The past few weeks haven't worked out for folks looking to save money at theme parks, but it's one that shareholders of Disney (NYSE:DIS), Universal Orlando parent Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (NASDAQ: CMCSK), and even SeaWorld Entertainment (NYSE:SEAS) should be cheering.
Comcast's Universal Studios Hollywood became the latest gated attraction to jack up its one-day admissions. Folks will now pay $115 to enter its movie-themed park, up 21% from its previous rate of $95. Discounted tickets for those pre-purchasing tickets online have gone from as little as $75 to new rates of $95 for weekdays or $105 for weekends or other seasonally potent periods.
It's easy to see why Comcast is making this move. Its ambitious Wizarding World of Harry Potter expansion opens in two weeks, and if the new realm does for the California park what it has done for Comcast's resort in Florida, it's going to create a ridiculous spike in traffic. Giving guests the ability to experience Hogsmeade village as well as the iconic Hogwarts castle -- and updating the signature ride to 3-D -- is going to be a big draw when it opens on April 7. Why wouldn't Comcast prop up its prices?
We saw both Comcast and Disney go through with beefy hikes last month. At Comcast's Universal Orlando, a one-day ticket to either Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure went from $102 to $105 in early February. That's a modest uptick, but the price for a one-day ticket that includes access to both parks -- a necessity since dual admission is required for guests to experience the Hogwarts Express train ride that connects the two gated attractions -- went from $147 to $155.
Disney followed a few weeks later by raising its one-day Disney World and Disneyland rates by as much as 18%. Even the meandering SeaWorld Orlando has gotten into the fun, though not as aggressively as its peers. Back in January it simplified rates for its prepaid tickets purchased online. The rate used to be $70 for weekdays and $89 for weekends, but now it's a flat $79 for any day. That's an increase or a decrease depending on when you plan on going, but the park's annual passes did go from $13 to $14 a month.
All of these moves will make it that much more expensive to visit a theme park during the seasonally potent spring break and summertime periods, but with attendance growing sharply at Universal and modestly at Disney -- and starting to find support at SeaWorld -- there may not be a better time to test the market's elasticity. With so much of a park's overhead clocking in as fixed costs, folks paying a little more at the gate should translate into a lot more on the bottom line. It's a good time to visit a theme park, but perhaps a better time to approach the niche of white-knuckled thrills as an investor.