Disney Closes Another Iconic Ride, Is Mum on Replacement

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Backlot Tour is an attraction at Walt Disney World's Disney-MGM Studios theme park in Lake Buena Vista
Flame/AlamyCatastrophe Canyon is part of the Studio Backlot Tour that Disney is closing.
September hasn't been a good month for purists of Disney World in greater Orlando. Earlier this month, Disney (DIS) announced that it would be closing Epcot's Maelstrom attraction in the Norway pavilion to pave the way for a "Frozen"-themed attraction. Now it's announcing that Disney's Hollywood Studios will close its Studio Backlot Tour this weekend.

The Studio Backlot Tour is one of the few remaining attractions from when the park opened in 1989. Guests board a tram on a narrated tour through the backlot, highlighted by Catastrophe Canyon, where water and fire effects go off to simulate the movie-making process. Before boarding the tram, guests enjoy a live show in which audience volunteers assist in creating a naval battle scene.

It may have been dated and perhaps hokey, but it's one of the rare experiences in the park that has something to do with making movies, which is the theme of the theme park.

Something Borrowed

Theme parks change, and it's often for the better. You won't find many people lamenting about how World of Motion is now Test Track at Epcot. When Avatar opens at Disney's Animal Kingdom in a few years, only those in the minority will lament the Camp Minnie Mickey that went away to make room. After seeing what rival Comcast (CMCSK) did a few miles up I-4 in transforming the once-beloved Jaws boat ride at Universal Studios Florida into the ambitious Diagon Alley expansion of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, it's hard to complain about industry updates.

However, it does create a temporary void. When the two attractions close -- Studio Backlot Tour closes on Saturday; Maelstrom sets sail through Norwegian troll country for the last time the following weekend -- the two parks will have one fewer attraction to entertain guests. Maelstrom's replacement isn't expected to open until early 2016, making 2015 a challenging year for Disney to keep attendance growing.

This may not be a big problem at Epcot, but it will limit the appeal and length-of-stay at Disney's Hollywood Studios. The experience -- including the pre-show, prop area walk-through, tram tour and memorabilia-filled exit -- took at least an hour. It's also one of the few family-friendly rides at the park. Its absence will create a void until a replacement opens, and that's not a good thing for the park, which may have entertained 10.1 million guests last year but still ranks last in attendance for Disney's four theme parks in Florida.

Something New

Disney gave Maelstrom fans nearly a month to experience Norway's attraction, and it's telling park guests what is coming next. It's got a shorter leash on the narrated tram tour, with Disney making the announcement a week before its closure. That's not going to give fans a lot of time to check it out one last time, though there's always time to virtually experience the Studio Backlot Tour through online videos.

It's also intriguing that unlike Maelstrom making way for Anna and Elsa, we have not been told what will take the place of the nixed attraction. The building itself that housed the pre-show and tram queue is substantial, and that's before considering the area covered by the tram.

%VIRTUAL-pullquote-The smart money has to be on a richly themed "Star Wars" area.%One popular rumor is that Disney will try to re-create the success that it has had in reviving Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim with its Cars Land update. Replacing Catastrophe Canyon and surrounding roads with the Radiator Springs attraction would be a no-brainer, but let's not forget that Disney has spent billions in recent years to acquire Marvel and Lucasfilm.

Disney is limited in the Marvel properties that it can tap for park attractions as long as Universal's Islands of Adventure has exclusive state rights to four of its biggest franchises, but Lucasfilm's "Star Wars" is only limited to the imagination of Disney's famous Imagineers.

The smart money has to be on a richly themed "Star Wars" area, especially since Star Tours -- Disney's only ride about the classic sci-fi franchise -- isn't too far away. Relocating the Streets of America cityscape shouldn't be a deal breaker with so much riding on "Star Wars" for Disney. With the movie series getting a reboot in time for next year's holiday season, it would make sense for Disney to scramble to try to cash in on the upcoming trilogy. The clock's ticking, and not just on a once-beloved tram tour through TV-show and movie homes that no longer exist and a sensory canyon that is also about to no longer exist. "Star Wars" needs the showroom space. Use the Force, Luke.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any Motley Fool newsletter service free for 30 days. Find new ways to earn high yields with our free report on dividend stocks.

10 Financial Rules You Should Break
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Disney Closes Another Iconic Ride, Is Mum on Replacement

This is the granddaddy of them all. Start to type "emergency" into Google (GOOG), and the first suggestion is "emergency fund." The rule is to make sure you have six month's of living expenses tucked away in cash in case you losefyour job or suffer a financial setback. Of course it's important to have a financial safety net, but when you earn virtually nothing on your cash, this rule can cost you. For example, if six months of living expenses for you is $25,000, you'd be sacrificing close to $1,000 of income a year by keeping this money in a checking or money market account.

For years, I've broken the mold on this financial rule by telling clients they shouldn't have their emergency fund in cash. Instead, choose a short-term bond fund that pays 3 percent or higher for your safety net. If you need the money quickly, you can easily sell the fund and get access to the cash. If you don't need the cash –- and these emergency fund accounts are rarely used –- you can still make money on the assets.

Not so fast. There are many good reasons to contribute to a 401(k), such as tax savings, tax-deferred growth and a possible employer match, but there are also good reasons not to contribute as well. Don't blindly dump money into your 401(k) if you don't have an emergency reserve of some sort and there is a chance you will be laid off. It is taking longer for most to find a job, so if you think you may be out of work, make sure you have the resources to pay rent and buy food until you land a new job. 

​Also, if your employer doesn't provide a match and you are in a low-income tax bracket, it may make more sense to pay the tax now (since you are in a low tax bracket) and invest in a Roth individual retirement account instead. Use this 401(k) vs. Roth IRA calculator to crunch the numbers.

You cannot cut your way to wealth. Too many people and financial advisers focus on trimming expenses when they should be focused on the other half of the equation -- income. I'm a proponent for living within one's means, but too often that creates an artificial barrier or ceiling. "This is what I make, so I have to cut back to save more," is often the thought process. Rather than living within your mean, work on increasing your means.

There are many ways you can make more money, including asking for a raise, boosting your skills –- your human capital –- and getting a promotion, starting a side project in the after-hours or going back to school and starting a new career. What you make today is not necessarily what you can make tomorrow. Cut unnecessary expenses and then use your energy to increase your income.

You should only save for your children's education if you can afford it. That means when you're on track to having enough assets for your retirement. Assuming you have the retirement assets and now want to save for college, most advisers will recommend a 529 college savings account.

Not so fast. These 529 accounts have some real advantages, such as tax-free growth of contributions if they are used for approved higher education expenses. This tax-free growth is a big benefit. However, if you withdraw money from this account and do not use it for approved higher education expenses, the gains will be subject to ordinary income tax and a 10 percent penalty.

The big risk is if you fully fund your child's college education but he or she decides to not go to college, drops out, finishes early or goes to a less expensive school. You have the ability change the beneficiary to another qualifying family member without penalty, but if you have just one child, there may not be anyone you can transfer the funds to. You would then have to liquidate the account and pay the tax and penalty. If you are undeterred and still want to pay for your child's college education, start with a small contribution into the 529 and fund up to a maximum of 60 percent of the cost in case one of the above scenarios occur.

The average age of cars on U.S. roads is 11.4 years. So if you're average, then it may make sense for you to buy a car -– especially a car a year or two old –- instead of leasing. However, if you do not intend on driving the same car for over a decade, a lease may be a much better option. A new study by swapalease.com found it was better to lease than buy based on its criteria. And under certain circumstances, you may be afforded a larger business deduction with a lease compared to a purchase.

The certified financial planner designation is the gold standard when it comes to financial planning. I wouldn't think of hiring a financial planner if they weren't a CFP practitioner. However, just because you are working with a CFP doesn't mean you shouldn't research your adviser, his or her areas of expertise and how he or she charges. The CFP tells you he or she has advanced training in areas related to tax, investing and retirement planning; has passed a comprehensive and difficult exam; and has agreed to adhere to a high code of ethics.

The onus is on you to know what you need and to make sure your CFP financial planner can deliver. Don't get lulled into thinking that just because he or she have three letters after his or her name that he or she has been screened. Ask tough questions before you trust your money to anyone -– even a CFP.

Most financial pundits will advise taxpayers to have just enough taken out of their paycheck so when April 15 comes around, they will neither owe money nor receive a refund. The rationale is if you get a refund from the Internal Revenue Service, it means you paid too much in over the year -- and the government has had use of your money without paying you any interest. Keep the money and invest it yourself is the theory.

'Again, that's the theory, but reality is much different. It all comes down to psychology. I look at paying a bit more to the IRS as a forced and automatic savings account. Sure you won't earn interest, but human nature tells us you probably won't save the money anyway. There is a greater chance you will squander $100 a paycheck then if you receive a $2,400 check from the IRS. One approach takes a plan and discipline each month to save and invest while the other doesn't. A check from the IRS isn't an interest-free loan; it is an automatic savings plan.

Nobody wants to endure an IRS audit, but too often I see honest and ethical taxpayers avoid claiming certain deductions or taking certain positions that are completely legitimate because they fear it will increase their chances of an audit. First, your chances of being audited are small –- about 1 in 104 chance. If your return doesn't include income from a business, rental real estate or farm, or employee business expense deductions, your chances are even smaller -– 1 in 250. Second, if you and your tax preparer are not crossing the line, you have little to worry about. In fact, thousands of taxpayers get a check from the IRS at the end of the audit. Don't let a small chance of an audit keep you from taking advantage of every tax strategy for which you qualify.

Do what you love, and you'll never have to work a day in your life, or so the saying goes. It sounds good and feels good, but it's not necessarily true. Sometimes –- often, actually –- doing what you love can be a great hobby but not a good career. There are a lot of things I enjoy that I'll never make a dime doing. A better approach is to find something you enjoy, are good at and that you can get paid to That is the financial trinity you should aspire to find because it ties your interests with your skills with the marketplace

Follow this rule, and I'll send you straight to detention. We know college costs are soaring, and we don't want to bury our kids in college debt, so most parents prioritize college saving over retirement saving. Big mistake. If worse comes to worst, Junior can get a loan, work while in school or go to a less expensive school. Basically, Junior has decent options, and you have tough choices. 

​If you haven't saved enough for retirement, you are stuck. There's very little you can do other than slash your expenses, work longer or both. Save for your own retirement first. That's the financial rule you should follow. If you have amassed so much wealth when your children head off to college that you can afford to help them, go for it. If you haven't, you'd be doing your kids a disservice by jeopardizing your own retirement by paying for their tuition.

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