Connect with us

Theme Parks & Themed Entertainment


Roger Colton is back with a new column name. Oh, and with a new column relating the wonders of Nevada … including Basque cuisine. Yummy!



Jim Hill Media Featured Image

Well… it’s been a few columns now. So like the big boss, I’m coming up with a title for these weekly pieces. Gave it all of a minutes thought and came up with:


The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines that word as follows:

Main Entry: ru·mi·nate Pronunciation: ‘rü-m&-“nAt Function: verb Inflected Form(s): -nat·ed; -nat·ing Etymology: Latin ruminatus, past participle of ruminari to chew the cud, muse upon, from rumin-, rumen rumen; perhaps akin to Sanskrit romantha act of chewing the cud Date: 1533 transitive senses 1 : to go over in the mind repeatedly and often casually or slowly 2 : to chew repeatedly for an extended period intransitive senses 1 : to a chew again what has been chewed slightly and swallowed : chew the cud 2 : to engage in contemplation : REFLECT synonym see PONDER

So? Is that a five-dollar word good enough for the title? /p>

You bet! Works for me…

Anyway, back to the column at hand. When last you heard from me, I promised a column relating wonders of the Silver State (Nevada that is) and not at all related to Las Vegas.

I’ve mentioned previously that I have family history here that goes back to the 1860’s. Something I love to make note of when dealing with newcomers like casino or hotel employees. Not that it always works, but it has on occasion.

Nevada has more to its economy than just tourism and gambling. While those do make their substantial contributions, the mining and agricultural communities have been and continue to be important as well. Contrary to popular belief, the state is not all desert sand and sagebrush. It does have water and it has been put to good use in many areas. Nevada also has considerable acreage used for open range for livestock. Wild mustangs were an issue of the Sixties (well seen in the film, “The Misfits”) that brought the state to the attention of many crusaders. My great-grandfather used to round them up in his days as a vaquero for shipment east. Cattle as well benefit from the open range with a variety of good grasses across the state.

But the real story here is the world of sheep and their protectors, the Basque sheepherders.

Remember that the state is for the most part open, and has at best a sparse population. The Interstate 80 corridor — with Reno, Sparks, Fernley, Winnemucca, Battle Mountain, Beowawe, Carlin, Elko, Wells and Wendover — all owe their existence to the Central Pacific Railroad crossing the state. These places had water, and hence the railroad created stations at these places. Later towns sprang up at these places. Las Vegas (Okay, here is the only reference to it in the column.) was once Water Station Six on the Los Angeles, San Pedro and Salt Lake Railroad.

Other communities grew along other railroads that connected to the bigger lines mentioned above. The state capitol, Carson City, owes its existence to its place along the old Mormon trail from Utah and on to California.

With all of the states open range, sheep were a natural choice for livestock to live off the land. Let’s face it. Sheep eat almost anything they can find growing. If you’re establishing a hardy livestock, you need men to match them and the territory. Such were the Basque who came to Nevada starting in the 1870’s. Most men were single and spoke little English.

They lived a solitary life out on the range with their flocks, but they brought a rich culture to the state that lives on today.

Reno’s Santa Fe Hotel offers this sample of history about the Basque immigrants:

“During the last century, many Basque immigrants from the ‘Pyrennes’region of Southern France and Northern Spain settled in northern Nevada. Basque boarding houses and hotels still stand as prominent and nostalgic symbols of the Basque peoples contribution to the settlement and growth of the American West. The Santa Fe Basque Hotel in Reno, Nevada promised Basque immigrants traveling to the new country a friendly meeting place, familiar language, a warm bed and a hearty Basque dinner, all within a few blocks of the train station where many immigrants first stepped foot in Nevada to join on as ranch hands and in the expansive cow and sheep country. Having served the Reno and Tahoe area for over fifty years, the Santa Fe Basque Hotel offers one of Nevada’s oldest traditions in dining. We welcome you to share in the tradition of family style Basque dining at this Nevada landmark.”

And the Nevada Commission on Tourism offers a great article on the Basque presence in Nevada. An excerpt from that feature:

“In the 1870s, hundreds of Basque sheepherders migrated west to the sweet promised land of Nevada. These hard-working men spent much of their time high in the remote mountains and hills attending to their grazing flocks.

It was a lonely life. Most left families and friends behind in the Basque provinces of the Pyrenees mountains or the Cantabrian coast of northwestern Spain and southwestern France. When they had a chance, many would head to the nearest town with a Basque hotel. These hotels were a second home for the sheep men, and gave the herders a place to rest, socialize and learn the latest news from home.

Along with the comfort of a bed, the sheepherders were served generous meals that usually included beef and lamb steaks, soup, crisp salad, beans, spaghetti, bread and wine, plenty of wine.

Each hotel touted its individual “culinary flair” to attract prospective boarders. Even today, every Basque restaurant boasts about the unique qualities that sets it apart from others.

Just as important as the food was the friendly and animated mealtime conversation around the long boardinghouse tables. Basque meals are still served “family style,” with patrons seated side-by-side at long tables. The arrangement just about ensures that strangers become friends, and is a unique feature of the Basque dining experience.

Basque food is the fare of a hard-working people. It is simple, always fresh, and doled out in generous portions. Garlic is the seasoning of choice.

A Basque-style chateaubriand is a thick steak cooked between two thin steaks. The thin cuts of meat are then removed and the thick rare slab served. Traditionally, chateaubriand was fed to Basque athletes before they competed in strenuous sports such as Pelota (handball). Lamb is a menu perennial, and the Basque chorizo, somewhat like the Portuguese linguica, is a spicy treat.

No self-respecting Basque hotelier would think of opening his doors if there wasn’t a bar on the premises. It will be a no-nonsense bar, designed for drinking and cameraderie, not to win interior design awards. No ferns, no imitation Tiffany lamps, no European street signs. Just a hardwood bar that serves simple drinks without cute names.

The specialty of every Basque bar is a Picon Punch, a deceptively mild cocktail made with grenadine, Amer Picon, brandy and soda. While it tastes harmless enough, it packs a wallop.

Another continuing tradition is that many of Nevada’s Basque restaurants are part of a hotel or boardinghouse. Some still house Basque sheepherders and permanent guests. The Martin Hotel in Winnemucca boasted of a boarder who had lived there since 1926.

The Basque tradition of excellent food, warm hospitality and unique atmosphere still can be found in any of Nevada’s Basque restaurants. The prices, menus, seating and setting may vary, but a meal at a Basque restaurant is guaranteed to be a pleasant experience.”

Charles Schaffer of Seattle has a wonderful online list of Basque restaurants.

Here are the selections for Nevada:

In the city of Elko

Biltoki 405 Silver St. (702) 738-9691 4:30-10 Th-Tu

Nevada Dinner House 351 Silver St. (702) 738-8485 5-10 Tu-Sn

Star Hotel 246 Silver St. (702) 738-9925 (702) 753-8696 11:30-2 M-F 5-9:30 M-Sa

Toki Ona 1550 Idaho St. (702) 738-3214 6a-9:30p M-Sn

In the city of Gardnerville (18 mi. S. of Carson City on U.S. 395)

Carson Valley Country Club 1029 Riverview Dr. (2 mi. S. of town on U.S. 395) (702) 265-3715 6-9 M & W-F 5:30-9 Sa 5-8 Sn

J & T 1426 S. Main St. (702) 782-2074 11:30-2 M-Sa 5:30-9 M-Sa

Overland Hotel 691 S. Main St. (U.S. 395) (702) 782-2138 12-2 Tu-Sn 4:45-9:30 Tu-Sn

In the city of Reno

Louis’ Basque Corner 301 E. 4th St. (702) 323-7203 11-2 Tu-Sa 5-9:30 M-Sn

Santa Fe Hotel 235 N. Lake St. (702) 323-1891 12:30-2 W-F 6-9 M-Sn

In the city of Winnemucca

Martin Hotel W. Railroad & Melarkey (702) 623-3197 11-2 M-F 5-9:30 M-Sn

Ormachea’s Dinner House 180 Melarkey (702) 623-3455 4:30-10 Tu-Sn

Restaurante San Fermin 485 W. Winnemucca Blvd. (702) 625-2555 5-10 Th-Tu

Winnemucca Hotel “Since 1863” 95 Bridge St. (702) 623-2908 12-1 M-Sa 6:15-9 M-Sa

Out of these listings, I have enjoyed fine meals at the following:

In Elko, the Nevada Dinner House and the Star (or Western Star Hotel). In Reno, the Santa Fe Hotel (walked right by last Saturday night, and sure wished I could have stopped in, but alas time did not allow…). In Winnemucca, the Martin Hotel and Ormachea’s Dinner House.

So what kind of a meal should you expect? Let me show you!

The Santa Fe Hotel has a great web page showing off the place, the menu and the food.

And more about the meals:

“Start the evening with our favorite Basque cocktail, the “picon” at the bar. The restaurant features traditional Basque fare, served in a comfortable atmosphere that encourages you to come as you are. A healthy appetite is recommended and large parties and children are always welcome. All meals are served family style and include soup, salad, beans, french fries, wine, coffee, and ice cream or hard cheese, plus your choice of an entree and side dish from several nightly selections. Entrees offered may include steak, lamb, pork, chicken and seafood dishes. Side dishes may feature sweetbreads, tongue stew, lamb stew, Santa Fe chicken, paella, oxtail stew, or many others. Also offered are traditional desserts such as Gateau Basque, bread pudding and flan.”

It’s one of the dining rooms at Reno’s Santa Fe Hotel!

I’ve been forced to watch my diet thanks to a medical condition, but I will gladly admit to enjoying as number of hearty Basque meals over the years. If you get the chance, I suggest you give one a try.

Some things you should know in advance. First, bring your appetite. This is big food. Second, most meals include a glass or more of red wine. Enjoy. Third, prices tend toward the moderate, but you get what you pay for. Fourth and finally, this is not the kind of meal to bring you vegetarian friends for. Meat will be consumed in good quality and quantity.

Only once did I pass on a Basque meal, and that was breakfast after two nights of good Nevada Basque dinners. Frankly, I didn’t think my digestive system was up to the challenge at that point. But, oh! I did enjoy those two meals… Here’s hoping you will, too!

Now for the silly finish. If you recall my last column, I mentioned that my wife was off to Hawaii for one night. As you read this, she is probably sitting aboard the plane enjoying he five-hour flight from San Francisco to Honolulu. One of the “perks” of the travel industry is an occasional “fam” or familiarization tour. She’s been twice to Reno to visit the various hotel/casinos both by train and by car. Other folks in her agency have visited Las Vegas, Monterey, Disneyland and Disneyworld among their destinations.

This year, she’s off to Oahu courtesy of one of the airline and hotel partners that she sells trips for. Silly as it may seem, they only scheduled one night, and her days are packed full. She’ll tour the first hotel, check in and have an early dinner before being set free for that one night in town. Bright and early the next morning, she’s off to another hotel before flying out in the afternoon, and arriving home at about midnight or so.

And people say we’re crazy for a quick trip to a Disney park! Sheesh…

Next week: A look at this year’s Private Car trip from Emeryville to Reno/Sparks and back for the Pixar and ex-Pixar crowd.

Roger wants to remind everyone to do his or her part and support the JHM site as best you can. And his web pages are located at

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