Just a few months ago, the New York Times ran an article about how Disney was going to extend its reach to consumers by having representatives stop by maternity wards with a gift for newborns. The idea was that if the "Disney Baby" initiative could bridge that gap from birth to around age four; the age which they found many households finally began their Disney purchases in earnest, they could tap into a new market that in North America alone is estimated at about 35 billion overall.
What the Times wrote about was only the first part of the story though. A pending announcement about Disney purchasing the fiscally troubled Crystal Cathedral property in Anaheim-adjacent Garden Grove signals they have begun another phase in this very ambitious project, and this update will fill you in on what we’ve been able to dig up about the rest of it.
You'll need a cup of strong black coffee, and may want to pass on the pastry this morning as we update you on Disney's most far ranging plans yet. Let's get going shall we? - Al
To Infinity... and Beyond?
When many people discuss NexGen (the Walt Disney Company’s ambitious and expensive new Parks and Resorts technology project) they probably talk about the new interactive queues that Walt Disney World has just installed for the Haunted Mansion and the Winnie the Pooh attractions. To a lesser extent they may also discuss the expected use of near field radio frequency chips (RFID) in admission media that will allow the parks to track and upsell you in real time while on property.
But what if the sophisticated NexGen technology itself was the actual reason for your vacation booking? Add in a new initiative spearheaded by Disney head Bob Iger to "give them more Disney" with a mandate to establish a new product category from an industry that in North America alone is estimated at about 20 billion, and you’ll begin to better understand the next big push from the company.
WDI concept art
Garden Grove’s architecturally striking Crystal Cathedral was at one point on the must see list along with Knotts and Disneyland as an Orange County attraction, with their elaborate Easter and Christmas presentations drawing sell-out crowds. Now, thanks to a continuing founding family power struggle, and a shrinking contributor base due in good part to a tough economy, it's been facing an uncertain future.
Although rumor had it that WalMart was looking to place a SuperCenter there, now the buzz is that shortly Disney will announce their purchase of this troubled facility, along with the rest of properties within the area bordered by W. Chapman Ave. to the North, Lewis St. (adjacent to The Block mall) to the East, Lampson Ave. to the South, and Haster St. on the West, but will probably hold off on saying what they are planning for it.
The word starting to come out from Team Disney Anaheim is that while plans for the land are extensive, the glass-walled cathedral itself will remain and be repurposed, (an indoor water park was discussed then nixed, and now either a Hoop-Dee-Do style dinner theater revue or a new Cirque du Soleil show titled "L'Orange" are on the short list) with the rest of the property redeveloped into a new hotel complex to be named: “Disney Circle of Life Resort.”
An interactive fountain will greet visitors upon approach.
Mufasa's reflection will welcome them by name.
Interestingly the Lion King/African theme that name would evoke would be played down as Epcot's SpaceShip Earth dome will be replicated on a slightly smaller scale over the new hotel's entry lobby to house the resort's upscale shopping arcade.
It's felt that the modern architecture of the Crystal Cathedral will be complimented by the dome, but the more traditional (um, Vegas?) design of the hotel lobby, room wings and common areas aims at, as one Imagineer no-so-delicately put it, "keeping the ECV/WDW crowd happy."
Connected by a deluxe shuttle bus to the theme parks a few blocks North on Harbor Blvd, this hotel has been custom designed and will be built to serve as the flagship for a new Disney Vacation Club offering, "Virtually Yours™," a part of the "D Eternity™" initiative.
A tag line under consideration: "Magical Memories… forever."
As you may be guessing, this move signals that after their agressive Baby efforts, Disney is now preparing to tap into the other end of the market, as they start canvassing senior centers, retirement villages, hospitals and pharmacies, along with analyzing data from recent visitors to their resorts, to target families that may soon lose a member.
For Parks and Resorts' push into this new area, the idea behind Disney Virtually Yours (DiVY) is simple; thanks to the skills of the programmers and the talents of the artists, families can still vacation together, even after the loss of a loved one.
Billy misses Grandma. Disney Virtually Yours allows Billy to see and hear her just as if she came along
to Disneyland with him; so much better than just staring at a moldy tombstone in the local graveyard.
Building upon the same technology used in the interactive "Turtle Talk with Crush" show, as well as special effects first seen in the Disney Dream suites, RFID chips embedded in room keycards will trigger personalized interactions with passed-on family members at various locations within the resort. Experiences will be tiered, as Disney will offer increased levels of interactivity and personalization with virtual family members at higher price points.
In Anaheim's Dream Suite (above), mirrors entertain and clocks wish you good night. Disney
Virtually Yours will allow Disney Circle of Life Resort guests to share their vacations with those
no longer with them using the same technology. In other words "You'll see dead people."
A planning memo notes: "A DVC/DiVY membership offers convenience (combine memorial and vacation trips), value (virtual guests, after a programming/assembly fee, are 'booked' at lower rates or stay free depending on season) and of course, magic (forget Mickey, Grandma is making our wake-up call), as only the Disney Company can."
Disney head Iger, park and resorts' Tom Staggs and Andy Mooney from consumer products know it may seem almost ghoulish that they are taking the Disney Company into an area that at first look seems incompatible with its entertainment offerings. But as Iger has said privately to more than a few people, "Look, we're already in the memorial business, just step outside the Team Disney building in Burbank," (in reference to the Disney Legends plaza) "or visit the parks" (in reference to the hundreds of skeletons and many graveyards seen in attractions, tribute windows on Main Street and revived US Presidents).
Also being looked at for the property as a thematic match is a Frankenweenie Miniature Golf
Course. There are two sets of concept art for it, the original film and the remake. Art © Disney.
Since this is Disney, every other angle has been painstakingly examined for revenue opportunities. Even if a family can't afford the the financial commitment of a Virtually Yours membership, there will still be other items and services they can purchase to get that special Disney touch for a loved one that passes on. Two new offerings are detailed below, a line from consumer products, the other a service from parks and resorts. Rest assured that they are the first of many.
Be Our Guest, Forever
The merchandise that has been developed for the D Eternity initiative begins its rollout with themed crematory ash urns. The urns were chosen to start with due to their more portable nature (easier to sell in the parks/Disney Stores and ship online orders); it's still unclear if caskets will follow later. Below are several examples (from a Disney Store mock-up) of what this new line will look like:
(Leasing plans are currently under discussion.)
(Vinylmation versions are on hold due to durability issues.)
As you can see, Beauty and the Beast, Tron and Pirates of the Caribbean are first up, their appeal to an older demographic putting them at the head of the list. There's also been some discussion internally about urns themed to younger Disney franchises (High School Musical, Camp Rock, Prom) packaged in Blu-ray combo packs.
Disney personalities past and present such as Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan initially were rejected for this line, but are back under consideration after taking into account their current lifestyles.
The Lohan urn in particular may be rushed into production.
Spread the Magic, Forever!
Iger has been overheard more than a few times in the early stages of the D Eternity initiative saying that "if we have a recurring problem in our operations then maybe what we really have is an opportunity that is not being addressed." He often times uses the example of former boss Michael Eisner's initial refusal to allow weddings in the parks, and how his eventual acceptance of them created a very successful business for the company.
Using this approach Disney finally appears to have a solution for the increasing amount of crematory ashes being spread throughout their parks by guests. The system is called Disney FastFling (DiFF), and it builds upon the technology utilized in the Frontierland Shooting Arcade, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters and Toy Story Midway Mania attractions.
The idea is to have visitors with ashes to scatter in the parks first go to Guest Relations, where, after signing in and purchasing their DiFF package, a vacuum system wisks their ashes away to a central stockpile. At that time guests will be issued a lightgun, similar to the ones used in the above named attractions, that they will take with them as they visit the Park. A RFID chip will keep track of every time it's aimed and shot at something – a virtual flinging of the ashes.
One WDI prototype (shown above) has an air effect.
At the end of the guest's visit, the gun is returned to Guest Relations where they will print out a commemorative map (deluxe frame extra of course) noting the areas that were targeted at where the beloved's ashes may eventually end up (in landscaping projects and as an ingredient in various construction and rehab materials). As with the customized pavers sold in the esplanade no guarantee will be made as to how long the residue will remain. DisneyUrn purchasers get a discount, priority sign-up and flings. Lightchaser upgrades will also be available after dark.
It certainly gives new meaning to the rehab signs you see everywhere saying "Please Pardon our Pixie Dust," that's for sure.
The Crystal Cathedral property looks to be home to one other concept, of which they being very secretive about. All that's been seen is the logo-which I've reproduced below:
I wouldn't get too excited about a third park yet, as "Marvel Afterlife" could be a name for anything; from a pool slide, to a nightclub, or even just a
used vintage comic book store.
Theme? Memorial? - Two parks in one!
As I started to say at the beginning of this article, Iger keeps saying that his customers want more Disney in their lives. The next logical step, if he wants to continue growing the company (as well as pay for "Mars Needs Moms"), is to go beyond that, and D Eternity certainly addresses this.
Another logo concept under consideration.
Who knew when Buzz Lightyear first uttered the phrase "To Infinity... and Beyond!" just how prophetic it would be.