Welcome to Theme Park Insider! Join the community or log in
Theme Park Insider
Facebook Twitter YouTube Email Newsletter

Would a 3rd gate at Universal Orlando finally give WDW cause for alarm?

Submitted by Phil B.
Published: February 8, 2014 at 10:00 PM

There's no doubt about it, Universal has been a high end theme park brand for many years now, but since Harry Potter and Comcast have come into play, they have been in absolute beast mode ever since, and there seems to be no sign of slowing down. Their E-Tickets, level of theming and additional ancillary offerings have truly put them on the map as a true worthy competitor to Disney as it relates to what a theme park resort experience should be. I know many will argue that Disney has the bigger attendance numbers and market share, which is true, but it's a standard fall back to discrediting a competitor that continues to increase their worth, and receive favorable acclaim by many fans as well as insiders within the community.

So what will make things truly shift the paradigm? Universal already has 2 World Class Theme Parks that both offer amazing experiences, 3 fantastically themed onsite hotels as well as a 4th one on the way which will offer more affordable lodging options, full ownership of a water park which they recently acquired all of the land it resides on, as well as an exciting downtown district which actually offers night time entertainment for its adult guests. Barring a completely fresh overlay to their water park, and a few areas yet to be built out at the other parks, Universal resort seems to be just about land locked for future expansion.

But what if they made a deal somehow, to reacquire some of the land that they sold off years ago, which seems to have been recently purchased by another entity. And what if they were able to acquire that land and build a true 3rd gate, 5th onsite resort and possibly some other non themed offerings such as a world class golf course or even an exotic boutique park in the vein of Discovery Cove, offering interactive experiences with various types of animals as well as unique dining, spa/relaxation and entertainment options. Would this finally be the tipping point where Disney finally concedes it needs to pull the trigger on what fans have been clamoring for all these years. Would that 3rd gate finally give Universal the reputation as being a really for real alternative to the week long Disney vacation, and in an ironic turn of events, see guests only leaving Universal property one day of the trip to visit Magic Kingdom? If it's at all possible, I think it's what could be best for business for both sides, and certainly beneficial to all of us who love these parks and what they have to offer. What do you think though? Does opening a 3rd gate and possibly some of the things that could follow as listed above, finally see the playing field start to level, or is Disney just too big to ever feel any impact on their established market share, regardless of how much Universal/Comcast are able to build out and offer in the hopefully not too distant future?

Please take a moment to share this post, and encourage others to reply!

From Tim Hillman on February 9, 2014 at 8:38 AM

Actually Phil, I'm at that point where Universal is the primary focus of my Orlando vacations, and Disney is a side trip. That's not the norm for most people, and my wife has already decreed that Universal is off the table for our next trip to Orlando. It's going to be all Disney this spring with visits to the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom on the agenda.

A third gate might make people like her want to go to Universal Orlando for one or two more visits, but what would really tip the scale would be if Universal would add more family style, dark rides to their lineup like the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Peter Pan. Too many of the rides at IOA and USF are too intense for her and the grandkids, so it appears that Disney may be the focus for the next several years. With my youngest going off to college this year, if I want to go to Universal, it will have to be by myself - which is no fun. :(

From Phil B. on February 9, 2014 at 11:05 AM

I agree with you Tim. While there's a glut of family friendly dark rides at WDW, Universal is sorely lacking in this department. To me, it seems that they are intent on competing on all fronts these days though. There's no doubt USO and IOA are very appealing to the older demographic of park goers, especially the tweeners. Perhaps a 3rd gate, knowing what they now know, allows them to plan out a park which is far more family friendly than the other two, but still offers a few great thrills to appeal to the regular Universal park goer. The major issue in this instance, I would think, is locking up an evergreen IP or developing a long standing, kid friendly franchise, much in the way Disney has done with their Princesses and Pixar characters.

From Jaiden Cohen on February 10, 2014 at 5:54 AM

If I go to Disney I do not stay on site. Disney has always been a side trip. Last July I spent a week on Universal property without leaving. Disney really does have to improve their parks if they want me to stay on site.

From TH Creative on February 10, 2014 at 1:44 PM

Phil B. writes: "I know many will argue that Disney has the bigger attendance numbers and market share, which is true, but it's a standard fall back to discrediting a competitor that continues to increase their worth, and receive favorable acclaim by many fans as well as insiders within the community.

So what will make things truly shift the paradigm?

I Respond: What's the paradigm?

From chris cona on February 10, 2014 at 3:09 PM

I still wouldn't freak out if i was disney. Disney is still world famous and always will be!

From Phil B. on February 10, 2014 at 11:11 PM

The paradigm is that Universal will always play second fiddle to Disney regardless of how much they expand, what they build, present or acquire, because Disney is so huge it's attendance, profits and market share will remain intact. It's a standard train of thought that often comes up in the great Disney/Universal debate when anyone proposes Universal's growth, especially over the last several years, could start to affect attendance figures at the WDW resort.

So to that I pose the question, at what point could that paradigm shift, and could it be if Universal was to hypothetically break ground on a 3rd gate? Bringing them closer to the, "More you stay, cheaper you play" model that has served WDW very well with their deep discounts on admission prices once the days spent on property really begin to rack up. It's just a fun exercise in conjecture and supposition as it relates to the two theme park super powers and what could or could not happen.

From TH Creative on February 11, 2014 at 10:13 AM

@ Mr. Phil B ... This is what I find confusing about what you are writing ... First you offer: "The paradigm is that Universal will always play second fiddle to Disney regardless of how much they expand, what they build, present or acquire, because Disney is so huge it's attendance, profits and market share will remain intact" .... Then you write: "So to that I pose the question, at what point could that paradigm shift, and could it be if Universal was to hypothetically break ground on a 3rd gate?"

So "Universal will always play second fiddle to Disney regardless of how much they expand" unless they expand with "a third gate?"

So, "regardless of how much they expand" unless they expand?

From Phil B. on February 11, 2014 at 2:07 PM

A paradigm is a commonly accepted pattern, theory or idea. Disney leads the way. This is the accepted paradigm in the world we live in now. "Universal will always play second fiddle to Disney regardless of how much they expand", is meant as an illustration to that thought. So I question if this will always be the case? If Universal opens a 3rd gate, does the paradigm begin to shift. Is that the "expansion", that finally creates a change in conventional wisdom? Does Disney flinch at the announcement of a 3rd gate, or do they continue on with business as usual?

From TH Creative on February 12, 2014 at 5:51 AM

Interesting!

Now when you write: "I know many will argue that Disney has the bigger attendance numbers and market share ... " how do you measure "market share?" Is that solely attendance?

From Tyler Harris on February 12, 2014 at 1:57 PM

Disney will only set off the panic alarm if a Universal 3rd gate has well attendance and a decrease in Disney attendance. But by the time that could happen, Avatar would be debuted so Disney would be in an uproar at that point.

From Phil B. on February 12, 2014 at 6:58 PM

Sure, why not, lets just say attendance in order to move the discussion forward. Please excuse my redundancy or any confusion my attempt at embellishing the simple question I posed in the title of this thread may have caused. Surely you must have an opinion of a 3rd Universal gate and how Disney may or may not react?

I think Tyler has the right idea, in that a 3rd gate could raise some eyebrows behind closed doors, but may not necessarily move the Disney DEFCON meter to Level 1. However, if Universal manages to have any of their parks, 3 in this proposed scenario, catch or surpass any of the Disney parks in attendance, that could be the point where shortly there after we see another Disney Decade initiative begin.

From Alan Hiscutt on February 13, 2014 at 4:12 AM

A third gate would just make my trips to Orlando much more exciting. As a Brit, I only get to go every 2-3 years which means I always have lots to catch up on and a third gate would make it even more enjoyable.

For Theme Park fans, it matters not which company is doing the better work, ultimately it means that everyone has to raise their game and that equals a win for fans.

Unless DHS does build Star Wars land, then as a Star Wars geek of the the nth degree, Disney wins.

From Anon Mouse on February 14, 2014 at 12:47 PM

Any expansion from the competition will give Disney alarm. Whether it will motivate Disney to react is another thing entirely and it is not without precedent that Disney will react such as building DHS in response to Universal Studios. A 3rd Universal Park might cause Disney to either build more attractions in its existing parks or cause Disney to build the 5th park. Universal will end up second fiddle. Perhaps a collaboration with SeaWorld might be more beneficial in the theme parks arena. Universal needs to tap its connections with other filmmakers IP like Dreamworks Animation to get more characters in its parks. Only with a perceived mass concentration of ideas will Universal finally shake its roots of being a minor player in theme parks to be a true competitor to Disney.

From TH Creative on February 14, 2014 at 5:18 PM

So if "market share" is determined by "attendance" rather than build a third gate, why not eliminate parking fees, sell hamburgers for a dollar (beer for $2) and reduce admission prices to $10?

I'll bet that would increase attendance at Universal.

From Phil B. on February 14, 2014 at 5:51 PM

Sounds like a plan to me.

From James Trexen on February 14, 2014 at 9:11 PM

TH said: "So if "market share" is determined by "attendance" rather than build a third gate, why not eliminate parking fees, sell hamburgers for a dollar (beer for $2) and reduce admission prices to $10?

I'll bet that would increase attendance at Universal."

Except then we'd have to rename it to Fantasyland.

From James Rao on February 15, 2014 at 1:41 PM

No matter what Universal, SeaWorld, and Busch have accomplished during the past five years in Florida, WDW continues to gain in attendance, revenue, and profit. I am not sure it is possible to unseat the Disney juggernaut from without... it can only be dismantled from within. And as bad a job as some enthusiasts think Iger and Company are doing, the numbers don't lie: WDW is more popular now that it has ever been. Remember gang, Theme Park Insiders are the jaded few... we're very picky, hard to please, and we judge Disney not on what IS, but what it has been and could be again. However, the vast majority of people in this world are not Insiders and they continue to view Disney as the undisputed leader in the theme park industry.

A third gate at Universal may bring more people to Florida, but the majority of those people will also make Disney part of their vacation...at least that result has been the trend to date.

From Anthony Murphy on February 15, 2014 at 4:27 PM

Would a 3rd gate give alarm?

No

From Phil B. on February 15, 2014 at 5:38 PM

See James, I wonder if a 3rd gate would bring about a scenario where families plan their trips to Florida and stay the week at Universal instead of Disney, doing 4 days at Universal between the three theme parks and one water park, then taking a few trips off property to do Magic Kingdom one day, and maybe one of the other parks another day. Sure, Disney still gets a few visits out of a Universal resort visit, but those guests aren't staying on Disney property, which is a huge part of how they market their parks, with on sight perks, resort amenities, transportation services and discounted days the longer you stay on property. More and more, people on the forums seem to be abandoning WDW in favor of Universal, as they feel it's a better value for their money. Like you say though, these are the super fans who watch the sites and look for dirt on what's happening on the inside as opposed to casual vacationers who plan a trip to the Orlando area every few years or so, and read up on the company website at the moment they book the trip and then maybe a few days before, just to get an idea of what the latest offerings are.

Also, like Anon pointed out, DHS was a response to Universal Studios and at that point WDW already consisted of MK and EPCOT, so they were way ahead of Universal to begin. I don't think it would be necessary to build a fifth gate at all, but on a park by park basis, the response could be large scale expansions like Star Wars Land and Pixar Place at DHS, a new land at AK such as Australia (though doubtful since Avatar will still be relatively new assuming USO builds a 3rd gate in the next 5-10 years), and a new E-Ticket in Future World as well as at least one new country Pavilion at EPCOT. A 3rd gate would be huge press for Universal, and I'm sure the media would make countless comparisons to how they would seem to be following the WDW formula by having multiple theme parks on property to offer a solid week of activities for families to enjoy. I could imagine Disney pulling the trigger on some projects that may been on the back burner or shelved for whatever reason as a result. At least, that's what I hope would be the result.

From James Rao on February 15, 2014 at 9:47 PM

I guess what I am really saying, Phil, is that I believe today's Disney does what it thinks is best for the future of Disney, and I honestly do not believe they do anything because of the local competition. What Disney does or does not build is in response to customer feedback from the millions who still believe with all their hearts and wallets that taking the family to WDW is a rite of passage.

Further, Universal should only build a 3rd gate because demand warrants it and because it makes good business sense. Personally, I would much rather they spend their money by continuing to improve the parks they already have in place. USO, even with Transformers and the upcoming Harry Potter expansion (that Simpsons refurb was just a fresh coat of lipstick) still needs some love. Both Disaster and Twister need to go, Mummy needs an extensive refurb, RRR needs a "do over", Fear Factor is (thankfully) SBNO most of the time, and the Woody Woodpecker "kiddie area" is woefully out of date. As for IOA, adding one new attraction in the last seven years (Forbidden Journey) is flat out pathetic for a company perceived by "educated insiders" to be THE preeminent mover and shaker in the themed entertainment industry. Plus there is still major renovation work needed in Toon Lagoon and Marvel Super Hero Island (why a park of this caliber still has a Six Flags style eyesore like Doom's Fearfall is beyond me). Just like we all complain about WDW, there is plenty of work to be accomplished at Universal's existing parks before they stretch themselves out even thinner with a third gate.

I am not opposed to any of the major players in Florida building a new park, but it just seems like bad timing to me. Besides, a top notch new theme park would cost anywhere from $1B to $4B (Tokyo DisneySea) to build. And with all the money already in play (rumored or announced) I just don't see that amount of additional expenditure coming from Comcast (Universal) or Disney in the next decade.

From Anon Mouse on February 16, 2014 at 8:58 AM

Universal doesn't have the demand for the third park. It is the reality. But to be defeatist, surrender to Disney, is to lose without putting up a fight.

Disney slow walks any expansion because it can. Universal really doesn't compete in the sense that it takes away attendance from Disney, but it is not right to say Disney doesn't respond directly or indirectly. Thus, it would be an excellent idea for Universal to plan long term. Consider additional resorts and another third park. The worst thing is Disney announced a fifth park and Universal is caught off guard.

Oddly, I sense Harry Potter might help as much as hurt the existing parks. Its like HP is their Mickey Mouse, when it is more like Star Wars in Disneyland. The parks should not have such a close identification with Harry Potter. It seems like that's the only reason to visit.

In the next decade, Universal must diversify, but Harry Potter is being expanded in the Hollywood park so this will play out for at least five more years. Then they will take a breather for another five years to realize their investment. In the meantime, Disney is doing their multi phase construction of Avatar, and probable Star Wars expansion in DHS, while doing another DVC resort.

Boom... third park, the game is changed. Maybe Universal should seriously consider it despite Disney's potential threat. IOA is built out. The Studios park is in the same situation although the attractions need more refreshing. A new concept with new ideas, a more family and kids emphasis, and animated characters is the area that Universal doesn't have a foothold. This park will be cheaper than IOA. I love LEGOLAND. Perhaps if Universal can take its best ideas with a small footprint park, costs will be contained and it will be quite easy to move forward on. Like what LEGOLAND did with it Sealife aquarium, the park can be a separate gated park at modest admission increase. They can add more lands and phases before it becomes a full fledged third theme park.

Regards.

From TH Creative on February 16, 2014 at 11:35 AM

Rao nails it.

Wait ... I meant to write ... Rao doesn't know what he's talking about.

From James Rao on February 16, 2014 at 1:31 PM

I can neither confirm nor deny that I agree or disagree with TH Creative. However I can emphatically state with boldness and conviction that "maybe" is quite possibly the best response.

From TH Creative on February 17, 2014 at 2:19 PM

Well not said, sir!

From robert morris on February 24, 2014 at 9:56 PM

To build a third park conservatively would cost upwards of 2 to 3 billion dollars...or Universal could have bought SeaWorld for 4 billion last year

They would have added an established park, boutique park and water park in one purchase. Plus added a second park in SoCal and the two Busch Gardens and Sesame Place.

They then could have built a Second Sesame Place in Orlando.

This would have given them 3 major theme parks, two boutique parks, and two water parks in Orlando alone

and brought SeaWorld's almost 2,500+ rooms into their reservation system

From luca ferracuti on February 25, 2014 at 3:20 PM

i think yes but disney would find a way to get over it and than disney would make another park (wich I think would be a really good idea because I was never such a fan of Animal Kingdom). I agree with Moris that if universal bought sea world that would be a great deal.

From Joey I on March 3, 2014 at 5:12 AM

Does USO even have enough room for a 3rd gate? Plus, by then, Avatarland, which, trust me, will be a huge success, DHS will also have Star Wars Land. You thought Universal got crowded for Potter? With SW, which arguably has the same number of fans, people won't leave Disney. All Disney needs to do is redo the future world of Epcot with more rides, and Disney will be the king of Orlando, just like it is and always will be.

From robert morris on March 3, 2014 at 7:13 AM

Joey....there is 120 acres they "may have" bought in November on Universal Blvd for the third gate.

Granted SW will be huge...but LOTR in that third park would be pretty compelling.

And what do you think the primary reason for New Fantasyland, Avatar and maybe Cars or SW.

Because it does cause Disney concern

From Andrew Dougherty on March 3, 2014 at 4:03 PM

Joey, that Disney EPCOT re haul is practically a complete overhaul of all of Future World. Ellen's Energy Adventure would have to go, whether the pavilion stays energy themed (it should) it really needs to be gutted and have another ride that is more suitable and more fun than Ellen's ride would replace it. The Seas With Nemo and friends could use a bit of a refurb, but when Finding Dory comes out I think it will receive some kind of upgrades. Imagination should just be reverted back into its original incarnation, completely gutted (including the "new" imagiworks and the gift shop), or expanded greatly (room behind the pavilion). Wonders of Life would have to become a newer pavilion with new rides and new attractions. A convention pavilion/area would need to be constructed to house what wonders does now. Mission Space should stay. Soarin' would stay in The Land along with Living With the land which could do with a little dose of 80's EPCOT nostalgia. (I just think that might make the ride a bit neater; just an idea) The Lion King show in the land would go, replaced with what I don't know, but it would have to be a C or D ticket ride. Spaceship Earth should be fine in its current state. (That ride might also be cool to have some 80s EPCOT nostalgia too). Test Track would be the least likely to be changed, but it does have a rather low score on this site. Does anyone know why? I just don't get why people don't really like the ride. So in short, EPCOT would really need an extreme overhaul.

From TH Creative on March 3, 2014 at 4:16 PM

First of all ... I'm the King of Orlando ... Well not so much "king" as ... you know ... more like "The Guy Who Whines That Universal Orlando Makes Resort Guests Pay to Park" ... so that would be different.

From James Rao on March 4, 2014 at 4:21 AM

"And what do you think the primary reason for New Fantasyland, Avatar and maybe Cars or SW?"

New Fantasyland = This expansion was based on customer feedback that the #1 theme park on the planet is simply overcrowded most of the time. In other words, Disney expanded the park to provide more entertainment and space for the 17 million people that visit every year.

Avatar = Expand the park based on customer feedback that DAK is a half day park.

Cars = Expand the park based on customer feedback that DCA was a second rate Disney park, not worthy of the Disney moniker.

SW = Has there been an announcement yet? Hmmmm... If SW is coming (and I hope it is), the purpose will be to expand the park based on customer feedback that DHS is a half day park. And to pave the way for the removal of TH's hat. (Sorry, TH).

Disney is motivated by customer feedback, not the activities of other, less attended theme parks.

From Lisa Clark on March 4, 2014 at 10:46 PM

Walt Disney World is forever famous and loved because of the characters that Walt Disney created many years ago which has become legend. Walt Disney is now dead and the park has become "politically correct", which is honestly not family friendly, and some of their best attractions Mr Toad's Wild Ride and Snow White is gone, it's really just a fossil of the great amusement park it once was, Once Upon A Time.
I prefer exciting thrills and a park that is not so greedy as this park has now become. Their rides are not the large thrill rides to even merit the prices they charge, but people from overseas, North America, and many locals still go there. I truly don't care about them and their recent "PC" BS is another reason why I personally won't go there. I much prefer a good size coaster and better entertainment than what the Disney parks offer. Universal is much better and they have plenty of costume characters to entertain the young children.
As I have read so many people say: Walt Disney is rolling in his grave!

From James Trexen on March 4, 2014 at 11:11 PM

Oh boy.

*ducks to avoid flames*

From TH Creative on March 5, 2014 at 12:36 AM

Ms Clark writes: "Walt Disney is now dead ..."

I Respond: Allegedly.

From Marlon Benavides on March 7, 2014 at 2:01 PM

Orlando has become an amazing destination for my family and I. Disney has become second on our list and only view it as a side trip. Universal Orlando is where the focus on our adventure and dollars are at. They seem to target the crowd that we've developed into..which consists of 3 teens, a young 32 year old wife and myself...36 years of age. A 3rd gate would only increase our trip by a couple of more days straight to USO....which would be awesome!
This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

What's it like to work at Disney World?

Working at Disney World

Insider's Pick: Ever wondered what it would be like to work at the Walt Disney World Resort? Stories from a Theme Park Insider offers more than 100 pages of fun, insightful, and even sometimes touching stories from people who've worked at Disney World's Magic Kingdom. It's a great way to get in the mood for your next trip to Orlando, or just to keep the memories of a Disney World visit alive.

Get it! In paperback | For Kindle | For iBooks