We finally have a firm opening date for Disney's (NYSE:DIS) biggest stateside project for 2018. Toy Story Land will open at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida on June 30, missing out on the start of the peak summer travel season -- but things could have been worse.
Disney refused to offer up an opening day for the 11-acre expansion during its fiscal first-quarter earnings call earlier this month, dodging the subject again during last weekend's D23 presentation. With aerial shots showing a lot of work still needing to be done on Toy Story Land, it was easy to wonder if the theme park giant would miss its initially slated summertime opening. Unlike last year's game-changing Avatar-themed expansion at Disney's Animal Kingdom, which was also tagged with a summer debut but opened early to take advantage of the peak Memorial Day holiday weekend crowds, Toy Story Land may be opening too late in the season to make a difference. The lull will only be temporary, of course, as the park has three monster attractions opening in 2019.
To infinity and beyond
Disney's Hollywood Studios needs a spark, and Toy Story Land will be better than the blocked-off construction zone that the place has now become. It probably won't be enough to keep the recent momentum going. Attendance rose 6% for Disney's domestic theme parks in its latest quarter, its strongest showing in years. However, the comparisons will get harder once we roll into May and we're pitting the turnstile clicks to the spike that began with Pandora -- The World of Avatar's opening a year earlier. This is potentially problematic since Disney's theme parks comprise the only business segment that's actually growing these days.
There isn't a lot to Toy Story Land. Slinky Dog Dash is a long and richly themed outdoor coaster, but it's a tame family-friendly ride along the lines of Goofy's Barnstormer at the Magic Kingdom or the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train without the swinging novelty or audio animatronics. The other new attraction is a carnival flat ride with some nice Pizza Planet thematic touches, but it's not going to be a marquee draw. There will be a new quick-service restaurant, along with a new entrance to the existing Midway Mania ride and a relocated meet-and-greet area for the film's key characters.
The media behemoth took to ABC's Good Morning America on Friday morning to announce the June 30 date, because it didn't have much of a choice. If it wants to families to book their travel plans to Disney World this summer, it was going to have to firm up the date of the only major addition to its arsenal of theme parks in 2018. The announcement may lead to an uptick in bookings for July, but probably not at the same level as last year when buzz began to build for Avatar's Flight of Passage banshee-flying simulator.
Things will change dramatically at the park come next year. Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge and Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway will bring three new rides to the park in 2019, and the anticipation is far greater for those three new Disney World rides than anything that Toy Story Land will offer this summer. Toy Story Land is an appetizer to next year's attendance-pumping additions meal, and that's before we get to the Guardians of the Galaxy- and Tron-themed coasters that will open closer to 2021.
This should be the last quiet year at Disney World, hurricanes and global economic slumps notwithstanding. Don't let any rumblings of attendance slowdowns this summer weigh on you if you're a Disney shareholder. Patience will be everything as we head into 2019.