Halloween is more than seven months away, but you can't blame Comcast's (CMCSA 1.00%) Universal theme parks for starting to talk up its most popular nighttime event. Universal Orlando began selling tickets for Halloween Horror Nights on Thursday.
It may not seem like much at first glance, but it's a huge moneymaker for Disney's (DIS 0.17%) biggest rival. For 36 select nights between Sept. 1 through Halloween itself, the after-hours event greets patrons with almost a dozen richly themed scare mazes, a handful of entertainment zones, shows, and other creepy surprises.
Disney World itself has its own nighttime soiree with a more family-friendly bent, and Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is no slouch with its own inherent license to print money. September and October used to be a sleepy time for Central Florida's theme park industry, leaning on a healthy conventions business to keep tourists coming early in the school year. The popularity of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida and Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Disney World's Magic Kingdom have changed the seasonal landscape. Investors can't complain.
More treats than tricks
Day guests have to clear out early ahead of the Halloween parties at Universal Studios Florida and the Magic Kingdom, giving Comcast and Disney the ability to milk admissions out of two distinct paying audiences. This is where the kind math for shareholders is just getting started.
Tickets for the nighttime events aren't cheap. Admissions for Halloween Horror Nights start at $80, peaking at $120 on Saturday nights closer to the end. There are discounts available for savvy locals and passholders, but that's just the tip of the upselling iceberg. Halloween Horror Night is wildly popular, particularly on weekends when long lines make it nearly impossible to experience all of the haunted houses in a single evening. The key to sidestepping the queues that can easily be as long as an hour or two for some of the more popular draws is to buy an Express Pass ticket that shaves waiting times substantially. They start at $110 and can fetch as much as $200 on peak nights, and this is on top of the initial entrance admission. The ultimate experience is the VIP -- or in this case, R.I.P. -- tour, where a guide whisks you through the attractions with no lines and a lot of behind the scenes insight. The R.I.P. tours starts at an additional $300 per person.
A few highway exits away, Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party charges even more for the initial admission. Disney World has not started selling tickets yet for its event where families can come in costume and collect generous sums of candy, take photos with costumed characters, and enjoy shorter ride lines. However, a year ago the nightly cover charge was between $109 to $199 to attend.
Disney doesn't offer the same gamut of premium-priced add-ons as its jump scare heavy rival, but they're both making a lot of money after the summertime crowds move on. There's also plenty of event-exclusive merchandise, food, and beverages at both parks.
They're not alone. SeaWorld Entertainment's (SEAS 1.86%) busiest park -- SeaWorld Orlando, located between Disney World and Universal Orlando -- finally got into the game with its own event two years ago.
Yes, the calendar will tell you that we're closer to last year's Halloween than this year's holiday. It doesn't matter. The world of travel and tourism stocks is dominated by players that can get potential visitors booked early. The actual Halloween evening is months away, but the holiday season already started for Comcast.