Sam is back with a special look at his new book! This foreword to his book was written by the great Phil Hettema.  Universal vs. Disney has finally been released!

Universal versus Disney: The Unofficial Guide to American Theme Parks’ Greatest Rivalry

Releases Dec 2nd



I grew up amidst the fantastic theme park worlds of Southern California, which included Knott’s Berry Farm, Sea World, and of course, Disneyland, which opened the same year I was born. These places were intoxicating to this nerdy kid, who memorized every detail, dreamed about them in his sleep, and could have quoted the Disneyland guidebook verbatim. At that early stage in my life, I fantasized about designing magical rides and places, but that seemed like a pipe dream far too grand (and unlikely) to hope for.


I’m not sure how I missed it, but it wasn’t until one summer when I was about sixteen that my younger cousin visiting from Chicago came to visit, and in search of something to do we took a trip to the Universal Studios Tour. Here was a very different place from the fantastic parks I was familiar with. Promising Hollywood glamour and magic, it was at once alluring and gritty, mixing PT Barnum-like tourist spectacle with the fantasy of Tinseltown, and the “real life” behind the scenes of making movies.

It still surprises me that a decade and a half later, through a series of coincidences, I ended up joining the Universal Planning and Development department, when there were only a handful of us. Together, our small but mighty team dreamt up, designed, and executed not only new attractions for the original tour, but also began to create the plans for what would become the Universal Resort in Orlando, Florida. It was challenging, exciting, and frustrating, but during my fourteen-year tenure I was lucky to be a firsthand witness to (and, I’m proud to say, a participant in) the transformation of the “Universal” brand from glorified industrial tour—a distant also-ran to the mighty Disney brand—into an internationally-recognized portfolio of world-class parks and resorts.


As Universal has matured and grown, it has managed to develop and maintain a unique and differentiated brand character, one that’s a bit more edgy, always striving to put its guests in the middle of every experience and adventure. The Universal Creative team and park management group has expanded exponentially, and has now, on multiple occasions, challenged and exceeded Disney in popularity, imagination and creative and technological prowess of its environments and attractions.


The birth, survival and eventual metamorphosis of Universal is an amazing story of sheer ambition, audacity, inspiration, innovation, and a mind-boggling combination of advances and reversals, creativity and commercialism, which is full of canny business strategy occasionally leavened with just plain dumb luck, both good and bad. It’s a fascinating and complex David and Goliath story, which Sam Gennawey has reconstructed here in astonishing detail. Through exhaustive research and dozens of eyewitness interviews, Sam has synthesized an epic and dramatic tale, which makes for a spellbinding read.

His accomplishment here is even more remarkable than in his previous book, the excellent The Disneyland Story, since there had been so much previously published documentation on Walt Disney and the creation of the original Anaheim Park. For this book he has reached deep into many archives, libraries, collections, and the personal recollections of the people actually involved, to uncover previously unknown facts, dates, and “behind the scenes” anecdotes, many of which have never been fully told in a public forum. If there’s a bit of a “Rashoman” quality to some of the individual recollections presented, that’s to be expected.

The overarching picture Sam’s book paints is a vivid portrait of Universal’s theme parks and resorts, and it’s not a stretch to say that there’s no one alive today that knows more about the details of the Universal theme park story, from its inception to today, than Sam Gennawey. It’s a fascinating journey…one with new chapters and stories created every day as Universal continues to grow, innovate and redefine the theme park experience around the world. When it comes time to tell those stories, I hope Sam is around to tell those, too.

Phil Hettema has directed the design and production of numerous theme park rides and shows, cultural attractions and museum exhibits for more than 35 years. As Senior Vice President of Attraction Development for Universal Studios Theme Parks Worldwide for 14 years, Phil was responsible for the creative development of all attraction planning for all five Universal parks.

Led by Phil’s creative vision and extensive experience, The Hettema Group is known for creating attractions that focus on maximizing the guest experience through innovative storytelling, compelling technology and a commitment to emotional resonance.

Hettema credits also include projects for Steven Spielberg, The Walt Disney Company and DreamWorks Animation.  He has been a guest lecturer at CalArts, Carnegie Mellon University, USITT, IAAPA, KIN, and SIGGRAPH. 

Phil holds four patents for entertainment technology solutions and has been honored with numerous THEA awards from the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA).

Sam’s collection of theme park books continues to grow. His newest book, diving into the history of Universal Studios, has just been released!