Disney has announced a major technology upgrade – as yet undefined but called “NextGen” for “next generation experience” – that could make each guest feel very, very special. Visitors could, in fact, feel as if Disney created each park experience uniquely for them. Perhaps the singing country bears will say, “Hi, John Doe,” as John walks through the door. Or the valet parker at The Grand
Floridian might say, “Welcome, Mr. Doe. Just go up to your room. Your bags will be there shortly.”
In final form, Disney will sign contracts with a number of vendors and develop its own software, but integration of different components will really make the system work. Much of that technology already exists in the form of GPS locators and phone apps, so it’s not a huge leap to coordinate today’s technology into a seamless theme park experience. Disney could give guests a microchip in the form of a bracelet or pin, track each movement, and literally deliver a unique experience to each visitor.
At the local level, a small speaker in Cinderella’s ear may tell the princess that your daughter’s name is Gretchen and her favorite color is pink. At the park level, Disney could track guest movement and adjust activities to minimize wait times for rides and shows. At the macro level, visitors could organize their entire vacation ahead of time, reserving a room, restaurant seating, and even ride time from their home computer six months before arrival.
Scary – and exciting.
• The proposed system, at its heart, represents better organization for Disney. Anything that cuts down on wait times for favorite rides, hotel check-ins, or restaurants makes visitors happier.
• Disney works hard to break the barrier between fantasy and reality. It wants guests to forget that Snow White isn’t really a cartoon, and that the Snow White standing before them is the real Snow White. By personalizing the experience, Disney comes a step closer to making the world of make-believe seem real.
• Disney’s Fast Pass system (ride reservations) needs work and currently favors healthy people who don’t mind walking across the park to get a ticket and then back again a few hours later. Any change that makes a visit more democratic and less exhausting is a big step forward.
• Vacations will be less work and more fun. Dad might input his kid’s names one time at home when he makes the reservation. From that point on, every hotel, restaurant, ride, and character will know each child’s name; know which restaurants to recommend; know which room or credit card to use for purchases. Leaving Epcot? A scanner could tell you which bus runs to your hotel. The possibilities boggle the mind.
• Disney will collect gobs of personal information and keep it – well, more than they do now. If you rode Expedition Everest at 10:24 a.m. on Feb. 6, Disney logged it and will never forget. Some people may enjoy hearing a desk clerk say, “Welcome back, Mr. Doe. We haven’t seen you since 2009,” but that gives other people the willies. What else does the clerk know? Did you tip well in ’09? Leave the room in good condition? Visit with someone other than your current wife? Is this the Disney version of big brother?
• If the best mealtimes and rides go to visitors who embrace technology, then everyone must embrace technology to keep up. Tech people will be fascinated, but some white-collar workers who live their life attached to cell phones and computers may not enjoy dragging that technology along on vacation.
• Some people proudly shun modern gadgets for “the simple life,” but they still want to visit Disney. Other people saved six years for a Disney vacation and can’t afford technology. What if they get stuck in long lines and eating in second-choice restaurants because the high-tech rich people got there first? Disney takes great pride in treating everyone as equals, and this new opportunity also presents a challenge for the company.
• Tomorrowland will look like an antique.
The bottom line
Disney has no choice but to adopt the innovations just to move forward – and the other Orlando theme parks will surely introduce their versions to remain competitive. Walt Disney himself loved technology and embraced change. He even dedicated a ride that honored the concept – the Carousel of Progress in Tomorrowland. Walt Disney would see NextGen as a “great big, beautiful tomorrow” that’s “only a dream away.”
Most visitors probably will too.