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Comcast Is About to Cream Disney

We made our way up the King's Cross train station and through Platform 9 3/4, boarded the Hogwarts Express, and after a brief yet richly themed experience found our way at Hogsmeade less than four minutes later. 

As we were getting off the train, my wife turned to me, offering up four simple words:

"Sell your Disney stock."

Now, she knows that I'm not about to do that. She bought me my very first share of the family entertainment giant in the late 1980s when we started going out. You marry that kind of fiscally fancy whimsy.  

Source: Maria Munarriz.

She's not the only one realizing that Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) seems to be coasting with its theme parks at a time when Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSK  ) Universal Orlando is raising the bar. This is shaping up to be a big summer for Central Florida, and while Disney's major addition is a tame, sparse, and surprisingly brief mine train coaster, Comcast's Diagon Alley expansion to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter experience is more ambitious than anything that Disney has cooked up in ages.

Universal Orlando's Diagon Alley doesn't officially open at Universal Studios Florida until tomorrow, but park guests have been invited to kick the tires in recent days. I was there on Saturday afternoon, taking in the sense-awakening experience with my wife and youngest son.  

It's going to be the big draw to Central Florida in the coming months, even if Disney continues to have the advantage when it comes to turnstile clicks. According to industry group Themed Entertainment Association, Disney continues to watch over the country's six most visited theme parks. Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida command the next two slots, attracting 8.1 million and 7.1 million guests, respectively, last year. 

However, that's going to change with this bold expansion. We weren't able to experience the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts Bank indoor coaster, which has been buggy for the handful of media hands and resort package guests who have been able to go on the reportedly impressive ride. But we were able to explore the shops of Diagon Alley and even take in an early dinner at The Leaky Cauldron between our round-trip experience on the Hogwarts Express, which is the most financially brilliant thing that any theme park operator has ever done.

It's not about the train ride, which in itself is a surprisingly intimate family-friendly winner. Since the journey connects the Potter areas of Universal Orlando's two theme parks, they don't let you board unless you have either the more expensive day ticket that includes admission to both parks or you're fortunate enough to have an annual pass. In a slick move, each station sells the two-part ticket upgrade, and those ticket stations were busy taking money from muggles over the weekend. 

Add it all up and the Hogwarts Express experience alone is not only going to make a ton of incremental dough from folks upgrading their tickets, but it's also going to lead to a spike in attendance as visitors take in both parks. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Comcast's two gated attractions in Orlando surpass Disney's less popular stateside parks in attendance within a year or two. 

Disney doesn't seem worried. The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is commanding long lines since opening in late May, and its latest addition -- a series of temporary shows and attractions themed to the wildly popular Frozen -- is generating decent fan buzz at Disney's Hollywood Studios. However, anyone with an unbiased measuring stick will be able to see that Universal Orlando is the one that shot for the moon this summer. If you don't see it that way, just take in the reports of the insane crowds that will be lining up to get into Universal Studios Florida tomorrow. I'm not letting go of my Disney stock, but the certificates are starting to get a little sweaty.

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Read/Post Comments (6) | Recommend This Article (0)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On July 07, 2014, at 1:22 PM, mavrik0333 wrote:

    Universal Studios hasn't risen anything but their prices! The park is old except for Harry Potter area, the food is horrible, and entertainment can't even begin to touch Disneyworld.

  • Report this Comment On July 07, 2014, at 1:56 PM, looney49er wrote:

    mavrik0333 is high and obviously a mouse butt kisser.

    Universal Studios Florida last year opened the new Springfield addition to the park from the popular Simpsons show. They also opened the hugely popular Transformers the Ride and tomorrow open Diagon Alley.

    The attention to detail and quality of work done is something Disney gave up on about 10 or so years ago when they started building on the cheap. Disney also embraced the idea "Why spend tons of money when the guests will come anyway". Disney used to be true innovators and dreamers when it came to their parks and the guest experience. Now they just copy someone else or build another out of the box ride with zero imagination required. Disney is so worried about the new Universal addition that they through together a half baked stage show, parade and fireworks show in 2 weeks time knowing that Universal's numbers are going to be huge.

    Oh and Disney raised their prices twice in one year and offer nothing in exchange for the price hike. Universal's prices have stayed the same even though they have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on improvements and additions.

  • Report this Comment On July 07, 2014, at 2:41 PM, Anapoli wrote:

    i hope the author does realize that Disney announced not long ago it was closing Indiana Jones and American Idol experience to expand its Star Wars section inside Hollywood Studios... Harry Potter is a huge franchise but Star Wars is even bigger... Comcast is going to barely make a scuff mark

  • Report this Comment On July 07, 2014, at 2:52 PM, Anapoli wrote:

    looney49er Universal has raised their tix prices, and they had to open Transformers the ride which used to be Spider Man after Disney bought the rights to Marvel... the Springfield addition to Universal Studios was not opened last year try longer maybe about 3 years ago when they opened the Simpsons ride (formally known as Back to the Future) , you talk about Disney building out of the box rides, when Universal is just taking old rides putting new names on it, fresh paint, a lil tweak here and there and you got yourself a "new ride" ...

  • Report this Comment On July 07, 2014, at 7:27 PM, bserlori wrote:

    The Transformers ride did not replace Spiderman. Transformers is in Universal Studios and Spiderman is still in the Marvel section of Islands of Adventure. The Simpson's ride did open years ago but in 2013 UOR expanded the area adding Moes Tavern, Duff Beer Gardens, Lard Lad Donuts, and the Twirl and Hurl ride.

  • Report this Comment On July 07, 2014, at 10:09 PM, jaybone5513 wrote:

    I enjoy both parks, I'll be at both parks in November. But I'm not spending the extra money to take a train ride. Honestly, when I was in Orlando in 2012, I wasn't that impressed with Universal. While the Harry Potter portion of the park was good, they only had three rides. The Spiderman ride is excellent, The Mummy ride is okay, and the Hulk coaster is very cool. Everything else is somewhat forgettable.

    But as far as Disney sweating, the biggest thing is 30,405 and 18.6 million. That's the number of hotel rooms Walt Disney World owns, and the number of guests that visited the Magic Kingdom last year.

    But the biggest thing is, Universal is landlocked, Disney isn't. I believe it's the opposite of their situation in CA. That park will be where Universal sees their biggest gains, I think.

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Rick Munarriz

Rick has been writing for Motley Fool since 1995 where he's a Consumer and Tech Stocks Specialist. Yes, that's a long time. He's been an analyst for Motley Fool Rule Breakers and a portfolio lead analyst for Motley Fool Supernova since each newsletter service's inception. He earned his BBA and MBA from the University of Miami, and he now lives a block from his alma mater.

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