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Walt Disney World is using its NextGen program to try & win over the next generation of theme park goers

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Walt Disney World is using its NextGen program to try & win over the next generation of theme park goers

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Thanks to a WDW-Cast-Members-Only document that got leaked to the Web over the weekend and today's New York Times story, a lot more people suddenly know a whole lot more about FastPass+, My Disney Experience and MagicBand.

Mind you, there are a few questions that have yet to be answered. Like when will The Walt Disney World Resort reportedly turn the key on this $1.5 billion project. More to the point, which on-property hotel will supposedly serve as the starting point for this program which will then allow Guests to customize & personalize their vacation experiences?

Well, let me try and fill in those blanks for you as well as offer some insight as to how The Walt Disney Company expects to recover the tens of millions of dollars that they've already poured into the development of FastPass+, My Disney Experience and MagicBand.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

First of all, according to what WDW officials have been telling their travel partners, February is when the first phase of all this NextGen stuff is supposed to go live on property. And Guests staying at Disney's Boardwalk Inn will allegedly be the first to be issued MagicBands.

"Why wait 'til February?," you ask. "And why initially roll out FastPass+ and My Disney Experience just to Guests staying at Disney's Boardwalk Inn?" There's actually a common sense  answer to both of these decisions by Mouse House managers.

You see, the reason Disney held off the official roll-out of all this NextGen stuff 'til next month is because December & January are traditionally transition time for the Disney College Program. And given that these college students now make up a large part of the work force on the Attractions side of things at WDW (More to the point, given that it just didn't make sense to train the old group of interns about the ins & outs of FastPass+, My Disney Experience and MagicBand when they'd all be returning to college at the end of their winter break), WDW officials decided to wait 'til the students who were taking part in the Winter 2013 version of Disney World's College Program were all officially on property & had completed orientation before they then got their NextGen training.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

As to why Disney's Boardwalk Inn was chosen to be the first WDW hotel to officially offer FastPass+, My Disney Experience and MagicBand to its Guests ... To be blunt, since Boardwalk Inn only has 378 rooms, this is the smallest Deluxe Resort on WDW property. And since Disney officials want to make sure that they've gotten all of the bugs out of this NextGen stuff before it's then rolled out property wide ... Well, Disney's Boardwalk Inn with its limited number of rooms & Guests seemed like the perfect place to take this program out for a test drive.

Now as to how The Walt Disney Company expects to recover its NextGen development costs, not to mention eventually turn this program into a real profit center for the WDW Resort ... You have to first understand that The Company is now actively pursuing the next generation of theme park fans. To be specific, millennials.

Upper management at Disney Parks & Resorts now views millennials (AKA Generation Y. People who were born - depending on who you talk to - between 1982 & 2000 and/or 1983 & 2004) as their new primary target. Especially when it comes to The Walt Disney World Resort maintaining its top position & cultural relevance as the US's primary family vacation spot. The current belief in-house is that - if The Walt Disney Company can forge a strong enough connection with this increasing affluent & influential group of consumers ... Well, they can then count on these millennials / Generations Y'ers to not just take one trip to Walt Disney World but - as this specific demographic begins to have children of its own - plan three or more family vacations to The Walt Disney World Resort over the next 25 years.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And given that 97% of millennials own computers and 94% of Generation Y'ers make use of cell phones & smartphones (more to the point, this specifically targeted group of consumers has enthusiastically embraced social media as their favorite way of communicating with friends & family) ... Maybe now some of the central features of Disney's NextGen efforts - where would-be WDW visitors can use their PC to book their specific ride times on Disney World's most popular rides, shows and attractions weeks/months in advance and/or use their smartphones to order quick service meals in advance while they're still playing on the other side of that theme park -- make a bit more sense.

Now comes the difficult question: How do you feel about The Walt Disney Company putting this much time & money into a hi-tech program that's specifically designed at winning over the next generation of theme park goers? Will this aggressively targeting a single demographic like this prove to be a smart move in the long run?

Your thoughts?

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  • I hope it works, it sounds interesting.  Maybe testing will have expanded from The Boardwalk by June and I can see what it's all about!

  • Hi Jim,

    Great insights as always. Any idea when it might open up to DVC resorts? I am staying at the Boardwalk villas in April.


  • My wife and I went on a cruise in May and of all the highlights of this fantastic cruise, the first thing that always comes to mind and up in conversations with others is the fact that no one could use their phones due to lack of reception on the ship. This meant that no one had their phones in their face the whole time and best of all, every dinner was peaceful. It was a week without technology which forced everyone to pay attention to the roses instead of the texts and emails.

    Can't say I'm a fan of this new development.

  • Some of those "millenials" are already 30, so they'd better be careful not to get TOO techno on them.  At 41 myself, I know I appreciate everything I read on social networks and on my phone, but it's not necessarily the prime way I want to spend my WDW vacation staring into computer screens.

  • The big huge question still remains, how much is it going to cost?  Over and above all questions of rollout, demographics, time, logistics, convenience, "magic" - I still have yet to see how much extra it's going to cost the average Disney park-goer, in any and all of three categories (some of which will overlap): Resort guests, day-trip guests, and Annual Passholders.  Until I know how much extra above the (almost) $100/day tickets I have to buy for a park, or $450/night stay at AKL, or God know how much the AP's are these days, I can't get excited about the new Fastpass+ or any of its brethren.  Well, excited except in the sense of worrying how much longer I'm going to have to stand in line while all the kids with their parents' Visas in their pockets who can take full advantage of all the new "magic" get to cut in front.

    I've never before been really concerned about a have/have not division in guests visiting WDW, until now.  Sure, there are different levels of resorts and hotels one can stay, but once you get to the park everybody is in the same class.  Everybody waits in a queue line together, or gets a Fastpass together.  If you can significantly buy your way to a better experience at the expense of someone who can't afford it, then you'll really start seeing some unhappy guests.

  • I get what Disney is trying to do.  What they may be missing is for a person like me who is connected all day every day-- going on vacation is a chance to get off the grid, get my kids out of their phones and ipods and just enjoy each other's company.  For me, having my smartphone bark at me where and what to do next is just like every other non Disney day.

  • I'm part of Generation Y. So I guess these changes are for me. I can't say I'm excited for this. With the lack of maintenance and new rides I have no interest in going to WDW. I will go to Disneyland. and take my kids there when that time comes, Maybe I'm too much of a hardcore disney fan and this initiative is not for me. If it is not then it fails.

  • I know they're targeting Gen Y, but I think everyone is going to benefit.

  • I'm an early Boomer (64 to be exact) and I love these changes!  Probably because I love planning ahead and am looking forward to taking my grandkids back next year.  Just to see the look on their faces when face characters and audio animatronic figures address them by name.  Thanks Disney.

  • Gen Y?  How about Gen WHY???

    Oh let me guess...just one more thing so vapid guests can believe that they are so "special"!

    Oh my...a robot said my name.....I am so special!!

    I think Walt is already dizzy from turning so much.  We all know that Jim is a part time Walt basher.

    .I know...I know...Walt is dead...right??

  • Agree to all that you mention about the new generations using computers to book reservations for attractions, except all trends show it will be portable tablets and smartphones that will be used, in the very near future, not PC's.

  • Jim, I think you're overstating things a bit. It may appear that Disney is targeting a "single generation," but as someone outside of that generation, I have no doubt that I will be pleasantly accommodated as I use FastPass+ ... Disney consistently delivers on that level, and that's why people like me and my family pour thousands of dollars into our vacations there, every year.

    PS Keep up the great work. I love your site, and appreciate all the fine reporting and attention to detail that you provide.

  • All I can say is that if these bands get people to decide on their food order in a "quick service" line BEFORE they get to the counter and waste everyone's time, then I am all for it!

  • I'm sure a lot of people are so excited of this offer, both kids and kids at heart.  With WDW legacy to give people the best magical experience, and with the cost they have spent for this program, this will surely excite everyone.

  • With the in-park wifi meltdown over the holidays, I hope that they realize that things are not ready yet.  They have time to fix it, but in park network failures will put pressure on guest relations and other cast members. Guests get grumpy when their vacations get ruined. I've heard too many guests say in the park that they've spent too much money on their vacation for kids not to have ( forced parent defined ) fun.

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