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Why For do the WDW monorails not make a stop at Wilderness Lodge?



First up, Brandon S. writes in to say:

Hi Jim,

I love listening to the Unofficial Guide’s Disney Dish podcasts with you and Len Testa. Even when you guys are touring the resorts and not just the Theme Parks its really cool to here all the stories about how things came to be. One question I always have when looking at a map of WDW or visiting the resort is why Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is NOT on the monorail loop since it is really very close to it? It seems like if it was on the monorail it would be even easier to get people into this ‘Deluxe’ Resort.

Thanks! And do you guys plan to keep doing new podcasts? I would love to hear your thoughts about the new Fantasy Land addition. Thanks!!

Brandon S.
Chicago, IL

Concept art for Disney World’s never-built Cypress Point Resort. Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Dear Brandon,

Even back in the 1970s, when the then-named Cypress Point project was one of four hotels that were supposed to be built as part of Walt Disney World’s Phase Two (FYI: The other three were the Asian, the Venetian and the Persian Resorts), the Imagineers never had any plans to have the monorail make a stop at this wilderness-themed hotel.

If anything, the very idea of having an ultra-sleek, modern transportation system making regular stops at Cypress Point’s front door kind of undermined the sort of story that WED was looking to tell with this particular hotel. Which was: You’re out at this remote spot in the woods. The whole point of booking a stay at Cypress Point was that you were looking to disconnect from the hectic, modern world and then reconnect with nature.

That kind of explains one of the initial design conceits of Cypress Point. That — in addition to the 550 rooms which would be available for rent within the central core complex of this wilderness-themed hotel — the Imagineers also planned on building 20 rustic cabins out along the shore of Bay Lake for those WDW visitors who really were looking to ” … get away from it all.”

Disney Legend Dick Nunis

Of course, by the mid-1970s, Walt Disney World officials were refocusing all their efforts on trying to find some way to deliver on the promise of EPCOT. So plans for Cypress Point — along with the Asian, Venetian and Persian Hotels — got tabled for a time. But as work on EPCOT Center was well underway in the Fall of 1981, Dick Nunis — the then-executive vice president of Disneyland and Walt Disney World —  realized that demand for on-property hotel rooms would radically increase once this futuristic theme park officially opened on October 1, 1982. So Dick had the Imagineers dig out some of their original hotel plans for the WDW Resort for review. And the project that Nunis then decided to revive was Cypress Point.

“Why Cypress Point?,” you ask,”And not the Venetian or the Persian? Or especially the Asian, whose prepped-and-ready construction site had been jutting out into Seven Seas Lagoon ever since the Resort had first opened back in October of 1971?” To be blunt, Nunis was looking for a hotel that could be built in the Magic Kingdom area that then would have the least day-to-day operational impact on that theme park during that hotel’s construction phase. And had the Imagineers opted to go ahead with construction of the Asian instead … Well, that would have meant disruptions of the Magic Kingdom’s monorail service as they built that hotel’s covered-and-connected Monorail station. And that really wasn’t what Dick was looking for. He wanted a hotel that could be built which would then have little or no impact of the Guest experience of the tens of thousands of people who were staying out in Kissimmee and driving up 192 to come spend the day at the Magic Kingdom & the soon-to-open EPCOT Center.

That was what was kind of unusual about Dick Nunis. While he was running Walt Disney World, he prided himself on being a good neighbor. Dick didn’t view the people and/or the companies who ran all of those off-property hotels, motels & restaurants as the enemy. Nunis figured that … Well, given that the Mouse made so much money off of the tourists who visited the Company’s Central Florida resort during the day, it really wasn’t necessary to chase after every single nickel which rolled off of Disney’s table. Which is why — when Dick talked about building new on-property hotels — he wasn’t all that enthusiastic about 1920 – 2112 room behemoths like Disney’s All-Star Sports or the Caribbean Beach Resort. Nunis was more of a “share-the-wealth” guy. Which is why he favored smaller, low capacity resorts like the 550 room Cypress Point project that was supposed to be built along the shore of Bay Lake.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Mind you, as the cost of building EPCOT Center ballooned from WED’s initial estimates of $400 million to $800 million (with the final price tag for this futuristic theme park winding up being just shy of $1.2 billion), Dick wound up having to put off the start of construction on Cypress Point. And then when EPCOT Center failed to meet its initial attendance projections during that theme park’s first full year of operations … Well, that then caused the price of shares in Walt Disney Productions stock to tank. Which then left the Company vulnerable to attack by greenmailers like Saul P. Steinberg & Ivan Boesky. And it was the resulting uncertainty about Walt Disney Productions’ financial future that resulted in a management change at the Mouse House in September 1984. With Ron Miller being forced out and Michael Eisner then being appointed as Disney’s new chief executive officer.

And Eisner? Well, he had a very different attitude than Dick Nunis’ when it came to Walt Disney World. Michael wasn’t interested in being a good neighbor to all of the hotel, motel & restaurant operators out along 192. His main goal was to maximize the profit potential of the Florida property. Which is why — during the 20+ years that Eisner was calling the shots at the Mouse House — there was almost continuous construction on those 43 square miles of land that the Company owned in Orange & Osceola County. As Michael turned Walt Disney World into this virtual walled city in his effort to make sure that not a single dollar was left on the table.

This is why the 550 room Cypress Point hotel that Dick Nunis initially wanted to build alongside Bay Lake eventually got turned into the 730 room Wilderness Lodge Resort. More to the point, once this WDW hotel opened in May of 1994 and proved to be a huge success with Disney World visitors, the Company immediately began looking for ways to expand the footprint of this super-popular resort. They were eventually able to add an additional 137 units to this property in November of 2000 by building a brand new DVC — the Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge — right next door to the main lodge building.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Getting back to your transportation-related question now, Brandon … It may interest you to know that — while Cypress Point / Wilderness Lodge was never intended to be connected to the Magic Kingdom Resorts monorail loop — the Imagineers did initially plan on this wilderness-themed resort having its own unique internal transportation system.

Take a look at the 1994 era site plan that the Urban Design Group (i.e. the architectural firm that Michael Eisner tapped in 1989 to create a National Parks-inspired hotel for this 100-acre site) came up with for the overall Wilderness Lodge / Fort Wilderness campground area. Do you see that proposed rail loop in the center of this image?

Well, if Peter H. Dominick — the lead architect on this project — had had his way, the Fort Wilderness Railroad (which provided somewhat reliable transportation for Guests staying at the Fort Wilderness campground between the years of 1973 & 1977) would have been resurrected in a far hardier form. And this time around, that steam train would have taken people who were staying at Wilderness Lodge over to Fort Wilderness Junction. Where they could have caught a performance of the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, had a meal or gone shopping in the new western-themed village that Dominick was looking to build next to Clementine Beach (i.e. that strip of sand to the right of River Country where Fort Wilderness visitors used to be able to swim. Until WDW officials began discouraging people from bathing in Bay Lake, that is).

Interesting enough, this adding-a-western-themed-village-at-Fort-Wilderness idea actually dates back to the early, early days of WDW’s campground. According to what Gary Goddard once told me in a 2008 interview, the Imagineers were already talking about seriously expanding this corner of the Resort as far back as 1974. And then …

EDITOR’S NOTE: I had reached this point in writing last week’s Why For column last Friday morning when the news began to break about the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Which kind of knocked me for a loop for a while there. Given that — over the past three years — I’ve made three separate trips to Newtown, CT. And all of them for Disney-related reasons.

To explain: My significant other — Nancy Stadler — is a huge ABC soaps fan. And when Disney’s Hollywood Studios cancelled its annual Super Soap Weekend in 2009, Nancy took that kind of hard. Which is why we then began casting around for some sort of replacement event.

And as it turns out, in 2010, Treehouse Comedy Productions began staging ABC Soap-related events at Edmond Town Hall. Which is this 80 year-old theater located right in the heart of a picturesque small town in southwestern Connecticut. Which is why on two separate occasions (September 10, 2010 and June 24, 2011 to be exact) we made the 3 1/2 hour drive down from New Boston, NH to Newtown, CT. Just so Nancy & friends could then see Port Chuck (which is this band made up of four actors from “General Hospital“) & Maurice Bernard (who plays Sonny Corinthos on that same ABC soap).

And since I’m really not all that much of a soap opera fan, while Nancy & Co. were inside Edmond Town Hall enjoying performances by Port Chuck & Mr. Bernard, I killed time by exploring Newtown. Which is very much like New Boston. Right down to the old-fashioned general store in the center of town which has this really great deli hidden in the back. I got a terrific turkey wrap at the Newtown General Store right before that store closed at 5 p.m. Which — I know — might seen kind of a pretty early time for a general store to close. But that’s the way things are in small New England towns. Once people are settled into their houses, safe & snug for the night, you’re really not going to do all that much more business. So what’s the point of staying open longer than you have to?

Newtown General Store decorated for the holidays

Anyway … I really enjoyed what I saw of Newtown, CT during my two visits there. It seemed like this very tight little community. By that I mean: When I was parked in the lot directly below Edmond Town Hall, I had this clear view of the volunteer fire department. And when a call came in that damp June night, I watched as all sorts of locals came tearing into the parking lot with their cars & SUVs. They quickly pulled on their fire gear and then fearlessly climbed up on that truck, willing to do whatever they had ro in order to help their neighbors.

Of course, it’s one thing to help a single family deal with the aftermath of a house fire. It’s quite another to help 20 different families deal with the sudden, brutal loss of a child.

Anywho … My most recent trip to Newtown wasn’t even a planned thing. Earlier this Spring, Nancy and I were driving through Connecticut on our way back home from Georgia. We had been down in Carnesville, GA dealing with her Dad’s estate and had just a few hours of driving to go before when we’d make it back home to New Boston. And as the two of us were driving up 84, I suddenly realized that I had a phone interview scheduled with Elijah Wood (who voices the character of Beck on Disney XD‘s “TRON Uprising“) which was supposed to begin shortly.

So I took the very next exit off of 84. And where did we wind up totally by chance? Newtown, CT. Again. And I sat in the parking lot of the Blue Colony Diner talking with Mr. Wood (who’s a very nice guy, by the way), I couldn’t help but think how happy I was to be back in this place once more. I mean — while so much of Connecticut now feels like an extended bedroom community for all of the bigger cities in that state like Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven — Newtown really has an identity that’s all its own. It looks like this really great place to live. A place where you can sit out in front of the General Store and have total strangers say “Hello” to you as they walk by on Main Street.

“Why exactly are you telling me this, Jim?,” you ask. “I don’t want to hear about Main Street in Newtown, CT. I want to hear about Main Street, U.S.A. at one of the Disney theme parks.” The reason that I’m sharing these stories with JHM readers is — just like you — I’ve been watching all of the coverage coming out of Newtown, CT this past weekend. Where people like Geraldo Rivera stand in front of this small town’s high school football field and then attempt to be profound. Talking about what this senseless, brutal tragedy says about America. Who we are as a nation. Who we are as a people.

And I just want to remind you that — if you can just look past all of those satellite trucks and those slickly produced news segments with their solemn musical underscores — Newtown, CT is a real place with real people who are still reeling. All because some animal with an automatic weapon shot his way into an elementary school last Friday morning and then — for whatever reason — decided to turn a group of heroic teachers and their terrified students into targets.

As a parent and coming from a family of educators as I do (My mother was a teacher. My father was a principal. My brother & my sister are principals today. My sister-in-law is also an educator), that something like this could happen to little kids & their teachers in the one place that they were all supposed to be safe just sickens me. Then factor in that this shooting happened in Newtown, CT. Which really is the sort of place that Norman Rockwell used to make his paintings about … just escalates this tragedy to unimaginable heights.

But since this is America that we’re talking about here … By this time next week, once the first wave of the memorial services are over, there’ll be some other tragedy that’ll comes along which will then immediately grab our attention. And Geraldo & all those satellite trucks will pull up stakes and move on to that story. Finally leaving the residents of this small southwestern Connecticut town alone to mourn their own in their own way.

Last night outside of St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown, CT. Copyright American
Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved

But before that happened … I just wanted to talk about the real Newtown, CT. Which is more than just that high school football field or those candlelight vigils in front of St. Rose of Lima Church that you keep seeing over & over & over again on television. I’m just hoping that — after all of the tears & the anger & the mourning — that the good people who actually live in this quiet corner of Fairfield County find a way to heal. That these folks can somehow find their way to being the sort of community where you immediately begin chatting up a complete stranger when they sit themselves down at the counter of the Blue Colony Diner. Or just automatically say “Hello” to someone who’s seated out in front of the Newtown General Store because it’s the polite thing to do.

Here’s hoping that things someday get back to normal in this small New England town. Though — right now — I don’t see how that could ever be possible.

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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