Chad Emerson returns to the Season Pass Podcast for the 6th episode of EMERSON’S DISNEY FILES.  This episode we talk the BIG battle between Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Florida.  Conversation on immersive environment, luxury vacations, My Magic +, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Avatar, and of course, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride in the Magic Kingdom.  Can WDW get back to immersive storytelling?  Let the controversy begin.  Enjoy!

  • CaptainAction

    The amazing thing is that we are having this discussion.
    Twelve years ago this would have been an impossible conversation of Universal competing with WDW.
    WDW began responding to Universal with Disney/MGM Studios but it really hasn’t been a park about movies, it was just to keep guests from visiting Universal.
    Animal Kingdom was a park reponding to Islands of Adventure. AK was a park where we can quickly throw some animals on the ugly swamp land and take a bus ride through. Then WDW added some of the worst rides Disney had ever offered. the thought was to make a fourth park which will make WDW guests too busy to leave WDW for Islands of Adventure.
    WDW marketing of AK worked even though Universal’s IOA is the better park.
    These two parks, AK and DS are the weakest of Disney’s offerings.
    Now since WDW execs have really rested on the laurels of the true Disney leaders before them, they’ve decided to wring every $ they can out of every guest instead of bulding new exciting lands and rides.
    Universal has stepped it up like no competitor has ever done. Universal is out doing Disney on immersive story telling, giving guests new attractions and lands, and not just trying to use marketing with “free” buses, uninspiring parks, and armbands.
    Marketing is fine of course but at some point guests notice that their most expensive family vacation was made up of all the same stuff they did 8 years ago.
    Universal is marketing and giving guests new reasons to visit too.
    Guests notice, over time, when they are being treated like human wallets. This isn’t good long term planning but is short term, lazy, earn my bonus now, planning.
    How can we be talking about the possibility that Universal could pass attendance of some of the WDW parks?
    Because that’s what could happen at the intersection of WDW’s execs lazyness and Universal’s hunger to please and attract more guests than ever.
    Twelve years ago, this would have been a ridiculous subject, but now, today…
    Let’s watch the next 4 years as the rest of Universal’s plans for guests roll out.

    • Yeah, it’s a crazy notion, but it’s happening right before our eyes. At the end, I believe all this will result in is millions of happy Orlando visitors, because I have faith in Disney turning this thing around. The Kings of Immersive Storytelling will get back to their ways and Universal will continue to launch killer rides. That’s my wish. 😉

      Thanks for the feedback.


      • CaptainAction

        Yes, but I would like these WDW execs heckled on the way out for being so lazy, cheap, and greedy. They are just motivated to sqeeze every $ out of every guests wallet.
        They have been poor stewards of something great.

  • Yeah, I think a change in leadership would be nice. Hopefully we see changes soon.

  • AaroniusPolonius

    Doug, I’m curious. Do you really think this is the sea change, that we’re in the middle of a paradigm shift? It certainly feels that way to me…but I thought the original IOA was the paradigm shift, so what do I know?

    Great episode, BTW

    • Hi AaroniusPolonius, you know…it looks like it’s a possibility to me. I know Chad is definitely buying-in on the possibility. I also thought IOA was supposed to be the big Uni-shift, but it surprisingly did not do very well, only picking up around 4-5 million visitors a year. What I do know, is that attendance nearly doubled when Harry Potter opened and there’s a ton of guest dollars flying in that direction. If the new Potter land exceeds that…Oh my…it will be a paradigm shift of the highest magnitude. Not sure what Avatar will do for Disney, but I do know Star Wars is loved even more than Harry Potter. What a battle that can be eh?

      • AaroniusPolonius

        Well, I agree that Comcast’s deep pockets are enabling Universal to become a viable competitor to Disney for the first time, ever, and if they keep the gas on, its going to be really interesting as time goes on.

        I worry that part of the issue with regards to Disney is that they have so many more levers to pull. If IOA taught us anything, its that having the superior product on the market means nothing in a vacuum, which is to say that WDW can still play the 4 parks, 3 water parks, even beach resorts and cruise ship packages card, which make the multi-day exclusive Disney vacation ‘affordable.’ I think that advantage is really strong and drives attendance, if not investment, in Florida’s parks.

        Or, to put this another way, if I give up Potter and the A+ experience at UO, I gain two extra “different” theme parks for a four day experience…or a week! Or two! Maybe I’ll go on a cruise ship! Or to the beach resort!

        I understand that’s what UO is attempting to do with the expansion of their property, and I’m certainly not critiquing the fight as futile, but Universal should really, at the very least, get a cruise line partner involved and start packaging that whole week. (I’d argue for them to really work with SeaWorld Parks as well in terms of packaging, but they’re dealing with their own Blackfish taint at present, so maybe not.)

        The other issue, and I’m not sure if it can be overcome, is the folks loyal to the Disney brand and Disney experience. There’s a root for the home team mentality, and I fear that UO’s expansion isn’t being viewed objectively. (There’s a whole absurd “reliance on projections” critique flying around another comment thread right now, as if Disney isn’t drowning in movie-based effects themselves. There’s also a turn around of the idea that its not Disney but Universal that has loyal fans skewered via brand loyalty, which is markedly absurd, as Disney is the power brand here.)

        I’m not entirely sure where I stand on Avatar, as it is James Cameron and is the highest grossing movie of all time. I personally didn’t really like the sci-fi retelling of the Smurfs, but I was amazed at the special effects and the popcorn adventure of it all. I think you all are right with the idea that the original film didn’t resonate post-viewing, but they are making two more, so perhaps there’s more to that franchise than meets the eye. I worry more about Disney cheaping out on the attractions in the land itself, than the movies and franchise having lasting power.

        As for Star Wars, I agree: that could be a game-changer. But, if Disney doesn’t go really, really big with the franchise, either in a concentrated manner at DHS, or in a more diluted manner across all four parks, they’re not going to gain the traction they need.

        One more thing maybe you could share your thoughts on: MK gets 17 million visitors a year. The other three get between 10-11ish million. Would it be safe to say that the other three parks fail to capture 6-7 million guests each year? Or is that built into the multiday experience? Is that view of the resort as a whole really what’s hurting WDW, in the long run?

  • Actually, if you were to ask me five years ago, I would have said that Animal Kingdom and Disney Hollywood Studios were failing and EPCOT was just fine. But now with all three in the high 9-11+ million, I think they are doing well! Magic Kingdom is what it is…it’s the Magic Kingdom. It’s the park that started WDW and it is the most commercially recognized park. I can see where 7 million more guests a year seems like a ridiculous jump from the other three parks, but it’s the hub of the resort. It attracts much more attention for families with children. The other parks, no matter how hard they try, won’t ever have the magic and/or nostalgia that Magic Kingdom does. I think all four parks work well together, I just wish they could add a little more to DHS and AK because they seem to me like half-day parks, which goes with exactly what you said “multiday experience.” So, I wouldn’t say the parks are failing, I just think that MK is THAT big. Ultimately, I don’t think it’s hurting the resort, but compare what MK has to offer to DHS; I think it makes DHS look like “less” of a Disney park. 😉

    • AaroniusPolonius

      However it plays out, it’s going to be fascinating, because clearly Comcast isn’t intending to back off the spending until UO is a multi-day destination, which means Disney will either have to cede or invest…or possible cede AND invest (which could very well be what happens at UO, as well: a whole slew of cash goes into their properties and a newly awake Disney trumps that. Or worse, a loyal Disney fanbase ignores that.)

      I personally can’t wait to see it all shake down and play out.