Walt Disney Co. theme parks saw record attendance

The force is strong with Disney.

The blockbuster "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" was largely responsible for Walt Disney Co.'s record profit for the first fiscal quarter, but Disney executives also credited the space opera for the record attendance at the company's domestic parks.

The Burbank media giant on Tuesday reported net income of $2.88 billion in the quarter that ended Jan. 2. That was a 32% jump compared with the same period a year earlier. Revenue rose 14% to $15.2 billion.

The rosy financial report was supported by a 10% increase in attendance at the company's domestic parks and a 7% rise in per-capita spending on food, drinks, admission and merchandise, Disney executives said.

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Per-room spending at theme park hotels rose 9% for the period, while occupancy rose by 3%, to 92%, according to Disney.

At Disneyland, several existing attractions were overhauled, starting in November, to add a new "Star Wars" flair, both to boost crowds and to pique interest in the new movie. For example, Space Mountain, an iconic indoor roller coaster that opened in 1977, was upgraded to include new special effects and renamed "Hyper Space Mountain."

Another reason for big crowds at Disneyland was the park's 60th anniversary celebration, which launched in May and included a revamped nighttime parade, fireworks show and fire-and-water extravaganza.

"Since December, more than 6 million guests have experienced new and refreshed 'Star Wars' attractions and features in our parks," Disney's Chief Operating Officer Thomas Staggs said during an earnings call.

Disney continues to invest in its parks, with plans to draw even bigger crowds.

Groundbreaking is expected soon on the first major expansion of Disneyland, a 14-acre "Star Wars" area in the northwest corner of the park. A "Star Wars" land is also planned for Disney's Hollywood Studios at the Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Fla.

A new themed land, "Pandora -- The World of Avatar," is expected to open next year at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando, and Disney has set a June opening for its $5.5-billion resort in Shanghai, the first Disney park on mainland China.

"While there are start-up costs this year, you can expect that that's going to drive growth for parks and resorts for many years to come," Disney Chief Executive Robert Iger said.

To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow Hugo Martin on Twitter at @hugomartin.

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