There's no denying that Central Florida is the heart of the theme-park industry. It's home to the world's most visited theme park: Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Magic Kingdom. It's also home to seven of the 10 most popular parks in the the country when you factor in Disney World's four gated attractions, SeaWorld (NYSE:SEAS), and Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (UNKNOWN:CMCSK.DL) Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure.
The seven parks combined to welcome 72.56 million guests in 2014, according to industry tracker Themed Entertainment Association. Things are looking even better for 2015. We know that Disney's Florida resort has seen record attendance levels, and Comcast's Universal Orlando has been growing even faster since last year's expansion of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. SeaWorld doesn't break out actual attendance of its individual parks, but overall turnstile clicks have moved slightly higher through the first nine months of 2015 after back-to-back years of 4% declines.
All of the travel activity would suggest that Disney, SeaWorld, and Comcast spent heavily on new rides to woo park guests this year, but that's actually not the case. All three companies were relatively quiet on that front in 2015.
Disney may be closing out the year with new Star Wars-themed exhibits, films, and shows, but there wasn't a single major ride addition at any of its four Florida theme parks going up in 2015. SeaWorld Orlando also took a breather. Comcast's Islands of Adventure hasn't had a new ride debut in more than five years. Universal Studios Florida took a year off after the Springfield buildout of 2013 and the well-received Harry Potter Diagon Alley expansion of 2014.
Guests came anyway, but national theme park and regional amusement park operators know that the lifeblood to long-term success is to keep new rides and experiences coming. Disney, SeaWorld, and Comcast have big plans in place to add new flagship attractions in 2016.
Disney's Epcot is getting a Frozen-themed boat ride and an update to its popular Soarin' flying simulator that replaces footage of California vistas with landmarks from all over the world. Animal Kingdom is getting its first nighttime show. SeaWorld is erecting Mako, a ride that will be the tallest, longest, and fastest roller coaster in Orlando. Comcast's Islands of Adventure is opening a King Kong-themed ride, and it's also retracking its iconic Hulk coaster.
If 2015 was a success with Disney, Comcast, and SeaWorld merely marching in place one can only imagine the flurry of turnstile clicks that await all three operators in the year ahead.