Samland: The Mickey and Friends Parking Structure Story

Written by Sam Gennawey. Posted in Disneyland Resort, Features, Samland

Tagged: , ,

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Published on April 11, 2014 at 12:01 am with 26 Comments

Sam has something new for us today that he learned when researching The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide. He’s headed off to Central California this weekend to make two very special appearances.

Today I will be talking about a really sexy topic, parking structures. Specifically, the Mickey and Friends structure at the Disneyland Resort. On my most recent visit, I was lead to Daisy 6K or something like that. It was on the other side of the ramp but just far enough in that I had to still drive all the way around to exit. Let’s just say I was halfway between Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. Disneylanders know what I am talking about.

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Another reason I wanted to revisit the parking structure is due to a comment from the wonderful Margaret Kerry. Kerry was one of the live reference models for Tinkerbell and one of the sweetest women in the world. She asked me recently why the Mickey and Friends handicap parking is really far away from the tram stop.

Was it always this way I wondered? Well of course not. Then how did we get here?

You knew I was going to quote from The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide:

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“Walt knew that first impressions mattered, and one of the greatest sensitivity points in the entire Disneyland experience was the parking lot. The parking lot was the outer lobby. As guests drove into the parking lot, they would be guided to one of the 12,175 empty parking stalls by uniformed parking attendants acting more like ushers.

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A short walk from their car, the guests would board one of several tractor-drawn rubber-tired trams with convenient side seating. The tram would deliver the guests to one of the many ticket booths. The abundance of ticket booths meant that guests did not have to wait long to purchase their general admission tickets.”

This policy lasted for quite awhile. For the first few years, Walt used outside vendors but it was not long before he took over to have complete control. For those old enough to remember (or ask your parents) rarely did people complain about parking. You just drove up and got to go on your first ride pretty quickly. And you did not even need a ticket. The parking lot was a point of pride for Walt and those who worked there held a special camaraderie. For most of Disneyland’s history any expansion was targeted for other areas then the parking lot.

“[Sam] McKim said. “We were following Walt’s philosophy about this. He didn’t even want them to raise the price of parking, which stayed at 25 cents for years. He didn’t mind making money off the Park, but he didn’t want to make money off the parking. He wanted to give the public a good deal.”

Today, adjusted for inflation, parking would be just $2.19 if they kept to the Walt pricing model. Needless to say, the parking rates have outpaced inflation. And remember, we now have covered parking. That is worth something. Right?

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When Disney was considering Westcot in the early 1990s, part of the plan was to build a massive parking structure and for that structure to act as a berm separating the park from the surrounding residential neighborhood. Inside, attention was paid to design a structure where the guests have a relatively short walk toward a moving sidewalk that would lead to a fixed rail system that brought guests into the heart of the resort. This may sound good today but for the nearby residents this meant they would be looking up at a big huge landscaped hill.

“Disney was listening to the Anaheim community and started to make concessions. A condominium adjacent to the property hired an attorney, and the homeowners got Disney to change elements of the proposed 16,700-car parking structure at the corner of Walnut Street and Ball Road. The massing of the structure was redesigned with setbacks to lessen the visual blight, and a 42-inch sound wall was proposed to lessen noise impacts. A frustrated [Disney executive] Kerry Hunnewell complained, “That’s, what, our fourth redesign of that garage?”

The solution. Turn the building 90 degrees so that the short end faced the neighborhood. They spilt the structure into two parts to reduce the cost of construction and placed the vehicle exit ramps in the middle. A rubber tire tram terminal was built adjacent to one of the garages. Those parked on the other side had three crossover points. There was no room for a moving sidewalk.

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“Another change at Disneyland in 2000 was parking. Starting on July 24, guests arriving in their own cars were now directed to park in the seven-story, 10,250-car Mickey and Friends Parking structure at the northeast corner of Disney’s property. The structure cost $90 million; it was financed by Anaheim hotel taxes and had been built by the city. Disney leased back the garage and pocketed any revenues. Parking in the structure was handled differently than in the typical parking structure; the new approach was based on the concept of speed parking. Michael Eisner was quite excited about speed parking; and in a Los Angeles Times interview, he even claimed credit for it. Guests paid a fee and then drove to the top of the ramp, where cast members guided them to specific parking spaces. All spaces faced the same direction, so exiting simply meant driving forward and going back down one ramp. The driver did not need to change ramps and did not need to back up into traffic to exit.”

Let me quote The Los Angeles Times more fully: “Eisner is now an expert on the subject. He’ll wax on about how garages should be landscaped, what an individual space should cost and how a Disney garage in Burbank is the happiest place on Earth to park.”

“I’ve spent hours on the parking garage because I hate those things,” he says.”

Sadly, he did not spend quite enough time on the garage.

“It did not work. In practice, the park found that guests had to walk toward incoming traffic. The facility was closed down and re-striped for traditional parking.”

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Mickey and Friends is a remarkable structure in some respects and the connection to the freeway via an overpass is something that gets traffic engineers all gooey. Compared to parking at Universal, Disneyland really is a dream come true.

Any parking stories? Remember, this is a family site.

Sam will be appearing at these two locations in San Francisco this weekend.  Stop by and say hello!

Golden Gate Disneyana Club
Don Jose’s Restaurant
(Castro Village Shopping Center)
11:30AM TO 2:00PM

Sacramento Disneyana Club
Sutter General Hospital
Sacramento CA 95816
6:30PM TO 9:00PM

If you enjoyed today’s article, you might also like my two recent books: 

Amazon link. Barnes and Noble link.

About Sam Gennawey

Sam Gennawey is an urban planner who has collaborated with communities throughout California over the course of more than 100 projects to create a great, big, beautiful tomorrow. Sam is a member of the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Regional Planning History Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving municipal, county, and private sector planning documents from throughout Los Angeles County. Sam is the author of Walt and the Promise of Progress City which you can find on Amazon.

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  • odagoon

    The parking structure is horrible!!! First of all, no matter what the level they send you too, they never fill the parking lot from closest to the elevators toward the back no they love to back fill. So if you aren’t savvy enough to say that you need to drop someone off at the escalators and then park right up front, you end up parking in B.F.E. even though there is plenty of parking up at the elevators. Here you are parked way in the back just to find out when you walk the 10 miles to the escalators that there are hundreds of spots open up front that will be backed filled later.You got there first but your parked in the far rear. Really, I don’t call that right!!! Second, is the horrible job they do in opening a new level when they need to. Here you are barely up the ramp stuck, you and 200+ cars, just to find out that the level they sent you to has 24 spaces for those 200+ cars!!!! It will take you at least 30 minutes to get to the exit so you can leave the structure to make a U-turn on Ball to go back into the structure to another level that may be just as full!! The idiots who thought that the structure didn’t need renter lanes to go back into the structure if the level you were on didn’t have any spaces without having to go to Ball Road should be fired!!! This Idea Eisner the Idiot had that you won’t have to enter traffic again is sooo not true!!!! Lastly, it is such a shame that the ticket people have no idea what going on with the structure. So for us savvy Disney pass holders who know the deal, we can’t get questions answered to avoid the disaster that lays ahead or at least start to mentally prepare us for the hell that awaits us!! I feel really sorry for a new comer who comes in and then leaves to make the U-turn to come back and they get the ticket both people’s blank stare cause they can’t answer the guest questions about no spaces to park. To top off the lack of knowledge are the cast members directing the cars and not knowing that every level has handicap parking on them. Unreal!!!! Everything that I have discussed is something I have run into personally and so have many others that I’ve talked to!!!! It’s a running joke for pass holders on how bad the parking is at the structure and the park in general!!! Mr. Disney would be pissed as hell and he is rolling in his grave that the parking at his beloved park is the first impression that people have of Disney and it sucks so often!!! J.H.

  • the702senior09

    I really don’t mind the parking garage, I feel like it serves it’s purpose. It’s funny how it’s such a hot-button issue for people… I know APs that won’t park anywhere except Toy Story, but I prefer Mickey and Friends.

    • MyFriendtheAtom

      yah story is where teh cool kids park

  • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

    I hate the parking structure. It’s too frequently backed up and a poor design. Just think of what a guest must endure on a busy day before making it into the park:
    - wait in a long line to pay for parking
    - park (half the time you’ll get a terrible spot)
    - walk to the tram (and if you have a stroller, wait for the elevator)
    - wait for the tram (which can be excruciating on busy days and at times they are understaffed)
    - dumped off too far short of your goal, wait in line at security (which is also poorly designed).
    - wait in line to buy tickets
    - wait in line at the front gate

    That’s potentially 5 long lines to wait in before setting foot in the park. Not a magical way to start your day, and a far cry from the magical sense of anticipation that Walt wanted guests to experience. If they’d install PeopleMovers or extend the Monorail to the structure as an option, at least there would be an immediate sense of wonder and anticipation. Instead, parking in the structure is like running a gauntlet of ordeals. Hate, hate, hate the structure and how it ruins the guest experience.

    No, but really, I hate the structure. Eisner can have it back. ;-)

    • FREQDUDE

      So, what do you really think about the parking structure, Dusty? lol

    • airick75

      I’m with you Dusty – I posted that it took me 1 hr 20 min driving time to get to Disneyland, but 2 hours until I actually stood in front of the Train Station because of the 30-40 minutes it takes to get parked and get into the park. That’s even with an AP!

  • pjhorton21

    Been an AP’er for 16 years – don’t mind the parking structure at all (unless you get stuck at 1K!). It would be nice if they had a couple of express lanes for pass holders to enter – I would think that would help with the log jam in mornings.

  • superlarz

    I am an AP holder, and I hate having to park at Toy Story, but I do unless I am there very early, mostly because of the parking mess described by a previous poster. You really have no idea what you are getting into sometimes when you try to pull up to the garage. It can easily turn into an hour long adventure to Gardenwalk or Toy Story… So now unless I am there an hour before open I usually just go straight to Toy Story, as Id rather start the day disappointed than annoyed and disappointed and an hour later in the park.

  • hockeyland

    I rarely have had problems with the Parking Structure over the years. Yes, clearly bad design and the backups are sometimes an issue, but overall it’s been quite manageable. What’s interesting for us is the impact of having the structure after we added two young kids to our family. Lugging a double stroller on to a bus at Toy Story is no pleasure at all. We’d much rather use the parking structure and walk in (good exercise and much more pleasant). Mickey & Friends has problems, but on most days it’s not a big negative.

  • Omnispace

    I’ve sometimes done a complete circuit around the perimeter of one of the levels before eventually being directed to a parking space. We ended up where we just were previously so go figure.

    I know there were a lot of limitations imposed on the design of the parking structure but it was so easy to visit Disneyland before. With the old parking lot it seemed we only had to walk steps to the tram and then we were quickly whisked off to the entrance in the cool morning air. It’s really unfortunate that the parking structure couldn’t have done something more radical with it’s design: bring more light into the levels, centralize the circulation…. …create an arrival more befitting of Disneyland.

  • iKristin

    What irritates me more than parking issues, the people that move into condo’s and homes around the park and then complain about noise and buildings and everything else they complain about. What the heck did you think was going to happen when you moved in next to one of the top theme parks in the world? Did you think they’d NEVER expand and that the fireworks would just stop happening because you live there now? Idiots. I just don’t understand whining and complaining about something that they knew would happen.

    “I don’t normally park at Disneyland…but when I do, I prefer Mickey & Friends” ;)

    • wendygirl1979

      I totally agree! Add to that the people that complain about airplanes landing. Pretty sure the airport was there first, loser!

  • zugzug15

    Havent had too many problems with the structure to be honest… but those moving sidewalks would have gone a HUGE way to stopping complaints. If it was up to me I would be parking in the Pumba Lot every time because the walk to the front entrance feels about the same as the walk to the tram from the back of the lot.

  • FREQDUDE

    “Starting on July 24, guests arriving in their own cars were now directed to park in the seven-story, 10,250-car Mickey and Friends Parking structure at the northeast corner of Disney’s property”

    Don’t you mean the North-WEST corner of the Disney property? Oversite, no biggy.

    I personally prefer the parking structure to the Toy Story lot. I would rather be able to make the choice to ride the trams vs. walk the pathway to the entrance. Crowding into a bus just isn’t my thing. So what if we get parked out in Timbuktu, our whole day is going to be walking anyways isn’t it? Are you going to complain about the walking inside the parks too, I think not. But, thank you for clearing up the matter of why they changed the parking direction. Has been a mystery to us ever since they relined the structure.

    Lastly, just finished the book, was a great read. There were so many little details that you just don’t even think about when you hear all the Disneyland development stories, particularly the politics and politicos that had to be stroked and made happy. Thanks for the stories, they were worth waiting for.

  • Kimura

    While it was built for easy access from the freeway, the MF Structure has been causing traffic backups on I-5 on peak mornings.

    The answer? DLR now diverts traffic farther south on Disneyland Drive to the Simba lot. This is an even bigger inconvenience to guests because there is no transportation to the main entrance from there.

    And with insufficient trains to handle the volumes of displaced guests, you should just skip the inefficient monorail system, and walk through Downtown Disney. Just be sure to stop by Starbucks on your way in.

  • airick75

    Wait – I feel like you teased more of a story, but got cut off halfway. What’s the company’s current stance on the structure? What’s the condition of the parking structure? (Remember, a few years ago, cracks surfaced that had to be repaired.) What about the trash and how some complain it seems quite dirty? What are plans for future parking?

    All that said – I concur that it’s frustrating to have to plan an extra 30 minutes just for your arrival (“Welcome to Disneyland!”), wait in line to pay for parking, get to parking, walk to the tram, get to the tram, go through security, wait in line to enter, and finally get to the gate. It doesn’t always take that long, but it can. Driving time from San Diego was an hour and 20 minutes. My actual arrival at the train station was 2 hours.

    Otherwise, I think the structure is fine – it’s actually a pretty amazing building. And it does go down – for better or for worse – as part of the experience. I do prefer the Toy Story lot as I virtually never have to wait for a bus, and I feel I get to the park pretty quickly. I can also get in and out of that lot pretty easily.

  • bayouguy

    Kind of a sad story on how a wonderful Walt Disney concept became an eyesore. Maybe a useful eyesore but nonetheless…

  • DuckyDelite

    Thanks for including some information about the “good ol’ days”. It’s hard to know sometimes if it is just the fantasy of my childhood memories or if things were really better back then.

    I remember pulling into the old Disneyland parking lot and being so excited. Sure it was just a giant flat lot, but something about all that wide open space with people in uniforms and trams moving about that gave it a great energy. It felt perfectly in place with Disneyland framing one side of the lot and a giant marquee as you entered.. You could wait for the tram or run (walk, kids, walk) to the ticket booths nearby.

    I have never felt that way at the Mickey & Friends structure. More like grin-and-bear-it and hope it is over as soon as possible.

  • JesterMn

    I feel like most people who complain about the parking structure don’t really remember the problems with the old, flat, outdoor lot. Yeah, if you were lucky, you could park right by the gate. But most of the time you were in BFE, and were hard pressed to find your car in the ocean of never ending cars at the end of the day. Not to mention the long walk with NO shade, having a hot car if returning during the day, or running through the rain with no shelter anywhere.

    And good luck if you were leaving at the end of the night… usually, the only exit was two cars wide, causing huge bottlenecks that often took 45-60 minutes just to exit the parking lot. So much so, the Jungle Cruise skippers would often joke about the “Electrical Brake Light Parade”.

    • DuckyDelite

      Except for the hot car at the end of the day, I’ve experienced all these other problems with the current tram/garage system.