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Exploring WDW’s Contemporary Resort Hotel

It’s Try-out Tuesday here at JimHillMedia. Which is why we’re spotlighting JHM guest writer, Scott Liljenquist of Scott’s written a column that we’re considering as a possible regular feature here at the site. One that gives in-depth information about the various Disney hotels.



Hey, gang!

Jim Hill here. Given that it’s the start of a new year, I thought that it was high time that we actually tried a few new things around here. (More importantly, given that has spent the last 10 days beating up on the Walt Disney Company for its mishandling of the closure of Feature Animation Florida, I thought that it was also high time that we actually said something nice about the Mouse again). Which is why we’re trying out a possible new feature at the site. One that would regularly give in-depth reports of various resorts at the Disney theme parks.

Now let me tell you a little background on the author of today’s JHM guest column: He’s Scott Liljenquist, one of the co-owners of A company that Scott says is “the web’s best Disney-only travel agency.” Liljenquist and I actually met back in December at Mousefest 2003. Scott seemed like a very nice guy who did seem to know an awful lot about Disney’s theme parks and resorts. So I decided: “What the hey – why not give Scott a shot?”

So the following in-depth article about WDW’s Contemporary Resort is kind of a test run, folks. By that I mean: I like what Liljenquist has put together here. But I’d like to hear what YOU think about this article as well. As is: would you like to see more articles like this at JHM? Possibly as a regular feature?

So — after you read Scott’s story (which I think really does a nice job of summing up the assortment of activities one can enjoy while staying at the Contemporary Resort) — could you please drop me a line or/and heave a note up on the JHM discussion boards? Letting me know if you’d like to see more stories like this up on JimHillMedia, com, okay?

Okay. That’s enough prologue for today. Now — ladies and gentlemen — please give a warm JHM welcome to Scott Liljenquist of!


Disney’s Contemporary Resort

Facts and Figures

The first of the two original Walt Disney World resorts, Disney’s Contemporary Resort opened on October 1, 1971. With the monorail running directly through the middle of the A-frame structure’s 10-story atrium, the Contemporary is arguably the most famous and well-recognized of all Disney hotels. The resort is actually comprised of three large buildings: the large A-frame tower building, and two garden wing buildings located on the eastern side of the property. The focal point of the resort is, of course, the tower building, in which are located the lobby, restaurants, shops, arcade, health club, and monorail station.

The Contemporary resort, more than any other, illustrates Walt Disney’s passion for the newest designs and latest technology. Designed by WED (forerunner to Walt Disney Imagineering) and architectural firm Welton Beckett and Associates (who, by the way, threatened to pull out of the project for a time if the Imagineers continued to insist on running their “carnival ride” through the middle of the structure), the Contemporary was built as a completely modular hotel.

Each main building was constructed as a steel skeleton frame on a concrete foundation. Individual hotel rooms were assembled separately at an on-site location by US Steel. The hotel rooms were built as completely “unitized” self-supporting modules, and could be stacked three high with no external support. Each room was completely built, painted, carpeted, wired, plumbed, and furnished at the US Steel site. Once an individual room was completed, the door to the room would be locked and not opened again until the room was transported to the hotel site and hoisted by crane into the steel building structure, slid into its spot like a dresser drawer, bolted down, and connected to the water, sewer, and electrical systems.

The original intent of this building method was to facilitate very rapid renovations and maintenance. A supply of “extra” rooms would be maintained which would be periodically refurbished with updated decor and furniture. Once these new rooms were ready, the existing outdated or damaged rooms could simply be unbolted from the frame, disconnected from the utility services, and removed from the structure. The new room would then be inserted into the empty space, reconnected, and the renovated or repaired room would be ready for occupancy in a matter of hours. Unfortunately, due to settling and shifting of the main steel frame, the original rooms have become immovably bound into the structure and can no longer be easily removed. The rooms originally inserted in the structure remain in the resort to this day.


As mentioned earlier, the Contemporary’s 1041 guest lodging rooms are located in either the tower building or in one of the two garden wing buildings. Rooms in the tower building are the most popular, and, of course, the most expensive. All of the rooms in the resort, like those in the Polynesian, are among the largest of any Disney property. Guest rooms are decorated in bright, vibrant colors and have somewhat funky, futuristic decor and furnishings.

Tower building rooms are located on floors 5-14 (no 13th floor), with floors 12 and 14 being reserved for concierge service and suites. Rooms in the tower can face either the Magic Kingdom or Bay Lake and provide spectacular views. These rooms all have private balconies with a couple of chairs and a small table.

Garden wing rooms are located in either the north or south garden wings. These rooms have views of Bay Lake, the garden/landscaping area, or the parking lot. First floor rooms have a small patio with furniture similar to that of the tower balcony rooms. Second and third floor rooms do not have balconies. The entire north garden wing building and the second floor of the south garden wing building have been designated as non-smoking.

Rooms in the tower building are closest to the restaurants, shops, monorail, and bus stops. Nearest to the tennis courts, Magic Kingdom (to which you can easily walk) and monorail station in the tower are the rooms in the north garden wing building. South garden wing buildings are nearest the pools, marina, and convention center.


Restaurants at the Contemporary are all located in the tower building. Located on the 4th floor of the tower building, which is known as the Grand Canyon Concourse, is Chef Mickey’s. Here diners enjoy one of two Disney character meals each day. The breakfast buffet is very popular, and features an all-you-can-eat selection of breakfast foods, accompanied by visits from Chef Mickey himself, Goofy, Pluto, Chip and Dale, and others. The same characters also pay a visit to a daily dinner buffet, which features salads, seafood, pasta, and prime rib.

The Concourse Steakhouse, located on the Grand Canyon Concourse right next to Chef Mickeys, offers full-service breakfast, lunch, and dinner service. The specialty here, of course, is steaks and prime rib, both of which are excellent. This is one of my favorite low-key places to dine at WDW. It’s not usually too crowded, the food and service are invariably good, and you can watch the monorail glide past just above your head as you dine.

At the top of the tower building is the California Grill, undoubtedly my favorite restaurant in the World. Located on the 15th floor, the California Grill serves dinner only, accompanied by spectacular views of the Magic Kingdom, Seven Seas lagoon, Bay Lake, and the surrounding landscape for miles in every direction. California-style cuisine is featured here, with outstanding salads, seafood, steaks, and pasta dishes. The desserts are all delicious and near-decadent — the creme brulee is absolutely the best I’ve had anywhere. The lights are dimmed each evening for the fireworks show over the Magic Kingdom, and the same music that accompanies the fireworks in the park is piped over the restaurant’s speaker system.

Counter service is offered at the Food ‘n Fun Center located on the first floor of the tower building. This restaurant is open 24 hours, and serves the usual assortment of burgers, fries, chicken, salads, hot dogs, pizza, and other fast-food fare. Breakfast items are offered daily from 7am – 11am, and the grill is open from 7am – 11pm.


The focal point of the transportation options at the Contemporary is, of course, the monorail. The monorail station is accessible via escalator or elevator from the Grand Canyon Concourse on the 4th floor of the tower building. The resort monorail makes a stop here before continuing on to the Ticket and Transportation Center, the Polynesian, the Grand Floridian, and the Magic Kingdom. Epcot is easily accessible by riding the monorail to the Ticket and Transportation Center, then switching there to the Epcot monorail.

Buses to Disney-MGM Studios, Animal Kingdom, and Downtown Disney depart from the bus stop area located near the lobby entrance area on the west side of the tower building. Other areas of WDW can be accessed by boarding a bus to Downtown Disney and transferring there to the appropriate destination.

Boat service has been offered between the Contemporary and the Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness campground in the past, but this appears to have been reduced to seasonal operation, and is available only during peak periods of demand.


The Contemporary is home to two swimming pools, six tennis courts, a beach volleyball court, a health club, a marina, and a large arcade.

There are two swimming pools located east of the tower building and in between the two garden wing buildings. The main swimming pool features a large deck area and a waterslide. The bay pool is located right on the shore of Bay Lake, and is a smaller, shallower quiet pool.

The six tennis courts are located near the north garden wing building, and are home to the Walt Disney World Racquet Club.
A large health club/fitness area is offered to resort guests and features a wide variety of fitness machines, free weights, and exercise area.

The arcade at the Contemporary is fantastic. By far the best arcade anywhere in WDW, it is large, brightly lit, clean and well maintained, and fully stocked with the latest arcade games and entertainment. You may very well lose your teenagers here and never see them again.

Available at the Contemporary’s marina are a wide variety of boating and watersport options. Sailboats, pontoon boats, water mice, and waterskiing boats and equipment can be rented here. In addition, the Sammy Duvall Watersports Center is located here, and offers waterskiing rentals and instruction, parasailing, wakeboarding, and, for the first time at WDW, personal watercraft rentals.

Located on the Grand Canyon Concourse are several great shops and boutiques. Men’s and womens’ fashions and beachwear, jewelry, Disney merchandise, gifts and souvenirs, and snacks and sundries are among the offerings. I’ve found several unique items at the shops in the Contemporary that I’ve never been able to find anywhere else on WDW property.

Insider’s Tips and Tricks

If you’re going to pony up the $$ for a tower room, be sure request a Magic Kingdom view. Some of my favorite WDW memories are sitting on the balcony of a Contemporary tower room after a long day at the parks with a cool beverage and watching the evening’s activities. As the sun sets you can watch the pathway torches light at the Polynesian and see the lights come on at Cinderella’s Castle, and watch the monorail glide around the Seven Seas lagoon. As the night wears down you ultimately have a front-row, uncrowded, comfortable seat for the nightly Magic Kingdom fireworks show.

However, for you early risers, don’t discount a Bay Lake view room in the tower. Located on the opposite side of the tower building, these rooms offer absolutely stunning views of the sunrises over Bay Lake.

If you choose instead to save some green and select a garden wing room, be sure to request a ground floor room a the end of the hall. Unlike other garden view rooms, these rooms have a private patio and are a little larger than the other rooms. Views from the room are also generally better because there are two exterior walls with windows.

Take some time from your park-commando itinerary to enjoy the watersports offerings at the Contemporary marina. This is the only place at WDW where personal watercraft can be rented. In addition, waterskiing, wakeboarding and parasailing activities and instruction are offered here at the Sammy Duvall Watersports Center. If you enjoy any of these activities at all or want to learn, it’s a great deal of fun to be out on the water (or above it if you’re parasailing!) surrounded by the resort hotels and the Magic Kingdom. The instructors are top-notch and very friendly, and will make you feel comfortable no matter what your expertise level.

If you’re a light sleeper, be forewarned that the rooms in the tower can be very noisy. The interior of the Contemporary tower building is a 10-story atrium decorated mostly in stone, concrete, stucco, and other hard surfaces. The restaurants and shops on the 4th floor Grand Canyon Concourse are open to the atrium above, so any noise from people, music, monorails, etc., seems to echo and reverberate in this large atrium space.

The Contemporary is the only resort hotel at WDW where you can comfortably walk to the Magic Kingdom. A dedicated walkway is available and is accessed just outside the north garden wing building. It’s just a short walk down the pathway, across a very busy intersection, and then right up to the gate of the Magic Kingdom. It’s almost always faster to walk than to take the monorail to the Magic Kingdom, as the resort monorail that departs from the Contemporary first has to make stops at the Ticket and Transportation Center, the Polynesian, and the Grand Floridian before arriving at the Magic Kingdom.

Request a late priority seating at the California Grill for dessert. After a busy day at the parks there’s nothing better than to be comfortably seated at your table, enjoying a fantastic dessert, and watching the Magic Kingdom fireworks from your seat. You can also venture outside to the observation deck for a spectacular view (if it’s warm enough, of course!)

The observation deck outside on the north end of the 4th floor Grand Canyon Concourse is a fantastic place for fireworks viewing if you don’t want to get a table at the California Grill. As at the California Grill, the music from the fireworks show is piped into the area’s speakers.

Scott Liljenquist

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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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