The subfreezing temperatures are moving on from Central Florida, but judging by the massive crowds and long wait times I encountered at the Disney (NYSE: DIS) and Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) theme parks this week, it seems as if the chilly weather didn't scare guests away.
Central Florida is the indisputable hub of the theme-park industry. Walt Disney World and Comcast's Universal Orlando operate six of the world's 10 most visited theme parks, according to industry tracker Themed Entertainment Association. With Disney and Comcast relying on their attractions to grow in popularity to offset the decline in their cable television properties, we're talking about more than just fun and games. We're wrapping up the peak two-week holiday period including Christmas and New Year's Day, and the parks made sure that business was heating up just as the temperatures were cooling down.
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A big selling point of Florida is that attractions can stay open all year round, but that has been a bit of a challenge during this peak holiday season. Water parks have had to close during some of this week's cooler days, and even the more popular dry parks have had their hiccups.
A visit to Disney's Magic Kingdom on Thursday morning was greeted with gridlock and chaos at the Transportation and Ticket Center, as the 32-degree weather and mechanical blips found both the ferry and monorail inoperable during the first hour of operation. Guests had to snake makeshift lines to board buses that would take them to the entrance of the Magic Kingdom, and tensions rose as line-cutters skirted largely unsupervised queues. Earlier in the week, a rainy and windy day resulted in the closure of some of Universal Orlando's outdoor rides.
The good news is that the crowds didn't stay away. Wait times this week topped three hours for Flight of Passage at Disney's Animal Kingdom and Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts at Universal Studios Florida, the two Central Florida rides that routinely draw the longest lines. A week earlier, Disney World's Magic Kingdom had to temporarily close at least twice after hitting its peak crowd capacity, and even Universal Orlando's Volcano Bay water park hit its max guest level. Whether folks were escaping the colder weather up north or locals figured that bundling up in layers and hitting the parks was the inspired thing to do, the turnstiles were busy in Central Florida this holiday season.
Disney investors should find the strong holiday showing encouraging. Disney's theme parks and resorts segment was the only one of the media giant's four businesses to grow its revenue and operating profit in fiscal 2017. The segment is Disney's second largest business. Theme parks aren't as relevant to Comcast -- accounting for just 7% of its revenue -- but it was the company's largest growing business in its latest quarter.
Keeping that momentum going into the quarter that ended last month and the new period beginning this week are essential. Disney and Comcast need growth at their parks to provide relief for investors fretting about what cord-cutters are doing to Disney's networks and Comcast's cable television service.
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