In an age of digital, stay-at-home entertainment, many are surprised that it is theme parks that are the big growth area for Disney.

And, as the New York Times reports, the company is making a multi-billion-dollar bet on their future.

In fact, Disney is about to invest more on theme parks – both major upgrades and new locations – than it has done on Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm combined.

In the 2018 tax year, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts made $4.5 billion in operational profit – 100% up from just five years ago. By contrast, Disney Media Networks, which includes ESPN and ABC, made $6.6 billion, a fall of 3% over the same period.

Now, each of Disney’s six theme parks around the world is having a major facelift, costing an estimated $24 billion, media analyst Michael Nathanson tells The Times. The money will be spent over the next five years on spectacular attractions built around Disney franchises, along with hotels and ships.

Bob Chapek, Disney’s theme park chairman, described the work taking place as “enhancement on steroids”.

Disney faces something of a nice-to-have problem, as the Times reports: peak-period price increases haven’t dampened huge demand, and visitor numbers often exceed capacity. “You can only let so many people in a park before you start to impede on satisfaction level,” Mr Chapek said.

So, the investment goal is not just enhancement, but transformation, and adding a lot more capacity to Disney’s most popular parks: Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. Others, at Epcot and Disney Studios Park at Disneyland, Paris will get major upgrades to try and even out visitor numbers between parks.

Disney has a huge number of film franchises to build on, but Star Wars remains a constant favourite.

In one of the most anticipated attractions, next year Disney World and Disneyland will both open 14-acre areas called “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge”. One stand-out attraction will be the chance to board an Imperial Star Destroyer complete with around 50 animatronic stormtroopers. Visitors, young and no doubt much older, will also be able to pilot a Millennium Falcon. The ride will use real-time video technology that will respond to the way visitors adjust the 200 cockpit controls.

The Star Wars’ experience will go beyond rides, though. One equally eagerly awaited feature at Disney World will be an hotel simulating the experience of sleeping aboard a luxury Star Wars starship. Each window will be a screen projecting a view of space as the ship travels through the galaxy. Guests will be encouraged to complete the immersive experience by dressing up in Star Wars costumes.

Sourced from the New York Times, Disney; additional content by WARC staff