Universal Orlando has been at war with Disney since it opened in 1990. During that time, each entertainment giant has struggled to gain an advantage over the other. When one showed weakness, the other jumped in to fill the void. When one got a “shiny new toy” the other scrambled to get one too. Now Universal seems primed to take a share of the market that Disney has long since forgotten: boys.
In all of Disney’s efforts to move forward, they seem to have left boys behind. The programming and even ad campaigns all appear to be geared toward girls, which may be unsurprising since Disney is primarily known for their Princesses. Once upon a time, though, there was plenty of content to appeal to both boys and girls. However, the effort to provide meaningful content for boys seems to be abandoned.
The “Dream Big Princess” campaign is a prime example. The fact that Disney encourages girls to dream big is not, in itself, a negative thing. The fact that there isn’t a similar for boys kind of is. We adults can say, “that’s because historically, girls haven’t been encouraged to achieve great things,” and while that is true, the children don’t know that. They just see one seemingly favored over the other. I can see it on my son’s face all the time, “this isn’t for me, and I’m not interested.”
Meanwhile, in the parks, Disney has closed their pirate makeover shop, Pirates League, which was immensely popular with boys. Meanwhile, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, which transforms little girls into princesses, is still going strong. While it’s true that boys can book appointments at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, they even have a Knight makeover package, most would prefer not to.
Universal, on the other hand, stands ready to sweep the boys that Disney forgot into their fold instead. My young son already prefers Universal to Disney. In fact, this year, for the first time, our family went to Orlando and didn’t visit Disney at all. My son was given a choice and he chose Universal for his 7th birthday celebration.
We aren’t unique in this either. Any time a friend comes to me about an Orlando vacation, I recommend Disney, and more and more, I hear, “my boys just aren’t interested in that. Do you know anything about Universal or Legoland?” Boys just don’t seem to care about what Disney offers anymore. Of course, dear reader, some of you reading this will be shaking your head in frustration, saying, “my son does!” There is always the exception to every rule, but in large numbers, boys just aren’t interested.
As Universal Studios closes its KidZone to make room for new offerings, the possibilities are endless. Secret Life of Pets, Boss Baby, How To Train Your Dragon, and Captain Underpants are all Universal properties perfect to step into the area and fill the gap left by the closure. I predict more families with boys will be visiting Universal Orlando than Disney World in the next decade. Especially if the rumored Nintendo World comes to fruition at Epic Universe.
Growing pains will likely result from the shift in focus at Universal, but they’ll see significant gains as a result. Boys want to go to the parks and see things that appeal to them, and Universal is far and away better at filling this void than Disney currently. I feel they’ve officially put Disney on notice. Disney would be wise to pay attention.
The opinions expressed in this OpEd are solely those of the author and do not reflect that of Disney Dining as a whole or any of its affiliates.