Something happened among theme park fans over the past two years. I like to call it competitive pearl clutching. It all started when it turned out that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure was not just good, nor was it just great, it was perfect. Now an expansion to the popular area of is being constructed in the neighboring Universal Studios park along with a clone of the very, very good Transformers attraction that already exists in Hollywood.
The line of thinking goes something like this: “OH MY GOD WALT DISNEY WORLD IS DOOMED THEY CAN’T COMPETE WITH THIS.” Which is hilarious and completely untrue.
Here’s the way I look at it. First, Walt Disney World is still easily a four-seven day trip while Universal is at most a three day trip and more realistically a two day experience. My wife and I worked our way through the Studios park in less than half a day, leaving us with deep regret that we did not purchase park hopper tickets. That will change, of course, when the Harry Potter expansion is built, but it’s still a two day resort unless the crowds are ridiculous, which will likely be the case the first summer; but hell, Disney California Adventure was practically a two day park this summer.
So there’s the “There’s not much to do at one of the two parks” thing, and then there’s this: The hotel options are pitiful. The only on-property hotels are well out of reach for many families (including mine) whereas Walt Disney World offers a much greater margin of pricing when it comes to places to stay. This is not so much a knock on Universal Studios, a resort I had a GREAT time at this summer, as it is stating the obvious: Walt Disney World still controls a large segment of the population, namely families.
The best way to look at the “problem” Disney faces is this: It’s a great time to be a theme park fan. Nothing builds new rides, new lands and new resorts like competition. The real winner in an arms race between the two biggest theme park companies is always the consumer, assuming that they don’t run one another out of business.