Disney World's Biggest Park Is Ready to Get Its Drink On

By Rick Munarriz Markets Fool.com

Image source: Disney.

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The world's busiest theme park is ready to carefully ramp up its alcoholic offerings. Disney's(NYSE: DIS)Magic Kingdom will introduce carefully curated beer and wine options at several of its restaurants come Friday.

It was a pretty big deal when the park's Be Our Guest restaurant opened in 2012, and with it a menu complete with a few adult beverages to accompany its upscale dinner service. Walt Disney, who passed away 50 years ago, was adamant that alcoholic beverages not be served at Disneyland, and that wish carried over to Disney's Magic Kingdom when it opened five years after his death. Subsequent parks have strayed from that mandate, but outside of the elite Club 33 membership club at Disneyland and Be Our Guest at Disney's Magic Kingdom, the two theme parks have remained dry destinations.

Limiting beer and wine sales hasn't been an impediment to Disney's success in the past. Disney World's Magic Kingdom is the only park in the planet to top 20 million annual guests. Disneyland is the world's second most visited park in the world, entertaining 18.3 million guests last year, according to industry tracker Themed Entertainment Association. The addition of beer and wine should help increase Disney's revenue-generating potential, but it was doing just fine before the Magic Kingdom starts uncorking wine bottles and pulling on beer taps late this week.

Pouring it on

Tony's Town Square Restaurant, Liberty Tree Tavern, Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen, and Cinderella's Royal Table are the four restaurants that will begin serving beer and wine on Friday. Unlike Be Our Guest, which limits the heartier libations to dinnertime traffic, the four eateries will also serve been and wine for lunch.

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Anyone familiar with the lay of the land at Disney World knows that these are four of the park's priciest table-service restaurants. You won't see alcoholic drinks served at counter-service eateries or kiosks -- at least not yet.

Disney knows it can profit from the stiff prices and steep margins it can score on adult beverages. The Epcot Food & Wine Festival has been running at Disney's third oldest theme park for 21 years, drawing crowds to Florida during the fall, when wooing younger families proves to be more challenging with school in session. Disney has been extending the length of the festival as the years go by, and next month it will introduce a new festival, Epcot International Festival of the Arts, that will emphasize culinary arts in a bid to keep attracting foodies with oenophile bents.

This is the right move. Disney World's three other theme parks and Disneyland's California Adventure aren't hedonistic cesspools just because they serve beer and wine. Along the way we find Disney in a rare attendance funk. Attendance has declined in two of the past three quarters at Disney World, just as it's coming off back-to-back periods of declining guest counts at Disneyland. Disney has responded by finding new ways to generate more revenue out of its guests, and adding beer and wine will go over a lot better than price hikes to annual passes and single-day tickets over the past year.

Increasing tabs and drawing more alcohol-seeking guests to its priciest restaurant are smart business moves, and it's the right thing for Disney to do as it tries to figure out other ways to get its guest count rising again.

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Rick Munarriz owns shares of 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.