The BLOG FLUME - It's a Dog Copy Dog World

The theme parks have had a couple bad years. Yet the biggies did little to change that. Now that people are returning, they are going all out. Great! But why does it all feel a little familiar?

Written by Kevin Baxter
Published: June 1, 2004 at 1:31 AM

Orlando Sentinel - May 31

In its rush to challenge Walt Disney World's market share of Orlando tourists Universal became Universal Orlando. (Actually it became Universal Escape first, but that's another story.) But did it become UO too fast for GE?

UO has been in the red the past two years to the tune of more than $50M each. Most of that is due to debt from the $1B creation of Islands of Adventure, which could lessen dramatically if GE used its stability to lessen interest payments.

Still, barring any major disruption in the current tourist patterns, UO should boast record attendance this year, and Universal Studios Hollywood should get back many of the customers they lost last year when Revenge of the Mummy opens there. So although theme parks don't generate as much money as film studios or television networks, GE might realize there is more to the parks than dollar signs.

Orlando Sentinel - May 26

Of course, Disney would never admit that UO is nipping at its heels in Orlando, but it doesn't stop them from copying whatever they can. After Universal finally moved their popular CityWalk concept to Florida, the outdoor venue became THE place to be. Ex-Mouseketeer Britney Spears has even said it was hipper than Pleasure Island.

Not that PI isn't popular, but it does have nights that are a bit on the dead side. CityWalk doesn't. Downtown Disney's West Side was supposed to be what USH's CityWalk had always been, but that never materialized. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that Disneyland's Downtown Disney is more popular than the original.

So WDW is opening the gates to PI to all. The clubs will still cost the same to get in, but anyone is free to wander the streets and shops. The problem I see with this idea is that people can wander in all they want, but how will PI make money off them? The shops aren't all that great and I'm not sure whether alcohol will be available outside the clubs, like it is now. Furthermore, half the reason to pay to get into PI is for the entire package. Now twenty-something dollars may seem like a bit much for the privilege of entering two or three clubs (which is probably about the average number a visitor probably visits now) while you can enter all CityWalk clubs for about $10, and less as part of a ticket deal.

Disney copied, but they didn't copy enough.

MiceAge - May 29

CityWalk at USH isn't resting on its very busy laurels either. The summer will be filled with films and bands... just like California Adventure last year! Okay, the films are ones people actually want to see, like Star Wars and Shrek and will play on the giant outdoor screen. And the bands will appear twice a week also, one being a tribute band, the other an actual band from the 80's. One other night will be Latin night, which about triples the number of days Disneyland devotes to its Fiesta Latina weekends.

Same article as above

Now Disney is copying itself! Now that the Tower of Terror hasn't made DCA popular (surprise!), Disney is looking into bringing back its two-park/one-day at the Disneyland Resort this summer. Gawd, why don't they just build a ramp between the two parks until DCA stops sucking?

Al also has some info as to why the Believe fireworks show ended so abruptly. Apparently the Air Quality Management District in SoCal manages air pollution all over Orange and Los Angeles counties and Disneyland has constantly been one of the biggest offenders. Companies get a certain amount of pollution "credits" so Disneyland "believed" (ha!) a new pneumatic launching system would get them some serious credits. Unfortunately, the new launchers didn't launch quite how they wanted to, so Disney apparently pulled the plug so quality wouldn't be affected. Are we still talking about Disney? "Disney" and "quality" haven't appeared in the same sentence in a long time. It is unknown whether the insanely popular holiday version will return. If I was Disney, I'd work on the new launchers and save a big fireworks splash for the 50th.

Readers' Opinions

From Mr. D. T. on June 1, 2004 at 5:51 AM
I bet UO should boost more attendance if IOA ever built new attractions, like a wooden coaster or a new show. Not that IOA is anything like Six Flags or Cedar Point.

I agree Disney is kind of a mess. I wanted to visit Disneyland, but I won't do it unless Disney gets its act together. Space Mountain is closed until 2005 for a rehab. Big Thunder is closed until further notice (I doubt if it'll ever open again). And DCA is ... well, not the best. I agree DCA can lower their admission prices until its popularity is spiced up. And TOT isn't helping any.

From Kenny Hitt on June 1, 2004 at 6:50 AM
Here's a concept...why don't they just merge Disnelyand and California Adventure into 1 park and charge 1.5 times the ticket price. Then, once the attraction count in the DCA section goes up a bit, spin it off into a separate park again.

I am of the opinion that DCA is a poor concept for a theme park...but as a section in a LARGER park, it's ingenious.

From Kenny Hitt on June 1, 2004 at 6:53 AM
And as far as I'm aware, BTM has been up and running for months now (not counting the riderless accident a few months back).
From TH Creative on June 1, 2004 at 7:50 AM
Sort of off topic (sorry) but Mel Karmazin has resigned as President of Viacom. He has been previously identified as a successor to Michael Eisner. Stanly Gold recently told Business Week that Mr. Karmazin would be on his "short list" of potential CEOs.

Karmazin, who headed CBS Corp. until it was bought by Viacom in 2000, has long been respected on Wall Street. He will remain with the company for a two-month transition period

Memo to Eisner: Snap him up now as your successor and the crowd will lose another reason to bitch!

From J. Dana on June 1, 2004 at 12:38 PM
Although it's not hard to see that all theme parks observe and adapt each others' ideas, I must say that Universal has copied more from Disney than the other way around... sometimes with greater success, but let's not be fooled into thinking that Disney is routinely copying Universal. Here's my examples:

1) Super Soap Weekends: Disney started and continues this special themed event at its Disney-MGM studios (even carrying it over to DCA). Universal LATER tried to copy its success with its own NBC Soaps weekends, scheduling them on the exact dates of Disney's. Well, year after year Universal has consistently announced AND THEN canceled their NBC soaps weekends. Now that NBC/GE owns Universal, I expect to see a return to consistent NBC soaps weekends; of course, Universal will schedule them on the exact dates of Disney's Soap days.

2). FOOD AND WINE FEST at Epcot. This long-running event is a consistent crowd-pleaser and crowd-enlarger for the park. So, to get in on the action, Universal has begun offering it's Beer Fest each year during the same time period. It's not nearly to the scope of Epcot's international experience, but it does please its participants on select weekends. However, when discussed in the same sentence, Universal's Beer Weekend is almost comical when compared to Disney's Food and Wine Fest.

3) DISNEY'S NIGHT OF JOY versus Universal's ROCK THE UNIVERSE. Seeing that Disney enjoyed nearly 20 years of great success with it's Christian Rock music weekends (almost always sold out) called Night of Joy, Universal got into the fray with it's version, called Rock the Universe. Of course, they schedule their event on the exact dates of Disney's each year (I bet they won't schedule until they find out when Disney does). There's a world of difference between the two. Teens are teens whereever you go...but Rock the Universe seemed almost like attending a juvenile prison break when compared to Disney's orderly and enjoyable version. And it all came down to one thing: staff. Staff/Cast Members at both parks HATE working this particular event, but at Disney they cover their indignation much better, and they have much better control of the kids. Disney still wins with this one.

4) HALLOWEEN. Okay, Universal may have lifted a theme-park Halloween celebration from Disney, but they have certainly improved upon it ten-fold (if not more). Nothing compares to Universal's Halloween Horror Nights...even though rumor has it that Universal Hollywood's version will be a scaled-down, discounted version better suited to the mall than a top-rate theme park. Actually, the entertainment staff has been told this. Oh well.

5) Brittany Spear's "expert opinion" notwishtanding, you'd be hard-pressed to say that CityWalk's clubs provide a better entertainment quotient than Pleasure Island's. I don't think either one towers over the other, but living in Orlando for a number of years, I can tell you what the "locals" say: CityWalk is the "ghetto" version of Pleasure Island. Actually, locals usually avoid both and head to downtown Orlando (if you haven't tried it out, do). But if we're talking theme-park versus theme-park, if you want to return again and again to a site, you'll tire more quickly of CityWalk than you will at Pleasure Island. Why? Because you have to take the WHOLE of Downtown Disney into consideration. It has just about everything a night-time reveler will want. If you compare just the club-district of CityWalk to Pleasure Island alone, then Pleasure Island still comes out on top. Don't get me wrong: I do like CityWalk. It's alot of fun. But it doesn't tower over Pleasure Island by any means. Consider PI's variety: top-notch dance at Mannequins, comedy at both Comedy Warehouse and Adventurers club, Urban mix at BET, beach and rock at the Beach Club, Top 40 at Groove, variety at 8-tracks, smooth Jaz at the Jaz Company, lots of outdoor entertainment and food. CityWalk does have the Bob Marley restaurant/club that is pretty unique, though. My advice, try both and then try both again. You'll like both. You'll just tire less quickly of Disney's offering.

6) CHARACTER BREAKFASTS. Disney made this an institution (and in so doing has bilked tons of cash from niave parents). Universal now offers breakfast with Cat in the Hat.

7) GRAD NIGHTS. This is a Disney institution, so naturally Universal came up with their alternative: Grad Bash. Same nights, of course.

8) MARDI GRAS. Universal may have been second on the scene (actually third, behind New Orleans and Disney's Pleasure Island), but they definitely left the Mouse House in the dust on this one. Pleasure Island used to have a couple weeks of frolicking and parades and it's just one night because Universal sucked the life out it. So, they copied, came from behind, and pulled ahead.

8) STAR WARS WEEKENDS. A long-time fan favorite...I predict Universal will be "cloning" this one soon.

If I think of more obvious examples, I'll type them, however, I guess I should get back to work.

From J. Dana on June 1, 2004 at 4:53 PM
z and z

(I had to add two z's to correct the mispelled "Jaz" which I did twice).

From Kevin Baxter on June 2, 2004 at 12:49 AM
I much prefer PI to CityWalk's clubs, but if it comes to a night of drinking for a $5 cover fee or one for a $20+ cover fee, guess which one I would choose on a regular basis. Of course, I would buy a PI AP, but for those not willing to shell out those bucks...

As for the copying, both copy each other on a frequent basis. Halloween nights, in fact, aren't a WDW creation. I have Mickey's Not-So-Scary thing starting in 1996, while Universal Orlando's debuted in 1991. But both pale compared to the event at Knotts, which is over 30 years old. (I can't find when USH's Halloween nights began, but they ended in 2000, so they might have also predated Disney's thing.)

Other Disney copies:

1) Downtown Disney West Side: A complete and total attempt to copy USH's massively successful CityWalk. PI differed the concept, but was borrowed from other similar concepts.

2) Disney/MGM Studios: Does anything even need to be said about this obvious attempt to preempt USF's arrival?

3) Disney/MGM's Stunt Show: Done by replacing USH's Wild West theme with Indiana Jones. But bigger and more boring.

4) Disney/MGM's Monster Sound Show: Done by replacing USH's many different sound effects shows with a monster theme... which was actually what most of the USH sound effects shows were based on. That one was really easy!

5) Disney/MGM's Superstar Television: Replace the many USH single-themed live participatory stage shows (like Star Trek) with a multi-themed show.

6) Disney/MGM's Backstage Pass: Take USH's old OLD idea of allowing people to watch filming, but then don't get anything interesting to film here. And make sure none of it is ever filming when guests are in the park.

7) Disney/MGM's Great Movie Ride: Take the animatronic scenes in USH's Studio Tour, turn them into Disney and MGM scenes, make them boring...

8) Disney/MGM Backlot Tour: ... Take the rest of USH's Studio Tour, make that even more boring.

9) Embracing Gay Days: WDW had long ignored these lucrative events... until UO and SeaWorld starting getting into the act. Now Disney is in the awkward position of claiming not to sanction the events to appease bigots, while doing whatever they can to keep the people they don't approve of on property as long as possible.

And it isn't Universal they have been copying lately. What is Animal Kingdom but an attempt to keep people from driving to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay? In fact, there isn't a single attraction inside AK that isn't a copy of something. The animal stuff can be found in many animal parks, including safaris. Rapids rides are all over the US, and almost all are better. Legend of the Lion King and Tarzan Rocks are Disneyfied takes of Cirque du Soleil. And Dinosaur and It's Tough to Be a Bug are Disney copying Disney. We won't even get into the hideousness of Dino-rama.

And look at the West Coast. DCA was built to allegedly compete with Magic Mountain and Knotts. And what is actually original in that park? Soarin' is the most original thing, and it is basically a watered-down Back to the Future... which is a Universal attraction!

Of course people will copy Disney. It has been around much longer than other parks. But Disney, instead of being the innovator, has turned into a reactionary company. I want them to innovate again. Test Track and Mission: Space are nice attempts, but there are just too few of such cases in the past decade.

From Steve George on June 2, 2004 at 8:43 AM
Californialand, wouldn't that be an interesting addition to Disneyland :) I mean I just don't think DCA was put together well enough to warrant it's own gates if you know what I mean.
From Kevin Baxter on June 3, 2004 at 2:45 AM
I am not one of those that is going to blame the California theme on DCA's wretchedness. I have an AP and the only things I do there are California Screamin' and Millionaire. Now I'll add ToT to it, if the lines aren't atrocious. Compare that to SFMM, which has at least seven things I really enjoy, or Knotts, which has five or so, and Disney can't even do what it set out to do.

A park could survive with crappy theming, which many parks do, as long as it has the rides. It could also survive if it had great theming to hide the low number of rides, like USH and AK. Just compare AK to DCA. Both have little to do, but where is the nonstop AK hate? It has the theming, for the most part. DCA has nothing.

From alex morehouse on June 3, 2004 at 4:34 PM
What I think is wrong with DCA is there Hollywood Pictures Backlot is based on yesterday's popular stuff. Millionaire is now in syndication, The Muppets are barely seen anymore, and Disney shut down thier animation department. The point is they should work on the attractions they alreday have before expanding. Here should be the attraction closures:

1. Who Wants To Be A Millionaire- Play It!
2. Muppet Vision 3D
3. Superstar Limo
4. Disney Animation

They should be replaced by these attractions:
1.The Bachelor- One Rose
2.Spy Kids- Game Over
3. Mickey Mouse and Friends Go To Hollywood
4. Jerry Bruckheimer: The World Of Special Effects

From Kevin Baxter on June 4, 2004 at 12:56 AM
Millionaire is quite popular with APs, so it can't go anywhere. They need attractions that will keep APs off ToT.

MuppetVision only needs a new film. The Animation Building is great, but it doesn't get much traffic, which isn't good. And obviously Lame-o needs something. There are lots of ideas, but that Bruckheimer one is a new one that could be great. Of course, Disney would get the "They're copying Universal!" whining, but if you can copy and do it right, then go for it!

From Ben Mills on June 4, 2004 at 4:14 AM
No! Don't do it! Disney will just go and clone Armageddon from WDSP, and you really don't want that.
From Kevin Baxter on June 5, 2004 at 12:28 AM
OMG, I totally forgot Bruckheimer was involved with that! I always just think of it as a Michael Bay desecration of film stock. Okay, forget that idea!

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