It's time to feast for Central Florida's theme parks. Area schools let out next week. The rest of the country's schools will quickly follow.
Walt Disney's (DIS 0.21%) sprawling resort is ready. Disney World will open its most expensive roller coaster in time for next weekend's Memorial Day holiday crowds. SeaWorld Entertainment (SEAS 0.39%) has two new scream machines -- at SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa -- that it introduced earlier this year.
A couple of I-4 exits away, Disney World's largest rival isn't doing much. Comcast's (CMCSA 0.25%) Universal Orlando opened a popular Jurassic World-themed coaster in the springtime of last year, but that was last summer's belle of the white-knuckled ball. Universal Orlando doesn't have anything shiny and new to offer guests this summer, and -- if anything -- it's been pulling back on its offerings. Tourists will come anyway, but it's not a good look. Let's go over the curious case of Comcast's approach to competing against Disney and SeaWorld during this important summer travel season.
You're going to need a bigger moat
Comcast's original theme park in the Sunshine State -- Universal Studios Florida -- picked an odd time to refurbish a popular ride and clear space for future attractions. It began the year by shuttering its indoor Mummy coaster for a months-long rehab. It officially doesn't expect to reopen until late summer. It's not the only thing that has been taken away from its arsenal.
- It closed Shrek 4D in January. The Shrek-themed 3-D show with in-theater effects wasn't one of the park's highest-rated attractions, but it was a high-volume offering with two theaters running the experience to go through a lot of patrons daily.
- Earlier this week it surprised theme park and horror buffs by closing the Classic Monsters Cafe. The quick-service eatery featured themed dining areas honoring early Universal Studios horror icons including Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, Werewolf, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
- On Thursday, the theme park announced that it's ending Universal's Superstar Parade on June 4, closing a 10-year run.
Subtraction is temporary in the world of theme parks. Universal's social media team suggests that the Shrek 4D attraction will be replaced by a Minions-themed experience. The restaurant will also come back to life as either a new eatery or attraction. Another parade will inevitably return to the park.
However, it does leave a void this summer. Most of the area theme parks -- including Universal Studios Florida's adjacent sister park Islands of Adventure -- have been adding to their offerings this year. Bringing back old attractions or introducing new experiences helps increase capacity at a time when demand is booming.
Disney, Comcast, and SeaWorld Entertainment are posting record financial results, and this is happening during a global pandemic. Park operators made the most of the initial COVID-19 shutdown to implement revenue-enhancing measures and firm up pricing.
None of this excuses the timing of Universal Studios Florida paring back its offerings. One can argue that 2022 was going to be a lost cause. Disney is halfway through an 18-month celebration of the resort turning 50, and next week's opening of Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind is just one of the two major coasters it will open this year.
Comcast will then have time to steal the spotlight, ahead of the 2025 opening of an entire theme park. Epic Universe will open a short drive from its current resort. Ideally it will have a couple of new attractions to offer at its existing theme parks before then.
This may be a challenging time for investors in leisure stocks, but the theme park industry has never been stronger. Even if Comcast's most visited park phones it in this summer, visitors will keep coming. The premium that folks are paying for escapism is climbing, and apparently you don't need to offer something new to bring back fans of old.