Who Registered Disneyworld.com?

The Evolution of Disneyworld.com

It’s been my pleasure to have been associated with the Walt Disney World® Resort during my career in Marketing. It’s given me the opportunity to be involved with many different aspects of Marketing, with a world-class entertainment Company, working with some of the most talented and creative people I’ve ever met. I was challenged every day. And I wanted to share with you the answer to “Who Registered Disneyworld.com.”

What was before Disneyworld.com?

So, travel back with me in time, to the mid-90s, when “Internet” was just a fledgling computer network frequented by hard-core computer programmers and few companies ever thought of this as any sort of Marketing channel. Allow me to share how this Florida mega-entertainment complex got started online. And then you’ll hear the story of who registered Disneyworld.com.

It all started with AOL.

Back in those days, “online” was either standing in a queue for a ride (something quite familiar to visitors to Walt Disney World Resort) or something called “America Online.” Or maybe you heard of CompuServe, if you were a real geek. And there were a few other independent islands of computer connectivity. Even Apple had a small platform.

Those were the days when, the only way to get people online was to mail them CDs. Those would get loaded into their computers to create an AOL account, for a monthly fee. Of course, first you had to go to the computer store or find your best geeky buddy, to get you a modem. Yes, you’ve heard that screechy sound that took over your phone line, precluding anyone else from using the phone. God forbid, someone picked up the extension, and you would lose your valued connection. Which, if you were lucky, might be 14,400 bits per second. That’s really slow.

Since AOL had no way to tell who had an account or not, they would just blanket the country with more and more of these CDs. I think some started to use them for skeet-shooting.

But AOL wasn’t the Internet or the Web. It was a closed network you had to dial into, to get access to their exclusive content or Bulletin Boards (or “Communities”).

So what does this have to do with who registered Disneyworld.com?

Well, one of the content areas the Tribune Interactive Group (owned by Tribune Publishing, who also owned the Orlando Sentinel at the time) created was for Travel, including “Destination Florida.” And how could they possibly have content on Florida, without including Walt Disney World?

Resort Marketing meets Online.

At the time, I was working in Resort Marketing, focusing on promoting and advertising the resort hotels on Walt Disney World property. I’d created marketing programs aimed at filling “shoulder seasons” like the Fall. Kids were back in school and it was too early for the Holidays. My successful marketing program, “Fall Fantasy”, focused on empty-nesters who would enjoy the amenities of our hotels, whether or not they ever stepped foot in the the theme parks. We were allowed to create very appealing (aka “low-priced”) packages, with low “from prices, without theme park tickets included. That was something new for the Company.

Plus, I’d previously led the initiative to create a comprehensive travel agent reference guide of the entire Walt Disney World property. It was carefully indexed with tabs for theme parks, hotels, water parks, dining and shopping. (Sound like a website menu bar?)

My manager, Elizabeth Schar, had been contacted by the Tribune Internet Group about this new thing, AOL, and she tasked me to look into it. “I’ve got a little money squirreled away that we could use on this as a test.”

I started to work with the Tribune team, based at the Orlando Sentinel, to help them create a Walt Disney World section of their “Destination Florida” content area, built in a language called “Rainmaker”. All they wanted from us in return was $5 per hotel reservation. Those reservations would come to us via fax. Seemed like a no-brainer, so we proceeded.

Walt Disney World is now Online!

So, for the first time, Walt Disney World was online. But that was online within AOL. If you hadn’t loaded one of their discs and hooked your phone up to a modem, you’d never see us. At that time, there as no link to the larger “Internet” or “World Wide Web”, beyond the world of AOL.

Here Comes the Internet

Over time, AOL, CompuServe and a few others figured out how to connect to the larger world of the Internet. But you needed to have a subscription to one of their services, before you could connect through their link to the Internet. Unless you were a REAL geek, or working for the government, the public didn’t have your own way to get to the Internet, without one of these services.

Baby Steps to the Internet.

One of our Travel Industry partners, “TravelWeb”, contacted us and offered to create Web pages for us within their hotel listings in TravelWeb, for those accessing the World Wide Web. At the time, this was the only place the public could search for travel information on the World Wide Web.

Disneyworld.com is born.

So, similar to AOL, we furnished TravelWeb with structured content – text and photos. They built these pages in pure HTML, appearing with a gray background with text on them. An occasional photo might be tucked into a block of text. Very rudimentary, by today’s standards. They were searchable, so travel agents or consumers could search for a hotel in Central Florida, and our resorts would be included in the results.

Bruce Covill led the TravelWeb project, and could see where it was all going. He suggested we brand our area of TravelWeb, and create a link that would bring people directly to our section of TravelWeb. Something like “www.WaltDisneyWorld.com” or “www.Disneyworld.com.” We agreed, so, with Bruce’s guidance, I registered the first domain name for Walt Disney World. Since we were in the era of “I’m Going to Disneyworld” Super Bowl commercials, that seemed like the most user-centric domain we could choose. But of course, we eventually got both domain names (and many more!). Now you know who registered Disneyworld.com.

The Walt Disney Company Paves the Way to the Internet.

About the same time, Jake Weinbaum, head of the Disney Online (DOL) team for the Walt Disney Company contacted us and asked us to pull together something called a “Web Site”, since he was leading the charge for Corporate, and contacting each of the business units to step up.

Piece of cake! I’d created a similar thing for AOL and now for TravelWeb. How hard could it be?

Creating a Website for Walt Disney World.

Our ad agency of record was Leo Burnett of Chicago. Their foresight led them to set up a group of creatives specifically focused on creating Websites called “Giant Step,” led by Rishad Tobaccowala.

As they had done previously for numerous creative projects, they put their team to work proposing designs for the first official “Disneyworld.com” website.

At the time, every website design with pictures was set up as a metaphor. The first iteration of ours was a desk (!), on which were various theme park and hotel icons, which, when clicked, would take you to that content section. That’s what navigation looked like at the time.

After some internal review by Walt Disney World Creatives and Management, that was fine-tuned to a suitcase (more travel related). It was animated and bounced around a bit, before opening to reveal those theme park and hotel icons. Thanks to Don “Ducky” Williams, who illustrated the first website graphics for us.

With design locked in, Giant Step proceeded to that that magical “coding” thing that was so mysterious, and furnished the files to Jake Weinbaum and his DOL team to actually make this website come alive on the World Wide Web.

That Was Just the Beginning.

Now you know who registered Disneyworld.com. But many of the Disney marketing areas to be re-created and staffed, with new reporting structures and integration processes.

After Resort Marketing, I was part of “Direct Marketing.” Seemed appropriate in a true sense of the phrase. Then I became Manager of “Interactive Products and Online Sales (IPOS), and ultimately Director of “Internet Sales & Marketing”. But that wasn’t all-encompassing enough for The Walt Disney Company. So, Walt Disney Internet Group (WDIG) was created. During my 3 years at Disneyland, I led a team to re-launch Disneyland.com to include the new Disney’s California Adventure, Downtown Disney and Disney’s Grand Californian Resort, along with Disneyland Park.

With the creation of WDPRO – Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Online” – I led a bi-coastal team managing the websites and online marketing (email marketing, paid search, etc.) for our respective destinations.

I left the Company in 2003 to create the Online Marketing department of Sandals & Beaches Resorts, based in Miami.

It’s been quite a ride, and I wouldn’t trade a moment of it.

Nowadays, I’m a freelance Digital Marketer, creating websites (in WordPress) and doing digital marketing – paid search, social media posting and ads, and text marketing – for small businesses in Central Florida.