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Is this Plastic Fantastic? A Close Look at the Disney Visa is pleased to welcome back guest columnist Paul Schnebelen who — in today’s piece — weighs the pros and cons of signing up for Disney’s new credit card.




Hey, gang!

Happy Monday. Like a lot of you out there, I’ve been trying to decide whether it makes any sense to sign up for the new Disney Visa. Whether it’s actually wise to take on a whole new credit card just so I can rack up some Disney Dream Reward Points. Whatever those are.

Thankfully, Paul Schnebelen (who — some of you may recall — contributed that great story for JHM back in December 2002 about the Magical Holiday Faire) has come forward with a new column. A piece that lists in detail the various pros and cons involved in signing up for the Disney Visa.

So, if you’re currently on the fence about whether you want to get in on Disney’s latest rewards, then you really owe it to yourself to read Paul’s piece.

Enjoy, okay?


Like most people, I need another credit card like Mickey needs another pair of gloves, or Michael Eisner needs more stock options; if I get an offer for a credit card in the mail, the only place that sucker’s going is straight into the trash can (after tearing it up, of course … sorry, identity thieves). In spite of my usual wariness about credit card offers, Disney’s announcement that it was working with Bank One to develop a Visa card caught my attention, especially when Disney mentioned there’d be a rewards program connected with the card. Considering all the money the Mouse has gotten out of me over the years, the thought of getting something back in return sounded too good to pass up. As the promotional juggernaut went into full swing and more details were released, I began to wonder if the Disney Visa would live up to the hype. Would it be something that I’d really want to “use for all your purchases – big and small,” per the suggestion of the guide that came with the card, or would it be a sparkly little piece of plastic that would spend the rest of its days in my desk drawer? I decided to strain my eyes reading the mice type (no pun intended) of the credit card agreement and the promotional materials to find out.

I Wouldn’t Want to be Part of any Club…
The Disney Visa is Disney’s latest attempt to build a loyalty program for its customers, replacing the Disney Club; although some people loved the Club, a lot of others weren’t thrilled by how stingy Disney was being with benefits for Club members, or weren’t thrilled about having to shell out an annual fee to receive the same benefits that they got for free from the old Magic Kingdom Club. The good thing about the Disney Visa is that you won’t have to shell out any money for fees to get some goodies; the bad thing about it is that since it IS a credit card, a lot of folks aren’t going to be able to get any goodies at all. Do you live outside of the United States? Sorry, but the card’s only available to U.S. residents. If you’ve had some financial problems that have made it tough for you to get credit in the past, it’s probably going to be tough for you to get a Disney Visa. You also have to have a minimum annual income of $14,400 for an account, and you have to be at least 18. Last but not least, you’re going to have to want to carry around and use another credit card if you want to get anything back from Disney — and some people would prefer not to carry around any more plastic (or any at all) if they really don’t have to.

Isn’t Disney excluding a lot of fans here? I’m not suggesting that Disney and Bank One should hand out credit cards to anyone with a pulse, but there should at least be an option available for Disney fans outside the U.S., folks that don’t want another credit card, or folks that can’t get one for some reason but would still like to get special rewards or discounts for being a loyal Disney customer. In other words, maybe it’s not quite time to put the Disney Club out of its misery, or better yet, maybe it’s time to bring back the Magic Kingdom Club. Just a thought, Michael…

So, What About Those Rewards?
The main reason people are going to want to sign up for a Disney Visa is, of course, that you get something back for using it. Here’s how the program, called the Disney Dream Reward Dollars program (jeez, could you guys come up with a longer name?) works: For every $100 you make in purchases during a billing cycle, you get one Disney Dream Reward Dollar (henceforth known as a DDRD to save the author a lot of typing). What happens if you don’t spend in increments of $100? Well, if you spend $50 or more but not quite $100, Disney cuts you some slack and you get the DDRD; if you spend $49 or less, that portion of the balance doesn’t count toward a DDRD. The DDRDs are posted in the billing cycle after you earn them, or later if there are some special conditions that have to be met (like rebates, I guess).

Please note that I said purchases count toward earning DDRDs; if you use the card for a cash advance or you do a balance transfer (which may be a bad idea on this card … more on that later), you get nothing. You also don’t get DDRDs for finance charges, convenience checks (those lovely little check-looking things you get from the credit card company every once in a while), or charges that you dispute or that are unauthorized. Disney promises that at some point there will be promotional offers where you can earn double or triple points on select purchases.

There are a few other things you should be aware as you try to earn rewards. Try to resist that urge to put your business trip on the Disney Visa — DDRDs aren’t supposed to be accrued for business or commercial transactions. Like most credit card issuers, Disney and Bank One consider such use grounds to cancel your card, and if you’re disqualified from the program, you can lose some or all of your DDRDs — even if you’re in the process of redeeming them when your card is cancelled. If you haven’t used your card at least once in two years, the card is cancelled and you lose your DDRDs. Make sure you make your payments on time; if you miss one, your DDRDs won’t get credited until you pay the past due amount and the current minimum payment. Miss two payments and you forfeit the DDRDs you earned in those months. Bank One isn’t messing around here, folks.

Last but not least, there are limits to how many DDRDs you can earn and how long you have to earn them. You can only earn up to 750 DDRDs in a year; of course, you’d have to spend $75,000 in a year to earn them — if you’re putting that much on your credit card in a year, you may have bigger problems than figuring out what you’re going to do with all those DDRDs! You also have to redeem your DDRDs within 5 years of when you earn them, or they disappear.

Cash Me Out, Mickey!
As long as we’re on the subject, how do you redeem your DDRDs? Once you’ve got at least 20 DDRDs credited (in other words, once you’ve made $2,000 in purchases on the card), you contact Bank One by phone or via the Disney Visa website and let them know how many DDRDs you want to cash in and how you’d like to use them. You can redeem DDRDs in 10 reward dollar increments for a rewards certificate good at WDW or on the Disney Cruise Line, a rewards certificate good at the Disneyland Resort, or a reward card good at U.S. Disney Stores or at Sorry to start griping again, but I have a problem with this. I realize that Disney’s various components don’t always play together well, but why can’t Disney figure out a way to provide a card or certificate that’s good at any of these places? What if, say I wanted to use a few rewards dollars at the Disney Store and take the rest with me to Disneyland? I can’t do that the way the program is set up right now. Let’s work on this, guys.

Are There Any Other Goodies?
You betcha … well, a couple to start out with, anyway. Right now, if you book a vacation package using the Disney Visa through Walt Disney Travel Company or the Disney Cruise Line, you pay no interest for 6 months. There is a catch, though … to get the zero interest deal, you have to meet certain requirements as far as how you book your vacation (only through WDTC or DCL), the length of your stay (2 nights for DL, 3 nights for WDW), the location you stay (mostly at a Disney hotel or resort), and the park tickets you purchase (a 3-day Park Hopper at DL, an Ultimate Park Hopper at WDW). If you don’t meet the requirements (for example, if you book a room at a Disney hotel but don’t buy the tickets because you have an Annual Passport), you don’t get a break on the interest. In addition to the zero-interest promotion, Disney is also offering a $50 shipboard credit per stateroom if you book a Disney Cruise Line vacation using the card and sail before the end of the year.

How is the Disney Visa as a Credit Card?
The current annual percentage rates on the Disney Visa aren’t too bad; there’s no interest for the first 6 months, and the interest rates for purchases and balance transfers are currently 11.15%, 13.15%, or 15.15% depending on your credit history. Keep in mind that those are variable rates; when the prime rate goes up, so will your APR. The amount you’ll be charged is based on a two-cycle average daily balance method; what that means is that the charge is based on your average balance for the last two months instead of just the last month. Banks love this method because it results in higher interest charges; that’s why consumer credit organizations recommend against getting cards that calculate your interest charges using this method.

As for the fees charged on the Disney Visa… well, like I said before, Bank One isn’t messing around here; you’re going to pay through the nose if you mess up. Some examples: Late fees run from $14.00 to $34.00, depending on your balance (if you’ve already missed a payment once in the past year, the fee is $34.00 regardless of your balance). If you go over your limit or they have to return your payment or a convenience check, it’ll cost you 27 bucks. Need a copy of your merchant sales slip or another copy of your billing statement? Five dollars, please. All cash advances and balance transfers will cost you 3% of the amount of the transaction, with a $5.00 minimum. Well, at least there’s no annual fee for the card.

A review of the fees is all very well and good, but a comparison with other credit cards would probably provide a better idea of how good or bad a deal the Disney Visa is when it comes to fees and interest. I decided to pull out the agreements of a couple of my credit cards and compare them to the Disney Visa; here’s what I came up with. *

Disney Visa
Credit Union Visa
American Express Blue
Purchase APR 11.15% / 13.15% / 15.15% variable 11.5% fixed 10.99% variable
Minimum Payment $10.00 or 2% $20.00 or 2% $20.00 or 2%
Late Fees $14.00 / $28.00 / $34.00 None $29.00
Return Payment Fee $27.00 $20.00 $29.00
Over Limit Fee $27.00 $10.00 $29.00
Cash Advance Charge 3% ($5.00 min.) None 3% ($3.00 min.)
Grace Period 20 days 25 days 20 days

Based on this comparison, the Disney Visa’s fees and rates are about average; you could probably get a card with better terms if you shop around a bit, but the rates are pretty close to what you’d get if you grabbed an application for a credit card from someplace other than the bank or credit union you have an account with.

Some of you might argue that the above comparison isn’t fair, since the Disney Visa is a rewards card and the other two cards I listed don’t offer a rewards program (well, Blue does offer AMEX Membership rewards, but it’s optional). Fair enough; let’s compare the Disney Visa with two credit cards that offer rewards. As it happens, Chase Bank has two cards that offer fairly similar rewards programs to the Disney Visa. Chase offers a Universal Entertainment MasterCard (yep, Universal offered a rewards card before Disney did!) that rewards users through a point system; you can use points to earn videos, movie and concert tickets, front-of-the-line theme park passes, and so on. Chase also offers a Toys R Us Visa that offers rebate certificates good at Toys R Us and its subsidiaries. Let’s do a comparison of these three cards. *

Disney Visa
Universal MasterCard
Toys R Us Visa
Purchase APR 11.15% / 13.15% / 15.15% variable 12.24% / 14.24% variable 12.15% / 14.15% variable
Annual Fee None None None
Grace Period 25 days 22 days 22 days
Minimum Finance Charge $1.00 $0.50 $0.50
Rewards Accrual 1 point / $100; 750 points max. 1 point / $1; no maximum 1 point / $100 general purchases; 1 point / $20 Toys R Us purchases; no maximum
Rewards Given $10 certificates; minimum 20 points to redeem Reward depends on points redeemed (ex. 1000 points = movie ticket or video) $10 certificates, redeemed automatically

Again, Disney seems to be offering pretty much what everyone else is as far as rewards, fees, and APRs — although Toys R Us gets brownie points from me for providing certificates automatically instead of you having to ask for them.

And the Verdict is…
If you’re someone that pays your balance on time and in full every month, the Disney Visa isn’t too bad a deal — just be prepared to wait a while to earn enough points to get a certificate — and don’t plan on earning enough points to pay for that next trip to Walt Disney World unless you’re an absolute shopaholic. If you want to get something back for using your credit card, you may want to shop around for a cashback card instead; if you put the kind of money on your credit card to earn Disney certificates, you’ll probably get more back faster on a good cashback card than you’ll earn in certificates using the Disney Visa. If you tend to carry a balance or you’re the type that makes your payments late or misses a payment from time to time, you’re going to pay for the privilege of carrying a Disney Visa, and you may have an even longer wait for points (assuming you don’t forfeit any by not paying timely).

As far as whether or not I’d use the card: Unless Disney comes through with some great special offers, I probably wouldn’t use the card enough to earn many reward certificates.

As far as the Disney Visa being a way to reward loyal Disney customers: Considering how many customers are excluded from participating in the Disney Visa’s rewards program because they can’t even get a card, and the unlikelihood that most people who have the card probably won’t use the card enough to get much in the way of rewards, the Disney Visa is more about promising rewards than delivering them. I can’t imagine that it’s going to generate much more loyalty from the Mouse’s biggest fans. It looks to me like the Mouse needs to build a better people trap than the Disney Visa.


*Credit card information in this article provided for comparison purposes only.
Please consult official bank literature for most current rates and information.

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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