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Disney World's Least Popular Park Shrinks Again

By Rick Munarriz - Apr 3, 2016 at 9:06AM

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Disney's Hollywood Studios feels emptier today because a lot of key attractions closed yesterday.

Source: Disney.  

Yesterday was the last day for several attractions at Disney's (DIS -4.01%) least visited Florida theme park. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure -- the long-standing attraction where kids play on a super-sized backyard playground -- and the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show closed on Saturday. Several nearby attractions, shops, restaurants, and character greeting areas will also be joining Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure and Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show in being unavailable to guests starting today.

Disney has a very good reason for shutting down the heart of its Streets of America section, a move that will find even the park's iconic mouse-eared water tower eventually coming down. This is the back of the park where Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land will ultimately rise, transforming Disney's Hollywood Studios from a dud to a rock star in its theme park empire.

It can't happen soon enough. Disney's Hollywood Studios recently saw Animal Kingdom pass it up to be Disney World's third most visited attraction. With rival Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSK) (CMCSA 0.44%) making big gains at its movie-themed park and Islands of Adventure sibling, Disney can't afford to phone it in anymore. It can't let Disney's Hollywood Studios be the afterthought that it has been over the past few years. Just check out the annual attendance trends at the six Central Florida parks owned by Disney or Comcast over the past five years through 2014, the last year that we have official third-party data. 

Theme Park20092014Change
Magic Kingdom 17,233,000  19,332,000 12.2%
Epcot 10,990,000 11,454,000 4.2%
Animal Kingdom 9,590,000 10,402,000 8.5%
Hollywood Studios 9,700,000 10,312,000 6.3%
Universal Studios Florida 5,530,000 8,263,000 49.4%
Islands of Adventure 4,627,000 8,141,000 75.9%

Source: Themed Entertainment Association.    

The dramatic growth spurt at Comcast-owned parks since 2009 can be attributed largely to the Harry Potter-themed expansion at both of its Florida gated attractions, but Comcast has also been active in expanding and updating Universal Studios Florida with more relevant rides. Disney's Hollywood Studios has been scaling back during that time, so it's not a surprise to see the park gain just 612,000 in annual attendance over five years while its rival a few minutes away is greeting 2.733 million more guests a year than it was five years earlier. 

This will all change of course. Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land will breathe new life into a park that will likely bear a new name by the time those two expansions are complete. The rub is that it will take several years for that experience to materialize, and Disney's Hollywood Studios will have voids to fill as hardhats take over significant sections of the park. It will be an issue. The vehicle stunt show had capacity for 5,000 guests several times a day. The Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure gave young children a unique playground to unwind in a park that has few actual rides suitable for the younger set. With Disney prices inching higher every year -- it now costs as much as $114 plus tax for a one-day ticket to Disney's Hollywood Studios -- it can't afford to be barren for too long. You can only fool park guests for so long passing off Star Wars-themed short films and fireworks shows as marquee attractions. 

Disney should have done a better job of preparing its least visited Florida park for the lull before its ambitious dreams become a marketable reality. Comcast got it right. It's odd to see Disney blow it here.

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