Hello, and welcome to Dateline Disney World, or should we say Dateline Universal Orlando Resort? This week we explore the exciting addition of a new retail spot, the Marketplace Co-Op store in Downtown Disney.  So much shopping, and merchandise. Next we finally wander down the I-4 to Universal Orlando Resort’s new Diagon Alley.  Yes, it has been covered before in the Orlando Parkhopper and in other websites around the internet.  But what does the Universal addition mean to the Walt Disney World vacationer?  Should WDW fan boys break out of their Disney habit and go off property to explore this expansion?  You are about to find out.  But first, Disney plates, t-shirts, and tchotchkes!

The Marketplace Co-Op store opened a while back, and is a place to go check out some of the best merchandise WDW has had in years.

There is a sports themed area called the Trophy Room (which made me think of the old Club 33 at Disneyland).

You can also get really creepy Disney art, and special Disney bags here.

But, like I mentioned above, the classic Disney merchandise is what will draw people to this location. And there is plenty of it in the Disney Centerpiece area.

Lots of good stuff in there, and much of it is pretty reasonable in price. Lots of the plates and bowls were in the $12-15 range.

For a bit of a change, I thought we could take a ride up north to Universal Orlando, where the new Diagon Alley expansion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the hot new ticket this summer. Many folks have decided to not include Universal in their Orlando vacations for some time now, but with two large Harry Potter themed lands, it feels like that is about to change. These photos are are in no particular order, but show off the amazing details that exist in Diagon Alley, as well as the Hogwarts Express transportation attraction that sends guests from Universal Studios to Islands of Adventure’s Hogsmeade area.

Details everywhere.

The dragon breathes fire to applause every few minutes.

Inside the Leaky Cauldron, which serves all British fare.

Carkitt Market is under cover and holds several stage shows along with a way to get out of the rain.

There are stairs throughout the area which give a great sense of scale and suggest more expanse to the land than there really is.

The same technique is practiced in Knockturn Alley, where the Dark Arts take the stage. It is fully indoors, so it is nighttime all the time, and also air conditioned!

You can get Butterbeer Ice Cream as well as many other exotic flavors at Florean Fortescue’s.

Inside of the weenie that is the Gringotts Bank building houses the main attraction, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.

I won’t spoil anything since many have yet to ride, but Gringotts is one of the most complete themed attractions I’ve been able to experience. The queue has many layers, two pre-shows (one of which will excite EPCOT Center Hydrolator fans), and a fantastic dark ride/coaster attraction that tells part of the Harry Potter story from a new angle. I like to compare it to the Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland in terms of how complete it feels from the moment you enter the queue until the ride is over.

Diagon Alley really shines at night, as well.

Now, it can feel kind of cramped in the area at times, especially some of the gift shops. But, that same idea applies to Hogsmeade, so it kind of makes sense that they would do it that way. Overall though, Diagon Alley is really a transportive experience. You cannot see any part of Universal Studios once you pass through the brick walls, and I think it has the most detail of any themed land in Orlando.

Once your experience in Diagon is done, you can hop on the Hogwarts Express from Platform 9 3/4 over to Islands of Adventure and the original Wizarding World, as long as you have a two park ticket.

I can’t applaud Universal enough for taking on a project this large, and showing that Disney isn’t the only company in town that can do something with this level of detail that is sure to please guests for years to come. I very much look forward to their future projects and I would LOVE to see them try a traditional dark ride.


MiceChat Walt Disney World Invasion – October 22nd through 29th, 2014: We’ll visit the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando, offer an optional Halloween Horror Nights event, hold a Walt Disney World GUMBALL RALLY, travel the World Showcase in our wonderful Food and Wine Festival Sip and Nibble event, enjoy Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, PLUS La Nouba, meet-ups, meals and more. Don’t miss this fantastic week of Orlando fun!!! Contact [email protected] to book travel to Orlando. Sign up for our email list to be sent information about  the Gumball Rally, Sip and Nibble and other MiceChat Invasion events! REQUEST ADDITIONAL INFORMATION HERE

Hopefully you all enjoyed this little deviation from WDW. We’ll be back there next week with the typical news and construction photos. Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for reading!!

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If you enjoyed the column, especially the photos, and you want to check out more photos and tutorials on Disney photography, please check out my photo site, [URL=”http://www.DisneyPhotographyBlog.com”]Disney Photography Blog[/URL]. And if you like listening more than reading, you can hear us talk about Disney and photography on my podcast, [URL=”http://www.ISO5571.com”]ISO5571[/URL]

  • Jabroniville

    Nice article! I like seeing the Diagon Alley updates- it’s one of the few things I missed on my first (and only) WDW trip in May- both that and the Mind Coaster opened later. I wonder what that Dragon’s gonna look like with the constant Florida rainfalls. Can you water-proof something like that properly?

    How many boards and stuff do they still have in Downtown Disney? When I went there, it was a nuisance to get around because of all the temporary fencing they had up all over the place.

  • LoveStallion

    Great photos and you make an excellent point – they really make the space seem more massive than it is. Anyone can see that the actual surface area of DA isn’t that huge, but with quality, immersive theming, guests will be sucked in to an elaborate facade.

    Re: spoilers on EFG, please, we’ve all watched them on YouTube already. 🙂

  • pianojohn

    “Many folks have decided to not include Universal in their Orlando vacations for some time now..”

    Seriously? Where did you get this so-called fact?

    In reality, Universal has been doing great for “some time now” with attendance soaring in 2010 with the original WWoHP and will continue to do so with the Diagon Alley expansion.

    • FerretAfros

      The TEA attendance numbers (though unofficial and somewhat disputed) certainly back that statement up. In 2013, IOA had 8.1M guests and USH had 7.1M; DAK and DHS were both over 10M, with Epcot and MK above that. Many folks have not included Universal in their vacations ever since it opened in 1989


      • yellowrocket

        Actually… it looks like 8.1M folks have included IOA in their vacation and 7.1 have included USH. So, yeah… someone’s visiting. Universal Orlando’s numbers were already up this year thanks to Transformers and Springfield. We’ll see how the numbers settle.

      • CaptainAction

        Universal grew in attendance by almost 11% between 2009-2013.
        Epcot (the future world of 1982) grew less than 2% between 2009-2013.
        DHS (half day park with the last E Ticket attraction, Rockin Roller Coaster, opened in the 1990’s),
        Animal Kingdom (half day park with a broken centerpiece for 6 years from their last E Ticket attraction which opened 13years ago)
        were both flat to 1% growth between 2009-2013.
        All this was before a full year of Transformers, Springfield, or any London/Diagon Alley, or Cabana Bay.

        All this is also before Universal opens King Kong’s Skull Island, two more new resorts, and the most deeply themed waterpark ever created, Volcano Bay, and the new unannounced THIRD gate.

        How well do you think Ellen, Imagination, Spaceship Earth, Captain EO, Finding Nemo Living Seas, Maelstrom, Three Caballero’s Boat, Indiana Stunt Show, Catastrophe Canyon, Little Mermaid Show, OK Movie Ride, Muppet Movie, Dinoland, etc, are going to keep the fantastic growth rate of flat to 2% through 2020?

      • jcruise86

        ^ ^ Captain, it’s not fair to work in INCREASES in attendance, because that involves statistics. Stick with feelings.

        But seriously, Universal’s got momentum.

        Fortunately for Disney, even at 42 or so square miles, WDW is a minor part of the Disney empire. They’ve had three excellent and popular Superhero movies this summer, the cruise line offers some of the best Disney experiences of all time, and Shanghai Disneyland opens in 2015.

      • AaroniusPolonius

        …and I’m betting, mall tacky and cheap as it is, that the frozen event at DHS is driving a pretty decent surge in attendance over there. It would not surprise me to see them post a 5-7 percent growth rate on the basis of that add alone.

        Plus, since they’ve already bought two days, they may as well buy four. Hence the beauty and horror of the WDW model and why that’s a tough nut to crack, squirrel.

        This does nothing to detract from the loss of thought leadership and the insane lack of investment (I nearly threw up on the other board when someone listed the caballeros add to the old 80s Mexico footage boat ride as a “new” thing,) but you wanting it to be true and it actually being true are two different things.

        WDW kicks attendance tush.

        Honestly, I really hope Universal really does start taking attendance because it will force Disney back into the game and we’ll all be better off as theme park guests due to the intense competition.

      • WDWorldly

        I went to Universal in 2010, when WWoHp first opened, and haven’t gone back since this year because of Diagon Alley. Most people will want to focus their vacations on Disney World because it does a better job of catering to families and there’s more to do. That will never change.

    • Cory Gross

      I would be surprised if Diagon Alley made Universal’s numbers “soar.” If you look at the TEA numbers, the clearest picture that comes out is that the average guest was spending about a day each in DAK and DHS, one to two days in Epcot, and two or more days in MK, with Universal being an optional “fifth gate” in competition with SeaWorld, Kennedy Space Center, etc. Then Universal built Harry Potter and boosted IOA’s numbers by three million… where it tapered off. Universal won the battle against SeaWorld. What Diagon Alley is clearly meant to do is share that three million with USO, and bring USO’s numbers up to the same level as IOA.

      • The best thing that could happen to Disney World would be for Universal to steal a day from WDW attendance . . . finally forcing Disney to take Universal (and tourists) seriously. Perhaps then they’d stop wasting billions on wrist bands and start building big budget attractions again. Disney could have built 4 Wizarding Worlds for what they’ve absolutely thrown away on MyMagic+.

        I LOVE Disney, but I’m furious that they’ve focused on tricks to keep guests on property rather than earning longer stays by building big new things to entice folks to stay legitimately. Disney is making some serious mistakes while Universal is starting to build what tourists REALLY want to see.

        Thank you for the Uni coverage Mr. Disbrow. Stunning photos!

      • heffalump

        Well said, Dusty

      • CaptainAction

        Well said Dusty.

        Cory, Universal grew an average of 10% in the recent 4 years measured.

        Epcot, Disney Studios, and Animal Kingdom were flat to 2% max in growth
        during the same 4 year period.

        That measuring stopped without measuring even 6 months of Springfield and Transformers being open.

      • AaroniusPolonius

        Actually, captain, that’s not true. IOA’s attendance grew phenomenally for the first two years and then settled down to a 2% growth rate! which means that it’s growth rate was aligned with Epcot, dhs and dak. Numerically, since 8 is less than 10, the number of added guests is also less than what Disney added.

        Universal studios Florida had a massive increase last year, because they opened up a lot of new rides, attractions and the rest, and I expect that potter will thrust that growth rate waaaaaay up…but even if they grow at an amazing 30% rate and add roughly 2.1 million guests, that still leaves them shy of attendance numbers at the non magic kingdom parks at WDW. By around a million guests. And, of course, as the trend goes, the rate drops in year two and settles in at around 2% in year three (this is for potter additions: I’m uncertain how a kong add or Jurassic add will increase admissions.) I also think that 30% is probably too far a stretch: I think they’ll be in the very high teens or low twenties, which is phenomenal growth…just not enough to pass WDW attendance figures. Math is a fact, dude.

        Now, if this fosters a CHOICE, where people actually give up a day or two at WDW for Universal, and thus curtail their purchase, en significant masse, of a multi-day WDW vacation, and actually start taking attendance from WDW, that will be big news and they’ll surpass attendance much quicker than expected. Because if ENOUGH people make that choice, it will crater the WDW vacation model and they’ll lose 10, 15 percent of their attendance numbers in big waves, chunks. Again, math and the law of accelerated returns.

      • CaptainAction

        No Aaronius, 2013 was between 7-8% growth at Universal.
        The 3 non MK parks were all below 2%.
        Go read Grumpy’s post.
        That was with less than 6 months of Transformers or Springfield. No Cabana Bay numbers at all.

  • MrTour

    Seems like Universal Orlando did things right! Not supposed to see outside of your themed land? What was Disney thinking when they put the Tangled tower in full view from Liberty Square???

    • CaptainAction

      Since the budget was only $200 for the building of Rapunzel’s 9 foot “Tower”, the castmembers didn’t think anyone would notice.
      Beast’s Castle Dollhouse, on top of the 9 foot mountain, was budgeted for almost $375.
      To be fair, most of the Beast’s Dollhouse budget was spent on the safety harness, demanded by OSHA, for the construction guys who had to navigate the dangers from the 8 foot ladder.

      • Jabroniville

        Aw c’mon, that Castle’s pretty big. Not like CASTLE big, but it’s at least two stories tall, judging by the construction platforms used in the building of the thing. Though it would have been cool to make the thing “Cinderella Castle” huge, it might have been a bit too visible all around the park.

      • CaptainAction

        There’s no way that Beast’s Castle is two stories. It sits on a tunnel that’s not even 12 feet tall and it looks to be 4 – 6 feet tall from the small to largest parts.
        It is soooo cheap looking. I saw the castmembers with clipboards looking at the castle when it first went up. They all looked very concerned and I should have gone up to them and asked if they had seen Hogwarts at Universal, but I didn’t. Big regret.
        It looks like it belongs in Storybook Canal Boats at Disneyland.

      • AaroniusPolonius

        I’m pretty sure they just bought a Lego set of a castle, sprayed stucco and paint on it, and called it a day. It really is the most jarring thing, and it really takes you out if the quite immersive world created around you. A for idea! D for execution!

      • sixalex

        Captain Action, I don’t always agree with you, but I love your snarky sense of humor.

  • Cory Gross

    Thanks for the shots from Marketplace Co-Op… It’ll help me build my shopping list for September!

    • TheBig2na

      I can already feel my wallet getting lighter from here. I can see a grand being spent in there with little or no effort. And you don’t even half to pay for it. just swipe your wrist band and they deliver it to your room, no cash handed over. Visa loves me.

      • Cory Gross

        I know hey! Since our wedding is turning out to be more expensive that originally budgeted (because it’s a wedding, of course it did), I might have to be a bit more selective than I would like… Alas!

    • Darth Goofy

      The Market Place Co-op seems kinda Meh…but like many have mentioned Uni does not have a strong enough draw for the Families with 10 and unders….If they can crack that combo…which could prove difficult..only then will they be able to sustain higher attendance grabs from WDW. Family’s will continue to go see the Mouse in his House, and Pooh Bear! A guaranteed win for DysCorp. The detail is amazing in the new area though.

  • martinjbell1986

    I have reluctantly volunteered to be the babysitter for the day when our group goes to Universal in January. Have been told it’s still a waste of money for children under 10 and especially for children under 10 that don’t know anything about Harry Potter. No way I would let the kids under 10 watch the Simpsons or Transformers so currently there is no draw for the young ones.

    • Buffett Fan

      While it’s true that kids under 10 are limited to ET, Suessland, the Hogwart’s Express, MIB and maybe a few of the water rides in IOA, and a few other things, it’s still worthwhile to see Hogwart’s, Diagon Alley, and even Springfield. (Come to think of it, you also have Shrek and the Minions.
      I am a lifelong WDW fan, and not a Potter Fan, but the theming, immersiveness, and overall fun of being in these new lands is worth the price of admission. It is great to see former Imagineers work with a budget to express their true talents. Plus, you can use ChildSwap to participate in the rides as well.
      After our July trip, I’ll have to say that their is some truth to Captain Action’s constant diatribe.

    • CaptainAction

      It’s true WDW has more for kids 10 and under but Universal has a lot for around 7 and up.

      Ever since my kids outgrew Princesses and Peter Pan they would rather go to Universal.

      Despicable Me, Shrek, ET, Simpson’s ( I don’t recall anything inappropriate for kids in the ride – it’s very funny), the Animal Actors Stage (Monkeys, dogs, cats, birds, raccoons, etc in a funny show), Disaster, MIB, London, Diagon Alley, Hogwarts Express (different experiences in each direction), Escape from Gringott’s (I haven’t ridden yet but I read it’s more kid friendly – could be too scary for some), Spiderman, Marvel Superheroes, Spongebob, Patrick, and Squidward, Popeye water ride, Dudley Do Right water ride (huge Splash Mountain type drop), Hogwarts, Forbidden Journey (maybe too scary for some), Olivander’s, Woodie Woodpecker Coaster (Barnstormer), Curious George Water Park area,
      Cat in The Hat Ride, One Fish Two Fish (Dumbo while dodging water), High in the Sky Suess Trolley (two different high train rides).
      Not to mention THE coolest playground for kids in Orlando at Jurassic Park – caves, underground rivers, tunnels, waterfalls, slides, etc.
      Some kids might be too scared but also may like The Mummy (indoor roller coaster), Posiedon’s Fury (giant walk through fantasy special effects), The Hulk Coaster, or Dragon Challenge Coaster.
      There aren’t enough things here for kids to do?

    • BlahBlahson

      The playgrounds at Universal are very underrated. The Curious George Sprayground and Fievel’s Waterslide are both pretty fun, but the big big winner is Camp Jurassic with caves, slides, water, climbing structures, tunnels, the works.

      It is extremely easy to fill a full day for under ten year olds utilizing both parks. Your kids probably won’t have been exposed to the IPs at Universal though, so could be a problem for you guys.

  • a-mad

    Excellent photos, Cory. Diagon Alley is truly stunning, and a great addition to USO.

    Does Eric Davis contribute to MiceAge anymore? I haven’t seen a Universal or Sea World entry for a few weeks…

    • FarFromHome

      “Does Eric Davis contribute to MiceAge anymore?”
      I was wondering the same thing. Anyone know if he posts at another site? Taking a break?

      Thanks for covering Universal, Cory. Beautiful pictures once again.

    • Eric is busy with a new job and doesn’t have time for updates at the moment. His brother is going to try to fill in for him. We hope to have those updates for you soon.

      • FarFromHome

        Thanks, Dusty. That’s perfectly understandable.

  • JiminyCricketFan

    Wow! I loved the update. What fantastic detail! Universal has really understood the Walt Disney principle of taking a person to another time and place. Walt also believed in magic and animation (bringing things to life like the dragon!). All I can say is Universal really has taken Uni Orlando to a level which definitely rivals Disney. Sadly, Disney has nothing in the pipeline to compete. When a generation of young people get more thrills from Uni than WDW, they will be loyal for life to that place.

    Disney should really wake up and take notice. If they think it is all about the short term, they will be paying for that mistake for a long time.

    • CaptainAction

      This is true. The folks who love WDW so much that they can’t hear the warning bells keep talking about how many folks visited MK last year.
      That’s not the concern.
      A generation of kids who grew up on Potter, Transformers, Despicable Me, Marvel (yes, I know but we’re East of the Miss), Spiderman, Hulk, Jurassic Park, etc and all the new thrill rides with never before seen technology want to seeUniversal as they grow up.
      Peter Pan, Winnie, Dumbo, the Fab 5, and Avatar, really aren’t the driving force behind what kids want to see.
      For certain, the MK will be the theme park king for quite a while but AK, DHS, and Epcot are dying a slow death.
      The problem for WDW compared to Universal is, in a word, TRENDS.
      The higher WDW keeps raising prices only causes greater evaluation of the money a mom and dad are spending. As they see the value drop, they will drop AK, Epcot, and DHS for days at Universal, IOA, the Third Gate, and Volcano Bay Waterpark.
      WDW resort stays are already dropping.
      Two more years of 10% growth at Universal and 1% growth at AK, Epcot, and DHS can put Universal parks ahead of some of the WDW parks.

      • AaroniusPolonius

        Sorry Cap. As much as I lament wdw’s lack of investment, it will take at least three years or possibly four at the current growth rates of both universal Florida parks and the not magic three.

        What COULD happen is that in lieu of an add-on, people skip some Disney parks outright, which would mean a negative rate for Disney and a massive surge at universal. Should that happen, it won’t just be nerds at miceage reporting on it.

      • AaroniusPolonius

        …and PLENTY of kids love Disney and their intellectual properties as well. To say nothing of the Disney brand itself. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be going. I don’t like the lack of investment, but to suggest that Disney is “out of touch” with the kids is pure malarkey. They live breathe and profit off the kids. They know them inside and out. Lack of consumer knowledge or IPs is not the issue.

      • CaptainAction

        Hey Aaronius, I’m not suggesting that Disney doesn’t have all the characters they need for continued success. What I was trying to say is that they are resting on a lot of characters that don’t have the connections with kids that they used to.
        Winnie, Peter Pan, Figment, Dumbo, Casey, Three Caballeros, Snow White, and even the Fab 5, don’t have but a shadow of the connection with the kids of 2015 that they enjoyed with the kids of 30 or more years ago.
        Universal is playing more to characters which the kids of today might have a stronger connection with like all the Potter characters, Transformers, Despicable Me, MIB, Hulk, Spiderman (East of the Miss), Mummy, new Jurassic Park film just wrapped, new Kong movie and Skull Island, Simpson’s is still running, etc.
        WDW has just been too cheap and lazy to keep current and build big new attractions around characters of today, beyond a parade float or a meet n’ greet.
        Regarding the possibility of Universal catching AK, Epcot, or DHS in attendance, all I’m saying is that it is possible.
        If Universal is around 8 million and these non MK parks are around 10 million that’s a good gap but not out of the realm of possibility.
        2009-2013 are not Universal’s best years. The NEXT several years will be Universal’s best years. Transformers, Springfield, and Despicable Me were only measured for a few months. London/Diagon Alley, Hogwarts Express, Gringott’s, Cabana Bay, Skull Island, 2 more resorts, Volcano Bay Water park (the most immersive theming of any water park ever), Third Gate, with monorail connecting all to CityWalk, and some unannounced E Ticket attractions and lands, all up against the WDW marketing juggernaut of buses, food, and magic handcuffs, and Avatar.
        I’m watching for trends.
        At some point a critical mass builds for guests to want to check out all the new stuff.
        The first place a trend will begin is with the most informed then it will pass over time down to the laggards. My theory is that the most informed are moving days from WDW to Universal and this is a SMALL tip of the iceberg, but an important step.
        Universal only began to play hardball 3 years ago.
        Universal of late is beating WDW at their own game by being FASTER and MORE CREATIVE with BETER THEMING.
        Universal’s biggest plans are ahead.
        Let’s see how all these plans go head to head against…Avatar?!?

      • AaroniusPolonius

        Cap, unfortunately, Disney knows and has seen that it can (a) get away with a cheap version of a ride/attraction/event/etc and that (b) people will not just go, but line up in droves to attend.

        I agree that will catch up with them in the long term (as really, it does for every company that rests upon its laurels and caters to stockholders versus the business itself,) but in the short and medium term, as they sllllllloooooooooowwwwwwwwwlllllllllllyyyyyyyy put off their audience, they’ll make a ton of bank and get tons of visitors.

        I think the larger issue with Disney is that, for the first time in basically ever, they’re having genuine, real competition and really, they’ve never actually faced a genuine competitor in the theme park space before…which is to say a massively funded, part-of-a-global-media-conglomerate, integrated-resort-building, premium intellectual property having competitor.

        From basically the introduction of Disneyland until quite recently, there was “Disney and everyone else.” Just the mere fact that we’re having this discussion, whether Universal “wins” the attendance battle or not, indicates a quantum shift in the marketplace.

        Which is to say that in the not so distant future, we’re going to live in a multipolar theme park world, because if Comcast/NBC/Universal (just name the damn company “Universal,” idiots,) there’s no reason to think that News Corp (Fox et al,) or Paramount won’t move beyond their international, upcoming ‘test runs’ into a full-on investment in the marketplace. And I wouldn’t discount video game companies from attempting to play in this space, either, or car companies, for that matter. Not all of them will succeed in their effort, but SOME will and they will change the marketplace entirely.

        …and, in a lot of ways, THAT’S going to be the moment where future Disney looks back on present Disney and realizes their mistake in not shoring up their dominance today for that competitive tomorrow. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t exclusive to Disney…quite a few companies fall into this trap (heck, Nintendo has now fallen into it TWICE in its short history,) but its totally a game changer.

      • CaptainAction

        Right Aaronius, just that we’re having this discussion is amazing.
        I work for a VERY large company in healthcare which you’re familiar with. Our execs make the mistake of thinking they can catch up with competition after we have spent years resting on our laurels.
        The problem is our competition doesn’t stop. They don’t rest on their laurels and as large and successful as we are, we just can’t catch up.
        WDW can announce something new after Avatar but Universal isn’t stopping.
        Even when WDW announces something new, it’s doubtful Iger will give them the budget to do things large and expensive enough to compete with the stuff Universal has been putting up.
        I agree, WDW HASN’T had to do this BEFORE but Universal is not slowing down but they are accelerating.
        Wouldn’t it be great for Iger’s legacy to be the guy who let Universal beat attendance at 1-3 of his parks?!

      • Buffett Fan

        I will say this as a plus for Disney.
        Universal is printing money in Potter Land–with Butter Beer, Flavored Ice Cream, Merchandise, etc. However, as a parent, I felt $35 to $40 for a Wand was a rip-off. Sure, you get to keep the wand. However, Disney is plussing the parks with free experiences Sorcerer’s, Pirate’s, Agent P’s, while Universal is fleecing the public. I understand supply and demand.
        We were happy with our Flex Ticket which allowed for park-hopping at both Universal Parks (and included the Hogwart’s Express), Sea World, Aquatica (very nice, clean water park with plenty of shade), and Wet N’ Wild ($300 ish per person for unlimited 14-day access). However, Universal’s charges for Wands, and Front-Of-The-Line passes (plus requiring Park-Hopping Privileges to experience the Hogwart’s Express) certainly add revenue elements that are for the most part included in a Disney Admission.
        With that said, hopefully Universal keeps their foot on the gas and forces Disney to respond in a major, attraction-specific way. Immersive Star Wars would trump immersive Potter.

      • AaroniusPolonius

        Regarding FastPass and Universal Express:

        I think it’s really an apples-and-oranges comparison.

        FastPass is something that Universal just plainly doesn’t offer guests. It’s a perk that Disney offers that Universal just doesn’t, and it’s most certainly something that they should, as once one understands the value of FastPass, one can really work the parks to your favor.

        Conversely, Universal Express is plainly not offered at Disney Parks. You can’t pay a premium to go to the front of the line at each ride at a Disney Park, and it’s something that should really offer at Disney, because having done Universal with the Express ticket add-on entirely changed the theme park visitation experience for the better, despite the cost. To not wait in line for nearly every attraction, and to not have to remotely plan a day around your scheduled queue jumps via FastPass, added a level of spontaneity to the day.

  • jcruise86

    OUTSTANDING update! Thank you!

    I expect that after Shanghai Disneyland opens in December of 2015, Walt Disney World and maybe Disneyland Paris will step it up with Star Wars, and more Marvel will enter Disneyland and Disneyland Paris. Shanghai might be for Iger what the ’64 NY World’s Fair was to Walt, an excellent distraction that ultimately improved the parks. I hope.

    • danielz6

      I hope you’re right too but I’m very skeptical. History has shown that after opening new disney parks, with the exception of Japan, performance is usually well below Disney’s expectation. Then disney spends the next 5-10 years investing in that park and trying to bring it up to where it should have been on opening day. Look at hong kong and paris getting state of the art trackless rides while disney world got a 2 minute kiddie coaster. I really don’t see disney world getting anything significant until 2020, if that early.

    • CADisney

      I said this in another thread, but I agree about the Shanghai comment. Right now Disney Parks dollars and Imagineering brain power is focused on Shanghai, but I suspect as that project winds toward completion we could see some exciting announcements about US parks.

      Disney saw the reaction (and $) that happened after CA Adventure remodel and what Universal is seeing with Harry Potter. They have a huge, multi-generational franchise in Star Wars, and having a “place” for people to go will be huge.

      As a consumer, we all (hopefully) win. I love that I get to experience the best of Disney and Universal. Enough with wristbands, we want light sabers!

      • AaroniusPolonius

        The difference, of course, is that WDW always meets or exceeds attendance numbers, whereas DCA didn’t. Why spend money when you don’t have to?

  • fnord

    sleeping beauty castle size should work. also that eiffel tower at epcot looks ridiculous as well for the same reason.

  • danielz6

    My one small disappointment with diagon alley is that i expected the dragon to be AA and at least move the head and mouth. That would’ve blown people away. Besides that amazing job universal I can’t wait to visit!

    • AaroniusPolonius

      I was hoping for tap dancing and fire hoop jumping, but they really cheaped out, right?

      • danielz6

        I never said they cheaped out and actually said they did an amazing job.

      • AaroniusPolonius


        I was anticipating forthcoming responses. And lo and behold!

        Aaronius: Not Just A Pretty Face.

      • danielz6

        Well you should anticipate that response when your response completely dismisses what the original comment actually said.

    • Buffett Fan

      But, when we were there, the crowds waited in anticipation for a few minutes. Then, cheered the dragon every time. Seems like they are blowing people away (literally, too as you feel the heat)

    • cruise

      I agree and think AaroniusPolonius’s comment is WAY harsh. The land is the best themed land in all of Orlando for sure, but the only thing that left me wanting more was some movement from the dragon… at least maybe some blinking, and then possibly movement of the neck back and forth in a single direction (like side to side). Otherwise perfect.

      • AaroniusPolonius

        It’s called “sarcasm.” I, of course, don’t remotely think that Universal cheaped out on the dragon or any of the DA experience.

    • Cory Gross

      The dragon being a statue would only be a problem if it was at Disney.

      • CaptainAction

        WDW had an 18 inch Dragon budgeted for an eight foot tall tall “mountain” in New Fantasyland but it was cut for another snack stand.

      • Cory Gross

        Now I understand why you mostly stick to a script. Your attempts at making comebacks are terrible.

      • BlahBlahson

        Agreed about the Dragon…if it was Disney people would bash bash bash.

        …but not too much, because Disney would have also just built the most immersive land ever created, which Universal actually did, instead of putting up a funfaire that was designed and executed in under 2 weeks.

        I can’t imagine that all of the imagineers are really too happy having most of their designs tabled or cancelled these last few years.

      • danielz6

        We all criticize the Yeti for it’s lack of animation, i think it’s only fair to hold universal to the same standard since clearly their goal is a Disney style immersive themeing.

      • The difference is that the Yeti was built as the centerpiece of an attraction and was a fully functioning animatronic that Disney STILL shows in working condition on resort TV and in marketing. The dragon is an outdoor element at Wizarding World and was not built as an animatronic. In my opinion, the totality of Diagon is nothing short of astounding and the dragon accentuates rather than diminishes it. The dragon and all of Wizarding World is a massive WIN for Universal. There’s no denying that.

      • CaptainAction

        Danielz6, yes, I agree with Dusty. It would be really bad if the dragon was designed to move and advertised as moving, then broke, and Universal didn’t fix it for 8 years and counting AND continued running the commercials showing the working animatronic dragon.
        Universal hasn’t done that.
        Disney has done and IS doing this.
        It’s still worse for Disney in this example because the Yeti is the highlight and centerpiece of the entire Everest attraction.
        In this hypothetical at Universal, the dragon is still not the highlight of Diagon Alley, but Escape From Gringott’s! And the Hogwarts Express are the centerpieces. The dragon is a VERY cool addition to Diagon Alley, which wasn’t needed but works well with or without the dragon.

      • Cory Gross

        Nah. Whichever way you cut it, Universal is getting a free pass on this.

      • AaroniusPolonius

        That’s fornicating nuts.

      • jcruise86

        FYI: Disney has an impressive animatronic dragon under the castle at Disneyland Paris.

  • WDWorldly

    Have any of you actually talked to the majority of tourists who aren’t theme park fanatics? It turns out most people are still committed to spending their vacations at Disney World, visiting Universal once, at most, to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

    • Buffett Fan

      Which unfortunately, is allowing Disney to rest on it’s laurels. Imagine, Ellen’s Energy Adventure rebuilt with the Forbidden Journey or Spiderman Technology. Same thing with Imagination, using that technology in a fun way. Even Hogwart’s Express is so innovative and immersive. A frozen dark ride, where you are skating on ice….
      Disney should be leading the way with all of this and has the resources to do so.

      • AaroniusPolonius

        …and yes, everyone knows that the paradigm is still in place. WDW still be the king. Most people still only go there.

        Most people only bought General Motors cars at one point.
        Most people only considered Nintendo for their video games.
        Most people shopped at Sears.

        …and so on. It takes a while for a thought to become a trend and for a trend to take off.

      • jcruise86

        Good post, AP. I wonder how many families are like mine–going to Central Florida to check out Universal’s WWoHP, and then spending time at WDW too to make it a week-long vacation. WDW might be partly lucky Universal is building attractions and lands we want to travel to.

    • Cory Gross

      Absolutely, WDWorldly.

      There seems to be a strange sense here in the “community” that we’re somehow the cultural gatekeepers of the theme park industry, and by jove, if something makes MY monocle pop out then it’s just the worst thing ever and nobody could possibly like it and Disney is a failure on every possible level. No… just no… WDW is looking to those 18 million who visit Magic Kingdom each year to set the mandate. We are a VERY select subset of the total number of people who actually go to Disney parks.

      • AaroniusPolonius

        “GM rose to market dominance, got complacent and bureaucratic, thought it could do no wrong, and got whacked when it wasn’t looking.” –John Smale, Former GM Chairman.

        You’re correct in pointing out that theme park and/or Disney fans who bother to frequent these sites and post on these boards are not the current barometer of public opinion regarding the theme park industry or Disney Parks & Resorts.

        Things change.

        Hubris cashes its check.

        General public opinion gravitates slowly towards that of those that adopted early, and the middle of the market is suddenly at a new place, desiring a new dynamic.

        I’ll give Disney this: I DO think that they are interested in exploring new dynamics in their business. I’m not against the armbands and the real-time data mining possibilities, nor the personalized vacation experiences MyMagic+ has the potential to offer.

        I also think that they’re really ahead of the game with regards to interactive experiences, and are closer to making their parks more engaging, personal and interactive…kind of following a video game ethos, than their competition is.

        However, I ALSO think that they’ve become really, absurdly cynical regarding their market, specifically at WDW. (Absurdly cynical because Disney is such an optimistic, “Be Our Guest” party, over-the-top with dazzle and hospitality brand.)

        They know exactly how much or little to spend to generate guest attendance and profits. They know how to train their guests to expect less from Disney while simultaneously charging them more for that lesser, and lesser Disney experience (and is it still a Disney experience if its not “Disney” as Disney itself has defined it?) And they know that their loyal fans paired with a general market that equates Disney with quality and a singular power will enable them to do this.

        Pointing out that the general market going to WDW isn’t so obsessed with theme parks and Disney, and isn’t prone to critique and complain when Disney doesn’t deliver on their brand promise is limited thinking, at best, continues the empowerment of Disney complacency at the middle, and sets up Disney for a future where they are struggling to overcome their own complacency and lack of inertia in a multi-polar market full of dynamic players. Which is to say that I’m certain that many multimedia conglomerates are watching the ascendance of Universal Orlando and taking notes. We’ll see new players with lots of money and lots of synergistic understanding entering this market.

        To use GM again, a ‘final straw’ product for them was the Cadillac Cimmaron, which you may or may not recall. The Cadillac Cimmaron was not just a compact car built on the same platform as the dowdy, compact, economical Chevrolet Cavalier….the Cadillac Cimmaron was a badge-engineered Chevrolet Cavalier, where they threw on a Caddy badge and dropped in some “leathah” in a cynical attempt to make a lot more profit from Caddy buyers who would be easily ‘fooled’ by the mere presence of a Cadillac badge.

        It was products, badge engineered cars, and that level of cynicism that ended GM’s dominance in the market that they basically OWNED from the 1930s onward. In Cadillac’s specific case, it was products like that that drove even their most loyal, ardent American luxury consumers into the arms of Mercedes, BMW, and the big winner, Lexus.

        When I look at the Silly Symphony Swings or Primeval Twirl I see the Cadillac Cimmaron in Disney’s offerings, because all represent a cynical take on the market and their tolerance and/or acceptance of what the Disney brand and experience represents.

        Does a basic, everyday and every park swing ride become better, generate more value or more joy to the consumer because it has the brand name Disney on it? Does an off-the-shelf Spinning Wild Mouse coaster? Disney has gambled that “yes, yes they do,” and has won. Will they continue to win in the future should they continue to pursue this strategy? (Parts of DCA 2.0 and New Fantasyland indicate that they themselves recognize that this strategy is a mistake, so I’m optimistic, albeit with reservations.)

        Or will they finally land on their Cadillac Cimmaron: the “too short,” “too generic,” “cheap update,” “plastic snow wraps on a basic door,” product offering that moves the general public’s opinion into the sway of the passionate theme park fans, critics and so on?

        Which is to say that at some point, on some future date, a mass of buyers are going to collectively note that adding overlays of Donald to 1980s Mexican tour footage isn’t exactly a premium update, or that the swings I go on at the DuckFart County Fair are exactly the same as those in DCA, minus the Mickey paint job, or that Cedar Fair and Six Flags have the same level of thrills on their identical wild mice coasters as those at DAK and DCA, and I can save some bucks.

        It’s dangerous for both Disney fans and the Disney corporation to rest on the success of today. Their market won’t always be this complacent and accepting. See: history.

        ‘Whom the gods want to destroy, they send 40 years of success.’ –Aristotle.

      • Cory Gross

        Weren’t you not talking to me? Let’s keep it that way.

      • AaroniusPolonius

        I was taking a point and bringing it to the collective board. I was talking around you, as it were.

        Glad to see you’re still a peach!

      • CaptainAction

        I’m talking to you Cory but you never answer with any substance, just some insult.
        I remember in debate class that sometimes one would be given the side of the debate which was really indefensable, like drug abuse is actually good for the public.
        I think its difficult to keep ignoring WDW’s actions of 2004 – present and pretend not to see what’s so obvious.

      • Cory Gross

        And I see, Cap, that you’re still laboring under the idea that this is a debate that you need to win and not just you constantly harping on Disney fans.

      • CaptainAction

        Cory, the folks on this site are the theme park experts. Our family, friends, co-workers, friends of friends all ask us to help them plan their theme park vacations.

        We know where every water fountain and what every height requirement is.

        We are the thought leaders or early adopters. We see things, changes and trends before the masses do.

        The masses and laggards take longer to figure out trends because they pay less attention. After 10 years without any giant new attractions at WDW the early adopters are seeing it and masses and laggards are just beginning to notice. The arrogant raising of prices by WDW is beginning to make the laggards evaluate more closely what they just spent all that money on.

        This is just beginning it to get interesting from here forward.

        I just had two families this week ask me to help them plan going to Universal to see all the new stuff. WDW is losing days to Universal from these families who haven’t been to Universal in over 5 years.
        Let’s see if Avatar, buses, handcuffs, and food will be enough to keep laggards in WDW jail.

      • Cory Gross

        Wow, I so don’t even care about what your friends do or don’t do on their vacations. Interesting window into your inflated sense of self-importance though.

      • CaptainAction

        See, just insults.
        When your positions are governed by emotions, it’s hard to defend with logic.

      • Cory Gross

        You don’t get it. Liking Disney is not a “position,” any more than liking chocolate ice cream or Beethoven is a “position.” There is no “debate.” Of course it’s emotional: you derive great personal satisfaction from constantly, endlessly bashing things that other people enjoy.

        Oh forget it. You’ve had people trying to explain this to you for months now. It was so peaceful there for the week or two that you and your friends slithered back under your rocks. I guess you saw people enjoying things they enjoy and decided that you just couldn’t let that happen on your watch. Whatever.

      • jcruise86

        AaroniusPolonius, your long 7:16am post above is kind of great. It seems to me that you, like Dusty, Captain Action, me and some others all actually love or have loved Walt Disney World, and our criticism is rooted in frustration over its unrealized potential.

        Overall the Disney Company is doing well at the moment. Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland and the Disney Cruise Line are all currently extraordinary, and the film division just had Frozen and three entertaining and highly profitable superhero movies. (Gotta love baby Groot.)

        If only they’d create about three Carsland level projects at WDW (Avatarland is coming), and two at Disneyland Paris (to go with the Remy ride and restaurant),
        give both of these two large resorts the kind of detailing Disneyland got for its 50th. I expect it’ll happen after the press studies the attendance for U Orlando & WDW’s parks for 2014 & 2015, and the attendance trends of the Central Florida parks since Universal opened Hogwarts.

      • AaroniusPolonius


        Thanks for the compliment!

        I think that most people who critique Disney and their current level of investment are fans of both the company and of theme parks in a general sense.

        I think that gets lost in the sauce, and it’s especially lost on a subset of folks that can’t, won’t or don’t take their Disney Goggles off to have an honest critique.

        It’s almost like the absurdity of rooting for a specific sports team, a la when we win, they win…which is absurd. We are spectators to the sport, not participants.

        The same is true of Disney: to critique them is to be “against” them and thus, “me” because I’m a fan of Disney. And that’s absurd. When Disney fails or Disney succeeds, it has nothing to do with “you.” You’re not on the team.

        In that way, I try to be team agnostic and respect good plays in the sport, or, in this case, the field of theme parks. I think, and I hope, it keeps my bias at bay. It certainly reveals the bias of others. (You have to be so far up the Disney bunghole to remotely look at their last decade, or more, as being a period of Disney at or near its best. Alternatively, you have to really be rooting for Team Universal to play “distort the statistics” when the math is entirely, at present and for the foreseeable future, working in disney’s favor.)

        So…when a Disney fan claims “free pass” on the FIRE BREATHING DRAGON at Universal for being outdoors and not animatronic (?!?!) you’ve gotta call that horse manure out for what it is. And when a Universal fan ignores the woeful backside of the Potter queue (hey! I’m transported from a magical world to the backside of a Wal-Mart!) you have to call that bovine feces out.

        At present…Universal is killing it and there’s no way around that (and it’s totally, obviously, frustrating the living heck out of Disney fans.) But, that may very well change. Disney may very well get back into the game, and it will be the direct result of Universal stepping up theirs. And we, as theme park fans, will be the winners all around.

        I’m honestly looking forward more to the mid-future here. I can’t wait to see what Merlin does in the market, as they’re clearly a player. I’m eager to see what Matt Ouimet has in store for Cedar Fair. I’m wondering when News Corp, or PlayStation, or even Ford are going to get into the integrated theme park resort space, and what that will do to the market, both in terms of consumer choice, competitiveness, and the culling of weaker players (SeaWorld, cough, SeaWorld…) I’m more than certain that new geographic zones will open up as well (I’d bet on one somewhere in BosWash, for example,) and that’s going to change the dynamic, as well.

        Disney’s legacy is assured: they got here first and set the standard high. What’s about to happen, and what we’re about to witness over the next few decades is even more exciting, where many players will be competing in a very intense, very competitive marketplace, and that’s going to be awesome as a fan and consumer.

    • Buffett Fan

      2012–We did a week at Disney, staying at the Caribbean Resort
      2013–Gulf Beaches and Busch Gardens/Adventure Island
      2014–Flex Ticket–Universal, Sea World, + Water Parks (plus, a side trip to Boma)

      I am a lifelong Disney Fan with a 12 year old and 3 year old, who’s favorite park is Epcot. We did not miss Disney on either of our last two trips.

      Why would I plan the next trip to Disney? If I could snag another free Meal Plan offer. I really enjoy some of the restaurants that Disney offers. The other reason is that it fits my younger child better, with what he can experience. But, what I am not saying is that attractions are driving my return to Disney.

      I still like Disney a lot, but I can get an equivalent value/experience at other parks.

  • danielz6

    Im simply saying that if disney put a fire breathing dragon in the middle of it’s newest state of the art immersive land, I would expect it to animate. Just holding universal to the same standard. If you all prefer stuff that don’t move well I respect your opinions.

    • CaptainAction

      Hey Daniel, I agree that if the dragon were animatronic and moved that it would be just that much cooler.
      I just can’t hit Universal too hard for this because they are just doing sooo much and all at the same time.
      I think they could make the dragon move later and make multiple random experiences on the Hogwarts Express later to refresh some excitement to the place.
      I’d like to see Optimus Prime, on top of The Transformers, move as well in the future.
      But I think WDW is getting the free pass today. Horrible Forced Perspective (Beast Castle, Rapunzel Tower), line refreshes with STUPID games which wouldn’t entertain anyone above 2 1/2 years old, no E Tickets for over 10 years, 3 years to build a fairly boring 90 second coaster, etc, etc

      • AaroniusPolonius

        It’s outside and breathes fire. In rain drenched Florida. I’m pretty sure they made the choice for reliability and safety purposes. It’s absurd to remotely think that a fire breathing dragon is somehow lame because it doesn’t move…especially because it’s an exterior rather than interior component. This is such a stupid, and pathetic attempt to diss Universal when they are totally killing it.

      • danielz6

        I agree Captain, New Fantasyland was terrible in my opinion. I don’t give free passes to either companies and I call them both out when I see something that I think could be improved. Some people here are so one sided though, they are incapable of being objective.

    • danielz6

      Aaaronius grow up. This is a comment board where people express their opinions, you don’t have to read it if you can’t handle it.

      • AaroniusPolonius

        I handled it just fine, and expressed mine accordingly. Physician, heal thyself.

      • danielz6

        Nope, using words like stupid and pathetic to people who aren’t even talking to you just because you disagree is rude and offensive. I doubt you’d say that to anybodys face away from your computer so stop doing it here. Welcome to civilised conversation.