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What would you do? To build a new ride or not, when Disney isn't

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Published: June 9, 2010 at 11:54 AM

We're in the middle of a theme park building boom. In Central Florida, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is opening at Universal Orlando. Legoland Florida opens next year. At Disney's Hollywood Studios, a new version of Star Tours also hits in 2011. In 2013, Walt Disney World will debut its new, Princess-laden Fantasyland.

Disney's busy on the west coast, too. World of Color bows tomorrow night at California Adventure, the latest in a multi-billion-dollar string of improvements to that park, which continue next year with a Little Mermaid dark ride and wrap up with the premiere of Cars Land in 2012.

Robert IgerSo it really shouldn't surprise anyone that Disney, at least, plans a breather after this current round of attraction construction. Last week, Disney CEO Bob Iger said:

"I think, once we get through this period, we're probably going to drop down to what I'll call a more steady state," Iger said. "We don't really project — save for Disneyland Shanghai, should be we successful in completing that agreement and building the park — we don't really project anything as significant as this collection of investments on the [capital expenditure] front over the next decade."

Knowing that, what would you do if you were Disney's competition?

Let's focus on the other "Big Two" in the industry, who compete with Disney in both the Central Florida and Southern California markets: Universal and SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.

Universal's wrapping up its big construction projects in Orlando, with Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit last year and Harry Potter now opening this month. On the west coast, Universal Studios Hollywood has rebuilt much of its backlot and will unveil its new King King encounter next month. In 2012, USH gets its version of the Transformers ride, a next generation version on Islands of Adventure's beloved Spider-Man ride.

But what happens after that for Universal, especially in Orlando? Harry Potter will be four years old the year after Disney opens its new Fantasyland. With no major new attraction coming at Disney for the rest of the decade, should Universal also sit back and conserve cash, or plan for an expensive (and thus, financially risky) counterpunch?

And what about SeaWorld? The company's building a major new ride at Busch Gardens Tampa. But SeaWorld Orlando's been quiet since the premieres of Aquatica and Manta. With the company's ownership now secure, how should SeaWorld react to Disney and Universal's building binges?

I'll kick off the discussion with this: Walt Disney World's Fantasyland rehab skews heavily toward younger girls, with its emphasis on the Disney princesses. This leaves a large opportunity for an attraction targeted at boys, and older kids.

Transformers debuts at Universal Studios Singapore next year, and in Hollywood in 2012. To me, it's a no-brainer to bring Transformers to Universal's Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida in 2013 or 2014.

Okay, your turn. What would you do, if you were running Universal or SeaWorld?

Readers' Opinions

From 72.218.118.134 on June 9, 2010 at 12:26 PM
There are rumors that Seaworld Parks and Entertainment will be building a new country in Busch Gardens Williamsburg. If they really do end up doing that, the park could use another great rollercoaster, and maybe another great BG show.
From 174.48.170.3 on June 9, 2010 at 12:27 PM
I would add something new to jurassic park in IOA and Bring a Stand up coaster in at least one florida theme park
From Disney Universal on June 9, 2010 at 12:30 PM
Universal Studios is doing great right now. A new park in Singapore and opening what could be the world’s most anticipated theme park area Wizarding world of Harry potter. I have seen video's of the new theme park and am in awe. Disney has never made me feel fully immersed in there attractions as Universal. Though I wish ceo and excec's of Hollywood will really put some money into that theme park. Refurbishments are as great assests as creating a whole new attraction. The coak soak is a joke, the Wild West arena being empty for so long its ridiculous. And let’s not talk about the ouch with creature from the black lagoon. But back to the question. Theme parks must be kept current and up to date. Seems like after all this new construction is completed it should be enough to stop and enjoy what has been created. Not just for those who are hard core fans (ME) but all the people from around the world who hear about the great theme parks in the US.
From Thomas Furlong on June 9, 2010 at 1:27 PM
If I were Universal Orlando my next plan would be to place Transformers the ride in the hollywood section of the park, and have it replace the Lucy wax museum. Or maybe have it replace twister in the new york area. But I don't know if Transformers will ever go to Orlando because the ride tech is too much like spiderman, and I am assuming that Universal would want to avoid repitition in the resort.
From 72.204.135.201 on June 9, 2010 at 1:30 PM
Such an unusual statement from an executive. To let your competition on to you taking a back seat to your theme parks for the next decade. I do expect a move by Universal Sea World to take lead with a significant market share strategy. Cost of constructing today is far cheaper than having to make up for loss time in a decade, especially when the competition steps up. After our 2013 visit to WDW I guess that is it for a decade or so at Disney. Could be a false statement to mess with them. Disney is so far behind I mean the Star Wars changes when they open will likely be outdated. There not going to come up with a response to Harry Potter? Sad, but guess we'll have to rely on the competition. There is not much of a reason to visit Disney annually without new attractions.
From Tyler Bell on June 9, 2010 at 2:24 PM
If i owned Universal,i would let disney take marvel in florida and replace marvel superhero island with cybertron.Spiderman would become transformers,and hulk would become,Autobots!Transform and roll out Blast Coaster,Dr.Doom would become The wrath of the Decepticons,and storm would become,The wrath of megatron.
From 68.13.192.14 on June 9, 2010 at 2:41 PM
Could this be another "mini dark ages" for the Orlando parks? I expect the Sea World Parks and Entertainment Parks to continue their schedule of every 5-7 years building a new attraction. Universal is another story.
From Amanda Jenkins on June 9, 2010 at 3:34 PM
I don't see Disney as not building anything new, I just see them not building new lands and such. I'm pretty sure that Disney is not going to let their Imagineers just sit there collecting paychecks. There will probably be just one new ride/show added at a time instead of all these big projects.
From Andrew Holden on June 9, 2010 at 6:43 PM
I agree with you Amanda, they are not just gonna let the imagineering office gather cobwebs. Disney is a living creature as Walt Disney said, it will always continue to grow and be plussed. Disney has something in store as they always do, it just may not be as large scale as we have become used to in these past couple of years. I think we have become spoiled starting with Everest, this has been one of the fastest growing times in Orlando since Disney arrived. They wont stop, everything will just turn back to its usual pace. Maybe Disney will take a step back, look at what they already have, and find out how to plus it to improve that fully immersive feel that Disney totally trumps Universal at.
From Pyra Dong on June 9, 2010 at 6:52 PM
Uh Robert, the "other" Tampa newspaper (St. Pete Times-- Tampa Edition) confirmed today that the activity in Busch Gardens is INDEED a new roller coaster set to open in 2013.
From Anthony Murphy on June 9, 2010 at 6:58 PM
I think Disney might have some Marvel Magic up their sleeve. I do not think Disney would overlook Iron Man!
From Thomas Caselli on June 9, 2010 at 8:52 PM
If I could, I would go to Walt Disney World annually and I think that there are alot of others who would too. About the question, I don't know if I would or not.
From Manny Barron on June 9, 2010 at 9:00 PM
This is a great discussion.I think the WDW Magic Kingdom fantasyland project is overrated. That Little Mermaid ride will be good but everything else caters STRICTLY to little girls. Star Tours 2 should be fun next year for both coasts. Epcot got a lot of love this past decade but maybe a new attraction in world showcase should be the next project for Disney World. What ever happened to the Monsters Inc coaster for DHS?
As for the west coast the Disneyland resort should be set for several years after all the DCA work. A new attraction in Disneyland should be up next hopefully in Tomorrowland somewhere.

Universal- Back-to-back-to-back years opening major attractions at the Orlando resort. Thats pretty good. Universal has sent surveys about some of their older attractions(Twister,T2:3-D,ET) suggesting a replacement may be on the horizon. IOA won't get worked on for a while but maybe another Potter attraction in the aging Sindbad show area would be nice.
Hollywood has Kong and Transformers currently being built. Heard a while back that they were considering bringing down the Gibson Amphitheater, that would give them plenty of space for attractions. I'm hoping with all the success of the Dreamworks films maybe a modern dark ride would be good for this park. Maybe a How to Train your dragon attraction or something. If they were able to move Animal Actors to the old wild west arena than they could use the area from the coke soak to the castle theater(nothing seems to stick in that cursed building) for attraction development.

Sea World- Nothing planned for Orlando and San Diego the most popular parks for that company. There was a rumored indoor coaster planned for the San Diego park. It was off after the sale of the company but then given some life a while back. It would be great if it actually happened. As for Orlando well they do have space for an attraction, maybe a dark ride?

From Joshua Counsil on June 9, 2010 at 9:13 PM
Maybe when the big construction efforts complete, parks can focus their attention on seemingly smaller, yet crucial, details. Work on improving your cleanliness, upkeep, employee friendliness and professionalism, and, above all, food. We have all these incredible, innovative attractions we couldn't even dream of in 1955, but we're eating the same crap they served at Coney Island in 1916.
From James Rao on June 10, 2010 at 3:56 AM
^^Bravo, Josh, I totally agree! I would love to see all these major theme parks beef up their existing "lands" removing and replacing any and all traces of those cursed midway/carnival rides so prevalent at Six Flags, Cedar Fair, and every touring carnival that passes my way.

IOA should probably retheme the Marvel area of the park, although I would hate to see Spider-Man change. Sadly, it is just such a conflict of interest for Universal I think the change is inevitable. Anyway, during the retheme, both Fearfall and Acceleraton should get the boot and that space used to add a new, innovative, enclosed attraction (there are a number of great ideas in the recent "Theme Park Apprentice" contest thread).

USF is quite the complete park, IMHO, although a "Great Monster Movie" attraction would be a perfect addition.

SWO does seem to be limited on space, as mentioned above, although I could see Wild Arctic (the simulator part) getting redone into something a little more "today", and Journey to Atlantis is in dire need of additional, state of the art special effects to coherently enhance the current narrative.

BGT and BGW are both adding new lands and rumors abound that new coasters will be added as well. Still an attraction or two around Montu at BGT would sure be nice, and a major refurbishment of BGW's venerable Loch Ness Monster is way overdue.

I am not as familiar with the California scene, having not visited for many years, but USH seems to have plenty of work on the way and Legoland is what it is: a niche park. Still I feel that USH is very much in need of another coaster to bookend RotM (maybe a BSG clone, or something akin to RRR), and Legoland should continue to add those interactive, imaginative, whole-family attractions that really seem to be their forte.

SW San Diego could obviously use some of the coaster love of its sister parks in Florida and Texas, however, they don't seem to want to go down that path. Maybe they figure there are enough coasters in California already? Shame on them... can there ever be enough?

As for Knotts, I would love to see Cedar Fair make an attempt at returning this park to its former themed glory by continuing to upgrade and refurb the old school attractions that made the park so charming in the first place. By all reports the Calico Mine Ride is in dire need of some love, and many of the "themed lands" could use some major plussing. Let's face it, there are a large number of true theme park fans in SoCal, why not at least try to cater to their desires for immersive, narrative experiences at a park not bearing the Disney moniker? Right now Knotts is somewhere between a theme park and a thrill park, trying to walk the middle road. And you know what Mr. Miyagi says about that situation: Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later [makes squishing gesture] get squish just like grape.

Six Flags Magic Mountain just needs to keep adding coasters. With the banishment of Shapiro, I think the hopes of Six Flags ever being anything other than a thrill park for teenagers is gone. Shame.

As for Disney, I agree with several others who have posted that there is zero chance they will not be adding new experiences for their visitors to enjoy. Sadly we probably won't see additions like the big Beastly Kingdom expansion that DAK needs so much, but I expect yearly $80 - $100 million attractions to hit the various parks as we have seen in the past. With the exception of 2009 and 2010, Disney seldom rests on its laurels (or Hardys) for very long...

From Phil B. on June 10, 2010 at 6:49 AM
Nice bluff Bobby, I'll be sure to send you an autographed souvenir picture of me on the Monsters Inc. Coaster in a few years, free of charge of course
From Tyler Bell on June 10, 2010 at 8:37 AM
there is so much that disney can do,maybe a new park at wdw or a new land at DAK,or DHS,EVEN EPCOT.
From 199.159.146.183 on June 10, 2010 at 10:26 AM
I think people are reading too much into Iger's statement. He only says that it won't be investing in more large projects like the $1.1 billion DCA makeover or the $750 million (reportedly) Fantasyland expansion. Nowhere does he say that Disney will stop building new attractions or continue to make investments in the parks.
From Jack Curley on June 10, 2010 at 12:04 PM
No significant investments for a decade? Methinks I smell the beginnings of a new park! Could it be the long-rumored Villains park that I've been hearing about to get Disney into the thrill park market? Or might they be planning a deal to wrest control of the Marvel park rights from Universal?

While you hear "nothing significant for a decade," I hear "something huge a decade from now."

From Joshua Counsil on June 10, 2010 at 12:19 PM
Thanks, James. I like your suggestions, too. My initial solution was to simply demolish the crap-tacular lands and attractions, as well, such as Hester & Chester's, A Bug's Land, Sounds Dangerous, and various other eyesores. Replace them with something simple or scenic. However, the problem with this is that although it trims the fat, it leaves the average consumer with less attractions for the same price. I say "average consumer" because for people like you and me, the obsessive-compulsive theme park consumer, this would be a plus - less crap, more scenery. Quality over quantity.
From 204.128.192.4 on June 10, 2010 at 12:24 PM
I live in SoCal, and let me tell you, the reason SeaWorld San Diego has not added coasters is because the whiney, crybabby residents of that area won't allow it...it's not "educational" and doesn't fit the "charter" of SeaWorld. Therefore, SeaWorld is kinda stuck. It's typical of California, though -- we're over-regulated, over-legislated and over-burdened to the point that no one wants to deal with the hassle. Why are Disney's fireworks shows canceled so much at night? Sometimes it's the wind, but Disney has been hemmed in by houses and neighbors who moved in AFTER Disney was already there for years, then those new neighbors complianed about the noise, the smoke, the traffic, etc etc.....it's like moving to a farm and then complaining about the farming...then crying to the legislature to make it stop. Or better yet, it's like sleeping in the highway and complaining about being run over. Some people....

That being said, Disney will not be sitting on its laurels or hardies....they are currently aggressively looking for ways to exploit the Marvel characters WEST of the Mississippi River. And although contractual obligations will keep them from developing Marvel attractions in Florida FOR THE TIME BEING, I agree that Universal might soon tire of having to ask Disney's permission before it builds or revises it's IOA Super Hero Island....they should just license the Warners/DC Comics characters and be done with it.

The Disney Hollywood Studios Monster Coaster will be built...expect it after the DCA expansion is done. Like a previous poster said, Disney will continue to build, but they can't sustain the level they're at right now. ($2 billion! and counting).

From Phil B. on June 10, 2010 at 12:38 PM
Certainly you will see some new attractions through out the next decade. I can't imagine a park such as Animal Kingdom going a decade without some other top attraction being added to their very lean list. Maybe no Beastly for the next decade, but surely something new that rivals Everest in popularity and innovation to keep bringing people through the turnstiles.
From TH Creative on June 10, 2010 at 1:39 PM
Disney NextGen supplants the need for the construction of new attractions.
From Phil B. on June 10, 2010 at 8:17 PM
^^Yeah the NextGen initiative crossed my mind as being in the back of Uncle Bob-O's head when I read that statement, but it's more fun to root for an E-ticket :)

Tech is great, and I'm fascinated by it, and I'm curious to see how all this NextGen hoopla pans out and gets integrated into the Disney Experience within the next decade. I do think however, that the general public responds far more when a megaton bombshell is dropped, as opposed to the precision of multiple laser guided missiles over time. In the long run, the NextGen initiative will allow for attractions that will surely astound us in the future on a less gregarious scale, yet in turn it will still help make those future bombshells all the more amazing. The next decade very well may be laying the groundwork down for the most ambitious years of expansion, innovation and technological advancement Disney parks have, and may ever see for some time to come once all the dust settles. I hate to think of myself being ten years older, but at least I know I have something to look forward to once I get there.

From TH Creative on June 11, 2010 at 5:37 AM
Phil B (Excellent Post) writes: In the long run, the NextGen initiative will allow for attractions that will surely astound us in the future on a less gregarious scale.

I Respond: What I find so promising about the interactive nature of NextGen is that it uses technology to make the theme park experience more personal. That the park reacts to the person.

From 151.166.15.115 on June 11, 2010 at 5:47 AM
I'm still upset that Transformers isn't coming to Orlando!! Singapore??? Gimme a break!!
From Mike Levy on June 11, 2010 at 7:50 AM
I would like to see a new concept in theme park rides. A sort of personal coaster. Imagine putting a 3d helmet (perhaps Iron Man's) standing on a platform, and going through a 3d world, much like a video game, The platform will tilt and turn, giving more than just a 3d experience. But we won't stop there. Using a pneumatic tube, like the kind the drive-up windows use at banks - only much wider, we can be sucked through a maze of tubes to simulate actual flying as Iron man did. Or perhaps instead of pneumatic tube, use a water coaster.

There is a lot of mechanics to this ride that I haven't worked out in my head; however, Disney has my PerNer and if they're interested they should reach out.

The basis for this concept is that is a combination of thrill ride with a lot of tech that would draw a crowd of all ages, and all genders. At the same time is has the possibility of being dialed down much like Mission Space at EPCOT, so that minimum height, weight, and age are not a factor.

As for CEO Iger's comment on cutting back on construction, It seems prudent to step back and take stock of what has been built, and paying some extra attention to things that need the maintenance that met budget constraints due to the new construction. I agree with other poster's comments that a theme park is only as good as its next new attraction, but at some point you need to check the equity of your property, and equalibrium of the industry.

From Scott B on June 11, 2010 at 7:56 AM
I am shocked....SHOCKED I SAY, at all this talk about Transformers at Universal. Even more shocked at the notion of turning Marvel Island into, gulp, Transformers Island. This is an awful, awful movie series based on a series of kid's toys that, lets be honest, wasn't that interesting. I can't imagine trading the wonderful imagination of Marvel for some cars that are really robots but are really aliens. Um.....no.

On a side note, is Universal able to expand the Marvel Island? I wasn't sure what the Disney ownership of the Marvel brand means for future expanison. Because to me having an Iron Man ride is sort of a no brainer at this point and preferable to seeing 18-Wheeler trucks shoot lasers at each other. Could that be possible? Any lawyers hanging out on this site that have happened to thumb through the Disney Marvel contracts for some fun reading???

From Phil B. on June 11, 2010 at 8:35 AM
I'm certainly in the camp that Marvel Super Hero Island should not be turned into Transformers Island, and while the first TF movie was fun, the second was a poorly paced, obnoxious craptacular of the highest order, whose only redeeming qualities were a few very well done action sequences earlier on in the film. That being said, the TF concept is FAR from being uninteresting. Michael Bay has muddled what could have been a truly epic film franchise and turned it into nothing more than a vehicle for his formulaic fast cars, hot women, sophomoric humor, big giant BOOM BOOM everywhere style of making movies. Though originally based off of a toy line, the mythology created close to 30 years ago is as rich in ideas and imagination as any other Marvel Universe character ever conceived. Oh and FYI, that mythology was conceived by none other than MARVEL editors and writers who were approached by Hasbro to create a story to help sell their newly acquired toy line. Perhaps it is silly because after all, it’s just a kids toy line and has no place being in a theme park. Much like Toy Story’s many classic characters such as mister potato head perhaps, who had zero character development until PIXAR came around and gave him some, now he’s a Carnival Barker and featured in one of Disney’s most wildly popular theme park attractions this past decade TSMM. It’s almost as lame as a whole theme park based off of a childrens toy line that never featured any real characters or story…oh wait that’s right, we have the very successful Legoland Parks that will number 7 of them by the year 2015, so much for that.

If Marvel Super Hero Island is evicted eventually, a TF ride to replace Spiderman could be suitable, and the rest of the island could be changed over to a Sci-Fi concept like the Singapore Studios have. Universal Creative is just that, creative, and I have no doubt that the Singapore Park will serve as a starting point for them to create yet another amazing area in one of the top parks in the world, IOA.

From Cameron Scott on June 11, 2010 at 6:28 PM
Thank you TH, I was thinking about it too.

Isl of Adv Super Hero island could become Hasbro island with Transformers in place of Spiderman, Hulk becomes GI Joe (no need to repaint) and the others redone the same. Great cross promotional for Hasbro as they launch their new cable channel The Hub on 10/10/10 which will take over Discovery Kids in a half ownership deal with Discovery Communications. Which will leave Marvel clear to move on over to WDW
.
Scott B: I recall reading when the Disney/Marvel deal was done that UO could keep using Marvel with the attractions and characters they currently have, but need to seek approval for anything new. Figure those odds of it getting approved or UO wanting to put any more money into it other than keeping it up and maybe a fresh coat of paint.

SWO has the stables/hamlet and the ole beer place as a footprint for something new in the future. Haven't been over there in a while, but the last I read they had removed the bud merch from the Hospitality Deli and of course the Beer Masters room has been vacant since the free beer was removed hasn't it. Although they really should keep some sort of food on that side of the park, since I don't think Mango Joes is enough, but how far of a walk is to the waterfront.

With the homogenization of the SW parks in general, Believe and Blue Horizons, what's next same sea lion show in all the parks too. Will there be any reason to visit more than one park except for Manta, Kraken and other rides?

With the new Lil Merm ride going into the FL expansion at MK, what will become of the Lil Merm Show at DHS?

Also since WWoHP is almost open, I was thinking the other day - when Disney was bidding for HP which park were they proposing putting it in?

From Andy Milio on June 15, 2010 at 8:42 AM
Bring Transformers to Universal Florida!!!

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