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There Will Be Life After 50 for Disney World

Motley Fool - Wed Mar 29, 10:45AM CDT

Walt Disney's (NYSE: DIS) iconic Florida resort is now just two days away from the end of the mother of all 50-year birthday celebrations. Disney World turned its golden anniversary into an 18-month soirée, complete with new attractions, commemorative merch, and even a pair of shiny new roller coasters. With the media giant's theme parks segment posting record financial results, it's fair to say that turning 50 has been a success.

Of course, Disney World partied so hard that it technically isn't 50 anymore. When it concludes its 18-month birthday bash later this week, it will be 51 and a half years old.

Disney World has come a long way in what is now more than half a century. It still has room to evolve and continue growing, but fans and shareholders alike have to wonder about what comes next. Spoiler alert: Disney World always has something coming up next.

Karol Sevilla taking a selfie with Princess Aurora overlooking Main Street U.S.A. at Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

Image source: Disney.

It's a carousel of progress

One fête may be ending, but there's always an after-party at the world's most visited theme park resort. Disney World has a lot going on as soon as next week. It will bring back a pair of nighttime shows at its two oldest theme parks. It will also officially debut its Tron Lightcycle Run coaster at the Magic Kingdom on Tuesday, even though it's open right now to all day guests using the attraction's virtual queue system.

With spring break crowds peaking in the next two weeks, the parks will continue to be busy long after the 18-month festivities are over. Disney World will also be able to follow Disneyland's lead, embracing the celebration for the company itself turning 100 that began at the original Disneyland in California earlier this year.

We will then hit a seasonal lull until schools start letting out for the summer, but that simply means promotional activity will pick up. Resort discounts of as much as 30% are now available to book for stays between May and early July if you happen to be a Florida resident or a pass holder.

The more notable markdown is taking place at an upscale resort in a galaxy that isn't so far, far away. Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser -- the premium-priced two-day immersive lodging experience located just outside of Disney's Hollywood Studios -- is marking down most stays by 30% from April 15 through June 28. This is a bigger price break than the promotion it offered earlier this year, where "passengers" on the Starcruiser experience could receive as much as a $700 discount on resort stays before or after their Star Wars-themed journey.

The markdowns will narrow or end entirely as peak summertime crowds head into Central Florida, but Disney won't be phoning it in. There is still plenty of construction work taking place at Epcot, where several new experiences will debut later in 2023. New character greetings will also come online in the next few months.

Next year, the big draw should be Tiana's Bayou Adventure in the Magic Kingdom, a Princess and the Frog update to the now-shuttered Splash Mountain log flume ride. Disney hasn't officially announced any new attractions beyond that, even though it has discussed potential additions at fan events, quarterly earnings calls, and annual shareholder meetings. Speaking of which, Disney's next annual shareholder meeting will take place next week.

One thing that is pretty clear is that Disney World can't -- and won't -- rest on its laurels. Its largest rival is Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSA) Universal Orlando. It's been nearly two years since Universal Orlando added a major new ride, but it has a head-turning theme park opening in 2025. Epic Universe is loaded with rich intellectual properties and strong buzz surrounding the next-gen rides that it's currently building.

Disney World can't afford to sit 2025 out, but it's also going to be a delicate balance. The company started rolling out layoffs across the media giant's divisions this week, part of a plan to realize $5.5 billion in annual savings in the next two fiscal years. New attractions don't come cheap, and obviously the tab on a fifth theme park in Florida -- if it ever decides to go that route in this arms race for tourists -- would be huge.

You can count on Disney to figure it out. You don't become a leader among media stocks by burying your head in the sand like an ostrich. It's time to head to the after-party. Disney World just needs to figure out where that after-party will be.

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Rick Munarriz has positions in Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Comcast and recommends the following options: long January 2024 $145 calls on Walt Disney and short January 2024 $155 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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