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Got Medieval? Roger does, and is all set to whisk you off to Fantasyland. No, it’s not a look at Anaheim, Orlando, Paris or Tokyo, but if you’re in a castle kind of mood, you’re in the neighborhood. And it may be a lot closer than you think!



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How about something for the romantic this week?

Let’s set the WABAC machine back to the days of knights, dragons and damsels in distress, right?

No, I am not talking about the high school antics of Dungeons and Dragons, nor will I engage in a descriptive bout of the B&D scene, although it is a bit amusing how they cross over with interests. We will not be talking about accommodations in the style of your average Renaissance Pleasure Faire. No aging hippies selling local arts, crafts and potions; no straw bundles; no bulging bodices with breasts broiling in the sun… This will be civilized. But then again, a healthy dose of fantasy has never hurt anyone.

It is all about castles today and there is no better place than along the Romantic section of the Rhine River in Germany. This is generally accepted as the area north of Mainz/Wiesbaden (cities on opposite sides of the river and capitols of their respective states of Rhineland-Palatinate and Hesse) and south of Cologne. It is also home to the area known as the Rheingau, that you may recall from an earlier Ruminations on wine.

So, I can hear you asking, why a castle? Fair question. Why would anyone build a castle? It’s all about defense! That’s why. Think of a time when you and yours might have needed the safety of a place to retreat to. Okay, so a cave might work as well, but wouldn’t you know there usually isn’t one around when you really need it.

As a landowner, you probably would face a time when someone would come and try to take that land from you. If you owned enough land, you probably had people working for you to make their living from the land as well. The castle provided a place to keep you and your people safe when an enemy came.

It didn’t hurt you if your castle also showed how much you could afford to your neighbors as well. Combine defense with style, and you get the castle of your dreams. (One can hear the marketing types warming up now…)

But any defense is only as good as the weapons used against it. Back in the days of siege warfare, your castle would keep you safe while the enemies camped outside. Once gunpowder and cannons came into play that was pretty much the end of the castle, as holes in walls tended to negate the effect of that particular defense.

So, today for every castle you see restored, there are as many or more in a state of ruin. But those that do remain are worth a visit.

When we were looking at where to visit while planning our return visit to Germany, there were lots of good German castles to choose from. If we had really been interested, why we could even have purchased one of our own! We opted to spend a few nights in one instead.

Now when most folks think of a castle, there is one that usually comes to mind. Neuschwanstein is as close to the fairy tale castle as you will ever find. Built as the passion of Bavaria’s “Mad King” Ludwig II, it is one of the major tourist destinations in southern Germany. Compare it to the Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland, and you’ll note the obvious influence. There are tours of the grounds and the surrounding area.

Back to the Rhine, there are many great towns with great castles to choose from. During the year, there are some wonderful activities. A perennial favorite is The Rhine in Flames fireworks spectacular — this year on Saturday, August 9th. From many of the small towns and from boats along the river, there are great places to watch this show unfold. Imagine Fantasmic on a scale of miles, and you’re there! Why this year, there is even a railway excursion with a steam locomotive hauled passenger train along the Rhine complete with a stop to view it all.

One of the towns in the area where this event is held is Linz. With a live webcam mounted on one of the ferries the crosses the river, you’ll get a great view without having to make the trip.

When we went on our return to Germany in September of 2001, we visited several of the towns along the way. (I’ll mention a bit about them later.) A combination of driving our rented Mercedes station wagon (in which I am fairly sure we crossed the Rhine using the ferry at Linz) and using the KD (Koln-Dusseldorfer) cruise boat offered one good way to take it all in. Their steam paddle-wheeler, the S.S. Goethe is a classic way to travel here. The DB offers rail service on both sides of the Rhine that makes stops at all of the small towns between Mainz and or Wiesbaden and Cologne.

So which castle did we stay at? Schloss Schoenburg on the hill high above Oberwesel. My mother waded through her Karen Brown guidebook and came up with this as her choice. That and she thought she wanted to spend a night in one of the tower rooms in the castle. (FYI, the Karen Brown web pages do have a good deal of information on other castles in the area.)

Now my brother Larry and I shared Room 13. I’ve always though of that as a lucky number, and boy did it pay off! We had a big room with a large bathroom and a great balcony that overlooked the Rhine. Seeing our room, my mom immediately became jealous and found she didn’t care all that much for her tower room after all. I don’t blame her. But I wasn’t about to offer to trade places with her and my dad.

You see… Room 13 offered me the place from which to watch not only the barge and boat traffic on the Rhine, but also the trains going by on both side of the river as well. Like fish in the proverbial barrel it was.

The hotel part is to the left in this view. Room 13?
The balcony is just to the right of the 4 windows on the bottom level of the red brick section.
Photo from Roger Colton collection.

We enjoyed two nights here — a Monday and a Tuesday. The hotel restaurant is closed on Mondays, and at that time, they offered a chance to enjoy dinner at several places in Oberwesel with a different course served at each of the three stops. Now, according to their web pages, the hotel offers meal only to guests on that night.

We had some wonderful breakfasts (complete with great knitted covers for the soft-boiled eggs) here as well as dinner on Tuesday evening — with a great bottle of a Chilean Merlot to top it all off!

Schoenburg has some amusing elements to the tale as well. Vistors park in a lot across a bridge from the castle, and their luggage is carried up the hill the rest of the way in a trailer hauled by a tractor. It’s a good walk past some of the unrestored areas of the castle with some fantastic views of local vineyards. A Catholic retreat house uses part of the structure and the chapel still functions as intended.

All in all, a fine time sitting and enjoying a complimentary glass of sherry while watching the passing panorama. Oh, the pain…

Oberwesel was one of several great towns we visited along this part of the Rhine. Others included St. Goar (where we boarded the KD boat for our river cruise), Bacharach (where I picked up a Steiff bear similar to one we acquired some 40 years before. Named the new one Burt and he collected pins for the rest of the trip! Stop me before I get more pins…) with some great shops including a wonderful outlet store with anything you could ever want in way of a beer stein, and Rudeshiem. This was our destination when we rode the boat from St. Goar (getting a parking ticket in the rush to board). It’s a real tourist town with all the trappings, including a big Christmas shop.

There were some great things to see along the way, and I’ll mention a few of the more notable ones. Ever hear the tale of the Lorelei? “According to German legend, there was once a beautiful young maiden, named Lorelei, who threw herself headlong into the river in despair over a faithless lover. Upon her death she was transformed into a siren and could from that time on be heard singing on a rock along the Rhine River, near St. Goar. Her hypnotic music lured sailors to their death. The legend is based on an echoing rock with that name near St. Goar, Germany.” As the KD boat departs St. Goar heading south, it passes the large slate rock formation known as the Lorelie.

Departing Oberwesel, another legend comes to life along the river. Immediately beyond the town, the smooth flow of the Rhine is disturbed by seven underwater rocks–The Seven Sisters. Legend has it that seven girls were turned to stone for their prudish behavior. Local men are known to tell this tale when their affection meets with resistance. (A print on the wall of our Room 13 was a great telling of this tale — all in German, of course!)

There’s a lot more to see and hear along the way and the KD folks entertain but don’t annoy with their commentary. That and the food and drink aboard in first rate. Beer was good as was the hot chocolate.

“Now, enough of Germany!”, I hear you saying at this point. Gotcha. So how about something in a castle on this side of the pond? Coming right up!

If there was ever someone in this country who fancied themselves close to European nobility of the type who built castles along the Rhine, it had to be the family headed by William Randolph Hearst. Among the better parts of his legacy is the palace know as San Simeon or Hearst Castle. This property was 250,000-acres of ranchland that included the Mexican Ranchos of Piedras Blancas, San Simeon and Santa Rosa in the area northwest of San Luis Obispo.

San Simeon is actually a series of structures making up what could easily be called the most ornate complex in all of California. The web pages linked above tell the history better than I can, so I recommend exploring them. There’s a lot of history with the entertainment world involved here as movie folks were frequent guests of the Hearst’s hospitality. Today it is a state historical monument and well worth an extended exploration when you have the chance. (There’s even some history of my family in the area, but I’ll save that for another time…)

Now when it comes to building incredible structures, I’ve mentioned a few in other Ruminations or columns. Recall Billy Ralston and his Palace Hotel, or Yosemite’s Awahnee. But for eccentricity, it would be hard to beat Sarah Winchester and her house in San Jose. Known today as the Winchester Mystery House, this classic Victorian mansion was a project begun in 1884. Legend has it that a spiritualist convinced her that as long as she was continuing the process of building the structure, she would be safe from the spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles. In the end, “this 160-room Victorian mansion had modern heating and sewer systems, gas lights that operated by pressing a button, three working elevators, and 47 fireplaces. From rambling roofs and exquisite hand inlaid parquet floors to the gold and silver chandeliers and Tiffany art glass windows, you will be impressed by the staggering amount of creativity, energy, and expense poured into each and every detail.”

Today it is open for tours, and those on Halloween are especially popular — considering the spirits are out and about…

Now back to spending the night in a castle. Remember the column on hotel rooms? Here is a link to a sampling of places where you can spend a night in a castle here in the States. Of those listed, there is one I might want to try if I had the chance. Ravenwood Castle is located in Ohio’s Hocking Valley. A variety of events and specials abound, even a discount if you arrive and stay in proper medieval garb!

Asking Jeeves for similar accommodations gets another set of results. Out of those, Denver’s Castle Marne also gets a vote for a taste of the Victorian era. I’m not sure, but I may have stayed here on a trip to Denver back in the early 80’s.

But of the web choices I found, this one may be the best of the bunch. Thornewood Castle “a magnificent three-story manor home dating from the turn of the century, offers over 27,000 square feet of living space, graciously arranged under one tile roof. Boasting 54 rooms, including 28 bedrooms and 22 baths, this English Tudor/Gothic mansion is one of the few genuine private castles in the United States. Thornewood Castle was built to the specifications of Mr. Chester Thorne, one of the founders of the Port of Tacoma, in beautiful Washington State. His fascination with the grandeur of the old English estate led him to design his dream house. Kertland Kelsey Cutter, one of America’s most gifted architects of that era, converted this dream into the once-in-a-lifetime estate.”

So there you have it… A look at the chance to enjoy a night in a castle or even just an afternoon visit!

Next up: Anchors aweigh as it’s off to the high seas! Okay, so it’s just a trip aboard a steam freighter, but one with a history including being part of the D-Day flotilla and then being the only ship to return for the 50th anniversary in 1994.

Until then, do your part and keep Roger plugging away at the keyboard by throwing him a buck or two. His Amazon Honor System Paybox is open all night for your convenience.

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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