March 14– Mar. 14–Niki Alexander has been promising her 12-year-old son, Byron, for months that he would be one of the first visitors to Walt Disney World's Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.
So when the theme park giant announced last week that the intergalactic playground would open its doors in Orlando on Aug. 29, she wasted no time booking a room at Disney's Boardwalk Inn.
"I do not want to be on the roads the day of the opening," said Alexander, an annual pass holder who lives in Windermere. "I am looking forward to seeing my son's excitement and to see the Millennium Falcon. My son can't wait to fly in it."
Byron will certainly not be alone. Central Florida hotels expect to see an increase in bookings for August and beyond.
Although hotel officials reached say it is too early to tell just how big of a jump that will be, they say bookings go up any time a new attraction debuts.
"It's an exciting time for all hotels in Orlando when the opening of a major attraction is announced," said Joyce Cowan, director of market strategy for Grande Lakes Orlando, a complex just east of SeaWorld that includes JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels. "We are closely monitoring demand and hope to see an uptick in bookings from those who want to be among the first in line to experience it."
A Walt Disney World spokeswoman did not say what kind of preparation the company will make for the expected onslaught of visitors, but she did call the Star Wars debut the "most ambitious park expansion we've ever undertaken."
For the past several years, Central Florida has seen a record number of tourists visit the region, with 72 million coming to the area in 2017.
Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, a 14-acre site at Hollywood Studios, is devoted to the blockbuster science fiction movie series. California-based Disneyland will debut its version of Galaxy's Edge on May 31.
Along with rides themed around major plot points in the films, the park will also be filled with characters made famous on Luke Skywalker's home world of Tatooine and other planets in a galaxy far, far away.
The new attraction could boost sales at The Grove Resort & Water Park, an 878-unit complex of vacation homes about 10 miles from Hollywood Studios, where many owners rent their homes out as hotel rooms for most of the year.
"Many of our buyers were hotel guests at some point so we expect Star Wars to boost our sales by increasing our hotel occupancy even more," said Kevin Mays, chief operating officer for The Grove's parent BTI Partners.
Mays said Orlando saw a surge in hotel guests in 2010 when Universal Studios debuted the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
It's a pattern that often repeats itself, said George Aguel, who has been president and CEO of Visit Orlando since 2013.
"We have a long track record of doing this," he said. "Being the theme park capital of the world requires consistently investing in new attractions and experiences. Ultimately, everything has a moment where it no longer resonates so parks have to evolve."
That attitude will pay off this year, as the region is set to welcome Galaxy's Edge, The Lego Movie World at Legoland and a new Harry Potter-themed ride at Universal Studios.
"It's the same thing when any new park opens or where there is a significant makeover," UCF tourism professor Deborah Breiter Terry said. "There will be an awful lot of people with an interest and it will drive hotel demand."
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Got a news tip? [email protected] or 407-420-5256; Twitter, @marcosantana