Mark Rucker, 49, is vice president of lodging for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, overseeing projects such as Aulani, a stand-alone resort on Hawaii, and Disney's Art of Animation Resort, a family-suites hotel in Orlando. He spoke with Sentinel staff writer Jason Garcia.
CFB: I understand you just returned from Aulani. Is it ready to go?
It's going well and it's on schedule. It's actually looking fabulous. We were over there and had planned to go over for some pre-opening work. And that's working on arrival processes and front-desk check-in and sense of arrival and how the guests are going to be welcomed, housekeeping and all the recreation preparation. All the senior leaders are now on board, and most of the leaders are now on board over at Aulani, and it's really transitioning many years of work over to the leadership team that's going to be there on the ground, yet still continuing to be here to support them with the test phase and opening. I think you're aware opening is on August 29.
CFB: How do you make a Disney hotel stand out without a theme park?
Disney's very much about storytelling and service excellence, and what the WDI group has done here at Aulani will tell stories. I mean, everywhere you look in the aspects of this product — the artwork and murals and paintings to the general design to the architecture and even the cultural components of the experiences and the entertainment — everywhere the guests look, everywhere they turn, whether it's the lobby or the Waikolohe Valley, they are going to have stories told to them. And it's really cool because the stories are a lot about Hawaii. We did a lot of work with the people of Hawaii to make sure that the "destination reason" for going there was about sharing the history of Hawaii and the authenticity of Hawaii. Yet, still, there's going to be this Disney magic or Disney overlay to complement the authenticity of Hawaii when they visit. And that really is going to be distinctively different.
CFB: What will Art of Animation add to Disney World's hotel lineup?
We've talked a number of times in the past about our focus on specialty rooms. And Art of Animation, when you look at that, it's a couple of power alleys for us. Power-alley one is that Art of Animation is getting to the point where we're leveraging stories and the equity of our products. The second is this whole family-suite issue; the world has changed around us, and we're seeing a lot more multigenerational families traveling and celebrating together, whether it's reunions or special events or what have you. And we're seeing the fact that they're wanting to play together at Disney and but also stay together in our hotels. This family suites product creates, a little bit more, an intimate setting where they can stay together.
CFB: What else do specialty rooms encompass?
There is this whole themed and storybook room, which we're working on not just domestically but internationally. You asked about Art of Animation, and aspects of room configurations — family suites — fits into that. Family suites is a strategy of specialty rooms. In that specialty-room category, we're looking at bedding configuration, too, of preexisting rooms. And we've got a really neat bedding strategy that's going to be coming out with the release of upgrades for our moderate product, which is really going to drive some interest, we know, to those moderate rooms. And we've a talked a little bit about — not just the 14th floor [of Disney's Contemporary] and the health-and-wellness suites test and pilot that we've got coming up here this coming fall — but just other categories like that, where there's emerging trends or big trends in the industry.