It's that time of year again. Regional amusement parks are dusting off their turnstiles, and the larger theme parks are hoping that new rides will win over thrill-seeking families this summer.
Despite the economic doldrums, most chains have invested in e-ticket attractions to make their parks more enticing this season.
- Six Flags (OTC BB: SIXF.OB) just opened a Terminator-themed wooden coaster in California, and it gave a pair of steel coasters in other parks some high-tech "Bizarro" makeovers.
- Universal Orlando -- a partnership between General Electric
(NYSE:GE)and Blackstone Group (NYSE:BX)-- is weeks away from opening a cutting-edge coaster in Universal Studios Florida, and it's now just months away from dropping the chains at the hyped Harry Potter addition at its adjacent Islands of Adventure park.
(NYSE:FUN)is adding coasters in three of its parks, including the $22 million Diamondback in Ohio's Kings Island.
So what's Mickey Mouse pulling out of his hat to woo vacationers this summer? Not much. There have been a few stage shows added to Disney's
Instead, Disney is responding by discounting resort stays, offering free birthday admissions, and … well, laying off staff. This isn't the response one would expect from the premium brand in theme parks, but if it can happen to Starbucks
What makes this a bitter pill to swallow is that Disney has the capital and innovative spirit to do more. If Cedar Fair and Six Flags -- two smaller regional players juggling roughly $2 billion in debt apiece -- can add material attractions to their parks, why not Disney? In fact, Disney's most popular Florida theme park, The Magic Kingdom, will be without its iconic Space Mountain for the entire summer season. The most recent addition at its second-most-trafficked park, Epcot, is the modest "Great Piggy Bank Adventure," sponsored by T. Rowe Price
This interactive exhibit helps families budget and prioritize their expenditures and long-term goals. Maybe Disney took its lessons to heart, but this is the wrong time to be thrifty. Parks that reside just a few exits away on I-4 are arming themselves with magnetic crowd pleasers this summer. Cracking the piggy bank open would have been a more creative approach than simply marking down resorts and admissions.
Hop on some of these other industry rides:
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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz enjoys taking his family on coaster treks over the summer. He owns units in Cedar Fair as well as shares in Disney and Six Flags. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.