Verizon Wireless and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts are teaming up to create a new mobile application to help families plan their trips and get the most out of their Disney vacations.
With more than 90 percent of its guests walking through the gates with mobile phones, Disney Parks and Resorts executives see cell phones as a perfect way to connect with their customers.
On Wednesday, Disney will announce it has entered into an exclusive multi-year agreement with Verizon Wireless. The two companies will develop an application, which will be hosted by Verizon. Also as part of the deal, Verizon has agreed to boost network capacity and coverage within the Disney theme parks to ensure optimal coverage and performance of its service.
The new application will be available for download from Verizon's "Get It Now" store in early 2009. Initially the application will only work for Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. The companies will add support for other Disney resorts later.
Specific details about what the application will actually do haven't been announced yet. But some of the likely features include the ability to make reservations for restaurants, hotels, and even attractions right from a Verizon handset. Using GPS-based location services, subscribers will also be able to access a Disney character map that will pinpoint exactly where Minnie Mouse is at any given moment, thus saving scores of parents from running around the park all day looking for their kids' favorite characters.
There will also be information about show times and the best places to view characters and other attractions. Disney will also offer mobile games and fun facts that can be downloaded inside the park to provide more information about what people are seeing and doing on their vacation.
Disney and Verizon plan to offer some features and information for free to Verizon customers. But the application itself will cost money. Pricing for the new application hasn't been worked out. Hughes also wouldn't say whether Verizon would charge a monthly fee or a one-time download fee.
Verizon offers a friend finding service from Loopt is about $4 month. And its VZ Navigator service is about $10 a month. Meanwhile, Apple's iPhone, which sells exclusively on AT&T's network in the U.S., offers similar applications such as the Loopt friend-finder and Google navigation for free. Thousands of applications have already been created for the iPhone and are available in the App Store. Some are free, while others cost money.
At least for now, Disney isn't looking to create an iPhone-specific application for Apple's App Store.
"We recognize there are some other companies out there," said Scott Trowbridge, vice president of Creative Development for Walt Disney Imagineering Research and Development. "And we have existing material available via mobile devices now. But right now we are concentrating on our partnership with Verizon."
One other thing to note is that even though the merger between Verizon Wireless and Alltel will likely be completed by the time the Disney resort application launches, it's unlikely that former Alltel customers will be able to access it when it launches. Hughes said it will take time to merge the back-end systems to support applications, such as the one that's being developed with Disney.