Moving the Needle at the Orlando Theme Parks

| May 16, 2013 | 9 Replies

We’ve often heard the phrase ‘size matters’.  Americans have always thought that bigger is better.  In most cases that is true, but not always.  There can be disadvantages to size.  One clear disadvantage is the buzz created by a major announcement.  Depending on the size of the theme park resort major announcements like new attractions or expansions can either be met with a resounding cheer or a major thud.  Continue reading and let’s look at specific examples of how the excitement meter can move higher or lower depending on the size of the theme park resort.


I know I’m entering dangerous territory here by analyzing what type of buzz was created by recent theme park announcements, but I find it fascinating at some of the disparity in fan reaction.  Some of the reactions are thumbs up to thumbs down, or simply “Who cares, it’s no big deal”, or even “Not another restaurant!”  But, what really drives fan reaction or interest in theme park announcements?  Let’s take a look at a couple of specific examples at two of the biggest Orlando theme park resorts.

Walt Disney World

We can all agree the Walt Disney World resort is huge.  With so much to do, so many theme parks, attractions, restaurants, and other experiences first time visitors can be overwhelmed.  But, what does Disney World’s size have to do with fan reaction when it comes to new attractions, restaurants, or expansions?  We all have a certain perspective on Disney World and it’s usually related to size.  As fans we’re always craving more.  When an announcement is made about a new attraction, land, restaurant, or other experience we’re looking at it with a microscope.  The problem is since Disney World is so big we have to pull back the lens of the microscope to see the new attraction or expansion.  The new attraction or expansion doesn’t look so big when we pull back the lens.  That new addition doesn’t look or feel like a big deal since the size of Disney World is so large.  If Disney World was just the Magic Kingdom Park, then the one new attraction would make a bigger impact than looking at it from the entire resort.


Let’s use the recent Fantasyland expansion as an example of this phenomenon.  Disney added brand new attractions, moved an attraction, re-themed another attraction, added a heavily-themed restaurant, new themed quick service options, and souvenir shops.  In addition, they themed areas of the new Fantasyland with circus props and enchanted gardens.  These are just some of the highlights of New Fantasyland.  There’s even more to explore.  However, the impact of New Fantasyland in contrast to the Walt Disney World resort is somewhat minimal.  Moving the needle isn’t as great compared to everything else the resort has to offer.  If you look at New Fantasyland as just a component of the Magic Kingdom then New Fantasyland is a pretty big project in scale to the rest of the park.  Depending on your perspective of the expansion it will gauge your excitement of the project.

Universal Orlando

Let’s head east on I-4 about 8 miles and look at what’s happening at Universal Orlando.  There’s a significant amount of activity taking place at the theme park resort including a new resort hotel, theme park expansions, and new attractions.  Two projects have come to the forefront over the past two or three weeks; The Transformers Ride and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter expansion (Diagon Alley) both inside Universal Studios theme park.  Both of these projects are huge investments for the resort.  Universal recently announced the Transformers attraction will open to guests on June 20th, 2013 and Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley will open sometime in 2014.  If you’ve visited Universal Orlando it’s not too difficult to see the construction cranes associated with these projects.


Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley will take the place of what was the Amityville section of Universal Studios theme park.  Lost in this transformation was the Jaws attraction which was around when the park opened in 1990.  Amityville was a rather large section of the park, and since Universal Orlando only has 2 theme parks removing Amityville and replacing it with Diagon Alley is a big deal.  The percentage of the resort which is affected by the Diagon Alley expansion is significant causing a rather large buzz among Universal Orlando theme park fans.  Add in the new Transformers attraction, Simpsons Expansion, and the new Cabana Bay Beach Resort and you’re looking at quite a significant undertaking throughout the resort.  Universal is moving the needle and creating quite a buzz with these projects because of the physical amount of space affected at the entire resort.


You may agree or disagree, but we all seem to expect more from Disney World.  It’s true that we hold Disney to a higher standard, but it seems we expect more simply because the resort is bigger.  More needs to be done to make any kind of impact because of its enormous size.  Over at Universal Orlando the buzz over their new projects seems ahead of Disney World’s projects.  The projects at Universal Orlando seem magnified simply because of how much of the resort is changing.


Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter and its expansion seem to be the centerpiece of the resort.  This franchise is a world-wide hit and draws visitors from all over the globe.  But, the impact it’s made to the theme park resort is huge.  It will soon have two lands, one in each theme park.  It’s a big portion of what guests will experience when they visit Universal Orlando.  Over at Walt Disney World we look to Fantasyland as the crown jewel of the resort.  Whenever parents, children, and even grandparents think of Disney World Fantasyland is at the top of the list.  Now that the majority of New Fantasyland is complete you’d think guests and fans would be flying high over its existence, yet the buzz just hasn’t been significant considering the size of the overall project.


Size does matter, but is bigger always better?  Probably not considering it can have a drastic affect at how we view theme park projects.  Because of Disney World’s sheer size it’s more difficult to create fan impact and buzz.  Over at Universal Orlando it seems easier since the resort isn’t nearly as big as Walt Disney World.  As Universal Orlando continues to grow it will get more difficult to create a stir, but for now growth is good for fans no matter which theme park decides to make the investment.

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Category: Disney World

  • Tim Kirchner

    Interesting take on it, Aaron, I like the perspective!

  • Simon

    I don’t get the thesis of this article. sorry.

    Of course if you look at Universal it would be a bigger impact the fact that they only have 2 parks and limited size on each park.

    Disney World doesn’t have too much of an impact because of 4 parks involved.

    Disney and Universal are two different parks that audiences two different crowds.

    • Aaron DelPrince

      HI Simon – I’m not so sure it’s that obvious. I just sort of think big attraction announcements and expansions sometimes get lost amongst the size of Disney World. Take the Legend of Jack Sparrow attraction at DHS….Not much buzz around that when it was announced or even when it opened. It’s going to take a Star Wars or Carsland type of expansion to get fans realy pumped or excited about a project at Disney World. Thanks for your comment.

      • Simon

        Hi Aaron, thanks for replying back to me. I do understand what you are saying and I must agree that Disney have to take something huge to make a real impact, but do take notice that alot of the “rides” or “themes” are old in comparison with Universal where most of the stuff is “NOW” along with “Hollywood Movies”

        Overall, I found your article a good read :)

  • Heather Cross

    I don’t know if I agree. Sure, the percentage of change is bigger at Universal, but I really think it’s the fandom behind the changes making the real “buzz” difference. Harry Potter has a HUGE fandom, even now. Also, the majority of this fandom is adult (having grew up with the books.)
    Over at Disney, they have made changes that my kids will LOVE, but young children loving something doesn’t create “buzz.” It makes me happy that we will have new things to explore, but if you are measuring the impact by buzz alone, adding great attractions for children isn’t going to do it.
    Which expansion is likey to prompt a visit from me? BOTH!! My kids are going to LOVE the new Fantasyland, and I will love to share it with them. I will LOVE the new Diagon Alley, and hope that in 2-3 years, when I brave a visit (fingers crossed for smaller crowds), my kids will be old enough to enjoy it.

  • Jenni Rycroft

    I find the cast members in Universal very rude and miserable and they could learn a few things from Disney. After spending a couples of days at Universal I can’t wait to get back to Disney World as Universal doesn’t have the magic that Disney does. For me Disney wins every time as I get bored at Universal and also not everyone likes Harry Potter. for me personally I hate Harry Potter and I’m going to be even more bored now that Harry Potter seems to be taking over the park. At the end of the day I think it’s down to personal choice.

  • Thommy Sandvick

    I think the difference comes from the fact that Disney cloned one ride, built a meet n greet, re-themed an existing ride, and built an intricate restaurant. Nothing pushed the barrier. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the new FantasyLand and the new coaster hasn’t yet opened, but they haven’t done anything to push the barrier. Universal is pushing barriers in ride technology and that’s what we expect from Disney. Had Carsland been built first at WDW AND to the quality it was built at DCA, I think it would have had just as much fan buzz as recent anything Universal is doing.

  • dctootall

    I think You are missing several huge factors too in your analysis. I won’t argue however that the size of the resorts could be a factor, but I don’t think it’s as simple as that.

    As someone also mentioned, You have to look at the quality of the Expansions. Disney did some nice things, But ultimately the net gain was a cloned omnimover ride [which doesn’t really generate a lot of excitement for most], a nice restaurant, a coaster that we are still waiting for, a Meet and Greet, and another classic carnival spinner ride [Dumbo x2).

    Universal is adding some new groundbreaking attractions. Forbidden Journey is unlike anything most people have seen before. The Hogwarts Express attraction is also going to be unlike anything most people have seen (based off reports), and the Gringotts Coaster has a lot of potential based off Universal’s recent track record and what we’ve read about in the books and seen in the movies.

    Next…. You have to look at track records and it’s impact on people’s excitement. Over the past several years, Universal has been doing a LOT of construction at their resort. Inside the parks, Often they’ve already started construction and been working on it for some time before they even announce what they are doing (which helps build some buzz from the big theme park fans trying to figure out what’s happening now). More importantly, Anytime Universal has announced anything over the past couple years, They’ve followed thru.

    Now look at Disney. Disney Announces a LOT of stuff, including a lot of big projects. But they announce it LONG before it opens, and they haven’t exactly shown a real rush to get the new construction completed quickly. The end result is that any buzz that was generated outside the hardcore Disney fans by the announcement has usually long-since subsided by the time we can actually experience the new areas. Then, You also have a LOT of things Disney has announced, that they never follow up on or gets canceled (Hyperion Warf, Pixie Hallow, etc). The result is that we’ve almost been trained to not believe the Hype Disney tries to generate because there is absolutely no guarantee they will actually follow thru with anything they’ve announced. You can pretty much see this in the reaction to the whole Avatar/Pandora Project. Disney Announces it…..And since it’s been over a year and we haven’t seen many outward signs of them progressing with it, you see a large number of people already assuming it’s another victem of Disney’s track record of quiet cancelations.

    And finally, another big thing I think can play into the excitement for a lot of the bigger fans of the Florida theme parks (Disney and Universal) is the question of the “net gain for the parks”.

    For New Fantasyland, if you just look at the footprint, There really wasn’t much of an addition to the park. The space which the New Fantasyland is occupying is space that was already part of the Magic Kingdom. You have the Storybook Circus taking up the land used by Toontown for the past 20yrs, And the rest of New Fantasyland is taking up space that USED to be occupied by the 20k Leagues lagoon and show building. I think the only “Net Gain” for the Magic Kingdom there was the little corner with Bell’s Village…..And it’s seldom you’ll see a restaurant and meet and Greet ever generate a huge buzz. Elsewhere in the Magic Kingdom and Disney Resort, we also still have a LOT of spaces and attractions which Disney has abandoned and left sitting there empty….. So Disney can suffer the fate of people seeing this new shiny addition, but then seeing it surrounded by so much empty space, closed attractions, and areas that just generally are no longer living up to the excitement they used to deliver, That it get’s lost. It’s like building a new McMansion in the middle of a run down and empty neighborhood.

    For Universal, It’s MUCH easier to see many of their recent additions as an overall net-gain for the resort. Generally, We have not seen the same history at that resort of removing something from the resort without adding something as good or better in it’s place. With the Original WWoHP, We saw a large portion of the Lost Continent Disappear… but we gained Hogwarts, a new attraction, and amazing theming. We lost Back to the Future, But we gained Simpsons. We lose Jaws and Amity, and we gain Diagon Alley. We loose Kongfrontation, But we gain Revenge of the Mummy. There is very little in the Universal resort that seem like wasted space or which takes the shine off their additions. We had the old Murder She Wrote/Xena & Herc soundstage empty and abandoned for years… but they fixed that by giving us Transformers on that spot. The Simpsons area expansions/improvements are mostly additions to empty space that flesh out the area around the old Back to the Future building… and are a net improvement. Currently, the only “abandoned” items I can see at the Universal resort are the big amphiteatre in the Islands of Adventure, and the old Triceritops Encounter in the Jurassic Park section. BUT….. Because of the theming and way the Triceritops Encounter was set up, the only reminder of it at this point is a couple paths that look like they just go into the forested backstage areas and the big Triceritops fossil rock that doesn’t look that out of place next to the Discovery Center. It’s easy to overlook… but even still, there are already rumors of the next phase of Universal construction happening in the Jurassic Park section, so that could be be another “rememdied situation” like the abandoned Murder she Wrote soundstage.

    So while it is easy to simply look at the Size of the resorts and the reason for the difference in excitement generated, I think it’s only scratching the surface. It might even be worth hypothocising that a reason the overall excitement levels are so much higher for Universal lately is because Universal has been showing us, the fans of the Florida Theme Parks, That they are truly willing to invest and give us so many new and improved experiences to enjoy. Disney on the other hand over the years has shown much less interest in investing in new and improved experiences for us to enjoy…..outside of the much more overt cash grabs like gift shops, Hotel rooms, DVC, and Restaurants. It’s been YEARS since we have even gotten a brand new and exciting, NON-CLONED, attraction in the Disney Parks….The last one being (I believe) Expedition Everest…which has had the Yeti Black eye since shortly after it opened.

  • Tanner

    I’m just going to assume that the cost for the Harry Potter expansions far exceeded that of New Fantasyland. I think the more fair comparison would be Harry Potter to Carsland. Also not really fair to list all of the plans Universal is doing without listing all that Disney is such as Springs, Avatar, etc.