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How I Walked Around the World

In the exciting conclusion to his on-going series at this site, JHM contributor Paul Schnebelen recounts his experiences in the 2005 Walt Disney World Marathon.



It’s 5:30 on a Sunday morning, and I’m at Walt Disney World. Most people

on vacation at the World early on a Sunday morning would be fast asleep

under a set of warm covers in a hotel room, but not me. I’ve been awake

since 2:30 in the morning and since then, I’ve been bussed, walked, and

otherwise moved several times from one place to another on the WDW property.

Now, I’m sitting on a section of blacktop surrounded by a plastic fence,

freezing half to death wearing some very light running clothes and a ratty

old sweatshirt, but the cold is the least of my worries at the moment.

I’m worried about an incredible physical and mental challenge that will

be starting in just a few minutes. I’m worried that, in spite of months

of preparation and years of anticipation, I’m not ready for this challenge.

I’m worried that some minor aches and pains in my body might be harbingers

of a major problem that might develop in the hours ahead. Mainly, though,

I’m wondering what I was thinking when I decided to do what I’m about

to do. What possessed me to think that walking in a marathon was a good

idea? What the hell am I doing here?

Two years ago, my fiancée and I were on vacation at WDW when I

met my first marathon runners and got my first look at the Mickey Medallion.

When I talked to those people and first saw the medallion, I began thinking

that participating in the Walt Disney World Marathon wasn’t just something

that a world-class athlete could do, but something that anyone with enough

heart and desire could do. To make a long story short (for the long version,

you can read all about it here

), I decided that I had the heart and desire to make my dream a reality,

and I started on a long regimen of training to make it happen. Two years

of practice walks, several races (including a successful walk in the Los

Angeles Marathon), a couple of injuries, and a few personal setbacks later,

I’m only minutes away from living my dream of walking around the World.

And I’m panicking.

Fortunately, I’m not alone. There are about 24,000 people on this same

stretch of blacktop just outside of the Epcot parking lot, waiting for

their chance to make their marathon and half-marathon dreams come true,

and they’re just as anxious and nervous as I am. They’re not packing up

and going home, so neither will I. I try to relax, stretch to limber up

for the race ahead, and try to tune out the incredibly loud dance music

playing over the loudspeakers as I wait for the final countdown.

5:59 a.m.: Mickey, Minnie, and two Disney hosts who are perkier than

should be legal at this hour of the morning start counting down the seconds

remaining until the start of the race. The crowd counts along, and when

the count reaches zero, a shower of fireworks lights up the early morning

darkness. The crowd starts edging forward. Showtime.

6:07 a.m.: It takes a lot of time to go a few hundred feet when there

are 8,000 people in front of you, but Mickey and Minnie are finally in

sight. I cross the starting line, and my race has officially begun. Here

goes nothing.

6:21 a.m.: After walking down a road to the Epcot parking lot and being

encouraged by several hundred cheering people on the side of the road,

I reach a sign with a picture of Mickey and a motivational quote. It’s

the Mile 1 marker sign. One mile down, 25.2 more to go. (Oh, yeah – I

really shouldn’t be reminding myself how far I have to go at this point!)

More than a few of my fellow walkers and runners are celebrating this

milestone by heading a few hundred feet past the side of the road and

going to the potty. This isn’t due to poor planning by the WDW marathon

organizers or boorish behavior on the part of my fellow racers. It’s just

that once you start moving and the initial excitement of the race hits

you, you just feel like you’ve really gotta go, and there aren’t enough

porta-potties in the world to meet the needs of 24,000 people who all

decide they’ve got to answer nature’s call at the same time. Personally,

I’ve decided to hold on for a while longer rather than join them- I’ve

head about all the critters that live out in those woods…

6:42 a.m.: I’m almost 3 miles into the race and I’ve reached my first

theme park. I walk past another several hundred people cheering the racers

on and under Spaceship Earth on my way through Future World. The Disney

cast members get their first chance to show their support for all of us;

as I walk under the holiday canopy between Future World and World Showcase,

cast members from all of the World Showcase nations applaud and cheer

me on. In World Showcase Lagoon, the Illuminations torches burn brightly

and the globe from the show displays an image of a man and a woman running.

On the park’s PA system, I’m being serenaded by “One Little Spark”

from “Journey into Imagination”. It’s going to be going through

my head – with some new marathon-inspired lyrics – all day today.

Passing Future World, I swing past the Mexico and Norway pavilions (past

the statue of a famous Norwegian marathoner – nice touch, Disney), and

hang a left as the course takes the walkers backstage for the first time.

I get to see the back side of the Mexico and Norway pavilions and Test

Track before I pass through the Epcot security gate and…wind up right

back on to the same stretch of road where the race started! 4 miles in

and I’m already feeling déjà vu…

7:27 a.m.: The first challenge of the morning – a hill. Well, all right,

not a real hill – after all, this is Florida – but the WDW Marathon equivalent,

a freeway bridge. Walking uphill isn’t too much of a challenge (at least

not at this point), and at the top of the bridge, I get my first inkling

of how large a group 24,000 people really is; looking down from the bridge

onto World Drive, I can see a river of people running and walking toward

the Magic Kingdom. A few minutes later, having completed 6 miles, I’m

down on World Drive myself and I can see even more people still crossing

the bridge. I have no illusions of being a fast walker, yet I’ve got hundreds,

if not thousands, of people who are going slower than I am behind me!

Knowing I’m not going to be dead last in this race unless I get trampled

on is a nice bit of ego gratification that keeps me going all the way

to the Transportation and Ticket Center. Once there, I find another large

crowd of people cheering me on and calling out words of encouragement

to me by name. No, they’re not all friends of mine or psychic – the race

bib (that’s the thing the runners and walkers wear with their race number)

has the participant’s name on it. The WDW Marathon has a reputation for

being a very friendly race for runners and walkers, and touches like this

really help.

8:17 a.m.: I make a left turn at the Contemporary Resort, pass the marker

for Mile 10 and a security gate near Space Mountain, and as I walk through

an underpass I see it – the spires of Cinderella Castle. Welcome to the

Magic Kingdom. A quick dash through a backstage area and I’m walking down

the middle of Main Street U.S.A., with yet another gigantic throng of

people cheering me on! I’m amazed that so many people would come out incredibly

early on a Sunday morning (they would have had to get here long before

the theme parks open to the paying public) just to show their support

for the runners and walkers.

Cinderella Castle is just ahead, but the course doesn’t take me there

just yet – first I’ve got to walk through Tomorrowland and Fantasyland

before I get the big Kodak moment of walking through the castle entrance.

There are plenty of other Kodak moments to keep me and everyone else busy

in the meantime, though – the Disney characters are out in force to meet

and greet the runners. I decide I can afford to add a little to my official

time and stop for a picture with Lilo and Stitch.

I pass up on photos with Alice and the Tweedles, Goofy, and the Country

Bears, but I can’t resist taking a picture with a train crew and a Walt

Disney World Railroad engine before going backstage again in Frontierland.

This is definitely a race where you want to bring a camera with you, folks!

8:52 a.m.: I walk out of the backstage areas of the Magic Kingdom and

down Floridian Way past the Grand Floridian and the Wedding Pavilion (where

there cast members are out to greet the runners in bride and groom Mickey

and Minnie ears). The voice of Mickey echoes down the road, telling the

runners and walkers to split up depending on whether they’re participating

in the half-marathon or the marathon. The half-marathon runners are picking

up speed and the crowds at the side of the road are going positively wild

– and why not? The half-marathoners are only a few feet away from the

Transportation and Ticket Center parking lot and their finish line. They’ve

made it! So far, the weather’s been perfect – the sun is out now, but

up to now it’s been a little chilly, which is perfect running weather.

I’m feeling pretty good – I’m little sore and stiff in the shoulders,

and my left ankle’s bothering me just a touch, but I feel pretty good.

The thing is, I’m only half done. There’s still 13 miles to go, and it’s

starting to get a little warm…

9:05 a.m.: In the space of a mile, I’ve gone from being in the middle

of all the action to being in the middle of nowhere. I’m walking down

a little two-lane road that most guests normally wouldn’t travel on unless

they had made a wrong turn; we’re in the back woods, the undeveloped section

of the WDW property. I find myself trying to get the theme from “Deliverance”

out of my head.

Actually, the WDW Marathon organizers have recognized how lonely this

stretch of the race is and have arranged for a few diversions to keep

the racers’ minds distracted from the quiet and the increasing soreness

of their bodies. First, there are Disney trivia questions on signs (quick,

who’s the only Disney title character that never speaks?). Not distracting

enough? Well, next up are several “critter crossings”, where

Disney characters are standing on the side of the road giving encouragement

and posing for photographs; I decide to pass on Uncle Scrooge, Launchpad

McQuack, Flik, and Atta, but can’t resist getting pictures with the White

Rabbit and Br’er Rabbit as well as Koda and Kenai.

There’s a local high school band and drill team out playing fight songs

to keep us in the spirit. But I think my favorite distraction during this

part of the race is the stuff that Disney is hoping the racers won’t notice

– the backstage facilities, like the tree farm, the maintenance shops,

and the composting facility. (Let’s be honest here – there aren’t enough

Disney characters and bands in the world to distract you from the smell

of the composting facility. Phew!)

9:32 a.m.: I’m past Mile 16, and I’ve made it to the guard gate of my

third theme park of the race – Disney’s Animal Kingdom. You don’t really

get a feel for how big this place really is until you go backstage, folks;

by the time I’ve gone through the park and left via a cast entrance not

far from the main entrance, I will have walked another two miles.

The other thing I notice about the park right now is how well Disney has

hidden the fences and the enclosures from the guests; I’ve hardly ever

noticed the barriers when I’ve gone through the guest areas at DAK, but

backstage the place reminds me a lot of something I saw in “Jurassic


At this point, I’m surprised I’m noticing much of anything other than

the heat and my aches and pains. The Florida sun is making its full force

felt, and even with all the water I’ve been drinking from my bottle and

from the water stations, I’m starting to feel a little parched. My body’s

making it clear that it’s not very happy with me at the moment; parts

of my body I hardly notice most of the time are starting to ache. Fortunately,

my body’s only mildly displeased with me right now, and there are no signs

of any real injury, so I press on.

I walk into the guest areas of the park – being careful to watch for

the narrow paths, as Minnie’s warning me via the park’s loudspeakers.

After a quick dash through Harambe and Anandpur, I get my first look at

the skeleton of an iron mountain. In a year or two, this tall iron structure

will be thrilling guests as Expedition: Everest. Even now, when it’s nowhere

near completion, it looks to me like it’s going to be one wild ride.

10:23 a.m.: Having left the Animal Kingdom parking lot, I’m now walking

the longest straight legs of the race – about 4 miles up and back down

Osceola Parkway. I’ve got another freeway bridge to deal with here, only

it’s a lot more of a challenge to walk up the bridge this time. 19 miles

of walking will do that to you, even though I’ve been careful to consume

the packets of power gel that I’ve brought with me in my pack.

(Before we continue, I guess I should take a moment to explain: Because

you’re burning about 100 calories per every mile you walk in a long-distance

race, your body’s own stores of energy become more and more depleted the

farther you go, and you need to eat something to keep you going – preferably

something with a lot of sugar and/or caffeine that’s small and easy to

carry. The most common solution is to eat packets of “power gel”

or “goo”, which is an incredibly sweet, pasty gel that comes

in small packets and tastes like yogurt that’s been left in the sun for

too long. If you’re really curious about this stuff, you can pick up a

packet at your local sporting goods store. Don’t say I didn’t warn you

about the taste.)

I pass giant balloons of Disney characters like Nemo and Mr. Incredible,

but by now I’m getting too hot, sore, and tired to care. By now, I’m grabbing

two cups of water at each water station – one to drink, one to pour on

my head. Then, I see something that really excites me – a small sign at

the side of the road reading “Mile 20”. I think I’m going to

make it. No – I know I’m going to make it.

11:05 a.m.: I walk on a couple of overpasses, noticing that even slight

inclines are now getting to be a challenge, and then enter the Disney-MGM

Studios. I’m not sure what’s keeping my feet moving at this point, but,

hey, as long as they’re moving! People are lined up all along Hollywood

Boulevard cheering me on – I swear they get more enthusiastic as I get

more tired, but I love getting their support. I have to stop for one last

photo opportunity before I leave the park with Hercules, Phil, and Megara.

I think it’s another nice touch for them to be out here greeting the racers.

Call it the Disney character challenge – Hercules can go the distance,

how about you?

11:55 a.m.: After walking through the BoardWalk, over – groan – another

pedestrian bridge and past the Yacht and Beach Club, I pass through a

gate near the International Gateway and re-enter Epcot. All I have to

do is walk around World Showcase, past Spaceship Earth, through the main

entrance, and I’m done. The end of the race is tantalizingly close – I

passed Mile 25 entering the park – but right now, I’m as willing to stop

as I am to keep going. (Later on, a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel

who’s running the marathon will write that at this point he wished he’d

had a Fastpass for the remainder of the race. You and me both, buddy.)

At this point in the race, I and many other racers go into “one more

mile” mode; that’s the point where the only way you can keep moving

is by telling yourself, “I feel pretty awful and I’m exhausted, but

I know I can go for just one more mile.” The folks watching me from

the side of the path are going crazy and keep yelling how much farther

I have to go to the finish line. Funny, Epcot never seemed this big all

the other times I’ve been here…

12:07 p.m.: I walk out the Epcot main entrance, make a couple of quick

turns, and there it is – the finish line! There’s a row of bleachers lining

the path, and they’re full of people going wild, and at the end of the

row, Goofy and Pluto are giving out high fives to the folks who are just

about to cross the line. I’d love to sprint right over there, but I haven’t

got the energy for it; I’m just going to keep walking, slap some paw with

Goofy and Pluto and savor the moment. I’ve done it! I’ve finished the

Walt Disney World Marathon! A volunteer hands me a Mylar blanket, another

volunteer takes the time recording device off my shoe, and most importantly,

a third volunteer comes up and hands me this massive medallion with Mickey

Mouse ears hanging on a multi-colored ribbon. It’s probably not worth

more than a few dollars, but at this moment, it’s worth more to me than

its weight in gold, silver, and platinum combined. I’m so tired and so

excited that none of this seems real. Then various parts of my body start

feeling stiff and sore. Yep, it’s real.

The rest of the day passes in a daze. I get a post-race massage at the

medical tent to help lessen the pain and the soreness, I find my fiancée

in the post-race meeting area, and we head off back to our room so I can

take a shower, get a well-deserved nap, and cover about half my body with

Icy-Hot. I’ll be walking a little stiffly for the next couple of days,

and I’ll be dealing with muscle cramps and spasms in places where I didn’t

realize I had muscles, but I don’t care. I’ve done something I’ve wanted

to do for more than two years – something that a lot of people never do.

The next day, I walk around all day wearing my Mickey medallion. I’m

not doing it to brag or to show off, though .I’m hoping that it’ll inspire

someone the way seeing that Mickey medallion in 2003 inspired me; I’m

hoping that maybe somebody will look at me and my medallion and decide

that maybe, just maybe, if this average-looking guy can manage to run

a whole marathon, he or she can do it, too.

If you’ve been inspired by this story to make your dreams of walking

around the World come true, registration is now open for the 2006 Walt

Disney World Half-Marathon and Marathon; the races will be held on January

7th and 8th. More information and online registration forms can be found


Paul Schnebelen

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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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