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Universal's crazy plan

Universal Orlando: Could Universal Orlando be headed towards a 4-day experience?

From Jonah Sirota
Posted August 2, 2013 at 9:57 AM
After reading Jeff Elliott's Blog Flume Filter for this week, my mind was spinning about Comcast's plan to "accelerate" capital spending on the Universal parks. This is pure conjecture, but I wonder if they are planning no less than a jump from a 2-day experience to a 4-day experience, to compete with Disney head-on.

Here is my thinking:
Until this year, USO had good rides, but was a definite second-tier park to IOA, especially after WWOHP came in. Now they are making every effort, and quickly, to bring it up to IOA's level, and they are succeeding. When Diagon Alley opens, it is my guess that Universal will sharply raise prices on 2-day tickets and put all the value into a 3-day ticket, expecting that vacationers may spend an entire day on Harry Potter ALONE (between both parks). It's a safe bet, as it is very appealing to imagine having an entire full day without leaving one themed world. They would then have to add enough goodies at USO for another full day of exploring. And they are doing that, between Despicable Me, Transformers, Springfield, the new kid's area, updated Kong, etc.

So, that's already a shrewd investment plan. Suddenly you are selling 3-day park-hoppers instead of 2-day base tickets.

What if they add a 3rd park, perhaps one with a strong family focus and rides for younger kids? Now they've got an experience that rivals Disney in every way, and beats them in several areas.

I've taken a couple of weekend getaways to Universal in the last couple of years, not setting foot on Disney property, but a big vacation in January will be strongly Disney-focused, because there are small kids in the mix and days to fill. But if Universal had a 3rd park, and all of the on-site benefits still applied, I would gladly spend a week there, and visit MK and EPCOT as away trips, flipping the regular formula on its head.

Could Universal be making a grab for Orlando theme park domination?


Comments in chronological order. Most recent at the bottom. Scroll down to respond.

From N B
Posted August 2, 2013 at 11:50 AM
I just posted a trip report that pretty much says the same thing about Universal vs IOA. The Universal Studios park is on a whole new level this year. We spend five days at the parks and wanted more...

From Don Neal
Posted August 2, 2013 at 12:00 PM
While I agree that your points about Universal becoming more than just a 1-2 day park are valid, you have to consider a lot of other factors before you can say that Orlando can flip the script on Disney.

First off, Disney World attendance in 2012 was around 38M people while Universal was around 14M. Universal is running about 40% of the attendance Disney is. So you have to consider that a large percentage of people going to Disney are first and foremost Disney fans and second fans of Disney World as a result. So no matter what Universal does, there will be people that may never be interested in "flipping the script". So while it may flip for people that are more Universal fans or interested in the types of theme parks they offer over Disney, at some point Universal will have tapped that as much as they can and need to look at bringing in new customers that may not yet have a loyalty.

I see a lot of people argue Disney versus Universal on the merit of parks alone but people seem to not consider the Disney brand and brand loyalty as a factor. Universal has been putting out some great family and kid's movies recently but that still does not compare to the last 80 years of Disney movies and animation. It's a legacy that has impacted generation after generation. That subconscious impact is hard to measure but the impact of Universal's latest park addition will be definitely lessened by it.

From Rob Pastor
Posted August 2, 2013 at 1:40 PM
Heck, we spend two weeks on site at Universal and I leave wanting more. There's plenty to do if you take it slow paced while staying at a deluxe on site hotel and nightly partying at Citi Walk & the hotel resorts. Parks early in the day, the excellent Universal pools in the hot afternoon, and party time in the evenings. It doesn't get better It's the ultimate in relaxation & entertainment with everything in walking distance. And since we're going in the fall this year we can spend a few nights doing the horror stuff too. And there's a lot more coming down the pike within the next few years. Comcast ownership of Universal is awesome.....As to brand loyalty. Once a brand slips the loyalty disappears. It may take a while though. Ask the investors about Sears, Xerox, IBM, Atari, and a host of other companies how long brand loyalty lasts after the product quality starts to erode.

From TH Creative
Posted August 2, 2013 at 1:47 PM
Here is my thinking:
Universal stops charging resort guests to park at their hotels.

Or maybe they've already done that.

From Jonah Sirota
Posted August 2, 2013 at 5:44 PM
NB, just read your trip report. Sounds awesome! I love IOA, so I will appreciate being able to visit it with shorter lines too!
Don, I agree with you about Disney brand loyalty, and I love me some Disney too. But Universal has won me over, and the word is getting out. I came to Universal late, only after WWOHP opened. But I think that was a game-changer, because it took the one thing the Disney brand is known for, magic, and kicked it up a notch. My son just saw Monsters U, and when the Disney logo came up, he said, "Look, Dad, it's the Harry Potter train!" And it totally was, as well as what looks like the Hogwarts crest on the flag over the castle. The message is clear. We are Disney, and we make the magic. If Disney was not threatened by the Harry Potter franchise, would they be "borrowing" those images?

As I understand, Universal thought they could compete on equal footing with Disney when USO first opened. Obviously that hasn't happened yet, but give it time. Think of Apple and Microsoft 10 years ago. Everyone said that no matter how good Apple was, Microsoft would always have the edge. Eventually the truth catches up. Hopefully Disney executes well with great new projects of their own (and btw, I'm one of the rare people who thinks that the Fantasyland expansion was a very good response to WWOHP, because they upped their magic quotient too), we get to be the winners (except for the cost of tickets, which will go through the roof).

From N B
Posted August 2, 2013 at 6:10 PM
TH, they haven't done that.... I still find it hard to get mad about parking because of the Unlimited Express perk.

I will mention it in the survey they just sent me to rate our stay. There is a section where you can say whatever you like about the resort.

From Rob Pastor
Posted August 2, 2013 at 9:25 PM
NB: Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't the Disneyland Resort hotels also charge for parking? Kind of goes hand in hand with space restrictions, though I'd , of course, prefer not to have to pay $18 a day.

From Brandon Townsend
Posted August 3, 2013 at 12:43 AM
Disney does charge for parking as well. It sucks, but I have just gotten used to budgeting for parking on my trips.

From Jeff Elliott
Posted August 3, 2013 at 12:00 PM
After giving this a little bit of thought here is what I have come up with, based on what I know.

Based on what has already been paid for and what hasn’t, some of this might fall into the acceleration and some may not.

Universal Studios Florida
Simpsonland – Paid For – Open or almost open
Harry Potter 2.0 – Paid For
Smurfs in kiddieland – rumor
Kong in Disaster – rumor
New Hotel?

Islands of Adventure
Jurassic Park games area – paid for
Replacement for Toon Lagoon (LotR?)- rumor
Replacement for Marvel Superhero Land – rumor
Harry Potter expansion to Seuss Landing - rumor

Wet ‘n’ Wild purchase plus extra land – paid for
Waterpark expansion?
Rethemed to Universal Brand?
Third theme park on this plot of land?

Universal Studios Hollywood
Despicable Me and Super Silly Fun Land – paid for / soon to be paid for
Rumor of some other attraction to open between DM and HP. Maybe Simpsonland? Maybe something more substantial.
Harry Potter – confirmed
Reconfiguring the Tram load area (part of Potter build).
Reconfiguring the park entrance?
New Hotel?

Universal Studios Japan
Harry Potter – the beginnings of construction have started.

Universal Studios Singapore
This studio wants Harry Potter, but there is no logical place to put it without taking something else out, which is a really hard call for a fairly new park.

Universal Studios Dubai
There are good rumors that this project is back on track

So based on this list of pending items, I could completely see how they can claim that they are doing a spending acceleration with only a few surprises on the above list.

From Anthony Murphy
Posted August 4, 2013 at 5:28 AM
I was there in May and two full days was enough for my family. Thats up from 1 day a few years ago, so thats something....

From Tony Duda
Posted August 4, 2013 at 2:14 PM
Universal will never overtake WDW but they could be trying to create an "alternate year" situation hoping that people who only visit Orlando once a year for vacation will now "alternate" one year at UOR and the next at WDW. That is very possible.

From Shannon Nelson
Posted August 5, 2013 at 6:48 AM
I never get tired of Universal, ben going since 1995. But with unlimited express, a three day ticket allows you to see every attraction multiple times, it would need a 3rd park for you to need 4 days, unless you just wanted to spend more time anyway.

From Rob Pastor
Posted August 5, 2013 at 7:48 AM
It's not just about the theme parks. It's the entire resort experience if you stay on site.

From Lisa Clark
Posted August 18, 2013 at 2:27 AM
I have heard rumours about USO opening a 3rd park and if so great. They have a good mix of creative attractions and rides and in many ways they out do Disney World. I always bring guests to Universal parks and Sea World and Busch Gardens, but not so much to Disney. Even my 8yo niece loved Busch Gardens way more than Walt Disney World. I'm sure Walt Disney is rolling in his grave. I for one still hasn't got over their risque pinball machine with a girl with big boobs hanging out of her very skimpy bikini and the park had a I don't care attitude about it being in their parks' game room. I haven't back to that park since. Snow White is now gone and really there's nothing to make me want to go pay a ton of $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ to go back there.
Universal Orlando is a masterpiece of an amusement park chain.

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