Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Universal Orlando is going to have a big head start on its larger rival when it comes to using new rides to attract theme park visitors in 2021. Universal Orlando announced an opening date on Tuesday for the VelociCoaster, a highly anticipated Jurassic Park-themed coaster coming to the resort's Islands of Adventure park in central Florida. The new thrill ride will officially open on June 10.
A few minutes away, Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) is milking its pipeline of upcoming Disney World attractions. Remy's Ratatuoille Adventure -- a trackless family-friendly ride based on Pixar's Ratatouille -- was supposed to open last summer. Last month Disney said it won't open until Oct. 1. It's not necessarily a surprising move by Disney, as that happens to be the day that its massive Florida resort turns 50. However, it's great news for Comcast as it hopes to have a leg up on the House of Mouse in drawing guests seeking new ride experiences this summer.
The pirates don't eat the tourists
Universal Orlando was clinging to a summer 2021 debut for the VelociCoaster, and technically opening in late spring isn't breaking news. It has routinely opened summer rides in early June, trying to maximize its reach to families with children in area schools that get out around that time. Anyone who has visited the park in recent weeks has also seen non-stop testing of the ride. The ride may officially open on June 10, but it will likely open for day guests several weeks earlier as a "soft opening" to work the kinks out ahead of its marketed launch.
Every theme park operator outside of Disney in Florida knows that this will be the last quiet summer for Disney. The world's leading theme park operator will have two movie-themed coasters opening during the 18-month celebration that starts in October. SeaWorld Entertainment (NYSE:SEAS) also has a pair of major roller coasters opening at Busch Gardens Tampa and SeaWorld Orlando this summer.
Now that Comcast's Universal Orlando has revealed its hand with the VelociCoaster, it's just a matter of time before SeaWorld Entertainment makes the grand opening dates for Iron Gwazi and Ice Breaker official. Those two new thrill rides won't be sharing a June 10 opening with a rival.
All players can win here. Comcast and SeaWorld rely largely on locals, particularly now with so many travel restrictions in place. They have more to gain than Disney by opening as early as possible. It's also the right strategic approach, since Disney is going to have the market cornered on hype from October through the end of March in 2023.
Announcing opening dates now will also give Comcast and SeaWorld good momentum to drive annual pass sales just as folks are starting to deposit their stimulus checks. We're finally at the point where investors can rightfully start to get excited about travel and tourism stocks. SeaWorld Entertainment hit new all-time highs earlier this week. Comcast and Disney are more diversified media giants, but they're also near the all-time peaks they set last month. The investors are here. The rides and inevitably the turnstile clicks are coming. It's a good time to strap in and let the thrills happen.