Disney’s latest offering at “the most magical place on Earth” likely won’t put a smile on the faces of Uber’s management.
On Monday, Disney DIS, -1.31% and Lyft revealed they are partnering on the new “Minnie Van” service at the Walt Disney World Resort. Disney had previously announced the program at its D23 Expo fan convention earlier in July.
Through the service, guests visiting Walt Disney World can hail specially-painted vehicles to travel within the resort for a flat $20 rate per ride. Each “Minnie Van” includes two car seats for young children and room for up to six passengers. Handicap-accessible vehicles are also available through the Minnie Van service. The program is currently being piloted at three hotels in Walt Disney World — Disney’s BoardWalk Resort and Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resorts.
Unlike more typical experiences through Lyft, the vehicles are driven by Disney employees, rather than freelance drivers, and the cars are owned by Disney. Additionally, “Minnie Van” rides are only available between 6:30 a.m. and 12:30 a.m., unlike other rides with Lyft that can be hailed at any time.
That Disney chose to partner with Lyft on the offering appears to be a blow to Uber and comes as the two companies are locked in a battle for customers. A Disney spokeswoman said that the company decided to work with Lyft because of its popularity and well-established user base. But some say that Uber’s recent PR nightmares — including allegations of sexual harassment and a consumer campaign to delete the app based on its actions during a protest against President Trump’s immigration order — could have factored into Disney’s decision-making. (Lyft and Uber did not immediately return requests for comment.)
“As we know, Uber is having some internal problems,” said Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services, a management and consulting firm based in Cincinnati, Ohio. “And when you think of a wholesome, family-oriented company, you think of Disney.”
And while people can still hail regular Lyfts or Ubers on Walt Disney World property, the program does allow Disney to regain some control over where guests travel. “Anything Disney can do to give the guest an enhanced experience will keep them on property,” Speigel said. “In other words, they won’t go to Universal Studios or SeaWorld.”
Others argue that Lyft could be in the driver’s seat when it comes to this partnership. The Minnie Van program fits in with other moves the company has made recently. Last week, Lyft unveiled that it is testing a program with Taco Bellthat provides passengers an in-app option to get food at a drive-through on the way to their destination. And on Tuesday, Amtrak and Lyft announced a partnership that will let travelers book a car with Lyft from Amtrak’s mobile app to go from a train station to their ultimate destination.
“Lyft gets to publicize its prestigious new partner that helps show it is moving forward while Uber appears mired in controversy,” said John Gerner, managing director with Richmond, Va.-based consulting firm Leisure Business Advisors.
Not all may be lost for Uber though. With Disney forever in competition with Universal Studios and SeaWorld, Uber could theoretically negotiate a similar service elsewhere in Orlando to compete with Lyft.
“We may see others experimenting with this idea,” said Steve Birket, immediate past-president of the Themed Entertainment Association, an industry trade group, noting that programs like these seem to benefit most parties involved. Guests get added convenience, the theme parks get free advertising on the road and the companies operating the service get the brand association, he said.
Whether these ride-share programs actually offer a better value to users is another question. At its current $20 flat rate, the Minnie Van service could cost more than taking a traditional Lyft or Uber. The hotels where Disney is testing the program are also among its most expensive, which could point to the type of customer the company is trying to appeal to.
“It’s targeted to a relatively affluent customer who is expected to value the convenience and time-saving elements of the service,” said Martin Palicki, publisher and editor in chief of trade publication InPark Magazine. “Time will tell if they actually do.”