The Disney Empire Strikes Back

Written by Kevin Yee. Posted in Animal Kingdom, Disney Hollywood Studios, Disney Parks, Kevin Yee, Walt Disney World

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Published on August 27, 2013 at 3:00 am with 155 Comments

Universal has been on such a tear lately, it’s easy to say that they have momentum on their side in Orlando for perhaps the first time ever. But Disney can come roaring back, and there are indications that they are rising to the challenge to compete directly with Universal’s newest offerings. Disney has always been the 800-pound gorilla in the industry, and when they want to get serious, the resulting outflow of cash and quality attractions often are literally breathtaking.

Even a casual observer will have concluded by now that Universal really wants to emulate the “resort destination” status currently enjoyed by Disney. This week, some Universal passholders were asked on a survey if they would be interested in a shuttle between the Universal parks and Wet & Wild, their water park. That same water park was recently brought all the way into the Universal fold when the company finally bought the land it stood on (they were renting all those years?!)

Kang and Kodoss spinner now open.

Kang and Kodoss spinner now open.

Once upon a time, the land across the freeway from the water park (in other words, back on the Universal side but right next to the Interstate) was slated to be the new home of the water park–i.e., to move Wet and Wild here. The idea always excited me–Universal could use movie themes to make a highly themed water park to rival the Disney themed water parks. And Universal always understood about thrills. Now that the Wet & Wild land has been purchased, I’m not sure what became of those plans. Maybe Universal could build yet another hotel on this expansion pad. Or I could go for a second water park!

But the water park is only a corner of this resort mentality. You’ve got all the expansion in the parks driving most of the external interest: Transformers, Simpsons expansion, and of course the second phase of Harry Potter as the true behemoth in the industry. These park additions are driving enormous traffic toward Universal. It doesn’t hurt that many of the most lucrative Orlando visitors – British tourists – might have a predilection for the Harry Potter universe since it began in Great Britain.

Following a recipe laid out by the Mouse a few decades ago, Universal is now giving all those new tourists a place to stay. They’ve long had three hotels directly on site. To my mind, these are somewhere between Disney Moderate and Disney Deluxe hotels in amenities, but are priced more like Disney Moderate hotels. In other words, they are a bargain to someone hunting Orlando hotels via websites from a distance. Universal hotels also have perks like Disney hotels do, chief among them the free (included) Express pass to skip the lines. This is an amazing perk. In some ways, Disney’s FastPass+ can be seen as a response to Universal’s Express perk for hotel guests (especially if Disney resort guests get additional FP+ reservations, as many expect). For once, Disney is chasing Universal. Or at least recognizing that Universal has caught up to them and needs to do something different to distinguish themselves again.

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The Cabana Bay resort at Universal is a fourth hotel currently under construction. I’m not certain folks have grasped yet just how huge this budget hotel will be. It looks like the size of Pop Century in my mind. Part of me is disappointed Universal didn’t combine this parcel of land with the empty zone where the water park was supposed to move; they could have built a full-sized third gate here (though they’d have to move a road that accesses I-4 and maybe that wasn’t allowed?)

Cabana Bay will further round out Universal’s offerings and make it even more attractive as the place to treat as the “home base” for the Orlando vacation. I’ve heard many tourists proclaim they now treat Universal as the primary destination on their Orlando sojourn, and Disney is either second fiddle or not on the agenda at all.

Clearly, that won’t sit well with Disney. The conventional wisdom is that Disney isn’t really responding much to the Universal build-out. “They’ve got their heads in the sand,” sniff some fans. The somewhat limp New Fantasyland is a weak competitor to the first Harry Potter land, they scoff, and has almost nothing to do. Once the final ride opens, it still won’t compete with Potter. And it’s taking FOREVER to build, in contrast with Universal, which has something new every week (case in point: this week the Kang and Kodoss spinner opened at Simpsons). Disney doesn’t seem to have an answer to Transformers, and as for the upcoming Potter expansion, Disney will counter with… wristbands that let you do everything you used to be able to do before? (at a price tag that could have paid for a new park, they hasten to add)

But the conventional wisdom listed above employs a combination of selective memory, biased prejudgments that assume the worst of Disney (when in reality we only SOMETIMES get the worst), and old-fashioned heckling of the empire builder while rooting for the underdog. When you take the 10,000 foot view of what’s going on at Disney, the picture is not nearly so dire. And when you consider the projects that MIGHT happen (or are not yet announced), you will realize it’s not only a level playing field, it might even be tilted toward Disney. Consider the following possibilities:

  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Coaster. I’ve said from the start this thing will be halfway between Barnstormer and Big Thunder, and that’s true enough in terms of size. But it will be a fully-themed mountain and Disney ride, and Universal can rarely compete on this type of attraction. Factor in the swinging cars (if they can get it to work right) and you might get a very solid D-ticket attraction. Maybe not an E-ticket in thrills, but a big draw on its own.
  • Avatar-World of Pandora. This project is not dead, despite what you may have heard. The construction is well underway for a new theater in Africa to hold Lion King–something they would not spend money on if Avatar wasn’t coming to the Camp Minnie-Mickey area. The new theater is rising where Wild Africa Trek used to meet (in other words, behind Tusker House). I’ve said from the beginning that Pandora has the chance to really wow us. A very large, indoor, nighttime-themed arena that is air-conditioned to the hilt would be a standout success in DAK no matter how good the rides or shows are that accompany it. And knowing Cameron, any ride or show will have eye-popping special effects. This has got to be at least as good as Transformers (and would have the advantage of being original, rather than a clone of something in California). A complex of work trailers recently appeared behind Kidani Village at DAK Lodge–this is the forward operating base for the team of Imagineers working on Avatar. So hold onto your pants; this baby is coming.
  • Carsland. The rumored expansion of DHS was conceived as a replacement for Backlot Tour and Lights Motors Action, and would feature Radiator Springs Racers at a minimum. This project is possibly on hold for now. One reason mentioned is because they realized the water table is so high in Florida that the ride cannot simply be cloned from California without modifications. It’s equally plausible that it would be delayed (or cancelled) to create money for another expansion (see below).
  • Star Wars Land. The entire corner of DHS from the Indy theater/Echo Lake area, over to Star Tours, and then BEHIND Backlot Express into the present-day car entrance to the parking lot could become a new land for Star Wars. Imagine moving the car entrance to the road where Pop Century is, maybe even adding two additional surface parking lots on either side of this central (and now straight) lane from the road to the park entrance. If you did that, the entire side of the park could be pushed outward pretty far, creating room for several rides and buildings. Star Wars Land is, and has always been, the only real Potter-Swatter. That’s only true if Disney truly delivers an immersive, transportive experience. The place has to DRIP details and EXUDE authenticity. Some Disney projects do this; others don’t. This one is crucial to the theme park wars. Disney needs to spend SERIOUS cash on this to make it work. Simply phoning in a performance will solve nothing.
  • MyMagic+ and FASTPASS+. The much-maligned wristbands and ride reservations systems look to some folks like a billion-dollar boondoggle. For me, the jury is still out. We haven’t seen yet what the system can do. Can it identify that I seem to like riding PeopleMover and also buy high-end park figurines… and thus send me invitation-only opportunities to buy a detailed PeopleMover figurine? Will it sense my love of Space Mountain and offer me a chance to buy extended ride time for an hour of Space Mountain for just me and a few hundred folks if we pay an upcharge? The thing about Disney is, I do still love the product. If their data mining can suggest ways to get me to pay more, I probably will. That goes triple for those who visit once per year (unlike me with my weekly habit). When people go on a once-yearly vacation, they are often willing to pay more for convenience, for certainty, or for increased access. If all that is included for free simply for choosing Disney over Universal, well, it’s not absolutely certain that people will think Disney is old hat, even if they don’t have new rides to compete with Universal just yet.

My six year old asked me this weekend why the Optimus Prime statue at the entrance to Transformers had so many details. “People won’t notice that!” he exclaimed. I pointed out to him that this leaves things for people to discover on future visits, and besides, having rich details and expensive theming isn’t a waste of money–it’s what renders the experience so believable in the first place. The math is exponential on topics like this: a half-hearted attempt does not yield half as much awesomeness, but rather maybe only a quarter. You have to go whole-hog. Go big or go home.

transformers 2013-06-01-6804

With luck, Disney may finally be going big. And we customers are glad for it. When competition like this rears up, we visitors are the true winners. It may look like Universal has the momentum for now, but if Disney gets serious, they have the clout and the cash to return to the fight screaming. The Empire strikes back, indeed!

About Kevin Yee

Kevin Yee is an author and blogger writing about travel, tourism, and theme parks in Central Florida. He spent more than a decade working at Disneyland and cultivating a never-ending fascination with that park’s rich traditions and history. Now relocated to Orlando, Kevin enjoys the Disney offerings on both sides of the country. Kevin is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History. Readers are invited to connect with him online and face to face at the following locations: UltimateOrlando.com – Kevin’s personal blog for daily WDW updates Public Facebook page – or friend his personal Facebook account, Twitter feed (user UltOrlando), Google+ account (user cafeorleans), Email at [email protected], Weekly Walt Disney World, a Facebook group of regulars who visit Disney World each weekend. Visitors from out of town are encouraged to come and say hello when in Orlando! Join the FB group to learn when/where the next meet is. Kevin’s books on Amazon

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  1. The Mine Train is striking back? THE MINE TRAIN? A kiddie coaster w/ ONE INTERIOR show scene opening the same summer as Potter 2.0? Hilarious Kevin. It’s like when Pooh came out the same day as Deathly Hallows Part 2. And the 3 others are on life support and/or simply rumor/not confirmed. Nothing can stop the Uni. juggernaut at this point. Not even The Force.

    • You are correct sir. People have to come out from under the OLD WDW fog of the past and then they can see clearly. VERY difficult to defend WDW over the last 10 years. If WDW keeps it up, they will become the Nursing Home of theme parks living off nostalgia alone.

      • I’m clicking the like button on the two comments above.

    • I guess this is both on and off topic but I looked online yesterday for accommodation prices at a WDW premium resort in March and while I wouldn’t think twice about spending $400 for a hotel room on property, I have to admit that I can’t justify spending $600 + (once tax is factored in) – - which is what it would cost each night for the “garden view” rooms at the Contemporary, Grand or Poly. This is just utterly ridiculous to expect a family to pay that much for a hotel room. I guess Disney occupancy is sky high these days so they’re obviously getting someone to pay these prices, but for the same costs I could easily stretch my dollar into a Universal Portofino luxury vacation plus have money left over for a three night stint in luxury accommodations in Key West, Miami, or even a splurge weekend in New York City.

      I guess what I’m trying to say is that Disney keeps raising prices through the roof (they certainly priced me out of my Premier Pass renewal) yet there are very little new attractions to entice me to go back and visit. And as far as it being the Vacation Kingdom of the world, I long for the days when I was a Florida resident and use to just book long weekends at the hotels and hang out there and the pool/beach and have nice meals – now with the dining plan there are no nice meals and the prices are as high as they’ve ever been – yet quality is now marginal.

      With Universal we seem to be getting an array of new attractions and experiences every year. At Disney, they come at glacial pace (honestly 3+ years to build a mad mouse type coaster) – I hope you fan boys choke on your dwarves coaster – you’ve certainly paid a price waiting for it.

      Universal seems to be the ones emulating Walt’s words about keeping things fresh and exciting and the customer won’t let you down. I used to think it was a form of mutiny to speak ill of Disney but the reality is they’re not respecting me as a consumer. They are offering an overpriced product that is becoming more and more accessible only to a select few individual.

      The point of this article is that a family of hard core loyal fans is tired of getting asked to pay more and receiving less and less for what they’re shelling out. I wonder where the breaking point will actually be and when.

      • DisneyTom, We are planning a trip to Universal soon and the Annual Passholder discount at Portofino is just above $200 on the weekend and just below on week nights. What a beautiful 4-5 star resort for a price that seems to appreciate their guests. Join the Loews First Club, it’s free, and after a few stays receive free suite and room upgrades and $100 credit good in all resort restaurants ay each check in.
        I think Disney is being kept afloat on their charges by International guests. The $ is so weak and the pound and Euro so strong, that it is actually less expensive for these foks to take their holidays here in the U.S.
        WDW Annual Passes are headed toward the $600 range now. Deluxe accom are over $600, moderates over $200, and value resorts are just shy of $170. Add this to 2 decent E ticket attractions added over the last 10 years and a lot of good Disney folks are looking for someone to appreciate their hard earned money, not turn off their mugg because they could get a SIP of coke that they don’t deserve.

  2. Well, I read your hopes for WDW to roar back but I haven’t seen or heard from WDW. We can strike 3 things from your list of hopes right off.
    1. The 7 Dwarfs Coaster isn’t going to change momentum and 3 YEARS to build a kiddie coaster is very sad indeed. The New Fantasyland with the little 4 foot tall plastic Beast Castle and 2 foot tall Rapunzel home each lifted about 15 feet above ground surrounded by rockwork, restaurants, and stores really showed how much WDW doesn’t do things for the guests anymore but for revenue only.
    2. Avatarland – everyone looks vacant when someone mentions this idea.
    3. Fastpass Plus – gearing this to guests who spend more at the different hotels and attempting to dress up fastpasses to Muppet Vision as a benefit?!? Attempting to drive crowds to old attractions without lines w a wristband?!? Universal is driving crowds to different areas with new rides and lands. One of these ideas is for the guests benefit and one is for the lazy theme park leadership. You pick.
    Universal is building new LANDS w FANTASTIC attractions in 18 months. New E ticket rides alone in 12 months.
    Welcome to Universal – and feel again what it is like to be appreciated as a guest again, not just treated like a walking wallet by WDW.

    • You are correct that WDI hasn’t been speaking about the new projects, but I can assure you that they are real and they are big. The three Lands for the Studios alone (including one Kevin didn’t even mention) will create a major draw for Disney. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that the Studios park will be fixed more effectively than DCA was. It will be the must see park on your Orlando vacation. There’s no question in my mind about that. Even the much maligned Avatar is shaping up to impress. I even think Universal will regret not having built that additional E-Ticket in WWoHP 2.

      HOWEVER, this is all taking too much time. Meanwhile, Disney is ceding mindshare to Universal. Literally just giving away previously loyal customers.

      The question everyone should be asking is “Who or what is responsible for allowing Disney to get so far behind?” What person or process got Disney to the point that WDW could become so stale and not have shovel ready projects waiting to be built within a year of Universal’s Harry Potter? Lack of vision? Lack of finances? Hubris?

      I’ve heard the excuses and accusations from my sources as to how Disney got into this fix. But all agree that it is most un-Disney to fail to lead the way. Like Kevin, I think that eyes are now wide open at Disney and we can expect a major reversal at Walt Disney World. They will make all of these arguments yesterday’s news. They will dazzle us with new technology and creativity . . . But not soon. ;-)

      • What’s the third?

      • Not to pour water on all the interesting speculation, but DHS’s entrance will probably never be moved because the land surrounding it on the south is part of the 100-year flood plain. Ever since WDW opened in 1971, they haven’t built anything below the 100 year flood level, though there might be some edges of parking lots that might get a little flooded. So, the rumors about moving DHS’s entrance are kinda just that—rumors.

        Osborne Lights are popular, and LMA’s facility is new and a workhorse attraction, besides, Carsland gets pretty hot in Anaheim, I think it would too hot for Orlando, maybe Disney is taking global warming into consideration. DHS is kinda built in an awkward corner of WDW, I doubt a major expansion will happen. They could take out Backlot and utilize this space and Soundstage 1 for a new Pixar ride, though the park is doing quite well attendance-wise despite (or maybe because?) of Universal Orlando.

      • The “third” was for a Pixar addition to DHS, probably the most likely if something will happen in the next five years.

        There were some pretty incredulous rumors months ago that DHS would get Star Wars land, Carsland, and a Pixar ride. DHS ain’t no DCA 1.0, it gets about 10 million visits a year, and has popular live shows and the Osbourne Lights, and sadly, it doesn’t have much empty space to build on. DCA’s Carsland was on a planned expansion pad, but DHS’s has no such expansion pads. You can see why they expanded Fantasyland in MK, and are expanding AK. Animal Kingdom will probably at some point become park #2, perhaps rivaling MK.

        If attendance at DHS drops, they’ll probably add a Pixar ride in there somewhere, but DHS doesn’t have the problems that DCA 1.0 had.

        No comment concerning Avatarland.

      • @ Dusty Saga “I even think Universal will regret not having built that additional E-Ticket in WWoHP 2.”

        What are you talking about. WWoHP 2is getting 2 e ticket rides, the Gringots darkride and the Hogwart Express. What is that second e ticket ride you talk about and why would they regret not doing it? They can always expend by taking down Disaster or better expend to the Fear Factor show location.
        Can you please share the link of the so called not build e ticket ride?

    • Totally agree. Just look at the new prices for California Grill. Disney continues to squeeze every last dime out of its guests without giving anything back in return. And Avatar does nothing for me. MyMagic+ is just another way of making more revenue without offering anything new.

      Really looking forward to Harry Potter Phase 2 and all of the new stuff that WILL be built by Universal while Disney continues to rest on its laurels.

      • WDW just considers us giant walking wallets. Will my wallet, family, and money all moved to Universal. 5 Universal Annual Passes, 0 Disney Annual passes except for waterparks.
        It feels great to be appreciated again. Thanks Universal.

    • And this is why I’ll be making my first trip back to Universal after 14 yrs. And I’m excited! I still love Disney but my last visit had less of the magic feel. Let’s see what happens this visit. Who knows, next time I may be staying at Portofino.

      • WDW Prince, please do consider staying at Portofino. The annual pass discount usually beats the stay more save more package. If you stay here join the Loew’s First Club for free. After a couple or 3 stays they give you $100 credit for meals at all the fine Portofino restaurants. They wil upgrade you to a GIANT SUITE for free which has 2 FULL BATHS, which has been awesome for our family. Then your room key skips 99% of the lines from the moment you check in until the end of the day you check out! The boat ride to the front of the park is a beautifully landscaped 1 mile ride to the front of both parks. We get all this for the price of a MODERATE room at DISNEY. WOW.
        WDW’s problems are systemic and won’t be solved by a new ride or 2, if they can ever learn to build 1 child’s coaster in less than 3 YEARS.
        Oh, also consider buying your annual pass with AMEX. Take the receipt with your AMEX to the AMEX lounge at Universal to sign in the first time. From then on for 1 year you and your party can go to the air conditioned lounge and have free bottles of water and snacks like granola bars and kettle chips all day long.
        My former Disney family of 5 are Universal fans now. I hope you have a great vacation at Universal! You will feel appreciated again.

      • Thanks for the info CaptainAction. I appreciate it :)

    • All this SDMT bashing bothers me.

      Big Thunder Mountain never really “did it” for me, I’m a splash mountain kind of guy.

      Just the rendering of the indoor scene excites me. What’s BT’s top speed, maybe 40mph? And sorry, the ride is hardly thrilling – it’s a mine train ride! Just like Seven Dwarfs! I bet SDMT tops out at 35-40mph. Also, the lack of excitement that WDW is building another “classic” mountain also befuddles me, isn’t this the kind of attraction you love and always want more of(sorry it followed an amazing USO showing)? A family friendly ride with a gigantic budget? This isn’t something you can throw up quick and minimally theme, like Transformers.

      All the Avatar land bashing also bothers me. I’m not the biggest Avatar fan, far from it. But wait for the sequels. James Cameron always proves the naysayers wrong – and with a James Cameron/WDI combo, i think were all in for a treat, and the complaining will cease as soon as renderings are released, hell, ANYTHING is actually released —- What excites me most is that I think the rides and land will feature a lot from the upcoming sequels. Ideas and images we haven’t even begun to conceive.

      Give the guys some slack, great things take time. Western River Expedition, was in development for years!

      I applaud Universals comeback, but now we need Disney to fight back even harder — so this great rivalry that has recently gotten heated, can stay at a boil for many years to come.

      • I agree BTM is just a very pretty very average roller coaster but then so is Space Mountain and California Screamin’, I can’t comment on any of the others as I haven’t been on them.

      • “Give the guys some slack,”

        Really?! There hasn’t been a new E ticket in almost 8 years (?). For the prices they are charging us we shouldn’t be “giving them slack”, we should be holding them accountable and speaking with our wallets. If they want some “slack” on being so slow on building new things, maybe they should give us some “slack” on the constant increase in prices each and every year.

        And just because something is highly themed doesn’t mean it need to take years and years to build. As we all know, Disneyland was built in only a year. The entire Harry Potter land was built, I think, in less then three years. Are they shabby, cheap, poorly themed experiences?

        I look forward to, and am excited by SDMT. I just don’t think it is going to be the magic bullet Disney, and more importantly, Disney apologist, are looking/hoping for. Its not just that Disney isn’t building new rides and experiences. Its the jump in prices of everything on property; soda, hotels, tickets, food, etc. And a continual drop in quality of service.

        If you don’t want to fix things and build new things, and just rest on nostalgia, fine. Just don’t charge me an extra 5% year after year. Dusty and some others hit the nail on the head. This is a cultural problem. Something changed in the corporate culture of Disney, I feel, when Iger took over in March 2005. Everest, the last E ticket to be built at WDW and was already underway when Iger took over, opened in January of ’06.

      • Least I forget Toy Story Midway Mania which opened in 2008. I guess you can call this an E ticket, but some Fanboys might fight you on that.

      • “Western River Expedition was in development for years!”

        And was never, up to this point, ever built. So what’s your point?

  3. All it takes is one attraction or land to put Disney back on top. And that is going to be Star Wars Land. Avatarland will not faire as well unless some sort of public enthusiasm is rekindled with the sequel. But that doesn’t seem likely to me. And there is no cult following that will last decades, as there is with Star Wars.
    Cars Land is a bonafide hit and continues to pack them in over at California Adventure. But I don’t think it’s necessary to copy it at DHS. “Copying” is just throwing in the towel and saying “We can’t think of anything”.
    They really need to pour all their resources and energy into Star Wars Land. The minute Disney makes the official announcement, watch the buzz that will be generated. That alone will have people chomping at the bit to get in there.

    • WDW has systemic problem which all come from their arrogance. They are losing die hard fans daily. They view GUESTS as GIANT WALLETS. You can’t fix this with rumors of an attraction or land which will begin in 2015 or 2017 and complete by 2020.
      Universal is not slowing, it’s gaining momentum and will pass AK, Disney Studios, and EPCOT before WDW breaks ground. Just watch. Who could have imagined?
      WDW has been taking guests for granted for 10 YEARS.
      My best evidence that WDW still doesn’t care – after Potter Land 1, WDW put up a 2 foot tall plastic “Beast Castle” on a 15 foot tall “mountain”, and a 18 inch tall Rapunzel house on a 12 foot tall stick! EMBARRISSING is the only word for this.
      If these current WDW leaders were in charge at WDW opening they would have built the second story of main street 15 inches tall!
      Forced perspective doesn’t mean to force the guests to use their imagination to pretend “toys” are “castles”. WDW has systemic problems and are insulting guests and that is catching up to them now.
      Universal is appreciating their guests and it feels great!

      • OMG. Funniest comment ever. Micechat should award prizes for this kind of gold. Captain Action for President!

    • The anti-Avatar idea is perpetuated by the internet – it’s not Star Wars yet — But have the two sequels, and time come out/passed yet? Star Wars is what is it is due to time, and proper management of the properties. Give Avatar and James Cameron more time.

      I was initially disappointed in Avatar land at DAK, but the more I think of the possibilities and future, the more I endorse it.

      Hands down, I’d rather have Beastly Kingdom

  4. Comparing Rumored, and projects where the ground has not yet been broken against projects at Universal that are mid-construction is not fair. Because then you need to measure Disney’s rumored projects against Universal’s rumored projects, and if you do that you see how unprepared for the future WDW is.

    • WDW’s projects are well beyond the “rumored” phase. They are quite real, but wrapped in silence at the moment. But all of that is just about to change. I don’t think it’s fair to say Disney is unprepared for the future. I think they’ve easily got that covered. What they were and are unprepared for is the right now! It’s unbelievable that they have gotten themselves into this mess, but they will get themselves out of it. I’m overwhelmed with what I’m hearing about future projects. But I’m also frustrated by the glacial pace.

      I’ve been complaining about WDW for years, but they finally have a plan to fix most of my concerns. Unfortunately, it just won’t come soon enough.

      • Exactly right. I see so much negativity and people swearing of Disney and trying to dismiss their works in progress, but they will be in a great place given the time.

        What is worth complaining about is that they let themselves go for so long without building anything of incredibly high worth, though perhaps that was because they never had any true competition. Universal has upped their game from Disney copycat to legitimate and original competition.

        Give it five years; by then, we ALL win. Besides, how often do we all get to go anyway ?

    • BINGO! On the nose buddy!

  5. I spent four days in WDW last week. This is the first time I have ever done back to back trips (9 days last year) so it was interesting to see what changed over the short time span and really get a better feel for what type of “repeat/replay” value some of the attractions had since I was able to cover every inch of the parks on my last visit. (save TT which was in refurbishment)
    As a planning guide, I put together a To-Do list of any new items we had not seen last year along with characters or other favorite activities we enjoyed. (my DD loves to draw with the animators at DHS) Interesting ly enough, we actually struck AK from our list and never went there since Everst and possibly the Nemo show were the only things we wanted to see there. We spent the majority of our time at MK (luckily had park hoppers), and were able to see all of the NF attractions which were not open last year, although we missed the window for BOG reservations and did not want to wait for lunch service. All in all, we really enjoyed the new offerings and hopefully 7DMC will complete the land. One thing that struck me was all the FP+ placemaking done at rides that were, and always will be, walk-ons or short waits. (SW, POTC, SSE, Nemo & friends) I did make it a point to see JIYI since it will most likely be gone before I return. I never did get to TT again since the wait and the FP return times never lined up for us. Having visitied twice in such a short span of time did reinforce to me what really needs work. DHS and Epcot could really use some new or updated attractions. AK needs some more entertainment options as well. MK is still the top park for us since we love dark rides and all the entertainment offered (parades, shows, etc.)
    Hopefully Disney steps up its game and spruces up the other parks. I’m really wanting to book a trip to Uni’s Cabana Bay to check out all the new attractions next year.

    • “AK needs some more entertainment options as well.” – wait, you didn’t go there right? Your missing out on the walk through attractions and quiet places rarely mentioned.

      And “BTW”, your a little heavy on the shorthand I think………..

      • Kenny B,
        I went to Animal Kingdom on my visit last year and was able to spend an entire day viewing all of the walkthough attractions, shows, parade, and rides. When looking at our short visit this year (4 days), other than Everest and the Nemo show, there was nothing that drew us back to this park, unlike the other three that had some new offerings. Don’t get me wrong, I love Animal Kingdom and really enjoy everything (incuding the quiet places) but I feel it needs some new or updated elements and maybe Avatar will fill that bill. (maybe not)

        …. the post was getting pretty long, even with the shorhand…..

  6. There is an arrogance at Disney. It’s pretty obvious they feel very secure in their position as the theme park juggernaut and think that no one can ever unseat them. To this day, they show no sign of feeling threatened by Universal and Potter at all. If New Fantasyland is their reaction to Potter, they obviously feel that any effort that includes a fair amount of detail, popular Disney characters and a custom-made drink will send all those vacationers running back to them.

    After all, the Disney brand is the 9th most valuable brand in the world. NBC/Universal isn’t anywhere near the top 10. So anything branded Disney should beat anything branded NBC/Universal, right? This Potter thing is only a blip on the screen. Pretty soon it will die off and people will come running back home to Disney.

    And of course there’s the undeniable fact that all the Potter attractions will bring more people to central Florida, and while they are in the area, they are certain to take in Walt Disney World. So why not let Universal make all the heavy expenditures. Disney can just sit back and soak up the profits from all these extra tourists who will probably spend even more time at WDW then they will at Universal.

    And if you think this isn’t Disney’s attitude, just look at their reaction to Potter’s impending arrival in California: Monstroplis and a door coaster. They’re not worried at all.

    And if Potter is all Universal has, they may be right. But one does hear rumors that Universal is after Lord of the Rings. And if that happens… Watch out Emperor Mickey, the Visigoths are coming.

    • Read “Disney War” by James B. Stewart —– it chronicles Einsners term as CEO, though mostly focusing on movies and people – there’s a marginal amount devoted to the parks.

      I blame this on Iger, and the board.

  7. There is an arrogance at Disney. It’s pretty obvious they feel very secure in their position as the theme park juggernaut and think that no one can ever unseat them. To this day, they show no sign of feeling threatened by Universal and Potter at all. If New Fantasyland is their reaction to Potter, they obviously feel that any effort that includes a fair amount of detail, popular Disney characters and a custom-made drink will send all those vacationers running back to them. After all, the Disney brand is the 9th most valuable brand in the world.

    NBC/Universal isn’t anywhere near the top 10. So anything branded Disney should beat anything branded NBC/Universal, right? This Potter thing is only a blip on the screen. Pretty soon it will die off and people will come running back home to Disney.

    And of course there’s the undeniable fact that all the Potter attractions will bring more people to central Florida, and while they are in the area, they are certain to take in Walt Disney World. So why not let Universal make all the heavy expenditures. Disney can just sit back and soak up the profits from all these extra tourists who will probably spend even more time at WDW then they will at Universal.

    And if you think this isn’t Disney’s attitude, just look at their reaction to Potter’s impending arrival in California: Monstroplis and a door coaster. They’re not worried at all.

    And if Potter is all Universal has, they may be right. But one does hear rumors that Universal is after Lord of the Rings. And if that happens… Watch out Emperor Mickey, the Visigoths are coming.

    • “This Potter thing is only a blip on the screen.” — and that’s what people said about Star Wars. === BTW, it’s rumored another Harry Potter book is in the works, or at least in the near/far/close future.

      “And of course there’s the undeniable fact that all the Potter attractions will bring more people to central Florida, and while they are in the area, they are certain to take in Walt Disney World” — Not necessarily. But I guarantee those people will spend more time, and money at the Universal Resort.

  8. If the current status quo is the Disney Empire striking back, then Universal has little to fear.

    We only make it to Florida every so often to visit relatives, but it is Universal and not WDW that has made our list for places to visit. It is Universal that has delivered quality and content while Disney has left their fan base to speculate on what they could, should or might do. And quite frankly, the speculation presented here sounds pretty lame.

    • So Twister and MIB the ride kept you coming back?

      It’s the constancy on new rides, thats the dagger in the heart.

  9. Disney hasn’t added anything substantial since Expedition Everest.

    All this talk about how great new hypothetical lands *could* be does nothing for me.

    They could do great things, but their recent track record speaks for itself.

    • Yes, did you see the 2 foot tall Beast’s Castle and 18 inch tall Rapunzel’s Home sitting up 14 feet in the air? Nice toys. What are they doing up on those rocks?

      • Didn’t everyone applaud Disney on their use of forced perspective before?

      • @ Kenny B Forced perspective is fine but there is a trend in WDW putting in miniatures and they look awful. Hogwart is forced perspective, Beasts castle is a miniature on top of a restaurant.

      • Gee, CA, that’s the third time you’ve mentioned that in the comments for this one story. So far. I’m still on page one.

        Running out of things to say?

  10. I still think AvatarLand is a huge mistake to go through with. It was a single film, granted a massive blockbuster, that hasn’t shown any real staying power. Essentially, Disney is gambling that the sequels won’t be a bust. That is not a bet I would be willing to make.

    I truly think that something like Beastly Kingdom would be a better idea. It gives wide latitude to the Imagineers, and the creatures that in it are true cultural touchstones. What boy and girl (or most adults, for that matter) wouldn’t want to see “real life” unicorns and dragons? And it reminds people that Disney can still create something new and original in the parks, not just adaptations.

    Now Star Wars, on the other hand, is something I think they might be going too small with. This is a franchise that could easily support an entire park. If this isn’t huge, comprehensive and _quality_, then Disney loses. Whatever they do with SW absolutely has to better Potter. It has to be as, or more, immersive. It has to have more, and more varied, rides. This is a grand slam waiting to happen, but if they whiff on this, I don’t think Disney Parks will ever be the same.

  11. As long as Steve Burke is in charge of Universal and the crew who solves problems that do not exist are running the show at Disney, I am placing my money on Universal.

    Sam

    • Universal will surpass AK, Disney Studios, and EPCOT attendance in 2015. Universal is speeding up the momentum. The new Potter train will be an E ticket attraction in itself, using the effects of Kong tram in Hollywood. It will simulate many different voyages and alone will be better than anything WDW has done in the last 10 years.
      Nevermind the New Potterland, Potter Roller Coaster, New Simpson’s Land, New Despicable Me, New Transformers, New Jurassic Park Roller Coaster, etc. All while WDW keeps working on the Snow White Coaster for year 3 and counting.

      • @CaptainAction Please keep your facts straight. Yes Universal told press the Hogwart Express is a mayor ride and will have different stories and in cabin effects but it’s NOT using the King Kong tram system of Universal Hollywood. That tram is driven in a enclosed room with 2 huge screens on both sides, you need to wear 3D glasses and under the tram is a motion system. Nothing of these will go into the Hogwart Express. The train will have flat screen like windows and incabin effects. It will be amazing and unique but not like Kong.

  12. You can bet as soon as Disney announces Star Wars Land, Universal will counter with Lord of the Rings / The Hobbit area.

    • Middle earth, I would love to see that. They could even fill in the huge lake at IOA to put it in there.

    • IF Uni can get the rights.

      • Hey Marko, so you like the little Beast dollhouse on the rock? You like the Rapunzel dollhouse on the big stick?
        Nobody has a good response except, “Hey, you keep saying the same thing, duh huh huh”.
        Hard to defend isn’t it?
        Ever seen a cheaper, larger failure of forced perspective in your life?
        Can you believe WDW approved it? Then built it? Then left it up?
        Can you imagine what Walt would say if he saw this?
        Someone would have been fired.
        A wall would have been put up and those dollhouses would have been removed.
        I know you don’t know what to say because it’s indefensible.
        So, I won’t even ask you if you’ve seen Hogwartz.

  13. It is true that Universal has not done the immersive Big Thunder type roller coaster. That is too bad since Universal is no competitor when it comes to the Carsland Radiator Springs Racer type attraction. Taking in a impressive view is still Disney’s best selling feature. I can only so many Transformers, Spiderman, Simpson movie-type simulator rides. They are head churning.

    When Disney strikes back, I can only hope.

  14. It’s funny – the way people react to ‘Avatar Land,’ is the way it seems film viewers react to the thought of PIXAR’s films about ‘Cars.’

    I also am not getting any excitement/vibe off of Avatar. That’s one area that i feel they are going to have to really work hard to impress me.

    Glad to know ‘Carsland-Mini’ is off the table for now. To me, putting RSR in Florida just takes away from the exclusivity of the ride and its surroundings at California Adventure. To me, Florida’s always had more ‘toys’ than the rest of the parks. It’s nice to know that California has things in its own ‘toybox’ that you can’t get elsewhere, just like with Tokyo Disneyseas (the exclusivity and theming there makes it quite a draw!).

    If anything, developing a larger footprint for Star Wars in Florida seems a good thing to do. It’s not as land-locked as ST in Disneyland. I think it would be need to have a ‘Talk with a Jedi Master,’ where one could speak to Yoda much like ‘Turtle Talk with Crush.’

  15. I am definitely glad to hear there are some big things coming (hopefully). I don’t care if it is Avatar themed or Star Wars themed, when Disney does it right they can impress with or without a movie tie-in.

    My biggest concern is continuing neglected infrastructure. Throwing in a new land isn’t enough to offset the general feeling of customer neglect when I’m in the parks. I’m talking about security checkpoints and turnstiles that are hundreds of people deep because they are not staffed accordingly. Crowded bathrooms. Lack of shade and seating. Minimal food options. Tripping over stroller parking. Navigating barricades and ride closures and crowd control for parades and shows.

    Granted, most of my experience is based on DL, not WDW. However, my trip to WDW didn’t make me feel like things are much better there.

    Going to Disneyland is starting to feel like going to Six Flags. Fight the crowds, check out the newest attraction and get the heck out of there. I didn’t have that feeling when I was at Universal Orlando. I didn’t feel like I was being cattle herded and I look forward to going back.

    That isn’t to say Universal isn’t going to have the same issues when HP 2 opens. I can image some serious crowd control issues as people start park hopping throughout the day. But with the addition of things like Springfield, it seems like Universal understands people want more that just queuing for rides and meet-n-greets.

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