Disney Finally Makes the Marvel Theme Park Connection

Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) is finally giving one of its Marvel characters its own theme park ride, but you're going to have to go Hong Kong to check it out.

The family entertainment giant announced this morning that the Iron Man Experience will open in 2016 at Hong Kong Disneyland. 

"Upon entering the ride vehicle our guests will be able to take flight with Iron Man on an epic adventure that not surprisingly pits Iron Man, and our guests, against the forces of evil," Disney's official theme parks blog explains. "This adventure will take place in the streets and skies of Hong Kong, which will make an even more unique and special experience for our Hong Kong Disneyland guests."

At first glance it may seem as if Disney finally has a response to the bar-raising Spider-Man attraction at Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSA  ) Universal Orlando Islands of Adventure. Comcast's resort is just a few minutes from Disney World in Florida, and the Spider-Man ride continues to turn heads even though it's 14 years old.

However, the concept art indicates this is a smaller budget addition. The enclosed vehicle in the artwork suggests it will be more along the lines of the Star Wars-themed Star Tours simulators at several of Disney parks. 

It's still a welcome first step for Disney. 

Source: Disney.

Ever since completing its Marvel Entertainment acquisition four years ago, Disney has been gradually incorporating the rich portfolio of comic book characters into its well-oiled media empire. Marvel movies and merchandising were logical first steps. Earlier this year a Marvel-themed area was added to one of its cruise ships. A prime-time show debuted last month on Disney's own ABC. Theme park rides were the next evolutionary move, and since attractions take years of advance planning and construction it's perfectly natural that this would be the final step in Marvel integration.

Stateside fans will be disappointed that Disneyland or Disney World aren't getting the ride, but that will come in time. At least, that will definitely come in time at Disneyland. It's a different matter entirely in Florida, as Comcast's Islands of Adventure has a Marvel-themed attraction that includes exclusivity within the state. Unless Disney finds a way to buy back those rights -- and surely Disney has tried and rival Comcast has played hardball -- the family entertainment giant is limited on what it can add to Disney World. Comcast is unlikely to swap out its well-regarded Marvel attractions for mere pocket change and Disney's rights to Avatar attractions that have yet to be built.

There's always a battle in the theme park industry. The only thing that isn't clear is who is the hero and who is the villain.

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