Wednesday's rollout of new in-park restrictions for Walt Disney's (NYSE:DIS) domestic theme parks went off largely without a hitch. The theme park giant's decision to eliminate designated smoking areas from Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California merely shifted the traffic of smokers and vapers to designated areas just outside the park entrances, with easy re-entry access.
Families who had been wheeling kids around in wagon strollers, or any stroller bigger than 52 inches long or 31 inches wide, had to opt for Disney rentals or buy new carriers. Social media was ablaze with photos of larger strollers and smokers who still got through at the six theme parks, but that will stop over time. Disney thought this decision through, and it had weeks to implement the move after the late March announcement.
Up in smoke
Disney got the timing right on this move. May is typically one of the quieter times for Disney. Spring break is over, so families and college kids are back at school, and the summer travel season is still weeks away. If the media giant was going to break in potentially controversial policies, it makes sense to start instituting them when guest traffic is relatively light.
The parks will be a lot busier soon. Disneyland will open the first phase of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge on May 31. Disney World's version will open less than three months later. Breaking in the new restrictions would've been challenging when crowd control is a bigger concern.
Restrictions or not, Disney's theme parks are going to score record attendance numbers this year, and it'll only build on them next year, when the buzz over Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge has a full year to play out on both coasts. Even Disney's recent ticket price increases won't dissuade visitors. A Disney getaway has never been cheap, and with the economy mostly humming along, it's going to be hard for the world's largest theme park operator not to hit it out in the next few years.
Disney's theme park business had been doing just fine before guests could pilot the Millennium Falcon or grab a glass of blue milk at a galactic outpost watering hole, like they will in the coming months. The segment saw its revenue rise 5% in Disney's latest quarter, with operating income growing twice as quickly. The gain follows last fiscal year's 10% top-line increase. The business just works, and while Disney may take some heat from the smoker and stroller-wagon camps, there's a world of opportunity just waiting to fill that void.