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Robert Niles
Editor

Universal 'doubling down' on theme park investments, while Disney shrugs

Published: January 8, 2014 at 11:37 AM

The head of Universal's parent company is "doubling down" on theme parks and going after the Walt Disney Company's market share. But not only does Universal's braggadocio not seem to phase the industry leader, Disney is continuing to take its sweet time in proceeding with several major theme park projects.

"We think that there is a lot of 'there' there in the theme-park business for many years to come and that we have a low market share — and only one way to go," Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts told analysts in Las Vegas this week. Comcast owns NBCUniversal, the parent company of the Universal theme parks. NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke (a former Disney executive) previously declared Universal's intention to build up to 12,000 additional hotel rooms at Universal Orlando, while investing half a billion dollars a year in its theme parks worldwide.

Diagon Alley
Diagon Alley, under construction at Universal Studios Florida. Photo submitted by Michael B.

Universal Orlando will open its new 1,800-room Cabana Bay Beach resort hotel later this spring and a second Harry Potter land, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley, at Universal Studios Florida, likely in June. Universal Studios Hollywood is working on a billion-dollar-plus "Evolution" makeover of its property, with a new Despicable Me-themed land opening this spring (likely April) and a Wizarding World of Harry Potter also under construction. The Wizarding World will debut at Universal Studios Japan later this year, and a Universal theme park is proceeding toward construction in China, too.

Disney's reaction? To "no comment" to the Orlando Sentinel, when it asked about Roberts' comments. And Disney continues to keep its plans for new Star Wars-themed lands at Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida on the shelf, according to one online report.

Outside the CEO suite and the PR offices, many Disney cast members are eager to fight back against Universal's efforts. Disney Imagineering Chief Creative Executive Bruce Vaughn said "bring it on" when asked at last year's D23 convention about competing with Universal. Imagineering teased its Star Wars lands at that gathering, and Disney's attraction designers have developed plans for a wide variety of themed attractions to match Universal's new developments.

But Disney's executives haven't yet given their approval to proceed, as the company diverts budget allocations toward making its MyMagic+ initiative work at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Disney's beaten every competitor that's stepped up to fight it since Disneyland opened in 1955, from Six Flags in the 1960s and 70s to Universal today. But those victories have come from great effort. No competitor yet has spent the money that Universal's now devoting to taking Disney's theme park market share. Will a new reservation system for the same old rides continue to allow Disney to protect its market share in Orlando and beyond? Or, at some point, will Disney's executives need to open the budget and spend the money to develop its Star Wars, Marvel and other theme park plans? Theme park visitors will answer those questions by where they spend their money in the year ahead.

Replies (56)

TROY DAVIDSON

Published: January 8, 2014 at 11:47 AM

I will not be getting another Disney annual pass! universal will have my business from now on. when I go to Disney I feel like the Back to the Future ride teleported me back to the 1980's at Disney.....also not impressed with Fanasty Land Expansion. My 6 year old niece told me Aerial was her favorite princess...when we got off the ride, I asked her how she liked it. "It was lame!" She also said it in front of a Disney cast member.....I busted out laughing!
Brian Emery

Published: January 8, 2014 at 11:48 AM


I do agree, Universal has been in 'Beast Mode" for a while now....

Nice word - braggadocio...


I might have to keep a close eye on Comcast stock...


Duncan Henny

Published: January 8, 2014 at 12:07 PM

apparently they are modelling the star wars themed land on episode VII
http://uk.ign.com/articles/2014/01/07/disneyland-is-remodeling-tomorrowland-based-on-star-wars-episode-vii
Annette Forrest

Published: January 8, 2014 at 12:16 PM

I wish Universal was smart enough to build a Harry Potter Hotel.

Not a cheap 'Art of Animation' style thing...but a really nice hotel that is immersively themed to Potter. Boy, would my family love to stay there.

That would be worth $200 or even $300 a night for my family. Make everything look luxurious on one side and the other half of the rooms could have a creepy Grimmauld Place vibe. It could be fantastic.

N B

Published: January 8, 2014 at 12:20 PM

One of Disney's problems is today's kids are so programmed to expect high tech thrills. I know a lot of those Disney rides are timeless and classic, which adults can relate to, but Universal is going with multi-dimensional immersion.

When you take a kid who can play amazing games on a tablet that is .25 thick (on their flight to Orlando), then put them on Dumbo, they will never understand what that ride meant to their parents and would consider it "lame".

Disney parks have a lot of the 1950-1970s technology with the exception of Hollywood Studios and California Adventure.

I can't see how they will stay relevant with the kids of today who need constant stimulation and are glued to the internet and iPads.

My fear is Universal Orlando will one day become the new Disney where you are trapped in endless oceans of people and the experience becomes a headache.

Anon Mouse

Published: January 8, 2014 at 12:58 PM

Universal seems to be competing quite well against Disney, but their main attractions are simulators of one variety or another. You see a screen basically. That isn't enough. I would love for them to introduce something new that we haven't seen before.

Disney has been slow walking attractions at WDW for a very long time. I just can't understand it. The only development that seems to be going quite well is DVC and Dining. The MagicBand initiatives is making it quite clear that Disney doesn't have the capacity to ensure guests have anything to do in the parks. Will they wake up?

71.80.107.26

Published: January 8, 2014 at 12:44 PM

Our family has opted for Universal Orlando annual Christmas trip next year which in the past has always included Disney. But not this trip. We are so looking forward to the new attractions at Universal and the Grinchmas is so much better than any Disney offerings.Good for Universal and glad to see someone giving Disney a run for their money.
99.122.57.229

Published: January 8, 2014 at 12:48 PM

We have stayed at the Universal Resort Hotel for years now.. I asked my kids if they would like to go to Disney.. They just said : Why is just the same stuff, and no Universal Express pass to bypass the ride lines..why bother."
I can honestly say we would not change over to Disney. There is a lot to do at Universal.
Nick McKaig

Published: January 8, 2014 at 1:16 PM

I too am confused about Disney's lack of new ride development in the WDW parks. It seems obvious to me where the competition is building, but Disney is not pushing many new ride developments through. Avatar land is fitting for the Animal Kingdom, but what about EPCOT? What's new there, besides a new overlay to Test Track (that fell flat for me)? What does Hollywood Studios have that's coming any time soon besides maybe Star Wars? Magic Kingdom has a New Fantasyland, but what does that offer to anyone besides very young park guests? Universal has so many new offerings that are opened or on the horizon in Florida that it's hard to keep track, for people of all ages to enjoy. Growing up as a die-hard Disney park fan, I could not justify to my wife why we should go there over Universal for our past holiday trip. There just isn't much to get excited about as a Florida resident for at least the next two years there.
Brian Emery

Published: January 8, 2014 at 1:22 PM

Anon:
Universal’s main attraction are simulator’s? Huh?

Did I miss something at Universal?

Hulk, Riverboat Adventure, Rip Saw Falls, Popeye and Bluto, Rip rid rocket, Revenge of the Mummy, Dr Doom Drop , Dragon Challenge - And Many More….. They do have some fantastic Simulators but not too many… I’m just sayin….

Jack Hammond

Published: January 8, 2014 at 1:48 PM

Not sure how you can classify New Fantasyland, Cars Land, Avatar Land, Disney Springs, Art and Animation Hotel, My Magic+, and the extremely likely Star Wars Land as a "shrug". Disney has been doing more in the past couple a years than it did in the entire previous decade, so... calm down.

Disney is way ahead of Universal on so many levels. You know why people love Disney? The little touches. Countless performers in the streets, special free games like Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, new and better nighttime shows like Celebrate the Magic, and just an overall higher quality feeling (except for Dinoland, no carnival games in the middle of the street like Universal).

Also, Universal is nowhere near Disney statistically even now. The least popular Disney World Park (Hollywood Studios) still had more guests than Islands of Adventure last year, so no wonder Disney is "shrugging".

Tyler Stover
Writer

Published: January 8, 2014 at 1:54 PM

The last time I visited WDW was Summer of 2009. If I were to go back now, I think the only new things would be a mildly reskinned Test Track and the new Fantasyland, minus the mine train. The only other change is wrist bands replacing key cards and requiring even more advanced planning than before, so now all my rides AND dining experiences have to be planned to the hour 6 months out. OR, I could visit Universal Orlando for the first time, where not only is everything new to me, but they have cutting edge, fully immersive Harry Potter, Simpsons, and Despicable Me environments to explore. Its really not a very hard decision where I would go on my next Orlando trip.
Tyler Stover
Writer

Published: January 8, 2014 at 2:00 PM

NB, I see a lot of people dismiss kids these days as being obsessed and hopelessly distracted by technology and not interested in anything not on an ipad, but I'm going to have to disagree. Human nature doesn't really change, especially not in kids. My little one likes watching Minnie Mouse on the ipad/iphone (the only time we let her lay her hands on our electronics) but she absolutely lights up on such low tech theme park offerings as the Beauty and the Beast (or Tangled) storytelling in Disneyland's Fantasy Faire, Dumbo, Fliks Fliers, the carousel, and the Little Mermaid. I think we need to give kids more credit.
O T

Published: January 8, 2014 at 2:13 PM

The last Disney on the board of directors was Roy Oliver Disney. Twice he started a "save Disney" campaign. Once in 1984 and another one in 2003-2005. This man singlehandedly saved the company twice from it's mismanagement and greed that went straight against the creative environment that his uncle Walt Disney created.

Roy died 2009 and no one is there to save the company again. In the past years the Disney company aggressively invested in their time-share offering adding huge amount of volumes at Animal Kingdom Lodge (458 units), The Contemporary, Grand Floridian and now under construction at the Polynesian Resort. Add that expansion to the 1878 units that where already sold out and you have a huge number of financially "wealthy" customers that are sure to come for many years.

A lot of those new "vacation club" members are new to Disney. They get the high end resort rooms and haven't seen the parks before (all due to the economy and advertising).

From an investment point of view a lot of investments Disney made at WDW didn't live up to (financial)expectations. The Mission Mars ride didn't add extra visitors to Epcot neither did the overhaul of Test Track. Star Tours 2.0 didn't raise any attendance at the Disney Studios nor did the Jack Sparrow experience. Even the overly expensive New Fantasyland didn't boost consumption or sales at MK.

To get more from their time-share visitors Disney created Magic+ to harvest more money to separate their customers from their wallet with a fun plastic device that opens your room door, gets you quickly on rides and makes you pay for food and souvenirs without grapping your wallet/cash/creditcard. In the meantime adding paid extra's like a doll in a small world that knows your name, get a Micky to know your name and have your photo's, princes makeover and other pricy stuff latterly in arms reach.

Sure they look at Universal and see food sales go up after they install the Simpsons area. They see souvenir, food and attendance go up after the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Transformers/Despicable Me but Disney knows they don't have these cool ip's. The reason why they brought in Star Wars and Indiana Jones (to stay relevant) got eventually old with the shows and rides.
Most of their blockbuster movies tanked at the box-office or where handled poor in the parks (POTC) because they forgot what Walt was about, creating stunning rides and shows so people would care and where willing to be parted from their money.

At the moment Universal is the new Disney. A lot of former imagineers get creative freedom to build awesome rides and environments and it pays off for Comcast. And they are willing to keep the momentum going to keep investing in fun and new experiences.

76.116.60.204

Published: January 8, 2014 at 2:19 PM

While I don't believe Universal will overtake Disney given their brand (princesses etc.), they certainly can significantly cut into their share of vacation dollars. I returned a month ago from Disney and for the first time didn't feel like immediately planning a trip back. We spent a week navigating the new magic band/fastpass+ and disability pass systems. Given the price tag of the MBs, I think Disney would have been better served to update and innovate instead. Tomorrowland is more like retro-land (Speedway, Stitch); Wonders of Life in EPCOT has been empty way too long; Hollywood Studios is severely lacking in rides - Pixar Place has ONE ride, no wonder Toy Story Mania is so crowded. They should have built Star Wars Land ten years ago. Most people view Animal Kingdom as a 1/2 day park for obvious reasons. I don't know what the price tag is for the new Avatar Land but not sure it is a franchise with staying power - adding one amazing ride seems like a better ides. While I think Universal is surpassing Disney in ride experience and innovation, they need to appeal to families with young children a bit more if they want to give Disney a run for their money. I think a lot of families avoid Universal or leave disappointed because they lack enough rides for the little ones. Even though some may have been disappointed by the Little Mermaid ride (I like it), Universal needs to take a page out of Disney's book & appeal to that age bracket a little bit more. I'm pretty sure our next vacation with include Universal with less time at Disney.
161.113.14.4

Published: January 8, 2014 at 2:21 PM

I think what this investment is showing that universal is just playing catch up. Yes these new investments are great short term but anyone with an understanding of business nows theme parks are not cheap, modern technology costs money and then there is the general up keep of the parks. So lets look at the general feel of disney, yes too seasoned visitors you ridden the rides to death and got the T shirt to prove it. But look at the ethos of Disney, its a generation thing, you enjoyed it as a kid you might out grow it but nostalgia and having your own family brings you back. The rides at disney have survived the test of time they are still enjoyed now. Its a excellent return on investment. Transformers and Harry Potter whilst great rides full of the most modern technologies are based on franchises that have now finished. One more lacklustre Transformers movie is on the way to try and save a franchise that has been milked to death. Disney are waiting to play the long game, Star Wars / Pixar and Marvel will be long term projects for the group providing the park vistitor with relivant themes. Universal can throw money at wham bam thank you man rides but will they last the test of times, Harry Potter maybe but the rest of the park is full of (some excelent rides) but have a limited self life as they are based upon themes and movies that will soon fall into the pages of time. So in conclusion what disney is doing is balancing running a very very profitable business it may be over cautious where it spends its money but the turn stiles dont lie and its doing a very good job. Universal does lead the way with technology it needs to also strike a balance of creating rides that stand the test of time like Soaring, Tower of Terror and Space Mountain, you dont always need a franchise to make a good ride. As you can tell Im maybe one of the few that follow this site that doesnt sit in a camp, I hope Universal fulfills its potential and gives a more emersive experience then the current assult on the senses and disney opens its wallet to add some needed new blood in Epcot / Animal kingdom.
Anon Mouse

Published: January 8, 2014 at 3:02 PM

@Brian Emery

"Universal’s main attraction are simulator’s? Huh?
Did I miss something at Universal?"

Then you list the ones that are not.

Okay, the main attractions that are simulators are the recent attractions. HP: Forbidden Journey, Simpsons, Despicable Me, Transformers, plus Spiderman. That's five.

Diagon Alley will get a roller coaster with a simulator. The Hogwarts express train will be a simulator too. Two more.

In Hollywood, they replaced the burnt King Kong with a 3D movie ride. They will remove 3D Shrek pretty soon like they removed Terminator.

You said NOT TOO MANY. That's quite of bit of new attractions that are simulators.

The water rides are not subject to such an approach, but it is quite likely Universal is done building water rides. I would love to see Universal do dark rides and slow moving water rides in a completely new way that utilizes animatronics or other ways to entertain the customer.

Jay R.

Published: January 8, 2014 at 3:56 PM

I think Disney will be fine.

It's great that Universal is agressive with announcing & opening new attractions, but I'm sure Disney is quite aware with whats going own with the "competition", as well as it's own parks.

Magic Kingdom has managed to stay the #1 theme park in the world with no "NEW" attractions for some time (the New Fanatasy land expansion being the exception & even that isn't a huge leap forward).

Universal & Disney's own parks (with Harry Potter, Transformers, Cars Land, etc) have yet to unseat Magic Kingdom as "the" number 1 park in the world.

Even with Universal's plans, Disney isn't going to fall away. (They have Avatar, Marvel....and Star Wars.

Both can & will co-exist......

TH Creative
Writer

Published: January 8, 2014 at 5:13 PM

OT writes: "The last Disney on the board of directors was Roy Oliver Disney. Twice he started a "save Disney" campaign. Once in 1984 and another one in 2003-2005. This man single handedly (sic) saved the company twice from it's (sic) mismanagement and greed ..."

I Respond: Nonsense.

OT writes: "A lot of those new "vacation club" members are new to Disney. They get the high end resort rooms and haven't seen the parks before (all due to the economy and advertising)."

I Respond: Do you have a source that backs up the claim that a substantial percentage of DVC members "haven't seen the parks before"?

---------

I have no doubt the new Harry Potter expansion at Universal Studios Florida will likely be the most extraordinary collection of attractions in theme park history. Further, the Cabana Bay resort and the multi-park Hogwart's Express will empower UO to market ticket and hotel packages in ways they have never done before.

I also have no doubt that people who come to Orlando to see the attractions at Universal Orlando will also visit the parks at Walt Disney World.

Phil B.

Published: January 8, 2014 at 6:38 PM

Universal's "put up or shut up" mentality has really been impressive the last several years. As much as I love Disney, I've come to realize my love was more rooted in the man, Walt Disney, and what he accomplished in his lifetime and the global legacy he left behind. My admiration for him translated to the strong sense of loyalty I have for the parks because it always felt like a way to connect with his passion in a tactile way. There's still magic to be found in the parks, and in spades, but something about the company feels very cold and disingenuous these days. Perhaps Disney has grown too big for it's own good in a sense, and much like what happens when children become adults, has lost a bit of itself in the transition. I'll always be a huge fan of Walt Disney the man, and the parks will always hold a special place in my heart along with the memories that I have in them, but the curtain has been pulled back on the Wizard and the magic isn't what it used to be for me. As it is right now, Universal/Comcast is my favorite theme park company and Disney is my favorite potential company to maybe buy a time share from one day.
162.119.64.112

Published: January 8, 2014 at 5:47 PM

I'm more into thrill rides, so I tend to visit Six Flags and Cedar Fair more these days. However, I started giving up on Disneyland when I noticed certain things will remain broken for awhile. Your making all that money and you can't spend the time or shut the ride down to repair it because you are scared of black lash? I also think Disney tends to cater everything toward kids. Give us some adult coaster or something!

I'm also on the boat that I've been attending Universal more so than Disney. I don't think anybody can really steal Disney thunder. There are so many generations of kids that has been influenced by their grandparents and parents to see any decline. Disney knows it and that's why they continue to over price everything.

208.58.201.46

Published: January 8, 2014 at 5:59 PM

As someone that considers himself a Disney loyalist. I am planning my final trip to Disney (a Place I have been visiting since 1983). The new Disney Magicband nonsense, the diminishing use of fast pass (maybe even the total elimination-I can't tell what they are doing) amongst a number of other things have completely turned me off to visiting their parks. I last visited in the summer of 2012 and using fast pass rode every single ride and saw every single show my children wanted in 1 day at each park. I do not feel it is possible anymore using the new system nor do I feel that I should have to schedule my family vacation to the very last minute because of Disney's new system. Disney has lost its' way and is no longer a park for the people. So long Disney it's been a great 30 years.

As for Universal Comcast is providing more than I ever could have imagined; taking this park from second rate, second tier stop to primary vacation spot. Keep it up and I may come back to Orlando some day to spend 4 days at Universal and 1 at Disney instead of the other way around.

50.89.13.35

Published: January 8, 2014 at 6:13 PM

Love that last anonymous post. It must give Mr. Niles great assurance knowing that reps from Universal's marketing department drops by every now and then.
TH Creative
Writer

Published: January 8, 2014 at 6:42 PM

At Disney's Animal Kingdom, I really enjoy the lowland gorillas on the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. They're amazing -- I could watch them for hours. One time before the park opened, I saw the male silverback standing at the top of the hill silhouetted against the approaching light of sunrise.

At EPCOT, I love standing at the bar of the Rose & Crown. Every time I reminisce about my first visit to EPCOT Center -- the cast preview night in September of 1982.

At the Canadian pavilion I have to catch a performance by Off Kilter. Authentic Canadian music (Rush, Bryan Adams -- chuckle).

In the French pavilion Barbara has to have an orange slushie. In China I'll get a Tsing Tao. And I will never forget the day an old friend dropped forty bucks so we could each have a rail at La Cava del Tequila.

Then there's the intimacy of the American Gardens theater. The tribute bands performing in the summer are great fun with friends. And I enjoy it when Barbara HAS to go see performances by her favorites -- such as Dennis Deyoung or (help me) David Cassidy. It's pretty great to see her get silly over these aging (ahem) stars.

At Disney Hollywood Studios I was once picked to be in the Indiana Jones show. It reminds me of the time I was dragged on stage at the Adventurer's club. One time my niece (she's ten) got to be "the rebel spy" on "Star Tours -- The Adventure Continues."

And what was great was she was picked on Star Wars weekend. So that evening we caught the latest production of "Dance Off with the Star Wars Stars."

Of course Rockin' Roller Coaster is always on the agenda. When I worked for WDI, I used to ride the coaster daily. I really like the queue area -- although I never found out the name of the ULTRA hip Imagineer who selected Velvet Underground and New York Dolls posters for the walls.

And of course I'll spend time in "One Man's Dream" -- and exceptional production with an extraordinary film.

On the way to the Magic Kingdom we always stop by the bar at Ohana -- to visit our friend who has been working at WDW since 1977 (!!!). While we imbibe we share stories of the 1980s -- talking about Disney bar performers like Jon Camp and Denny Zavett.

On days we start at the Magic Kingdom we always catch performances by the Main Street Philharmonic. Some of these guys played at the grand opening of EPCOT. I like when Barbara dances during "Move It Shake It."

When we hit Space Mountain I will ALWAYS wait for the front seat. The front seat of the Magic Kingdom's Space Mountain is my favorite coaster experience. Of course the Haunted Mansion is always on the bill. And we have come to enjoy the flash mob in Frontierland. We usually catch it on the way over to Big Thunder Mountain.

As for the Jungle Cruise ... Well, you already know how I feel about that.

There's the projection show on Cinderella's Castle (the most iconic theme park image on the planet) followed by fireworks.

We will usually finish with cocktails at California Grill. Sometimes our DVC friend stays a Bay Lake Tower -- which gets us access to the Top of the World lounge (what an amazing view).

Of course Universal does have Harry Potter ... so ...

172.2.5.67

Published: January 8, 2014 at 7:09 PM

Some of those experiences also can be said from those who have grown up with universal, so what's your point?
68.7.200.203

Published: January 8, 2014 at 11:47 PM

Universal Orlando clearly is building the most exciting theme park experiences in the US. It reminds me of CA adventure in 2012 and Disneyland in 1966. Whether it takes any market share from WDW is yet to be seen. The next 2 years will be huge indicators whether universal can actually threaten Disney's dominance of the market. In order to do so, one of Universals Parks has to overtake one of WDWs in attendance imo. If universal can't do that with Harry Potter, the most profitable and popular modern movie franchise, than I don't think universal can ever threaten Disney. It will be an exciting 2 years indeed.
For the Disney fans frustrated with WDW, I say don't be sad. There's always Disneyland which just finished its huge billion dollar expansion that's definitely worth a visit. Hong Kong with 2 of WDI best new original NON FRANCHISE attractions(ya they still make em). And of course the best theme park resort in the world Tokyo Disney, featuring several unique attractions including 2 trackless rides, and the highest quality cast performance and attraction maintenance. Heck you could even visit Paris which is considered the most beautiful Disney park, and is also getting a world class trackless ride of its own this year.
84.56.82.115

Published: January 9, 2014 at 2:31 AM

Comcast does not look like a particular good company to me. Dont see them buiding for sustainability.
-Notorious overpaid CEO.
-High beta share
-Dodgy annual reports with much bling and few facts.
98.155.253.35

Published: January 9, 2014 at 2:54 AM

I thought of something that would very likely be impossible, but if it were true would be interesting. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter draws heavily from the film versions of the books, which were produced by Warner Bros. So it's likely that Universal pays some sort of license fee to Warner Bros. in addition to Ms. Rowling. Let's say that WB doesn't really want this fee. What if in a secret clause to ABC Family's broadcast contract for the Harry Potter films, WB relinquished its fees to Disney? So it would be a backdoor way of profiting from Universal's Harry Potter expansion. Disney can shrug and say competition is good because travelers will probably visit their Florida theme parks anyway. Plus, they're getting a cut of Universal's action without having the capital outlay.
Brent Moody

Published: January 9, 2014 at 6:54 AM

I have annual passes to both Disney World and Universal Orlando. I will probably keep both passes next year because there are things I love at both Disney and Universal parks. But there is no doubt that at Universal I feel like I am getting a lot more for my money. From getting free valet parking to getting 20% off all merchandise and most all the restaurants (even in City Walk)it just feels like Universal is doing more for the pass holders. There is also no doubt that Universal is putting more money and awesome new attractions back into their parks than Disney is.
And perhaps to me the most frustrating thing to me that Disney does now days is how long they take to build anything anymore. Disney is taking longer to build the SDMT than Universal is taking to build and entire Potter land with 2 major rides in it. Wald Disney himself only took 1 year to build Disneyland, but it takes 3 years to build a roller coaster now? Avatar Land is going to probably open about 6-8 years from the time it is announced. If you were 10 years old when they announced Avatar land then you could probably drive to the park by yourself by the time it opens.
Nick McKaig

Published: January 9, 2014 at 7:21 AM

That's the point I was trying to make. Disney can talk about Avatar Land, Star Wars Land, etc., but those things are not in the parks. Until they exist, I can't get excited about them. Universal on the other hand has nearly two different Harry Potter experiences, Transformers, and other rides that have opened/are opening in the past 3 years. I would say that Universal is showing, not telling, and Disney could learn a thing or two about that.
12.216.216.6

Published: January 9, 2014 at 8:13 AM

"Love that last anonymous post. It must give Mr. Niles great assurance knowing that reps from Universal's marketing department drops by every now and then. "

Says the anonymous poster.

Count me as one who has visited WDW yearly since the early 80's who is done with it. I also visit Universal every trip when in Orlando. It's clear where I want to spend my money these days.

96.246.126.185

Published: January 9, 2014 at 10:09 AM

I visited Universal this past October for the first time in about 15 years and I was underwhelmed. I've been to Disney twice in the last 2 years and there is just something about the "Disney experience" that I like a lot more. Admittedly, I am no longer the roller coaster fiend I once was since I'm in my 30's, so that might be part of the reason as well.

I just found the Disney employees, dining, and atmosphere so much better.

141.162.101.50

Published: January 9, 2014 at 10:36 AM

Recently Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly said "We're from Philadelphia... we fight". This garnered a lot of press. Well, Comcast corporate is drinking the same Schuylkill River water. Looks like Disney is in for an old school South Philly brawl. Watch out for snowballs
Brian Emery

Published: January 9, 2014 at 10:38 AM

This is a great conversation….. I am enjoying it….. This is not about Universal VS Disney… It is more about Universal being the new leader in entertainment… Florida gets tons visitors and if you look at the numbers, Universal has been gaining in Attendance…. And they will gain more this June….

Hopefully Disney will get Avatar right…..Time will Tell..

Robert Niles
Editor

Published: January 9, 2014 at 11:07 AM

I have complete confidence that Disney can top itself and continue to develop world-class attractions that will allow the company to continue to expand the market for theme park vacations.

At the same time, I'd love to see some fire from the CEO suite. I'd love to see Iger (or his replacement), just open the checkbook and go all Palpatine on the industry.

108.13.149.27

Published: January 9, 2014 at 11:15 AM

"Universal seems to be competing quite well against Disney, but their main attractions are simulators of one variety or another."

Until recently, my only experience with Universal was in Hollywood and I would agree with that statement. But the same could be said about Disney -- just a bunch of boat rides and omnimovers with singing animatronics. Other parks may have more exciting rides, but without question Disney always had the best theming, both on and off the rides.

Then I went to Islands of Adventures last year and everything changed. At it's base, Forbidden Journey may just be another motion simulator, but both inside and out it is one of the most immersive themed experiences I have encountered. Maybe Wizarding World is just a one hit wonder. But the pictures I have seen of Gringotts and Hogwarts Express and Springfield make me think Universal really gets it.

I don't think Disney won the theme parks wars just because of their ride tech, I think they won because of the overall experience. This is where I think Disney now has some serious competition.

98.227.60.180

Published: January 9, 2014 at 11:20 AM

Whenever I see locals say "I'm not renewing my annual pass, that will show them!" I wonder how much Disney really cares about annual pass holders.

Do those passes actually make Disney more money than tourists do? I think the annual pass holders in Disneyland are more valuable to Disney than the Orlando ones. It seems like the majority of business in WDW is from people who are not annual pass holders. I don't think Disney loses all that much if annual pass holders don't renew in Florida.

In a lot of ways, the less pass holders the better because Disney does not make room night money off them and the pass holders do not buy merchandise. So I think maybe Disney prefers to have fewer of these people.

76.26.185.29

Published: January 9, 2014 at 11:27 AM

Universal it's spending the money wisely And yea there it's a lot of projections and screens blah blah but both universal parks are better than the 4 WDW parks and have better tech than Disney yes Disney it's great in story telling all that but the main reason that Disney parks are still at the top it's because of their repution people go to Orlando thinking yay Mickey Disney Disney. I'm from Puerto Rico and I was talking to this kid about universal and he was like what's that? You know Disney it's more known by people that's why they are in the top not because of their rides or lands but don't get me wrong I love Disney but I just think universal it's doing things better than them, the imagineers need to step up their game I wanna see pandora already I wanna see Star Wars land already I wanna see more Pixar in the Pixar place not just toy story, I wanna see tron in Epcot I want more from Disney
Annette Forrest

Published: January 9, 2014 at 2:11 PM

I was talking with my sister and we came up with a fun idea. What if Universal built a hotel that was a combination of Beauxbatons and Durmstrung academies? It could have two wings: one a pretty, Monaco-style French wing with all sorts of French flourishes and the other one like a Viking/Russian more rugged wing. That would be like the two other wizarding schools...and guests could be staying in the dorms of these schools.

That would be an awesome Harry Potter resort hotel. Girls could prefer the Beauxbatons side and boys could prefer the Durmstrung side. And everyone would love the theming and ability to sleep in a Potter themed hotel.

Maybe they could have the backstory of the resort be that these are dorms that appeared for the TriWizard tournament or something...or just say that magic had them appear so close together. But it would be cool to have these two other wizarding schools built that were never shown in the movies, and have them be hotels for guests.

Man, Universal would make a killing with those hotel rooms. Disney has nothing like that.

TH Creative
Writer

Published: January 9, 2014 at 2:30 PM

An anonymous poster responds to my post with: "Some of those experiences also can be said from those who have grown up with universal."

I Respond: So why haven't they?

travis traymoore

Published: January 9, 2014 at 3:06 PM

you cant really know what it is to dread an airport until youve flown out of newark or laguardia, orlando(as bad as you say it is) is a PARADISE compared to those two.
travis traymoore

Published: January 9, 2014 at 3:13 PM

Disregard that last comment, wrong thread.

Anyway, I dont think Universal will overtake Disney, they will get close but not overtake. As a lifelong Disney fan, I do wish that disney would take a page out of universal's book and announce new E ticket things coming soon instead of 5 years from now (cough cough new Fantasyland and Avatar Land) or let people speculate about it for years before any announcement is made(Star Wars). Guest and fan speculation is a make or break thing. Look at diagon alley vs Star wars land. universal knew they only had a certain window of time that people would be excited to simply speculate what was going in Jaws' place before thet had to make an announcement, and that's exactly what they did. If they had let that time elapse, people might have lost interest. Disney, ofcourse, is not heding to this as Star Wars is immensly peopular and almost immune to this. Key word though, ALMSOT

Jay R.

Published: January 9, 2014 at 3:17 PM

I'm glad Universal continues to expand & add to it's parks, but things still have to be put in perspective.

Disney is a brand that goes beyond the theme parks. Disney Parks & Resorts contain the theme parks, cruise lines, Adventures by Disney, the Aulani Resort, etc.

Disney always get the "family vacation" set because that's their brand.

Even with Harry Potter, Universal was still behind (multiple) Disney parks in last years attendance ranking.

Universal can have the most advance & entertaining theme park in Orlando, but it's attendance will still fall behind Disney because it's brand simply isn't as strong.

Now things like quality, experience, cost, can all be debated about which is best, but one company is aiming to cover all potential areas of family vacations, while the other seems to be focused on being "the" theme park to beat.

68.202.245.152

Published: January 9, 2014 at 6:35 PM

I think in the end both parks will benfefit from each other. Its very rare nowadays to see people come down just for one park they come down to see both Universal and Disney.
Bryce McGibeny

Published: January 9, 2014 at 6:52 PM

TH, I've grown up going to both Universal and Walt Disney World. As a 17 year old, and a Florida Resident, I've been to all of the parks more times than I can count. Yes, I do hold a lot sentimentality to Magic Kingdom (and strangely, Animal Kingdom more than DHS and Epcot, even though Epcot is my favorite Disney park), I also do hold massive amounts of sentimentality to the Universal Orlando parks, particularly towards Islands of Adventure.

I've grown up going to that park, and is probably the park I've visited the most. The Mystic Fountain used to absolutely enthrall me, and I would spend what seemed like hours talking and playing with it.

Whenever I cross over the bridge from CityWalk to Port of Entry, and the music transitions, I feel warm and "magical" (for lack of a better word) inside. Hearing the Hulk roaring in the distance... Perfection for me.

The Jurassic Park Discovery Center and Camp Jurassic... Don't even get me started. I also hold a ton of sentimentality for what was once there; Merlinwood. I remember dining in The Enchanted Oak Tavern with my mom and her friend and being enthralled with my surroundings, or the amazing Dueling Dragons entrance and queue, and my first ride on The Flying Unicorn.

My point is, it is extremely possible for one to feel the same way that they do at Disney at Universal. I'm not saying you said this, but you asked...

TH Creative
Writer

Published: January 9, 2014 at 7:07 PM

Mr. McGibeny: "My point is, it is extremely possible for one to feel the same way that they do at Disney at Universal. I'm not saying you said this, but you asked...

I Respond: I'm sorry but, you're "not saying" I said what, exactly?

Gabriel Schroll

Published: January 9, 2014 at 8:32 PM

The biggest advantage that Disney holds over Universal in Orlando to me, is sheer size. Now, what is done with the available acreage is another story, but long-term, Disney could raze the Caribbean Beach hotel/dvc and expand Hollywood Studios to become one of the largest parks around. They could build parking garages at EPCOT and turn the lots that are only used during New Year's Eve into more park space. They could run a monorail track from the TTC to DHS. They could build a 30-story hotel that looks like the Hollywood Hotel of Tower of Terror, but done in the beautiful way that the billboard shows it was meant to look. As a vertical hotel, it would save space, and be quite an icon while driving around World Drive or Epcot Center Drive.

Universal can and will spend a ton of money to build better attractions, update CityWalk, build those 12,000 hotel rooms (can't see it happening, but...okay), and if they're creative and things fall their way, they could create a third park.

But looking at Google Maps, you can see the boundaries of their land. Unless they can buy up some apartment complexes and small businesses or somehow expand across I-4 to where Wet N Wild is, what they have is what they have.

Disney, by its sheer size, can get get a family to stay 6 nights and they'll feel satisfied. 6 nights at Universal and you'd be there 3 nights too long and most likely be bored by the middle of the fourth day.

Elijah Wood can lift weights all he wants, but put in him a fight with John Goodman, and as much effort as the little guy put in, it's just not going to be a fair fight.

I'm a big fan of both parks. I love the technology at Universal. It makes me excited to be there, and I know I'm going to have a lot of fun! But I tell you...Disney is so sentimental to me. I don't consider myself old, but as cheesy as it sounds, Disney warms my heart. Seeing Mickey Mouse makes me so happy. Seeing Cat in the Hat....meh.

Disney World is definitely the most magical place on earth.

N B

Published: January 10, 2014 at 2:41 AM

I have a friend named Cindy who just took her three teens to Disney World. They visited every park and spent an extra week going to other places. She posted all sorts of pics and tagged everything. The funny thing was in every picture that included her kids, they were looking less than thrilled.

So, me being the person I am, started a public debate on Facebook as to why her kids weren't posting pics and tagging themselves as most teens do.

It turns out she is a Disney loyalist who could compete with anyone on this site and refuses to take them anywhere else.

When I brought up Universal, she proceeded to post "That place sucks"... Then I asked if she had ever been there, to which she replied a resounding "No".

I finally posted that I think her kids would enjoy Universal over Disney based solely on their ages. Two of them agreed on my thread..... I don't think I will ever understand the mind of a Disneyphile.

Kelly Muggleton

Published: January 10, 2014 at 8:31 AM

Just as a note on the various comments stating that the 'little things' make the Disney difference.
I have been going to WDW from the UK since 1989, at varying times of year and last visited in 2012. Those little touches are on the slide. I simply lost count of the number of times my family and I said 'remember when ... used to be there - cutbacks'. 'Remember when this show used to be 45 minutes long? Cutbacks.'

There is no doubt that both resorts can and will co-exist. I have nothing against either park (as so many people make this UO vs WDW - pick a side and stay there) and have and will visit both (albeit less days at WDW recently). But how many years is it now we have been saying that Universal's spending will give Disney a good shove. It simply hasnt. Which, for me, is so so sad.

Annette Forrest

Published: January 10, 2014 at 10:16 AM

I'd love to see an article from Robert Niles exploring the idea of what impact he thinks Diagon Alley/London will have. I know that Robert is more of a Universal fan than a Disney fan, but I think he could give an honest appraisal of what kind of increase in business Universal will ultimately get from the Potter expansion. I'm not talking about the initial rush...but overall. Like how Hogsmeade really elevated Universal numbers and that's been sustained...but will the Diagon Alley/London elevate that even higher?

I don't think so...because I think people who love Potter are already coming because of Hogsmeade. A lot of them will come back again, for sure, to see Diagon Alley/London...but is there a group of people who love Potter but didn't come to see Hogsmeade but are now going to come just because Diagon Alley was built? I din't think so.

To me, Diagon Alley/Hogsmeade just gets me to buy a two-park pass at Universal when I would have only bought a ticket to Hogsemeade before. I still don't have much interest in Universal besides Potter. I think Universal will get a big rush of excitement that will be similar to numbers for when Hogsmeade opened...but I think they'll ride the same bell curve they did after Hogsmeade and that the attendance numbers will in a year or two go back to where they are right now today, pre-Diagon opening.

But, they'll be selling TONS more two-park tickets. Ain't nobody in their right mind who would buy a single park ticket when they can ride between the two on that train.

I think the biggest history-making impact of Diagon Alley/London will be the realization that Universal found a way to make everyone a park-hopper purchaser. My family NEVER buys the two-park tickets to Disney or any park. We just do one park a day...but we will CERTAINLY buy the two park hopper at Universal once Diagon opens.

TROY DAVIDSON

Published: January 10, 2014 at 1:40 PM

I think Universal has learned enough during the Potter expansions, to carry that level of theming to future and existing attractions, only time will tell. I agree they need to update the kid zone at the studios and create a dark ride, I could totally see E.T. Overhauled into Sponge Bob....if he is still popular....
TH Creative
Writer

Published: January 10, 2014 at 3:54 PM

Ms. Muggleton writes: "I have nothing against either park."

I Respond: Thanks for the laugh.

TROY DAVIDSON

Published: January 10, 2014 at 8:00 PM

To the person who posted " I wonder how much Disney cares about WDW annual pass holders? We'll they cared enough to offer monthly flex payments to entice the locals.......something that used to be only in CA....
108.13.149.27

Published: January 11, 2014 at 10:35 AM

"but is there a group of people who love Potter but didn't come to see Hogsmeade but are now going to come just because Diagon Alley was built?"

I don't think they will be coming just because of Diagon Alley, but I was amazed when I was there for the first time last year how many people around me were also there for the first time. If I didn't know better, I would have assumed Forbidden Journey had just opened with all the surprised faces stopping to take pictures at every turn in the queue.

This puts Universal in a very strong position. They are still pulling in new guests with the current attractions, and are already doubling-down to get people to come back for a second visit.

184.89.243.116

Published: January 11, 2014 at 7:28 PM

When parks spend money, the guests (consumers) win. You're not tied to one particular park or chain. That's the beauty of competition: choice. Potter is new this Summer? It doesn't mean Disney is dead forever.

When I read these "30 years of Disney vacations" comments ... these places play a "long game" of capital expenditures. You can't tell me there was millions of dollars of new attractions every year for the past 30 years... the industry doesn't work like that. And Comcast will slow down, and you'll hear the same from the Universal fans.

86.152.146.139

Published: January 12, 2014 at 12:34 PM

I have always given both Disney and Universal the same amount of time when visiting Orlando. I have small kids as well as teenagers and we have always loved both parks but Disney edged in the lead...until our past trip. We haven't been to Orlando for a few years and were surprised at a few ways Disney had dropped behind. Maybe the Christmas crowds were too much for Disney to handle this Christmas just gone, but multiple restrooms we encountered were dirty, those at Universal we encountered were not. Characters at Disney just wanted to sign autographs, pose and move on, those at Universal interacted more with the kids (mine and others around us)and make the experience more pleasurable. On asking each member of my family which area they preferred more this trip - it was Universal Orlando each time, which was a first for us!

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