Walt Disney's (DIS 0.01%) original Florida theme park is two weeks away from wrapping up an 18-month celebration of the resort turning 50. Like some folks facing a midlife crisis, Disney World is turning to a speedy motorbike to feel young again. Tron Lightcyle Run will be the Magic Kingdom's fastest and most intense thrill ride when it officially opens on April 4.
It's the park's first launch coaster -- approaching speeds of nearly 60 miles an hour -- but it won't exactly be sneaking up on anyone. It's been under construction since 2018. It has also been welcoming employees, pass holders, and media personalities for more than a month. It was finally my turn to kick the tires earlier this week.
Entering the grid
Tron Lightcycle Run will raise the bar of coolness at a park that has thrived on classics and nostalgia for more than half a century. One of the few knocks on the new attraction -- the ride's short duration once it gets going -- isn't a fair shot. The track length is comparable to the park's iconic Space Mountain and far longer than the park's three other kid-friendly roller coasters. Time flies when you eliminate the rickety chain lifts that you find at the Magic Kingdom's other old-school coasters and soar through the sky at roughly double the peak speed of the next-fastest ride at the park.
The Magic Kingdom didn't need the shiny new Tron-themed coaster to keep the turnstiles tapping. It was the most-visited theme park on the planet before the pandemic, and it continues to don that crown now. However, the new scream machine gives Disney a way to draw thrill seekers to the park that may have outgrown some of its more tame attractions. Suddenly a teenager will find it easier to get excited about heading out to the Magic Kingdom because a younger sibling wants some face time with a Disney Princess or three.
Financially speaking, it's just good business. Disney's theme parks are a pretty big deal for the House of Mouse. The segment -- including its cruise ships and consumer products divisions, but largely centered around its gated attractions -- contributed 34% of the revenue mix and 65% of the segment operating profit for Disney's latest fiscal year.
It's not just about the money that the media giant is collecting hand over fist at the parks. They are part of a vibrant ecosystem for the media giant, a "circle of life," as Mufasa would say to a young Simba. A franchise may spawn a new ride, show, or experience and in return, drum up interest for the franchise. This could be a perfect example of the flywheel in action, drawing countless new fans to the relatively obscure property by Disney's blockbuster standards because it's the new cool ride at the Magic Kingdom.
A third Tron movie is in the works. If it's a box-office hit, there's a fair chance that Tron Lightcycle Run played a part by endearing millions of riders to the sci-fi franchise. There's also a decent-sized gift shop, drumming up merchandising opportunities for an intellectual property that could go mainstream beyond its current cult audience.
Disney World won't go through a midlife crisis. The media stock giant doesn't have time to sort through that kind of baggage. Within days of the 18-month birthday celebration coming to a close, the resort will open the new Tron coaster to all guests as well as bring back a pair of popular nighttime shows. Then the celebratory milestones should follow Disneyland's lead and celebrate the founding of the company 100 years ago. The next major ride addition at the Magic Kingdom will be Tiana's Bayou Adventure, replacing the Splash Mountain log flume attraction in 2024.
Back to Tron Lightcycle Run -- it will obviously appeal to more than just fans of the two earlier films. It also won't be for everyone. It's a smooth but fast-moving coaster with a unique riding position that may seem intimidating for some potential passengers. In the end, there won't be too many complaints. The ride isn't replacing another beloved attraction, as Disney developed the coaster on previously undeveloped land beyond the perimeter of its railroad tracks. It's not a midlife crisis, shiny new motorbike notwithstanding. Disney World is just getting started.