Cowboys versus Indians. Republicans versus Democrats. Tastes great versus less filling. It seems engrained in our society to take a side and root for your “team,” no matter who’s “fighting.” We are constantly encouraged to pick amongst two competitors on which we like better. It’s everywhere, from apps like Tinder, to shows like “American Idol,” and even magazine articles on “who wore it better.”
For theme park fans, I see it in articles and newsfeeds all over Twitter and Facebook: Universal versus Disney. Sure, they are competitors in Orlando, but why does every new attraction or hotel have to “one up” the other? With the latest concept art and videos being released by Disney recently, I keep seeing fans light up with “Disney is finally going to beat Universal again and regain their former glory as theme park champions!”…. or something to that effect.
After Hogsmeade opened at Islands of Adventure, the online community seemed to buzz about Universal beating Disney at their own game. Indeed, the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter was (and still is) very impressive and remains one of the best themed lands you can find in North America. Naturally, the theme park fan community turned to Disney and the chatter became “Disney will up their game when it comes to New Fantasyland, you’ll see!”
Yet, when the Magic Kingdom’s biggest expansion opened, that same buzz wasn’t generated. Sure, Be Our Guest added a much needed table service to the world’s busiest theme park and The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure brought in a high-capacity omnimover system into an area of the park with notoriously long lines. However, in terms of immersion and the level of detail seen at Hogsmeade, it didn’t quite stack up.
Regardless of the overwhelming majority of what online bloggers, message board posters and theme park fans say, New Fantasyland is doing extremely well for the Magic Kingdom. Be Our Guest is booked solid months in advance (even for quick service lunch now), the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is rarely less than an hour wait and even Mermaid gets decent wait times considering its high capacity.
New Fantasyland fulfills a business need. The Magic Kingdom can now have a higher in-park capacity thanks to all these new restaurants, shops and attractions that can absorb the extra crowds. Hogsmeade also fulfilled a need for Islands of Adventure, which needed a stronger intellectual property to bring in guests to a park that may not have otherwise come.
I’m not saying that Hogsmeade isn’t highly detailed and very impressive, but it fit the business need for what Universal Orlando needed perfectly. The same can be said for Diagon Alley, which is another wonderfully detailed experience that is immersive in every sense of the word. However, if you think Universal has somehow trumped Disney, the numbers don’t lie.
In 2013, the Magic Kingdom brought in just over 18.5 million people. That same year, Islands of Adventure had 8.14 million enter their gates. Universal Studios Florida had just a hair over 7 million, which was before Diagon Alley opened in the summer of 2014. While the numbers haven’t been released for 2014 as of the writing of this piece, the numbers will no doubt spike for USF thanks to Diagon Alley’s opening. Will they come close to Animal Kingdom’s 10.11 million in 2013? It’s possible, but doubtful.
Which brings us to Avatar. Sure, the world of Pandora looks impressive and will probably be highly immersive when it opens. However, the real win here is it brings more attractions to Animal Kingdom making it a better value for the price paid and will help absorb the crowds. Will it have the broad appeal of Harry Potter and bring in the same number of fans from all over the world that J.K.’s books has to Universal Orlando? Highly doubtful, but time will tell.
Personally, I am more looking forward to the Rivers of Light at Animal Kingdom. We finally have something that gives an excuse to let the park stay open past 7 p.m. Instead of a traditional nighttime “fireworks spectacular,” this will be done with projections, fountains and lights that are still being placed in nearly every piece of plant life surrounding The Tree of Life. Why isn’t that being judged against what Universal is doing? In reality, I think that this could be the new addition people will be talking about for years, not Avatar.
In the end, why does Diagon Alley have to be “better” than Avatar or vice versa? Why can’t we live in a world where both are solid standalone lands that are less competition, but a “win” for theme park fans? And for once, can we stop playing this game of Republicans versus Democrats, Cowboys versus Indians and Universal versus Disney and just celebrate good ideas that can come from anywhere within the themed entertainment industry? Not everything needs to be a battle. Your thoughts?
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