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Disney World Kicks Off Halloween for Theme Parks

By Rick Munarriz – Sep 2, 2016 at 9:13AM

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Theme parks are turning to scary nighttime events to drum up ticket and merchandise sales.

Image source: Disney.

We're more than eight weeks away from Halloween. The ghoulishly festive holiday may seem far away, but good luck telling that to folks at Disney's (DIS -2.69%) Magic Kingdom in Florida this evening. Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party kicks off tonight. It will be the first of 32 nights between now and the end of October where the park closes early for day guests, reopening at 7 p.m. for guests paying at least $72 a night for five hours of rides, themed shows, and trick-or-treat stations. 

Disney World won't be alone in kicking off Halloween festivities this month. A few highway exits away, Universal Orlando parent Comcast (CMCSA -1.59%) launches Halloween Horror Nights in two weeks. Guests pay as much as $104.99 for the nighttime event featuring several elaborate scare zones and walkthrough haunted mazes.

Regional amusement park operators -- even those that typically close for the year once the last of the summer tourists head back to school -- have also embraced the holiday as a moneymaker and season extender. Cedar Fair's (FUN 0.12%) flagship park, Cedar Point, joins Comcast's Universal Orlando on Sept. 16. Cedar Point's Halloweekends is now 20 years. Halloween Horror Nights turns 26.

Cedar Fair's Knott's Berry Farm in California has them beat. Knott's Scary Farm kicked off the trend with a modest three-evening affair in 1973. We're now 44 years later, and there's a lot more at stake.

Scary profits

September and October used to be throwaway months for the industry. Whether it's year-round theme parks that lean largely on summer and holidays when schools are out for peak season or the smaller amusement parks that used to shut down completely in early September, operators are using Halloween-themed events to generate big business during the off-season.

It's not just about the extended operating calendar for the regional amusement parks and the ability for Disney and Comcast to double-dip by charging separate admissions for day guests and Halloween events on the same date. Disney, Comcast, and even Cedar Fair's Cedar Point run lucrative on-site resort hotels. These events keep rooms booked, and not necessarily at value-season prices. 

It's also not only about the tickets. With as many as roughly 30,000 guests at Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights on peak nights, the lines can get pretty long. Comcast's park does brisk business selling Express Pass tickets for as much as $139.99 that shorten the length of the queues. It also has even pricier escorted tours. 

If Halloween would generate as many incremental revenue streams as it does for this industry, wouldn't you be trying to paddle those channels as soon as possible? Halloween starts eight weeks early at Disney World this year, and it's more about the treats than the tricks.

Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Stocks Mentioned

Walt Disney Stock Quote
Walt Disney
DIS
$93.35 (-2.69%) $-2.58
Comcast Stock Quote
Comcast
CMCSA
$34.59 (-1.59%) $0.56
Cedar Fair Stock Quote
Cedar Fair
FUN
$40.05 (0.12%) $0.05

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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