Connect with us

Theme Parks & Themed Entertainment


Hoping you enjoyed one of Jim Hill’s Disneyland Resort tours last weekend, Roger’s back, first with a look at meeting customer needs and then a peek at three of the “official” Disneyland tours. Surprises await!



Well, let’s see… Today is Friday, the thirteenth. So, summon up all the good luck you can find!

You may recall that I was off to the Disneyland Resort back in May for the long Memorial Day weekend. Originally, the plan called for my six-year old nephew to join us. I was looking forward to seeing the park from that perspective. But plans change, so we were without him as our guide.

Switching to a hastily assembled plan “B”, we took advantage of a variety of different activities. In other words, we made it up as we went along. Kind of like some of my columns from time to time. However, not so today, as this one was in production not long after the return from the Southland. Who knew procrastination could be so much fun? (By the time you read this, I may actually have posted the full trip report over on the Laughing Place boards!)

But in the best Jim Hill tradition, I’m off to drift to another topic before reaching the real story.

A recent pleasure has been reading a fine magazine called “Heritage Railway” — all about preserved railways and equipment in the British Isles. If some folks think we are all a bit goofy about Disney, then they would really have something to say about the world of railway preservation over there.

Thanks to a bit of forward thinking, a great deal of history (not just railways) has been preserved for future generations to enjoy. Lotteries and a variety of national trusts, along with generous donors fund many worthy projects.

Where once railway lines were abandoned to the weeds and weasels, or were collecting rust on rails and wheels, today vacationing families enjoy a heritage tourism experience widely unequaled in North America.

In the February 2003 issue of “Heritage Railway”, there was a six-page interview with a media mogul railway preservationist. As they put it, “Pop impresario Pete Waterman, whose Hit factory music company gave us amongst other household names, Kylie Minogue and Steps, has established his rail vehicle maintenance company LNWR as the market leader in contract rolling stock repairs.”

Pete got his start in 1961 in railway service and success in his music career allowed his hobby to transition to a full-time booming business. For a while, he even owned what is likely the most well-known steam locomotive in the world, #4472, the “Flying Scotsman.” (The locomotive has pulled excursion trains in England, Scotland and Wales as well as the United States, Canada and Australia.)

What caught my attention in this interview were comments that while intended for railway museums and the like, are easily applicable to anyone who competes for disposable income in today’s market. Here are the quotes:

“… Our heritage lines are not tourist attractions — they are ‘theme parks’.

What we are really saying to the public is ‘please come and visit our themed attraction and provide the finance so that for the rest of the year we the steam enthusiasts can play trains’.

Nothing wrong with that, but to achieve it railways must embrace progress and learn the skills of customer care.

Perhaps 15 years ago it was sufficient to steam a restored engine, stick any old coaches behind it and chuff up and down between nowhere and nowhere.

Not so now; the preserved railways have to compete head to head with other theme parks and attractions for a share of visiting families hard-earned money. Our railways need to be clean, accessible, and safe but most of all have family appeal.

The steam buff may tolerate inadequate toilet facilities and ‘paper cup tea bars’, the 21st Century family will not, they want, and deserve, more ‘buzz for their buck’.

Our steam railway, which really are working museums, create enjoyment for a great many people, employment for some and for certain keep alive in hundreds of working volunteers the skills of the past.

The youngsters of today find fascination in recreations of the steam era, the Reverends Awdry’s stories (Thomas The Tank Engine) are highly popular, the steam train in the Harry Potter series of movies delighted youngsters worldwide, so where’s the problem?

Get it right — and the paying customers will come. Get it wrong — and the bank manager will come, wearing that ‘I want my money back’ expression, and any organisation who fails to get customer care right will have contributed to their own failure.”

Gee, sounds like something that a fair number of folks have been saying for sometime. Now if only those in the right places would get the message. Got a two by four handy for the traditional smack upside the head?

The truth is that there exists intense competition for the disposable income of any consumer. It’s everything from McDonalds to Blockbuster to Safeway to Wal-Mart to Starbucks to Disney. Success is something shared among them in more ways than one. Giving the customer what they want and need is a challenge they all will try to meet. We’ve seen both their failures as well as their successes. There will certainly be more of both. As much as we would hope for more of the latter, the only guarantee is that the competition will only become greater for that disposable income. As the choices increase, so will the need to excel at meeting the customers needs.

Another challenge is to look for more clients for your existing products. The San Francisco Chronicle carried a story in it’s May 16 edition describing how retailers are looking to increase their market share among Hispanic customers. One particular example was Hallmark cards and how they had doubled the number of cards for that market to 2,500 over the past year. The article notes how the Hispanic market has grown over the last decade. Up 58 percent to 35.3 million according to census data. Here’s hoping folks in certain Burbank offices are paying attention.

Now back to the Disneyland Resort…

Hope that everyone who joined Jim for his last batch of Anaheim tours had a great time. Wish I could have been there. Lots to learn about one of our favorite places.

Disney offers some interesting tours of their own of both Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure. As the story is told, the tradition of tour at Disneyland goes back to Walt himself and the days before the Park opened to the public. Nothing made Walt happier than a trip around the place to see what was going on. And if he could share his enthusiasm with someone at the same time, well then that was all the better.

As Walt became better known to guests, he was often besieged for autographs. It got to the point where he could hardly cross Main Street without being mobbed. So his days of playing tour guide were over and the task farmed out to a staff of lovely young ladies. Garbed in a snappy outfit reminiscent of English riding clothes in a fine red tartan pattern (complete with hat and riding crop), they were easy to spot as they led guests about the Park.

On our recent visit, we started our day by entering Disneyland and stopping so Michele could visit with her counterparts at the AAA travel office, in what used to be the Tour Garden. While she chatted, my mother and I ventured over to the Tour Cart located in front of City Hall. Capably staffed by Edmundo, we learned more about both of the Disneyland tours available.

Taking the flyers describing the tours, we went off to breakfast to contemplate the choices. Harking back to visits of earlier days, our target for this meal was the River Belle Terrace (yes, I’ve heard stories from CM’s who did time here) in Frontierland. (My father and mother both visited the Park back in 1955, but separately. My mother, aunt and a friend made a short nighttime visit that first summer. My father remembers having breakfast on his first visit, at what was then the Aunt Jemima Pancake House, complete with the scene of Walt Disney having a chat with the woman appearing as Aunt Jemima. Oh, for a photo of that!) I stepped back a few years and enjoyed a Mickey pancake. Good as ever!

So what are the differences between the two tours? Well, from their respective flyers, here we go:

The “Red Carpet Tour” offers a look at both Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure. It’s two and half-hours long ending with V.I.P. seating for one of the performances of “Aladdin”, and offers two extra Fast Passes for use after the tour. The cost is $25 per person, and park admission is not included. You need to already have your pass for the day. (I’m not sure if you need a park hopper pass or not, but I would tend to doubt it, as the tour begins with Disneyland.)

The other tour has been offered for a few years, and is called “A Walk In Walt’s Footsteps.” This tour was $49 per person, again not including admission, and is three and half-hours long. Highlights of this tour include:

A sneak peek at the lobby of the legendary Club 33 restaurant in New Orleans Square
A visit to the Enchanted Tiki Room, the first Disneyland attraction to feature Disney’s innovative Audio-Animatronics technology
A collectible “A Walk In Walt’s Footstep’s” trading pin
Luncheon on the balcony of the Disney Gallery, complete with one of Walt’s favorite desserts!
This tour is limited to 15 guests, and was offered twice that day. The other tour was only offered once.

Looking over the choices, we opted for “A Walk In Walt’s Footsteps” at 2:30 p.m. and booked space for the three of us over the phone, using a credit card to save our spots.

We arrived at the designated spot (in front of Guest Relations, outside Disneyland to the left of the News Stand) about 20 minutes before the start of the tour to check in. A short time later, Edmundo and D.J. arrived to gather the group together. A brief introduction got things started with the menu for lunch passed around and our selections noted. D.J. went off to place our orders, and left Edmundo to handle the tour guide duties.

Next time you enter the Park, think of it as entering a theater lobby. If you look carefully, you will note how there is an uphill slope from the Esplanade into Ticket Gates and then under the berm into Town Square. (We learned this while some of the group was leaving packages at the News Stand for pick-up later, a great idea! Why carry a lot of stuff on the tour?) And if you look carefully at the Town Square you’ll notice how there is a downhill slope on Main Street — just like the floor of a theater — heading toward the Plaza in front of the Castle.

(I won’t give away all of the tour secrets, but I will say that I was impressed by some of the information provided along the way. In some cases, I had expected a bit of sugar coating of certain facts, but surprisingly got the more realistic facts instead of the fiction.)

From Town Square, we made our way into the lobby of the Main Street Opera House for a look at the Walt Disney Story, both in photos and in a excerpt from the recent Walt Disney documentary, “Walt: The Man Behind The Myth”. Then a glimpse at the formal office on display, as recreated from the Studio in Burbank. (It’s a bit eerie seeing this after having viewed the building where it used to be from the outside on the lot.) While Edmundo did mention that the Studio is closed to visitors, I did remind him of the past years when the Holiday Crafts fairs had offered that rare one-day opportunity. Hopefully, this year will also see the tradition continue.

Exiting the theater lobby (thankfully not having to sit through the new Lincoln show! As much as I like the AA show, I find the audio theatrics to be just showing off the technology instead of telling the story of Lincoln and the challenges he faced.), we headed over to the firehouse to hear the tale of Walt’s apartment. Edmundo even related the tale of Walt being seen in his underwear one morning by a curious child who had climbed the brass pole from the floor below. The apartment used to be part of the tour, but now is off limits, in memory of Walt.

I suspect ADA access is more of a reason as a small staircase is the only way in or out. That and I recall a tale of the apartment being found in disarray after someone used it for an after hours event and didn’t clean up after themselves.

Following Edmundo, we traveled down Main Street noting some previous tenants of some of the shops including the Wizard of Bras and the Main Street Tobacco Shop. Also discussed was the use of forced perspective along Main Street toward the Plaza and the installation of the Partners statue in the Hub. A brief look at the Snow White Grotto led into Fantasyland (just in time for the Sword In The Stone ceremony) to tell a bit about the area and the Castle.

Edmundo pointed out some of the “hidden features of the area” including the Wicked Queen peering out of her window along with the brass apple in the Snow White queue area. He also noted how when the area was first opened, all of attractions were created so that the guests would fill the roles of the lead characters in the stories. For example, you were Snow White retracing her path through the Scary Adventures or Peter Pan flying through Neverland. Guests didn’t really understand so the attractions were changed and now these characters appear along the way. Both Alice and Mr. Toad still have some of that original design. Toad aficionados will recall that nowhere does he actually appear in the attraction — you are Toad on one of his wild rides!

The tour then went out to a spot between the Carnation Gardens and the Plaza in front of the Castle. Note the flagstones in the grass and the gate from the walkway into the area. Kind of a neat spot I never noticed before! Here we heard more about the area and Edmundo pointed out the one Spire not finished in gold like all the others, marking that Disneyland is never finished.

The next stop was a welcome one as we got the chance to sit down for a performance in the Tiki Room. Sadly, we missed the pre-show, one of my favorites. (And yes, the whole place still could use more than a little attention. Would it really be too much to ask for an update of the thatch and bamboo?) After the show, we got to meet a special guest, and I’ll save that surprise for you to experience in person. Very neat by the way…

From the Tiki Room, we wandered off through Adevntureland through New Orleans Square (with our stop in the lobby of Club 33 — sorry no chances to buy souvenirs!) and on to the Haunted Mansion. (Here’s where we heard the tale of the British journalist who misunderstood Walt about the Mansion being for sale… among other stories) Had Pirates been open (it was down for refurbishing) I imagine we would have visited as it was noted as being the last attraction supervised by Walt. We the boarded the Disneyland Railroad for a ride over to Tommorrowland, with a stop to view the Submarine Voyage with rumors flying (no confirmation). Crossing back through the Park we stopped next to Ariel’s Grotto to hear about the Monsanto House of the Future and view the remaining wall of the foundation.

Crossing the Plaza one last time, we’re heading back to New Orleans Square to finish up the tour at the Disney Gallery. As the rest of us take the stairs, Michele gets to use the elevator, and ends up in the Club 33 kitchen. Now I’m jealous!

The tour winds up with a look at what would have been Walt’s suite of apartments over New Orleans Square. Lunch was in the patio, not on the balcony, and the food was a nice finish, with our pins waiting for us — all with our names so we know who gets what.

Top points to both Edmundo and D.J. for a great and informative tour. For someone like my mom, there was a lot to learn about Walt and his park. For the more informed, yes, there were some things to learn. And they also wanted feedback! Who knew? I suggested that a horticultural tour of the resort might be a winner, just as the Gardens of Epcot tour has become in the East. Especially considering that when the Park first opened, Walt had folks putting Latin names on weeds to make guests think they were fancy landscaping!

D.J. related that one of his tasks is to keep tabs on the various web sites and see what’s being reported. Nice to know we are being watched by interested folks.

We finally left the Disney Gallery a little after 6 p.m. after a fine Saturday afternoon. Back to our room at the Grand Californian, where we all recovered in our own ways. Some napped, I wrote some of this column on the trusty iBook, and checked the message boards.

Well worth the time and the money for this tour, in my humble opinion…

Now here’s the real surprise!

Over at the Grand Californian, there is a great tour of the hotel, called “The Art of the Craft” and it’s FREE! Yes, free. But I do think there is one catch. You have to be a guest of the hotel in order to sign up for the tour. (Space is limited.) That’s done at the Concierge Desk.

The day we took the tour, Dave was our guide through this wonderful structure. He mentioned that different people give the tour each day, and that they all have their favorite features to show guests. So it can be a different experience each time.

Highlights for me included the Hearthstone Lounge where all of the redwood you see came from a single previously fallen tree that Disney had purchased; a variety of one-of-a-kind pieces of art and furniture around the lobby; the way the forest is imitated through the use of patterns in the carpet, wall treatments and paper borders to cap the image; the landscaping reflecting the side of the hotel, i.e. plants on the north side being those found in the northern part of California; and finally, the way in which architectural elements blended with structural elements. I can never look at the hotel in the same way after this tour.

Dave also related that a book about the hotel and the Craftsman style is in production. A check at the Concierge Desk this last visit revealed that it is still a work in progress, hopefully to be in print sometime next year. I can’t wait!

So, the next time you’re down at the Disneyland Resort, why not try one of the “official” tours? I think you’ll enjoy them just as much as I did!


Next week? Climb aboard as Roger takes you out into the world for the chance to try something that some of you may have always wanted to do, but didn’t think you ever would be able to!

And if Roger keeps you amused with these columns, why not show that appreciation by clicking on the link for his Amazon Honor System Paybox and sharing a buck or three? He certain appreciates it when you do!

Roger Colton

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


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.

Continue Reading


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.

Continue Reading


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.

Continue Reading