The Disney Empire Strikes Back

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

Tagged: , , ,


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.


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.

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  • Kevin Yee

    Susan’s comment is the closest to what I hoped my main point would be: Disney can come back with a CRUSHING answer to Universal if they so choose. It’s not a certainty that they WILL, but there is a lot of groupthink right not that Universal can do no wrong and Disney can do no right.

    I happen to agree Uni has momentum. I also agree Disney has done little lately to inspire confidence. What I’m trying to point out is that one land, if done amazingly well, will slap Uni back down to second place if done right. If they open up three (even four) new lands and all of them outperform… well, then, I think Uni will have a fight on its hands.

    Which is a wonderful thing for us customers. It means we win no matter what.

    • CaptainAction

      Easier to join and appreciate Universal than to make a case for Disney. Think how bad things would be at Disney if it wasn’t for Universal kicking their rears!
      New Fantasyland? Compare it to Potterland which was completed before WDW broke ground. One word, pathetic.
      Just stores, restaurants, and Princess photo ops surrounded by rocks, for us WALKING WALLETS.
      My family of 5 former WDW annual pass holders now has 0 – WDW Park Annual passes and 5 Universal Annual Passes.
      Our family, our wallets, and our appreciation has moved to Universal. I’d forgotten how good it feels to be appreciated.

    • Internitty

      I really think it’s going to take more than one land, there is the whole maintenance problem at WDW that needs to be addressed, then an ongoing maintenance plan, so what if they build one shiny new land if they continue to let the rest of the resort fall apart. Disney need to be seen to be addressing all the problems at WDW, they had the guts to admit they screwed up DCA and then start fixing it (I am worried they are going to leave it way too long to continue the expansion there) they need to do the same with WDW, they need to be honest with the consumer and say hey we’re fixing your old favourites and creating some new adventures.

      As far as Avatar goes there has been nothing to hold interest in it, the story is passable but really not that good, the film was really just a special effects and 3D showcase and on those fronts it cannot be faulted. Star Wars has all the elements that make a classic fairytale, an awesome bad guy, a likeable hero and great supporting characters, something Avatar lacks completely. When I refer to Star Wars btw I am only referring to Episodes 4, 5 and 6 the prequels are as forgettable as Avatar, in an interview Anthony Daniels even said Lucas had forgotten about story and was only obsessed with effects, there’s a reason they are mocked so openly (thank goodness Disney is treating this property with respect so far) As much as I like Star Wars (before Lucas destroyed the original films) it is only one property that doesn’t appeal to everyone, a Star Wars land will pull in massive crowds but needs to be bolstered with other properties.

      I agree Disney CAN come back with a crushing blow but if you look at WDW’s track record they most likely WON’T.

  • jkh1978

    How would moving the car entrance change things? I looked at the map and confused by your explanation.

  • lionheartkc

    On thing that intrigues me in all of the comments about what Disney is and isn’t doing is that no one sees the big picture when it comes to My Magic +. Yea, right now it’s basically being used to consolidate things that you already do, simplify some crowd flows, and yes, increase revenue streams. But the big picture is that it is the foundation for the next level of interaction with rides, shows, dining and characters. Once it is in place and working, Disney can use the information they gather to customize experiences, make recommendations, allow for “living character” interaction, notify restaurants of diet requirements, make it so every Disney princess knows your daughter’s first name, deliver custom video content to your room, etc. If used properly, they will be able to ramp up the “magic” to a level way beyond anything they have achieved in the past, only limited by the level of information each family is willing to make available.

    Yea, it’s a HUGE undertaking, and the foundation is always the most boring part of it, but I’m willing to bet that, 10 years from now, every other theme park is going to be scrambling to build something like it because they are, once again, eating Disney’s dust.

    To me, the one place that Disney has failed, and it’s a place they have been failing for many years, not just in the theme park world, but across the company, is in marketing and PR. They really need to get someone in place who knows how to speak to the people, build expectations, address issues, etc. Because of their failure in this area, outwardly, they look like a ship without a rudder, and they need to fix that, quickly, to keep people on board.

    They also need to return to a focus on details. Kevin points out the chipping paint around the parks and failing animatronics, but that’s just the surface. There are so many things that are rough around the edges behind the scenes, as well, and there is no urgency in fixing them. Disney has developed a “good enough” attitude in place of what used to be an “excellence or nothing” attitude, and that needs to change, especially when they are in the early phases of a very long term ramp up in technology and experiences.

    • DuckyDelite

      >> Once it is in place and working, Disney can use the information they gather to customize experiences, make recommendations, allow for “living character” interaction, notify restaurants of diet requirements, make it so every Disney princess knows your daughter’s first name, deliver custom video content to your room, etc.

      Ya, cause no one has smartphones.

      • Marko50

        Way to show that you don’t understand the post. LOL!

      • CaptainAction

        You’ll have to ignore Marko. He can’t defend WDW or argue the facts, just criticize the messenger for some meaningless point.

    • danielz6

      A princess knowing your name isn’t magical, its creepy and awkward and doesn’t justify me strapping a bracelet to myself all vacation long. Not to mention it doesn’t make sense from a story perspective. Why would a princess know my name if we’ve never met before? And what’s so hard about the princess just asking the child’s name, which would be the polite, friendly non awkward way of interacting? The other folly in that logic is that people aren’t stupid. Nobody(except for maybe very young children) are going to be stunned at Disney knowing their name or data. Everyone will know its not magic, its this silly wristband I’m forced to wear all vacation long. Hardly magical imo.

    • Tielo

      @lionheartkc Sorry but I’m with danielz6. The whole thing is only a money grab. And I’m sure you have a lovely daughter but when the day comes a doll in it’s a small world, assembled by your sweetheart waving at her and calling her name because you pulled your wallet, is going to ruin the original experience, I’ll never set foot in that park again.
      Disney will mine all your information they can get their greedy hands on to give you more of the same resulting in you are not evolving. There will be more focus group experiences instead of family experiences that made them big.

  • rushtest4echo

    Actual outlays at Disneyworld over the past decade:
    2003: Mission: Space / $100 Million
    2003: Wishes / $30 Million
    2003: Pop Century / $100 Million
    2004: Turtle Talk / $20 Million
    2004: Saratoga Springs / $150 Million
    2004: Magic of Disney Animation Refurbishment / $10 million
    2005: Crush n Gusher / $20 Million
    2005: Flying Carpets & Bazaar / $15 Million
    2005: Soarin / $60 Million
    2005: Lights, Motors, Action / $20 Million
    2006: All Star Music Suites / $30 million
    2006: Expedition Everest / $100 Million
    2007: Finding Nemo: The Musical / $30 Million
    2007: Seas with Nemo & Friends / $40 Million
    2007: Gran Fiesta Tour / $10 Million
    2007: Monsters Inc Laugh Floor / $35 million
    2007: Animal Kingdom Villas / $120 million
    2007: Yak & Yeti / $30 million
    2008: Spaceship Earth Refurbishment / $70 million
    2009: Bay Lake Tower / $200 million
    2009: Saratoga Villas / $100 million
    2011: Star Tours / $80 million
    2012: Art of Animation Resort / Rumored to be around $135 Million
    2012: New Fantasyland Phase 1 / $250 million
    2013: My Magic+ / $1.2 billion
    2014: New Fantasyland Phase 2 / $100 million

    TOTAL: $3.05 BILLION

    Semi Confirmed/Rumored Future Outlays
    2014: Disney Springs / Rumored to be $100 million (garages not included)
    2015: Avatarland / Rumored to be $500 million
    2016: Carsland / Rumored to be $200 million
    2016: Polynesian Villas / At least $100 million

    Hypothetical Future Outlays That Will Eventually Happen
    2015-2020 New Tomorrowland / At least $200 million
    2015-2020 Star Wars Land / At least $1 billion

    TOTAL FUTURE SPENDING over the next 5-7 Years: $2.1 BILLION

    These may not be the projects that most of Miceage wants, but I promise that DIsney is giving the people what they want. Building more resorts/dvc means occupancy is strained, and that there’s a demand for more rooms. MyMagic+ comes from 10+ years of guest feedback and research, Disney would not spend so much time and money for such a program if there was not positive feedback and demand for such a system. I have plenty of ideas for future attractions at WDW, but please don’t pretend that they’re “resting on their laurels” or “too arrogant to see Universal as a threat”. They’re spending billions to improve the guest experience and maximize profits, things companies strive for. Attendance isn’t falling, in fact it held up VERY WELL during the great recession. Simply because funds are being directed at the more profitable ends of the resort doesn’t mean they’re not spending money. They’re just not spending it on what you want. And I for one am pretty glad for that. All of the armchair Imagineers and armchair parks management and armchair accountants around here would have driven Disney into the ground long ago if they ran things. ;)

    • JiminyCricketFan

      Wow! When you list rides that cost under a $100 million on your list, it seems to me it means we could have had ten new rides with the $1.1 billion dollars they are spending on the new “Mousecuffs” that Disney hopes to put on all new visitors to keep them at their resort. Disney has been spending on new resorts for decades with little money for new rides. I don’t the extra expenditures on hotels as increasing the value for the guest. It only means more crowded conditions at parks that have not be updated for many years. Without new rides, the capacity for the parks does not go up. If Disney started today to build a new ride at say Hollywood Studios, I guess we cannot expect to see it by three or four years from now? Until then, the magic is happening at Universal.

    • CaptainAction

      What a lame list. 90% is to grab more revenue. Massively inflated figures or Disney is run by suckers.
      In the last 10 years only ONE NEW ATTRACTION – Everest! How long has the Yeti been broke? Can they spare a million to fix the Yeti? No, how about $10 for a strobe light and we will say the refurb cost was $20 million, ok?
      The hotels and the like are revenue grabs from us, the Walking Wallets, er, I mean, Guests.
      $80 million for 20 minutes of new film at Star Tours?

      • Kenny B

        Sadly, strobe lights are closer to 25 bucks. The Yeti may utilize 7 of these. We may be talking 200$ here! Where’s a loan when Disney needs it!

      • Marko50

        Dear CA:

        Please read before you type. There are many more than one attraction on that list. Soarin’. Mission: Space. Alladin. Crush n Gusher. And if you think Star Wars II was nothing more than 20 minutes of new film…well, this is a family site.

        And, gee, you’ve also used “Walking Wallets” more times that I believe anyone wanted to hear. It’s not particularly inventive.

        Your posts make me wonder if you are the required age of 13.

    • buttermaker

      Mr. Iger is that you?

      • The Lost Boy

        Looks like Comic Book Guy escaped from Homer Simpson Land.

  • rushtest4echo

    Forgot to add:
    2008: Toy Story Mania / $80 million
    2012: New Test Track / $50 million

    Probably forgot a few more things…

    Either way, even counting sponsorships and the like, WDW has spent over $3 Billion over the last 10 years and will probably spend that much OR MORE over the next 10.

    • Kenny B

      DCA did 1.5 billion over 3 or 4 years, and look at the results. Your argument is flawed. How about a WDW/Universal Orlando comparison —- money talks.

    • Internitty

      It’s not about how much money you spend it’s about how you spend it

    • coneheads

      Bravo Rushtest, I don’t know how many times it needs to be said. The Parks are FULL, the
      Resorts are FULL, the restaurants are FULL, the merch flies off the shelf. Uni is not hurting Disney in the least if anything they have brought new guests that want to check out Uni’s fine offerings but very few will come to Orlando and not go to Disney.

      Hate on Disney all you want but the foreboding omens of doom posted by Trolls on the internet is not reflected in any way in RealityLand. Disney is not worried and doesn’t feel any need to “counter” Harry Potter because there has been no effect on their bottom line except an uptick in visits.

  • RenMan

    Everyone in this thread seems to regard Disney as needing to catch up with Universal. While this is true in terms of visible creative activity in Florida, I’m always surprised when no one mentions the obvious: attendance at the Magic Kingdom is FAR and away greater than that of any other theme park, and eclipses the COMBINED attendance at Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida.

    Here’s a link to the Themed Entertainment Association’s Global 2012 Attendance Report:

    Check out page 15 (Top 25 amusement/theme parks worldwide). TDO execs are no doubt very much in touch with these numbers, and it’s easy to imagine how they might feel unmotivated to provide more for guests when those guests keep coming in droves. Basically, what is required for them to do more is for the “spirit of Walt” to descend upon them and refocus their attention on the original vision and values that spurred him and Roy to create excellent entertainment in the first place, rather than thinking myopically about improving the company’s bottom line.

    • DLFan1995

      And that focus on attendance numbers is why Disney hasn’t responded to the dramatic improvements that Universal has made. If it doesn’t have an impact on their attendance, then why go to any expensive efforts?

      Getting Disney to focus on the “original vision and values” instead of the bottom line is the big challenge. Unfortunately, we don’t appear to have the power to do so.

    • CaptainAction

      Universal and Islands will pass AK, Disney Studios, and EPCOT in 2015. Watch.

      • RenMan

        If that does indeed happen, it will be fun to watch Disney’s reaction!

      • The Lost Boy

        All DisneyWorld needs is three months of free meal plans and the competition is smoked.

  • a-mad

    Thanks for the great article, Kevin… and I agree with your assessment of things.

    I hadn’t been to WDW in almost 10 years, before returning this past February – and given what I had been reading from comment boards like these, I was expecting a disastrous trip to WDW and a flawless experience at USO… but what we experienced was quite different from what we expected. While WWoHP was breathtaking, stunning, amazing (as was IOA in general for the most part – still one of my favorite parks), none in our group were terribly impressed with USF (although I had fun…) And it came down to one simple thing – customer service. While USO is bursting at the seams with new, technologically amazing rides – it still can’t touch Disney (in my opinion) as far as service and the overall resort experience is concerned.

    I realize that may be partially due to the current make-up of my family (I’m in my mid-forties and have 4 kids with the oldest 12 and the youngest 4), and yet if Universal truly wants to make a dent in that market, its got to provide more for the under-8 crowd to do. My 4-year-old son was able to ride a handful of rides during the 2 days we were at the 2 parks… but most of the time he had to sit around, with really nothing to keep his attention. At one point, my sister-in-law looked at me with frustration and said (related to USF) – “is there anything here for families to do?” Well of course there was… but compared to WDW, the difference was alarming. Needless to say, for our entire party, the overall experience at WDW was much more memorable and positively received than USO. And what is on the horizon? A groundbreaking attraction at Diagon Alley that I’m sure will be amazing, and win numerous awards… but will be something that I’m sure will have a Forbidden Journey-type height limit.

    Compare that with our experience at WDW, which included an amazing few hours at (hold on…) New Fantasyland (can it be possible?) Our kids are still talking about how great Enchanted Tales with Belle was, and they hardly remember anything about Despicable Me – Minion Mayhem. In addition, we scheduled our trip in early February to take advantage of what we expected to be smaller crowds. What did we experience? Smaller crowds at USO (everything was pretty much a walk-on…. and we had an amazing early entry hour at WWoHP) but PACKED crowds at WDW – every day we were there. I keep thinking that eventually attendance will drop, but I didn’t see it in early Feb, that’s for sure – and I was impressed how there were practically no ride closures during our entire stay.

    I’m not saying all this to say WDW is doing everything right, and USO is doing everything wrong. Not by a longshot. I’ve been impressed with USO and what they’re doing… and they have proven that Disney is not the only player in the Orlando market that can succeed. I’m saying this because there are certain intangibles at play when you evaluate the overall experience at a theme park/resort. We on this site have a tendency to look at one part of the whole equation. I think what rushtest4echo said above encapsulates that well.

    That said, I’m glad USO is pushing Disney when it comes to attractions. Like Kevin said, ultimately the winners in this arms race will be all of us.

    • CaptainAction

      WDW will own the under 4 and over 60 market for a while. My kids are 11, 15, and 18 now and all they want is Universal.
      Disney is becoming the Nursing Home of theme parks. Old folks and little kids riding Peter Pan, Pirates, and Haunted Mansion.
      Teens think Universal is cool and preteens follow them. My most relaxing days are spent at Universal when we stay at Portofino and skip 99% of the lines! we are relaxed, happy, and take our time. No rush to eat or site see. We take our sweet time and skip lines through our ENTIRE vacation.
      When is the last time you were at WDW and weren’t rushing.
      Portofino is our home now.

      • a-mad

        Yep, Captain… you’ve explained yourself numerous times on this comment board with the exact same info as above… we get it… and we’re glad you and your family has found its happy place.

        All I can say is we had over 30 people in our group – all extended family, with kids ranging from infants through 18 years old (including several male teens and pre-teens), and they all still loved everything about WDW… and were never bored at any of the 4 parks – in fact they wished they could have stayed longer. They also loved everything about Pop Century.

        USF? They were completely bored by about 4pm and headed back to the hotel.

      • CaptainAction

        So how many more years are you going to wait for the kiddie coaster at New Fantasyland?

  • Baloo

    I have been defending Avatar Land since the beginning and that is because from what i had heard The amount of detail and scope of this project from ideas being thrown around by WDI from early conception sounded amazing. I think people were just upset because they have other ideas and projects that they are more familiar with that did not happen.

    • DLFan1995

      I don’t see how you could be basing your defense of Avatarland because of “what i had heard The amount of detail and scope of this project from ideas being thrown around by WDI from early conception”, since there have been NONE. Even those Imagineers not working on the project have no idea what is being proposed.

      There has been absolutely no indication about what the land would consist of. The best anyone can do is to IMAGINE what they THINK the land may be, based on what they take away from the movie.

      • Kenny B

        Your forgetting the 2 sequels planned, and a possible 4th prequel.

        It’s about the unknown, the excitement it incurs. Have faith in WDI with a budget my friend!

      • Marko50

        Unfortunately, I also have faith in what WDW can cut from a budget.

  • Tielo

    Wow, Kevin, that are a lot of ‘if’s’ and ‘when’s’ but you have some good points there.
    First I read the RSR in Florida wouldn’t be the test track dark ride clone with all the broken stuff in it from California but a water downed cheap version with a different ride system. I guess the amount of problems this ride gives maintenance make it disappear on any list of any park forever. And a water downed version just wouldn’t cut it for the guests.
    The point you are making for Star Wars is a huge one, they should make it series, fan loving, good. I don’t give a sh!t about how popular the Star Wars weekends are, as a real Star Wars fan I wouldn’t be caught dead there. The lack of respect for the franchise and it’s characters is appalling. It’s why Harry Potter is doing so well with the fans, they feel Universal got what they love about the universe of the books and movies and everything is done with the greatest respect. Imagine Disney would build a Mos Eisley Cantina or Dex;s Diner at Coruscant the size of a Walmart? What if we would have carbon freeze experiences and dance offs every day? But Disney imagineers had the nerves to gut the Beasts castle and put a restaurant in it so it won’t surprise me a bit if they would build the Death Star to have a high tea location in there.
    Then we have Avatar, that should save Animal Kingdom and finally have the promise of mythical animals in there. I always thought mythical animals where to be grounded in the history of our ancestors like the dragon’s in Celtic mythology or flying unicorns and hydra’s from Greek mythology but in Disney’s wisdom it are sci-fi animals, great. I liked the movie as a 3D demo but story wise I never want to see it again, ever. There is nothing that attracted me. Non of the characters where sympathetic or remotely likable. The whole environmental thing was laughable. Sending a huge space ship many light-years form earth to obtain unobtainum, an energy supply to safe the earths energy need. The cost of the ship and the whole operation could have saved the planet forever. Anyway, the whole premise of the story is to live in harmony with nature and that big greedy companies are bad. So how is Disney imaginering going to put in the shops and restaurants if they don’t want to insult the few fanboys the movie has? Will we see a bibedybobedyNa’vi boutique where you can be painted blue and wear a cloth?
    And in the end we still have the aging and boring future world at Epcot with it’s graveyard entrance and where Ellen is getting more boring every day and where Nemo pooped in the water of a once so beautiful pavilion. Where Eric Idle just isn’t a great replacement for the good old dream finder and where Michael Jackson’s nose is still as it was when he was a great performer but the movie should be transplanted to a museum. Where a mission to mars is as exiting as waiting for the dentist and where a complete pavilion with the wonderful making of me show is now a garden shop at the flower and garden festival each year. Where Inovention has many empty spaces and where Soarin is a glorified over appreciated tech demo that takes you out of the flight every time the scene changes.
    End then the magic plus stuff. That is probably the main reason why I’ll never visit Disney ever again. The reason is that this service is fully focused on their hotel guests. Where Universal gives their hotel guests (except for the new one they are building) unlimited front in line and the same service for people who want to pay extra, Disney is going to give all their hotel guests the option to reserve rides, shows and restaurants 6 months in advance. Leave me, the regular guest who rented a home for my 6 week vacation with almost nothing. Disney has about 2 or 3 E tickets in each park.
    MK has Splash Mountain, Space Mountain and Big Thunder
    Epcot has Test Track and Soarin
    AK has Expedition Everest
    DHS has Tower of Terror and Rock n Roller coaster
    And that’s about it. Most of these rides have very low capacity so fastpasses will gone forever for any regular guests and the wait because of them are going to be even longer.
    Universal Orlando Resort has many e ticket rides and a lot of them can chew up a lot of guests each hour. Rides like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Spider-man, Transformers, Jurassic Park and lots more serve many guests each hour and you never have to feeling you need to wait longer because of the hotel guests. The most popular ones are even excluded and the hotel guests will have an extra hour to enjoy them alone without the regular guests in the park.
    Disney has 25 resorts with about 30.000 hotel rooms. That is minus Golden oak and the Swan and Dolphin who enjoy the same services. With 4 occupants in a room that totals 120.000 guests for a few popular restaurants and rides each day and cuts in any ones guests experience.
    There was a time I really enjoyed WDW. I could meet Micky who was walking around, get caught between cowboys in Frontierland (not Woody but ‘real’ cowboys) who where battling it out and when Epcot was new and on the edge of technology. Now it feels like a pretty shopping mall with overpriced restaurants and mediocre rides. All the ‘magic’ happens now on timed schedules and you need you wristband close to pay up. No thanks.

  • Herc

    Kevin, it is hard to imagine Disney squeezing the stone for more money when ticket prices are hovering at $100. To think that people also pay $60 for a Christmas or Halloween party basically making the day at the Magic Kingdom a day park. Now to think they would offer me to ride Space Mountain more times if I pay more from the stone. That is bleeding me dry. Also that would make Space Mountain unavailable to the rest of the paying public. Not good.
    I’ve been going to WDW since August 1972 and can say that over the last 41 years, I’ve seen it at its best and at its worst. I’m not interested in MyMagic+. Making dining reservations 180 days in advance is bad enough. I sorta have to force myself and family to eat Italian on a particular day instead of that Shepherd’s Pie craving right before my trip. Now to deal with making ride reservations. Ridiculous. It’s a great big world out there and my family will now start to see it instead of going down to WDW. What’s next, certain restaurants having to pay three dining coupons? Heck I would rather Disney figure out a way to get me from Bay Lake Tower to the Grand Floridian and back late at night when the Magic Kingdom closes early. Why do I have to call a cab to get me to one of their hotels. Better yet, keep all quick service/snack areas open 24/7.

    What Universal is doing is what Disney used to do. They stole the playbook and Disney is now lost. Here’s hoping Dusty is right and plans, really good immersive, thrilling plans, are coming soon.

  • rushtest4echo


    “Universal Orlando Resort has many e ticket rides and a lot of them can chew up a lot of guests each hour. Rides like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Spider-man, Transformers, Jurassic Park and lots more serve many guests each hour and you never have to feeling you need to wait longer because of the hotel guests.”

    First things first: ride capacity
    Neither Universal Orlando Park beats out any single Disney park when it comes to ride/park capacity, period.

    Hourly throughput for rides (including theaters)
    Magic Kingdom: 35,000 per hour
    EPCOT: 22,000 per hour
    Disney Studios: 19,500 per hour
    Animal Kingdom: 17,500 per hour
    Islands of Adventure: 17,500 per hour
    Universal Studios: 17,000 per hour

    Second: Universal Express
    You’ve obviously not seen a hot summer day when the ratio of express pass users vs standby is around 2:1 on all major attractions. On Blutos, Jurassic and Dudley it’s closer to 3:1. That means 300 express passes to every 100 from the standby queue. Spiderman was the most egregious, usually running around 4:1 (you can even hear tower announce the ratios to the express boarding area over the rides PA- if they mention “3 spiders” that’s a 3:1 ratio.) One Fish Two Fish can and commonly does go with entire cycles of express passes- everyone riding is from the express queue, and then they’ll go back to 2:1 after the express queue dies down. Men in Black and Mummy usually have an entire side dedicated to Express, and then they load the other side 1:1, so 75% of riders are express users.

    Of course, this is only on busy days. I implore people to NOT VISIT Universal during busy periods unless they have express, it’s absolutely unbearable. During the rest of the year, the parks are relatively crowd free and much more enjoyable. Universal is bursting at the seams maybe 60 days out of the year and dead empty during the rest of the year, except for Potter.

    • CaptainAction

      Never had any of the problems you write about. I’ve never waited longer than 20 minutes for any ride with my room key. Just compare Potter with New Fantasyland – you can’t be proud of that.

      • Kenny B

        You really didn’t read any of what was written, did you Mr. Univeral? Sorry to sound like a butt, “but”, what he just said was…. on busy days most of the E-ticket rides – over half of the people getting on the ride at any moment constitute over half the ride load.

  • Orlando71

    You know i am sick and tired of all the hatin on Disney and oh how universal is so much better and they can do no wrong, while Disney is trailing in their dust. No, Universal is still trailing in Disney;s dust. Last time i checked out, Universal has 2 theme parks, and three hotels. Disney has 4 with plenty of expansions down the road because of all the complaining and over 20, yah over 20 hotels and 2 water parks. Disney is workin on stuff, so if everybody could just be patient i know nobody will ever doubt disney again. Great article by the way.

    • Kenny B

      Another invalid argument. This isn’t about quantity over quality… This is about the current infrastructure of the park, and the improvements being made/planned to be built.

  • Jspider

    It boils down to Universal being the one thats expanding NOW in the present. I know Disney COULD offer me more but they haven’t and that does have a cost.

    I’ve loved Disney’s rides and designs but the things I’m interested in have slowed down to a snails pace in development. Alot of their new updates seem to remove repeatability from their rides for me or make me feel a bit out of place as they arn’t really meant for or targeted to me.

    Disney’s attempts to pull in all demographics and include merchandise that might appeal to me is actually having an inverse effect as it seems to often be jaring and at odds with theme and experience.

    More hotels is nice for Disney but doesn’t really improve the experience of the guest in the park which is the focus I have when I look at theme parks. I’m also not interested in dealing with yet ANOTHER reservation system and MORE preplanning so it feels like a shift towards a vacation I don’t want.

    Maybe when these land expansions are announced and start going through I’ll be excited. I think the fanbase is also jaded because these projects always take so long once they’re announced anyways. Once we see construction it ussually takes five years before we’re riding and its also hard to imagine three large Carsland style projects beginning at once or even opening within short timespans of each other.

    Right now Universal’s eagerly fighting for my business and creating things that are new and exciting. Things can deffinitly change but if asked right now which was more exciting I’d say Universal.

  • martinjbell1986

    Does anyone else think CaptainAction is a Universal spy

    • CaptainAction

      Funny story. I asked my wife to marry me at Disneyland Castle 21 years ago. The ring was in a music box with the Herb Ryman artwork that Walt chose for the castle. We honeymooned at the Grand Floridian. We used to go to Universal one day each vacation, when we had kids, just so they and my wife could see the Animal show.
      My wife drug me into Islands of Adventure the year they opened. In my video, I am griping about losing a day at Disney but 15 minutes into the video my attitude started changing to liking this new creative experience. The next morning the family voted to go back to Islands.
      Since then, WDW has nickled and dimed me and stopped giving me new rides like Universal has. Prices at Disney for our family of 5 went nuts. Annual passes, which we always bought so that we could make 2-3 trips a year from Texas went over $500 each.
      Universal is throwing the moon to us. We can stay at the 4-5 star Portofino, upgraded to a suite w 2 full baths, $100 meal credit, key that skips lines. This for the same price as Coronado, crammed in 1 room or two rooms at Pop Century.
      My kids are 18, 15, and 11 now and we all love Universal. The last chance for us all was New Fantasyland. We all felt insulted. None of us care to ride Little Mermaid again. We are rewarding Universal for all the new rides and attractions which are open every time we return. We were in the first 100 to ride Transformers and we hadn’t done Despicable Me before that trip. We now all have Universal annual passes. And WDW is still working on 7 Dwarfs Coaster now on year 3.
      My son has an entire Disney Park above his room on a shelf with the monorail running along the entire room.
      If Disney is losing a family like ours to Universal, then imagine how many nominal Disney fans they are losing each day.

      • Kenny B

        So, when were you hired on by Universal?

        Sounds like a rather important part of the story(sarcasm)………….

        Please don’t respond with terrible, derogatory remarks.

        I respect you and you high opinions of Universal. Hell, I agree with a lot of them!

    • The Lost Boy

      No, just a know-it-all with too much internet access on his hands.

      • CaptainAction

        I do know it all.

      • The Lost Boy

        What you really don’t know is that you don’t matter.

  • JtnOrl

    Wake me up when you have something more than wishful thinking, Kevin.