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You’re going to do WHAT!? Starting down the Road to the WDW Marathon

There’s definitely “some walking involved” in writer Paul Schnebelen’s latest story for So let’s let Paul bring you up to speed about all the preparations that he’s made for the 2005 WDW Marathon.



I think it started the first time I saw The Medallion. My fiancee and I were on vacation at Walt Disney World last January. And — as we walked back to our room — I saw an average looking couple both wearing what looked like a really cool pin lanyard. I’d just gotten into pin trading, so I had to go up to have a closer look. It turned out that they weren’t wearing lanyards, but ribbons with a large medallion in the shape of the head of a certain famous Mouse.

We started talking. And I learned that they got the medals they were wearing for finishing the Walt Disney World Marathon, which they had run earlier that day. They told me about how fun it had been, and how they planned on doing it again next year.

The thing that struck me was that these folks didn’t look like the kind of people I would have thought of as marathon runners. The couple was older and in average physical shape — not young and impossibly thin, like I was sure all marathoners had to be. Yet they’d run a marathon, and the proof was hanging around their necks.

My fiancee thanked them for putting up with my stares and my annoying questions, and I remember thinking to myself that it’d be really neat be to run a marathon. Yep, I’d definitely have to do that … someday. Hey, honey, a piece of chocolate cake sounds good. Let’s go to the food court!

Skip ahead a couple of months. I was taking a break at work catching up on the latest Disney dish on the Internet when I saw a link to a page on the Walt Disney World website. Registration was now open for the 2004 WDW Marathon, the website said. But I’d have to hurry , because there were only a limited number of slots.

I mentioned seeing the website to a friend of mine who had just finished running the Los Angeles Marathon. She said it sounded like a lot of fun, and that I should sign up. It was tempting, but I couldn’t see myself running a marathon… Or could I?

I talked about it later that day with my beloved fiancée. Telling her how much fun running a marathon sounded and how I would like to do it, but that I was sure that I could never run a marathon because… Well, for a whole laundry list of reasons. After listening to me come up with every excuse for not running a marathon except the moon being out of alignment with Mars, my fiancee said something to me that started me down a road I never really expected to be on. “Look, you’re interested in doing it,” she said. “You should either sign up for it or you should stop taking about it.” (Looking back, I think she was probably hoping that I’d chicken out and be quiet. Funny how these things work out, isn’t it?)

I had an epiphany. As usual, my fiancee was right. I could spend the rest of my life making excuses. Or I could put the excuses aside and give it a try. I might fail or I might even succeed, but either way I wouldn’t spend the rest of my life wondering. It was at that moment I decided I was done making excuses. I registered for the Walt Disney World Marathon a few hours later.

Why WDW?
At this point, I imagine some of you are asking yourselves: Why the Walt Disney World Marathon? What is it about this event that would compel a (supposedly) sane person who had never gone farther than five miles at a stretch without the aid of wheels to sign up to run 26.2 miles?

Well, first off, it’s held at Walt Disney World. Specifically, on a course that takes you all over the property, including all four theme parks. Some of you out there have probably traveled around WDW on your vacation and wondered to yourself what it’d be like to go around the Disney property on your own and have a good look around. Well, participants in the Walt Disney World Marathon get to do just that.

How could a certified Disney geek pass up on the opportunity to literally walk around the World?

The Walt Disney World Marathon has a reputation that makes it less intimidating than other such events. The WDW Marathon has a reputation as a “fun” event. Most people don’t run in the WDW Marathon to set a world record or with the goal of beating the running shorts off as many of their fellow competitors as possible. But because they get to run in a fun and exciting place with very supportive and enthusiastic people (and more than a few Disney characters) cheering them on all the way. The course is relatively flat, except for a few roadway bridges, and is held in nice weather (in January, during central Florida’s not-so-humid season).

The main thing you have to worry about if you want to complete the marathon is, well, you. Finally, everyone who finishes the WDW Marathon gets the previously mentioned Mickey medallion – not just the top finishers or even just the top finishers in each category, which is the case at some events. Add all that up and you have a lot of incentives for the first-time marathoner to give the WDW Marathon a try.

I’m Registered — Now What?
It wasn’t long after I registered that some slight doubts began to creep into my mind. Well, let’s be honest — they weren’t slight at all. HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND?, I thought to myself. YOU’RE NOT A MARATHONER! YOU DON’T EVEN LIKE TO RUN!!!

Now, I had to admit the doubter in my mind had a point here. If the couple with the medallions didn’t fit my image of people who ran the marathon, I certainly didn’t. I’m 34, overweight (but losing it gradually), and although I do more than reach for the remote and a bag of Doritos as exercise, I wasn’t in anything close to peak physical condition. And I don’t much like to run — I prefer to walk, although I can and I do walk pretty fast when I exercise.

I decided that I was going to walk the marathon, since I enjoyed walking more than running anyway. But that still left a burning question – how in the heck was I going to walk 26.2 miles? The two things I knew I had in my favor were time to prepare and a strong desire to participate, but I was surely going to need more than that. I decided that if I was serious about this, I’d better learn about how to prepare for a marathon.

There are a lot of books on running the marathon and running in general at a typical chain bookstore. Most of the books on the marathon lean toward runners who have run for quite some time and are looking to improve their performance. These books weren’t going to do me much good — my idea of the best performance that I could achieve in the marathon was finishing and/or not dying in the process.

Fortunately, this is when I became acquainted with the books of John Bingham. For those of you that haven’t heard of him, John was an overweight couch potato who had long forgotten the joy of running until at 43, he decided to start running again. When he saw himself running one day, he decided he looked round, small, and slow, and didn’t so much run as waddle. In other words, like a penguin. But he kept going, and eventually, after a few misadventures and a lot of running mixed with equal parts determination and courage, John “The Penguin” Bingham ran and completed several marathons and numerous road races.

John’s a great believer in the idea that anyone can learn to enjoy running as something that enhances your life. And anyone can become a long-distance athlete if they have the courage, tenacity, willpower, and the knowledge to succeed. I read John’s story in his book “The Courage to Start” and I saw myself in his running shoes. After reading his story, I knew that my dream wasn’t an impossible one. Armed with this book and another book he wrote with Jenny Hadfield called “Marathoning for Mortals,” a training guide for the average person who wants to become a long-distance athlete, I felt that I had the knowledge I would need to prepare for the WDW Marathon.

Let’s Go Shopping!
Now that I felt I had what I needed to prepare mentally for the Marathon, now I had to get a few things to become physically prepared. If (like me) your experience with walking and running has been minimal, you’d think that you wouldn’t need much in the way of clothing and gear to take up running and walking. Just throw on an old T-shirt and a pair of sweatpants and you’re all set, right? Well, not exactly.

First off, unless you want to get hurt, you’re not going to walk or run a marathon in that ratty old pair of sneakers you have in the closet. You need to find a running shoe that will help you run more efficiently and will prevent injuries. That means looking at a lot of shoes, hopefully with the help of someone that knows about running and running shoes, until you find the pair you need. And — trust me — when you find them, they aren’t gonna be cheap.

In my case, they cost about $90. Easily the most I ever paid for a pair of sneakers. After I had the shoes, I noticed that the shorts I walked in were getting way too baggy. I decided I needed shorts that had a good fit and that were made of material that was cooler and easier to move in. I found 2 great pairs of running shorts – for $15-20 each.

Once you start going any distance at a good pace, you start noticing that it doesn’t take long for you become drenched in sweat. The reason for that is cotton, which most t-shirts are made out of, absorbs moisture. Shirts and shorts drenched in sweat get really uncomfortable after 4 miles. So there’s no way you’ll be comfortable walking or running in them for 26.

Fortunately, there are shirts and socks made of material that material that breathes better than cotton and doesn’t suck up sweat like a sponge. Unfortunately — say it with me now, folks — they don’t come cheap. Add $25 for a shirt and $4-$8 for each pair of socks.

Now you ‘re dressed like a runner, which is good until you realize that most running clothes don’t have much storage space. There’s a pocket in most running shorts that’s just about big enough to carry a little spare change or one key. And that isn’t going to work after you step out the door, never mind for a long walk or run.

The solution for this problem is a runner’s pack — back to the sporting goods store, everybody, and have $15 -$20 in your pocket! Then there are other things that, as you continue and you get more serious about running or walking you think would be nice to have. Like heart monitors, pedometers, speed distance monitors… Okay, so maybe running and walking isn’t all that inexpensive a sport after all. At least I’m not spending as much as the average person who takes up golf!

How To Injure Yourself In One Easy Lesson
Having the knowledge, a plan, and the gear to become a marathoner was all very well and good. But all the stuff in the world wasn’t going to get me any closer to the starting line of the WDW Marathon if I didn’t get my feet involved at some point.

Fortunately, I wasn’t going into this cold. As part of my efforts to lose weight, I’d been walking for almost a year and a half, and by the time I registered for the WDW Marathon, I was walking 4 1/2 miles a day, 5 days a week on a treadmill. I figured that was be a good start. But marathons aren’t held on treadmills. I needed to get out on the pavement as soon as possible and start to do walk and jog. So I knew I could walk fast enough and be in good enough shape to cross the finish line.

On a beautiful Saturday morning, I decided to go for a long walk /run (more than an hour) at the beach. Even though all I had done until then was walk on a treadmill, and I’d never gone for more than an hour. In deciding to do this, I ignored two very important facts:

1. Walking and running on roads is much more punishing to your body than running on a treadmill.

2. Wherever you’re walking and running, it’s never a good idea to force your body to do a lot more than it’s used to doing.

I walked and ran for more than an hour and felt great – for about fifteen minutes. Then I noticed my knees getting sore. Really sore. No problem, I thought; an ice pack and some ibuprofen, and tomorrow I’ll be good as new.

Except that the next day, I wasn’t good as new. My knees were even more sore. Still not a problem, I thought. I’ll rest for a couple of days like the book says to, and then I’ll be good as new.

Six days later, I was walking around slower and more cautiously than the senior citizens I work with at the office. And my knees were as sore as they had been at the start. I finally went to see the doctor, and he said that I’d hurt the cartilage between my knees and lower legs.

Thanks to my ignorance and my over-eagerness, I was unable to exercise for three weeks, and I was taking pain medication that made me positively loopy for several hours a day. It frustrated me to watch the days until the Marathon ticking away knowing that I’d lost precious time that I could have spent preparing. (I never thought I’d see the day that I’d be upset that I couldn’t exercise!)

The Road to WDW Detours Through LA
John Lennon sang that “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” So it was with me. I’d been keeping up my walking schedule and regularly reviewing my training books when I got a bit of bad news from my fiancee. Thanks to some issues with her family that had called her away to Oregon and some financial problems that had suddenly come up, there was no way she would be able to come with me to Florida in January.

I couldn’t see going to WDW and not having the person I love more than anyone in the world and my source of inspiration for trying this whole crazy thing there to share it with me. So — after some soul searching — I cancelled my registration for the 2004 Walt Disney World Marathon.

But I wasn’t about to give up my dream of doing a marathon, or of eventually running around the World. I decided that I’d just have to find a race that was closer, so my fiancee could be there when I crossed the finish line.

After (hopefully) completing this first marathon, I could start preparing for the 2005 WDW Marathon — which I would now be automatically registered for by canceling my 2004 race registration far enough in advance. But what race would I run?

Fortunately, my marathon-running friend at work came through for me. “Hey, Paul,” she said one day, “I’m part of a group in town that has a training program for the Los Angeles Marathon, and they’ll be starting up soon. Why don’t you join me?” Next thing I knew, I was signed up with a group called the Ventura Roadrunners, and I was registered to participate in the LA Marathon.

Granted, this change of plans was going to mean that it’d take me a little while longer to get my Mickey medallion. But overall, it made sense. I’d have a group of people to train with and to support me and I’d be in a race that was close to home. And the change of venues for my first marathon would be an advantage in another respect.

You see, the Walt Disney World marathon requires you to complete the course at no slower a pace 16 minutes per mile, so you finish in 7 hours or less. If it doesn’t look like you’re going to make it, you’re taken off the course. And if you don’t finish, no Mickey medallion.

I was getting more and more nervous about this possibility, since at my walking pace at that time, I had little girls on tricycles passing me. The LA Marathon doesn’t have a time cutoff — you finish when you finish — so it’s probably a better race for a rookie marathoner like me anyway. (A minor gripe here: Why does a race where people mainly run for the fun of it like the WDW Marathon have a strict time cutoff anyway? Are they afraid there’ll still be someone running through Epcot at midnight on race day? But I digress.)

Every Day Is a Winding Road
So, that brings me to here and now. I’m in my third week of training with the Ventura Roadrunners (maybe I should call myself a RoadWALKER). I’ve got 25 more weeks of training until I get to the starting line of the Los Angeles Marathon, and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that I make it there and make it to the finish line as well.

No matter what happens at Los Angeles, I’m going to keep training and keep trying, and in January 2005, I’m going to be at the starting line of the Walt Disney World Marathon, and I’m determined that the end of that day, I’ll have a Mickey medallion and a big smile on my face because I’ll have done something that I once thought I’d never be able to do.

Over the next 15 months, I’ll be telling you about my experiences, and in January 2005, I’ll tell you about what it’s like to participate in the Walt Disney World Marathon.

Join me on my journey, won’t you? I have to warn you, though. There will be some walking involved.

Paul Schnebelen

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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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