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Disney World & Universal Arms Race Turns to Water Cannons in 2017

By Rick Munarriz - Jun 11, 2016 at 9:00AM

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Next year will be a wet one as Volcano Bay opens at Universal Orlando, and Disney World's Typhoon Lagoon likely introduces a new family raft ride.

Image source: Disney.

This is going to be a big summer in Central Florida as theme-park giants try to woo tourists with new coastersdark rides, and updated attractions. However, it's becoming clear that the war will transform into a naval battle next summer.

The Orlando Sentinel is reporting that Disney (DIS -1.38%) has filed paperwork with South Florida Water Management District detailing a new family raft ride that it will add at Disney World's Typhoon Lagoon water park. The new attraction will feature an elevated flume, taking up two acres that are presently not accessible to the public. 

The timeline of the filing would suggest that Disney will have this new water ride up and running by next summer, just as its biggest rival gears up to open an entirely new water park.

Comcast's (CMCSA -1.70%) (NASDAQ: CMCSK) Universal Orlando has had brisk construction activity on the site where Volcano Bay will open next year. The iconic waterslides-dredged volcano, which will serve as its centerpiece, is coming along nicely. The park will also feature a lazy river and several watery attractions including a family raft ride. Does that make 2017 the year of the family raft ride?

Water water everywhere

Water parks and Florida go hand in hand, outside of the routine afternoon thunderstorms during the summer. It's no surprise that Disney, Comcast, and SeaWorld (SEAS 3.21%)run the four busiest water parks in the country.

          Park     2015     2014
Typhoon Lagoon 2.3 million 2.2 million
Blizzard Beach 2.1 million 2.0 million
Aquatica 1.6 million 1.6 million
Wet 'n Wild Orlando 1.3 million 1.3 million

Source: TEA/AECOM. 

Disney World watches over Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. Aquatica is SeaWorld's handiwork. Comcast operates Wet 'n Wild's Orlando outlet, but it will close that down later this year, ahead of Volcano Bay's debut. SeaWorld also runs Discovery Cove, a high-end attraction where guests pay as much as $429 for a day of exclusive water play that culminates in a dolphin swim encounter. 

Volcano Bay is going to be a game changer, and not just because it's the first new Orlando water park in more than a decade. It's wedged between the resort's hotels and theme-park parking garages, easily accessible for both overnight and day guests. It will be a lot easier to get to than Disney World's water parks, which require resort guests to hop on shuttle buses, or snake through parking lots on the edges of the resort. 

It's easy to see why Disney is worried enough to add something new to its most-visited park, something that it hasn't done in ages. The park's last major addition -- the Crush 'n' Gusher water coaster -- opened in 2005. It will need something new to convince resort guests not to stray to check out the new oasis that's "erupting" a few miles away.

This year, the battle for theme-park supremacy is by land. Next year, it will be by sea.  

Rick Munarriz owns shares of SeaWorld Entertainment and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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The Walt Disney Company Stock Quote
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