Disney's (NYSE: DIS) Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge opened in Florida on Thursday morning, and it's fair to say that it's a tourist magnet right now. The 14-acre expansion at Disney's Hollywood Studios closed to capacity within minutes of the official 6 a.m. opening time, and an hour into the day the wait for the only ride open in the new area had ballooned to as much as five hours.
It was an entirely different scene at Disneyland three months ago, as queue times for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run topped out at roughly 90 minutes and were routinely half that long later in the day. It should also be an entirely different scene when Disney reports financial results come early November. There was a surprising decline in domestic theme park attendance for Disney's fiscal second quarter, but that should not be the case for the current period.
Disneyland's debut at the end of May was always going to be a smaller deal. Disney's original theme park limited attendance at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge to those who managed to snag one of a small number of online reservations plus folks staying at one of its three premium-priced hotels. The reservation system was in place for the first three weeks and change, and by the time the sci-fi land opened to all Disneyland visitors in late June the newness factor was gone.
Disney World went with a different playbook -- it has to since it has more than two dozen on-site lodging options. Disneyland's on-site resort hotels have room for less than 10% of Disney World's capacity, and there's a lot of value in the captive audience at Florida's sprawling resort. Disney World also decided to open up Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge to everyone, a decision that makes it easy to invest in marketing in a way that Disneyland couldn't because the expansion was inaccessible initially to most day guests.
As rough as it may seem to see five-hour waits for a single ride on Thursday morning -- and folks arriving a few minutes after the open being told that they won't be able to access Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge until much later in the day -- this is also what Disney needed to silence its critics. The rumblings about the expansion's being a failure because of lighter-than-expected crowds at Disneyland never made sense given that initial access was restricted and most local pass holders were blocked out later in the summer. The best of the two rides won't even open at either park for several more months. With consumer sentiment waning and consumers and investors alike preparing for a possible recession, it's refreshing to see such a huge initial turnout at Disney World ahead of the holiday weekend.
It's also not as if Disney World orchestrated the monster crowds on Thursday. If anything, Disney took steps to try and send guests to its three other Florida theme parks instead:
- Thursday is also the start of the International Food and Wine Festival at Epcot, an annual hotbed of upscale revelry.
- Disney opened its three other parks an hour earlier for guests staying at its on-site resorts.
- A new magnet featuring The Lion King's Simba is being given away -- for a week only -- to Disney World pass holders at Disney's Animal Kingdom.
We'll naturally have to wait a few months before we see if attendance trends bounced back this quarter. It's also going to get tricky with Hurricane Dorian widely expected to make landfall in Florida in a couple of days. However, for today at least, everything is right in Disney's world. Its biggest expansion in two decades is drawing huge crowds, and there is no disturbance in the Force.
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