DAN TURNER Staff Reporter
Flying the entire family to Disneyland or Walt Disney World can be an expensive proposition. Add to that hotel and incidentals and the price really takes off.
So instead of making people travel to its mega-theme parks, Walt Disney Co. is bringing mini-theme parks to them.
That's the concept Disney will unveil this week in Thousand Oaks when it opens the nation's first Club Disney attraction.
Although Disney officials decline to reveal where or when future Club Disneys will open, the Thousand Oaks experiment is expected to be only the first of many such stores around the country perhaps as many as 100, Disney's ultimate target.
Disney is not the only movie studio going after the location-based entertainment business. DreamWorks SKG has formed a joint venture with Universal Studios Inc. and Sega Enterprises Ltd. called Sega GameWorks, which will create entertainment arcades in malls around the country.
Warner Bros., with its valuable Looney Tunes franchise, is also likely to be keeping a careful eye on the progress of Club Disney to see whether it wants to get into the same business, analysts say.
"The old theme park model is going down the tubes. I think Disney understands that," said Kevin Skislock, director of equity research with investment banker L.H. Friend, Weinress, Frankson & Presson Inc. in Irvine. "Entertainment is increasingly coming to the consumer, instead of making the consumer come to it," he said.
Club Disney has been likened to such family entertainment chains as the Discovery Zone or Chuck E. Cheese restaurants but that's sort of like comparing Disneyland to a county fair.
In reality, Club Disney will be considerably more elaborate than anything like it ever launched.
Though located at Westlake mall in Thousand Oaks, the first Club Disney is not actually in a store-front within the mall. It is a 24,500-square-foot, stand-alone building with 30-foot-high interior ceilings.
Inside will be far more attractions than a family is likely to be able to handle in one visit, which in itself is part of Disney's strategy it wants repeat customers.
The attractions are targeted at children 10 and under and their parents. There are mazes, jungle gyms with slides, a multimedia center with CD-ROM games and access to family-oriented Web sites, and a laboratory for scientific experiments.
There will also be a restaurant, a retail store and six birthday party rooms where kids can have parties themed on Disney films like "The Lion King" or "101 Dalmations."
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