Disney World's least popular park shrinks again

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Yesterday was the last day for several attractions at Disney's (NYSE: DIS) 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)(NASDAQ: CMCSA) 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 Kingdom17,233,00019,332,00012.2%
Epcot10,990,00011,454,0004.2%
Animal Kingdom9,590,00010,402,0008.5%
Hollywood Studios9,700,00010,312,0006.3%
Universal Studios Florida5,530,0008,263,00049.4%
Islands of Adventure4,627,0008,141,00075.9%

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.

RELATED: 10 of the best Disney sidekicks ever

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10 of the best Disney sidekicks ever
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Disney World's least popular park shrinks again

Where would Simba have been without the help and riduculous banter of Pumbaa and Timon in "The Lion King." The unlikely duo of a meerkat and a warthog made this pair one of the best sidekick duo's in Disney history. 

PUMBAA & TIMON THE LION KING (1994)

Dressing up as a male to impersonate a warrior in the Chinese military would have been pretty difficult for Mulan without the help of Mushu: Guardian of the Fa family. Despite Mushu's early failings as a guardian, the feisty dragon was a constant support for Mulan with his sound advice, loving demeanor and fast-thinking in a pinch. 

If one must be holed up in a castle with a ghastly beast, it's best to have Cogsworth, Lumiere and Mrs. Potts on your side. Each brought a special sidekick quality to the table. Cogsworth was safe and practical, Lumiere always had romance and Belle's heart on his mind and Mrs. Pott's provided a motherly vibe. The trio were ultimate sidekicks for Belle in "Beaty and the Beast." 

Everyone needs a buddy and Flounder was just that for Aerial in "The Little Mermaid." Admittedly, Flounder wasn't always the best sounding board for the red-headed swimmer, but he made a good sidekick since he was always down for an adventure. 

What do a hummingbird and a raccoon have in common? They were both besties and sidekicks for indian princess Pocahontas. In the 1995 flick, Meeko and Flit provided just the right amount of comedy without ever saying a word. Now that's tricky. 

Any sidekick that will let you float down a river on their tummy is alright by us. Baloo the Bear and Mowgli were the best of pals in "The Jungle Book," and the best part about Balloo was he was always ready to dance and sing. We like that in a sidekick. 

Scheming, selfish and funny aren't exactly three words that you'd want in a sidekick, but Abu usually let his conscience take over when he and Aladdin were up to no good. Plus, he busted Aladdin out of a jail, dressed up as an elephant and more in order to help out Ali. 

Olaf was an immediate hit with everyone in "Frozen." The inherently happy snowman sprung to magical life in order to help Anna chase down Elsa and help end the snowpocalypse that would have ruined the kingdom. Daring and happy? Talk about a good mix.  

High five for Hercules and Pegasus! Not only does the winged horse regularly rescue the Greek god from many precarious situations, he also really cares about Hercules. So much so that he gets a bit jealous when Herc falls head over heels for Meg. But best friends are definitely supposed to do that -- because they have your best interest at heart. 

Tinker Bell definitely has a bit of an attitude problem, but she makes up for it by bringing a bit of sparkly magic everywhere she goes in Neverland. Even though she's a bit selfish and has a temper, she proves her worth when she's willing to go down in sparkly flames in order to protect Pan. 
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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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