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Virtual Walt Disney World Added To Google Earth
Posted June 6, 2008
Virtual Walt Disney World Added To Google Earth
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By Barry Levine. Updated June 6, 2008 1:41PM

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Disney World is going virtual. On Thursday, Disney and Google announced Walt Disney World Resort in 3-D.

All four theme parks and more than 20 Disney Resort hotels of the Orlando, Fla., tourist destination have been created and placed on Google Earth. Users, the Disney company said on its Web site, "can zoom down Main Street, USA, fly around Cinderella Castle, explore Spaceship Earth and climb the Tree of Life."

No Lines

Aside from the joy of visiting Disney World without waiting in line, the online tour is designed to help users plan a vacation. There are menus, descriptions of attractions, event calendars, and links to online ticket buying and reservations. The virtual Disney World also contains small details that heighten the sense of being there, including park benches, merry-go-round horses, minimum rider height for certain rides, and souvenir shops.

To virtually go to Disney, a user downloads Google Earth and selects the Gold Mickey Ears icon.

As befits a company that would, say, create or re-create entire worlds in its Florida park, Disney said its virtual Disney World is the largest effort ever undertaken by any company for Google Earth. About 100,000 photos by eight photographers were used to create 1,500 3-D models of buildings, and there are also links to blogs and YouTube videos.

Clicking Mickey?

The effort may be worthwhile, since Disney said about 90 percent of its guests plan their vacations via the Web. Disney Chairman Jay Rasulo said people will now be able to book their vacations while exploring what a particular attraction offers, all with the click of a mouse. There was no indication if he was referring to Mickey.

But some observers are suggesting that, in creating such a detailed online planning tool, Disney may be opening the door to virtual trips that take the place of the real thing. For instance, Andrew Smith of the Dallas Morning News wrote semi-seriously that, with the price of both air fare and gas rising so fast, "I think parents with gullible children should consider 'taking their kids to Disney World' by sitting them down in front of a monitor."

Andrew Frank, a research director with Gartner, said this Disney/Google endeavor is "a great promotional extension of the Disney theme-park experience." But, he noted, even with advances made in gaming, we're still "quite a ways from substituting a virtual vacation for a physical one."

He added that, while ads might become part of such an immersive online experience, companies will "have to make sure the experience doesn't end up feeling totally commercialized." Nevertheless, Frank said, 3-D may become an even more ubiquitous part of any real-estate-based promotion than it is now.

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