to see was “House of Wax” (Vincent Price in 3D!) Hearing other kids talk about the latest Jason or Freddy flick conjured images far worse than anything in the actual films, which my parents forbade me to see. And on the rare occasion I did enter a haunted house (Orlando’s Mystery Fun House, Six Flags Great Adventure’s Haunted Mansion), I did it with one eye closed and the other squinting. Even the cover of “Fangoria” on the supermarket magazine rack freaked me out.

I’m not sure when my attitude towards scary stuff started to change. My next-door neighbors, who put on an annual haunted house, let me play a severed head one year, and I had a blast. When I got to high school, I became interested in theater, filmmaking, and makeup, which naturally led to an interest in horror. By the time I got to college I counted Dawn of the Dead as one of my favorite films, and I dragged my girlfriend to every midnight horror flick at the local theater.

But the big turning point came after I moved to Orlando and started working for Universal. I started on the day shift as a tech at the old Ghostbusters show, so I experienced my first Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) as a guest. But by the next year I was involved in special event production, and was neck-deep in Halloween. Over the next few years, I did everything from hang lights to apply makeup to escort “scareactors.” Seeing the event from the inside slowly stripped away my ability to be scared by it all. I no longer saw demons and ghouls, I saw actors I knew in mazes I helped build.

The final nail in the coffin was Halloween of 1999, when I stage-managed the Mummy and Doomsday haunted houses. 6 to 8 hours a night of prowling the service halls of a haunted house, earplugs barely dampening the brain-splitting soundtrack, cured me of any remaining illusions. I discovered that the actors are in far more danger from the guests than vice versa, and that drunken guys will do amazingly stupid things to prove how brave they are to their girlfriends.

By the end of that Halloween I realized that I had lost the ability to be frightened by a haunted house. My actors would try mightily to scare me during my walk-throughs, and on rare occasions one could surprise me. But it was more a startle reflex than genuine fear. Now, I walk through haunted houses admiring (or criticizing) the technical details, and predicting where the next “boo” will come from.

So how does someone like me evaluate the latest incarnation of Halloween Horror Nights, Universal Orlando’s annual orgy of terror? What criteria do you judge a haunted attraction on, if no how “scary” it is?

I review haunted houses by the same criteria as any other theme park attraction. Does it have an interesting and identifiable story? Is the theming consistent and well-designed? Does the house take you through a variety of environments in a logical progression? Are there subtle creative details that make you feel like you need to go twice to catch everything? Is it well paced, with a variety of scares properly spaced? Is it engineered to move large crowds in a safe and efficient manner? Most importantly, does it create a “realistic” immersive experience, or are you constantly reminded that you’re walking though a plywood maze?

For the impatient reader, the bottom line is that this year’s HHN is a success. Universal has done a much better job of integrating the event into Island’s of Adventure, as opposed to the obvious growing pains of last year’s event. For many in Orlando, this is a must-visit event, and visitors this year can count on getting their money’s worth.

It’s important to note one thing for the haunted house connoisseurs out there: there is no pulsing in the houses at all this year. Not even on slower nights – the queue attendants I talked to didn’t even know what “pulsing” is. For the uninitiated, that’s the practice of letting small numbers (a dozen or so) into the house with a brief gap between groups. This is the way the designers would like you to experience the houses. It’s more intimate, and therefore more frightening, and the actors have time to set up their scares better. Without pulsing you shuffle through the house on an endless conga line. This hurts the actors’ ability to scare effectively, can seriously detract from things like mirror mazes.

Unfortunately, Universal has had to bow to the pressure of running a hugely popular event. While in years past there was lip service paid to pulsing, all pretence has now been abandoned. This is understandable if you look at the math. Let’s say you sent a dozen people at a time, with just 15 seconds between groups. You’d move less than 1500 people per hour. A slow night at HHN attracts 15,000 people; a peak night 2 or 3 times that. With so few attractions open, and the houses being the main draw, the need to move people as fast as possible becomes obvious. This doesn’t ruin the houses, or make the event not worth visiting. But those used to smaller, less busy haunted houses may be in for a surprise. You best bet for an optimal experience is to visit at the very end of the night,

A final word of warning: I know from personal experience that things can change drastically between the 1st and 2nd weekends of HHN. The houses I stage managed had numerous gags and effects added after the first weekend. In years past, shows have been rewritten or recast after opening weekend. So, your mileage may vary when you visit HHN. I’ll be visiting again later in the season, and I’ll pass along any changes I notice.

Enough blather – let’s get on with the review!

Admission and Port of Evil
I arrived at 6:45pm (15 minutes before opening) on Sunday evening and found a sizeable crowd waiting to buy tickets. Regular admission is $55.33 (including tax), but annual passholders like myself can buy a “Frequent Fear” pass for $44.68. This allows unlimited visits on non-peak nights (every night except Friday and Saturday) and is a great value if you plan on visiting more than once.

I also opted to buy a Universal Express booklet for $15. This gives you one coupon for VIP admission to each ride, show, and attraction in the park. Even on an off-peak night, wait times for the houses on the night I visited ranged from 30 minutes to over an hour. The wait with the Express passes was under 5 minutes. Even though attendance was relatively light, I felt the Express was well worth the money, and I’d consider it essential on a busy night. If projected attendance is 15000 or more (ask the cashier when you buy your tickets) I suggest you spring for the Express – you’ll be glad you did when you see the queues.

After making your way through the turnstiles and security checkpoint (metal detectors are now a fact of life, sad to say), you enter the Port of Entry, now know as Port of Evil. Fog machines and giant fans create a damp “vortex” to pass through. On the other side, you’ll find demonic stilt walkers (in excellent makeup) and scantily-clad dancing girls in chains (always fun to watch). By the way, Confisco’s is the only full-service restaurant open, and it closes at 10:30pm, so if you’re hungry plan accordingly.

Port of Evil: Hello, ladies.

Toxic City
There are no haunted houses in Marvel Superhero Island this year, which is a bit disappointing. The scenic design in the streets is also less elaborate than last year. Theming consists of toxic waste barrels (cleverly marked “Property of Oscorp”) and trucks spraying foam. The mutant scareactors make this area look like the Toxic Avenger’s family reunion. “Hulk,” “Spiderman” and “Doctor Doom” are all open, but otherwise there isn’t much going on here.

Hide and Shrieek!
The massive foam party that was last year’s Toon Lagoon has, thankfully, gone away. Instead, we have spooky lighting and scareactors camouflaged to blend in with the scenery. I’m embarrassed to admit that, while trying to navigate the crowds in the dark and fog, I stepped under one of the scenic water elements and got a good soaking. “Dudley Do-Righ” is operating, but not “Popeye” (for obvious reasons).

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure
For many, this is the annual highlight of HHN. The story has become as ritualized as the Latin Mass: Bill & Ted (of 80’s movie fame) show up in their time-traveling phone booth, pop-culture villains attack them, heroes show up out of nowhere to fight back, and in the end everyone joins in a big dance number. If anything, this year’s plot is more perfunctory than ever (“Plot?” asks one of Charlie’s Angels,”There’s a plot?”), and the dancing and stunts overwhelm the outrageous satire that was once the hallmark of the show. This year’s villains, Saddam and Osama, whipped the audience into a hootin-n-hollerin frenzy, but don’t go looking for sharp political humor.

This year’s characters range from the obvious (Neo and Trinity, Laura Croft) to the pointless (Justin Timberlake, Stripperella), but there are some inspired moments. The show opens with a rapping Gollum and a witty send-up of preshow safety announcements. Captain Jack Sparrow from “Pirates of the Caribbean” isn’t given enough to do, but an actor with a gift for physical comedy plays Captain Barbarras as a malfunctioning audio-animatron. There is some fun “Matrix”-style fight choreography (with 3 actors on wires simultaneously), and clever jabs at Disney, but the dance finale wears out its welcome. This year’s B&T is solid, and worth seeing, but it isn’t a classic on the level of “Kirk vs. Picard” from a few years back.

Grade: A- (for first-timers) / B- (for B&T veterans)

Ship of Screams
Scary Tales 2, last year’s house in the “Popeye” queue line, was an insult to the Scary Tales legacy. This year’s “Ship of Screams” isn’t a debacle, but it suffers from the limitations imposed by the location. By shoehorning a haunted house into the Popeye boathouse, the designers are limited in environments they can create. Even so, they’ve done a good job with the theme, especially with the use of water gags. The front half of the house is a little slow, but there are a couple of great tableaus towards the end. The “Titanic” houses from 1998 made better use of the same theme, but this house is a noble effort. Hopefully next year they’ll stop trying to use this location and go back to Marvel.

Grade: B-

Night Prey
Jurassic Park in the dark is so well-themed that not much is needed to make it spooky. Forest-camouflaged scareactors and strategically-placed flamethrowers give this island all the atmosphere it needs. “Jurassic Park River Adventure” is running (and much better in the dark).

Funhouse of Fear
Who doesn’t hate clowns? This house, located in the Thunderfalls Terrace (where Fear Factor was last year) is the most colorful and disorienting maze this year. Mirror mazes, tilted hallways, and garish colors abound. To make things worse, you are provided with a pair of 3D glasses to wear. These are simple prismatic glasses that make certain colors pop or recede, but they add greatly to the visual confusion. My only complaint is that the environment becomes a bit repetitive, and there are too many similar-looking rubber clown masks. Very different than the other houses, and a lot of fun.

Grade: B+

Jungle of Doom
The Triceratops Encounter queue is one of the most detailed in the park, and should make the perfect setting for a haunted trail. Or so you would think. The fact that it’s outdoors makes it a change of pace from the other houses, and there are some nice set pieces. I liked the barbeque-scented cannibal roast, and the ubiquitous half-naked demon girl. But most of the trail consists of lots of greenery, without enough scares or décor. Better than last year’s Evilution, but not much.

Grade: C-

Psycho Scareapy
Wow! I would never have guessed that the designers would be able to fit such a complex, detailed maze into the ground floor of the Jurassic Park Discovery Center. This house takes you through a decrepit mental asylum, from the admission desk to the TV room (cartoons, of course) to the foulest bathroom imaginable (great use of scent machines). There are even multiple paths to further unsettle you. What makes this house so great are the actors: instead of just screaming, many ramble on with bizarre, and genuinely creepy, psychotic monologues. Great stuff, I only wish it could have been longer.

Grade: A

Immortal Island
The park guide talks about a “titanic battle” between fire and ice. I saw lots of fog, and red and blue lasers. Whatever. “Dueling Dragons” is open, and is a must-ride in the dark. “Flying Unicorn” is also surprisingly enjoyable in the dark, especially in the back row, and there was no line.

Immortal Island: The rat lady is back!

The “Director” character is this year’s icon, and the centerpiece of the controversial advertising campaign (the Orlando Sentinel ran a long article asking if the TV ad, with its images of torture, goes “too far”). He’s a creepy character as long as he keeps his mouth shut, but Infestation proves he can’t carry a show. In this “Fear Factor”-esque show, staged every 40 minutes in front of the Enchanted Oak, volunteers (paying a nominal fee) and strapped to a chair and have vermin dumped on their heads. It’s a neat concept, but there are several fatal flaws.

A creepy Infestation

For one, the roaches, scorpions, and rats are extremely docile, and are gently placed on the guest one at a time by a wrangler. Two, the critters are also removed by hand before the next victim is brought out, making for a slow-paced show with no sense of danger. These problems would be surmountable if it wasn’t for the third problem, the Director. The actor I saw in the role had the stage presence of wilted lettuce, and was heckled by the audience throughout. With a great M.C., this would be mildly amusing for reality-TV fans. Without a strong host to carry through the many dead spots in the show, this is a waste of time.

Grade: D-

All Nite DrIvE-In
This house is a massive near-miss. It starts off great, with a giant movie screen showing classic splatter films that you walk right though. The sets are well detailed and realistic, taking you from suburban Haddonfield to Camp Crystal Lake to an Elm Street boiler room. I especially admired Leatherface’s exquisitely detailed dinner table. This could have been the best house in years, if not for two problems. One, pace: there are, believe it or not, too many scareactors, and many of them look alike. At one point there were 2 Michael Meyers in the same room with me at once. I would rather have seen one hulking screen-accurate Jason than 3 short guys in store-bought hockey masks. Two, the maze is too darn short. Just when it really gets going, you’re out the door. This is surprising, considering that the house is built in a giant soundstage. A good house, but heartbreaking because it could have been great.

Grade: C+

Audrey Geisel is fiercely protective of her late husband’s image, do don’t expect to see Horton Slaughters a Who. Theming in Seuss Landing is limited to lighting, fog, and spooky music. All the rides in this area are supposed to be open, though “Cat in the Hat” was closed during my visit.

Screamhouse Revisited
This was the highlight of last year’s HHN, and it’s one of the best attractions this year. Universal has created a detailed and realistic environment, starting with the startlingly real decaying house façade you enter. This house features a variety of environments, from claustrophobic parlors to outdoor graveyards. There is also a healthy dose of gore, something that has been in short supply at HHN since 2001. The only disappointment is that the house seems a little less elaborate than last year’s, and the excellent mirror gag from last year’s finale is gone.

Grade: A-

The awesome Screamhouse façade

HHN 13 Overall grade: B+.

That, folks, is Halloween Horror Nights 13. They’ve learned a lot from last year’s failures, and I expect them to do even better next year. It’s disappointing (though not unexpected) that the early rumors of an “extreme” haunted house experience turned out to be the limp Infestation show. I’d like to see more live entertainment next year, and I miss the parade. I’d love to see the next Bill & Ted show discard some of its more tired conventions and focus on sharper parody. The park will be brutal on peak nights, and uncomfortable on all but the slowest, making the Express passes are worth their weight in gold. None of these criticisms stop Halloween Horror Nights from being one of the best theme-park experiences you’ll ever have.

So if you’re in Orlando this month, be sure to pay a visit to all the monsters and maniacs at Universal. Just don’t blame me if you don’t make it back…

Seth Kubersky

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The Evolution and History of Mickey’s ToonTown



Disneyland in Anaheim, California, holds a special place in the hearts of Disney fans worldwide, I mean heck, it’s where the magic began after all.  Over the years it’s become a place that people visit in search of memorable experiences. One fan favorite area of the park is Mickey’s Toontown, a unique land that lets guests step right into the colorful, “Toony” world of Disney animation. With the recent reimagining of the land and the introduction of Micky and Minnies Runaway Railway, have you ever wondered how this land came to be?

There is a fascinating backstory of how Mickey’s Toontown came into existence. It’s a tale of strategic vision, the influence of Disney executives, and a commitment to meeting the needs of Disney’s valued guests.

The Beginning: Mickey’s Birthdayland

The story of Mickey’s Toontown starts with Mickey’s Birthdayland at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Opened in 1988 to celebrate Mickey Mouse’s 60th birthday, this temporary attraction was met with such overwhelming popularity that it inspired Disney executives to think bigger. The idea was to create a permanent, immersive land where guests could step into the animated world of Mickey Mouse and his friends.

In the early ’90s, Disneyland was in need of a refresh. Michael Eisner, the visionary leader of The Walt Disney Company at the time, had an audacious idea: create a brand-new land in Disneyland that would celebrate Disney characters in a whole new way. This was the birth of Mickey’s Toontown.

Initially, Disney’s creative minds toyed with various concepts, including the idea of crafting a 100-Acre Woods or a land inspired by the Muppets. However, the turning point came when they considered the success of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” This film’s popularity and the desire to capitalize on contemporary trends set the stage for Toontown’s creation.

From Concept to Reality: The Birth of Toontown

In 1993, Mickey’s Toontown opened its gates at Disneyland, marking the first time in Disney Park history where guests could experience a fully realized, three-dimensional world of animation. This new land was not just a collection of attractions but a living, breathing community where Disney characters “lived,” worked, and played.

Building Challenges: Innovative Solutions

The design of Mickey’s Toontown broke new ground in theme park aesthetics. Imagineers were tasked with bringing the two-dimensional world of cartoons into a three-dimensional space. This led to the creation of over 2000 custom-built props and structures that embodied the ‘squash and stretch’ principle of animation, giving Toontown its distinctiveness.

And then there was also the challenge of hiding the Team Disney Anaheim building, which bore a striking resemblance to a giant hotdog. The Imagineers had to think creatively, using balloon tests and imaginative landscaping to seamlessly integrate Toontown into the larger park.

Key Attractions: Bringing Animation to Life

Mickey’s Toontown featured several groundbreaking attractions. “Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin,” inspired by the movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” became a staple of Toontown, offering an innovative ride experience. Gadget’s Go-Coaster, though initially conceived as a Rescue Rangers-themed ride, became a hit with younger visitors, proving that innovative design could create memorable experiences for all ages.

Another crown jewel of Toontown is Mickey’s House, a walkthrough attraction that allowed guests to explore the home of Mickey Mouse himself. This attraction was more than just a house; it was a carefully crafted piece of Disney lore. The house was designed in the American Craftsman style, reflecting the era when Mickey would have theoretically purchased his first home in Hollywood. The attention to detail was meticulous, with over 2000 hand-crafted, custom-built props, ensuring that every corner of the house was brimming with character and charm. Interestingly, the design of Mickey’s House was inspired by a real home in Wichita Falls, making it a unique blend of real-world inspiration and Disney magic.

Mickey’s House also showcased Disney’s commitment to creating interactive and engaging experiences. Guests could make themselves at home, sitting in Mickey’s chair, listening to the radio, and exploring the many mementos and references to Mickey’s animated adventures throughout the years. This approach to attraction design – where storytelling and interactivity merged seamlessly – was a defining characteristic of ToonTown’s success.

Executive Decisions: Shaping ToonTown’s Unique Attractions

The development of Mickey’s Toontown wasn’t just about creative imagination; it was significantly influenced by strategic decisions from Disney executives. One notable input came from Jeffrey Katzenberg, who suggested incorporating a Rescue Rangers-themed ride. This idea was a reflection of the broader Disney strategy to integrate popular contemporary characters and themes into the park, ensuring that the attractions remained relevant and engaging for visitors.

In addition to Katzenberg’s influence, Frank Wells, the then-President of The Walt Disney Company, played a key role in the strategic launch of Toontown’s attractions. His decision to delay the opening of “Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin” until a year after Toontown’s debut was a calculated move. It was designed to maintain public interest in the park by offering new experiences over time, thereby giving guests more reasons to return to Disneyland.

These executive decisions highlight the careful planning and foresight that went into making Toontown a dynamic and continuously appealing part of Disneyland. By integrating current trends and strategically planning the rollout of attractions, Disney executives ensured that Toontown would not only capture the hearts of visitors upon its opening but would continue to draw them back for new experiences in the years to follow.

Global Influence: Toontown’s Worldwide Appeal

The concept of Mickey’s Toontown resonated so strongly that it was replicated at Tokyo Disneyland and influenced elements in Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland. Each park’s version of Toontown maintained the core essence of the original while adapting to its cultural and logistical environment.

Evolution and Reimagining: Toontown Today

As we approach the present day, Mickey’s Toontown has recently undergone a significant reimagining to welcome “Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway” in 2023. This refurbishment aimed to enhance the land’s interactivity and appeal to a new generation of Disney fans, all while retaining the charm that has made ToonTown a beloved destination for nearly three decades.

Dive Deeper into ToonTown’s Story

Want to know more about Mickey’s Toontown and hear some fascinating behind-the-scenes stories, then check out the latest episode of Disney Unpacked on Patreon @JimHillMedia. In this episode, the main Imagineer who worked on the Toontown project shares lots of interesting stories and details that you can’t find anywhere else. It’s full of great information and fun facts, so be sure to give it a listen!

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Unpacking the History of the Pixar Place Hotel



Pixar Place Hotel, the newly unveiled 15-story tower at the Disneyland Resort, has been making waves in the Disney community. With its unique Pixar-themed design, it promises to be a favorite among visitors.

However, before we delve into this exciting addition to the Disneyland Resort, let’s take a look at the fascinating history of this remarkable hotel.

The Emergence of the Disneyland Hotel

To truly appreciate the story of the Pixar Place Hotel, we must turn back the clock to the early days of Disneyland. While Walt Disney had the visionary ideas and funding to create the iconic theme park, he faced a challenge when it came to providing accommodations for the park’s visitors. This is where his friend Jack Wrather enters the picture.

Jack Wrather, a fellow pioneer in the television industry, stepped in to assist Walt Disney in realizing his dream. Thanks to the success of the “Lassie” TV show produced by Wrather’s company, he had the financial means to build a hotel right across from Disneyland.

The result was the Disneyland Hotel, which opened its doors in October 1955. Interestingly, the early incarnation of this hotel had more of a motel feel than a hotel, with two-story buildings reminiscent of the roadside motels popular during the 1950s. The initial Disneyland Hotel consisted of modest structures that catered to visitors looking for affordable lodging close to the park. While the rooms were basic, it marked the beginning of something extraordinary.

The Evolution: From Emerald of Anaheim to Paradise Pier

As Disneyland’s popularity continued to soar, so did the demand for expansion and improved accommodations. In 1962, the addition of an 11-story tower transformed the Disneyland Hotel, marking a significant transition from a motel to a full-fledged hotel.

The addition of the 11-story tower elevated the Disneyland Hotel into a more prominent presence on the Anaheim skyline. At the time, it was the tallest structure in all of Orange County. The hotel’s prime location across from Disneyland made it an ideal choice for visitors. With the introduction of the monorail linking the park and the hotel, accessibility became even more convenient. Unique features like the Japanese-themed reflecting pools added to the hotel’s charm, reflecting a cultural influence that extended beyond Disney’s borders.

Japanese Tourism and Its Impact

During the 1960s and 1970s, Disneyland was attracting visitors from all corners of the world, including Japan. A significant number of Japanese tourists flocked to Anaheim to experience Walt Disney’s creation. To cater to this growing market, it wasn’t just the Disneyland Hotel that aimed to capture the attention of Japanese tourists. The Japanese Village in Buena Park, inspired by a similar attraction in Nara, Japan, was another significant spot.

These attractions sought to provide a taste of Japanese culture and hospitality, showcasing elements like tea ceremonies and beautiful ponds with rare carp and black swans. However, the Japanese Village closed its doors in 1975, likely due to the highly competitive nature of the Southern California tourist market.

The Emergence of the Emerald of Anaheim

With the surge in Japanese tourism, an opportunity arose—the construction of the Emerald of Anaheim, later known as the Disneyland Pacific Hotel. In May 1984, this 15-story hotel opened its doors.

What made the Emerald unique was its ownership. It was built not by The Walt Disney Company or the Oriental Land Company (which operated Tokyo Disneyland) but by the Tokyu Group. This group of Japanese businessmen already had a pair of hotels in Hawaii and saw potential in Anaheim’s proximity to Disneyland. Thus, they decided to embark on this new venture, specifically designed to cater to Japanese tourists looking to experience Southern California.

Financial Challenges and a Changing Landscape

The late 1980s brought about two significant financial crises in Japan—the crash of the NIKKEI stock market and the collapse of the Japanese real estate market. These crises had far-reaching effects, causing Japanese tourists to postpone or cancel their trips to the United States. As a result, reservations at the Emerald of Anaheim dwindled.

To adapt to these challenging times, the Tokyu Group merged the Emerald brand with its Pacific hotel chain, attempting to weather the storm. However, the financial turmoil took its toll on the Emerald, and changes were imminent.

The Transition to the Disneyland Pacific Hotel

In 1995, The Walt Disney Company took a significant step by purchasing the hotel formerly known as the Emerald of Anaheim for $35 million. This acquisition marked a change in the hotel’s fortunes. With Disney now in control, the hotel underwent a name change, becoming the Disneyland Pacific Hotel.

Transformation to Paradise Pier

The next phase of transformation occurred when Disney decided to rebrand the hotel as Paradise Pier Hotel. This decision aligned with Disney’s broader vision for the Disneyland Resort.

While the structural changes were limited, the hotel underwent a significant cosmetic makeover. Its exterior was painted to complement the color scheme of Paradise Pier, and wave-shaped crenellations adorned the rooftop, creating an illusion of seaside charm. This transformation was Disney’s attempt to seamlessly integrate the hotel into the Paradise Pier theme of Disney’s California Adventure Park.

Looking Beyond Paradise Pier: The Shift to Pixar Place

In 2018, Disneyland Resort rebranded Paradise Pier as Pixar Pier, a thematic area dedicated to celebrating the beloved characters and stories from Pixar Animation Studios. As a part of this transition, it became evident that the hotel formally known as the Disneyland Pacific Hotel could no longer maintain its Paradise Pier theme.

With Pixar Pier in full swing and two successful Pixar-themed hotels (Toy Story Hotels in Shanghai Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland), Disney decided to embark on a new venture—a hotel that would celebrate the vast world of Pixar. The result is Pixar Place Hotel, a 15-story tower that embraces the characters and stories from multiple Pixar movies and shorts. This fully Pixar-themed hotel is a first of its kind in the United States.

The Future of Pixar Place and Disneyland Resort

As we look ahead to the future, the Disneyland Resort continues to evolve. The recent news of a proposed $1.9 billion expansion as part of the Disneyland Forward project indicates that the area surrounding Pixar Place is expected to see further changes. Disneyland’s rich history and innovative spirit continue to shape its destiny.

In conclusion, the history of the Pixar Place Hotel is a testament to the ever-changing landscape of Disneyland Resort. From its humble beginnings as the Disneyland Hotel to its transformation into the fully Pixar-themed Pixar Place Hotel, this establishment has undergone several iterations. As Disneyland Resort continues to grow and adapt, we can only imagine what exciting developments lie ahead for this iconic destination.

If you want to hear more stories about the History of the Pixar Place hotel, check our special edition of Disney Unpacked over on YouTube.

Stay tuned for more updates and developments as we continue to explore the fascinating world of Disney, one story at a time.

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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From Birthday Wishes to Toontown Dreams: How Toontown Came to Be



Mickey's Birthday Land

In the latest release of Episode 4 of Disney Unpacked, Len and I return, joined as always by Disney Imagineering legend, Jim Shull. This two-part episode covers all things Mickey’s Birthday Land and how it ultimately led to the inspiration behind Disneyland’s fan-favorite land, “Toontown”. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. It all starts in the early days at Disneyland.

Early Challenges in Meeting Mickey

Picture this: it’s the late 1970s and early 1980s, and you’re at Disneyland. You want to meet the one and only Mickey Mouse, but there’s no clear way to make it happen. You rely on Character Guides, those daily printed sheets that point you in Mickey’s general direction. But let’s be honest, it was like finding a needle in a haystack. Sometimes, you got lucky; other times, not so much.

Mickey’s Birthdayland: A Birthday Wish that Came True

Fast forward to the late 1980s. Disney World faced a big challenge. The Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park was under construction, with the company’s marketing machine in full swing, hyping up the opening of Walt Disney World’s third theme park, MGM Studios, in the Spring of 1989. This extensive marketing meant that many people were opting to postpone their family’s next trip to Walt Disney World until the following year. Walt Disney World needed something compelling to motivate guests to visit Florida in 1988, the year before Disney MGM Studios opened.

Enter stage left, Mickey’s Birthdayland. For the first time ever, an entire land was dedicated to a single character – and not just any character, but the mouse who started it all. Meeting Mickey was no longer a game of chance; it was practically guaranteed.

The Birth of Birthdayland: Creative Brilliance Meets Practicality

In this episode, we dissect the birth of Mickey’s Birthdayland, an initiative that went beyond celebrating a birthday. It was a calculated move, driven by guest feedback and a need to address issues dating back to 1971. Imagineers faced the monumental task of designing an experience that honored Mickey while efficiently managing the crowds. This required the perfect blend of creative flair and logistical prowess – a hallmark of Disney’s approach to theme park design.

Evolution: From Birthdayland to Toontown

The success of Mickey’s Birthdayland was a real game-changer, setting the stage for the birth of Toontown – an entire land that elevated character-centric areas to monumental new heights. Toontown wasn’t merely a spot to meet characters; it was an immersive experience that brought Disney animation to life. In the episode, we explore its innovative designs, playful architecture, and how every nook and cranny tells a story.

Impact on Disney Parks and Guests

Mickey’s Birthdayland and Toontown didn’t just reshape the physical landscape of Disney parks; they transformed the very essence of the guest experience. These lands introduced groundbreaking ways for visitors to connect with their beloved characters, making their Disney vacations even more unforgettable.

Beyond Attractions: A Cultural Influence

But the influence of these lands goes beyond mere attractions. Our episode delves into how Mickey’s Birthdayland and Toontown left an indelible mark on Disney’s culture, reflecting the company’s relentless dedication to innovation and guest satisfaction. It’s a journey into how a single idea can grow into a cherished cornerstone of the Disney Park experience.

Interested in learning about Jim Shull’s original idea for a Winnie the Pooh ride? Here’s concept art of the attraction proposed for the original Toontown in Disneyland. More on [Disney Unpacked].

Unwrapping the Full Story of Mickey’s Birthdayland

Our two-part episode of Disney Unpacked is available for your viewing pleasure on our Patreon page. And for those seeking a quicker Disney fix, we’ve got a condensed version waiting for you on our YouTube channel. Thank you for being a part of our Disney Unpacked community. Stay tuned for more episodes as we continue to “Unpack” the fascinating world of Disney, one story at a time.

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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