Is Disney World Sinking?

Is Disney World Sinking?

Passengers who were stranded at sea on Carnival cruise ships earlier this year now have vacationers ready to top non-functioning toilets as the top travel horror story of 2013. Guests staying at the Summer Bay resort just a few miles from Disney's Florida theme parks narrowly escaped getting swallowed up by a 40-foot sinkhole on Monday morning.

"In an unforeseeable natural disaster, one of the 26 buildings on our Summer Bay Resort property was affected by a sinkhole," the resort's website explains. "Thanks to the quick response of our staff and first responders, there were no injuries, and all guests were able to leave the building safely."

All's well that end's well, but will investors make it out in time?

The resort in Clermont isn't part of a publicly traded company, and we don't have enough details on the insurer. Recent Florida law changes find that an insurer will cover a sinkhole mishap only if there's structural damage and the property is condemned. It's safe to say that the Summer Bay villas meet both of those requirements.

However, will Disney suffer from this disaster? Will neighboring attractions including SeaWorld and Comcast's Universal Orlando make it out unscathed?

These aren't unfair questions. The collapse took place several miles from Disney's massive Florida property, but the publicized disaster may keep guests away from trekking out to see the Magic Kingdom's inspired Fantasyland expansion.

Sinkhole activity is increasing in Florida, and just as all of the cruise lines suffered when Carnival had its miscues, it may be hard for all of the theme-park operators to ignore potential travelers who are skipping Central Florida until the sinkhole stories go away.

SeaWorld has two parks in the area. Busch Gardens Tampa is 65 miles west of Summer Bay, and SeaWorld Orlando is just 16 miles east of the resort. Comcast's Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure are just a couple of I-4 exits away from the SeaWorld Orlando entrance.

Disney is the closest of the area attractions.

The industry has had a rough week. A day after the Summer Bay sinkhole, SeaWorld disappointed investors by reporting softer-than-expected earnings in its latest quarter. SeaWorld has experienced a 6% decline in attendance through the first half of the year across its parks.

If Florida tourism stumbles -- in the near term, at least -- you won't see Carnival gloating. The Miami-based cruise line has plenty of ships leaving out of its home state, and a lot of travelers combine a cruise with a trek out to the Central Florida tourist magnets.

Of course, Disney World isn't sinking. There has never been a sinkhole disaster at any of its resorts. However, if tourists stay away from the area, everyone's going to have that sinking feeling.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns a vacation condo two miles away from Summer Bay at Villas at Island Club. No. He's not worried. He also owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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