Universal 'doubling down' on theme park investments, while Disney shrugs
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, 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.
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!
apparently they are modelling the star wars themed land on episode VII
I wish Universal was smart enough to build a Harry Potter Hotel.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I think Disney will be fine.
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 ..."
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Some of those experiences also can be said from those who have grown up with universal, so what's your point?
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.
Comcast does not look like a particular good company to me. Dont see them buiding for sustainability.
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.
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.
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.
"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. "
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.
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
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….
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.
"Universal seems to be competing quite well against Disney, but their main attractions are simulators of one variety or another."
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.
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
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.
An anonymous poster responds to my post with: "Some of those experiences also can be said from those who have grown up with universal."
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.
Disregard that last comment, wrong thread.
I'm glad Universal continues to expand & add to it's parks, but things still have to be put in perspective.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
Just as a note on the various comments stating that the 'little things' make the Disney difference.
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 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....
Ms. Muggleton writes: "I have nothing against either park."
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....
"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?"
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.
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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