Disney World's Biggest Rival Keeps Betting Big on Harry Potter

Just as Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS) was raising some of its ticket prices on Tuesday, Universal Orlando parent Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) was trying to raise the bar when it comes to immersive family-friendly thrill rides. The state's second-largest theme park resort is offering up some more details on Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, a new roller coaster that will open officially in exactly three months at Universal's Islands of Adventure.

The heavily themed coaster will feature several characters from the Harry Potter series of books and films including centaurs, Cornish pixies, and Fluffy, Hagrid's three-headed guard dog. It will launch forward and backward, peaking at a speed of 50 miles per hour. The ride vehicle also features a row of motorbikes with adjacent sidecars, providing two unique ways to experience the ride. Disney and Comcast are locked in an arms race, and each media giant is trying to outdo its rival in providing the next generation of theme park attractions.

Spell casting

Most of the details of Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure weren't new. We live in the golden age of social media, in which Tuesday's announcement merely confirmed the speculation birthed through the past few months of widely circulated permits, aerial photography, and Universal's own concept art.

Comcast can't afford any missteps. There's a lot of new tech going into the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter addition, and any delays or prolonged downtime will eat into the narrow window it has before Disney steals the spotlight. Comcast's larger rival announced last week that the first phase of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge will open on Aug. 29 at Disney World, a lot sooner than folks were expecting.

Comcast's Universal Orlando has seen its attendance grow faster than Disney World's since the debut of its Potter-themed attractions in 2010, and no park has grown faster than Universal's Islands of Adventure, which has seen its guest counts more than double in that time. Disney's four Florida theme parks have fared well, but they have grown their turnstile clicks by a more modest 11% to 30% in that eight-year span of time.

The future will be different. Disney has major additions coming to its Florida resort in the next three years, transforming the experience at its parks as well as the way folks get around within the actual resort. Comcast will eventually get a chance to steal that momentum back when it opens new theme parks and hotels in a few years, but for now, it's all about two of the most iconic franchises of our generation -- Star Wars and Harry Potter -- trying to keep tourists from turning to the dark sides in 2019.

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