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Disney World parks reopen for guests savouring short lines

[NEW YORK] Walt Disney Co's Magic Kingdom park in Orlando, Florida, reopened to a smaller-than-usual crowd after closing for two days and suffering minor storm damage from Hurricane Irma. About a thousand people were waiting near the entrance after the park reopened at 9am. There was no line for parking and a tram was a little over half full. All four Disney parks were back in business Tuesday.

Disney is counting on a quick return to business as usual at Disney World. The company's theme-park business is buffering challenges in other parts of the company, including a down year for the movie studio and stiffer competition in television. The parks and resorts were the only one of Disney's four operating units to show earnings growth through nine months of this fiscal year.

Chief executive officer Bob Iger told investors last week that earnings this year will be "roughly in line" with 2016, suggesting no profit growth for the world's largest entertainment company. Among the factors he cited was Hurricane Irma, which led the company to close its four Orlando theme parks.

Inside the Magic Kingdom, a tree was down on the outskirts of Tomorrowland, and another in Adventureland. The Jungle Cruise and Walt Disney World Railroad were out of commission due to debris. Leaves and branches were scattered along pathways, unusual for a company that obsesses on cleanliness.

Visitors were able to take advantage of the lighter crowds as wait times that would normally stretch to an hour were cut to 10 or 20 minutes. Alisa Smith, 38, with her two daughters, aunt and cousin, made the trip to Orlando Monday evening from Mississippi, driving through the storm. The group was excited to take advantage of the lighter turnout and go on every ride from Space Mountain to Dumbo the Flying Elephant. 

"We planned our trip since January and were committed to getting down here," Mrs Smith said.

"The park overall is pretty quiet, so we plan to hit all the rides that we can."


Disney, the world's largest theme-park owner, has been investing heavily in its resorts. The Burbank, California-based company opened a new "Avatar" land in Orlando in May and a US$5.5 billion park in Shanghai last year. More attractions are in the works, including "Star Wars" lands in Orlando and Anaheim, California, and "Toy Story" in Orlando next spring.

Shares of Disney rose 0.8 per cent to US$97.87 as of 12.48pm in New York. The stock fell 4.4 per cent on Sept 7 when Mr Iger made his comments.

"We've seen cancellations in Orlando and we've also had to cancel three cruise itineraries and shorten a couple of others," he said at the time.


Other theme-park operators in Orlando said they experienced minimal damage. Comcast Corp's Universal Studios Florida cited fences, trees, signage and building facades. Universal also planned a 9am local time Tuesday opening for its two theme parks, but not its water park in Orlando.

SeaWorld Entertainment Inc said its main property, one of its water parks in the city and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay will reopen Wednesday. Discovery Cove will follow on Sept 15.

"All facilities have electricity and personnel and animals are safe," the company said in a statement.

Disney's Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach water parks remained closed. Hotels resumed normal operations, with the exception of the Fort Wilderness Campground and the Sarasota Springs Treehouse Villas.

Disney last year introduced variable pricing for its theme parks. September isn't a busy month, with weekday tickets selling for US$99 and weekends for US$107. The peak price, typically summer and holidays, is US$119.

The Magic Kingdom, Disney's first park in Florida, is the most-visited theme park in the world, with 20.4 million guests last year, according to a report by the Themed Entertainment Association and the consulting firm Aecom.

The Ragetta and Dieter families from Reading, Pennsylvania, arrived in Orlando on Sept 2 with plans to catch a flight home Tuesday. The closing of the Orlando Airport allowed the group to come back to the Magic Kingdom for another day. 

"We were supposed to fly out today, but here we are," said Michelle Dieter.

"The longest line we've waited in so far was about 20 minutes."