Record profits for The Walt Disney Company were driven by box office success in 2018. Next year, it may be Disney theme parks raking in the big bucks.
The company’s parks and resorts division reported increases of 4 percent on attendance, 9 percent on higher guest spending, 8 percent on hotel spending and 1 percent on hotel occupancy at its U.S. parks in the fourth quarter of its fiscal year. Overall, operating income at Disney parks was up 18 percent for the year.
All positive numbers, but Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger said with Stars Wars: Galaxy’s Edge being “the biggest lands that we’ve ever built,” he expects the new lands opening in Disney World and Disneyland next year to “drive a huge increase in demand.”
“Not only are they big in size and scale, they are huge in ambition in terms of both the experience that we aim to create, meaning the immersive experience, as well as the specific experiences people will have and the attractions namely in both cases two, very, very innovative and we believe compelling and exciting e-ticket attractions,” Iger said.
After years of construction, the Galaxy’s Edge projects on both coasts are beginning to approach the finish line. Disneyland’s version will open first, sometime in the summer of 2019, with Iger calling it “the biggest thing that we’ve ever done at Disneyland since it opened in 1955.”
Bill Zanetti, a founding member of the University of Central Florida’s Entertainment Management Advisory Board, predicted to Orlando Rising that as many as 200,000 people could show up at the Anaheim, California park on opening day for Galaxy’s Edge.
That may take some pressure off the opening at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The Orlando version isn’t set to welcome guests until late fall 2019 which, in the language of the Mouse, could mean as late as mid-December.
The increased demand will present “some interesting challenges,” Iger said. That may be especially tough in Orlando, where Disney’s Hollywood Studios has long lagged behind the popularity of the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, even before multiple attractions closed to make way for Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land.
“We’ve aimed to actually grow the attendance to that park, which has lagged a bit over the last number of years, because we haven’t invested anything that is even this close to size or scale or of compelling nature of it,” Iger said. “So we think in both cases, they will have a dramatic impact positively on both businesses.”
Inside the 14-acre land, the experiences on both coasts will be largely the same to start, with both versions feature two new rides, new shops and an alcohol-fueled cantina. Disneyland’s version may be better equipped for handling crowds, as it will have three entry/exit points, while Disney’s Hollywood Studios will only have two: one in the park’s Grand Avenue section, which is expected to be the dedicated entrance when Galaxy’s Edge first opens, and another connecting to Toy Story Land, which may be made into the area’s dedicated exit.
Disney World will eventually have a “Star Wars” experience unique to Orlando: a highly-themed, immersive hotel currently under construction south of the park.