Walt Disney World has confirmed that the “Hey Disney!” digital assistant devices announced earlier last year are now rolling out at their resorts, starting with the Polynesian Village Resort. The voice-enabled gadgets have not launched without some concern among fans, however.
By Anthony Langdon
For those who need a refresher: “Hey Disney!” is a collaboration between Disney and Amazon. In the resort rooms, a complimentary Amazon Echo-style device adorned with Mickey ears will soon be available to guests to access Alexa services – timers, weather forecasts, alarms, etc. – with a Disney twist that includes cameos from more than 25 Disney characters. Guests can also use “Hey Disney!” to ask questions related to their visit to the parks, such as, “What time does Magic Kingdom close?”
At home, Disney fans in the U.S. can purchase “Hey Disney!” as a digital add-on to supported Amazon Echo devices via the Amazon Alexa Skills Store. Additionally, MagicBand+ will pair with supported Amazon Echo devices to enhance certain “Hey Disney!” experiences.
While many are excited to utilize “Hey Disney!” to complement their resort stay, others have expressed opinions ranging from mild critique to full-on rejection of the technology in their hotel room.
Some have pointed to an uncharacteristic lack of creativity in the name of the device, as well as a new “character” that comes with the service, named the Disney Magical Companion.
“Wouldn’t ‘Hey Mickey,’ or ‘Hey Genie’ make more sense?” asked Ryan Ritchey, host of “Theme Park Trivia Show!” on Twitter. “The syntax of ‘Hey corporate entity’ just seems odd.”
Another concurred, laughing at the idea that “they could have picked literally any character […] and they decided an eternally-listening personification of a corporation would be the most comforting.”
Others still made light of another missed opportunity in the branding by noting that Toodles, the robot assistant from “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” is all but a perfect character for “Hey Disney!” to get the kids involved in the family Disney trip.
In lieu of all the characters mentioned above, the marquee voice behind “Hey Disney!” is simply called the Disney Magical Companion. While not the standard Alexa voice, it shares no affect of any previously-known Disney character.
More critical detractors have not been shy to point out privacy concerns. It is not incorrect to say that Disney is putting microphone-enabled devices in many of their hotel rooms, with plans in full swing to install them in their other resort hotels at Walt Disney World as well as Disneyland Resort.
In an interview with Attractions Magazine, Product Management Director Gina McCarter confirmed that “Hey Disney!” is completely opt-in for hotel guests. When you first enter your resort room the device is muted and will only activate after being manually unmuted.
The “Hey Disney!” device cannot be removed from the room upon request, but theme park reporter Scott Gustin wrote on Twitter that “Hey Disney!” can be unplugged from the wall.
Finally, questions have been raised about the efficacy of “Hey Disney!” in terms of boosting the park-going experience. The device cannot link to a Disney account, so asking, “Hey Disney! Book a Genie+ reservation” won’t get you anywhere. If you’re planning dining reservations or getting tickets to signature events, you’re probably better off using the My Disney Experience app on your phone.
Host of “A Podcast For All Things, But Mostly Disney” Jaalin Harvey had a pretty scathing reply to this news. “[The] thing can’t even turn on the lights or major appliances. But hey […] you can order room service and towels. You know what else could do that, the damn room telephone.”