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If Disney World's "Star Wars" Land Is a Flop, Why Is It So Crowded?

By Rick Munarriz – Oct 6, 2019 at 12:00PM

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Crowds seem to be picking up at the second of the two Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge expansions, fueled by a media blitz and the opening of a new mode of transportation to get there.

With so many industry worrywarts and Star Wars purists taking a dim view of Disney's (DIS -1.39%) bicoastal Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge expansion, I figured I'd check out Florida's version on Saturday afternoon. Would I get pelted by drifting tumbleweed while slurping down some blue milk? Would my voice echo in a barren Droid Depot? Would I leave accepting that the first phase of what initially seemed like a slam-dunk expansion has turned into a colossal flop for ages?

If you read the headline you know my answer. In my sixth visit to Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge -- four to the original Disneyland version this summer and now my second visit at Disney World, but the first since it officially opened -- I have never seen the 14-acre addition as busy as it was this weekend. The wait for the high-capacity Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run was 85 minutes. A mobile order at the Docking Bay 7 eatery was filled quickly just past the lunch rush block, but finding an empty table proved challenging. The stores -- and more importantly, the registers -- were thick with tourists. 

Serena Williams joins costumed characters for Rey and Vi Moradi at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Disney World.

Image source: Disney.

Judge me by size, do you?

It's early October, which is historically when the theme park industry hits a lull. However, it seems the one-two punch of the recent media blitz across most of Disney's media networks and last week's opening of the Skyliner gondola system that connects two of Disney World's parks with several of its hotels is doing the trick. 

Disneyland's opening in May was sandbagged by limited reservations and the blocking out of most local passholders through heightened seasonal restrictions. Disney World's debut three months later was initially tripped up by the threat of Hurricane Dorian. When Disney reports its fiscal fourth-quarter results next month, we'll probably see a mixed-bag performance out of its theme parks. Growing its attendance relative to the prior year will be a challenge, but revenue should clock in nicely higher as folks are spending more to get in and probably spending a lot more once inside Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. I saw plenty of people toting around their $100 droids and $200 light sabers this weekend. 

Even if Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge hasn't delivered the desired spike in turnstile clicks, it's surely been up to the task in inching average revenue per visitor higher. We're also now two months away from the opening of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance -- the more buzz-worthy of the two rides -- at Disney World, with Disneyland's version opening early next year.

There were initial hiccups on both coasts, but Disney always plays the long game. Animal Kingdom lacked e-ticket rides, sit-down restaurants, and shade when it opened. Epcot failed to give Disney buffs the costumed character interactions they were craving when it made its debut. Disney's California Adventure has given many of its initial attractions makeovers featuring its growing catalog of intellectual properties, a move that has upset some diehard fans but improving attendance is the ultimate scorecard. If Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge needs more characters from the original trilogy outside of Chewbacca or more old-school references in shows and attractions, they will happen. 

Disney isn't one of the market's top consumer discretionary stocks by accident. Disney would love to get things right the first time, but it's better to get the last laugh when it fails at landing the first one.  

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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