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What was it like to be at Disneyland and/or Walt Disney World five years ago today?

On the fifth anniversary of 9/11, JHM readers share their stories about what it was like to be vacationing at and/or working in Anaheim & Orlando as this tragedy unfolded



You know, when people usually talk about what happened on 9/11, the focus (for obvious reasons) is on New York City, Washington D.C. and that field just outside of Shanksville, PA.

But — that said — it's also important to remember what happened immediately after those four planes crashed. That sudden surge of panic that swept across the country. All because people in the U.S. had no idea what was going to happen next.

In several of the books that have since been written about 9/11, it's noted that the Walt Disney Company quickly closed its stateside theme parks that day. Reportedly out of concern that the Disneyland and Walt Disney World resorts might also be on the terrorists' target list.

The Mouse (for very obvious reasons) has never officially commented on what actually happened in Anaheim & Orlando on 9/11. But earlier this year, I asked JHM readers to share their stories about what it was like to be at the parks on that day. And quite a few folks came forward with some pretty amazing tales of that time.

WDWCASTMEMBER remembers the day starting out something like this:

I (was) getting trained on 2 major attractions (at the Magic Kingdom) when my manager told both me and my trainer what had just happened in NY. We quickly went to the nearest Cast Member Break Room and I managed to see the second plane hitting the tower "live." The room was packed with all sorts of managers and I remember very vividly the (very surprised) reaction on their faces when the ABC reporter said:

"This just in: (The Walt Disney Company) has just announced that (it) will be closing (its) theme parks worldwide."

And literally less than a minute after the reporter said that, their beepers started going off like crazy and they walked out of the break room.

About 5 – 10 minutes after that incident, they notified cast members of what we were going to do.

First we shut down all the attractions and restaurants and merchandise shops to get the guests out in the street. We were strictly forbidden from telling them what was the real reason why we decided to close the park. Which caused some confusion; and maybe even some irate guests at times. But it avoided (quite effectively) the cause for panic from our guests. They even gave us a simple spiel to tell them in case they had questions.

Michael, a Frontierland cast member who was in the park that morning, confirms this part of WDWCASTMEMBER'S story:

We were told not to tell the guests what had happened unless they asked us. I remember one guest asking me and — after I told them — they just stood there blank faced and didn't move for a bit.

(By the way), the announcement that was made (in the theme parks that morning) … did NOT mention anything about what had happened or why the parks were closing. It simply stated that " … Due to circumstances beyond our control, the Magic Kingdom is now closed. Please follow the direction of the nearest Cast Member."

Continuing with WDWCASTMEMBER's account of that morning:

Once the guests were forced to the streets of the park because all the rides were closed, all the cast members were instructed to hold hands and basically form a human wall and gently (without touching any one) walk towards the hub of the park and eventually towards Main Street. That way we could basically force the guests out of the park. Disney Security obviously followed each human wall and made sure no one got past it.

That "human wall procedure" was done at all 4 parks, by the way. And guests were given complimentary tickets at the turnstiles as they left the park.

Mind you, Kelly had a somewhat different take on what happened at the Magic Kingdom that morning. But — then again — she wasn't a cast member. But just a typical tourist trying to enjoy a day at that theme park with her family.

On 9/11, I was eating breakfast at Tony's with my family (and 6 months pregnant to boot). We were sitting in the front where all of the windows were, and I noticed many CMs in business attire with headsets walking throughout the park. It was the last full day of our (WDW) vacation. We had originally planned to fly (out) that day, but I (had) talked my husband into (staying) another day.

Our waiter was a young man from the midwest, and his accent was thick (At least to this New Yawker). All of the staff were talking and he came over to us and said what I thought was "The trade centers IN Washington were hit with planes." We were confused, finished our meal and went to take our daughter on Dumbo and the Carousel. I tried to call my Dad back home, since he always has FOX news on. And when (my cell) kept saying "All circuits were busy," I knew something was up.

My Aunt works at MGM as Security. So I knew that WDW was considered a prime terrorist target. So I said to my husband, Matt: "We need to get out of the Magic Kingdom. This could be hit next."

We tried to get over to MGM to my aunt (I figured she would know the whole story). But on the bus ride over, just as we got to MGM, the bus driver told us about the Towers, Washington and the possiblity of PA. She explained (that we) were going back to the TTC and (that we should all) take the appropriate route to our hotels/cars and evacuate. I have never heard a WDW bus so quiet. I was close to tears.

Neal G. — who was over at Disney's Animal Kingdom that morning — now shares his experience:

My wife and I were at WDW on September 11, 2001.

We were actually having breakfast at the Rainforest Cafe at the Animal Kingdom when the planes crashed, but had no idea anything happened. After breakfast we went into the park and after about 2 1/2 hours decided to leave (it's about 11:30 a.m. now). Until I read your article today I never knew that an announcement had been made. We never heard it.

It didn't seem like an unusual amount of people were leaving (Animal Kingdom). But at the next stop, Blizzard Beach we noticed hundreds of people leaving. I asked someone that got on the bus what was going on, and he informed us about what had happened in New York. We were in absolute shock. We went back to the Yacht Club where we were staying and just watched TV in disbelief.

At one point a gunship flew overhead so closely that my wife could clearly see someone manning one of the machine guns (It looked like the plane flew in from MGM Studios and then went right out over EPCOT).

The resorts tried to do everything they could that night. They kept the pools open until midnight and they had characters roaming all around the Boardwalk area. The cast members were doing the best they could to help and try to keep (a) calm atmosphere. People were walking around not really knowing what to do. I commented to my wife that [here] we were at one [of] the happiest places on earth, yet it was a strange, sad and terrible feeling.

The next day (Wednesday) we went to National Car Rental desk at the WDW Dolphin to try and rent a car since we had flown out of Logan (Yes, we are from the Boston area. And boy did we get looks from people when we told them, and comments like "Oh, you are from Boston") and knew the likelihood of our Saturday flight getting out was remote. National was a mob scene, and they could not get us a car until Friday.

We then went to the Magic Kingdom, where security tables had been set up overnight. It was at these tables that they had set up to check bags before you entered any of the Parks where it finally really hit you. Especially since they were not there the day before.

The next 2 days were tough to get through, even being at the parks. It was such a subdued, almost surreal atmosphere.

Mind you, Ian G. (Who was over visiting Epcot with his brother that morning) had a somewhat different take on what happened on 9/11:

I was actually in EPCOT on 9/11. To be more specific, I was on Spaceship Earth – the ride devoted to the rapid change in communication and how we can instantly connect with each other. Well, it's true, I guess!

As we exited the ride (It must have been around 11, but I forget) a mass of people were calmly all going in the direction of the exit. We didn't think anything of it until we saw the tip board in Future World and saw that all the rides were closed. I figured for that to happen there either needed to be a power outage, a hurricane or a bomb. A cast member casually walked up to us and honestly told us that "2 planes had crashed into a building in New York and the Pentagon."

And that was it. We just left the park. It was such a strange thing to think about. Surely (that cast member who talked with us) was exaggerating!

Exiting the park was calm and orderly. People still seemed to be in a good mood. No one was crying or panicking or anything like that. If anything, I think everyone was anxious to go back to their rooms and turn on the news.

On the monorail back to the Poly, people (including me) were talking, nearly joking actually, about (how) the president (must have been) killed. We figured (that was what it) must have been. Otherwise why the fuss? There was no way anyone could have imagined what was really occuring.

At one point on the ride back to our hotel, I actually blurted out that "I bet there's like a huge hole in the building with smoke coming out…whoa!" And people literally chuckled because it was just so unfathomable that it could really be that way.

I gotta say that WDW handled it really well. It was so calm there that it was hard to assume the worst had happened. It wasn't until we were back at the Poly & turned on the news that the sense of panic and fear really hit.

WDW was by far the best place to be that day, the cast members were great.

That's a WDW vacation I'll never forget.

Mind you, in spite of the three hour time difference, things were just as surreal out at the Disneyland Resort. Whether you experienced that day from outside of the theme parks …

(On the morning of 9/11, both Disneyland & Disney's California Adventure were) already closed when I drove out to the Anaheim Convention Center for a computer conference ([Which was] also postponed). There were a couple of cast members at the gates to answer questions. But most people responded to being told that (the theme parks were closed for the day) with "Oh, sure."

Or on the inside of a Disney hotel …

I was staying at the Grand Californian the night of Sept. 10, 2001, and I can tell you the message the hotel sent to our voicemail the next morning *did* say the parks would be closed "due to the events that occurred in New York and Washington, DC this morning." I'd overslept (probably because Downtown Disney, which was just outside my window, was unusually quiet), and the voicemail had me frantic, wondering what had happened. I called the front desk and was told "They're bombing New York and Washington DC!" The hotel offered discounted rates to departing guests stranded in Southern California, but those of us who could pack up headed for home. At the time it seemed that the Disney theme parks might be the next target, since they have such a high profile. As I was checking out, I had the daylights scared out of me by a costumed Rafiki character who came up behind me and patted my shoulder — probably not the cuddliest character to have roaming the halls during a tense morning!

Or backstage at the park …

(Back in the Fall of 2001), I … (had) … a Backstage role (at Disneyland). I was fortunate enough to live close enough to the Resort to ride my bicycle to work each day (there are showers and locker rooms in the building I worked in).

Believe it or not, I rode my bicycle through the gate right before the first plane hit (I had no idea what was happening at the time). I showered and dressed for what I thought would be a normal day. When I got to my office, I went through the break room and found EVERYONE in the building watching the TV. Again, not knowing what was going on, I asked why people were not working. Someone in the room told me what had happened. I too, sat and watched the TV.

Soon after that, we received word that the Parks would not be opened at all that day and that we all would need to start calling Cast Members who were not already at work to stay home.

Several members of my staff were taken to the scheduling area to begin calling several hundred Cast Members. In the middle of that, the decision was made that we needed to do something for the Guests who were staying in on-site hotels (preferably Characters). Some folks were called back (I.E. Performers, technicians, drivers, etc.) to come in after all.

All was going OK (People were getting their jobs done; no one was freaking out), until about 8:50 a.m. At that point, an emergency call went out over the Park radios to evacuate every building in both Parks.

You see, there was a report that came in that airplanes were headed for the Resort at 9:00 a.m. too. I vividly remember RUNNING through the building with my boss searching every room, opening every door, and yelling to get OUT of the building NOW (Park Security was tied up in other locations and many officers were not yet at work).

At 8:59, my boss and I ran out of the building, satisfied that we were the last to leave. We joined the others in the pre-designated evacuation area to wait. And wait. And wait …

I thought the clock was standing still …

9:05 …

9:10 …

9:15 …

Someone thought they heard a jet, but no one could see one …

9:30 …

Still waiting for the all-clear …

At about 9:45 we were finally let back into the building to keep making calls.

Shortly after that, all of the management folks were called into a meeting at Lincoln Theatre to be briefed on what was going on.

My boss and I along with another manager went to the meeting. At that meeting, we were giving information verifying that the Parks would remain closed for the day. Everyone was briefed about Characters and Guests at the hotels. We were given additional security information that I should really not go into.

The meeting was very emotional. It may have been the first time for many of those people to realize that this was serious. This was not a drill or a test.

After the meeting, we joined other Cast Members at the Inn Between (I.E. he Cast Cafeteria behind Main Street U.S.A.) for lunch. Other managers were actually doing the cooking and serving. Mickey paid for lunch.

I remember walking back to my office down Main Street U.S.A. It was the middle of the day. Main Street was completely empty. The BGM (I.E. Background music) had been turned off. It was by far the strangest sight I remember seeing.

One more thing I remember: When I got back to my office, I had no sooner sat down than we got another emergency call to come to the warehouse immediately. At the same time, the fire alarm started to go off. It seems that a forklift driver — trying to get a pallet of something that was needed — hit and sheared off a fire sprinkler. The warehouse was flooded. The fire department was able to get the water off, and we spent the next couple of hours cleaning up.

At the end of that, my boss sent us home to be with our families. I climbed on my bike and rode out the gate for the last time (Personal vehicles were no longer allowed Backstage after that).

As to what it was like to work at the Disney theme parks immediately after 9/11, I'll let an old Jungle Cruise captain have the final word:

I was there at the MK on Sept 11, 2001. I was a CP working as a Jungle Cruise Skipper, and had gone into the park early with friends to "play" before our afternoon shifts. Imagine our disbelief and horror as we watched this all unfold with a handful of other CMs on the small TV in the Main Street breakroom. The rest of the day was a bit of a blur. A very painful day, but the folks in costume were able to pull it together and go assist the evac with those trademark Disney smiles.

The next morning I returned to work, we discovered a major problem. Our fun-loving, wise-cracking spiel usually included the downed airplane just before the hippos. The usual line goes: "It's plane to see how I landed this job. I took a crash course!"

Obviously, any airplane crash jokes were now completely inappropriate. Some skippers tried to distract their crews (in this area of the attraction) with other jokes. Others — such as myself — had a brief moment of silence. Suffice to say, none of us will ever view that show scene the same way again.

In the days that followed, during and after all commercial airline had been grounded, an occassional jet would streak across the sky over the Magic Kingdom. Everything, everyone would stop and watch that airplane silhouette (as they held their) breath.

The hardest part of it all was staying so darn happy. Everyone – CMs and Guests- felt dead inside. Yet it was the CMs who had to work 8+ hour shifts "making the magic" to distract everyone from the heavy shadow of the 9/11 attacks. And then the cut-hours and layoffs that followed… You could not imagine a quieter, more depressed breakroom.

It's not a happy memory, but you were looking for a first hand account. I honestly can't recall a PA announcement (in the theme park on 9/11). I was not in costume yet. So I was probably gone by that point to be home with my fellow CPs who were all from NY and NJ.

And since that time … Well, the Walt Disney Company has obviously ramped up security at its theme park & resorts. Both with those bag-check-stations outside the theme parks as well as notices like this one …

… Which are printed each week in cast-member-only hand-outs.

It's kind of hard to believe how much the world (Not just Disney World) has changed in the past five years, don't you think?

Portions of today's story were originally posted on JHM as part of two features that ran on March 8th & 10th of this year. Again, I want to offer my thanks to all those readers who came forward to share their memories about what it was like to be on property back on 9/11.

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.

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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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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