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Old Dwarfs vs. Kid Wizards: Theme Park War Gets Fresh Troops


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Universal Orlando/AP
This summer is shaping up to be a hot one in Central Florida as two theme park giants turn to new marquee attractions in the fight for tourist dollars.

Disney (DIS) will strike first. The family entertainment giant is hosting the dedication for its Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster at the Magic Kingdom on Friday. A few miles away and a few weeks later, Comcast's (CMCSK) Universal Studios Florida will unveil the Diagon Alley expansion of its wildly popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Young wizards and aging dwarfs may seem to be odd combatants for a battle in the theme park capital of the world, but the economy's showing signs of life, and Florida is likely see a healthy uptick in tourism this summer. The question is which theme park will win the war.

Whistle While You Work

The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is a family-friendly coaster with mine carts that sway and tip. It's the final piece of the New Fantasyland expansion at the Magic Kingdom that began in 2012.

It's also the first roller coaster to open at any of Disney World's four theme parks in Florida in eight years. The ride's central location -- where the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction was -- will make it an icon for years to come.

The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train will be a key part of Disney's marketing strategy. Some of the coaster's first riders were part of a TV commercial shoot last week. However, even Disney's mighty advertising will be challenged by what Universal Studios Florida is doing a few miles away.

Wingardium Leviosa

Disney is banking on a single new ride, but Universal is taking a broader approach. Its Diagon Alley expansion features the richly themed London end of the Harry Potter Universe and a thrilling indoor coaster through Gringotts Bank.

This would seem to be pitting goblins against dwarfs in new coaster rides, but an even bigger piece of the Diagon Alley expansion is a train ride that will connect Universal Studios Florida with its neighboring Islands of Adventure. It won't be merely a train ride; rich effects and projections will enhance the experience for travelers. And the ride from from King's Cross at Universal Studios Florida to Hogsmeade Station will motivate visitors to pay for admission into both parks.

Disney took some heat for bumping prices higher in February, raising the cost to enter Disney World's Magic Kingdom to $99 -- or $105.44 once state taxes are factored into the single-day admission. Universal quietly followed with a price increase of its own, to $96, or $102.24 with taxes.

The winter increases stood out because the parks typically push their ticket rates higher in June, at the start of the telltale summer season. The higher prices are unlikely to get in the way of what should be record attendance for both. We may have Snow White's dwarfs battling against Harry Potter's classmates, but no one has to play Grumpy. They can both be Happy.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our newsletter services free for 30 days.


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