Disney World's Top Rival Finally Gives Hulk Coaster the Green Light

By Markets Fool.com

Image source: Rick Munarriz

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After 11 months of downtime, the signature roller coaster atComcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSA) Universal Orlando is roaring again. The Incredible Hulk Coaster began taking guests on white-knuckled thrill rides yesterday after a lengthy refurbishment. The track and coaster trains were completely replaced, and new features include on-board audio and a tweaked story line. The ride isn't officially opened to the public, but the "technical rehearsals" that kicked off on Monday mean that park guests are able to get on the ride for the first time in nearly a year as it works out its kinks.

The Incredible Hulk Coaster closed after last year's Labor Day holiday weekend, initially promising a return in June. That became summer, and then late summer, and if it's able to officially open in the next few weeks, it will live up to the third and final promised opening date.

It will come too late to have a material impact on this year's peak summer season, but Comcast's Florida resort was already holding up better than crosstown rivals Disney (NYSE: DIS) and SeaWorld Entertainment (NYSE: SEAS). Disney and SeaWorld announced a year-over-year decline in attendance for the March quarter, and all indications seem to suggest that the June quarter didn't fare any better.

Hulk smash

Comcast has held up better than the competition. Its theme park revenue has risen 10.2% through the first six months of this year if you back out the recent acquisition of its Japanese theme park. Comcast isn't breaking down the performance, but a big contributor is opening earlier this year of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood. Its Florida parks are benefiting from higher per capita spending, but we don't know if turnstile clicks are living up to their end of the bargain.

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This should have been a monster summer for Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure theme park. The reopening of The Incredible Hulk Coaster and the debut of Skull Island: Reign of Kong should have provided a one-two punch of marketing might. The resort has outpaced attendance growth at Disney World and SeaWorld in recent years, but this would be the first major additions to the Islands of Adventure park since The Wizarding World of Harry Potter reshaped the landscape seven years ago. The Kong-themed ride opened in July, and by the time The Incredible Hulk Coaster officially opens many kids will be heading back to school. Area schools begin the new operating year in less than two weeks.

It's a pretty big deal. Comcast may be the country's largest cable TV and Internet service provider, but theme parks still accounted for 25% of its total operating cash flow through the first six months of this year.

The silver lining to the Hulk's unfashionably late arrival is that it will be a bigger draw during the typically sleep fall season than it would've been if it had been open all summer long. There is also something to be said about the positive impact that the ride's late arrival will have in attracting next summer's travelers. Comcast already has a new water park set to open next summer at the resort and a Jimmy Fallon ride -- a simulated race through New York City -- is also on tap for the original Universal Studios Florida park.

Hulk is here. Hulk wants to get noticed. That's not a bad thing given the dicey Central Florida tourism trends.

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Rick Munarriz owns shares of SeaWorld Entertainment and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.