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“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…” And after a full weekend at Disneyland, Roger is back with tales aplenty. So, grab that mug of your favorite warm beverage, a holiday pastry treat or three and pull up the comfy chair. It’s big and fluffy!



Well, here is the story of a series of “firsts”.

And those of you that have been reading here for a while will recall that when it comes to Disneyland, I usually am somewhat confident that I have seen and done just about everything that one can see and do at the Park.

Until now…

As startling an admission as that may seem, let me say that it was the kind of weekend I will remember for some time to come. Recall last week’s effort where I gave you a glimpse into why I enjoy this time of year in Anaheim, as well as other places. This recent visit was another chance to add to memories and reinforce some others. To sum it all up, I was not disappointed.

Main Street Station all decorated for the holidays!

This won’t be a turn by turn trip report, but more of the highlights. The players for this trip are my mother, Laurie and myself. Wife Michele was about but attended a travel congress for AAA (California State Automobile Association — that’s Northern California, Nevada and Utah) at the Disneyland Hotel. So she has a minor role in this tale…

First up, I’m always amazed that shopping at the Park can have such a yin and yang kind of personality. Either there is a lack of items tempting me to be purchased, or things seem to stand up and shout, “Hey! You’re taking me home, pal!” Don’t know why, but there never seems to be much of a middle ground. Being that we are in the midst of the season of “high retail greed”, you might expect the usual flurry of sales and specials to entice you to put a bigger dent into your choice of plastic commerce. Thankfully, I saw no such seduction in place at the Park this time.

Again, recalling that I hadn’t shopped here since May, it would be easy to see new merchandise and give in to the temptations. But thankfully, with my mother along to remind me, I was good (Are you paying attention, Santa?) and kept my purchases to those for others, instead of for myself. A kind of Christmas shopping for a few friends and family here and there did the trick.

Eeyore (in holiday cap) gets noticed

Major kudos to the various Cast Members on duty at all the shops. As busy as they invariably were, there was no grousing (even from Grumpy) as you’re likely to find from your local mall’s minions, lackeys and varlets. Smiles all around, and the cheerful, willing attitudes that kept folks moving along in lines in front of those cash registers. Boy is that almost an anachronism today! (With credit cards, check or debit cards as popular as they are, the cash transaction is definitely in the minority, or at least, that was the way it appeared this weekend. I did see a fair number of Disney Dollars being used about the Park, however.) While making a purchase at the Market House on Main Street, I was recalled the old, hand crank-operated cash registers. Big brass affairs with real keys to be pushed by the clerk, proudly displaying the price of each item on a pop-up tag, only to have a bell ring out with distinction as your purchase was recorded. Hence the term, “rung up”, for a sale concluded. A great way to keep muscle tone and upper body strength, long before Pilates and other workouts became the fashion.

There was even merchandise specific for particular locations! Something I’m always glad to see, rather than the generic same stuff everywhere.

Lots of pins to tempt one to purchase as well this time. For everyone who says, “Pins are over”, let me set you straight. There are plenty of new pins on the racks with something for everyone. A particular favorite is the Candlelight 2003 pin seen here.

The 2003 Disneyland Candlelight pin

On the other hand, there were disappointments. One in particular was the lack of fleece pullovers with full zippers. Seems that someone must be keeping costs down by going only with half or one-third zippers on these. Lots of them with full-length zippers in children’s sizes, but none for adults.

Setting the WABAC machine for the column on our Memorial Day visit, you might recall that we took the “Walk In Walt’s Footsteps” tour one afternoon. With the 2003 holiday season, there is now another tour to tempt us all. The “Holiday Time at Disneyland Tour” is somewhat popular with space for up to 30 people. The brochure page describes it thus:

“Holiday Time at Disneyland Tour

It’s the Merriest Place On Earth Like You’ve Never Experienced It Before!

The “Holiday Time At Disneyland” Tour
is an absolute “must” for Disneyland fans, or anyone
who loves the holidays. You and your family will
experience the very best of our magical winter
wonderland as you explore the one-and-only
Disneyland park, all decked out for the holidays!

“Holiday Time at Disneyland”
Tour Highlights Include:

– Disney Fastpass access to our most
popular holiday attractions: “it’s a small world”
holiday and Haunted Mansion Holiday

– Reserved seating for our
“A Christmas Fantasy” Parade

– Plus, a very special, surprise
holiday treat!

Available until
January 4, 2004,
the “Holiday Time At
Disneyland” Tour
is offered at
$39 per person
for all ages.

Reserved your place today by calling:
Or stop by City Hall on Main Street, U.S.A.”

Just as it had been for the other tour effort, again, my mother, Laurie, wife Michele and I all managed to be on hand at noon in front of City Hall to start this tour. Usually, the Tour Information cart is parked here, but thanks to the rain (more like mist) they were keeping that indoors. (As well, it was somewhat in the way the previous days with preparations underway for the evening’s Candlelight festivities.)

Jenna in full tour garb the day before at the Disney Gallery at the end
of the “Walk in Walt’s Footsteps” tour.

It wasn’t hard to guess who the tour guides for were as Jenna and Courtney appeared a few minutes before noon in their red raincoats. Keeping us all amused, Jenna related the tale of a visit to Disney World, and especially to Pleasure Island’s “Adventurer’s Club” on Halloween night. She also taught us how Christmas carols were actually taken from Halloween carols. Thanks, Jenna. I’ll never hear “Jingle Bells” now without thinking of you, and no, I won’t share the Halloween version of the song here. Take the tour and ask her to!

Nifty red raincoats and shiny brass buttons. Ooh!
Jenna and Courtney escort the group for the tour.

The tour has a limit of 30 people, and this is broken into two groups. (Ours was 11 including a very young lady — maybe all of four months!) Departing City Hall, our section was being escorted by Courtney, and she introduced us to the Holidays at Disneyland with a brief moment in front of the floral arrangement on the berm below the Main Street Station. With the rain and all of the set-up for the Candlelight, the area around the Plaza and Main Street was hectic, to say the least. Yet we managed to stop at several places along the length. One was in front of the Firehouse where we learned about Walt’s apartment above it, and the decorated tree in the window. From here we also got a fine view of the Main Street Christmas tree. (It may come as a surprise, but it is a real tree this year!)

Main Street and the Christmas Tree!

Without giving away all of the secrets of the tour (and yes, there are some), it is a nice mix of holiday lore and Disneyland history. With the tour equivalent of a Fastpass, the group bypassed the queues at both the Haunted Mansion Holiday (where we kept an eye out for all ten of the Oogie Boogie’s) and “Small World”. A short ride on the Disneyland Railroad from New Orleans Square to Toon Town was a quick way to cross the Park between them. A quick tour of Town Town highlighted the variety of decorations all themed to their particular area or structure.

Rain had canceled the noon performance of the “Christmas Fantasy” parade. (Safety for parade performers and guests both is a concern with only a little moisture needed to make things slippery along the route. I watched a number of guests of all sizes during the day doing the slip, trip and fall routine to make Goofy proud. Slow down folks…)

But the weather held for the 3 p.m. parade and we had great seats (wooden chairs) located directly across from “Small World”. We even had pre-parade entertainment as Jenna and Courtney did their version of “Christmas Fantasy Parade” charades! One young fan of Toy Story requested they do impressions of Buzz and Woody (both who are in the parade). They succeeded much to his enjoyment!

Woody and Buzz in the Christmas Fantasy Parade.

Along with our special seating, we all were greeted with a warm mug of hot chocolate and some yummy holiday treats. The parade was good as ever with all of your holiday favorites including the March of the Wooden Soldiers, Santa and Mrs. Claus, and a host of Disney characters to accompany Mickey and Minnie. Watch out for the Genie in his sleigh with Jasmine and Aladdin! He’s got a bucket of snow and he isn’t afraid to use it (much to the dismay of the folks cleaning up behind the parade)!

Our tour had a rather unique ending to it. After the parade, we all were waiting for things to calm down a bit before making for other destinations in the Park. But it turned out that this was Courtney’s first “official” tour, and she was greeted by a number of other tour hosts and hostesses in recognition of that. And her parents had been in our group for her first tour. So there was a short ceremony as Courtney was awarded her “D” Hostess pin from her mentor. It was a great finish to another interesting tour.

Courtney gets her pin! A full gaggle of tour guides on display?

As a side note, while I enjoyed the tour, I suspect that on a less crowded weekday, and without the mist (or rain), that the tour would be all the more the magical. Making your way through the weekend crowds can be a challenge, even with out the tour. (Yes, I have some interesting bruises from being run into by strollers on a number of occasions this weekend.)

Now the other holiday event of note for this outing was the 2003 edition of Disneyland’s Candlelight Processional and Ceremony. In all my years of visiting the Park, I somehow had never been to this event. I’m happy to say that this oversight has been rectified.

Candlelight is a tradition that dates back to the first year of Disneyland.
Held in 1955, this was a choral festival with groups performing under a gazebo near the Jungle Cruise. Over the next several years the ceremony consisted of a number of choirs who performed around the hub facing a central choir director. Then in 1960, the event grew to 800 singers who followed the Christmas parades. The following year a narrator was added and since the ceremony evolved into the Candlelight we have today. Past Disneyland narrators include Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, John Wayne, James Earl Jones, Mary Hart and, Edward James Olmos.

A highlight of the performance was the creation of a living Christmas tree (consisting of choir members, each holding a candle — okay, an electric candle) on a platform in front of the Main Street station of the Disneyland Railroad. In recent years, the event had been held at the Fantasyland theater. However, with that facility under renovations for the upcoming “Snow White” musical production, it was not available. This year saw a return to the Candlelight’s previous location in front of the Main Street station.

The living Christmas Tree 2003

Getting a seat has been something of a trial — no matter where the event was held. Usually, there is a major block of seats reserved for Disneyland VIP’s, invited guests, and Club 33 members. A somewhat popular option was created for the rest of us, as detailed in this quote from their 2003 Candlelight event press release:

“Interested guests can get reserved seating for “Candlelight” (park admission not included) by dining at selected Disneyland Resort restaurants on the day of the presentation. Participating restaurants include Hook’s Pointe at the Disneyland Hotel, Storytellers Café at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel® (minimum spending of $40 per adult, $15 per child age 3-9); Granville’s Steak House at the Disneyland Hotel, Yamabuki at Disney’s Paradise Pier® Hotel (minimum spending of $50 per adult, $15 per child); Napa Rose at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel or The Vineyard Room in the Golden Vine Winery at Disney’s California Adventure? (minimum spending of $75 per adult, $20 per child).”

When we first considered attending the event, we thought we might explore using one of our connections and seeing about dinner at Club 33 for this. Now this might have worked, had we thought of it way back when, say in August? All of those spots were filled long ago.

I experienced an interesting phenomenon when I inquired about dining packages for Candlelight back in late October. I called the dining reservations line and they didn’t have any information. Transferring my phone call somewhere else in the Disneyland Resort, I was informed that the event was to be for “Disneyland invited guests only”. Imagine my surprise a week or so later when the press release came out…

All of the lesser packages went quickly, and it turned out that there were still some left at the higher end. As much as I want to experience the “Napa Rose” or the “Vineyard Room” at some point, this wasn’t it. So the choice became “Granville’s Steak House” at the Disneyland Hotel.

We arrived just a bit early for our Saturday 5:00 p.m. reservation and waited a few minutes while our table was prepared. It had been several years since I had ventured into this part of the Disneyland Hotel. Stromboli’s had given way to Goofy’s Kitchen, but the Top Brass bar still offers a somewhat quiet spot for a cocktail. I was impressed by someone’s thought at creating a video theater for kids across from the entrance to Goofy’s Kitchen. It is an enclosed room (glassed-in) that has big spaces on several levels for kids to camp out while waiting for their tables to be called.

Stromboli’s had been the location of one of my more interesting meals at Disneyland a few years back. One of the group of which I was dining with that evening worked at a planetarium doing a variety of presentations. For that, he had picked up a laser pointer to help out when it came time to highlight items in the night sky (or the ceiling of the dome). Being one of us who appreciates newfangled gadgets, he brought it along for that trip to the Park.

Back then, the windows at Stromboli’s were heavily tinted. From inside we could see out, but not vice versa. So… He spent the better part of that meal teasing and torturing passers-by with that little red dot racing along the ground outside the window. One young child had to be repeatedly pulled away in protest by his parents. Call it part of the magic, but it was certainly amusing.

Meanwhile, back to our meal at Granville’s…

Stepping inside, you quickly forget the chaos of Goofy’s Kitchen. It was quiet and peaceful with songs from a vintage Bing Crosby radio show playing over the sound system. (Seems I have that same disc at home…)

Our server was right there to ask if we were interested in a cocktail or a glass of wine. As much as we were tempted, we both passed. As a side note, we had enjoyed a free tasting of a BV Beauzeaux — pronounced Bozo — just a bit before at the Golden Vine in DCA. We discovered that opportunity strictly by chance, and it was limited to the first 50 guests — not that there were that many on hand on that rainy, er misty, afternoon.

From the label on the bottle:

“Big red nose, round, generous body and a taste as big as its size 34 feet.”

“It’s a virtual three-ring circus in the mouth… in-your-face-berry pie flavors. It can be juggled with a variety of flavorful foods.”

And it was! It was also mentioned a being lower in alcohol content than most wines. Something I imagine investigating for one of my upcoming train events…

Now recall that in order to obtain tickets for seats for the Candlelight ceremony, we had to each spend at least $50 on our meal. And that would not include taxes, gratuities or alcohol. Looking over the menu, we had a great selection to choose from. Had we not been under the restriction of that amount, there was a surprising offer of a prix fixed meal at only $28 per person. But we forged ahead and chose the following:

Dungeness Crab Cake

Green Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette

A 10 ounce Filet Mignon

Forest Mushrooms in a Port Reduction

Heirloom Potatoes with Garlic and Onions


Grand Marnier Soufflé with Grand Marnier Ice Cream

We also got a chuckle as we were asked if we wanted still or sparkling water with our meal. During our trip to Germany in September 2001, it was frequently referred to as “with gas or without.” We chose the still, and were served from a chilled glass bottle of Evian.

Our servers noted we were attending the Candlelight and did their utmost to be certain we would be there in plenty of time. And our Annual Pass discount took some of the sting out of the cost.

The meal was perfect from start to finish. The crab cake was tender and flavorful; the vinaigrette had plenty of berries; the filet’s tender and a perfect medium rare; heirloom potatoes roasted just right; an assortment of tasty mushrooms; finishing with that soufflé. Yumola!

Yes, this crab cake tastes every bit as good as it looks!

We needed the walk from the Disneyland Hotel to Main Street just to recover from dinner and dessert!

We were provided with tickets for seats in the Silver Section for the Candlelight. Not knowing what to expect, we re-entered the Park and were quickly directed to a line on either side of the gate. There was one for tickets with the color-coded sections and one for open seating. We chose the left side and were a short distance from the start of the line, safe and dry under the berm. Our wait time here was less than a lot of lines we have stood in for attractions — maybe 30 minutes. But at about 6:35 p.m. we were directed to our seats.

It turned out that the Silver Section was stage right, and directly in front of the orchestra and the narrator’s platform. To our left was the Blue Section, and I’m guessing to the left of that was the Gold Section. We chose two seats in the second row on the inside aisle between the Silver and Blue. Very nice…

The Candlelight Choir and Orchestra

For the 2003 event, Louis Gossett Jr. was scheduled to perform the narration (a reading of selected verses of the Biblical description of the birth of Christ). However, he was unable to do so on Saturday night (after a small bout of food poisoning, so various places have reported). Marie Osmond was at the park that day for the release of the latest in her Adora Belle series of dolls (as a Tiki Room hostess). She stepped in and provided a very stirring reading of these passages. After the ceremony, she thanked Disneyland for the opportunity, saying that it was extremely difficult to be there and not sing.

Marie Osmond as the guest narrator.

Among the folks we spotted while waiting for the ceremonies to begin were a trio of Disneyland presidents. Matt Ouimet, the current one, along with Jack Lindquist and Ron Dominguez all were seated together in the center of the Blue Section (directly in front of the orchestra platform).

Matt seemed well at ease while chatting with various folks before the performance. Sans necktie, it looked like he was having a good time. (Michele told us later that he had also spoken to the travel congress earlier that day.)

The name tag says “Matt”.

Lots of CM’s we chatted with have been impressed with his being out and about the parks, and have hopes for the future, based on his actions so far.

The Candlelight was everything I expected and more. I later told my mom that I felt like we had almost been to a Christmas midnight mass. I found myself humming along with many of the selections having sung them enough over the years. While I can’t share the program with you –something I wish had been handed out to guests, so I could have — it did close with us all singing “Silent Night”.

So with much appreciation, kudos to everyone (from the performing musicians, choir members, soloist, Rebecca Visca — who translated the evening into sign language for the hearing impaired–, conductor Nancy Sulahian to all of the CM’s working guest control and more!) who participated in bringing this event to us. It was indeed a magical and inspirational evening.

We finished up by watching the Believe holiday fireworks (and the snowfall) from the area in front of the Plaza Pavilion, and then shopped for Christmas ornaments in New Orleans Square. One of the benefits of travel by automobile this time was that we could carry items like that home with a minimum of potential for breakage. In previous years, we’ve been somewhat suspicious of handing over luggage with breakables to the airlines. So, this time, the goodies made it home safe and sound.

Guess I need to mark the calendar for those Club 33 reservations next summer…

Michele and Roger relaxing at DCA.

So there is the tale of the “firsts”. Next week? Well, it’s a ways off yet. No telling what I’ll come along with for that.


If you’re looking for something to do in January, why not consider joining me for our annual private railroad car excursion to the Silver State. Plenty of seats available. Check the web pages for information. Should be another fine time!

Thanks again to everyone for your continued support. If you would like to show your appreciation, click on Roger’s Paypal Donation Box. Any amount is always welcomed!

Roger Colton

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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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