Why Universal Orlando excels at theme park place-making

November 16, 2018, 7:47 PM · Walking around Universal Studios Florida today, I took and posted some photos and video that illustrate why I think this park provides one of the best examples in the world of place-making in a theme park.

It's especially impressive in that this is a studio-themed park, which typically leads to false fronts, incomplete facades and sterile studio "box" buildings that leave you feeling like you are visiting a warehouse district. To be fair, Universal still has plenty of those, especially near its entrance. But the bulk of this park far exceeds that humble standard, delivering some of the best practical environments in the business.

Everyone, it seems, starts this discussion with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley. And rightly so. Diagon Alley sets the standard for theme park environments.

But it's not the only example of outstanding design work in the park.

The Great Orlando Studio War of the late 1980s saw Walt Disney World's Disney-MGM Studios beat the debut of Universal Studios Florida by more than a year. But USF was a better looking park — then, and now. Sure, most of the rides didn't work that first summer, and Universal had to give out free return tickets to everyone who vsited in its first season. But the park looked amazing in its street sets. Universal used higher-quality finishes than Disney did, making its New York and Hollywood streets look authentic instead of the cheaper-looking knock-offs Disney offered.

Throughout the park, Universal's designers have taken the time (and management has spent the money) to create interesting detail that helps project Universal as an impressive place to visit, even if most fans notice that detail only subconsciously.

No, I am not claiming that USF is the best looking theme park in the world. Tokyo DisneySea, Efteling, and the new Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi all rank up there, too. But USF, and its sibling Islands of Adventure, deserve to be included in any conversation about the world's best-looking theme parks for exterior designs.

What would you choose as the best looking park you've visited?

Replies (7)

November 17, 2018 at 3:01 AM

Without a moment’s hesitation Animal Kingdom gets my vote.

November 17, 2018 at 12:45 PM

You have to credit Universal Creative’s SMART MOVE in hiring Disney Imagineers and copying WDI’s immersive theme park strategy.

November 17, 2018 at 2:43 PM

Tokyo DisneySea gets mine with Efteling right behind. I consider indoor theme parks like Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi a different category of venue.

November 17, 2018 at 3:04 PM

1. Tokyo DisneySea
2. Disney's Animal Kingdom

November 17, 2018 at 6:36 PM

Classic late 80s/early '90s EPCOT. Just so different going through a bright Future World that lived up to its name. Plus, my family would love walking through the World Showcase pavilions to take in all the amazing details to each.

November 18, 2018 at 10:37 AM

Tokyo Disney Sea no doub about it.

November 20, 2018 at 8:31 PM

Universal Studios amd islands of adventure orlando top my list . disney is great if you have young children. But universal has alot better atmosphere for a older crowd
Amd simce disney ruined star wars i really lost any interest in them

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