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Will a Hurricane Crash Disney World's "Star Wars" Party?

By Rick Munarriz – Aug 28, 2019 at 9:54AM

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All eyes will be on Disney World this weekend, but the last eye Disney wants on it is a possible Hurricane Dorian making landfall near its theme parks.

There's no shortage of critics on one side and fan appreciation on the other when it comes to Disney's (DIS 3.70%) Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, but Mother Nature may be the one storming in for the final word. Tropical Storm Dorian continues to strengthen as it makes its way through the Atlantic, and the latest advisory has it potentially hitting Florida as a Category 2 hurricane during the Labor Day weekend. 

There's never a good time for a windstorm, but it's downright disruptive to the state of Florida when it happens during a popular holiday travel weekend. The possibility of what would be a Hurricane Dorian strike could upend Disney World's best-laid plans for what should've been one of its biggest weekends in years. Now, the theme-park giant is bracing for resort cancellations with a spike in poncho sales serving as a cruel silver lining against graying skies. 

Concept art of Star Wars: Galaxy's with a father and young girl by the entrance to the Millennium Falcon ride.Edge.

Image source: Disney.

Finding Dorian

Investors and theme-park fans alike are watching Disney this weekendStar Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Disney's Hollywood Studios officially opens on Thursday, the same day as the popular International Food and Wine Festival kicks off at Epcot. With attendance surprisingly down at the original Disneyland last quarter -- despite opening its own version of the Star Wars-themed expansion in May -- there's a lot riding on this weekend's turnstile clicks.

After taking a low-key approach to Disneyland's debut by limiting attendance at Galaxy's Edge to a certain number of slots reserved online weeks earlier, Disney is opening the floodgates to all day guests that it can cram into the 14-acre expansion this time around. Disney knows that it can't afford to fail again in the eyes of the investing community, even if this is just the first phase of the sci-fi land's rollout.   

Theme parks are a pretty big deal for Disney, despite its massive entertainment empire. The segment may not command the same kind of operating profit margin as the company's other divisions, but it's a top contributor on the top line. It also doesn't hurt that Disney's collection of theme parks attracted more than 157 million guests worldwide last year, a captive audience to be exposed to its media franchises. 

Disney is no stranger to the whims of Florida's summer weather. The resort, which is open year-round, had to temporarily close its gated attractions for Hurricane Irma in 2017 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016. A storm-related closure would push this to three instances over four years, a rare sight at Disney World, which prides itself on being open 365 days a year.

A lot can happen between now and this weekend to change Dorian's direction and intensity, and any Jedi mind trick that Disney can do to keep the storm out of harm's way would be greatly appreciated by the state's tourism industry, as well as its residents.

Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2021 $60 calls on Walt Disney and short October 2019 $125 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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