August 08, 2011|By Jason Garcia, Orlando Sentinel
Harry Potter continued to draw legions of fans to Universal Orlando this spring, as resort attendance leapt 41 percent from a year ago.
Nearly 3.6 million people visited Universal Orlando's two theme parks during the second quarter of the year, an increase of more than 1 million from the same period in 2010.
The results capped the busiest 12 months in the history of Orlando's No. 2 theme-park resort, which has drawn enormous crowds since opening the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The $265 million collection of rides, shops and eateries based on the magical universe created by author J.K. Rowling opened June 18, 2010, in Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park.
Almost 13.4 million people have visited Universal since June 2010, according to regulatory filings. Universal Orlando's annual attendance record is 12.1 million, set in 2004.
A spokesman for Universal Orlando declined to comment Monday. But executives at parent company Comcast Corp. praised the resort during a conference call last week to discuss the cable-TV company's second-quarter earnings.
"We are very pleased with the park's performance," Comcast Chief Financial Officer Michael Angelakis told analysts.
Universal also continued to ring up record sales during the second quarter, as travelers paid higher prices to get into its parks and bought magic wands, mugs of butter beer and other Harry Potter paraphernalia. Resort revenue jumped 61 percent for the quarter, from $243.5 million to $392.2 million.
Universal gained in every category of spending, regulatory filings show. Ticket revenue rose 57.5 percent, food and beverage sales jumped 53 percent, and merchandise revenue soared 82 percent.
The resort's total profit for the quarter was $97.8 million, up from just $2.8 million a year ago.
Universal, which in May unveiled plans to convert an existing simulator ride into a new attraction based on the animated film "Despicable Me," bumped up its capital budget for the year. Universal now estimates it will spend $100 million on capital improvements in 2011, up from an earlier estimate of $80 million.
Comcast said second-quarter attendance and guest spending also rose at its other U.S. theme park, Universal Studios Hollywood, thanks to the popularity of a King Kong attraction that opened last summer.
The Philadelphia-based cable company, through its NBCUniversal media business, last month became Universal Orlando's sole owner. NBCUniversal paid $1.025 billion to buy from the Blackstone Group the 50 percent of Universal Orlando that it didn't already own.
"We think our theme parks represent a great growth opportunity and we are doing well currently on both coasts with Harry Potter in Orlando and King Kong in Hollywood," NBCUniversal President Steve Burke said during last week's Comcast conference call.