Disney's Star Wars Expansion Is a Game Changer

Friday's official debut of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge was a surprisingly smooth affair. Crowds were manageable, by design, as Disney (NYSE: DIS) limited its access to Disneyland hotel guests and folks who secured a limited number of reservations earlier this month.

The queue for Millennium Force: Smugglers Run was a breeze, ranging between 30 and 60 minutes long for most of the day. Lines were longer for some of the cantina and merchandising experiences, but even then the limited number of guests allowed in were able to make the most of the four-hour windows they were provided. Disney seemingly did the impossible, managing dissatisfaction for its most significant stateside theme-park expansion in more than 18 years. Things can get even better from here.

Space balls

Access to Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge will require reservations through at least June 23, and that's good news for Disney shareholders. Since all of the online reservations were gone within the first two hours of availability on May 2, folks will have to book a room at one of the three Disneyland on-site hotels to have access through the next three weeks.

The good news for Star Wars fans is that rooms are still readily available for most of June. The bad news for those aspiring visitors is that overnight accommodations aren't cheap, starting at $412 a night before taxes at the cheapest of the three hotels. One can expect the available rooms to get snapped up quickly, now that folks know that visiting Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge will be an orderly experience, given how smooth the first day went.

The payout could be even bigger in Florida. Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge won't open at Disney's Hollywood Studios until late August, but Disney World is a much larger business. Disney World welcomes more than twice as many theme park visitors as the original Disneyland resort, and the disparity is even more pronounced at the lodging level. There are more than 36,000 rooms available across all of the resorts on Disney property, a far cry form the 2,221 rooms available through Disneyland's three hotels.

Disney doesn't expect to introduce the current Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge reservations system for Disney World's debut this summer. It's not feasible with the much larger number of overnight guests. However, Disney is making it more worthwhile than usual to stay at a Disney-owned resort by giving those visitors access to enter the park three hours before it opens for outside guests. The expanded early access runs from Sept. 1 through Nov. 2.

Disney's going to make a lot of money with Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge on both coasts, but it's not just about the ticket sales, unique food items, and exclusive merchandise. Disney hotel occupancy rates should be high in the coming weeks and months, and that's ultimately more Disney Dollars for the media giant's shareholders.

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