We're deep into the peak summer travel season, but it seems as if the country's leading theme park operators aren't at their best. Disney (NYSE:DIS) is being applauded for Disneyland's crafty crowd management since late May's opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, but light overall crowds in recent weeks are leading some to wonder if it went too far with blackout dates for local annual passes. Three time zones away, Disney World began selling Get Your Ears On multi-day tickets last month, discounting three- and four-day tickets for locals this summer to roughly half the per-day price of single-day tickets.
A few highway exits away from Disney World, Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Universal Orlando is also dealing with its own challenges. Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure has been an operational nightmare, down roughly as long as it's been running through its first month of park guest availability. Comcast is also pulling levers to get locals back to its attractions. This week it eliminated blackout dates for its mid-level three-park annual passes, allowing them access to its Volcano Bay water park that is typically unavailable to them in July. If Comcast is struggling to fill its watery oasis during this brutal summer heatwave that's not an encouraging sign as guest dissatisfaction swells over its new thrill ride's downtime. It's been a cruel summer.
Getting back on the wave
It's not just Disney and Comcast rolling out new promotions. Nestled between Disney World and Universal Orlando, SeaWorld Entertainment's (NYSE:SEAS) biggest park is also becoming a bit more generous in order to orchestrate an uptick in turnstile clicks. SeaWorld Orlando recently concluded a sale to woo new annual pass holders by offering them three additional months at no additional cost. Now it's offering annual passholders $10 vouchers that can be used for in-park dining from now through Aug. 11, just before area schools end their summer breaks.
There are more questions than answers in the theme-parks hotbed of Central Florida. Did Disney World's 2019 price increases on tickets and annual passes go too far? Did Comcast try too hard to raise the bar on its new Harry Potter-themed roller coaster after back-to-back years of poorly received ride additions at Universal Orlando? Did SeaWorld Orlando put too much faith on a Sesame Street makeover for its kiddie area to be its top tourist draw for 2019?
It's easy to see why park operators are scrambling to increase attendance counts this month. The second quarter that ended last month probably didn't need a lot of help given the timing of the Easter holiday that pushed the busy industry week leading up to Easter Sunday from the first quarter of 2018 into the second quarter of 2019. The Easter shift alone should beef up the upcoming second-quarter reports, but now Disney, Comcast, and SeaWorld Entertainment need to keep their parks busy during the seasonally potent third quarter. The deals are coming for theme park fans. Investors are hoping they don't come at the expense of squeezing margins.