Samland: The Mickey and Friends Parking Structure Story

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

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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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26 Comments

Comments for Samland: The Mickey and Friends Parking Structure Story are now closed.

  1. Maybe I’ve just been lucky – I prefer parking in Mickey & Friends, because it is so convenient off of the freeway, and the majority of the parking is covered. I’d rather end up being parked on the north side of the structure, and having to walk to the escalators, than having my car locked up all day in the Southern California sun a few feet from the Toy Story parking lot buses. Also, I have never had to wait that long for a tram to the resort, but at least there is a pedestrian walkway as an alternative. I’ve used that numerous times when leaving and heading back to the structure, as that is usually when the lines for the trams are long. As for ever being directed to a level that turned out to be full, and having to exit and re-enter – that’s never happened to me, and I’m a Southern California native and Annual Passholder for years. As I said, maybe I’m just lucky. I have occasionally been forced to bypass the structure and head for Toy Story (I won’t park in Simba because of the lack of trams), and that is a bit of a nightmare, with traffic backed up on Disneyland Drive. If they were able to install technology to keep track of open spaces, like some of the shopping mall parking structures have, along with update signs on the 5 Freeway, that would be golden. I don’t expect it to happen, but it would be nice.

  2. I like the parking structure idea, absolutely loath it;s execution. First off, not only does traffic back up onto Disneyland Drive, but it also backs up onto Ball Road. Coming from Harbor and waiting to make a left turn towards the structure can get UGLY at times. It’s certainly not a good first experience for the day, that’s for sure.

    Next, you have STICKER SHOCK. Yes, prices are high at Disney, but they sure do charge a lot for parking. Yes, I know everyone does these days, but that doesn’t make any of it right. Parking should be like 7-10 bucks a car and that’s it. This would still be way more than the inflation adjusted Walt Disney pricing, but less than it is now. A happy medium.

    I’ve ran into some of the problems others has, but this is a management and organization issue, and not the fault of the structure per say, however it is designed very strangely for foot traffic. And there are no where near enough elevators where people want to use them…on the corner near the tram stop. Most people don’t even know there are elevators elsewhere. And it shows. It’s really outrageous and I cannot imagine what they were thinking here considering the crowds Disneyland draws.

    One of the other things that bothers me is just the look of the structure. It’s okay from the outside, but once inside it is just so ordinary and ugly. It has all the warmth and charm of an airport terminal and about as far from a Disney experience as you can get. They could theme the levels so much nicer….if they only tried. The little graphics around the pillars just doesn’t cut it.

    I will say that I agree that exiting is better than the flat lot from yesterdayland. But still, it’s a little annoying the way not all lanes can access the freeway ramp. Also it would be nice if the ramp directly connected to the freeway instead of that little short drop it does onto the roadway first and the cone slalom that you have to do. I know that was not Disney’s decision, but still, it’s an accident waiting to happen the way it’s designed now.

  3. Just another reason to just stop going to this place. I gave up my AP 10 years ago. If you want things to change, than stop going. Go to SeaWorld before they close it down.

  4. Can we discuss the LACK of handicapped spots available in said MF structure?!?! The structure itself doesn’t bother me a whole bunch…except for the fact that it’s DARK, DINGY
    and DIRTY. ;) Why is it that I only see yoga moms pushing Hummer strollers in those spots??
    Ugh…

  5. Even paying for parking in the MF parking structure can be time-consuming for a couple reasons. One is that there isn’t a full complement of people in the booths so one person has to handle two sides. Also, there should be a sign that says, “Information booths available in the parks, please save questions until then” so that people won’t start long chats with the parking booth employees because they are the first Disney employees visitors who rarely come get to. Otherwise, those who have said to fill parking spaces from the corner where the escalators are back to the farther spaces are right, it’s frustrating being parked a couple hundred yards from escalators, only to walk by many empty spaces that are nearer them. The MF parking structure is a necessary evil.

  6. I forgot where I parked once… Need I say more?

    How come the trams don’t load and take off as quickly as the monorails at WDW? Sometimes, I think it is faster to just walk to the gate.