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Can Mickey Mouse Surpass Potter?

By Rick Munarriz - Updated Apr 6, 2017 at 11:57PM

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Disney tries to regain some of its sizzle in Florida.   

What do Disney (NYSE: DIS) and Voldemort have in common? They've both failed to kill Harry Potter.

Disney's theme park resort in Florida has been enviously watching the success of the new Potter attraction at rival Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure.

I visited Universal Orlando back in June, chronicling the insane eight-hour queue just to enter the Harry Potter attraction during its official grand opening. I went back last month during the holidays, where the park had to lock its turnstiles to new guests for the first time in the park's history.

Universal Orlando -- a resort jointly owned by Blackstone (NYSE: BX) and General Electric (NYSE: GE) -- has a hit on its hands. If Disney figured that Potter's success would help draw new visitors to Central Florida and its parks a few miles away, it thought wrong.

Theme park revenue slipped 1% in Disney's latest quarter, the first full quarter with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in operation.

Hoping to make up for lost time and style points, Disney offered travel journalists and bloggers a glimpse last night into the dramatic Fantasyland makeover at its flagship Magic Kingdom park.

Fantasyland's expansion is old news, but there are a few new additions to the plans.

  • A Snow White-themed family mine coaster -- complete with onboard music and swinging cars -- is coming. It will help soften the blow of losing the classic Snow White dark ride, which is being gutted for a "meet and greet" station.
  • The supersized dual Dumbo attractions will be anchored by a big-top area with interactive queue features, similar to the boredom-busting tech that recently went into its Pooh ride and is being erected at Haunted Mansion.
  • The Fantasyland expansion won't begin to open to the public until late next year, but in the meantime, Disney's adding a new nighttime show where high-def projections breathe new animated life into the park's iconic castle.

The castle show is cooler than you think, especially since it consists partly of 500 guest photos taken earlier in the day by the park's photographers. In other words, families will want to stick around to see if they made the hand-selected cut.

Disney had better get moving, because there's a lot of ground to make up.

Regional park operator Cedar Fair (NYSE: FUN) recently announced an 8% uptick in attendance last year, and shares of Six Flags (NYSE: SIX) have climbed sharply since the company emerged from bankruptcy reorganization. Even some of the smaller regional parks are rocking. Indiana's Holiday World closed out a record 2010 season with a 14% surge in turnstile clicks.

Blackstone's Merlin Entertainment will also be giving Disney fits in October, when it opens Legoland Florida less than an hour away.

Cynics will argue that Disney's upgrades arrive too late -- that the company's just not nimble enough to be proactive, and has perhaps overplayed its hand by laying low during the global recession. Those criticisms are fair, but Disney's not looking back. Between the Cars-themed addition in California and the dramatic Fantasyland makeover in Florida, Disney appears ready to raise the bar again.

Do you think Legoland Florida and the new Harry Potter attraction will help or hurt Disney in the long run? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

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Stocks Mentioned

The Walt Disney Company Stock Quote
The Walt Disney Company
DIS
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General Electric Company Stock Quote
General Electric Company
GE
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The Blackstone Group L.P.
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Cedar Fair, L.P. Stock Quote
Cedar Fair, L.P.
FUN
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Six Flags Entertainment Corporation Stock Quote
Six Flags Entertainment Corporation
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