It's now been nearly two months since Disney (NYSE:DIS) opened Toy Story Land at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida, and it's fair to say that the new Pixar-themed expansion is a hit. Crowds are flocking to the park that needed it the most, as Disney's Hollywood Studios was the only Disney World theme park worldwide to experience a decline in attendance last year, according to the Themed Entertainment Association.
Crowds can be a double-edged sword, but Disney is no stranger to turning that sword into a candle and lighting it at both ends. The world's largest theme park operator is introducing Early Morning Magic at Toy Story Land in a few weeks, charging guests $79 a head for early access to experience the new land's rides and attractions for 75 minutes before day guests arrive. Breakfast is included and can be enjoyed later in the morning so it doesn't eat into the exclusive ride time.
Most guests will naturally balk at shelling out that kind of money -- a mark-up that's on top of the already pricey one-day or multiday ticket to get into the park in the first place. Disney is cool with that. It realizes that a hard-ticket morning event isn't for everybody, and that also adds to the exclusivity of the experience. As long as it can generate more in ticket sales than it has to pay to staff and operate the park to run the event, it will be incremental to its top and bottom lines. It's smart. It's also going to cost you and your Buzz Lightyear-toting kid a pretty penny.
You've got a trend in me
Disney World has been successfully selling premium-priced tickets for years, but we're typically talking about seasonal events that take place at night at the more popular Magic Kingdom theme park. Earlier this month, Disney sold out a Halloween event in the middle of August.
Mornings have been harder sells. Resort guests already get early access to a different theme park every day, and folks staying off site don't usually want to spring for premium experiences. However, with the summer heat and long lines gnawing at the Toy Story Land experience for day guests, the appeal for enjoying the richly themed park with fewer folks to elbow in the cooler morning hours is pretty clear.
Early Morning Magic won't kick in until the busy summer travel season is over, and it will only take place on select Monday and Wednesday mornings starting Sept. 17. The lack of availability on weekends when school is already in session will limit the potential audience, but that's pretty much the point of an exclusive early-morning experience.
Disney's Hollywood Studios isn't going to repeat last year's reported dip in attendance. It will likely lead all of the Disney parks in growth, just as Disney's Animal Kingdom did last year when it added an Avatar-themed land to its arsenal. Disney finding ways to milk more out of the operating day will serve both park guests and shareholders well. Disney's theme parks division was the only segment to post positive growth in Disney's most recent fiscal year. Disney doesn't always get it right when it comes to its theme parks business, but it knows how to strike when the iron is hot. Right now, the Toy Story Land iron is hot.