What will Disney do?

September 17, 2009, 12:31 PM · Well, the cards are on the table, and we know what's coming in the Central Florida theme park market in 2010:

Universal Orlando is opening The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Islands of Adventure next spring.

Busch Gardens Tampa is building a new kids' area: Sesame Street Safari of Fun.

SeaWorld Orlando is awaiting a new owner.

And at Walt Disney World?

- crickets -

Seriously, the summer of 2010 is shaping up to be the biggest lay-down since bedtime at the Octomom's. No one's got nothin' for Universal. Next summer will be the "Summer of Harry Potter" in Central Florida, and the other parks in the area don't seem to be planning anything to combat Dumbledore's Army.

I find it hard to believe that market-leader Disney would just lay down for the upstart Universal like this. Not only does Disney not have any new attractions planned in 2010 for its four theme parks, it has announced major new attractions for 2011 (Star Tours II at the Studios) and 2013 (new Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom). Those announcements might encourage recession-weary Disney fans to postpone a 2010 visit a year or three, waiting for those new attractions to come online.

So what will Disney do?

There are two ways to draw visitors into a theme park: New attractions... and deep discounts. With option one off the table, that leaves Disney with option two.

In 2009, Disney offered a buy-four/get-three-days free deal and free dining plans to boost its resort attendance. Plus, the "get in free on your birthday" promotion. And attendance still went down, though by not nearly as much as it would have without those deals.

What can Disney offer in 2010? Bet on it... Disney will do something to entice fans to spend their time and money with the Mouse next year. It won't cede the year to Universal.

Replies (27)

September 17, 2009 at 1:50 PM · Disney is doing some tweaking to Innoventions and Space Mountain

Disney still has something that Universal still does not have: Name and Reputation

While Universal has made strides with IOA and other goodies, its still Disney's game. A majority of people are still going down there for the main purpose of going to a Disney park. Even if people are going and staying at Universal, I can bet they will make a trip out to Disney for something because when it comes down to it, you gotta meet the Mouse.

Another thing, but I am not too sure on this, Disney is the only one that provides transportation to and from the airport to their resorts. In that way, Mom and Dad are not forking over the rental car money and thus becomes "Disney's little prisoner" :)

Something I know alot about at the Disney Store is name brand. I am asked for alot of obscure Disney characters, but more often than not, I am asked for Shrek, Madagascar, Dora, Sesame Street, and Spiderman. People instictivly connect animatation and children's entertainment with Disney. Another interesting request was if we carried 17 Again staring Zac Efron (we don't, but people are seeing Efron =Disney)

But then again, I could be all wrong and Disney will offer some excellent discounts.

September 17, 2009 at 3:01 PM · I'm not exactly sure why Disney would have to feel compelled to do anything in 2010.

First, because there is no way any new additions to WDW will be able to achieve the international attention that HPATFJ will be receiving

And second, when people come from overseas and from across the country to visit Harry and friends you KNOW they are going to spend a day or two down the road at one of the Disney parks.

If Potter draws a family to Orlando, they are going to make the most of their Orlando vacation -- and that's going to include a visit to WDW.

Further I would imagine that Disney is holding back because it will (inevitably) drop a big, thermonuclear 40th anniversary marketing bomb for 2011.


September 17, 2009 at 3:16 PM · This is what I've been talking about all summer on various threads. Disney just had to maintain their attendance by giving away their hotel rooms, hence opening up a hole for money to pour out of. Now they get to spend some time getting out of the hole they've dug, while Sea World and Universal have already taken their lumps and are ready to go.

Universal is in a good position because they adjusted to the times instead of trying to make things happen out of thin air. They had to cut some positions and offer some of their own discounts, but they made it through. Not only did they make it through, they did it while massively upgrading and improving their property. Yes they had trouble with the new coaster, but it's up and running now, and will still be a new attraction to many people next year. Harry Potter, however annoyed he may make me, will be a hit at Universal.

It's true that Disney still has that name recognition, and they've been cashing in on tourists thinking that "You've gotta meet the Mouse". They better take care not to cling too much to name recognition, and focus of moving forward. Name recognition will get you so far, until your product is either stale or you are outdone by someone else. Relying once again on heavy discounts is a band aid, one that could just as easily cheapen the product as it does draw temporary attendance, not to mention it's possibility to create more issues with Disney's bottom line.

Meeting the mouse can become just as passe as anything else, especially if Disney doesn't stay fresh and Universal stays aggressive. I know it's hard for some of you to imagine such a thing happening, but it can. The good news for all you mouse ears out there is that Disney is a very very rich company with the ability to keep building. The other side is that Universal is also a very very rich company with the ability to keep building.

September 17, 2009 at 3:13 PM · Personally, I see the Harry Potter thing being a two year fling. I think Disney's looked at it the same way, too, because a lot of their announcements have been for after 2010. Not to mention, the aforementioned assumptions that people coming down to Orlando for Potter will likely go visit the Mouse, too. So, I don't see Disney having too much trouble as it finishes up refurbs and starts working on other things.
September 17, 2009 at 5:17 PM · Actually, Disney is being quite smart. They're spending their money this year on the California Adventure problem, and the next two years they won't need any big new attractions in Florida because Universal will be bringing in the tourists. Since The Wizarding World of Harry Potter doesn't expand Islands of Adventure + Universal Studios Florida into more than a two day experience (or even three if Universal bundles Wet 'n Wild) most visitors will still make a trip to most or all of the Disney parks during their week long stay. Then, beginning in 2011, Disney will have new attractions to bring in the guests as the attendance spike from Harry Potter wanes. Meanwhile, Universal likely won't be spending a lot, because of the uncertainty of their finances, which hits in the Spring of 2009.
September 17, 2009 at 6:23 PM · You think they will add something new to (or expand) Animal Kingdom in the near future? I think I have read that it has the lowest attendence of the parks in the Walt Disney Resort and I think some people may think it does not have enough rides / attractions yet. Considering all the money Disney is putting into California Adventure now, do you think they will put some more money into Animal Kingdom in the near future?
September 17, 2009 at 6:27 PM · The Ironically named Mr. Potter writes: "Universal is in a good position ..."

I respond: Really?

"In the first three months ending March 29, 2009 attendance at the theme-park resort was down around 20 percent resulting in a $16.5 million loss."


The Orlando Sentinel: "Orlando's No. 2 theme-park resort is warning that it could face a cash crunch by next spring, as turmoil in the credit markets -- and an obscure clause in its long-standing contract with famed filmmaker Steven Spielberg -- complicate its efforts to restructure nearly $1 billion of debt. If Universal Orlando is unable to rework the loans in coming months, it could be forced to slash spending on new attractions, seek more money from its owners or even put a piece of the resort up for sale."

And then there's attendance. In 2008 all four WDW parks sat in the top ten -- the Universal Orlando parks ... not so much.

Mr. Potter writes: Not only did they (Universal) make it through, they did it while massively upgrading and improving their property.

I Respond: Care to define the word "massively?"

Mr. Potter: writes: It's true that Disney still has that name recognition.

I Respond: As the attendance stats show.

Mr. Potter writes: They (Disney) better take care not to cling too much to name recognition, and focus of moving forward.

I Respond: You are so right! They should do something like, oh ... I don't know ... maybe announce the largest expansion of their flagship park since its opening? Or maybe invest in the buyout (as opposed to a VERY limited licensing) of another entertainment entity that boasts characters like Spider-Man and Iron-Man and The X-Men? Oh wait, they just did both of those things, didn't they?

Mr. Potter writes: Meeting the mouse can become just as passe as anything else, especially if Disney doesn't stay fresh and Universal stays aggressive.

I Respond: Or in Universal's case, solvent.

Mr. Potter writes:The good news for all you mouse ears out there is that Disney is a very very rich company with the ability to keep building.

I Respond: As is evidenced by the announcement of the enormous expansion of Fantasyland and the acquisition of Marvel entertainment -- who will sell merchandise that Disney will profit from at gift shops located at (chuckle) Universal Orlando.

Mr. Potter writes: The other side is that Universal is also a very very rich company with the ability to keep building.

I Respond: Again "...nearly $1 billion of debt." And that would be considered "a very very rich company?" I see.

September 17, 2009 at 6:28 PM · Do you think they will ever bring the Matterhorn Mountain concept (that is at Disneyland) to one of the Walt Disney World Resort parks?
September 17, 2009 at 8:53 PM · ^^Expedition Everest at Disney's Animal Kingdom fits the bill.

As for Disney in 2010, look for another "Buy 4 Days Get 3 Free" deal. At least, that's what I am hoping for when I travel to WDW in May-ish. I can't wait to get back.

I'll hit Universal as well, if WWOHP is ready, otherwise I will go back in mid to late September, after all the hub-bub dies down and the new attraction is finally working right! =)

September 17, 2009 at 9:21 PM · Adding on to the name thing, Disney is just known as the one with the "theme park" down in FL. If you were to ask somebody on the street to name a theme park in FL, they would say Disneyland or Disney World.

As for the rich/poor thing, Universal is pretty poor against Disney, but GE has been struggiling a bit so the parks get hit the hardest. Like mentioned, Harry Potter or anything is sorely needed at IOA. We will see what happens, but Universal will get a nice jump.

See when I go down to FL (being from Chicago) I spend all of my time at Disney and then a day at Universal, a day at Sea World, etc. Universal or Busch still have not been able to peg Disney on that.

September 17, 2009 at 11:06 PM · I think Steve Alcorn really nailed it - very wise man! (and I highly recommend his class)
September 17, 2009 at 11:08 PM · I think Steve Alcorn really nailed it - very wise man! (and I highly recommend his class)

(sorry if this is posted twice - I thought I was logged in already)

September 18, 2009 at 2:59 AM · Disney doesn't have to do much of anything against WWOHP other than what they are already doing, offering extra nights free and meal plans. As impressive as WWOHP looks, it is still a (very large and probably well-designed) one-trick pony, with a few rethemed ornaments around it. My family and I are looking forward to seeing it, but it's still just one Island in IOA, one that was created at the expense of another. Now if Universal had created an entire new Harry Potter-exclusive park, that probably would have triggered a much larger response from the black rat.
September 18, 2009 at 4:52 AM · Would be nice to see the "Free Admission on Your Birthday" promo become a permanent item.
September 18, 2009 at 7:02 AM · The Mouse is Orlando and very few people will go to see Harry without going to Walt for at least a day trip. Disney is smart by postponing any larger attractions opening until 2011 since they will get the attendance bump as well, albiet, may be not as much as Universal, but as was already pointed out, Disney is a very rich company; especially when they have announced planned expansions on the heels of pulling off the Marvel deal.

The money they make in hollywood and merchandising will always beat the parks, and with Marvel under their belt, they are gonna be crankin' out Creative and capitalizing on the very strong (and getting stronger) existing market. They bank on that, for they are a massive distribution company at the heart and even if their direct-to-DVD releases stink for the most part, it costs them next to nothing to produce and distribute as compared to the rest of the industry...and people will still buy in because a mousefreek is a mousefreek...and comic fans are the biggest merchandise fanatics of them all, second to Sports.

Even if Harry is tops 2010 and 2011, Disney will fire back with the 40th anniversary retheme and will most likely already have announced "in the works" developing attractions based on the two years worth of Marvel cartoons or live actions they produced in the meantime...they will significantly increase their tween boy marketshare and as a result, will get more eyeballs and more attendance that will generate revenue that by that time, will all be cream. The Mouse casts a big shadow and it will take more than one island to stop them.

How many people do you know say that they "have to get to Universal" before this Potter craze? They were always the side trip or alternate park for most travelers to central Florida and never the main attraction. If Disney styles a more "thrilling" theme park addition to the crown, one with heavy duty coasters and thrill rides that would have higher height restrictions, they would bring their numbers up in the late teenage market and satisfy all the mousefreeks that have been clamoring for a little more excitement than just two or three thrills per park.

So, how about it...Disney's Villian-Ville Thrillpark, anyone? We should start a new thread, all about possible rides at a Disney Thrill Park involving villains from their catalog. It would be the jewel, wouldn't it? ...and maybe, since Disney Creative does read the Boards, we can do their imagineering job for them and they can get to buildin' it : )

September 18, 2009 at 7:32 AM · Disney does not have to do anything. I've been vacationing in Florida theme parks for the past six years and Disney is the main draw. During that time I've only been to Universal and Sea World once and don't feel like I missed anything. People are emotionally invested in Disney and that's why they keep going back. It's not so much new-comers as the repeat visitors that will continue making Disneyworld the ideal theme park to visit. If they give discounts in 2010, those repeat visitors who might've been reluctant to go because of the bad economy will now see 2010 as the ideal time to make new memories.
September 18, 2009 at 8:11 AM · Big UPS to the anonymous poster who offered: "People are emotionally invested in Disney and that's why they keep going back."

Game. Set. Match!

September 18, 2009 at 9:33 AM · I agree with most of the posters above. Harry Potter will bring the throngs to Orlando, but most of them will take the opportunity to go ahead and stay at Disney World as well. In fact, I'd guess they'll stay longer at Disney World and take a day trip to Islands of Adventure to visit Harry Potter, so it's a win-win situation for Disney.

If Disney wants to do something to make sure they're not forgotten, they should put the Mouse on the back shelf for a Summer and bring out the Spider! They could do an easy "Meet the New Members of the Disney Family" thing by getting the Marvel Characters out in force in the park to sign autographs and attend Character Breakfasts. So instead of spending months and millions on a new attraction they just need to get their costume department to create some A+ superhero costumes that will put Universal's to shame.

September 18, 2009 at 11:17 AM · Disney realized that, in true Universal fashion, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter will not be functioning properly until sometime into 2011, right when its new attractions are set to open.
September 18, 2009 at 12:21 PM · I maintain that Universal is pretty much a sterotypical supermodel: pretty, shiny, but fairly shallow. Someone you date for a bit, but not someone you marry.
September 18, 2009 at 1:01 PM · Disney has proven time and again that it takes more than just great rides to be considered the "happiest place on earth".

Disney will not attempt to compete with Universal, but will research and plan to "evolve" and again show why a theme park is more than rides and a day trip.

Making people feel that they are apart of something "more" has always been the edge tha WDW has maintained over it's entire history.

After all, the thrill of a new rides last for a measured amout of time, but feeling that you are part of a family that transcends a vacation trip is what brings people back for more.

September 18, 2009 at 1:21 PM · J. Counsil writes: Disney realized that, in true Universal fashion, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter will not be functioning properly until sometime into 2011,

I Respond: Oh I disagree with that assertion completely. MIB and Mummy worked just fine at opening (minor tweaks only). As for the RRR coaster its opening was only delayed for 3 months tops. If that happened with Potter (which is slated to open in the Spring) the kinks would be worked out well before 2011.

Or were you just trying to be funny?

September 18, 2009 at 8:41 PM · Most theme park fans who come to Orlando visit both Disney and Universal. Harry Potter might entice people to spend an extra day at Universal, but I don't see very many people passing up on the four other parks just across town. Overall, if Potter attracts more people to Florida, then Disney will benefit.
September 19, 2009 at 5:51 AM · Really looking forward to Star Tours 2.0. Have been waiting for it ever since Disney first started talking about it about 10 years ago. Also, little mermaid looks pretty cool, but it was not one of my favorite movies.
September 20, 2009 at 10:45 AM · The more I watch the Fantasyland clip on You Tube, the more I realize just how incredible this expansion will be. This is genius.
September 21, 2009 at 6:33 AM · TH -

You know me. When am I ever serious? Universal's combined delays for Rip Ride Rockit and The Simpsons still do not measure anywhere close to Disney's Test Track, which was delayed from May 1997 to December 1998 (with official opening in March 1999).

September 21, 2009 at 7:59 AM · Who ever posted about a Disney Thrill Park themed around their famous villains - I am in total agreement with you! I think a villain park would be great with the giant park icon being the "House of Villains". My kids loved the House of Villains movie when they were little.

I used to walk around the parks looking specifically for the villains because they are awesome! You can't have a good story without a good villain in it! I think a park would be popular if themed around favorites like Jafar, Cruella, Captain Hook, Scar and the Hyenas, Evil Queen, Stromboli and Monstro, Maleficent, Ursula, Hades, Lady Tremaine, the Queen of Hearts, Shan-Yu, Madame Medusa, Shere Khan and Kaa, Governor Ratcliffe, Judge Claude Frollo and Syndrome.

I would definitely make the trip to see something like this!

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