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Got Vacation? Roger is back with some fine places worthy of a night or two for your enjoyment.



Hopefully, sometime in the next month or so, you and yours are off on a no doubt well-deserved vacation. Lots of great places to go and see with all of the things to do. And lots of great places to stay as well.

So… let me share some of my favorite lodgings with you!

Disney’s Grand Californian is my hotel of choice at the Disneyland Resort. AAA awarded it four diamonds and it’s easy to see why. One can easily spend hours enjoying the Craftsman style architecture and design touches throughout this place. Suffice to say, you haven’t heard the last about this place from me.

The Claremont Resort and Spa is one of the hidden treasures of the San Francisco Bay Area. Just outside Berkeley, nestled in the Oakland hills, the classic structure was finished in 1915, just in time for the Panama Pacific Exposition. Served by the electric trains of real estate magnate Francis Marion (or Borax — as in Twenty Mule Team Borax) Smith, visitors came from around the world. Spectacular views of the City and the bay along with the 22-acre garden setting continue to make this a special place. With the addition of European-style spa facilities, it has become a favorite destination for the weekend getaway.

Some properties of similar vintage have had their moments of glory in the cinema. San Diego’s Hotel Coronado was one of the star’s of “Some Like It Hot”. Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis spent weeks here in 1958 for this classic Billy Wilder comedy.

And although author Richard Matheson stayed at the Coronado while writing his novel, “Bid Time Return”, it just wasn’t possible to use the hotel for the location of filming when it became the movie, “Somewhere In Time”. Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve (and the rest of the cast and crew) enjoyed their stay at the Grand Hotel on Michigan’s Mackinac Island. The classic structure and grounds were well used as locations for filming of both modern day and period settings. (I heartily recommend the DVD of the film for some great stories from cast and crew, and the director’s commentary!)

Another Hollywood connected hotel is the Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Blvd. It was the site of the first Academy Awards ceremony on May 19, 1929. The page from the above link tells many of the tales you want to know. I had the pleasure of enjoying an afternoon there on February 29, 1992 when Dean Stockwell was recognized with his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (as Dean himself proudly announced, “…I’m very lucky to be between two very beautiful women – Liza Minelli and Donna Summers…”). The hotel is undergoing a restoration as part of the revitalization of the entire area of Hollywood Blvd, but is still well worth a visit.

A friend of mine once described a weekend at Yosemite’s Awahnee Lodge as her idea of camping. This isn’t tents and sleeping bags, not by any dream of the imagination. “The Ahwahnee is a National Historical Landmark and one of the most distinctive resort hotels in North America. It’s well known for its great granite façade, striking beamed ceilings, massive stone hearths, richly colored Native American appointments, and finely appointed rooms. Named for the original Native word for Yosemite Valley, The Ahwahnee offers a perfect balance of refinement, grandness and hospitality. It’s no wonder that for generations this grand hotel has been the destination of queens and presidents alike.”

What you get is one of the most beautiful places on the planet on the floor of the Yosemite Valley, and that’s true all year round. Christmas time is one of the most popular with the Bracebridge Dinner, “… a unique Ahwahnee Christmas tradition of grand proportion. Held annually since 1927, the event transforms the Ahwahnee Hotel into a 17th century English manor for a feast of food, song and mirth. The inspiration for this ceremony was Washington Irving’s Sketch Book that described Squire Bracebridge and English Christmas traditions of that period.” This extremely popular event is usually booked well in advance, but it never hurts to check for that last minute cancellation. Other special events throughout the year also include the Vintner’s Holiday dinners, Chef’s Holiday dinners and a New Years Eve dinner dance.

California’s North Coast has some places worth the visit as well. In the small town of Gualala, the Old Milano Hotel was once a stop for stagecoaches travelling to and from San Francisco. Today, it’s a restful place to escape. Another favorite is in the Pacific Lumber Company town of Scotia. With the mill right here, it is no surprise that redwood was used for so many of the town’s structures. One in particular is the Scotia Inn. This hotel features a great art deco bar and a fine dining room with some of the most magnificent redwood you will ever see. If you love the Grand Californian, then this structure will find you right at home with it’s own Arts and Crafts touches.

When we do our private car excursions to Reno, Nevada, we often stay at John Ascuaga’s Nugget Hotel and Casino. It has grown from humble beginnings as a coffee shop to now being one of the area’s favorite places. The Nugget has all kinds of events throughout the year, but my favorite is their Rib Cook-off, held over Labor Day weekend. Last year, I was chef on a private car trip to Reno while this was going on. Stepping off the car in Sparks, all you could smell was great barbecue. Yumola!

Now Nevada also has Las Vegas and all of its unique hotel properties. I’ve been to stay at a few, but found that rooms in the Luxor may have been among the most interesting, but not for the reasons one might suspect. It is said that the light from the beacon atop the pyramid is one of the few things you can see from orbit with the naked eye. What I found most interesting were the elevators to go to and from the hotel rooms. Not really elevators, more of inclinators as they travel on an incline up and down the levels of the pyramid, a very unusual sensation…

The Lake Tahoe area straddles the border between the California and Nevada, and one hotel took that point to the inevitable conclusion. The Cal-Neva Resort in Crystal Bay, Nevada, is built right atop the stateline running through the Indian Room — separating a large stone fireplace. The hotel has lots of history including a period of ownership by Frank Sinatra with lots of visits by the Rat Pack and company including Marilyn Monroe. And there is the usual Nevada style gaming just across that line as well…

Ever wonder where those Imagineers get inspirations? How about the Grand Floridian in Orlando? Can you say “Coronado?” Or take a look at the new Tokyo Disney Sea. The S.S. Columbia was most definitely inspired by Long Beach’s Hotel Queen Mary. Once the pride of the Cunard Fleet (which will soon see the Queen Mary II!), this proud ship has served as a floating hotel halfway around the world from her home in the British Isles since 1972. Michele and I have stayed aboard her several times including during Disney’s years of operation (1988 to 1992). We enjoyed a First Class room overlooking Long Beach, as well as some great meals (Sir Winston’s and Chelsea) during our honeymoon in April of 1986. I’ve also been aboard for several New Years Eve parties as well as a killer Sunday brunch (in the Grand Salon — the ship’s original First Class Dining Room) or two that made me wish I did have a room aboard to sleep it off! There are a number of special events held during the year, so check it out before you go.

Speaking of crossing the pond… When we visited Germany and Austria in September of 2001, we enjoyed some interesting hotels. Our first surprise was where we stayed on our first few nights. Having flown into Frankfurt, we were off to explore the area where my parents had lived and worked way back in 1958 and 1959. Our destinations would be only a short trip across the Rhine as we traveled back and forth between Wiesbaden and Mainz. Things changed a whole bunch right before we left (9/11) and the hotels all were very willing to change reservations for us. We ended up staying in Mainz — Finthen at the Atrium Hotel Mainz only a short drive from either city. The hotel offered a great breakfast each morning (included in the room rate), that spoiled us for the rest of the trip! The rooms were all very modern and comfortable. The hotel has a great little bar/café that had all we needed after our first night and the long airline flight from San Francisco.

On the other end of our trip was the Hotel Elefant in Salzburg, Austria. It’s name goes back to a local story (from their web page): “Once upon a time when King Max was riding through Salzburg he had an elephant with him. Passing this building the elephant looked into one of its windows. Since then the people call it the “Elephant-inn”.”

The 700 year-old building is located in the heart of the old city. It is right around the corner from Mozart’s birthplace (a fact we discovered by accident wondering why all these people were taking pictures of this place!). It was very convenient to all of the sights and opportunities we could imagine including great shopping along the Getriedegasse. It also has a great dining room with wonderful meals. We never went away hungry from a meal on that trip.

Look for another tale from that trip coming in the next few weeks as part of that series on things you’ve always wanted to do, but didn’t think you could!

One place I’ve always wanted to visit is the famed Greenbrier Resort in White Suplhur Springs, West Virginia. In years gone by, it was not uncommon for the private railroad cars of the rich and famous to travel here for a fine vacation away from all the responsibilities of the world. It was once owned by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, and was a much promoted travel destination. Today Amtrak does stop directly across from The Greenbrier’s Main Entrance, and special trains have called here occasionally in the last few years.

But what really fascinated me is that this was to be the location of a secret government relocation center. The hotel offers tours of what was of “Project Greek Island” — a bunker to protect the members of Congress in the event of a nuclear strike on Washington, DC, that thankfully was never activated.

A bit less threatening, but none the less interesting is the Breakers Resort in Palm Beach, Florida. Way before Disney discovered the state, Henry Flagler created this Italian Renaissance structure and the surroundings. Flagler pushed his Florida East Coast Railway on down to Key West with the railroad that went to sea, only to meet it’s fate during one of the strongest hurricanes yet seen during Labor Day of 1935. The Breakers continues today as a landmark to those days and the vision that Flagler had for the state.

You might recall that in another column I mentioned the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. It’s still there and greeting guests for all kinds of events as well as for room nights. Brunch in the famed Garden Court or even a smart cocktail in the Pied Piper Lounge with it’s famed Maxfield Parish “Pied Piper of Hamlin” mural are must do’s on any visit.

How about a Victorian bed and breakfast with a difference? Try the East Brothers Light Station! Located on an island in the middle of the straits between the San Francisco and San Pablo bays, it is a step (okay, how about a boat ride instead?) back to an less complicated time. If you don’t have time to spend the night, they do offer an outstanding dinner or brunch, right around the corner from Point Richmond (now home to the Lucas CGI animation unit in the former Pixar location). Point Richmond is also home to the Hotel Mac (Sorry, no web page link, but a Yahoo Yellow Pages search offers both information for the hotel and the restaurant/bar. A fine place and outstanding meals and or beverages. Oh for earlier, less informed days…

California can lay claim to having the world’s first motel in San Luis Obispo (another hotbed of Colton family history, but that is another column entirely!) and it opened at 2223 Monterey Street in 1925. Originally called the “Milestone Motel”, the Spanish revival structure was later renamed the “Motel Inn” but went out of business long ago and now stands, forlorn but not forgotten, next to US-101 on the grounds of the Apple Farm restaurant and motel. But best the known accommodation in town is the Madonna Inn. Affectionately known as the “Pink Palace”, it features 109 differently themed rooms. Everything from the American Beauty room to the Yosemite Rock room can be yours! Some include a fireplace or even a rock waterfall for your shower. Whoever says Disney has a monopoly on themes in lodging hasn’t been here yet!

Lest you think I would pass up an opportunity to mention trains or cats, you are correct! I have a bit of both. First is the Red Caboose Motel in Strasburg, Pennsylvania. Here’s a place where you can stay in one of the twenty-five railroad cabooses, in the same neighborhood as two of the nations finest railroad destinations — the Strasburg Railroad — recognized as the nation’s oldest continually operating steam shortline railroad and the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. The museum tells the history of railroading in the state and the nation, with manufacturers of locomotives and equipment that went throughout the world from the Keystone State.

And Cruiser has his favorite place to stay when we take off and abandon him for a Disneyland visit. The Feline Medical Center of Pleasanton lets him bring along his favorite blanket, toys (oh, those catnip mice!) and his Iams food — dry and wet — to make him feel all the better. And if he needs it, they also do grooming along with other tasks like nail clipping. Better them than us, you bet!

So there you have it. A sample of some interesting places to spend a few nights. I’m sure there are plenty more waiting for you to discover, so warm up those search engines and take off for that long weekend to recover from it all!


Coming up next in the series of things you’ve always wanted to do? Roger has us all set for a ride at the speedway! So, NASCAR fans, buckle up and get ready for all those left turns!

And if you are among the kind folks who have contributed to the Amazon Honor System Pay Box, Roger thanks you! If not, why not drop a buck or two and show your support? Honest! It doesn’t hurt a bit!

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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