There once was a day when Universal Studios Florida was just an ordinary movie theme park. I still recall walking into what is now the back of Universal Studios Florida to enter the theme park. Now we have Universal Orlando, which includes 2 theme parks and a shopping, dining, and entertainment district. Let’s not forget 4 well-themed resort hotels.
Watching the Universal Orlando resort grow from one theme park to what it is today has been intriguing. It’s been drawing more and more crowds each year and rightfully so. It seems each year or two Universal Orlando adds to its already impressive lineup of attractions and entertainment. The recently released crowd numbers from Theme Park Entertainment show a 2% increase at Islands of Adventure and a 14% increase at Universal Studios Florida. These increases didn’t occur by accident nor are they a fluke. What’s really driving these increases?
It’s true and somewhat obvious that Universal Parks and Resorts have turned to the purchase of intellectual properties as their basis for attractions and themed entertainment. A heavy dose of intellectual property was added when Universal opened Islands of Adventure back in 1999, so much so that Universal partnered and consulted with Steven Spielberg to bring these properties to life. Lands based on Dr. Seuss, Marvel, Jurassic Park, and now Harry Potter are all a big part of the theme park.
Once Universal acquired these properties it was up to Universal Creative to bring them to life in a full 360-degree environment. Movie sets were not going to work for an immersive theme park attraction experience.
In the late 1990s, Universal Creative called upon 3 men to begin designing attractions at Islands of Adventure; Mark Trowbridge, Mark Woodbury, and Thierry Coup. These men were instrumental in bringing to life The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman attraction. This $75 million dollar groundbreaking attraction is still considered the best theme park attraction anywhere. It was the first motion simulator ever to have a ride vehicle move through space. The attraction combines large video screens utilizing 4K –HD technology along with set props and real-time effects that make you believe you are right in the middle of live action superhero battle.
If you want a great example of storytelling, simply walk over to Seuss Landing and check out the whimsical land dedicated to Dr. Seuss’s books and stories. Universal Creative consulted with Audrey Geisel, widow of Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss’s real name) to make sure this land was nothing short of authentic and spectacular. To bring this land to life, no 90-degree angles were used. Everything has some sort of curve or twist to it. Even the materials and paint had to be scrutinized in order for the land to look like a Dr. Seuss story. A material called polystyrene foam along with the correct paint and colors were used to make guests feel like they’ve been thrust into a Dr. Seuss storybook.
In 2007, Mark Trowbridge (one of the creators of the Spiderman attraction at IOA) left Universal Creative to join Disney Imagineering. (Trowbridge was recently tapped to work on Star Wars attractions for Disney Parks and Resorts). This left Thierry Coup and Mark Woodbury to lead Universal Creative into their latest intellectual property acquisition of Harry Potter.
With the acquisition of Harry Potter and design of Hogsmeade Village, Universal Creative was back to the drawing board for another groundbreaking attraction to go inside Hogwarts Castle. Again, Universal Creative would be investigating a new type of ride system called a Kuka Robotic Arm. This robotic arm has the ability to move a ride vehicle in various directions giving guests a smooth, more immersive ride experience through the attraction. Add in several video and set props and you have an amazing attraction experience called Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
Fast forward to today and Universal Creative has just put the finishing touches on one of its most ambitious projects of all time, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley. Reading some of the reviews and watching some of the TV specials has really peaked my interest about this new land inside Universal Studios. The amount of time and effort spent on this project rivals what it would take to build and create an entire theme park. Diagon Alley is more proof that Universal Creative is just as imaginative and innovative as Walt Disney Imagineering. Since Islands of Adventure opened in 1999, Universal Creative has made significant strides in ride innovation and story-telling. They’ve become a major player in a market that was once cornered by Disney Imagineering.
I encourage you all to give Universal Orlando a try the next time you’re in Orlando. Take the time to go through the attractions and look at the attention to detail, technology, and story-telling. You won’t be disappointed and you may find another trip to Universal Orlando is in your future.
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