Published: March 26, 2012 at 10:01 AM
For me and mine, Universal's Orlando resort has always been a favorite cheaper-than-Disney destination, filled with cutting edge rides, great restaurants, wonderful onsite resort perks, and manageable crowd levels. USO was the perfect counter-point to my traditional, ultra-expensive, jam-packed Disney vacation. However, I have been on somewhat of an anti-Potter crusade in this tournament, simply voting against the elephant in the room to keep things honest and to point out that despite all the praise and love HP has received, the park in which it resides is far from perfect.
Apart from the Wizarding World, the Universal parks are sparsely themed, poorly maintained, and provide spotty customer service and line management. Furthermore, the success of the Wizarding World brought significantly higher prices and larger crowds (at least in the "new" area of IOA) which nearly eliminated USO from the "add on to a Disney vacation" category. Now, forced with choosing between Disney OR Universal during an Orlando visit, I tend to choose Disney simply because they continue to offer the best, whole-family theme park vacation.
However, when Universal implemented their Harry Potter expansion, they showed the world that Disney quality and immersion can be achieved and even improved upon at parks outside of Disney. They proved that if you spend the money, and spend it right, people will come, regardless of the brand name on the park. They illustrated that high quality food, beverage, and snack choices can lead to big profits, even if the margin on those profits is smaller because of the increased quality. They grabbed headlines and took the limelight away from a slumbering Disney company, creating a ripple effect that is leading to major improvements at many of the US Disney parks. Furthermore, instead of Disney releasing big expansion plans and then cutting budgets and corners as they have done in the past, all their current plans have seen increased budgets and even more detailing and plussing thrown in for good measure. In short, Universal finally woke up a company that has been very much resting on its laurels for more than a decade.
Above all, Universal proved that Disney does not hold exclusive rights on fully realized, immersive, narrative themed lands - any company can build them (and profit from them) if they are willing to spend the money. This example is something that other theme park companies are beginning to follow, which is great news for themed entertainment fans everywhere. Just take a look at the increased level of detail in new and upcoming attractions like Verbolten, Wild Eagle, Turtle Trek, Manta (California), and especially the Antarctica land being constructed at SeaWorld Orlando. The renaissance in themed entertainment that Universal started with the Wizarding World is something very exciting to see and parks that aren't on board with plussing attractions are being left in the dust. Even chains like Six Flags and Cedar Fair are starting to realize that improved lands, better ride queues, and higher immersion levels can lead to big profits. In other words, everyone is starting to understand something that Disney has known all along: if you offer visitors something more than common midway experiences, they will visit more often, stay longer, and spend more money!
Now, in regard to this vote today, let me state that I love the Tower of Terror. In my mind it is a perfect example of what Disney does best: take a standard midway experience (the drop ride) and turn it into an immersive masterpiece of sight, sounds, and thrills that is unmatched across the expanse of the theme park industry. It was and is my favorite attraction at WDW. Not only did the Tower of Terror shape the entire Sunset Blvd area at DHS, but it rendered all other drop rides obsolete, and set a new standard for themed entertainment.
In 2010, 16 years after the Tower of Terror was introduced, the Wizarding World upped the ante and set a new standard. For that reason alone its signature attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, will get my vote today. In my mind if the Tower of Terror wins this vote, theme park fans are giving Disney permission to rest on its laurels for another 16 years, and I personally don't ever want to see that happen again.