Vote of the week: How should Disneyland respond to Universal Studios Hollywood's expansion?

April 11, 2014, 5:07 PM · Universal Studios Hollywood has spent a great deal of time on the front page of Theme Park Insider over the past week. But dropping $1.6 billion on a theme park deserves fans' attention. This week, Universal confirmed that it will open its own collection of Simpsons-themed restaurants next spring, add a Fast & Furious 360/3D experience to its Studio Tour next summer, as well as creating a special nighttime version of the tour for expanded evening hours in the park. And the headline is the confirmation that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter will open in Hollywood in 2016.

USH construction
Lots of development happening right now at Universal Studios Hollywood

At today's grand opening for Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said that the city expects Universal Studios Hollywood to drive nearly half the expected gain in annual visitors to the City of Los Angeles over the next six years, from more than 42 million visitors to LA last year to 50 million in 2020. Given that Universal Studios Hollywood drew an estimated 5.9 million visitors in 2012, all these expansions at USH would need to nearly double the park's attendance to hit LA's tourism goals.

Those would be Disney-like numbers. But companies such as NBCUniversal don't invest billions of dollars to remain comfortably in second place. Both in Hollywood and Orlando, Universal's rolling out attraction after new attraction to challenge market leaders Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Sure, Universal's investing in expansion. But Disney didn't get to be the world's leader in theme parks without its own effort and investment. Let's keep the focus on the west coast today. What should Disneyland do next, to respond to the challenge from Universal?

Remember that Disneyland can add Marvel attractions whenever it wants, unlike Walt Disney World, which is barred from using Marvel characters in its theme parks due to Marvel's old exclusivity deal with Universal Orlando. Disney's announced no plans to bring Magic Bands to the Disneyland Resort, so that's another variable that designers wouldn't have to deal with in bringing a new attraction concept to the west coast. Sure, there's less room to work with in Anaheim, but that also provides sharper focus, as there are fewer sites to consider for any potential new rides and shows.

So let's look at the options. The quickest might be to copy some of the plans for Walt Disney World's Avatar land and to bring a version of that to Anaheim. Or, Disney's done some "blue sky" work on Star Wars and Marvel lands for Disneyland. How about those? We've also talked about Frozen as a potential new property for the Disneyland Resort. Finally, how about an Imagineering-driven franchise and bringing the Society of Explorers and Adventurers across the Pacific?

Let's consider which franchise would offer the most enticing combination of being easy to develop, fitting well thematically with surrounding attractions on an available site, and drawing new and return visitors to the Resort... while keeping those potential visitors away from Harry Potter, Butterbeer, Minions, and Krusty Burgers at Universal Studios Hollywood up the road in LA.

As a west coast resident, I'm looking forward to the next few years at our local parks. What would you like to see, to help make Southern California an even more attractive location for theme park fans?

Replies (15)

April 11, 2014 at 5:40 PM · As it stands, Disney doesn't need to do anything to keep people coming to their CA parks. The burden rests on Universal, and they need to come up with more exclusive attractions for their Hollywood park, otherwise people who regularly visit Universal Orlando will see no reason to go to a park with only half of the rides they like. Disney just needs to keep sticking to CA-only rides in order to keep luring people to their part of town. Since Marvel is the only one that would be exclusive to CA, I voted for that.
April 11, 2014 at 6:36 PM · I like all the ides that have been mentioned. In response to Universal, Disney should build a new ride/land. Personally, a "Frozen" ride and land would be interesting. The movie has become such a phenomenon, and Disney should quickly put a ride and land in Disneyland.

I also like the idea of a "Star Wars Land." They should put it in Tomorrowland, in which the ideas that were rumored this past year would be a great addition to the park.

Another great idea would be "Marvel Land." They could put the Iron Man a Ride that is currently being built in Hong Kong Disneyland. That would be a nice addition to Disneyland or California Adventure Park. Or thru could create a Captain America ride, since the new movie is very popular.

To be honest, you know what would be cool and classic? If they made a Mickey and Friends ride at Disneyland. They could make it a dark ride, similar to Peter Pan and Snow White. They could have Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Donald, etc... They could create some type of story about Mickey and the characters. That would be such a classic ride.

April 11, 2014 at 7:26 PM · I love the fact that Universal is dumping all this cash into the parks, but all it will mean are more crowds. Unlimited Express is the only reprieve.
April 11, 2014 at 8:49 PM · Any combination of those properties can be the third park. This can overwhelm Universal. I just don't think its necessary for Disney to respond to Universal. They won't be a competitive threat for a long time. Universal needs to become a full day park at minimum and I just don't this will happen yet.
April 12, 2014 at 11:18 AM · USH, for all its bluster this past week, is just finally getting to the point of respectability. That park still has a LONG way to go to become a contender.

While Disney does not need a SoCal response, the company does need to keep moving forward. And utilizing Star Wars, Marvel, and Frozen to further enhance the Disneyland Resort is the way to go. Avatar should remain unique to Animal Kingdom just like Cars Land should remain unique to DCA.

As for the Society of Adventurers and Explorers, it needs to go to Epcot.

April 11, 2014 at 10:47 PM · Two words,

Third Gate.

Open a Heroes and Villains park on that area of land they own southeast of the others with some infrastructure joining the two plots (not buses).

Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, Tron. So much great IP to chose from. Have a hero side of the park mirrored by the villains on the other side. Could be awesome.

On another note I'd love to see Disney introduce SEA to its US parks, with the idea that each park has a unique attraction related to their own member of SEA, with Tokyo and Hong Kong already having theirs. Rather than importing mystic manor, I think they should develop an Up themed ride because I'm sure that with his Zeppelin that Carl Fredrickson would join the illustrious society (or maybe Charles Muntz was a fallen member).

Tying them in together with other SEA rides would provide further incentive to see the other unique rides around the world and could possibly provide a new franchise opportunity for Disney, cause they obviously need more.........

April 12, 2014 at 8:29 AM · I'm not sure Disney needs to do anything to respond to Universal's expansion in CA. They just dropped a ton of money to upgrade DCA, so they've done their part to keep their customers happy. Until Universal's expansion starts to hurt the attendance at the Disneyland Resort (Which I don't see happening until Universal builds a second major gate in LA, and sets itself up as a destination resort instead of a secondary visit.), Disney can stand pat and make minor improvements to the parks like adding a Marvel ride or a Star Wars ride to Tomorrowland, and I have mixed feelings about that because those franchises deserve their own lands in a park and not just a single ride or two.

Now, if the Disney brass saw the opportunity to maximize revenues and make the Disneyland Resort more of a destination resort than it already is by adding a third gate, I would love to see a park that uses some of the attractions and lands from Tokyo DisneySea with additional areas devoted to Marvel and Star Wars. That would be totally awesome.

April 12, 2014 at 10:02 AM · Nice call on Up, grant. If Charles Muntz wasn't already a member of SEA, I'm sure that backstory could be whipped up in less time than it takes Dug to find a squirrel.
April 12, 2014 at 11:26 AM · What about...a 3rd Park featuring all 5 of those franchises?
April 12, 2014 at 1:21 PM · I would like to see a ratatouille trackless attraction near the tower of terror, DCA would be perfect.
April 12, 2014 at 3:11 PM · Rotflmfao at Avatar...
April 12, 2014 at 4:16 PM · Star Wars and Frozen @ Disneyland, Marvel @ DCA...that could work well!
April 13, 2014 at 7:44 PM · In Florida Disney's answer to Universal was a Tangled bathroom where people make magic/bowel movements in a highly themed throne room.

Disneyland will probably get Frozen bathrooms with a inspiring "Let it Go" soundtrack and ice in the toilets. End winter and your constipation.

April 14, 2014 at 12:18 PM · I don't think Disney needs to respond. What about Cars Land?
April 15, 2014 at 12:22 PM · How about greenlighting the proposed TRON E Ticket in Tomorrowland?

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