The 20th anniversary celebration of Tokyo DisneySea is on the near horizon. In my opinion, it is the most beautiful of all Disney theme parks I have ever had the privilege to work at and visit. Because of this momentous occasion, I thought the perfect person to reach out to would be the Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) Lead Art Director for my favorite port of call, Arabian Coast, one of seven themed ports of call (lands) located inside Tokyo DisneySea. I have been wanting to learn more about the inspiration that led to the design of this beautiful land and knew that I needed to speak to none other than WDI alumnus, Larry Nikolai.
With a career at WDI spanning 28 years, I was excited to talk to Larry about many of his other projects as well, like “Ariel’s Undersea Adventure” at Disney California Adventure Park, Tokyo Disneyland’s “Haunted Mansion Holiday Nightmare,” his work as a Disney Gallery Artist, and the merchandise collectibles he designed for the Parks like the Main Street Electrical Parade Collectibles from 1996.
I know where I want to end my blog, but where to begin? My initial interview with Larry led me down a path craving for many more questions to be answered. Larry graciously answered another round of questions about a month after our initial interview. What I’ve come to realize is that although I knew Nikolai was an Imagineer who worked on many projects, (all of which were during my years of working for Disney and the Oriental Land Company (O.L.C.)), what I understood after my interview was how truly little I did know about ALL of his projects. I yearned for a better understanding so that I could, in turn, introduce or reintroduce him to you. You may think you know Imagineer alumnus Larry Nikolai, but I’m not so sure you truly do, yet. My hope over the next few weeks, as I continue to write my blog about Larry and his many contributions to the Walt Disney Company and its theme parks around the world, is that both you and I will have a better understanding of his many talents.
Ah yes, I must not forget, where to begin? Well, I do believe at the beginning is almost always the best place, so we’ll start there.
It All Started When He Was Two Years Old
Larry Nikolai was born in Kansas City, Missouri and moved to California in 1956 when he was just two years old. It would be that very same year his parents would take him to Disneyland. Larry explained to me the impact visiting the park had on him.
L: When my family moved to California from Kansas City in 1956, we visited Disneyland the first year we were here. After that it became an annual event, and I grew up with the park.
L: I was always fascinated with the attractions and in later years I made my own crude versions in my garage and backyard.
C: Can you tell me more about that?
L: I have always felt compelled to make dimensional objects with my own two hands- my early visits to Disneyland inspired me to want to have some of the magic in my own backyard and garage, so I had to create it myself!
C: What were some of the attractions you built and out of what materials?
L: I made some small Jungle Cruise elephants at first and graduated to very crude Lincoln figures after seeing the show when it first opened at Disneyland (1965). When Pirates came along (1967), I had to make my own walk-through version with a few figures and lighting effects. Everything I built was of the crudest materials- scrap wood, cardboard, wooden produce crates, paper mâché, plaster, used clothing and some homemade vacuum-formed plastic faces. I also made a number of Tiki birds with string-puppeted mouths.
C: Do you have any photos you could share?
L: I am WAY too embarrassed to show any photos of those very crude early creations!
Although Larry was too embarrassed to show me any photos of his childhood creations, he did let me know that his parents and family were all very supportive of him, sitting through many “garage-based Lincoln shows.” There were apparently many shows as Larry would continue to work on his Lincoln, improving his version overtime. Nikolai’s Pirates of the Caribbean however, as Larry states, “lasted just a season and a few viewings.”
C:Were you always an artist? Even as a young child?
L: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing or creating something. My favorite first cartoon character was Popeye, so he is the first thing that I drew. I never really cared for coloring books because I wanted to make the pictures myself, and when we made cards for Mother’s or Father’s Day in school I used to put characters in them. And I’ve always had a desire to paint, even if I didn’t know how to properly use the materials. I once painted a portrait of a sea captain using tubed watercolor paints straight out of the tubes on canvas. I treated them like oil paints. It paid off in the end, though- I entered the painting in a junior art show at a local shopping center and won second prize.
C: I had read that you are both a classically trained fine artist and animation designer. Where did you obtain your training?
L: I took art classes in high school, but to be honest I didn’t pay much attention to them as at the time I was more interested in theater and film making. After high school I attended California State University at Northridge where I concentrated more on my art and earned a bachelor’s degree in fine art 2-D painting. When I say I’m a classically trained artist I mean that I went through the classic process of life drawing and learning the various mediums and how to properly use them. I also took the required art history courses and available 3-D design classes to round out my education.
“I OWE EVERYTHING TO THIS MAN”
C: How did you get into theme park attraction design?
L: I was working in the Merchandise Department at Six Flags Magic Mountain during and right after college, and one day it just struck me that- because I loved Disneyland since I could remember- it made sense to bring my art and Disney together for my career. I applied at WED (Walter Elias Disney Enterprises, now Walt Disney Imagineering) but did not have enough experience to get hired there at the time. I stayed at Magic Mountain and a couple of years later I met David Gengenbach, an ex-Disney executive who was also working there.
David Gengenbach worked for the Walt Disney Company as both a project engineer, project manager, and later the vice president of Walt Disney’s WED Enterprises. He oversaw many of the Magic Kingdom’s attractions at Walt Disney World including Space Mountain, the Mark III and Mark IV monorail systems, and the Carousel of Progress. After twelve years with the Walt Disney Company, David left Disney to work for Six Flags Corporation as Manager of Corporate Engineering.
L: He saw a little raccoon sculpture I had done and said that the company was planning to do a dark ride at the Atlanta Park, and that I could join the team if it was approved. I owe everything to this man and mentor who took a chance on me, because the ride “Monster Plantation“ was approved and suddenly I became a professional artist working through the Six Flags Engineering department on a real theme park attraction.
L: On that project (Monster Plantation) I worked with some very talented ex-Disney (and non-ex-Disney) folks, and with their help I ended up working in the theme park, movies, publishing, and cartoon animation industries for the next 12 years before finally being hired at Imagineering.
Almost an Imagineer…But First…One More Question
C: Please tell me a little bit more about the 12 years before finally becoming an Imagineer with the Walt Disney Company. Films you worked on, cartoon animation, and theme parks.
L: The 12 years includes a couple of years still at Magic Mountain before I met Dave Gengenbach and was brought onto the Monster Plantation project.
After Monster Plantation it turns out that Six Flags no longer needed me, so I made the move over to the company that produced all of Monster Plantation’s animatronic figures, AVG Productions. I mostly worked on shows that fulfilled the pizza restaurant craze of the 1980s. I also worked on a show for Six Flags’ Movieland Wax Museum, “The Black Box.” While at AVG I met and worked with many Disney alumni, including Rolly Crump and “Big Al” Bertino.
Shortly after this, my mentor Dave Gengenbach was hired as president of Advanced Animations in Connecticut, and he invited me and some other AVG colleagues to join him there. I moved my family to the East Coast, where we thought we would be for at least 5 years. We did a number of conceptual proposals and some small to mid-size shows for the mostly local eastern states, including a chance for me to finally sculpt a real Abraham Lincoln animatronic figure for a museum in Gettysburg.
Nikolai Meets Lincoln
In 1965, at 11 years old, Nikolai became instantly fascinated with Abraham Lincoln when he saw the 16th President of the United States stand on Disneyland’s Lincoln Theater stage in “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.” Just as Walt Disney was fascinated with the beloved president at a young age, so was Larry Nikolai, who would go on to study Lincoln’s life.
The opportunity to finally sculpt the head of Abraham Lincoln must have been exhilarating for Nikolai. The many childhood attempts of creating Lincoln in his garage would finally pay off. Larry would sculpt the head while another sculptor created the body for the animatronic figure who would deliver the Gettysburg Address at the Civil War Wax Museum in Gettysburg.
Larry personally owns copies of the famous Abraham Lincoln life mask and hands that were created by Leonard W. Volk, Chicago sculptor, on March 31, 1860. Volk created the mold prior to Lincoln’s nomination as the Republican presidential candidate. It involved a process that encased Lincoln’s face and ears in plaster. The plaster was left on his face for about an hour to dry and set and was then carefully removed from Lincoln’s face. A process Lincoln is reported to have said was, “anything but agreeable.” It would be this mold that would become the reference for artists who would create busts and statues of Lincoln including Imagineer Blaine Gibson who would also use the Volk mask for Walt Disney’s audio-animatronic Abraham Lincoln. Nikolai explained that the Volk mask that both Blaine and he used as reference for Lincoln were invaluable as it provided them both with the measurements they would need to bring Lincoln to life.
Returning to California…Why So Soon?
L: A Warner Communications Company (the parent company of Advanced Animations), fell on hard economic times and they cancelled our projects and laid us off after only one year. Rather than look for work locally or start commuting to New York City I moved my family back to Los Angeles, the true hub of the entertainment industry.
After returning to LA, I was unexpectedly hired into the world of Saturday morning cartoon animation at Ruby Spears Productions. Ken Spears and Joe Ruby were the creators of Scooby Doo during their years at Hanna Barbera before leaving to start their own studio. I had never worked in 2-D or cartoon animation before, and I was lucky to be around some amazing artists who taught me the business. I was initially hired as a maquette sculptor, but I ended up transitioning and was lucky to have five years of working around some amazing professionals in the industry where I got the solid practice I really needed at drawing both background scenes and animated characters. I also did character and show concept work between seasons when new series ideas were being pitched to the networks.
Also at that time my network of friends and associates had grown considerably, and I did many freelance jobs: magazine illustration, film and television character design, collectible merchandise concepts, puppets and costumed character design for both Disney, and Universal Studios- among many other opportunities. I worked on a couple of “Nightmare on Elm Street” films, and I even got to work with Elvira, Mistress of the Dark on her first movie. They were busy years full of good practice in many fields.
All of this led up to 1990, when I was finally hired at WDI.
Featured at this year’s Epcot International Festival of the Arts at Walt Disney World, is artist Sam Carter. This may be Sam’s first experience at the Festival of the Arts but he’s no stranger to the guests. Sam is well known among Disney aficionados so it is no surprise that his artwork has been selling out. Perhaps it’s because Sam is able to capture the feeling and nostalgia of the attractions in the Pop Art style he creates, which quickly draws in his audience’s attention. Whether it be his “Crooning in the Tiki Room” piece depicting the birds brightly signing words from Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room attraction, or his “Progress” painting depicting the many eras in time the Father character John travels in the Carousel of Progress attraction, the art is captivating, purposeful, and just simply fun to look at.
I was able to meet with Sam over a brief Zoom session. We talked about his love of Disney art, his long career at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California and how he became a WonderGround Gallery Artist creating memorable pieces of art.
Sam Meets The Master Illustrator
Sam: “Ever since I was a kid I was into Disney Gallery art. I don’t know how many 10 year old kids knew artists names like I did, but there was an artist named Charles Boyer, who did a ton of artwork for Disney and my mom knew I was into art and that I liked him. She found out that he was going to appear at the Disneyland Gallery and brought me to meet him. He autographed a lithograph for me, to this day it still hangs in my room, and I absolutely adore it. I think that’s what planted the seed, yep, that’s what I want to do.”
(Photo Credit: Sam Carter) 10 year old Sam Carter with Disney Legend Charles Boyer
Disney Legend Charles Boyer was Disneyland’s first full-time artist, and because of his 45 years with the resort, was known as Disneyland’s master illustrator.
After Sam talked to Charles Boyer, just that one day was all it took for him to be inspired to study Boyer’s style. Sam began to notice Boyer’s composition, how he placed things in certain areas in his paintings and how he would paint his characters because, as Sam explained, “There’s a difference in how you draw a character, are you drawing the character how it appears in a cartoon or do you draw Mickey how he looks in his costume in a parade? You have to really decide what this is for and you have to be strategic, wondering who the audience is.”
Sam Becomes a Disneyland Cast Member
Many of Sam’s art pieces reflect the best of Disney’s in-Park Entertainment, it’s self-reflective as Sam spent a great many years working in the parades at the Disneyland Resort.
In 1995, Sam would begin to work at Disneyland in the Parades and Show Support Department. He was hired as a float driver for the epic summer of when the best day and night parade of all time (in my humble opinion) ran together, The Lion King Celebration Parade by day and the Main Street Electrical Parade at night. In 1997, Sam would be inspired by another daytime parade he worked, the Hercules Victory Parade.
The entire time he was in the parade department, he was trying to get into the Art Department. By 2005, ten years later, Sam shared with me that he was trying to get noticed and it just wasn’t happening. Ten years had gone by and then he decided that he would paint a mural in the Parade building, located backstage.
Sam: “I painted the mural just for the fun of it (with permission of course). I loved the history and I thought the parade performers needed to know what part of this legacy they’re all in. Hey, you’re in a Disneyland parade! This goes back to Walt’s days and now you’re a part of that and I thought that was cool to teach that lesson to everyone that walked down those hallways.”
Having worked with Sam in the Parade Department and seeing the beginnings of his mural take shape was perhaps one of the coolest things I had ever seen during my years in that department. Sam had always been so gracious with his artistry. He would create the designs for the cast parade t-shirts, create keepsakes for the Tink Crew (masters of flight that helped Tinkerbell fly, if she didn’t have enough Pixie Dust that is) and for me, well, he created a team logo shirt when I was first diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1999. It was just something he did. To this day, if Sam created it, even if it was 25 years or more ago, we still have what he made for us. We all saw the talent Sam had and we, as a tight-knit Cast Member family were always so proud of him.
The building where the mural is located is occupied by all Cast Members required to pull off a parade, the performers, the float drivers, makeup artists, wig specialists, choreographers, and the like. Every time someone walks down the hallway, they are reminded that they are a part of that legacy that started back when Walt Disney first opened his park in 1955. It was another gift from Sam to his Parade family.
No one can walk through the parade building without seeing Sam’s mural, which finally led to eyes being opened by those in Disney Creative Entertainment. It wouldn’t be too much longer until Sam was on their radar, and soon thereafter, Sam would be hired as an Art Specialist designing events of all sizes for the Disneyland Resort in Creative Entertainment.
The Santa Car and John Lasseter
As a Creative Event Designer, Sam created some epic unforgettable moments at the Disneyland Resort. One in particular that came to Sam’s mind was the Cars Land Christmas Billboard Overlay. Which Sam described as “Super fun.”
Sam: “I loved that. It’s funny, because when I was drawing it, I had to check in with Pixar and send them my artwork for approvals. Pixar was making sure it was how it should be, and it was a humongous file. It kept crashing my computer!
Sam went on to tell me that he was bouncing off ideas with Dave Caranci, of Resort Enhancement, (who has since been promoted to Manager Creative Development at Walt Disney Imagineering) about the designs he wanted to create for the billboard. Sam told Dave he wanted to add snowflakes to the billboard and that’s when Dave let Sam know that his team was making snowflakes out of wrenches to be placed throughout Cars Land, which gave Sam the idea for the snowflake wrenches that he would then add to his billboard design.
Next, Sam wanted to add a Santa car with reindeer to his billboard. He’d need to receive Pixar approval again, and that’s when he recounted an exciting moment.
Photo/Design Credit: Sam Carter
Sam: “I wanted a Santa car with reindeer. Pixar got back to me and actually sent me a scanned sketch from (John) Lasseter with his writing saying what he always pictured a Santa car would look like. I HAVE A SKETCH FROM JOHN LASSETER saying make it look like this! The reindeer are jet skis and Santa is a big red Chrysler with a sled. So, if you look closely at the artwork for Santa and the reindeer, that’s based off the artwork Lasseter had already envisioned and sent to me.”
The Buena Vista Street Christmas Tree
I remembered Sam had also created something very special with the Christmas tree located on Buena Vista Street at Disney California Adventure Park and I asked him to explain to me more about the involvement of the design process.
Sam: “Oh yes, the tree design at Disney California Adventure Park. At Creative Entertainment, our offices are next door to Resort Enhancement and I became good friends with Dave Carranci. We were talking about Christmas and he was bouncing ideas off of me, what should a tree look like in 1930’s Los Angeles? We were brainstorming and thinking about it. Then he asked me to help with ornaments. Back in the 1930’s, Walt Disney licensed and sold Christmas lights with characters on each light and on each light was a bell. We both did research and we found pictures of what they looked like in the 1930’s. There’s this Clarabelle and Horace, Mickey and Minnie carrying a Christmas tree, and Goofy playing a flute. I hand drew each drawing as it looked back then. They were then made (from Sam’s drawings) and so now the ornaments at Disney California Adventure are based on the ornaments from the 1930’s. No one is going to know that, but what I’m hoping is, some grandma or grandpa is going to walk over there and see that and get a flashback, and think ‘I had that when I was a kid.’ I just hope one grandma or grandpa gets to see that. That’s what I’m hoping for. I haven’t heard of that happening yet, but it’s possible, right?”
Photo Credit Sam Carter: 1930’s Mickey Mouse lights far left and Sam’s designed bells, artwork and design by Sam Carter
I don’t know if any grandparent has seen Sam’s ornaments and if, by doing so, it brought them back to a moment of joy from their childhood, but that continues to show how Sam creates his art. Everything he puts into his artwork is intentional to provoke a feeling, a memory.
“Fight on for ol’ SC…”
Sam would remain with Creative Art Entertainment at the Disneyland Resort for seven years until 2012, when he was handpicked and offered a job as Creative Director of Design at the University of Southern California. It was an epic jump up for Sam. Although it was a great career move, it lacked the Pixie dust Sam was used to. But, the benefit of no longer being a Cast Member for the Walt Disney Company, meant that Sam could begin to consult for other theme parks and attractions, like at Universal Studios Hollywood’s Springfield land, where he created the Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck design and designed a light parade for Six Flags Magic Mountain, all the while maintain his position at USC.
Photo/Design Credit Sam Carter Creative
During this time, Sam also created an elevated North Pole fantasy voyage on the Queen Mary docked in Long Beach, California. For this special event, Sam would single handedly create the concept down to instructing the employees working the event on how important it was that they, too, were in on the magical story that the ship was travelling to the North Pole.
Photo/Design Credit Sam Carter Creative
Becoming a WonderGround Gallery Artist
Not working as a Cast Member had another benefit for Sam, he could now become a gallery artist, like Charles Boyer before him. WonderGround Gallery had long wanted Sam’s art pieces in their showroom, but because Sam was a Cast Member, there was a conflict, and they could not show his pieces. But by 2012, Sam was no longer an employee of the MOUSE, and so by 2013, Sam had his first art signing during his birthday weekend at WonderGround Gallery at Downtown Disney in Anaheim.
Paintings by Sam Carter Art:
Sam: “It was a dream come true. I had a signing at WonderGround. I had 4 pieces in their gallery that 1st year. Beauty and the Beast, Wreck it Ralph, Mulan and the Lion King. After that show, I was trying to get in the show again, but it was taking a long time and I didn’t get back into the gallery until 2019. It took 6 years after my first signing to get another group of art going and that’s when I did my Fantasmic! piece, because I keep trying to push the Entertainment side. I also had the Country Bear Jamboree painting, which is one my most favorite things ever and those went crazy viral, people loved them and then WonderGround asked, ‘What more can you do? What else can you show us?’”
Paintings by Sam Carter Art
Four More Pieces…next stop Epcot
Sam pitched to WonderGround the ideas he had for his next art pieces and several of his ideas were chosen. Sam went on to tell me that these paintings became his quarantine projects and then he explained that while he calls his art paintings, they are digital art and he further explained his process,
Sam: “Ever since I started working at USC in L.A., I’d take the train there every day and I’d have my MacBook and digital drawing pad. I was doing all my artwork on the train so that’s how I left the acrylic paint in the dust and started doing digital pixels, I still call it paint because I draw it first and then draw it again on a computer.”
By the beginning of 2020, right before the pandemic happened, Sam had taken a leap of faith and left his Directorship at USC to concentrate on his consulting business, Sam Carter Art, as well as his art pieces for WonderGround.
The artwork that the gallery had chosen were two more Country Bear pieces to flank the piece he had created back in 2013 (Big Al to be displayed one side while Henry is on the other side). The Country Bear pieces ended up evolving into just Big Al for this year, but Sam is hoping he’ll create Henry for the other side in the future, as he has envisioned the three paintings being displayed together.
Following Big Al, Sam was also approved to paint his Carousel of Progress piece, The Muses, (from the parade that Sam loved), and the Enchanting Tiki Room.
Credit: Sam Carter Art
Sam: “It’s the first time where I think that these 4 pieces are the best things I have ever done. I can’t really say that about past artwork, I’m really picky with stuff I put out there. I took a lot of critique classes at Cal State Fullerton and the critiques are really beaten into you, so I’m able to not take it personally. I have a mindset of well, I make it perfect so no one can critique it. I put that amount of time into it. But, even if they do critique it, art is subjective, so they can have their own opinion, and that’s fine, but I make sure every detail I do, there’s a reason for it. Whether it’s my gallery art or whether it’s a design for a theme park. Nothing is done by accident, there’s a reason for everything and every piece is loaded with stuff.
“Where the Birds Sing Words and the Flowers Croon…”
I asked Sam about his creative process in painting these 4 newest iconic pieces that premiered at the Festival of the Arts at Epcot this year.
Sam: “Well, while I work on each piece, I listen to the music for the attraction. The Tiki Room is only 20 minutes long and it takes hours to make this painting, so I found on YouTube the Trader Sam’s background music so I listened to this cool music, and then I start to work on it. The music is going and the kids walk in and say, ‘Oh Tiki Room, cool.’ They don’t know what I’m doing, but they’ll see something on my computer screen and then they go to Disneyland and they’ll see it on the wall and they are like, ‘Hey, that’s what you did at home.’ They are starting to put it together. They know we’re going to Walt Disney World for Daddy’s art show. It’s pretty awesome.”
Credit/Design: Carter Creative – Be sure to stop by the WonderGround tent in the Morocco Pavilion at Epcot to see Sam Carter through January 26th
I asked Sam if he had any exciting projects on the horizon and he told me that he is helping out with the design of a video game. He’s there to make sure that it has an elevated quality and style to it and he will also be doing the logos and branding. He tells me that he never thought he’d be working on a video game, but this is a perfect time for him to be working on it, because he can create from home. Though it won’t be out for another two years from now, Sam says he’s having a blast.
Sam also gave me an inside scoop and told me he designed the 50th anniversary popcorn buckets for Walt Disney World.
Sam: “I feel like Disneyland’s 50th anniversary was 10 minutes ago. So to be working on the 50th at Walt Disney World is so cool. I’m such a nerd for this kind of stuff. I’ve had it finished since over the Christmas break, but nobody will get to see it until October 1st when the 50th anniversary celebration begins. It’s so hard to work on stuff for a year or so and I can’t share it, I’m a chatty guy, I want to show it, but I can’t. When you design for a popcorn bucket, it’s a Walt Disney popcorn bucket, not a Sam Carter Art piece, but I still know I did it and it’s exciting to be a part of that.”
It’s in the Blood
Sam Carter, a self-taught artist, credits his parents for the abilities he has today. His mother would take Sam to Disneyland often and nurtured his artistic talent. Sam is also a son of an aerospace engineer. His father was a brilliant man who would find joy in drawing caricatures for his friends at work. It wasn’t until after his father’s passing that Sam took a closer look at the art his father had created. Seeing his father’s art hit him differently than it had before. Sam discovered that his father wasn’t just a strategic left brain thinker. He discovered his dad did indeed have creative skills. Sam has since discovered within himself, that he’s more like his father than he thought, as Sam said, “I’ve found myself drifting to left brain design since my artwork is so thought out and meticulously detailed.” Methodical creativity must run strong in the blood of the Carter family.
Sam: “The thing that I need to pinch myself on is when I look back, to being that 10 year old kid and getting excited to see Charles Boyer, it’s what I get to do now. So, whenever I get down on the dumps, I remind myself that I actually get to do what I’ve always wanted to do, and it’s not my full-time job, I do it for fun.”
Check out these fantastic short clips showing Sam creating some extra magic for 4 original pieces that can be purchased at Epcot during the Festival of the Arts.
An in depth interview with Misty Rosas of “The Mandalorian.” Written by Catherine Ramirez
George Lucas once described the late Peter Mayhew as a mime actor. Mayhew, who portrayed Chewbacca in the Star Wars Films for almost 40 years, had only the use of his eyes and body language as a means of expression as the 7’2” tall Wookie. To be able to express and convey so many different emotions across a cinematic screen is no easy task, and yet Mayhew did it to utter perfection, all while performing within a suit. I have not seen another suit performer convey such emotion as Peter Mayhew did when he performed as Chewbacca, until I saw the Ugnaught Kuiil in, “The Mandalorian.”
Who is Misty Rosas?
To understand Kuiil, you’ll have to understand the character’s suit actor, Misty Rosas. Misty was born in Mission Viejo, California and raised in the mountains at Los Piños in the Cleveland National Forest. She had a unique upbringing, enjoying the forest as her backyard. She also became quite a skilled gymnast. Misty said that her mom took her to her first gymnastics class when she was 2 ½ years old, and quite often there would be tears when it was time for Misty to leave.
Misty tells me, “Class was never long enough. I was immediately hooked! I loved gymnastics! I loved it so much that it was my life from age 2 ½ until I was 16. By the time I was 12 years old I was a Child Elite gymnast on the U.S. National Gymnastics Team, and again as a Junior Elite at age 13.
The Olympics were in my sights, but some dreams don’t come true. For me personally, I loved doing gymnastics, but I did not like competing! The mental, physical and emotional pressure just became too much for me, and all of that pressure manifested into an eating disorder. At 16 years old I had to make one of the most difficult decisions of my life, I had to walk away from the sport I loved so much because I was losing my battle with Anorexia. A battle I would fight for many, many years.”
Memories of Misty’s childhood were bittersweet. There was joy but there was also heartbreak. Even with the heartbreak Misty was appreciative of the lessons she learned from her years of training and competing as a gymnast.
“Like all things in life,” Misty tells me, “you’ve gotta take the good with the bad, and learn from the lessons! The invaluable lessons!”
Misty went on to tell me that gymnastics not only taught her how to strength train, but the sport also trained her mentally and gave her emotional strength as well. All those years of gymnastics training gave Misty an understanding of how hard and how long she would have to work at something for it to become a reality.
She went on to explain, “You just gotta have faith in your journey and keep checking in with yourself. Do you love what you do? You have to love it more than anything because (for most of us) success doesn’t happen overnight. At the end of the day, something like Star Wars is the icing on the cake, and I appreciate it so much more because of all of the struggles I endured and the very long journey I’ve taken to be here now.”
A Twist of Fate…and Some Imagination, Huh?
Misty walked away from gymnastics, choosing to give up the dream of being in the Olympics at the age of 16, bravely disclosing to me that she was lost for a while. Misty ended up graduating high school early and enrolled at Saddleback College, a local community college located in Mission Viejo, California. There she enrolled in dance and voice classes. It’s in those classes where Misty would find her joy once more.
There were a couple of young ladies in Misty’s dance classes that were parade performers at Disneyland. Because of Misty’s demure height, they told her that she should audition at Disneyland because there were parts in her height range.
Misty tells me, “I didn’t know how to approach auditioning, so I called up Disneyland and I went in for an interview but it was perhaps a lack of communication because the interview was not to work in Entertainment in the Parades Department, it was to work at the hotel. I told the interviewer that I was really trying to figure out how to be a dancer in the parades at the theme park.”
By a twist of fate, Disneyland Entertainment had just sent over a stack of flyers and Misty was given one. She was told that there was a new show coming out called Fantasmic! (Yes the exclamation mark is part of the title of the show) and she could audition for that.
Fate was certainly on Misty’s side. She would end up being one of the original Fantasmic! cast members in 1992. In the now world renowned show with two other incarnations, one of which was performed at Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, and the other version was performed at Tokyo DisneySea in Japan, Misty was cast as one of the dancing monkeys on King Louie’s Barge, based on Disney’s animated feature film The Jungle Book. On the same night, she would also become very good friends with Donald Duck, Minnie Mouse, and sometimes even Mickey Mouse, who liked to frequent the Mark Twain riverboat during the finale of the famous nighttime show.
“It was fun to be a part of because it was a brand new show. The rehearsals during that period of time were long and grueling, but to be 18 and in a show that everyone wanted to see was pretty special.” Misty said.
Full disclosure, I began to work at Disneyland in 1992, starting as a float driver in the Main Street Electrical Parade. That same year Misty began her debut on the River’s of America in Fantasmic! I also worked in Fantasmic! first as a barge driver from 1993 to 1994 (Ursula and Tick Tock) and then as a performer in Fantasmic! from 1999 to 2001. Though we both worked Fantasmic! in the early years, I didn’t know Misty until we both performed in the Lion King Celebration Parade at Disneyland.
We were both cast as the only two female pole climbers in the parade. From the moment I saw Misty climb and execute her stunts on the pole, 10 feet in the air, I was instantly humbled by her strength and elegance. Misty seemed to possess a strength that few others had. The ease and transitions of her skills going into every stunt looked as effortless as breathing in and out, but believe me, few skills on that pole were easy, but they certainly appeared so for Misty.
Timing is Everything
While Misty was performing at Disneyland, she also landed her first Motion Picture film role in Congo, directed by Frank Marshall. I asked Misty about her role and how she got it.
M: “It’s timing. Timing is everything! My gymnastics career was the reason I was right for that role. Looking back, you only remember the joyous moments, but I know how hard it was to execute this role well because it took the producers a very long time to find the right people that would be able to handle the demands, especially for the role of the main gorilla character, Amy. It was a nationwide search to find Amy!
Production had called my former coach at SCATS Gymnastics (in Huntington Beach, California) and told him that they were looking for people under 5 ft tall. Little people. STRONG, little people, and the role was quickly narrowed down to gymnasts to perform as a Gorilla Artist, which is a type of suit performance work. They asked if he knew anyone over 18 years of age that he could recommend. I was 20. He called me knowing I was performing at Disneyland and that I had some suit experience, and he thought I should try for this role.”
I asked Misty what it was like auditioning for the role of a gorilla and she shared with me that she had to go through a series of 3 separate auditions, each building upon the prior audition.
First, she had to show them her upper body strength and overall coordination. The most extreme stunt that she could show the better because they wanted to see if Misty could handle weight on her arms. She performed a few impressive gymnastics skills. She also was given arm extensions and they wanted to see if she could walk and run using the arm extensions, in quadruped, like a gorilla.
Misty says, “It was easy having been a gymnast. I have spent as much time on my hands as I have on my feet! Walking and running in quadruped felt quite natural to me. I made it through the 1st audition.”
The second audition would become more intense.
Misty describes, “They brought the arm extensions back and these auditions were more intense because it was one on one with Peter Elliott (veteran gorilla performer). He wanted to see if I could act. We were in a dance studio. Just Peter, a camera, me and arm extensions.”
Peter would direct Misty to very slowly walk around and mill about as if it was a typical ordinary day for the gorilla, and then he explained to her that, “Something is going to scare you and you have to react to it. You have to be scared! However you feel you would react, will you cower? Will you try to get away?” After that challenge Misty goes on to tell me about the next challenge, to be aggressive.
Once again Peter gave a direction. Misty recalls him saying, “You’re milling about in quadruped and a threat comes and this time charge at me and be aggressive, you’re welcome to vocalize.”
Misty tells me that she knows she did end up using her voice, because her friend Jane, who was just outside waiting to audition, was stunned to learn that the voice she had heard so loudly was Misty’s.
“That was you?” Misty remembers Jane asking.
Misty went on to share with me about the final audition.
M: “The final audition was at Stan Winston Studios. I got to meet Stan and fellow veteran gorilla suit performer, John Alexander, and Peter Elliott was there to guide us through this final call back audition. This audition would solidify who they were going to choose and for what roles. I didn’t know if I would get it but knew I had a good chance by that point. Stan wanted to meet everyone that was going to be a part of the film. He not only wanted to see movement, he wanted to see personality, a willingness to work well with a team, and the actor’s response to direction.”
Misty is Cast as the Gorilla Amy in “Congo”
M: “I gained a lot of suit performance experience having worked at Disneyland, but there is NOTHING that can prepare you for this type of suit performance work! I remember going in for the fittings, the various stages of fittings. The head cast, body cast, arm casts, hands and feet cast. Trying on the muscle suit, which is the first layer; then the hair tech. suit that goes over the muscle suit; then the animatronic head (The “blind” head. You do not have any line of sight in animatronic heads) and the head’s attached pack of batteries (Yes! Plural!); lastly, the arm extensions. It was overwhelming at first! …to say the least! I couldn’t see, and I felt like I couldn’t move! I had a lot of hard work and training ahead of me, but I was ready for the challenge and so thrilled to be cast in Congo!”
“I was originally cast as one of the grey gorillas, the aggressive, violent protectors of Zinj. During preproduction it was soon realized that the workload for the role of Amy the gorilla was going to be too intense for one person alone. Production would need two people for the role, so they brought me on board Team Amy with actress, Lorene Noh. Congo was my first job ever in the film industry. I will say that it was incredibly overwhelming. I didn’t know what I was doing, I had never been trained, never taken any classes to understand about film, but I was lucky, I learned this art and technique from the best of the best, but again, I have gymnastics to thank for that too.
This job required a tremendous amount of discipline. When we started training, a three month preproduction preparation, we worked out every single day. We did circuit training, weights and cardio, for 3 hours every morning. In the afternoon, 3 to 4 hours of movement training and acting class learning how to move, feel, breathe and BE a gorilla. Lorene and I also had sign language class. The training was intense, but the job was going to be incredibly intense, so it was necessary! I loved every moment of it! I trained twice a day as an elite gymnast, so I was used to this type of workload, and this once in a lifetime opportunity felt like a gift from gymnastics! I didn’t make it to the Olympics, but because of my years and years of training as a gymnast I was awarded this role in a major motion picture! I am forever grateful!”
C: “From working on Congo, is that when you knew you wanted to go into stunts or an acting career?”
M: “While shooting Congo, I did all of the stunt work for Amy. I worked with the stunt coordinator and the stunt men often, and that made for a smooth transition into the world of stunts. And so it goes, EVERYTHING we put our hearts’ into always leads to the next, which leads to the next, which leads to the next.”
The Gorillas ARE REAL!!!
A few years after Congo wrapped, the film Instinct, which was released in 1999 starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Cuba Gooding, Jr., would be Misty’s 2nd film as a Gorilla Artist. Stan Winston Studios would once again be the studio to build the gorilla suits. It would be a much smaller troupe of gorilla artists that would be needed for this casting. Stan Winston handpicked the troupe he wanted to work with and Misty was one of the gorilla artists chosen.
M: “I was incredibly proud of my work in the film, Instinct! Congo was my very first film role, a once in a lifetime opportunity, but Instinct was an opportunity for me to improve! To take all that I learned while shooting Congo and use that knowledge and experience to really master the craft of, Gorilla Artist. To make my performance really beautiful and believable, that was my goal, and I believe that our Gorilla Artist team did just that! I’ve had some fun interaction with fans about Instinct. They insist that the gorillas are real. I told them, no, they were people in suits, in fact I was one of them, but they want to believe that they are real, and that’s fine with me. It’s a tremendous compliment that people think the gorillas in the film were real, it means we did our job well.”
WOAH! I WANT TO LEARN HOW TO DO THAT!
Misty credits working on the film Instinct as one of the most important moments of her life. It would be due to witnessing an intense and emotional scene involving Sir Anthony Hopkins. For one specific scene, no one would be allowed on set except the director, Jon Turteltaub, and the cast and crew that needed to be present to film the scene. Since Turtletaub was on set, Misty ended up sneaking over to the director’s chair at video village, where a monitor was present enabling Misty to see what was being filmed.
M: “I saw Tony (Anthony Hopkins) go from zero to 1000% in half a second displaying a tremendous amount of emotion, energy, anguish, anger, pain, humility, etc., etc. I had never witnessed something so heartbreakingly beautiful, and I remember thinking to myself, ‘I want to learn how to do that!”
With quite a few films, television series shoots, and a couple of commercial shoots under Misty’s belt as a stunt and suit performer, and after seeing Hopkin’s brilliant performance in action, she was instantly inspired and soon thereafter wanted to continue to build upon her craft and soon began to take an Acting on Camera class at Cypress College. taught by Theater Arts Professor Mark Majarian. After studying under Majarian’s tutelage for a few years, he told Misty that if she really wanted this career, she would have to move to Los Angeles and hustle by truly hitting the pavement.
It’s Not Easy…But it is a Piece to the Puzzle
Misty was incredibly uneasy about moving to Los Angeles, but she was determined to make it in film and went for it, even though not everything went according to plan.
M: “I moved to Los Angeles, and then everything fell apart. What am I going to do? I had assumed that I solidified a role on Planet of the Apes but as fate would have it, they had written out all of the female roles and mine was one of them. So here I am in Los Angeles, my big job just fell through, and no other work in sight. Budget time! For a couple of months, I ate just one meal a day in the middle of the day, and I would drink a lot of water, and take a lot of vitamins. To say, “The hustle is real in L.A.,” is an understatement! This moment was a good learning lesson about assumptions! In this business, never assume that you are booked on a project until you are literally driving to set! My parents asked me why I didn’t ask them for help, and I told them that this was my choice and not theirs. I was either going to figure this out on my own or I’m not going to figure it out at all. If you really want to be in L.A., and you know your, ‘WHY’ you’ll find a way. AND, every once in a while, a residual check from Congo or another film I had worked on would come through the mail at the last minute to help me pay my rent and other things. I lovingly refer to those checks as, ‘Pennies from Heaven!’ A.K.A., grocery money!”
Misty Meets Brian Henson
While Misty had been in Los Angeles for several months trying to survive, she was called in by the Jim Henson Company to audition for Disney’s The Country Bears Movie.
M: “It was my first audition with the Jim Henson Company. I went in and I thought I completely blew the audition. But it never fails, because honestly, most of the auditions I think I’ve aced, I never get the callback, but the ones I think I didn’t do well at, I get the call back.”
The movie The Country Bears would be Misty’s first job with the Jim Henson Company. She was the suit performer for Beary Barrington. Misty grew up watching The Muppets and FraggleRock, and shehad always wanted to work with the Jim Henson Company and truly enjoyed the experience, especially filming the final concert scene! The dream of singing and performing live on stage was born here in this movie making experience, but it would be a few more years before her music journey would begin! After all, timing is everything!
Henson Digital Puppetry Studio (HDPS) is Born
After The Country Bears movie, Brian Henson called in the suit performers for a meeting. He let them know that the company was no longer going to be doing practical, suit performance work. Misty shared that she was disappointed because she had only just begun to work for the Henson Company and now, as it would seem at the time, her journey with the company was over before she had the opportunity to truly begin, or so she thought.
A month after Misty learned that the roles of suit performers were going to be cut, Brian Henson invited her to return to the studios to work alongside actor and fellow suit performer, Michelan Sisti. Misty and Micha were hired to work on a test pilot assisting Brian and the Henson Company in the further development of their brand new system called Henson Digital Puppetry Studio (HDPS), which is the Henson Company’s motion capture technology.
It was not only Misty’s first time working in motion capture, it was the Henson Company’s first time too. Misty was at the forefront in testing this new technology which allows performers to puppeteer and voice three-dimensional CG characters in real time. The Henson’s proprietary software allows for live performance control of computer graphic characters, which means that the animated characters are streamed in real time and are directed just as live action actors would be.
M: “My introduction into Motion Capture came about because of my experience as a suit performer, and my suit performance work as Beary Barrington in The Country Bears movie. After working on the motion capture test pilot with Brian and Micha, the next big job for us with Motion Capture was TJ Beary Tales, and then I did the test pilot for Sidthe Science Kid. That project got green lit and the show became a big hit.”
Not only was it a big hit, Misty would go on to star as the title character, Sid. Jim Henson’s Creature Shop would end up receiving a special Emmy Award Laureate for Special Recognition in the Computer Smithsonian Awards, Media, Arts and Entertainment Category for their Henson Digital Puppetry Studio (HDPS) use in Sid the Science Kid.
Another Piece to the Puzzle
Other jobs came up for Misty, both in motion capture, stunts and suit performance work.
It would be on the set of the 2006 Horror/Sci-fi film Altered in which Misty played an Alien Foki Scout, where she would meet Brad William Henke (Orange is the New Black). Their meeting and friendship would propel Misty forward in her acting training. After the film wrapped, Henke encouraged Misty to attend his acting class. Misty shared with me that acting class always made her nervous, but after about a month of Brad’s persistence she finally relented and Henke would end up becoming Misty’s acting coach. The first assignment Henke would give Misty was to purchase a book called The Alchemist, by author, Paulo Coehlo. To Misty, that book was everything.
M: “The book forever changed me. To realize my ‘Personal Legend’ (Paulo Coehlo, The Alchemist) It will take everything I’ve got, but it is worth it! Acting class in L.A. intimidated me. Many of the actors here in town are classically trained. I really struggled at first, and I had a tough time dealing with my nerves, but I kept going to class week after week, and devoted a good, solid two years to Brad’s acting class, all the while continuing to work on films, commercials, and television shows, and continue to audition, and take dance classes at the EDGE (EDGE Performing Arts Center located in Los Angeles). You always need to be training, and improving your craft.”
Bikram Yoga and Finding Self Worth
Misty was dedicated to her craft, taking both acting and dance classes continuously but, after a decade of stunt work and suit performance work, it had taken a toll on Misty’s body that not many are able to fathom.
M: “The Country Bears movie was incredibly challenging and physically demanding on my body! My body was pretty beat up by the end of the shoot. My puppeteer, Alice Dinnean, invited me to come with her to a yoga class just after the film wrapped. She felt it would help me. After the first class, same as with gymnastics, I was hooked. I began practicing yoga in the summer of 2001, and I’ve been practicing ever since.
Bikram Yoga is where I discovered a great deal of healing. I didn’t take to Bikram at first. I remember walking into the room and thinking, ‘oh wow, it’s hot in here!’ But I signed up for a month unlimited Bikram yoga series because the teacher suggested that ample benefits from the yoga come with steady practice! And there was a big ol’ first time student discount! So, I went every single day, and within a month my body had changed so rapidly and dramatically in all lovely ways possible, I thought to myself, ‘THIS IS ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!’
After experiencing the tremendous, transformational, healing power of the Bikram series, I decided that I wanted to teach the yoga too! I wanted to give to others what I had been given; a happy, healthy mind, body, spirit connection. And a smoking hot body! Ha! My mama couldn’t understand why I would want to walk away from my career and spend 9 weeks in the Bikram Yoga Teacher Training, but I told her it was something I needed to do for me. I don’t feel that I am contributing to society, and teaching yoga will be my small contribution. I want to help other people heal too, and I know that the Bikram series works!
My height. I’d like to say that I stand proud and confident and unwavering, but often times I experience shyness and insecurity. I’m not very comfortable in social settings unless I have my posse with me, oh, and my stilettos on. For a short girl, those ‘stilettos’ inches matter! However, when I walk into the Bikram studio to practice or to teach, I’m not wearing stilettos. I simply stand on my flat, bare feet in the hot room. It is a space where I have not only found peace and compassion for myself, but I’ve also found my confidence in a social setting. Through the 90 minute class, you’re in that room with the heat that pushes not only your physical buttons, but your mental and emotional ones too, and as you learn to really look at yourself in the mirror for those intense 90 minutes you begin to become your best friend again! Most of us are really skilled at breaking ourselves down, and I remind my students during practice that there isn’t anyone that they judge more harshly than themselves. I encourage them to use the 90 minutes in front of the mirror to begin to learn how to be more gentle and compassionate, and in doing so, they are able to share that same gentleness and compassion with everyone in their life. The Ripple Effect! The Bikram Yoga journey isn’t just physical, it is a mental and emotional journey too. I became my best friend again, and I found my confidence too! To stand in front of a big group of people and talk to them for 90 minutes, that was a big win for this shy girl!”
Becoming a Certified Bikram Yoga instructor helped Misty to find confidence in herself once again. Misty continues to practice and teach the Bikram series at Christie William’s Bikram Yoga Encino studio.
Music Is In Her Blood
When I asked Misty about The Mandalorian and how her audition was, I did not expect to hear the story she was about to tell me. As I type this, I am fighting through water filled eyes (I know what is about to written and I need to pause for a moment). I knew Misty when we were in our early 20’s performing at Disneyland, I thought I knew Misty well, I idolized her really, she has always been such an incredible one of a kind talent and yet I never knew many of the things she so bravely shared with me during her 90 minute interview with me. Like, I knew she was a talented singer/songwriter. OH, YES! Misty can sing too!! She’s a quintuple+ threat! Actor/Singer/Dancer/Stunt Performer/Suit Performer/Motion Capture Performer/ETC/ETC.
So when I asked Misty about TheMandalorian, she back tracks a bit to tell me about her singing career, because the two would mesh and come together in an unanticipated way.
M: “It was a culmination of things that happened, leading up to the audition for The Mandalorian. At that time in my life, I would tend to go off on little tangents, letting my heart and spirit guide me. When I auditioned for Sid the Science Kid, I was asked if I could sing. My head was saying, ‘Well, sort of. I sort of sing.’ While my heart was shouting, ‘YES!!!! I DO SING!!! I LOVE TO SING!’
I have always loved singing. I didn’t really know why until more recently that music was a big deal on both sides of my family. One of my second cousins was Rick Rosas (a long time bassist who performed with Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Ron Wood and Jerry Lee Lewis and who Neil Young describes as, “One of the greatest musicians to ever play with me”).
Music and singing has always been a part of my life, but it was not the forefront of my career. So when I went in for my singing audition, knowing Sid the Science Kid was a children’s show, I chose to sing a song in a cappella that I had always sung to my nieces and nephews, “You Are My Sunshine.”
The creator of the show, Halle Stanford, never forgot Misty’s voice and referred her to a music producer who told her that in order to make it in the music industry, she’d have to write her own songs too, luckily, Misty did indeed write her own music. In 2009 Misty pitched the one song she had written to her music producers, Paul Bushnell and Paul Graham. They took her on as a client, and they’ve been creating songs together ever since.
M: “I’ve taken the biggest risk in my life choosing to create my music and music videos, as well as, perform live on stage. Every penny I’ve ever worked for, including my entire savings, I put into this journey of being an artist. A music artist. There are no guarantees, it’s the hardest business I’ve ever been in, and by 2018 I had absolutely nothing to show for myself except for my songs and music videos. January, 2018, I had to hustle extremely hard again to simply make ends meet! I taught as many yoga classes as I could without dying of dehydration. I got certified to walk dogs, and I walked 3 to 4 dogs every day. I must say, despite having nothing, I was really happy! I was living moment to moment and day by day reminding myself that, ‘In THIS moment, I have enough!’ I’m fine. Keep going!”
Though 2018 was a turning out to be a rough year for Misty, she never lost faith and continued to return to that favorite book of hers that Brad William Henke had her purchase many years prior, The Alchemist.
M: (Referring to The Alchemist) “Your ‘Personal Legend,’ The Universe isn’t just gonna hand it to you! Everything will go wrong at first. You will lose everything you have, but you will find yourself in the process! JUST STAY THE COURSE NO MATTER HOW HARD IT GETS.”
Misty Gets The Call
Misty would receive a call from her agent saying that Sarah Finn, casting director known for Avengers: Endgame, Black Panther, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and TheMandalorian, just to name a few, was casting a new show and had requested Misty’s acting reels.
M: “At this time in my life I was incredibly focused on my music and not on my reel (an actor demo reel is a video of clips of the actor’s best performances which helps casting directors get a sense of the actor’s abilities). I had no idea what I was blowing off!”
Misty gave her agent what she had, which her agent submitted, but Sarah Finn Casting wanted to see more.
M: “My agent told me that casting wanted me to come in for an audition. Despite my nerves about cold read auditions, I really wanted to try for it! A few months earlier I had done a favor for a friend and acted in her short film, and although it was terrifying to not be under an animatronic head or in a motion capture suit as an animated character; to be on camera as myself, it was new and scary for me, but I really enjoyed the process, and I wanted to do it again! So I agreed. ‘OK! YES! I CAN DO THIS!’”
Misty shared with me that she wears hearing aids. She was born with a congenital hearing loss in her right ear and after years and years of wearing ear pieces in her left ear for suit performance jobs, she has suffered nerve damage in the left ear. Even with the nerve damage, her left ear is still the strongest of the two, and she relies on her left ear a lot. Unfortunately, she was having trouble with her left ear the morning of the audition for TheMandalorian. Misty had hoped that all she would have to do was go to the doctor, have her ear examined and then the doctor would insert a new hearing aid back in and she would be fine. But that didn’t happen for Misty.
M: “I called my agent immediately after the appointment with my ear doctor and told her what was happening! I had mixed emotions! I really wanted to go to the audition, but I was so uncomfortable with the fact that I could not hear well at all, AND it was a cold read audition with Sarah Finn! It was an incredibly frustrating moment for me, but ultimately, I listened to my heart, and my heart really wanted to go to the audition! It was an opportunity to get to meet Sarah Finn, one of the biggest casting agents in town. And my agent, always being positive and supportive said, “If you have trouble hearing them, just ask them to speak up. YOU NEED TO GO TO THIS AUDITION! Also, I’ll ask if you can go in early so that you can spend a little time with the script.” She asked, and they said yes!”
I got there an hour early, signed in, signed the NDA agreeing that I wouldn’t share anything, and I just sat there in the front waiting room and began reading my script, and in that moment I had an epiphany as I read the character’s words, OH MY GOD, I KNOW THIS CHARACTER!!!! And again…”
Misty begins to get teary eyed and tries her best to hold back her tears and then she continues…
M: “Kuiil (she is barely able to muster out his name) I know him and I understand him from my struggles in life, not my triumphs. I know him from my struggles as a gymnast. I know his wisdom from my years of practicing and teaching yoga. I know him from having a similar wantonness to help people to help themselves. So when I went into the audition room, the choices I made were derived from a very honest place. My life’s journey! And it was the first time that I got to say the line, ‘I Have Spoken.’”
It wouldn’t be the last time Misty would get to say this now famous line, the next time would be on the set of The Mandalorian.
The Mandalorian, But First Air Supply!
After Misty learned she landed the part of Kuill in The Mandalorian she thought all her struggles were over, but life had one more lesson for Misty to learn.
M: In July of 2018, just prior to filming The Mandalorian, I was still having issues with my left ear. I went to my ear appointment at House Ear Institute thinking I was having a simple, painless procedure, and that I’d be in and out of the doctor’s office in no time. It ended up being one of the most scary and painful days of my life! I had 3 incredibly painful procedures in one day. Multiple doctors came into the surgery room (never a good sign!) they couldn’t stop the bleeding in my ear. After the third ear surgery they administered a special medicine used for internal bleeding, packed my ear with tons of cotton, medicine and tape, and sent me home. The next day I went in for a CAT scan, blood work, and a return visit to my ear doctor just to see how I was doing. To be honest I was really scared and frustrated! I didn’t know if my left ear would recover. I could feel my music career slipping away, and it would be a week and a half of waiting. Waiting for the test results, and waiting to see the doctor again! THE LONGEST 10 DAYS OF MY LIFE!
The day after the surgeries, when I returned home from all of the appointments, I received an email from my music promoter Zac Garfinkel, asking me if I wanted to open for Air Supply in about 3 weeks? As always, my heart and spirit immediately scream, YES! OH MY GOSH! YES! While my head is spinning with the thoughts, ARE YOU INSANE? You just had 3 ear surgeries. You don’t know what’s wrong with you, or if you’re ok? You don’t know if you’ll be able to hear well out of your left ear again?
There I was, sitting alone at the dining room table, tears streaming down my face from frustration and confusion. What kind of timing is this?”
Fortunately, Misty has a strong group of close friends she calls, “The SheTribe.” She sat alone at the table and began to send out texts to them. One by one messages of encouragement began to come back.
M: “Messages came back saying things like: “Remember, life happens in the yes!” “Stay positive and trust that in 1 ½ weeks from now you’ll get good news. Everything is going to be fine.” “JUST SAY YES MIST!”
Misty was now cast in an epic new Star Wars series, she had just undergone three ear surgeries, and she now had an opportunity to open for her favorite band of all time, Air Supply. She had just three weeks and 3 days to prepare for her set. She had no hearing aid in her left ear to hear her pitch, her ear was still jam packed with cotton and medicine as she began planning for the show, and rehearsing with her band mates. She took a leap of faith and she said, YES! because it was AIR SUPPLY!! Thankfully, everything turned out OK for Misty.
M: “Just one week before the show I went to my final ear doctor appointment and was able to put my hearing aid, that I rely on, back in my left ear. It was a truly joyous occasion for me! I got to rehearse one final time with everything FINALLY back to normal! Words could never properly express the joy I felt!
The Rose, a live music venue in Pasadena, California, was sold out on the night Misty would be opening up for the Air Supply.
Photos Credit: Nyk Fry/Air Supply at The Rose in Pasadena
M: “It’s crazy because when you’re backstage, the volume of the crowd and their collective excitement, it can be overwhelming! For my first song, I decided to start with a three-part harmony, a cappella, and we were trying to hear the note to get prepared for that. When I walked onto the stage that night I felt so happy, excited, and proud! It felt good, like I really earned the right to be there, and I sang my heart out that night for Air Supply’s fans. It was the best show of my life because of everything that I had endured just a few weeks before the show! I shared about my experience with the audience that night, and for the first time ever, I experienced the beautiful connection between us all. The human connection! They took a journey with me that night! It was one of the most incredible moments of my life! …because of the lesson: JUST SAY YES!”
Misty would tell the audience that night she was so excited to be opening up for her favorite band since she was 8 years old. She also went on to tell them that 3 weeks and 3 days prior to that very performance she had three ear surgeries and had no idea if she would ever be able to hear again.
But then, there she was, standing on stage, singing in the best show of her life and then when it was over, it was time to start shooting The Mandalorian.
And So It Begins…
After Misty’s stellar opening performance at The Rose, she was now ready to start shooting the epic new Star Wars series, streaming on Disney+. The Mandalorian, written and executive produced by Jon Favreau, is the first live-action Star Wars series that has many Star Wars fans on edge. The familiarity of many of the new characters Favreau has introduced has many fans instantly wrapped up and invested in the character’s storylines, like The Child, Mando, and Kuiil. This saga takes place 5 years after the Return of the Jedi, just after the fall of the Galactic Empire and yet prior to the rise of the First Order. I was eager to ask Misty all my nerdy Star Wars fan questions, but I tried my best to keep it cool…at first. So I went in easy, though my heart started pumping a bit quicker by this point.
I asked Misty what it was like when she got the scripts for The Mandalorian.
M: “It was amazing and so special! Logging into my Lucasfilm account for the first time to get my scripts, it felt like an incredible gift! A reward for working so hard for so long, and staying the course no matter how tough life got! (ALERT…If you haven’t yet seen season one of The Mandalorian, there are spoilers ahead…skip ahead to WHO IS KUIIL?)
The scripts. By the time I finished reading Chapter One, I was hooked! I was a Mandalorian fan! The scripts were so good! I was so excited! Kuiil is such a cool character! I could not believe I was going to be a part of this incredible Star Wars story! Then I got to the end of Chapter 7, and I was like, ‘NOOOOOOO! NOT KUIIL! NO! I just got to Star Wars!’ I read through the scene twice just in case I misread it. I didn’t. I sat on my bed in silence and in shock. I put the script down and I cried! I was so genuinely sad for this character that I didn’t even know yet, but I was also extremely proud to be playing such a cool, funny, kind, courageous character that is willing to sacrifice himself for the innocent, and for the greater good of all! I had a lot of work to do in order to ensure that I could deliver a genuine, heartfelt performance that people would be moved by. A performance that people would remember because he has such a short time on screen in this Star Wars story. I wanted him to be memorable. I think he was.”
WHO IS KUIIL?
Kuiil was certainly memorable and I believe there is more to his story that needs to be told. The Ugnaught, Kuiil’s race, first appeared in Empire Strikes Back in Cloud City. In The Mandalorian, Kuiil tells Mando that he was once an indentured servant to the Empire. I asked Misty if she knew if Kuiil was one of those Ugnaughts’ who had to prep the hyperbaric chamber for Han Solo before he was frozen in carbonite.
Misty politely laughed and replied, “Maybe. Dave Filoni was my first director on The Mandalorian. I asked him if he could give me Kuiil’s backstory, anything really. Dave told me that because Ugnaughts have always been background characters, it was up to me to create what I wanted to create with him. So YOGA! That’s how I know him. Because he is wise and passive. There is no jibber jabber with him, he says exactly what it is he needs to say and then he is done. HE HAS SPOKEN…he’s moving on.”
I then asked Misty if she had a favorite line, or dialogue as Kuiil.
M: “I Have Spoken, is special! This line was in the scene when I auditioned for the role. Casting directors and writers often choose dialogue for auditions that will cue them quite quickly about an actor’s understanding of a character’s complexities and depth. The line, I have spoken, I understand it because of my yoga journey. When I teach I try to be very specific with my words because I know my students have a lot going on internally, and less is more. I teach yoga simply because I want to help people to help themselves. I never imagined that it would help me book the greatest role of my life! “I HAVE SPOKEN.”
I love that line too, and I better understand the power in Kuiil’s line after Misty shared the back story. Misty then pauses for a moment during our interview, thoughtfully going through her lines in her head for a moment and then she shares with me a beautiful moment, it would be the very first day of shooting for The Mandalorian and she would be in that very first scene.
Photo Credit: Lucasfilm
M: “It was the very first day of shooting. We were on set with the sunrise! The first scene up was Kuiil and Mando on the blurrgs at the top of the ridge overlooking the encampment. It was one of Kuiil’s most important monologues, and it was first up! I had butterflies in my stomach! I needed to continuously take big, deep breaths in order to stay calm. I was standing next to Dave Filoni on a Star Wars set! Yeah, deep breaths were necessary! With my sides in hand, we read through the scene. I didn’t need my sides because I was off-book, but I had them just in case! … you know, THE NERVES! Brad William Henke taught me well. He reminded us all (when Misty was in his acting class) ‘The dialogue is the last thing you’ll be focused on in the scene! There are many other technical details unrelated to the dialogue that will need your attention. Your words should come naturally! Have respect for the writer’s words! Know them well! Be off book when you arrive on set!’ Thank you Brad!
So I had my lines down, we ran through the scene a couple of times for timing and pacing, then it was time to get dressed; walk onto my first Star Wars set; jump onto the blurrg and do my thing. We did a few takes, and then we were done! It felt strangely easy! I think that the crew was quite shocked at how well the first scene went too! It was seamless! The two characters looked great, and it was a beautiful exchange between the two of them! I am very proud of that scene!
My puppeteers at Legacy Effects were so excited too! In between takes they would come up to me to give me air and water, and they were just so happy! They kept saying over and over, “He looks so good!” That first day on set, and every day to follow, I experienced little victories in the form of courage and confidence! I have my yoga journey, my music journey, my acting classes journey, gymnastics, and all of life’s ups and downs to thank! I AM FOREVER GRATEFUL! For all of it! Especially the tough stuff because it is what has made me who I am, and who Kuiil is! I brought all of my life experience and put it into Kuiil! In fact, another one of my favorite lines is, “None will be free until the old ways are gone.” Like me, he understands empathy, compassion, kindness and peace, and we all need strive for those beautiful qualities, rather than power, violence and dominion.”
It Takes a Team
Misty was the suit performer for Kuiil, but it would take more than Misty to help bring the character to life.
M: “Kuiil was a team effort. In addition to me, the suit performer, and Nick Nolte’s voice, I worked with 3 puppeteers on set. Legacy Effects puppeteers: Jason B. Matthews (puppeteered Kuill’s eyebrows), David Covarrubias (puppeteered extra mouth and jaw movements, and Rodrick Khachatoorian (cued the dialogue tracks). Often times our first couple of takes would be a little off, but once we felt the timing and the flow of a scene, the ‘mind meld’ would occur, and suddenly 4 people would blend and mesh into one character! Also, the excitement that everybody felt knowing that this project was a new Star Wars show, we were always ready to work, we came to set prepared, and we were very excited to be there!
As soon as me and my team arrived on set, Kuiil’s dialogue was our first priority. David Covarrubias would set up the dialogue tracks on his puppeteering rig, hand me headphones, and I would listen and listen and listen. Nick Nolte not only gifted us with beautiful delivery of the lines, but he also gave us 2 to 3 options for each line varying speed and emphasis on different words in a line. After our morning rehearsal with the cast and crew, I would have a good idea of what lines I’d like to use. Each director I worked with (Dave Filoni, Rick Famuyiwa, and Deborah Chow) would also have a listen, and they too would help me choose. Once the choices were made, David quickly pieced the lines together, and Kuiil’s dialogue would be ready to go! PHEW! It was quite a process!”
Misty also shared with me that because of the expert craftsmanship of Legacy Effects artist, Jason B. Matthews, who sculpted Kuiil’s face, she didn’t have to be glued in anywhere around her eyes, which, to me, is astonishing.
M: “Kuiil was a unique animatronic head for me to wear because of the tight sculpt. I’ve never worn a head that had to fit so tightly against my face, nor have I ever worn an animatronic head that exposed my eyes. The head had to be a super tight fit against my face in order for the skin around my eyes to blend well with Kuiil’s face. Also, Kuiil’s eyes are my eyes, just a different color. I wore custom made, bright yellow-green, sclera contacts. I thought they were cool and beautiful, but Jon Favreau would always smile and laugh and say, ‘It’s challenging to chat with you when you have those things in without the head on!’ Ha!!”
What Happens in Season 2?
I had interviewed Misty prior to the release of Season 2, The Mandalorian, which she was not allowed to confirm or deny any of my questions about it. So I waited with baited breath until its release. And then I saw a new character, a sweet character, one that is referred to as Frog Lady, and I knew instantly who the actor was inside this suit.
In Chapter 10, you’ll see some awesome moves that reminded me of Misty when she was a gorilla artist in Congo and Instinct. In two seasons of TheMandalorian, Misty has now portrayed two very different characters in the Star Wars Universe. I am eager to find out what happens in season 3, will Misty play a third character? Just think of all the Star Wars action figures! And Mr. Favreau, if you ever end up reading this, please oh please Kuiil needs an origin story! There’s so much more I want to know about him!
FROM DISNEYLAND TO DISNEY+
M: “It’s special to come full circle! I consider this my Alchemist journey! My very first professional audition was at Disneyland, and now to return to the Disney Company to play a role that has forever changed my life, well, it’s like the icing on the cake, and it’s incredibly special to be a part of the magic again.”
Misty is an inspiration to many. She has always been someone who leads with her heart, and I do admire that about her. She is so very kind and her humility is humbling. When I tell her that she is an inspiration, someone who is strong both physically and mentally, and that I wanted to tell her story, because I thought others should be aware that someone like her exists in the world, she smiles graciously and she then tells me the following:
“All I really want is for my story to inspire people. I want them to see that it’s never too late. Age is just a number really! You have your entire life to constantly be inventing and reinventing yourself. I believe our stories become more and more interesting as we get older, having endured all of life’s ups and downs, and through it all having the courage to just keep on going. Keep on fighting! To me, that’s what’s inspiring. Like RBG (Ruth Bader Ginsburg), that woman right there is one of the most amazing people I have ever come to know! I was absolutely blown away when I watched her documentary, RBG. (Misty recites a quote) ‘There’s a sense that time is precious and you should enjoy and thrive in what you’re doing to the hilt.’ – RBG Thank you for the inspiration RBG! I am doing just that!”
Misty has a new song that she just finished recording entitled, “Thank You.” It’s a song about gratitude. A ‘thank you’ gift from her to all of the essential workers, her family, friends, and the fans. It is set to be released around Christmas time. It’ll be available on Apple Music, Amazon Music, Spotify and anywhere else you may stream music. Until it’s released be sure to check out “Paper House,” which landed on Buzz Music’s Spotify top 10 Best of 2019 list.
Misty is continuing her motion capture artistry in the Jim Henson Company/Netflix series, “Word Party.” Netflix greenlit the adorable, educational program for its 5th season. Filming is set to begin in December.
Will Misty Rosas be in the 3rd season of The Mandalorian? I guess we’ll have to wait and see…
*Star Wars Autograph Universe Fans, reach out to www.swau.com for autograph information for all your favorite Star Wars Universe characters.
Written by Catherine RamirezPhotos Credit Treb Heining (unless noted)
Treb Comes Home
In 1984, twelve years after Treb Heining left his Balloon Boy job at Disneyland and now a successful entrepreneur with his own company, BalloonArt By Treb, folks at Disney began to take notice of his prolific balloon art installations and designs. None more so than Disneyland’s Art Director Clare Graham. Graham first began to try out Treb on smaller jobs outside of the Park before he would be invited to lend his artistic expertise inside the Happiest Place on Earth.
Treb says, “We did our first event at the Children’s Museum in Los Angeles and a couple other events before Clare finally scheduled an event for us inside the park, which was at the Tomorrowland Stage.”
“Then we started to do more and more events with Disneyland. It got to the point where I would call Clare at his extension and ask what he needed. Clare would tell me, for example, about the Splash Mountain Opening, he’d tell me what he needed, providing me with a list. I’d work on a bid, and Clare would approve it, and so by 10 A.M., my day had been made; I had just made my biggest sale.”
A lot of exciting projects began to happen for Treb within the park for various attraction openings like Captain EO and Disneyland’s grand yearly birthday festivities (which will be a huge chapter in Treb’s upcoming biography).
Disneyland’s 30th Birthday Celebration
Treb’s previous training at Disneyland lent specific principles that he held on to in life and instilled at his own company. Which according to Treb, were to “Dream big, work hard, show respect to all those you work with and always be professional.” Clare would observe this disciplined work ethic and talent in Treb and his crew while on events at Disneyland. Perhaps that is why Clare thought Treb’s hard working crew, with phenomenal skills, was up to a very specific challenge. The Disneyland Art Director’s new idea for Treb would be extreme and perhaps one of Treb’s greatest challenges, up to this point anyway. This new challenge would be a balloon design for Disneyland’s 30th Birthday Celebration.
Treb recalled the following conversation to me:
Clare said, “Treb, what about the idea of getting 30 birthday cake candles, 75 feet high all the way down Main Street?”
Treb Said, “Ok, Clare, Ok.”
Clare Continues, “Then we can put 10 foot spears on the top of each one.”
Treb responds, “OK. Alright.”
Clare finishes, “Work out the price…and all these have to go up while the park is still open to the guests.”
Treb continues, “So in other words the party started that night on the 30th Anniversary at midnight (July 17, 1985). The idea was the party was going to go from midnight on that night all the way until midnight the next day, a 24 hour party. Everything had to be set up by 9am on the morning of the 17th. We did all the columns of balloons in the rehearsal halls, back where the horses were kept (back of house Circle D Ranch). We did the columns in there one day and then the next day we touched them up. We then had a huge crew that marched them in, through the backroad from Small World towards the back of Main Street.”
Treb explained that crews were placed on the rooftops of the buildings all along both sides of Main Street U.S.A. Yet, even with the pictures Treb provided, it is difficult for me to fathom how this was pulled off. I worked on the Main Streets rooftops for confetti drops and TV production filmings, I understand the layout, and yet I have little understanding of how the 75 feet long balloon columns went from one roof to the next while guests were in the park.
Well, somehow Treb’s crew would do just that. They installed the thirty 75 feet long balloon (columns) candles, plus the added 10 foot sphere (to represent the candle’s flame) from one side of a building’s rooftop to another rooftop located across the street. By the time they were done, a canopy of 30 beautifully spiraled columns covered Main Street. Now all they had to do was wait until midnight.
Treb tells me the following about the moment his columns were transformed into something most memorable. He said, “At the nighttime ceremony at the Wish Upon a Star moment at midnight, the extraordinary happens, the canopy of balloons open up and all these perfectly placed columns rose up and transformed into 30 birthday candles.”
Treb gets choked up as he explains this to me and says, “It’s hard for me to talk about. It was pushing us to the limit.”
Treb had to bring in an extra crew of 100 people to do what Treb says was, “Beyond impossible.”
“Well…it didn’t go off without a hitch,” Treb says, “Someone let go of a column too quick and two columns got wrapped, so going down Main Street all of the 85 foot tall columns of balloons were standing straight except the two. We had to race up to the roofs and undue the two columns and when the two finally went up perfect, the whole crowd down below cheered.”
Contributing to the 30th anniversay of Disneyland was certainly a huge and momentous accomplishment for Treb. At 1:00 A.M. that night, on July 18, 1985, Treb trudged back to his hotel room at the Disneyland Hotel with his wife. He had been working nearly 48 hours straight by this time, with very little sleep in-between. Treb explained that as he looked out of his hotel room’s window he could see the 30 balloon columns, in the shape of birthday candles brightly lit from inside, standing 85 feet high with their flame sphere, and he just sat there on the edge of the bed and wept.
Treb recalled, “I just wept. I thought that this would be something that Walt Disney would be very proud of.”
Treb is Introduced to the “T” Balloon
It was around this time, in the mid to late 1980’s when Treb was introduced to several people based out of Japan from the Takara Kosan Company. Henry Unger, the West Coast Rep for the Pioneer Balloon Company (maker of the balloons Treb uses) had invited Treb to his office to meet with them. They showed Treb their “T” balloon that they had created. It was used in Japan for balloon decorations as a way of making balloon décor outdoors last for days and even weeks.
The Japanese company was able to put a 9” latex or an 11” latex balloon inside of the “T” balloon, which was a clear film-like product. When the balloon was blown up it would be the round balloon encased inside of that clear “T” balloon. In other words, a balloon within a balloon-like object. It was unique because it made the balloon that was encased inside last for so long.
As Treb continues to explain to me the details of the “T” balloon, I can hear his excitement begin to grow in his voice as he says, “I remember going to Clare Graham and saying, remember those columns that we did across Main Street for the 30th? Well we could do those columns now but they would be in the “T” balloon and they would last for a week! Instead of just one day! Of course Clare said give me a price but it was astronomical and he turned it down.”
Though Treb thought the product was very interesting and pitched the idea to Disneyland in different ways to use it for décor, the cost was always too high, making it prohibitive, even for Disney. The “T” Balloons ended up going into a drawer at Henry Unger and Associates, and were not seen for a very long time.
From the start of Treb’s business in 1979, not only did Treb coin the phrase “balloonart,” he also invented the balloon arch in 1979, and the first balloon sculpture in 1981. By the 1980’s Treb was working on some stellar projects. In addition to working with the Walt Disney Company, he also worked on more than eighteen Superbowls for NFL, five Academy Award shows and he worked on the 1984 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony.
Treb has also worked on the infamous balloon drops for both the Democratic and Republican Presidential National Conventions for many years…
…with the exception to the Democratic National Convention Balloon Drop of 2004, that was the one time Treb’s company wasn’t used, if they had, well, it would have been a much different balloon drop.
Oh, yes, I mustn’t forget to tell you that Treb also set three Guinness World Record Professional Balloon Releases during this time, utilizing Pioneer Balloon Company’s Made in the USA balloons, which is the only balloon company Treb has ever used, as their balloons are 100% biodegradable. The world record releases helped raise over $500,000 for charity in one instance, and more than $50,000 for high school music programs; Treb has always believed strongly in giving back to the community.
One of the professional world record releases occurred in Anaheim, California on what would have been Walt Disney’s 84th birthday. On December 5, 1985, volunteers consisting mostly of high school band students and Marines from the once El Toro Marine base, arrived as early as 3:30 A.M. to fill 1,200,000 balloons, though Guinness official’s record states 1,121,448 with helium rose to the sky that day.
Treb recalls, “I talked to Clare about being able to do the million balloon release and we finally got to do it for Skyfest. It was on Katella, between West Street and Harbor, we had 1,200 tubes of balloons each, which was a monumental feat. During that time I met a man named Bob Gault, he was a great guy and a supervisor of Main Street and we worked on Sky Fest together.”
Treb continues, “I also met a man named Pete Clark that ran merchandise at the time. I sent a letter to him back in 1980 when I first started my company. I let him know I was interested in going back and working the Balloon Department and run it like Nat Lewis (Treb’s first employer at Disneyland back in 1969). I always wanted to come back and run the balloon concessions at the park I started at, for one reason or the other it went by the wayside.”
Once a Balloon Vendor, Always a Balloon Vendor
Although Treb doesn’t currently run Disneyland’s balloon department, he did start balloon concessions at Knott’s Berry Farm, Mall of America, and State Fairs all across the country. Treb tells me that he always kept his hand in balloon vending. Back in 1983 he also started balloon vending at a popular mall in Orange County called South Coast Plaza. His balloon concession stand is a staple at the high-end shopping complex that all children look forward to seeing, while parents, on the other hand, try to steer them away. I myself remember getting my ears pierced at the mall when I was in the 6th grade. Afterwards my mom bought me a ride on the carousel as well as a Treb Heining balloon.
Treb Takes a Break…Sort Of
By 1993, 14 years after Treb first started his company BalloonArt By Treb, he explained to me that the balloon industry had “grown up.”
He said, “The balloon industry itself had changed dramatically. People don’t do things on the scale that we did them back then. That’s what pioneered the industry, yet with all industries, they change and become different. People sit at the balloon conventions and look at my work and they love the history, but they are afraid to attempt stuff like that. We did things in front of people on stage, like the Olympics that had never been done before. People are very reluctant to do that nowadays, even TV Producers. They are reluctant to do something that has not been tried and tested. People like Tommy Walker and Bob Jani (who replaced Walker in 1966 as Disneyland Entertainment Division Director, but is most remembered perhaps for his conceptual idea of the Main Street Electrical parade), loved doing that kind of stuff, it was a little bit dangerous, not to the public, but dangerous if it was going to work or not, but it always made a very spectacular effect for the show. It’s something I am very proud to be a part of what were really first time deals.”
Treb continues, “When I look back at one of my favorite bands, the Beatles, they were only around for 6 to 8 years, but the amount of work they did was unbelievable. Not to put myself in the same category or even the same class as the Beatles, but in the Balloon Industry, the amount of work we did, and the size and scale of the work, was spectacular to the point that when I was approached by Pioneer Balloon company (the company who made the balloons both Disney and Treb worked with) to see if I would teach more people about what I did, that’s what I finally decided to do.
Everybody knows that a baseball player can only pitch baseball for so long, and nobody knows how long you can do the type of work I was doing, and it was exhausting work. I always worked weekends on Special Events, so when I finally went to work for Henry Unger and Associates (Pioneer’s sales rep on the West Coast), people asked what I liked most about it, and I said weekends off! A Saturday and Sunday off for the first time in 15 years!”
With Treb no longer doing his spectacular inventive balloon art installations, it was the end of the great balloon era in terms of balloon décor on the massive and momentous scale Treb was creating. But it certainly was not the end of the great Treb Heining nor his balloon designs.
Henry Unger & Associates
In 1994, Treb began to work at Henry Unger & Associates. Henry Unger was well connected in the toy business and went to Asia quite a bit for the annual toy shows in Hong Kong. Henry had many contacts including buyers at Disneyland where his company was already selling many different items in the Park. When it came to balloons, Henry knew the business side of Pioneer’s distribution system.
One day in 1996, while Henry was cleaning out his office, he stumbled upon the “T” balloon samples the Takara Kosan Company had given him nearly a decade earlier. With THE balloon guy now in house, Treb tells me that Henry walked to his office and plopped the balloons on his desk, telling him to make another stab at coming up with a way to make them work in the U.S. Being the hands on balloon guy, Treb began to think, how could this product translate to being used in the U.S.?
A Flash of Genius
Flash of Genius doctrine states that an invention must indicate the flash of creative genius, not merely a skill of the calling.
Treb said, “Henry’s office was in Santa Monica. I was commuting, which I did not like. One day going home while stuck in traffic, all of a sudden….I was like, wait a minute…wait a minute…if they could make that balloon larger…big enough that we could put a 15” Mickey Mouse balloon inside ohhhh… So next morning I went in and told Henry. I did the initial drawings which showed how I wanted to increase the size as well as make the neck portion of the balloon different to make the stuffing of the Mickey Mouse latex easier.
Henry helped draft the faxes (that’s how communication was happening then) and we started sending faxes back and forth to the manufacturer in Japan.”
Treb recollects the following conversation, via fax…
First fax came back from Takara Kosan Company: “NO. Not Possible. Film is not wide enough.”
Henry and Treb reply: “Fax back if you can do it, we are thinking if you can do it, then we can sell to the Walt Disney Organization.”
Takara Kosan Company: “I think we can make it work.”
When I asked Treb what the exterior film of the balloon was made of, he wouldn’t provide specifics, but he did inform me that the exterior clear film protects the latex balloon inside from oxidation which makes the overall product last for a very long time. He further informed me that this balloon is put into the toy category because children can play with the product for weeks and even months and it can then be re-inflated to last for weeks and months again.
Treb Begins to Test
After samples were sent back and forth between the Takara Kosan Company and Treb over the next year, Treb thinks it’s perfect and he begins to test the product.
Treb tells me, “I initially tested at my house where I would mark the balloons and leave them outside in my backyard to test how long they lasted and also if prolonged exposure to the sun would make a difference. I wanted more adverse conditions before showing to Disneyland so I contacted the LA County Fair in Pomona to set up a meeting to pitch a balloon concession. It just so happened that the person who used to run South Coast Plaza, Jim Henwood, had just taken the head position with the LA County Fair. He was thrilled to see me and connected me with the right people to set up an operation for the Fair in 1997. This gave me the opportunity to work with thousands of pieces of the new balloon as well as see how it performed in the challenging heat and winds of Pomona. The latex balloon inside of the film that was sold at the L.A. Fair were not the Mickey shaped balloons, regular oval latex balloons were used, as I didn’t want to do anything that Disney would be upset about. All went very well and I then felt confident to bring it to Disneyland.”
What’s in a Name?
Treb’s friend, Karen Lamson told Treb that he should name his new creation the Glasshouse Balloon. When he asked her why, she had explained to him that in the early 60’s Disney sold a latex balloon inside a clear latex balloon. In the summer, the clear latex would fog up and it didn’t look good. But everybody used to call it mickey in a glass house back then, so Treb thought that was a perfect idea and said, “Let’s call it the Glasshouse!”
Armed with testing and a great name for Treb’s product, Disney’s approval of the Glasshouse Balloon would be the final step Treb needed to bring his newest creation through the gates of Disneyland.
Henry setup a meeting in 1997 with Sarah Quinn, Disneyland Resort’s Product Development Coordinator.
Treb explains, “A lot of sales calls usually go back and forth trying to get something going. But when we walked into this meeting with 25 different colored Mickey Glasshouse Balloons, we were asked when we could get this into the park. It was just like that. In the meeting I told them that I thought this balloon would outsell the other balloons 3 to 1.”
Sarah told Treb that she thought the Glasshouse should be sold in the new Tomorrowland that was to open the following year. Although Treb thought his balloon could sell in all the lands, he was ecstatic that HIS balloon would be sold at Disneyland, the place where he himself once sold balloons at the age of 15.
The Glasshouse Balloon is sold at Disneyland…Back to the Balloon Room
By May 22, 1998, the New Tomorrowland had been rededicated at Disneyland. Now no longer working at Henry Unger and Associates, in order to concentrate on his Glasshouse balloon and his new deal with Disneyland, Treb returned to the balloon room. Twenty-five years after he left Disneyland as a balloon boy, Treb finds that he not only needs to train the cast members how to fill the glasshouse balloon, but the Mickey shaped latex balloon as well.
Treb explained, “By this time, Disney sold only foil balloons, the Mickey shaped head balloons were completely phased out. It’s now my job to go into the balloon room and teach the balloon department not only how to blow up a Mickey Mouse balloon but how to blow it up inside this Glasshouse balloon. So I go there the first day and I spend 8 to 10 hours working with the department and training the staff. It was going very well. I remember saying to the crew that I’d see them tomorrow. More than half of them said they weren’t on balloons tomorrow because they rotated positions.”
Unlike in 1969 when Treb was a Disneyland Balloon Boy, balloon vending is now lumped into the Outdoor Vending Department, so the cast members are also required to perform other tasks like selling popcorn or cotton candy, etc.
That first day the Glasshouse was sold in Tomorrowland must have been such an exciting day for Treb. Returning to the room where he first met Nat Lewis in 1969 and learned how to tie a balloon really, really fast must have felt incredibly nostalgic. Though it was exciting for Treb, some balloon vendors were not so happy with the new balloon.
We Need More Balloons!
Treb returned the next day to Disneyland to train more Cast Members on how to inflate the Glasshouse.
Treb recalls, “I go back the next day and some of the balloon vendors that had been there the previous day cornered me and told me that they didn’t really like this product.”
“Why, it didn’t sell?” Treb asked them.
“Oh…no, no, no,” they responded. “We are used to the foil balloon. When we send the vendor out with the foil balloon we normally don’t have to worry about them for 3 to 4 hours because they have enough product but when we send them out with the glasshouse balloon we have to give them more product in like 10 minutes, we can’t keep up.”
“And that’s why you don’t like it?” Treb said.
“Well Ya, it’s really hard to keep up with the sales.”
After the first month with only one vendor in Tomorrowland, the glasshouse was outselling not Treb’s original 3 to 1 prediction, but was outselling the other 5 foil balloon vendors combined, by 5 to 1. The Glasshouse became a fixture, and pretty soon the foil balloons began to fall by the wayside. It was a roaring success, but with any new product there are kinks that eventually need to be worked out.
Treb tells me that, “With any new product, there are lots of glitches that happen and that was very much the case with the glasshouse balloon. I worked very closely through the early structure of that product because we had lots of problems in the beginning because it was a new process for Japan. I baby sat it every step of the way. I’d get these phone calls from Disneyland, saying this is happening, and boom I’d be over there and I would help them. I was always vigilant and was at Disneyland often in solving problems and working to make the product better and better. Without those efforts, I doubt the product would have survived.”
The Glasshouse Balloon Takes Over the World
Hong Kong Disneyland
Treb said, “Hong Kong Disneyland was the next park to start using the Glasshouse balloons. I trained the department and was there for the opening day on September 12, 2005.”
Walt Disney World
Treb continues, “I then investigated Rubio Arts, owned by Nat Lewis’ friend Jess Rubio, who ran Walt Disney World balloon concessions in Florida. I had been trying to get his production guy, David Johnson to bring the Glasshouse to Florida. They wouldn’t do it…wouldn’t do it…wouldn’t do it for years! And then I get a call from David saying that Jess is having his high school reunion at the Santa Ana Country Club and asked me if it was possible that I could do some balloons for Jess’s reunion. I said, DONE! Where is it, when is it? I went over there and was experimenting with the “Light up Stick.” That’s another product that we invented. So, for Jess Rubio’s reunion, not only did we do Mickey Mouse Glasshouse Balloons, but they also had light up sticks in them.” Treb continues with huge laughter as he continues to tell me, “The next day, I get a call from David that they were bringing in the Glasshouse balloons to Walt Disney World!”
David Koo, Director of Merchandise at The Walt Disney Company, contacted Treb asking if he would consider running the operation in Shanghai. Treb shared with me that he had been trying to do that for all the parks so was excited to take on Shanghai. Treb started two new corporations, one in Shanghai called Magic Glasshouse Umbrella LTD and TNH Amusements LTD which is based in Hong Kong.
Treb tells me that his son Damon Tieu moved to Shanghai and has been running the companies for the last five years.
Damon Tieu and Treb Heining at Shanghai Disneyland
Just as Treb taught Damon the art of balloon vending, Damon in turn taught Treb what balloon vending was like in a foreign land in terms of weather, environment and preferences for Disney characters. Disney Princesses for example aren’t as big a draw as the most popular character in Shanghai, Donald Duck.
Treb says, “Damon is running the Shanghai operation on a level that I don’t think even I could do.”
Treb explained that it was a lot of work to go to China and train everyone, but their sales have been phenomenal.
Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea
I asked Treb about his experience in getting his Glasshouse balloon to Tokyo Disneyland. I myself was a Cast Member who worked at the Tokyo Disneyland Resort on five separate contracts between the years 2001 to 2005. There is just something so magical about the Tokyo Disney Resorts, that can’t truly be explained, unless you yourself experience it. During my time working for the Oriental Land Company, which owns the Tokyo Disney Resort, I never remembered seeing the glasshouse balloon at the parks in Japan and I was curious how difficult it was to break into the Japanese market.
Treb tells me, “For years we tried to figure out the Japanese market. Henry helped, knowing the Asian market. We took the bull by the horns and scheduled a trip over there and learned everything we needed to know about what went on in Japan. It was a very hard process and it took me 10 years of many meetings. The Japanese people want to make sure that you’re going to be there. You aren’t just going to come in and sell something and go. I was scheduled, meeting after meeting, every three months for ten years.”
The turning point was when Shanghai Disneyland opened in 2016. The Tokyo Disney representatives would visit Damon at Shanghai Disneyland to see how the balloon operation was run on several occasions, resulting in the formation of a strong business relationship.
“Damon had a huge influence on Tokyo Disney bringing the glasshouse balloon to their resort,” Treb said.
Damon worked shoulder to shoulder with Treb on the final meetings at Tokyo Disney, leading up to the Glasshouse Balloon’s debut. And then finally on April 15, 2019, the Glasshouse Balloon made its first appearance at Tokyo Disneyland.
Treb says, “It was one of the proudest moments of my life. It was absolutely incredible for me now to look back and think about how it all transpired, but the fact that I get to do something in some place that I love so much. And Tokyo Disney, I gotta tell you, because you know having worked at Tokyo DisneySea yourself, but I consider that to be one of the finest theme parks in the world. I really believe, that the Japanese do it the way Walt would. He would be so thrilled walking those parks. All the Cast Members they are always on, they’re doing it exactly the way it’s supposed to be done. The Japanese Market, I just love the way they treat our products and our history. Sometimes I would wear my name tag from ’69 on my coat and when we went to lunch we would get into these talks, and I would start talking about my experiences, just like I’m telling you, and oh my gosh, everyone would just stop and ask questions and what about this, and this, they want to know so much. They love the history of Disney and when you can tell them… in 1970 when I… they just loved it, and I loved it too.”
22 years later, Treb’s most magical balloon of them all, the Glasshouse Balloon remains the best selling balloon of all time and is now sold at nearly all Disney theme parks around the world, with the one exception of Disneyland Paris, but don’t worry, Parisians, Treb is working on it.
Hard Work is Good For You
I asked Treb about his success and his never give up attitude and he tells me the following, “My success was formed by the very things I learned at Disney. It’s absolutely true. Dream Big: because I used to sit and think, how did Walt think of this? The same way that people would ask me sometimes how I came up with this glasshouse balloon idea. The answer, you have to dream. You have to spend so much of time every day dreaming, you know, just thinking. Sometimes I sit for long periods of time doing nothing, but just thinking. And then ideas will come to you. For a while, when I’m on the freeway driving back and forth it gave me time to think.
You have to Dream Big, Not Be Afraid to Work Hard, and Always Be Professional. Those 3 things that Disney taught me. And hard work…come on! Unless we’re born as a prince or something, we all have to work, right? Working hard I never minded, I don’t believe anything is worthwhile, unless you work for it. Find something you like to do because you’re going to work and working hard isn’t bad. It’s good for you. I say to people now, I built my own house, I am living the greatest life, and my only worries is that I’m not going to live long enough. I don’t want it to end. If I can do this in this country of ours, with balloons, come on! Is this not the greatest country in the world? If you are willing to just apply yourself and work hard you can do whatever you want. I don’t care what your idea is, you just have to be willing to work hard.”
What’s Happening Now?
In addition to working on new balloon designs with the Walt Disney Company, and creating new products utilizing his MyOwnPet Balloon Company, Treb is also co-writing his biography, which I am certainly very excited to read.
Treb shares, “My thrill now, I have thousands of pictures from Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo. The thrill of the kids when you see them and they want a balloon so bad, I love it. At South Coast Plaza when you see a kid go walking by and you see the parent says no no no, they go around the corner, and next thing I know, here comes the child dragging that parent saying OK, OK!” Treb continues with a robust laughter, “If it were up to me, we’d be poor because I’d give all the balloons away!”
Returning to the Melody
When Treb was first hired as a Disneyland Balloon Boy in 1969, I don’t think his 15 year old self could have possibly imagined that his dream job would have lasted a lifetime. Treb told me that a Dixieland Musician once told him, that in Jazz, it’s always important to return to the melody. Treb’s melody is balloon vending. His hope is to return to Disneyland to run the balloon concessions where his balloon vending first began. I can’t see anyone more perfect or more destined for that role. Can you?
On May 22, 1998 at the mere price tag of $100 million, the new Tomorrowland was rededicated at Disneyland with special guests in attendance, including astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Tomorrowland opened with a new esthetic, attractions and exhibits like Rocket Rods and the American Space Experience. Although these additions no longer exist today, including most of Tomorrowland’s 1998 makeover, there is one special item that also appeared in Tomorrowland around this time, and not only does it continue to exist today, it has flourished. It is an invention so magical in design, that it includes a 15” Mickey Mouse head shaped latex balloon incased inside of a round film that protects the latex Mickey balloon from oxidizing on the hot summer days. If inflated correctly, it seals the helium filled balloon in such a way that it can remain airborne for well over a month. I am of course talking about the Glasshouse balloon which remains as vibrant, new and exciting today as when it first graced Disneyland’s Tomorrowland back in 1998.
When I worked on film production at the Disneyland Resort during that time, the Glasshouse balloon was one of the highest demanded props for commercials, B-Roll and still photo shoots. On one occasion, I remember being told to pick up these important props from the balloon man who just so happened to be at Disneyland that day. I vaguely remember retrieving these special balloons from a nice dressed man who was backstage in the balloon room. The term “balloon man,” I would learn many years later, would be a severe understatement. For Treb Heining is more than a balloon man, he is THE man, a visionary, who would ignite a balloon industry and invent the bestselling balloon of all time.
To understand Treb Heining, you first have to learn about his origins. His father, a native Californian, was a paratrooper in the U.S. Army stationed out of Fort Bragg. His mother was born and raised in the village of Babylon on Long Island, New York. On one fateful trip, Treb’s father and his Army buddies went on leave to the Big Apple, and it’s here, in New York City where his parents would meet and fall in love.
The Heinings got married in 1953 and decided to purchase a home in Garden Grove, California. One of their deciding factors to purchasing the home was its proximity to a new park Walt Disney was going to build in the neighboring city of Anaheim. They had envisioned it as a nice place to take their children, a park complete with swings and slides. Unbeknownst to them what Walt Disney’s term of a “park” truly meant, and that of course, was the park we know today as Disneyland.
Because of their close proximity, Treb’s parents would often take both he and his brother to The Happiest Place on Earth.
The below home movie is Treb Heining as a youngster leading the Disneyland Band in 1957.
A Glimmer of Hope
By the time Treb entered high school in 1969, he joined the high school band. Being in the band meant that Treb had many upper grade friends, most of whom were 18 years of age and working at Disneyland. Treb wanted to work at Disneyland too, in the worst way. But at the age of 15, he could not be hired as a Cast Member.
And then, one night, a glimmer of hope for Treb. His father came home with a phone number on a piece of notepaper. His father had a friend who knew that Nat Lewis, who had been running the balloon concession at Disneyland since Walt hired him in 1956, hired workers as young as 16 years old to work in the balloon department. Nat was able to do this because his company was a lessee, a third party vendor. Still only 15 years old, Treb Heining was on a mission to work at Disneyland any way he could. He immediately called the number his father had given him, and informed the person who answered the phone that he was available immediately.
Treb said, “They told me they weren’t hiring now so to call back in a couple months. So I called the next day and they told me that, yes, we got your call yesterday but we’re not hiring now so just give it some time and we’ll call you back.”
Would you like to take a guess what happened on the third day? You’re right, Treb called once again, except this time, Treb was invited to come in and fill out an application. Treb was certainly excited that his persistence payed off.
The Day Treb Heining Filled Out an Application
Treb’s parents drove him to Harbor Gate at Disneyland. Back then there was a parking lot right in front of Disneyland where he could be dropped off. He made a phone call to the balloon room from the Harbor Security Gate and was instructed how to walk backstage. Treb ended up walking underneath the train tracks and over to the balloon room, just past where the People Mover tracks and parts were stored. He walked in and sat down, nervously filling out his application. Shortly thereafter, Treb began to hear communications go back and forth between the managers over the phones about someone not being able to show up for work.
One of the managers then turned to Treb and said, “You wanna work today?”
To which Treb quickly replied, “Yes!”
After telling his parents they would have to come back and pick him up later, Treb went out that very day as a balloon vendor to sell balloons. He was now an official Nat Lewis Balloon Boy making $1.35 per hour. It was a whole 15 cents less per hour from the previous job he was working at, but Treb didn’t mind. He was working at Disneyland!
An Official Disneyland Balloon Boy
Treb’s first day out as a Balloon Boy was a rite of passage, in that he had to wear an outfit no other Balloon Boy would wear. The Costuming Department had given Nat Lewis several costumes for the Balloon Boys to try out, and none of the other boys would wear this one.
Treb remembers that his costume was a “Yellow thing with fluffy pants and yellow tights and I remember all the other senior balloon boys were coming out during that evening just to come by and look at me and laugh. I didn’t care because I got to be working at Disneyland. I will never forget that first time of walking past the Inn Between (the backstage lunch cafeteria for cast members) to the entrance that lets you out just past the north side of Plaza Inn with my balloons. It was the first time in my life of walking into Disneyland that wasn’t through the Main Gate (Treb laughs with a fondness I can hear in his voice).”
Treb shared that his feelings were of nothing more than pure excitement to be in THE PARK, and as we continued the interview he said, “That’s how it all began.”
Five Balloon Boy Positions
There were five positions where a balloon boy would sell the balloons. They were Fantasyland, Small World, Good Gate and Bad Gate (near the front of the park’s Main Gate) and Subland (located in-between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland, the pathway just past Matterhorn Mountain). The term Good Gate was derived because guests would often pass through the Emporium and then exit the park towards the right tunnel entrance, so that side of the gate would always have many more guests exiting, therefore more balloon sales. Bad Gate was on the opposite side of the street, towards where Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln is located.
Treb said that “It was very advantageous to work either Subland or the Gates as you got to wear the really cool outfit. Which was the blue pants, striped shirt, the vest and the straw hat. But, you only got to wear that after you worked there for a while.”
Treb first started his role in Fantasyland and he further explained that in Fantasyland and Small World, the balloon boys had to wear the not as cool Peter Pan costume.
The Art of Selling
Treb learned from Nat Lewis that “bending the balloon,” having a large quantity, is important. To this day, the different concessions that Treb works with at the various Disney Parks around the world, he stresses how important it is to keeping the “umbrella full.” A huge umbrella of balloons causes people to stop and look at them.
Treb explained that after a guest stops to look at the beautifully arranged balloons, they might say, “Woah, that’s cool, hey how much are these? Boom. That’s the opening you get. A very basic marketing technique that was taught to me back then. Once you get someone to ask a price of something, it opens a door to talking to them.”
Walt Disney did not want a carnival atmosphere at Disneyland, and the selling of balloons was no exception. Unlike carnivals, where a balloon vendor may yell, “Here, here, come get your balloon!” Disneyland’s balloon vendors are not allowed to approach the guest. The guest must come to the vendor. A way to entice the guest would be to keep the balloon umbrella perfectly flat, arranged and even, to the point where the balloon boy would be able to hold up to 100 balloons.
Another technique Treb learned, which he uses to this day, is how to sell by burying the price. “We were taught that when a guest asks about the balloons and ask the price, I would say, my balloons are 50 cents, and I don’t know what color you like, but I have a green one, a red one, a blue one, oh, this is a new one, it’s the white one and I would talk about the product and then…” Treb asks me, “What happened to the price?” Treb goes on to share that, “It’s a basic marketing strategy of burying the price. I wouldn’t say it’s 50 cents and then stand there, because then people would complain and say that they can buy a whole packet of balloons for 50 cents.”
When Treb first started to sell balloons, the Mickey Mouse head balloon was made of latex and smaller than today’s version.
“We sold them for 35 cents. Which was always hard to make change if someone ordered three. About one year after I worked there, in 1970, they went to the larger mouse head and charged 50 cents. That is the same size they sell today, but without the glasshouse.”
The vendors always wanted to sell as many balloons as they could, as it was much easier to stand with less balloons, because if you had a lot, and it became windy, the balloons became very hard to keep arranged.
The room crew, under Nat Lewis’ guidance, would always keep everyone loaded up with balloons, especially if the crew heard that Nat was going to be in the park that day.
Treb explained that everyone had to be on their best behavior when Nat Lewis was around. “If you weren’t standing in the right spot or if he saw somebody who didn’t have enough balloons, there was hell to pay.”
“After you worked there for a while, you would eventually move up to the room position,” Treb said. “In the room position, you would fill the balloons and deliver them to the sellers in the park.”
Working your way up into the balloon room, which is where the balloons were inflated was a place Treb learned a great deal. He explained that the balloon boys took a great amount of pride in what they did and they did things as quickly as they could.”
It’s here in the balloon room where Treb learned the spin-tie method, where you would spin around thread to tie off the balloon. The spin-tie method was important, because if the balloons weren’t sold by the end of the night, the balloon boys would have to return to the balloon room to untie them. The spin-tie method enabled the vendors to quickly untie the balloons, let the helium out and then toss the balloons into a dryer for a few minutes. The heat from the dryer would cause the balloon to shrink back down to its original size so it could be re-blown the next day. Treb and the other boys hated re-blows, because they weren’t as fresh as the other balloons, so they often tried their hardest to sell out their balloons each night, which they often did.
I asked Treb how fast he could tie a balloon.
He responded by saying, “Spin tying was one thing, but actually tying a latex balloon came about when we used to do the Christmas Parade.” Treb went on to explain that the finale unit of the Christmas Parade had six cars. Each car had a letter spelling out T.H.E. E.N.D. and throughout the parade there would be an elf that would pull a string to one of the boxes and a balloon release would occur for the parade two times a day. Nat Lewis would always bring in extra boys to help with the parade.
“So, there was a few of us regular Disneyland Balloon Boys, as we called ourselves,” Treb explains, who would have to go back there and help out. I remember we didn’t like it so much. We wanted to work in the balloon room or back out on stage, so we would challenge each other. We knew we had so many balloons to inflate. We got to the point where we could inflate and tie these balloons so fast. Back in those days they were 9 inch balloons and we could do 17 to 20 per minute. It’s mind boggling to watch.”
Treb told me he could inflate and tie about 1000 balloons in one hour and posted a YouTube video of just how he used to it. Click on the link below.
“That’s where I learned the skill of being able to inflate and tie balloons really, really fast. This was a skill that was comical to us back then, but we were just trying to get back to doing what we wanted to do.” Treb and the other Disneyland Balloon Boys always looked at the guys that Nat brought in seasonally to help during the Christmas season as not really being folks they wanted to associate with.
“They didn’t have the haircuts we had, I mean we were very proud of the fact that we were Disneyland Balloon Boys,” Treb continues by saying, “When I say Disneyland Balloon Boys, that’s because there were no girls in the operation at that time. It was the 60’s and this group of Balloon Boys was this tightknit group of guys, very much a hierarchy of seniority, and who could do it the best, but ultimately just some of the best days of my life.”
The Opening of Walt Disney World
Nat Lewis announced a contest during the springtime of 1971. He informed the Balloon Boys that six would be chosen to go and help with the balloon release at the grand opening of the Magic Kingdom on October 1, 1971. Treb tells me that they really had to mind their “P’s and Q’s.” The boys were all on their best behavior hoping to be chosen; and ultimately, Treb Heining was one of the boys awarded with the opportunity to be on the balloon crew for the opening of Walt Disney World.
The Flight of a Lifetime
“We got a last minute letter delivered to us, telling us where to be at LAX,” Treb explains, “My dad drove me, and he was saying good-bye and then my dad started noticing Annette Funicello, Forrest Tucker, and Agnus Morehead…my dad goes to the payphone and calls his work to tell them he’s going to be late. Somehow, Nat had arranged for all us balloon boys to get on the Disney charter plane. Everybody that was on that plane was a who’s who of Hollywood. Everybody who had basically been in a Disney movie before was on that plane. The plane took off and then Jonathan Winters gets up and takes over the mic and was making funny announcements in the voice of Mickey Mouse. Frankie Avalon, Fess Parker and Sterling Holloway, who I grew up to listening narrate “Peter and the Wolf,” and he’s sitting in the seat behind me! Then people started to ask what we did.” Treb then says, with great laughter, “We’re balloon boys!”
When the plane landed, the stars went off to their fancy accommodations, and the balloon boys got into Nat’s van. Treb was so excited that he was able to be there for the opening.
Treb said, “It was a beautiful balloon release of 50,000 balloons, a very heady experience. Of course, not knowing at that time that I was going to make a living in balloons.” The skills Treb first learned while working at Disneyland at a very early age he says, was to “dream big, work hard, show respect to all those you work with and always be professional.” Those skills and beliefs not only helped him to start his own business, but it ended up starting a worldwide industry, turning Treb’s dream job into a job that would last a lifetime.
A Disneyland Balloon Boy, The Treb Heining Story To be Continued…
To celebrate the debut of “Muppets Now” premiering on Disney+, I wanted to share a memory of my BEST DAY EVER working for Disney. It was a day when my two loves of film making and The Muppets merged into one.
For a brief time during my 22 year career with the Walt Disney Company, I was a puppeteer at Disneyland. A small group of us puppeteers would be sent out by Disney to perform at local Anaheim area elementary schools for their anti-drug education. I performed as Tiva, the rock diva puppet who battled Rock Cocaine. Yes, it’s true, there was a Rock Cocaine puppet.
I went on to being cast as one of the opening cast members of “Playhouse Disney Live on Stage” at Disney California Adventure Park. My role was to puppeteer Tutter, the mouse from Bear in the Big Blue House, as well as Piglet in the Winnie the Pooh’s Hundred Acre Woods sequence. We received amazing direction and training from a Henson Company puppeteer. I enjoyed it so much, that for a very brief moment, I considered going to Puppeteer College, yes, there is such a thing.
I Got Sidetracked.
I did indeed become sidetracked from puppeteering, because both my husband and I were given an amazing opportunity to perform at Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. After many years of working in Japan, we finally bid a fond sayonara and we returned home to the United States and the Disneyland Resort. Except now I was armed with a clear vision that TV and Film making is what I was always meant to do and that became my main career focus.
It was a career that had always been there, a thread that had been interwoven in and out of my life for the longest time, having worked on an eclectic array of production shoots, like ABC TV’s Extreme Makeover, to working on music videos, like Eminem’s “Superman,” with Director Paul Walker, to plethora commercial filmings and special events for the Walt Disney Company. I had already had a long career in film and TV, but I was finally ready to focus on production work and say goodbye to performing.
Now focused and in my dream role as a TV/Film Production Manager, let’s get on to my favorite day, shall we?
I had by this time, worked with Roy Disney Jr., Jon Voight, Carol Burnett, Kurt Russell, Rance Howard, Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, and several other celebrities on many different projects. I was never star struck on set. “Let’s get this shot and done!” was my mentality. That is until ONE shoot. On ONE Day. This would be the day when my two loves of Muppets and Film Making BECAME ONE!
Finally! The Best Day Ever!
This ONE day happened in 2004 for the filming of the Disney Parks Christmas Special. My inner nerdom came out this day. I couldn’t help it! I tried! I really did. I tried so hard to be professional. I was the Key, put in charge to manage the Camera B Unit, which is a small roving unit. There’s only one camera operator, one grip, one PA, two guest control cast members, production manager (me) and the talent, who would happen to be non other than Dave Goelz, who may be better known to some as Gonzo. The object of our Unit B Crew was to move fast, get in and out, with not a lot of set up to our shots, “run and gun” is what is used to describe this method of shooting.
I MEET DAVE GOELZ AND THE GREAT GONZO!
For the first half of the day, I worked with my all-time favorite Muppeteer, Dave Goelz and his Muppet, Gonzo! When Dave wasn’t shooting he had Gonzo in an unassuming black case. I insisted that I carry the case when traveling from set locations. Dave said that wasn’t necessary, but I assured him, near forcefully, that it was (of course I had to carry the Great Gonzo). I really hope my geekiness didn’t show this day.
We shot on stage in Disneyland near the entrance to Tomorrowland.
We also shot some green screen scenes in a warehouse at Disney California Adventure Park.
In between shots, I asked him silly questions, like if his thumb knuckles cracked a lot. You see, for a puppeteer, it’s very important to keep the puppet’s eyes focused forward. It’s the thumb that is used for most of the mouth’s movements, you don’t want the puppet’s eyes looking up at the ceiling while they’re talking, so the other four fingers are pressed together, with the middle finger’s knuckle elevated slightly, to help bridge the forehead, or nose area, depending on the puppet. In any case, to this day, my thumbs still continue to crack from my brief moment in puppeteering. In case you were wondering, the great Dave Goelz told me that his thumb knuckles did not crack. Aren’t you glad you learned that? After I wrapped Dave, I was on cloud nine.
Could This Day Get Any Better? Yes. Yes It Could!
After Dave and the Great Gonzo were wrapped, I then headed to the next shots of the day, working with Steve Whitmire and Eric Jacobsen, the Muppeteers for Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy.
Their performance stage was near the front of the Plaza Inn, the restaurant at the end of Main Street that’s famous for its fried chicken. Well, Eric and Steve didn’t have to shoot for a while, and they were smelling that famous fried chicken and geeting hungry, so I treated them to a tasty lunch, consisting of fried chicken, green beans and tasty mashed potatoes, all of which they chose to eat beneath the stage, rather than at a table. I thought that odd at the time, but I guess it’s true that Muppeteers are most comfortable in cramped dark spaces.
It’s Jennifer Garner!
While Steve Whitmire and Eric Jacobsen were eating their lunch down below in the belly of the stage, I was standing outside, next to it, keeping watch. While standing there, I was approached by a very nice lady asking if she could take a picture with the Muppets. I looked at her, then looked across the way into Disneyland’s hub, where I noticed Ben Affleck standing looking at me. I then looked back at the beautiful lady who was looking at me with a gorgeous smile and bright eyes opened wide with anticipation. She was staring at me, waiting for me to reply. I finally realized that it was Jennifer Garner, who just so happened to be at the park with her family the day of our filming. Not that she wasn’t immediately recognizable, I had been on set since 4:00 AM, and was still a bit euphoric from my close encounter with Gonzo, that it took me a second to reply.
She had seen Kermit and Miss Piggy rehearsing earlier and was eager to have her picture taken with them. I agreed, I did tell her yes, perhaps a bit too quickly, but like me, I could tell she loved the Muppets, perhaps just as much as I did, so how could I refuse her? And I also enjoyed watching her in the TV series “Alias” at the time (now streaming on Amazon Prime), so I have to be honest, that did help with her request.
Thankfully, Steve and Eric were gracious to oblige. I truly should have asked them before I committed them to taking the photograph. Thankfully, they were so kind about it and happily agreed. PHEW! They then quickly popped Kermit and Miss Piggy up for the photo with Jennifer Garner. Although, thinking about it after the fact, with them having just eaten fried chicken, just moments before, in the belly of the stage with just a few napkins, I’m almost certain the insides of those famous Muppets became a bit greasy. Poor Kermie and Piggy! But, the end result was a beautiful photograph of Jennifer Garner, Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy that ended up making it into PEOPLE magazine that year, which was fun to see.
Back To Work. Filming Continues…
The taping the rest of the day went smoothly and when we finally wrapped the day, I was the last person to leave the set. It was a long 18 hour day, but, I think I smiled every second of it. I had many memorable days working for The Mouse, but, I do believe that this…this was my BEST DAY EVER.
I was so very excited to be able to preview the reopening of Downtown Disney. While it’s not Disneyland nor Disney California Adventure Park, it was nice to visit the shopping center and restaurants that are located so very near to the one and only “Happiest Place on Earth.”
Where to Park Your Noble Steed: AKA Your Transportation
Rideshare and Guest drop-offs are located in two places, one is on Harbor Boulevard at the designated Guest drop-off and pick-up location. The second drop-off location is at the Downtown Disney District, located on Downtown Drive, just past the Mickey and Friends Parking Structure.
Where to Self Park: Parking is currently complimentary at the Simba Parking Lot. This lot is located behind Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel off of Disneyland Drive.
⚠️Be Aware. Guests are counted and monitored by Disney throughout the day. Based on these counts, both the Simba Lot or the entrance to Downtown Disney may need to temporarily close in order to reduce crowd size.
*If the Simba Lot is closed when you arrive, and you have a dinner reservation, Disney has instructed guests to show that reservation confirmation to the APD for entry.
Are you excited yet? After four months of being closed, a glimmer of Disney hope is on the horizon. You’re nearly there, almost onto the pathway that you can offically call Downtown Disney. To enter such a magical realm, however, you and your clan must first pass a few tests to prove yourself worthy.
As Merida once said, “There are those who say fate is something beyond our command. That destiny is not our own, but I know better. Our fate lives within us, you only have to be brave enough to see it.” Are you brave enough, like Merida, to take your fate into your own hands and pass the tests to gain entry? Continue reading to find out what you must do to gain entry into the realm of the Downtown Disney District.
Your Shield of Armor: Wear a Mask
Everyone must wear a mask, exceptions are children age 2 and younger as well all guests who may have a disability preventing them from wearing a mask. Disney states that “All face coverings should: Fully cover an individual’s nose and mouth and allow the Guest to remain hands-free. Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face. Be secured with ties or ear loops. Be made of breathable material, either disposable or reusable. Costume masks are not considered appropriate and are prohibited from being worn, in alignment with our existing rules.” Sorry friends, that means Storm Trooper helmets are not approved.
Updated Mask Requirements Effective Immediately: Neck gaiter tube-style face scarves and open-chin triangle bandanas will no longer be allowed as face coverings at Downtown Disney. Also no longer allowed are face coverings containing valves, mesh material or holes of any kind. Which means, no, you may not insert a straw into the hole in your mask to sip that tasty beverage. No More “Sip and stroll” Loophole.
Visitors may remove their masks only while actively eating and drinking outdoors in a stationary position while maintaining social distancing. To reiterate, if you want to drink your beverage or lick your ice cream cone, you must do so while sitting or standing in one location. You may not eat and drink as you walk throughout Downtown Disney.
Stay as cool as Elsa: Temperature Checks
First stop is a temperature check. Disney has stated, “Based on guidance from health authorities, anyone displaying a temperature of 100.4 F or above will be directed to an additional location for rescreening. A Guest with a temperature of 100.4 F or above—in addition to everyone in the Guest’s traveling party—will notbe allowed entry.”
You are all One Team, One Dream! It’s very important everyone in your group checks their temperatures before leaving their homes and arriving to Downtown Disney.
The Tests of Gallant Chivalry
You have now donned your shield of armor (mask), your temperature has been checked and is nearly as cold as Elsa’s, and you did not provoke the noble beast (K-9). There is but one final test. Thou must pass through a metal gate of good fortune (metal detector). If you are able to pass through the mighty iron gate without ringing its alarm, you will be proven victorious! Congratulations! Huzzah! Give yourself a pat on the back! You did it! You are on your way to having a most joyous day.
All kidding aside, it did feel great to be home once again on Disney soil. I was impressed with the new health and safety measures that the Disneyland Resort has implemented.
Disney Helping Guests Stay Safe
Plenty of Stores to Peruse
Plenty of Dining to Taste
Only Outdoor Dining is currently allowed at this time throughout Downtown Disney. Bars must also be closed for the next couple of weeks, as Orange County must follow the state mandated guidelines due to the surge in COVID-19 cases in the area.
Ralph Brennan’s JazzKitchen‘s is NOW OPEN! Beignets…HERE I COME!
Thank you to Mike and Lori from Arizonalifetothemax on Instagram for allowing me to use their Ralph Brennan’s beignets photo. I never have been able to pause long enough to take a photo. Mike and Lori must have great will power.
Locations Currently Open for Business
Asian Street Eats, Ballast Point Brewery and Kitchen, Black Tap Craft Burgers and Shakes, California Churro, California Sole, Curl Surf, Disney Home, Disney’s Pin Traders, Earl of Sandwich, Jamba, Kayla’s Cakes, La Brea Bakery, Marceline’s Confectionery, Naples Ristorante e Bar, PANDORA jewelry, Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen, Rinse Bath & Body Co., Salt & Straw, Sephora, Starbucks (2 locations), Sugarboo & Co., Sunglass Icon, The Disney Dress Shop, The LEGO Store, Tortilla Jo’s, Uva Bar and Cafe, Wetzel’s Pretzels, WonderGround Gallery, World of Disney.
Should You Choose To Visit Downtown Disney…
Be safe, have fun, remain gallant and be sure to enjoy that California sunshine.
Check back here on my blog for updates.
⚠️COVID-19 Warning⚠️ Disney has done a great job at implementing enhanced health and safety measures for guests when they visit the Disneyland Resort. But don’t forget that there is an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 when visiting public spaces. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, senior citizens and those with underlying medical conditions are especially vulnerable. Disney states, “By visiting the Disneyland Resort, you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19.”⚠️ https://disneyland.disney.go.com/
Disney recently shared on the DisneyParks App a Frozen Pineapple Treat. Which is in all appearances, a nod to the Pineapple Dole Whip sold at the parks. Now, there are a few Disney Foodie enthusiasts who will scoff at the idea that the Disney Parks recipe is in fact a Dole Whip DIY recipe. According to some Disney foodies, it’s not a Dole Whip for one distinct reason; vanillaice cream is included in Disney’s recipe as an ingredient. That’s right, the current Dole Whip sold in the Disney Parks has been dairy free and vegan certified since 1997. Yet, the original Dole Whip prior to 1997 did in fact contain dairy.
In any case, there are the sceptics, even the Dole company came out with their own vegan friendly version of a DIY Dole Whip, as a friendly counter to Disney’s frozen concoction.
For me, however, I am all in for trying anything that could replicate the tangy and sweet frozen pineapple goodness that is a favorite amongst guests visiting the Disney Parks. So why not try what could be perfection? We’ll get back to the recipes later, first, let me tell you a little bit about the history of the famous Disney snack and why I now crave this delectable treat.
It was the summer of 1992
Can you remember the very first time you tried a Dole Whip? I can. It was the summer of 1992, back when there was dairy in the mix. That was the first summer I was cast in the Main Street Electrical Parade. I remember parking my float and hightailing it one night to meet up with a few other Cast Members who had invited me to come along to try an amazing pineapple soft serve that was sold just outside the Tiki Room. I remember we were walking as fast as we could, across Main Street USA, past Carnation Plaza and on into Adventureland. We were bobbing, weaving, and side stepping around guests in the dimly lit landscape of Disneyland, just to get in line and grab a Dole Whip.
Parade Cast Members could get away with getting into the parks back then during our shift, just as long as we didn’t go on an attraction. I truly enjoyed those summer nights, going into the park in between parades to enjoy a tasty treat. Ahhh, those were the days. It was on this one fateful summer night that I will never forget the taste of that first Dole Whip. It was cold, sweet, refreshing and yet tarte enough to cause the back of your mouth to tense up as it swallowed that first drop of pineapple. It was so good. So good in fact, that twenty-eight years later, it’s still my favorite Disney Parks treat.
How did the Dole Whip come about anyway? Well, Dole became the official sponsor of Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room in 1976. The partnership between the two companies consisted specifically of selling Dole’s pineapple which is why all pineapples used throughout the Disney Resorts are Dole grown. For the first ten years, between 1976 and 1986, the fruit stand outside of the Tiki room sold Dole pineapple juice and juicy pineapple spears. It wasn’t until 1986, through a collaboration between both Disney and Dole that produced the now legendary Dole Whip and the Dole Whip float, which is the same Whip served with pineapple juice.
Kent Precision Food Groups took over the license rights to Dole Whip in 1997
Kent Precision Food group’s mission statement reads, “Kent Precision Foods Group specializes in developing, blending and packaging dry mix food products to our customers’ exacting specifications. In addition to our dry blending capabilities, KPFG offers a diverse line of branded products for the foodservice and consumer channels. Kent Precision Foods Group and their parent company Kent Corporation are committed to conducting business with the highest standards of morality, fairness, and integrity and to adhere to the laws of the jurisdictions in which their business takes place.”
The Airy Texture makes the Dole Whip
Since 1997, Dole Whip is now licensed by Kent Precision Foods Group, and describes the Dole Whip as being made with a non-dairy creamer, sugar, natural flavoring and coloring. The company also states that anyone who licenses Dole Whip must use the company’s soft serve machine, because it’s their machine that creates the air like texture. Without this machine, you can’t claim the product is a Dole Whip.
If no one has a patented Kent Precision Soft Serve Machine, can anyone really make a DIY Dole Whip?
And so, when the Disney Parks App shared their Frozen Pineapple Treat recipe with the world, they did so, knowing families were staying safe at home. Also knowing folks weren’t likely to have the patented soft serve machine at home, a Dole Whip like recipe was bestowed upon the Earth to many great cheers, and few grumbles and nay-sayers. But to them I say, “Let them eat Dole Whip!”
The Disney Parks Frozen Pineapple Recipe
The pictures above by Disney, show the simple ingredients needed to make what the Disney Parks call a Frozen Pineapple Treat. It also lists a suggested piping bag to make that famous swirl we have come accustomed to when enjoying a Dole Whip at the Parks.
Let’s Make the Dole Whip, I mean, the Frozen Pineapple Treat
One fresh Dole Pineapple. Cut, remove the core, and freeze 2 cups fresh pineapple, preferably overnight, the harder and more frozen the pineapple, the better.
1/2 cup Dole Pineapple juice; you may need more, depending on how well your blender can cut through the frozen pineapple
1 large scoop of vanilla ice cream.
1 Blender (I used my Ninja blender)
If you are Vegan, my suggestion, deviating now from the Disney Parks recipie, is to omit the vanilla ice cream and instead, add 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk, it tastes wonderful, yet not as creamy or sweet as the Dole Whips sold at the Disney Parks.
Add all the ingredients and blend until smooth.
Dole’s DIY Dole Whip Recipe
Dole recently came out with their own version of an at home DIY Dole Whip which I also made.
As written by Dole, you will need
1 cup ripe DOLE® pineapple, chopped and frozen
1 ripe DOLE® Banana, peeled and frozen
2-1/2 teaspoons powdered sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 teaspoon lime juice.
Directions: Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Cover; blend until smooth, about 2-3 minutes.
To Be a Dole Whip or Not To Be… Is that really the question?
Dole’s recipe was tasty, especially if you want to blend it a bit more and turn it into a smoothie. With the addition of the banana in Dole’s recipe, it helps to create a creamy texture, yet, the flavor of banana is therefore also apparent, and I tend to be a purist of pineapple whenever possible, at least when it comes to a Dole Whip.
After making both the Disney Parks recipe and Dole’s, I am in favor of the Disney Parks Frozen Pineapple Treat that tastes near identical to the Dole Whip. It was so good in fact that my husband now comes home regularly with a pineapple.
The simple and all natural ingredients, depending on the ice cream you choose, for the recipe was so good in fact that I started experimenting more and ended up creating a Dole Whip blended margarita by adding 3 tablespoons Tequila, 2 tablespoons Triple Sec, and 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice to the Disney Parks recipe. Cheers!
Ahhh, the Dole Whip that can also be enjoyed as a float or a fruity libation, is a tangy and sweet frozen pineapple treat and I am so grateful that Disney Parks shared their version so that we too can make a near perfect version. So sit back, click on the SoundsofDisneyland.com and close your eyes while you enjoy the Dole Whip you just made. It tastes honestly, AMAZING!! But don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself and let me know what you think.
The end of the holiday season at the Disneyland Resort means only one thing…it’s refurbishment time! Because of this, both Disneyand and Disney California Adventure will have a few closures. Many are routine, like “it’s a small world” Holiday and Haunted Mansion Holiday are being transformed back to their classic state.
There are also unexpected closures like Snow White’s Scary Adventures. But this closure is for such an exciting reason, as this attraction is just one of a few that will turn 65 this year and I couldn’t think anything better than the Snow White attraction receiving a reimagining for its birthday.
Following is a list of attractions at Disneyland that are scheduled to be closed.
*”it’s a small world” is down just a few more days, it’s set to reopen January 17
*The Mark Twain Riverboat is down now through January 31st.
*The Haunted Mansion Holiday goes down January 21st until Spring (I was informed it’ll be about a 3 month refurbishment). But good news is that you still have one more week to see Jack Skellington!
*King Arthur’s Carrousel is down beginning January 21st until late May, this 98 year old antique always needs a little extra special care.
*Snow White’s Scary Adventures is down now through summer. “Why so long?” you might ask. As one of the original park’s attractions celebrating its 65 years this year, it will receive a whole new reimagining! Gosh I love that word, don’t you? For this classic attraction, Imagineers are implementing state-of-the-art audio and visual technology throughout the attraction. It will include new music, LED black lighting in some areas, laser projections, brand new scenes, a new ending and a new animation system!! I cannot wait!!! The exterior of the attraction will also receive a new coat of paint to match the nearby Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.
*The Sailing Ship Columbia will go down briefly for its routine maintenance from February 4 to 6, reopening on the 7th.
Following is a list of attractions, stores and restaurants that are scheduled to go down at Disney California Adventure Park.
*The Red Car Trolley is now down, most likely returning late Spring or early summer as construction is underway for the Avengers Campus. The trolley’s gate entrance will be blocked as Imagineers are getting ready to create this new and exciting land.
*Both the Carthay Circle Restaurant and its Lounge are currently down for refurbishments and both are set to return on January 31st. *The Bakery Tour, located on the Pacific Wharf, is scheduled to close for refurbishments on January 21, returning on Feb 11th.
*Both Grizzly River Run and it’s neighboring store, Rushin’ River Outfitters, are also set to go down for refurbishments on January 21st, returning on February 14, just in time to celebrate getting soaked with a loved one on Valentine’s Day🥰
*Feb 24 Jessie’s Critter Carousel is set to go down briefly for routine maintenance.
*I will continue to update my blog with closures in hopes it’ll help you to enjoy your day at the Disney parks without any surprises. So check back often as I will continue to update my site.
Even though there are a few attractions down right now, it’s still a great time of year to attend the parks. Crowds are fewer, and with Luna New Year beginning this Friday, January 17th at Disney California Adventure, there’s still plenty of magical experiences to be had.
I’d love to know, when’s your favorite time to visit the Disneyland Resort?
There are so many special holiday offerings in Orange County for locals and visitors alike. One of the ways to soak up the spirit of the season, along with a dusting of Disney Magic, is by visiting the Downtown Disney District in Anaheim, California, which is one of my family’s holiday traditions.
No entry ticket to Disneyland or Disney California Adventure is required to enjoy Downtown Disney’s dining, shopping and live entertainment experiences. Along with top notch eateries like Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen and Catal, there are newer dining locations to experience, like Black Tap Craft Burgers & Shakes. At Black Tap, you’re in for a whole new scensory experience with over the top shakes and award winning burgers.
Let’s also not forget the shopping! According to Disney, their World of Disney store is “the ultimate Disney shopping experience.” I completely agree, as it contains the largest selection of Disney goods anywhere on the West Coast.
Adjacent to Downtown Disney are the Disneyland Resort’s three hotels. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel and the classic, Disneyland Hotel. The hotels are always fun to visit, even if you’re not a guest, as each have their own unique way to decorate for the Christmas holiday. Did you know that Santa Claus visits each hotel? So be sure to stop by to see if Santa has made a stop so you can provide him with your wish list.
Downtown Disney brings phenomenal entertainment to its stages. This year my family and I had the best time listening to the live group WestBeat Sing’s “Holiday Harmony.” They are an amazing a cappella group who perform throughout California. I was very excited to hear that they were performing at the Disneyland Resort. They’ll be performing through the Christmas season. Be sure to follow @westbeatsings on Instagram to find out set times and locations, not only at the Disneyland Resort, but throughout SoCal.
Parking costs are quite reasonable at Downtown Disney, as long as you spend at least $20.00 at any store or vendor. Just be sure to show the vendor your parking ticket, which they will validate, and that’ll provide you with 3 hours of free parking. If you dine at a sit down eatery, you’ll receive 5 hours of free parking, when your ticket is validated.
There’s so much fun to be had at the Disneyland Resort, without having to enter the parks. The total cost of our 3 hour adventure for our family of four was less than a one day park hopper ticket for one person. The time we spent together was full of fun and Disney Magic.
We had the most wonderful time at Downtown Disney and look forward to returning soon, how about you?