Facts and Figures
The second of the Magic Kingdom’s two original resorts, the Polynesian opened on October 1, 1971 as the Polynesian Village Resort. The Polynesian is styled in a south pacific islands theme, with each of its 11 “longhouses” and 855 rooms carrying in a lush, tropical decor. Palm trees, tropical foliage, and tiki torches highlight the 40 acres of beautiful and well-themed landscaping. The Great Ceremonial House is the central gathering point of the resort, housing the lobby, shops, and restaurants. The resort is home to two swimming pools, three restaurants, two bars, a marina, an arcade, and a child-care facility.
Many WDW veterans consider the Poly to be the lushest and the loveliest of all the Disney World resorts. But one wonders if they still would have felt that way if the Imagineers had gone with their original plan for the Polynesian. Which was an ultra-modern looking, multi-tiered affair that — at its highest point — would have been over ten stories tall. Something that would have looked right at home in downtown Honolulu circa 1965.
Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed at WED. And — instead of building something that looked like it came straight out of “Hawaii 5-0” — the Imagineers built the South Seas-esque paradise that we all know & love today.
Rooms at the Polynesian are located in one of 11 buildings or “longhouses”. Each building is 2 or 3 stories tall and most rooms have private balconies (a few of the older buildings were constructed without balconies on the second floor to more closely mimic real Polynesian building styles. Guest complaints caused Disney to quickly add balconies on all rooms on all floors). Each longhouse has been named to represent a real Polynesian island, and the locations of the buildings are roughly correct to the actual geographic locations of the islands of Polynesia. Rooms at the Polynesian are generally a little larger than those at other resorts, and each is decorated with tropical colors and bamboo accents.
Closest to the Great Ceremonial House and the volcano pool are longhouses Tonga, Raratonga, Niue, and Samoa. Those most near the Ticket and Transportation Center are Tahiti, Rapa Nui, and Tokelau. Adjacent to the marina are Tuvalu, Fiji, Aotearoa, and Fiji. The longhouses directly on the beach of the Seven Seas lagoon are Tuvalu, Hawaii, and Tahiti. Non-smoking longhouses are Aotearoa, Fiji, Rapa Nui, Raratonga, Samoa, and Tokelau. Suites are located in the Tonga longhouse, and concierge rooms in the Hawaii longhouse. Rooms with the best view of Seven Seas Lagoon, the Magic Kingdom, Cinderella Castle, and the nightly fireworks show are located in Tuvalu, Hawaii, Tahiti.
The three restaurants of the Polynesian are located in the Great Ceremonial House. ‘Ohana (and anyone who’s seen Lilo & Stitch should certainly remember what ohana means) is located on the second floor, and serves a family-style Polynesian fare. A daily character breakfast is also served at ‘Ohana, with visits right to your table from Mickey, Goofy, Chip, and Dale.
The Kona Café is also on the second floor, and serves fresh seafood, steaks, chicken, and salads. You’ll probably never find more unusual (although tasty) desserts anywhere; most can truly be called works of art. Of course, Kona coffee is available both in the restaurant itself and from a coffee stand just outside the reception area.
Captain Cook’s Snack Company is the standard WDW fast-food snack bar type of restaurant, and is open 24 hours. It features grill items such as hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken sandwiches, deli sandwiches, salads, and other snack-bar fare. Food quality is Disney fast-food typical, which is to say not-great-but-not-too-bad-either.
The Polynesian is — of course — served by the monorail. The monorail station is located on the second floor of the Great Ceremonial House directly across from ‘Ohana. Trains run to the Magic Kingdom and the Ticket and Transportation center about every 5-10 minutes, with stops along the way at the Grand Floridian and the Contemporary.
The Ticket and Transportation Center is also accessible via a short walk down a dedicated pathway at the east end of the resort property. Accessible from the TTC is the monorail to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, the ferry boat to the Magic Kingdon, and buses to anywhere else in Walt Disney World.
Boat transportation is available from the marina with service to the Grand Floridian and the Magic Kingdom.
Bus stops at the Great Ceremonial House are available for bus transportation to Disney-MGM Studios, Animal Kingdom, and Wilderness Lodge. These buses also service the Grand Floridian and the Wilderness Lodge, so be aware of the multiple stops and possible crowds on board.
There are two swimming pools at the Polynesian. Opened in 2001, the Nenea Volcano pool features a 40-foot high artificial volcano which houses a waterfall and waterslide. Underwater seating, hot water jets, and a zero-entry area from the beach are other features of this pool. Located adjacent to the Great Ceremonial House, the volcano pool is very popular and is often quite crowded. Between the Samoa and Tokelau longhouses you will find the Polynesian’s quiet pool. Much larger than the volcano pool, this is the place to be if you want to relax with a quiet swim or simply sun yourself by the pool.
Water activities abound at the Polynesian’s marina. Available for rent are sailboats, pontoon boats, and a fleet of “water mice.” A water mouse is a small, one-or-two-person fiberglass boat with a 9.9-hp outboard engine.
A special feature of the Polynesian is the Neverland Club. This facility — located right off the parking lot directly east of the Raratonga building — provides supervised child-care services for kids ages 4-12. The club is open daily from 4pm to midnight, and includes a dinner buffet that your kids will love (I.E. Mac ‘n cheese, pizza, chicken fingers, french fries, etc). It also geatures full-size arcade games, Nintendo, arts and crafts, a dress-up area, and — of course — Disney movies. The cost is $8.00 per child per hour. Reservations are required.
An arcade is located in the same building as the Neverland Club, and provides the usual collection of video games, pinball machines, air-hockey and pool tables. This is not – in my opinion — one of WDW’s better arcades. I found it to be rather pricey.
Several specialty shops and a general gift/sundries type shops are located in the Great Ceremonial House. Available for purchase are a wide variety of clothing, gifts, souvenirs, genuine Polynesian items, snacks, sodas, postcards, and other items.
Insider’s Secrets, Tips, and Tricks
The Kona Cafe is the place to get a don’t-miss delicacy of any WDW trip: Tonga Toast. Tonga Toast is thick-sliced sourdough bread stuffed with banana and served with cinnamon and sugar. It’s similar to french toast but far more delicious. Also at the Kona Café – don’t miss the macadamia-crusted mahi-mahi!
Take the time to rent a water mouse. They are a real kick to take out on Seven Seas lagoon and can even be driven across the water bridge to Bay Lake.
Tuesday through Saturday at 6pm is the torch lighting ceremony. These ceremonies, which welcome the evening, take place on the walkway leading to the Great Ceremonial House. A traditional Polynesian fire-dancer performs with torches and knives, and then lights the torches along the walkway. A very entertaining (and free!) show.
Did you know that there were once waves on the beach of the Polynesian? When the resort was first opened, the Imagineers thought it would be wonderful to have a gentle surf crashing on the shores of the Polynesian’s beachfront. To achieve this effect, a wave machine was installed in Seven Seas Lagoon. And surf was up! … at least for a while.
Unfortunately, the lovely atmosphere created by the resort’s rolling surf was not enough to offset the major erosion that occurred daily in the Polynesian’s beachfront area. Which is why – after only being operation for a few short months – the wave machine was turned off permanently in the Spring of 1972.
Strangely enough, Disney never got round to removing the Polynesian’s wave machine. It’s still located out in Seven Seas Lagoon, just a short distance away from the Poly’s beachfront area. If you were to rent a water mouse, you can actually get within spitting distance of where the massive mechanism in located on one of the resort’s off-shore islands.
The white-sand beach at the Polynesian is a great place to watch the nightly fireworks show over the Magic Kingdom. Find a nice spot on the beach, slip your shoes off, and wiggle your toes in the sand as you wait for the show to start. Also seen nightly from the beach is the Electric Water pageant, which consists of a series of small barges towed around Seven Seas lagoon. Each barge has a display of animated lights which illuminate to a musical soundtrack. This show performs nightly about 9 p.m.
The Neverland Club is child care done right. Should you want to slip away with your significant other for a quiet evening at Victoria & Albert’s or the California Grill, you can rest assured that your little ones will be well-cared for and have a great time at the Neverland Club.
In fact, my experience has taught me that I’m the meanest dad in the whole wide world when I arrive to retrieve the kids at the end of the night. You’ll never feel less love from your kids then when you tell them it’s time to leave. Every parent is given a pager so that they can be immediately notified if there is any kind of problem, and the staff carefully records your evening plans so they know about where you will be at any time. The staff are wonderful and seem to truly care about making sure that all the kids have a great time.
For guests staying in buildings on the eastern side of the resort it’s usually quicker walk the private pathway to the TTC and catch the ferry or the express monorail to the Magic Kingdom than to walk to the Great Ceremonial House for the resort monorail.
The Polynesian Dinner Luau Show is a great way to enjoy a very entertaining meal. It shows twice nightly, Tuesday through Saturday, at Luau Cove near the Aotearoa longhouse. The show includes a full luau-style meal along with entertainment consisting of authentic Polynesian singing and dancing.
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!
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.
From Birthday Wishes to Toontown Dreams: How Toontown Came to Be
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.
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.
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