Disney World Needs Galaxy's Edge to Succeed

A galaxy that's "far, far away" is finally within reach for guests at Disney's (NYSE: DIS) sprawling Florida resort. Previews for high-end Disney World passholders kicked off over the weekend for Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Disney's Hollywood Studios, ahead of the official opening for all park visitors on Aug. 29. Previews for the theme park's employees took place earlier this month.

All eyes are on Florida after Disneyland's similar 14-acre expansion failed to generate an initial pop in turnstile clicks. Disney stock took a hit after the company announced a surprising decline in domestic theme park attendance. Things will be different this time, and let's be frank: This is only the first phase of Disney's Star Wars-fueled expansion on both coasts. 

Early concept art for Galaxy's Edge showing a stormtrooper in Batuu.

Image source: Disney.

Going into hyperspace

The chatter earlier this month that Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge is a failure is wrong on nearly every count. Until the final week of Disney's fiscal third quarter, Disneyland limited availability to the new land to folks who made reservations -- a process that filled up in less than two hours weeks before the official debut -- at one of its three on-site hotels. 

Preparing for this ambitious opening, Disney moved to raise prices sharply higher and block summertime visits for many of its Disneyland passholders. Disney World prices have also moved higher, but the late summer debut comes after the peak travel season, so passholder blackout periods no long apply. Disney World also isn't going to require reservations for the sci-fi update, freeing anyone at the park the ability to check it out until it hits capacity. 

Disney World is also going all out to make life easier for guests at its two dozen-plus on-site resorts. Overnight guests at Disney World hotels will have three hours of early morning access to Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge during the first two months after the debut weekend. Slipping attendance for Disney's domestic parks in its latest quarter was a surprise, but it would be a shocker if we saw it again for the current and following quarter. 

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge isn't a failure. The only ride available at the moment is getting mixed reviews, but the real star attraction isn't slated to open until December in Florida and January in California. And even if the upcoming debut of the elaborate Rise of the Resistance attraction doesn't raise the bar, Disney won't be out of options. Theme parks evolve. Operators learn. Have we all forgotten that a Star Wars hotel is going up in Florida?

No one has been as successful as Disney in this niche, and there's no point in branding it a loser before the game has even started. 

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