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Passport to Dreams Old and New: Disney World's Universal Decade

Joe

aka TestTrack321
Staff member
Moderator
Feb 15, 2012
14,199
Pittsburgh, PA
Foxxy does some of the best theme park writing out there and this one neatly wraps up hundreds on thoughts I've had about the Disney parks in 2010s into one post. It covers the spread of IP, the death of nostalgia, interactivity in parks, Disney's Potter Swatter hype, and the utter failure of MyMagic+. This is a must read.


This is something Disney had really lost sight of in the 90s and 00s: delivering the kind of experience people want in a way they are prepared to pay for. Animal Kingdom, especially in its original form, was too lecture-y to emotionally connect, Epcot had been stripped of much of its warmth, and DCA included smarmy sex jokes and gorillas in Cadillacs. Universal let you drink a Butterbeer, buy a wand, and enter Hogwarts. Adult fans of Harry Potter who grew up on the book series bought themselves a wizard robe, stood in front of Hogwarts, and cried. It was powerful wish fulfillment, and it was coming to them from Universal. And all of this was happening at exactly the wrong time for Disney, who had spent much of the last decade pursuing their most coveted demographic of... six year old girls.

In June 2010, Walt Disney World was a confused mess of projects. The largest project was New Fantasyland, tearing out what remained of the 20,000 Leagues lagoon site in favor of a paltry single ride and six heavily themed meet and greets skewing towards children. Your child can color princess pages in Aurora's house from Sleeping Beauty! It had been five years since the last major addition - Expedition Everest - and Toy Story Mania, though enduringly popular, was not the sort of headliner that sells vacations. It would be another two years before the Little Mermaid omnimover at Magic Kingdom would open for business, and there was little else on the horizon. Pleasure Island had been abruptly shuttered in 2007, and while various replacements had been announced, very little actual work was taking place. Across the country, California Adventure's overhaul had been announced and was still ongoing, and although the World of Color fountain show had been enthusiastically received, much of the best parts of that park were still in the future.
 

Cup_Of_Coffee

Veteran Member
Aug 7, 2018
5,075
Great read, basically speaks to Disney's identity crisis they've been having, especially since Potter. They don't know what they want to do or how to do it and appeal to crowds larger than their specific base. I can't imagine that Nintendo is not genuinely worrying them. Not going to literally kill their business but going to take more of that %% away from them, and the genuine emotional experiences that originally made people fall in love with the Disney parks. This is most definitely an interesting read and speaking from the Universal fan perspective, shows just how much Universal changed the game with Potter.
 

SeventyOne

V.I.P.
Jul 1, 2010
3,056
Orlando
This is brilliant:

"Themed after Florida, a place Disney otherwise goes to amazing lengths to ensure you never see ... With its restaurants with hanging Edison bulbs, reclaimed wood, exposed brick and menus awash in buzzwords like "crafted" and "local", Disney Springs drops a bell jar over the early 2010s in a way that perhaps no Disney product since EPCOT Center has perfectly encapsulated its era."

Also this: "We're back where we started, with what Imagineering knew back in the 50s and 60s: the park itself is the interactive queue, and anything that complicates the space between that and getting on a ride should be as minimal as possible. "
 

JungleSkip

Premium Member
Feb 15, 2010
21,937
The Mushroom Kingdom
Great article, but completely goes off the rails with its dismissal of what Universal has accomplished this decade and foolishly writes off Epic Universe.
Yea, I think it's weirdly dismissive of Universal (the failure of F&F is not enough to write off how much the resort has improved by leaps and bounds since 2010), and the view on Epic Universe seems to stem from bitterness at Nintendo not being open yet rather than any objective viewpoint.
 

GAcoaster

V.I.P.
Nov 30, 2012
4,587
Orlando
"It's also been frankly bizarre to see Universal, the company who kicked all of this off by snatching the golden chalice and waking the sleeping dragon, stumble as badly as they have in Orlando. Following their second, marvelously realized Harry Potter area, they've mostly been content to open nice hotels and underwhelming replacements. Universal Orlando's "third park", Volcano Bay, is a nicely themed water park that still falls short of the theming Disney lavished on their two water parks a quarter century ago. And despite acquiring the property of my personal childhood dreams - Nintendo - progress on getting the thing open in Orlando has been stalled by a series of false starts. It's now wrapped up in a frankly bizarre venture to open a park nowhere near their other two in a move which seems doomed to boondogglery. The cross town rivals briefly looked competitive, but each year that passes the gap seems to widen and widen. "

While I think her assessment may be a bit harsh (Hagrid's is hardly an "underwhelming replacement", but F&F, Fallon, etc she's not entirely wrong on), she is correct in that the location of EU is a big gamble which could backfire. I think she is underestimating Universal's position with those new hotels taking more market share from Disney's overpriced offerings.
 

JungleSkip

Premium Member
Feb 15, 2010
21,937
The Mushroom Kingdom
IoA didn't seem like it would have been a gamble either, but botched marketing made it not really take off.
sure, but that was a gamble with marketing, not a gamble with building a park.

now if UOR starts marketing EU by itself instead of as part of its resort, then they’re making a gamble. But building it where it is isn’t some huge risk in itself
 

Nick

Staff member
Moderator
Sep 22, 2011
24,851
Orlando
sure, but that was a gamble with marketing, not a gamble with building a park.

now if UOR starts marketing EU by itself instead of as part of its resort, then they’re making a gamble. But building it where it is isn’t some huge risk in itself
I actually think building it there is a good thing for Universal. Right now, I actually think the parks are almost too close together. IOA and USF are basically one giant park and with proper planning - or buying a two park express pass - you only have to take one day out of a WDW vacation in order to see both of those parks, maybe a second if you wanna do VB.

Now, with EU on it's own island and park hopping from there (much like it is from VB) is going to be a hassle, you'll have to spend at the very least 3 days to see all UOR offers and that's if you're rushing it. UOR will have a legitimate amount of entertainment to keep you captivated and without getting too repetitive for 4-5 days once EU opens. Vacationers only have a certain amount of days so this will definitely eat into a WDW vacation and force guests to pick and choose the stuff they matters most to them.
 

OhHaiInternet95

Veteran Member
Aug 18, 2017
4,250
Yea, I think it's weirdly dismissive of Universal (the failure of F&F is not enough to write off how much the resort has improved by leaps and bounds since 2010), and the view on Epic Universe seems to stem from bitterness at Nintendo not being open yet rather than any objective viewpoint.
Universal's done plenty I've disagreed with in the past 10 years, but she is incredibly unfairly dismissive of the many good things they've done over that time span as well.

Volcano Bay blows Typhoon Lagoon in its current state out of the water (no pun intended).
 
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Nick

Staff member
Moderator
Sep 22, 2011
24,851
Orlando
Universal's done plenty I've disagreed with in the past 10 years, but she is incredibly unfairly dismissive of the many good things over that time span as well.

Volcano Bay blows away Typhoon Lagoon in its current state.
It blows away TL in terms of slide quality and fun (which tbh, is what matters most). It is below TL as far as theming goes (imo) as they didn't go all out in some areas, but there's no question that VB is the better park.
 
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OhHaiInternet95

Veteran Member
Aug 18, 2017
4,250
It blows away TL in terms of slide quality and fun (which tbh, is what matters most). It is below TL as far as theming goes (imo) as they didn't go all out in some areas, but there's no question that VB is the better park.
I still like BB best. Slides aren't quite as good overall as VB but it has such a creative theme for a water park, complete with the ski lift.

I should note that the last two times I went to TL (about a year between visits) the wave pool was off. I don't know if this is just incredibly bad luck or what, but between that and the loss of Shark Reef I have not been satisfied with TL at all.
 
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Joe

aka TestTrack321
Staff member
Moderator
Feb 15, 2012
14,199
Pittsburgh, PA
Foxxy's last paragraph on Universal feels like an after though, not going to lie. BUT this is about WALT DISNEY WORLD and not Universal Orlando in the end.
 
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