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Disney World's Top Rival Pulls a New Stunt

By Rick Munarriz – Jun 30, 2020 at 11:10AM

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Comcast's Universal Orlando resort is introducing a high-tech stunt show while most of its peers are holding back on new rollouts.

Disney (DIS -3.11%) is still two weeks away from the phased reopening of its Florida theme parks, but its largest rival is breaking out something new on Tuesday. Comcast's (CMCSA -2.16%) Universal Orlando officially introduces The Bourne Stuntacular this week, a live stunt show that combines stage and high-tech cinema tricks based on Comcast's Bourne action film franchise.

The new attraction has generated largely rave reviews in the technical-rehearsal showings it has made available to park guests ahead of Tuesday's debut. It's a good sign for a resort that has missed more than it has hit in recent additions to its arsenal. It's also a refreshing surprise to see a Central Florida theme park operator introducing new experiences at a time when its gated attractions are opening to tightly restricted guest counts to abide by social distancing norms. Local rivals Disney World and SeaWorld Entertainment (SEAS -2.13%) have backed off from introducing new rides that should've been open or about to open these days.

A Marilyn Monroe lookalike in a show at Universal Studios Florida.

Image source: Comcast's Universal Orlando.

Worlds apart

This is being seen largely as a lost summer season for the theme park industry. With parks letting only a limited number of guests through their turnstiles on any given day and hourly throughput on rides also pared back for the spacing out of riders and sanitation downtime, why open something shiny and new this summer? SeaWorld Entertainment was supposed to have opened two new roller coasters in Central Florida by now, but Iron Gwazi at Busch Gardens Tampa and Ice Breaker at SeaWorld Orlando appear unlikely to open anytime soon. There was even a billboard up in Tampa back in March promoting the bar-raising hybrid coaster as open, despite the park itself shuttering for the pandemic earlier in the month.

Disney has yet to show its hand on coming attractions. The next new ride set to open -- Remy's Ratatouille Adventure at Epcot -- was tagged a few months ago with a summer opening. Disney hasn't updated that timeline, but it would be a welcome surprise if it does open shortly after the park's resumption on July 15.

Theme park attractions don't always open on time, and that's understandable. Construction delays and budget shuffling can trip up a new ride, show, or even restaurant opening. Disney World's Space 220 -- a heavily themed Epcot table-service eatery set in outer space -- was originally supposed to open this past winter. It still doesn't have a firm opening date.

Even Tuesday's debut of The Bourne Stuntacular didn't land on time. It's been three years since the 700-seat theater that housed Terminator 2: 3D closed down at Universal Studios Florida after a 21-year run. The "all-new live action experience based on a high-energy Universal franchise" was supposed to arrive in 2019.

Delays are, naturally, better than outright cancellations. The new Bourne-themed stunt show will have to deal with spacing out crowds in the new normal, something that's even more important for an indoor seated attraction. It won't generate the same kind of buzz that it would have in an otherwise busy summer travel season, but that's just the grim reality of how 2020 is going to play out for the industry. Folks are hesitant to travel, and the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Florida isn't going to make the Sunshine State a tourist magnet anytime soon.

Between international travel restrictions and the global recession, this season has gone from being a historically lucrative one to more of a soft opening for locals as the operators work their social distancing kinks out. Getting something shiny and new to experience is a bonus during this otherwise lost summer.

Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Comcast and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $60 calls on Walt Disney and short July 2020 $115 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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