A WHOLE NEW CURRICULUM

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Walt Disney World: more than a vacation. It's an educational experience.

With last month's announcement of the Walt Disney Co.'s planned Disney Institute educational vacation concept, the entertainment company is looking to broaden its demographic base and vacation experiences.

Five years in the making and planned for a February 1996 launch, the project will allow adults and parents with adolescent children to experiment with such experiences as topiary gardening, animation, cooking, rock climbing or any one of 80 planned "edu-tainment" programs, all while vacationing at a secluded enclave on Disney's Orlando property.

Currently under construction, the facility will have 140,000 square feet of program space, including recording and animation studios; a performance center and amphitheater; and fitness and youth centers.

It will use 457 rooms from the former Disney Village Resort with a capacity for 1,400 guests, said Richard Hutton, corporate VP-director of programming for the institute.

Guests will be discouraged from leaving the enclave, though they will be encouraged to visit Disney's other attractions following their three- or four-day stay, he said. A minimum three-night stay will run from $551 to $706; four nights will range from $735 to $941. Guests will plan their own itineraries.

Envisioned by Chairman-CEO Michael Eisner and inspired by similar programs at the Aspen Institute and Chautauqua in upstate New York, the institute takes the educational concept and couples it with Disney's entertainment expertise, said Tom Elrod, president-Disney marketing and entertainment.

Disney's program also will offer an artist-in-residence program, and already has signed such talent as movie critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, blues artist James Cotton, composers Elmer Bernstein and Marvin Hamlisch, and actors Andy Garcia and Billy Dee Williams.

"I'd say it's inspired by [Aspen and Chautauqua], but it's quintessentially Disney," said Mr. Hutton, 45, an author and TV producer recruited three years ago for the Washington, D.C., public TV station to head up the institute. "There's nothing out there that tries to do what we're doing."

Demographics seem to be in Disney's favor, said Jim Cammisa, publisher of Travel Industry Indicators, Miami.

Geared to 34- to 64-year-old, middle- and upper-middle income vacationers, the institute will especially target aging Baby Boomers who will begin hitting 50 next year, and will continue to grow in numbers through the turn of the century.

The program will tap existing Disney databases to lure travelers, and is working with Disney World agency Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, to market the program. Orlando-area ad agency and public relations firm Robinson Yesawich & Pepperdine is handling trade publicity.

Designed for families old enough to start looking for theme park alternatives, Disney Institute will have no programs for children under 10, Mr. Hutton said.

The program fills that growing desire of U.S. travelers, and falls into the adventure/special-interest travel category, which makes up roughly 10% of U.S. vacation itineraries, Mr. Cammisa said.

With vacation time shrinking, more people are looking for tangible experiences from their outings, he said. "It's a function of the consumer today having so little vacation time they're trying to make the most of it."

The Disney Institute hopes to lure older vacationers in search of an educational experience.

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