Disney World Gears Up for Its Last Slow Summer

Summer doesn't technically start for another two weeks, but with local schools already out for their extended summertime breaks, we've hit peak travel season at Disney's (NYSE: DIS) massive central Florida resort. Outside of the shorter Christmas and spring break blocks of frenzied turnstile clicks, this is the busiest time of the year at Disney World. However, the House of Mouse is in a particularly generous mood.

The world's largest theme park operator introduced a Get Your Ears On ticket earlier this week for Florida residents, giving them discounted access to its four gated attractions. Priced at $199 for three days and $219 for four days, the admissions come out to roughly half of what three or four single-day admissions would cost. The tickets are good through Aug. 28, and as any sci-fi fan will tell you, the timing is deliberate. Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge opens at Disney's Hollywood Studios park on Aug. 29.

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Once upon a time in an expansion far, far away

Theme parks live and die by the opening of major attractions. Disney World can rest on its laurels from time to time, but it's not entirely immune from the public's desire for things that are shiny and new. It's not a coincidence that Disney World's two biggest parks in terms of attendance gains last year — Disney's Hollywood Studios with a 5% uptick and Disney's Animal Kingdom with its 10% surge — also happened to be the two parks that made major additions in 2018 and 2019. Disney World's two older parks grew their guest counts by just 2% last year, below the industry average according to Themed Entertainment Association.

This was supposed to be a huge year for Disney. When it laid out its Disney World expansion plans in 2017, all eyes zoomed into 2019. This was the year that Disney World was supposed to open its first Mickey Mouse-themed ride, as well as a pair of Star Wars rides that would anchor its 14-acre Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge expansion.

Disney bumped Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway to the springtime of 2020 two months ago. It will open the first phase of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at the end of August, but with only one of the land's two new rides. Rise of the Resistance will open months later. Even the timing of the first phase isn't ideal, coming well after most of the country's schools return from their summer breaks.

An extended summer ticket discount for Florida residents doesn't mean that it'll be just you in your mouse ears and wind-tossed tumbleweed at Disney World this summer. The four parks combined to entertain a record 58.3 million guests last year, and Disney's theme parks business continues to be the media giant's shining star. The segment's revenue and operating income rose 5% and 15%, respectively, in Disney's latest quarter. It will be crowded. However, Disney wouldn't be putting out a summer-long promotion if it felt it could fill its hotels and parks at full price.

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Things will be different next year. It will be the first summer season for the three E-ticket rides that were originally supposed to open in 2019, and there are other major new experiences coming to the relatively neglected Magic Kingdom and Epcot parks in 2020 and 2021. Disney shareholders don't have to worry just yet, but if Disney's still offering summertime travel deals next year, it may be time to start fretting.

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