This week, a Disney Company exec made it very clear that the Mouse House has no intention of participating in a new entertainment trend being employed by Universal Studios.
A rivalry has existed between Disney and Universal for decades. Thanks in part to Disney’s global dominance as the standard in family entertainment, as well as the fact that Disney’s theme park resorts in California and Florida opened years before Universal’s parks, Disney has led the way during the majority of the companies’ time as rivals. But in recent years, Universal has made great strides in the war to win the theme park tourist.
In 2010, Universal Studios Orlando Resort began giving Disney a bit of a run for its money by bringing the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to dazzling, magical life at Universal’s Islands of Adventure park. The opening of the new themed world on June 18 was attended by thousands of diehard Potter fans who couldn’t wait to experience the magical world of Hogwarts in (simulated) real life.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter brought to life the imagination of the author behind the Harry Potter books series, JK Rowling. It opened with shops and an uber-detailed recreation of the fictitious village of Hogsmeade, as well as the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and the Hogwarts Express train that belches out steam. On opening day, The Wizarding World also featured two roller coasters–Flight of the Hippogriff and Dragon Challenge.
Disney had been served, or so it seemed.
Earlier that year, however, Disney had begun construction on the New Fantasyland section of Magic Kingdom. The project included an overhaul of parts of Fantasyland, as well as an extension of the themed land to include elements and experiences like Beast Castle, Be Our Guest Restaurant, Gaston’s Tavern, and as the Guest-favorite Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. New Fantasyland’s official opening was on December 6, 2012.
In July 2014, Universal Studios Orlando welcomed Potter-heads to embark on a new adventure, opening Diagon Alley inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But construction of a dynamic new themed land began six months earlier, and by the time Diagon Alley opened at Universal, Pandora: The World of Avatar was beginning to take shape at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Though Disney World didn’t officially open Pandora to Guests (although there was a soft opening) until May 27, 2017, Guests’ enthusiasm and excitement over the new Avatar-themed land, inspired by James Cameron’s wild imagination about a colony of blue-skinned “aliens,” was definitely measurable, if not palpable, as the land’s anchor attraction, Avatar: Flight of Passage, saw wait times of more than four hours, even after the land had been open for a month.
The back-and-forth addition of new rides, attractions, and themed lands at Disney World and Universal only continued from there. Thirteen months after Pandora opened, Guests were invited to shrink down to the size of a toy for new adventures in Andy’s backyard when Toy Story Land opened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios on June 30, 2018. Meanwhile, construction was progressing nicely at the site of a brand-new themed land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios–the highly anticipated Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which opened at Disney World on August 29, 2019.
But just days before Guests stepped into a galaxy far, far away, Universal Studios announced perhaps its most ambitious project since the construction of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Epic Universe, a completely new theme park at Universal Studios Orlando Resort, set to open in Summer 2025. Epic Universe is rumored to be so spectacular that even Disney is scrambling to decide how to counter it, but according to Disney’s Parks President Josh D’Amaro, there’s one thing Universal is doing that The Walt Disney Company refuses to do.
During the JPMorgan shareholders’ meeting on Monday, D’Amaro sat down with for a Q&A session during JPMorgan’s shareholder’s meeting with Philip Cusick, Managing Director and Senior Analyst in the Research Division for JPMorgan Chase. D’Amaro answered questions about a variety of topics related to the goings-on inside the House of Mouse and even hinted at the possibility of a brand-new theme park resort in Singapore. There’s one thing, though, that D’Amaro says Disney has zero plans for undertaking.
When asked whether Disney would follow in the footsteps of rival Universal Parks & Resorts, owned by Comcast Corporation, in the development of “mini-parks,” D’Amaro’s answer was an emphatic no.
“Focusing on our core assets is where we should be spending most of our opportunity,” D’Amaro said in his response, dismissing the idea entirely, explaining that instead, Disney’s focus would remain on its major theme parks, Disney Cruise Line, and Disney’s cruise ships.
Earlier this year, Universal Parks & Resorts announced the upcoming construction of a brand-new theme park resort in Frisco, Texas, just north of Dallas (though many in the Lone Star State aren’t quite as excited at the prospect of the new addition on Texas soil).
Last week, Disney scrapped a massive $1 billion project in Lake Nona, Florida, near Orlando, despite having given Imagineers the option to move to Florida or resign, as Lake Nona was to serve as the new headquarters for Walt Disney Imagineering.
It remains to be seen what Disney’s next innovative offering will be, but rest assured Disney won’t be outdone, and while the House of Mouse has no intention of developing mini-parks, the company will eventually announce a park, experience, or other offering in an effort to make Epic Universe seem more like Mediocre Universe–just you wait and see.