Comcast’s Universal Studios has a whole new theme park coming and Disney has finally dropped some hints as to how it plans to respond.
Universal Studios became a credible rival to Walt Disney (DIS) – Get The Walt Disney Company Report in the theme park space when it added Harry Potter to its parks. It wasn’t simply that the Comcast CMCSA theme park added the top-tier intellectual property (IP) to its Islands of Adventure park, it was how it was done.
When “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” first opened in 2010, it changed the theme park game. The themed land wasn’t just a collection of rides, shops, and restaurants, it was an immersive world that took visitors into an entirely different place. Fans of the books and movies could literally experience the world they had read about with every detail being considered.
Nothing in the first Harry Potter land, or its expansion into the original Universal Studios Florida theme park in 2014 existed in the outside world. There were no Coke products or traditional bottled water, for example, even the beverages were taken for the world of the fictional wizard.
The addition of those two lands forced Disney to change its strategy and begin heavy investments in the four Disney World theme parks. Harry Potter made Universal Studios a rival for vacationers and the Mouse House rose to the challenge by adding “Pandora: The World of Avatar” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and “Toy Story Land” and and “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” at Hollywood Studios.
It was an escalating arms race where Disney had taken Universal’s best shots and answered them well, until the Comcast-owned company announced plans for its third Florida theme park, Epic Universe.
Universal Building Its Disney Killer
Epic Universe will give Universal Studios three theme parks in its Florida complex along with the Volcano Bay water park. That alone will help it compete with Disney because it gives it more attractions to hold customers for more days. You can comfortably visit all the rides and attractions at Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida in three days (two if you really push it). The new park will help Universal make a case to visitors that they should spend their full vacation at its theme park complex rather than visiting for a day or two during a Disney trip.
More importantly, Epic Universe — a park Comcast has said very little about — will be a very modern theme park building on the lessons learned from the success of “Wizarding World.” The new park will have an immersive Nintendo-themed world that will use the same rides as the first Super Nintendo World at the company’s theme park in Japan.
Rumors and leaks also suggest that Epic Universe will have another Harry Potter expansion (perhaps the Ministry of Magic), and a land based on Universal’s classic movie monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf Man, etc.). It’s a major challenge to Disney World and Disney has been quiet about its plans to respond, but that changed when Disney Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro took the stage at D23.
Disney May Expand Disney World
Disney hasn’t hinted about adding a new park, but D’Amaro raised the possibility of a major Magic Kingdom expansion as well as new plans for Animal Kingdom.
“What we’re going to talk about next is way early in the creative process. It’s what our Imagineers call ‘Blue Sky.’ I want to be clear with everybody in here though – we are not daydreaming. It’s important to me that you know that these things that we’re going to talk about – they are very real. They’re very serious discussions that I’m having with our teams about the future of our parks and experiences,” D’Amaro said, BlogMickey reported.
After that introduction, D’Amaro and other Disney executives shared a number of ideas including the possibility of a major Disney World expansion. And while no specific rides were promised, the panel detailed potential new lands devoted to “Encanto” and “Coco” were discussed.
The biggest surprise, however, was just a brief tease. D’Amaro made official reference to having a land themed to Disney’s villains. That’s an idea that had been rumored for a fifth gate at Disney World, but in this discussion it was clear it was being raised as a possible expansion to the Magic Kingdom.
In addition, the panel also raised the possibility of Animal Kingdom adding lands themed to “Moana” and “Zootopia,” with one likely taking over the Dinoland USA space which currently has a large open area.
None of these projects were officially announced, but it was made very clear that these ideas have moved beyond the dream stage into the development stage. That’s not the same as starting construction but it does suggest Disney won’t let Epic Universe open without putting its own expansion plans into action.
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