Disney's New World

Are you ready to get nutty with Goofy at the Mauna Loa macadamia nut factory in Hilo? How about ignoring the "Please Don't Feed the Bears" signs at Yellowstone Park to break bread with Winnie the Pooh? If Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) has its way, all this will be possible now that the company is testing guided tours for families in Hawaii and Wyoming.

Before you begin shaking your head in disgust at the thought of singsong audioanimatronics going up at Jackson Hole or preprogrammed volcanic eruptions at Kilauea, let's put this venture into perspective.

Folks are already willing to pay a premium for a branded travel experience from a company that they trust. Young families don't have a problem paying more to set sail on the Disney Wonder and Disney Magic over other cruise lines like Carnival (NYSE: CCL  ) or Royal Caribbean (NYSE: RCL  ) -- hitting similar ports of call. At its theme park resorts, Disney can take an unpopular buffet and fill it up at hiked prices simply by transforming it into a character meal with costumed critters making the rounds.

Why? Because, as simple as it all seems, it just works.

A forward-thinking cynic may have reason to worry about Disney's legacy, given that CEO Michael Eisner's differences with Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steve Jobs have created a pair of feature animation rivals in DreamWorks Animation (NYSE: DWA  ) and Pixar (Nasdaq: PIXR  ) that are outdrawing Disney these days (literally and figuratively). But until Disney's lost it -- it's still got it. Pixar and DreamWorks won't be offering surfing lessons in Hawaii or horseback rides in Wyoming anytime soon. While Disney has to be careful on that front, it has earned the right to command a moving audience.

The Disney touch is everywhere. This past summer, while touring the awe-inspiring red rocks of Sedona with my family, our tour guide couldn't resist pointing out the formation that inspired Disney's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad coaster. Disney's last in-house animated hit -- Lilo & Stitch -- was set in Hawaii.

So why not cash in on those who elect not to travel to one of Disney's theme parks? Under the Adventures by Disney brand, I think it's got a great shot of making the company a little pocket change, while persuading young kids who may have mixed feelings about hitting natural parks over amusement parks to roll along with their parents' better judgment.

While Disneyland's 50th anniversary chain-wide celebration is drawing attention to the company's theme parks, I think it's refreshing to see the company try something that may reshape the concept of themed excursions. It's a venture that also carries very little in fixed costs, so it can simply ramp up its tours over the summer and during holiday breaks, as opposed to theme parks and cruise ships that need to remain open all year long, despite the lulls in attendance.

Here are a few recent Disney headlines:

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has owned shares of Disney since the 1980s and is at the parks often. He also owns shares of Pixar.The Fool has a disclosure policy. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.


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