Disney Is Dragon Its Feet

In anticipation of the opening of Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) New Fantasyland in Florida's Magic Kingdom -- and it's spectacular, I took in a sneak peek as a pass holder earlier this month -- the family entertainment giant is hoping for a viral promotional push.

Last week a Tumblr account was started by Gary Buchanan, social media managing editor for the company's Florida parks and a professed dragon lover. Disney promoted the Tumblr page through its popular Disney Parks blog, and it's starting to get interesting.

Earlier this week, Buchanan's Tumblr page began posting photos suggesting that a dragon hatched on Disney World property ahead of the park's opening in 1971. Things began to heat up yesterday, when a YouTube video was posted showing a Cloverfield-like clip of modern day birthday revelers seeing a flying dragon.

It's a clever stunt by Disney, especially since dragons have never been announced as part of the New Fantasyland expansion at Florida's most visited theme park. Is a mysterious attraction in the works? Have the dragons that were cheated out of Animal Kingdom's 1998 debut -- despite being part of the park's logo -- about to get a bigger role at its neighboring park?

Disney has to have high hopes for what the expansion will do for Magic Kingdom's turnstile clicks.

Rival park Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure -- now owned by cable and broadcasting giant Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA  ) -- saw its attendance soar 20% the year it opened a new area themed to Harry Potter.

Disney needs to dream big, and it can afford to bankroll those visions.

Unlike regional operators Six Flags (NYSE: SIX  ) and Cedar Fair (NYSE: FUN  ) , Disney and Comcast's majority-owned NBCUniversal can justify major park improvements. The parks are open year round, unlike most of the smaller parks operated by Six Flags and Cedar Fair. Guests also expect more at the Florida parks.

Average in-park guest per capita spending at Cedar Fair's parks last year clocked in at $40.03. Florida's theme parks cost more than twice that much just to get in, before accounting for the food and souvenirs that are purchased along the way.

Animal Kingdom will be getting its dragon. Disney announced a partnership last year to develop a themed land for its animal-centric Florida park devoted to News Corp.'s (Nasdaq: NWSA  ) Avatar that will become the resort's next major expansion after New Fantasyland.

Magic Kingdom will simply be getting the winged creatures first, even if it's little more than a publicity stunt that will fly away after breathing promotional fire to mark next month's official opening of New Fantasyland.


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