Disney's Anniversary Present

Later this week, Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) will kick off Disneyland's 50th anniversary celebration. Never mind that Disneyland actually opened in the middle of July in 1955, not May, or that this party will encompass all of the company's theme parks worldwide and last for the next year and a half. When you run a popular tourist draw, there's money to be made in stretching out the festivities as long as possible. Just a few years back, Disney turned what would have been Walt Disney's 100th birthday into a 15-month gala.

In kicking things off a few months early, Disney also doesn't want to miss out on the early summer boost that it's likely to see as a result of the parks' timely new rides and attractions. With all of the event-branded merchandise that it will be selling throughout its parks, Disney may very well make a holiday-driven collectible specialist like Department 56 blush.

You can't blame Disney, just as you couldn't blame Harley Davidson when it sold a ton of motorcycles in 2003 by tying that year's models to the company's own centennial.

For Disney, the anniversary couldn't come at a better time. Last year was the first time since Sept. 11, 2001, that all six of its domestic theme parks managed to grow attendance levels. So it already has momentum going for it. Higher gas prices are certain to hurt, since some families decide to vacation closer to home, but 2005 should still be a banner year for the company's parks, complete with record attendance. Expect those turnstile clicks to also drum up higher per-capita spending levels as new attractions and the anniversary merchandise encourage guests to spend more.

So, sure, Disney has a big celebration in store for those who come on over to any of its global theme parks. Just don't forget to bring a present. Cash or plastic will do just fine.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has owned shares of Disney since the 1980s and is at the parks often. Yes, he will be doing his share of turnstile clicking at the Florida parks next month.The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.


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