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Universal's Diagon Alley is a big win for theme parks. So why not embrace that?

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Published: July 7, 2014 at 11:57 AM

If you love theme parks, Universal Orlando's Diagon Alley should move toward the top of your "to do" list. And if you want to see the theme park industry endure and expand for another generation, you should be encouraging family, friends and colleagues to visit Diagon Alley, as well.

Why? Because, at this moment, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley offers the best example of a themed entertainment environment in America, and perhaps, the world. Diagon Alley creates the type of experience that rewards fans for their love of theme parks while making others into new theme park fans.

Borgin and Burkes in Diagon Alley

Obviously, the hundreds of millions of people who have loved the Harry Potter books and films will reap the most from a visit to Diagon Alley. We've heard from dozens of fans who spent six hours or more in Diagon Alley on their soft-open visits over the weekend, even without getting to experience the land's top new ride, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. There's just that much detail to take in. Diagon Alley is, at its heart, a playground for Harry Potter fans, who can discover countless references from the Harry Potter stories while imagining themselves wizards or witches in this Wizarding World.

But you don't have to be a Harry Potter fan to be a fan of Diagon Alley. Theme parks do best when they provide environments that transport your imagination to a different place or time. Universal Creative's work here engages visitors' every physical sense, sparking the imagination of even the most jaded theme park visitor. It's simply the most convincing themed environment ever created, topping the original Wizarding World in Islands of Adventure, not to mention any single land currently available at Walt Disney World or Disneyland.

If you love theme parks, why wouldn't you want everyone to see that?

Yes, theme parks are businesses — big businesses, earning billions of dollars a year from their visitors. And businesses don't make a habit of promoting their competition. No one should expect Disney, or any other theme park company, to lift a finger to promote Universal Orlando's newly opened investment.

Yet that doesn't mean Disney can't profit from Diagon Alley. If Universal's new Wizarding World entices more potential visitors to come to Orlando, that's nothing but good news for Disney and everyone else who makes a living from tourism in Central Florida. Anything that makes more people into theme park fans also is great news for the company that attracts more theme park fans than any other chain in the industry.

Not everyone will love Diagon Alley, as richly detailed and wonderfully executed as it turned out to be. No theme park production will ever capture 100 percent of the potential market. That's fine. One of the wonderful qualities of theme park industry is the wide variety of experiences it makes available to its visitors. Inevitably, some people will be convinced to visit Diagon Alley only to be disappointed by the experience. They will prefer something else and will be entitled to those opinions, as will be the many others who will love their visit to Universal's new land.

What doesn't make sense, however, is attacking Diagon Alley without visiting it. Universal's done nothing to deserve that type of preemptive criticism. It's not cheapened a beloved franchise with inadequate investment or irreverent changes to the canon. It didn't leave fans frustrated with a ridiculously long or ever changing development schedule. It hasn't altered its plans for the worse, leaving fans feeling like the victim of a bait and switch. It hasn't treated its fans with a moment of contempt during this project. Heck, Universal even used the fan-driven #Potterwatch hastag to announce the land's soft openings on Twitter.

If Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts fails to operate consistently following its official opening tomorrow, Universal will, and should, face criticism for that. Some fans with certain vision disabilities will be disappointed by the Gringotts ride's use of 3D. Others will find the Revenge of the Mummy-style ride system unaccomodating to their physical restrictions. But, on the whole, Universal has worked to make Diagon Alley more accessible than its original Hogsmeade Wizarding World, with wider pathways and queues and a milder ride experience on Gringotts than found on Hogsmeade's Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

After Hogsmeade opened, four years ago, we asked What's the deal with some Disney theme park fans and Universal? If you love Disney's theme parks, great. You should. They're among the best in the world. (Heck, we just honored Tokyo DisneySea as the world's best theme park for the third year in a row.) But reflexively attacking any new theme park attraction that isn't Disney's doesn't make you a better Disney fan. It just makes people who do that look like close-minded jerks. And that doesn't reflect well on Disney, having fans like that.

Everyone who works in or who loves theme parks wins when a creative team develops something as wonderful and engaging as Diagon Alley. It will bring new fans into the market and encourage investment in new and better attractions throughout the industry. Whether you are a Harry Potter fan, a Universal fan, a Disney fan, or just a fan of theme parks, you should be welcoming Diagon Alley's official opening tomorrow.

And if you aren't, maybe it is time to ask... why not?

Full coverage:

Readers' Opinions

From Dan Heaton on July 7, 2014 at 12:23 PM
Well-said, Robert. I can't wait to see Diagon Alley, and I wouldn't say that I'm a diehard Harry Potter fan. I've enjoyed the books and movies but won't get all the references. I agree that this benefits all theme parks, especially in Orlando. I just hope it drives Disney to strive for the same quality in their new projects. Universal is really pushing the envelope, and I want to see that same dedication from the other major player.
From 24.15.163.97 on July 7, 2014 at 12:30 PM
There was a time when Universal was as guilty as the people you are referring to. (Recall the little girl in the commercial stating, "If I see another princess, I'm going to hurl.") However, it seems Universal has cleaned up its act and decided to focus on improving itself rather than cutting down its competition.

With that in mind - even though I am a Disney fan - I hail Universal's great efforts and look forward to the attraction competition between the two companies that should be the result. I will have no problem bypassing Disney for a day to take a look.

Incidentally - there is no doubt that Avatar Land designers are watching Universal very closely!

From Jade Benefield on July 7, 2014 at 12:44 PM
I couldn't agree more Robert! The ideal result from this, for me, would be for Disney to feel the heat enough to try and out do Universal. A REAL competition between the parks would result in a big win for the theme park enthusiast!
From David Matecki on July 7, 2014 at 1:21 PM
I agree that a lot of the time there seems to be a great divide. Some people are only Disney or only anti-Disney. I am a huge Disney fan but also a huge universal and park fan in general although I do not visit them as much as I would like. My next trip is Disneyland only because for my sons age it is what we think he will like the best. I don't really understand the divide and I think the great work Universal has done as amazing. This will most definitely make Disney up its game which is good as well.
From 173.170.103.20 on July 7, 2014 at 1:34 PM
This is a great commentary that can apply also to a few other parks. For example, applause must be given to the efforts senior management is making at Knotts Berry Farm. Taking classic old rides like the Calico Mine Train and remaking them into something better than they were when they originally opened is a wonderful statement that management appreciates its customers and is striving to not just meet expectations, but beat them. Well done, Knotts. And well done, Universal. No gimmicks like quick queues or gay days to entice customers. Just love and care poured into solid new attractions and spiffed up older ones that are crowd-pleasers. Bravo! Great job.
From Jonathan Yeh on July 7, 2014 at 1:52 PM
I visited Universal Orlando in 2010, and enjoyed The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and its level of detail. I'm sure Diagon Alley is just as amazing (though I will miss Jaws a bit). Certainly, no one comes close to Disney other than Universal, and Universal certainly outshines Disney in the case of Harry Potter.

There are still several drawbacks to Universal Orlando. Barebones roller coaster such as Rockit should be kept to a minimum in a theme park. Islands of Adventure still lacks a night time show to keep guests in the park at night (hence, it's often easier to visit Harry Potter at night). Universal Studios Florida's night time show, although enjoyable to see, is not as good as Disney's night time shows. And Universal's daytime entertainment isn't as enjoyable as Disney's either.

I do hope Disney does bring something the level of Cars Land to Walt Disney World. Disney World needs newer attractions, and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is a good step in the right direction. Although my favorite resort is Disneyland, Walt Disney World is still always amazing to visit.

From 90.198.120.247 on July 7, 2014 at 2:19 PM
My husband and I 'love' disney and really like what universal have done/are doing (apart from removing Jaws). Last year we stayed at WDW and were very disappointed that nothing had changed in six years since we last visited in 2007. I know New Fantasyland had opened but since it only added one mediocre (in our opinion) ride it does appear to us thst Disney is trading on its reputation and is not willing to spend the money to improve. In short we did not feel that wd would hurry back. Universal does spend money and gets things accomplished in a realistic(quick?) Time frame, two and a half years to build Diagon Alley I think, yet disney have no clue when Avatar will open, and are not prepared to commit to anything regarding Star Wars land. Somebody tell them to get their act together or Universal will leave them looking miserley, backwood thinking and just a touch incompetant
From 108.20.118.150 on July 7, 2014 at 2:38 PM
What a great and thoughtful article. I'm a huge Disney fan and my trips to Florida revolve around going to Disney World and experiencing all that it offers. At the same time, I'm an even bigger Harry Potter fan, and my experiences at Universal, while different than my experiences at Disney, have been just as fun and exciting, and my family is looking forward to experiencing even more by visiting Universal Studios and Diagon Alley. Disney World fans can certainly sense the difference between the parks, especially with customer service and cleanliness, but even over the past couple of years, I've noticed that Universal has been making great strides since our first visit years ago. Different parks beget different experiences, and people should embrace that, and have fun with it. I cannot wait to visit Diagon Alley and revisit Hogsmeade, and then share that with friends and family in the future when we're there for our annual visits to Disney.
From 12.12.192.222 on July 7, 2014 at 2:39 PM
I consider myself a die-hard Disney fan... have been a DLR annual passholder for 11+ years. That being said, I cannot wait to get to Orlando to visit Diagon Alley!!! Might not even step foot at DisneyWorld! :)
From N B on July 7, 2014 at 3:15 PM
22 days to go.... WHOOOOP!!!!!

I have to disagree about Disney night time shows vs Universal, however. If you are a true movie person, there is no better show than Uni's.

I just happen to be a movie fanatic. Collectibles, screen used props, signed scripts and DVD / Blu Rays, etc.. A few years ago, I converted one whole 20 x 20 section of our basement into a full blown theater.

One more thing.... Rip Ride Rockit is a night time only coaster for me. The music, lights and general atmosphere in the day is not the same.

From Sylvain Comeau on July 7, 2014 at 3:15 PM
Good article, Robert. I'm definitely a theme park fan first, and a Disney and Universal fan second. We spend most of our Orlando trips at Disney, mostly because it just takes that long to do everything you want at the vast WDW.

It's true that some Disney fans won't even consider going to Universal. In some cases, they have legitimate reasons (e.g., their children are too young for the more intense rides at Uni). In other cases, it's just a prejudice. But that has been changing a lot in recent years. Overall, of the two industry leaders, I'd say that Universal currently receives more praise on theme park message boards.

They have certainly earned it. They have made more massive investments in park infrastructure. They seem to go all out for every attraction. Whether or not everyone embraces Diagon Alley, the industry on a whole, and especially us fans, can only benefit from the rivalry between these two companies.

From Tony Morton on July 7, 2014 at 3:56 PM
Well said, nothing makes any company better than good old fashioned competition. Great competition from Universal will only push Disney to use their Imagineering genius' to delight theme park fans with their ideas and brillance in the future.
From Anon Mouse on July 7, 2014 at 4:07 PM
I certainly hope people are embracing it instead of trashing it before seeing it, but that's not how people are. Nonetheless, it is fine to criticize it for not being their preference whatever the reason. Some are just not Universal fans. That's fine with me. Many are not Disney fans, but this doesn't mean they don't go to Disney theme parks. They are slightly less enthus'ed about it, which is something else.
From James Rao on July 7, 2014 at 5:06 PM
Robert, aside from a few folks (me included) expressing some to-be-expected negativity toward the price gouging that is inherent in a popular expansion of this nature, who's complaining? When it comes to Diagon Alley, the comments are all coming up roses on my Twitter Feed.

And as far as cheapening the Harry Potter franchise, heck, the movies already did all the dirty work, so almost anything Universal implements will be a step up!

From TH Creative on July 7, 2014 at 4:45 PM
I really like the part where Mr. Niles writes: "Everyone who works in or who loves theme parks wins when a creative team develops something as wonderful and engaging as Diagon Alley. It will bring new fans into the market and encourage investment in new and better attractions throughout the industry. Whether you are a Harry Potter fan, a Universal fan, a Disney fan, or just a fan of theme parks, you should be welcoming Diagon Alley's official opening tomorrow."

Welcome a new attraction even if it is operated by another company? Someone should have thought of that years ago. Like ... twenty-four years ago.

http://www.themeparkinsider.com/flume/201005/1907/

(Chuckle)

From 98.85.105.43 on July 7, 2014 at 7:41 PM
I thought winning was buying a $65 add on package to see a themed Frozen parade on old Christmas floats in a park that has not added an E ticket ride in decades. Maybe next year they will add a second Frozen meet and greet. Winning!!!

The divide is not Disney and Universal it's thrill riders and character chasers.

Some people want character dance parties with merchandise and others want brand new rides every year. Universal even with Potter is built for the thrill rider and focuses less on walk around characters. The experience of the area and the E ticket ride are the draws instead of meeting Harry Potter and buying a picture.

Disney is heaven for character chasers. The flagship attraction of new Fantasyland is a photographed walk with Belle or dinner with the beast which is against the cannon unless they give the dinners lit torches and have them sing kill the beast.

To each his own. The bottled water and popcorn are $5 at both places.

From Pyra-Danny V on July 7, 2014 at 8:01 PM
Very very well said Robert! Like others have said before me, I'm not an "all in" Disney OR Universal fanatic, BUT I truly enjoy the immersive environments they provide each and of themselves. Fantastic and varied experiences to be had at either park. Personally I like Universal's take on making non-animated movies come to life (it makes the experience more real methinks)

I can't wait to enter Alley and enter a new world. I predict the future of both the Disney and Universal parks to be nothing less than mesmerizing in the future. Win win for theme park fanatics.

From Pyra-Danny V on July 7, 2014 at 8:01 PM
Very very well said Robert! Like others have said before me, I'm not an "all in" Disney OR Universal fanatic, BUT I truly enjoy the immersive environments they provide each and of themselves. Fantastic and varied experiences to be had at either park. Personally I like Universal's take on making non-animated movies come to life (it makes the experience more real methinks)

I can't wait to enter Alley and enter a new world. I predict the future of both the Disney and Universal parks to be nothing less than mesmerizing in the future. Win win for theme park fanatics.

From 203.14.52.141 on July 7, 2014 at 8:46 PM
I totally and completely agree - as some people have already said i'm a theme park fan! I love Disney, they do great things with their parks, but I also love Universal and what they've done over the last few years. I've visited 3 Disney resorts and 2 Universal resorts and hope to increase that number to 5 and 4 respectively thanks to an Asian trip in 2016. I will go wherever immersive theming, fun and detailed attractions and great environments are...and sure I have favorites, but i'll give anything a go at least once :)
From James Trexen on July 7, 2014 at 9:30 PM
This sounds like a very impassioned article that's been built up for a while. I visited Universal back in March of 2009 and while that visit established my love of the resort, it was my visit back in December 2010 that cemented it. Sounds like I'm in for a real treat. I haven't been there since 2012, so it's long overdue to try and make another trip.

Where are these Disney fans you referenced that keep knocking Universal down? While the same old Orlando debates are tiring, it's fun to mess with some jaded folks.

From Brandon Townsend on July 7, 2014 at 10:16 PM
I love amusement parks, and visit WDW and Universal at least once a year even though I live in Dubai. They are both awesome. But this article by TPI seems hypocritical considering that lately there been nothing but praise for Universal and nothing but derision for WDW on this site. "Hello kettle? This is pot calling...."
Regardless of what Universal or WDW build, or improve, or update, I will always visit and love both. (With a trip to Cedar Point thrown in every once in a while for some real thrills.)
From Neal Porter on July 8, 2014 at 4:52 AM
I am this story. I have been to many rollercoaster parks in my life, countless Six Flags, Cedar Point, Kennywood etc etc but I had never been to a Theme Park, until April of 2012 (sad, I know). I'm a huge Harry Potter dork, and when my wife and I agreed to do our honeymoon in Florida, I told her, I couldn't go to Florida and not visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Her response was, absolutely, but we have to go to Magic Kingdom too. I said, deal! Our first day in Orlando, we visited Island of Adventure, and everything changed that day. I instantly became fascinated with all things theme parks. The next day we went to Magic Kingdom, and all my childhood associatations with Disney came flooding back to me, and I then became obsessed with WDW. I didn't want to leave Orlando for West Palm Beach, and had our plans not been firm, I wouldn't have. Upon returning home, I found blogs, youtube videos, and began to learn on how to plan a proper vacation to Orlando, and we began saving money for a return trip. While, WDW is where my heart is, I absolutely love Island of Adventure, specifically Hogsmeade, and we are planning our next trip now, for Diagon Alley, and for me to finally get to experience Universal Studios. This obsessive themepark fan, was born due to Universal creating a Harry Potter attraction, and other parks have all benefitted from that.
From TROY DAVIDSON on July 8, 2014 at 9:26 AM
I have been lucky enough to have annual passes to both Universal and Disney for many years and I spend most of my entertainment dollars at the parks. I think Disney is great for nostalgia and Universal is great for cutting edge technology. I have finally decided to drop one of my annual passes and without hesitation; I will drop my Disney annual pass. Disney seems to have forgotten about its Orlando parks. We got a lackluster Fantasy land, which looks stunning, but actually makes the rest of the park look extremely dated. Fantasyland was about a decade to late. It’s nice to walk through, but I have no desire to ride the Little Mermaid ride again. If Disney was smart they could have given us a nice dark ride through Beast Castle, but we got Haunted Mansion with pink clam shells instead. Don’t even get me started on how long it takes for Disney to complete construction on a project. I know Disney still has what it takes to make great attractions, (Car’s Land, Mystic Manor, Ratatouille) but for whatever reason they have decided not to keep up their Orlando parks. Disney needs a shakeup in management and Team Disney needs to be pruned. I just can no longer support Disney, given how lazy and complacent they have become. When you live here and visit often, it is apparent who is investing and keeping their parks up and who has fallen behind the times……way behind the times. I got to inspect Diagon Alley on Sunday and was just blown away. Diagon Alley is simply head and shoulders above anything in the United States. It is at Disney Sea level or beyond. If Universal takes what they have learned with Harry Potter and continues to apply it to IOA and UO, the sky is the limit. I hope their investment pays off and they continued down the path of excellence. Kudos to everyone at Universal and Warner Bros. for an exquisite job…………..P.S. You must try the Ice cream in Diagon!!! (Carmel Salted Blondie and the Carmel Toffee are awesome!)
From Tim Hillman on July 8, 2014 at 1:07 PM
I think that Robert is dead on the money with his assessment that the Diagon Alley development in USF will be good for all theme park operators in Central Florida (as well as Southern California when the Harry Potter expansion at USH is completed). Revenues and attendance in both the Universal and Disney parks will be increased simply because more people will come to see the Harry Potter lands at the Universal parks and will add in extra days to visit the Disney parks on the same trip simply because it is hard to pass up a trip to Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom when they are so near because without question they are the best theme parks in the world.

But, here is the quandary that Disney now faces – they’ve learned to excel at mediocrity and half measures, and it is questionable that as a corporation they can break the habit of doing just enough. At one time this wasn’t the case because they paid it forward with visionary exploits like the construction of Disneyland and the even more audacious development of the Disney World complex with the Magic Kingdom and Epcot and the resort hotels on the monorail. All that changed in the 1980s, and for the past few decades Disney has slid to second place in the development of new parks, attractions, and themed lands.

Want evidence of this assertion? Try putting aside your love of the early Disney parks and look at the parks Disney has developed over the last few decades. In 1989 Disney built Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney Hollywood Studios) in Disney World in response to Universal deciding to build Universal Studios in nearby Orlando (and actually beat them to completion since USF wasn’t finished until 1990). With the completion of Diagon Alley can anybody objectively say that the two parks are now comparable? Both are movie-based theme parks yet Universal has repeatedly added to and upgraded their roster of attractions in the park while Disney’s improvements to DHS have been nice but extremely slow in arrival.

Even more damning of Disney corporate mediocrity is the next round of park development for both Universal and Disney:
1998 – Disney’s Animal Kingdom
1999 – Islands of Adventure (Universal)
2001 – Disney California Adventure
2001 – Tokyo DisneySea (Oriental Land Company)
2002 - Walt Disney Studios Paris

Of the parks built during this amazing period of theme park construction, the Disney owned parks (DAK, DCA, and WDSP) when compared to TDS and IOA came up sorely lacking. At the time of its opening TDS was and remains the only theme park comparable to a Disneyland or Magic Kingdom style park, and with the addition of a few mid-level, family-style rides the same could be said of IOA. DAK is a beautiful park with a severe lack of attractions and certainly not a whole day experience, while DCA was an embarrassment until the billion dollar addition of Carsland made it a worthwhile ticket. WDSP is a classic example of getting back what you put in. Disney went el cheapo on the rides and attractions, and the European theme park fans have rewarded them by not showing up in droves. Furthermore, if more American Disney fans had access to TDS, they would be outraged at the difference in quality and quantity between it and the other Disney parks developed during the same period.

The bar has been set high. Disney has been unable to meet their own high standards in the last two decades, and now Universal has gone and one-upped them with the development of Diagon Alley with even more pressure coming down the road with future park upgrades. Will Disney respond with more princess meet-and-greets and character meals, or will we get the high end attractions and immersive lands that we know they are capable of?

From James Rao on July 8, 2014 at 8:54 PM
^I'm not not disagreeing with you, but with attendance and profits at an all time high, why would Disney think they need to change anything?
From Tim Hillman on July 9, 2014 at 5:32 AM
Sadly, James, you are right. Disney can continue to creep along at their glacial pace and be successful simply because the current set of managers are standing on the shoulders of giants. The risks were taken, and the goodwill was earned during the era when Disneyland and Walt Disney World were built, and the corporate mantra since since the disastrous Ron Miller/Donn Tatum/Card Walker era has been to don't screw things up (unless you're Michael Eisner).

There's also the problem of people like the second poster on this thread who allow the Disney brass to embrace mediocrity with comments like this:

"With that in mind - even though I am a Disney fan - I hail Universal's great efforts and look forward to the attraction competition between the two companies that should be the result. I will have no problem bypassing Disney for a day to take a look."

Wow! Universal builds, by many accounts, the most immersive theme park land ever, and this individual is magnanimously willing to take a day out of their Disney vacation to take a gander. Woohoo! I'll bet the brass at Universal are just thrilled to hear that!

Why can't some of these stuck-in-a-rut Disney fans make Universal the centerpeice of their vacation for once and reward them for caring about the consumer, and let Disney have the leftovers until they clean up their act?

I've been a Disney fan for more than four decades, but for the last several years, I've been comparing the enjoyment factor of visiting both the Universal Orlando resort and Disney World, and Universal simply offers a more pleasurable experience, and that was before the expansion efforts of the last few years. How much more does Universal have to do to get more people to recognize this fact?

From James Rao on July 9, 2014 at 7:38 AM
I don't think it would be a pleasurable experience visiting Universal today with the Gringotts queue matching the glacial pace of Disney's new attraction development. But, I get your point.
From Anon Mouse on July 9, 2014 at 7:50 AM
I think it is more important to know what Disney does is not the same as what Universal does. Even Universal of the last ten years is different than the previous Universal. They took riding the movies into a completely different level. That's a good thing, but I have to say they only did it for the Harry Potter experience. Their other properties are done to mixed results.

Disney has always done immersive attractions and lands differently. They are immersive in a non-specific way. This has actually changed with Carsland, which I must add, was roundly criticized by Disney fans as something they should not do. The Disney fans say Disney should not design lands around a single movie. Oh well...

Anyways, I would love Universal to do much more, but their next projects seem to follow their previous models. Look at King Kong. Is it any more immersive with another simulator ride? Even Universal won't do another Harry Potter-like project, at least not yet.

From Anon Mouse on July 9, 2014 at 8:10 AM
"fallen behind the times……way behind the times"

A little less hyperventilating please.

Disney hasn't fallen behind. Universal has risen to the occasion. It is still Universal's David versus Disney's Goliath. Universal's 2 parks to Disney's 4 parks. Disney's Magic Kingdom to Universal's Harry Potter.

Disney would never do a Harry Potter like this so why feel disappointed over the "never happened". If you truly feel Disney fallen behind the times, then Universal deserves your business and much more.

You now have more vacation options, which is actually a good thing and probably bad for your pocketbook.

From Kyle Branch on July 11, 2014 at 1:28 AM
As a lot of the comments have been pointing out, Disney is, in fact, losing the attention of even the most dedicated Disney fans. I have been an annual passholder at Disneyland for over ten years, so I consider myself a pretty big Disney fan, and two years ago I would never have imagined going to Orlando without spending multiple days at WDW. Unfortunately, I had a pretty lackluster time there when I visited in January of 2013 because there were no new/important "must-ride" attractions (i.e. Soarin', since I go to DCA all the time), and re-riding favorites only does so much for me. I ended up having a better time during our one day at Universal Studios than during our days at WDW. Consequently, our next trip to Orlando is going to be solely to Universal Studios.
I fear that Disney is putting too much trust in the idea that they are the go-to destination in Florida (and even California, to a lesser degree) because it is the only place you can see your favorite Disney characters and because it holds more nostalgia than its competitors. While this may be true, and people will still visit the Disney parks because of this, the frequency of visits by many of these people is greatly increased when new, noteworthy attractions are added. If you think about it, Disney hasn't built a ride in either of the American parks that has been truly revolutionary/incomparable to any other ride since Indiana Jones Adventure opened. Sure, Disney has made advancements in other ways like projection mapping and improved animatronics since that time, but I am still waiting for Disney to create a ride that I will not be able to compare to any other experience. I feel like they have that in them, but they simply aren't willing to pay the money such a unique attraction would require, which is the key difference right now between Disney and Universal. Some people say that the "competition" between Universal and WDW is a good thing for us park-goers, but I fear that that might only be true on Universal's end because the way things are now it seems that Disney is not even trying to "compete" because they feel they don't have to. Sure, they are building Avatar Land, but I don't see that being anything nearly as groundbreaking as what has been seen with WWOHP. Ultimately, I just really hope Disney realizes some time soon that they cannot simply rely on their existing reputation to keep them at the top of the theme park industry forever.
From James Rao on July 11, 2014 at 3:47 AM
^"...Disney is, in fact, losing the attention of even the most dedicated Disney fans."

Based on what facts? Disney's record high revenue and attendance numbers? They may have lost your attention, but based on the numbers it looks like they gained two more people's attention at the same time yours was averted.

I am not saying I disagree with your point that Disney needs to continue to move forward in new and exciting ways, but I do disagree with the premise of your comment. The facts tell us Disney is at least as successful in 2014 as they have ever been in the history of the company.

From Tim Hillman on July 11, 2014 at 7:11 AM
James, I think that THC has been a bad influence on you with his "McDonalds sells the most hamburgers therefore they must make the best hamburgers" argument when it comes to Disney and their attendance figures. And what's with the preoccupation with the wait times for the Gringotts ride. That's another one straight out of THC's playbook. Next thing ya know, you'll be fussing about how Universal Orlando charges for daily parking at the hotels. (We may need to schedule an intervention here.) ;^)

But, back to the topic. I don't believe for once second that Kyle (or myself for that matter) is trying to factualize an anecdotal experience when he is talking about the growing malaise that he's starting to feel about the Disney parks. What he is trying to do is capture the newly discovered "buzz" on the internet about the seemingly out of touch Disney park development plans (or lack thereof) that he has now become aware of.

"Buzz" is one of those intangibles that is hard to define, but to borrow a phrase from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, "I know it when I see it." And you need to be concerned about "buzz" because it is usually a precurser to a massive shift in public opinion and spending habits.

A good example of "buzz" preceding a change in public attitude would be the introduction of Japanese cars and electronics to this country. I'm old enough to remember when they first came out, and people scoffed at them... at first. Forty years go by and who is selling the most cars in the good ol' USA? Bought any American-made electronics lately? A more recent example would be Apple computers. I can recall the derision a few years ago that the only people who used Apple computers and products were old white guys with beards who smoked pipes and met in internet chat rooms every Thursday night. Apple products are pretty ubiquitous now aren't they?

Some things you just can't describe with facts (like the growing discomfort in my stomach over that doughnut that I just ate), and you can't really quantify them with surveys, but you better be aware of them because once a groundswell of momentum and public opinion develops, you'd better be ahead of it or on top of it, or you're going to get swamped. Like Sears or RCA or GM or any of the companies that were too big to fail or set their own markets.

From James Rao on July 11, 2014 at 7:32 AM
Tim, Kyle's point was presented as "fact". I did not question his opinion only his statement it was a "fact". Nor did I defend Disney or their lack of action or inaction. And finally, I never said Disney was "best" (although I do believe they still offer the best whole-park experience), I simply said the numbers don't back up the assertion that Disney fans are defecting in droves.

As for your "buzz" argument, it is totally subjective and depends on where you are getting your info. I read tons of very positive feedback on Disney, and I talk to loads of people who visit Disney and come back with glowing reviews. If you want to find the negatives, you can always find them. I say, look for the positive instead - this world looks a lot better through rose colored glasses.

WRT Gringotts, the Twitterverse is all about Gringotts wait times right now. I am not the only one interested in Universal's inability to successfully manage crowds at their new headliner attraction (incidentally, the current wait time is 300 minutes - you're welcome). It fascinates me that people are willing to wait five and six hours for a family coaster/dark ride that breaks down on an alarmingly regular basis. For once I am just trying to be topical and helpful at the same time.

WRT me and TH being Kindred Spirits, so to speak, I take that statement as a compliment. (TH...where's my monthly "friendship" payment? Is the check still "in the mail"?)

From Tim Hillman on July 11, 2014 at 8:45 AM
I think THC is waiting on his monthly check from the Disney PR Department to clear. ;^)
From James Rao on July 11, 2014 at 8:55 AM
Oh, so he is subletting his Disney Fanboy duties to me.... I should charge more!
From Kyle Branch on July 11, 2014 at 10:17 AM
Thanks for your thoughtful responses. I know statistically speaking Disney is seeing increased attendance each year, but I simply aimed to point out that at least *some* pretty dedicated Disney fans are losing interest, which I can attest to due to the fact that I am one of those fans and that I also know quite a few people that feel the same. The increased attendance shows that right now these people's lack of interest is not an immediate issue for Disney, but I wanted to make the point that some time down the road enough people will have lost interest to make their numbers flatline or even decrease if nothing changes. It's interesting to note that although Disney saw record numbers last year, Magic Kingdom's admission rose 6% between 2012 and 2013 (the highest of any of the Walt Disney World parks) while Universal Studios Orlando park admission rose 14%. Sure, Disney is still seeing increases in admission and revenue, but these increases are not nearly at the scale they could be if they stopped phoning it in with so many of their attractions and gave everyone something to truly marvel at.
From James Rao on July 11, 2014 at 10:45 AM
Magic Kingdom's admission rate was much higher than Universal Orlando's to begin with.. .. so Universal had much more room to grow before hitting the magical $100 mark. I am not sure there is much of a story there.

Kyle, I get that you are not enamored with Disney anymore. And your opinion is just as valuable as anyone else's (especially mine since it can be bought by people like TH relatively cheap). But for every Kyle and Tim, there is a James and a TH with a differing view. Again, there is no evidence to support the notion that droves of people are abandoning Disney as you suggest.

BUT....

...I am with you. Disney needs to get their butt in gear when it comes to their Florida properties. Avatar is coming to DAK, which I think will be great, but there is a lot of untapped potential at Epcot and DHS. Disney has the money, their infrastructure is sound, the next gen fastpass+ stuff is pretty much done, and Disney Springs is rolling, so now it is time to start expanding the parks and growing the business again. I will still visit Disney when I can because I love the overall experience, but I would sure love to see a few more new attractions at all the parks - not just the Magic Kingdom.

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