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Harry Potter and Star Wars Go to War: Universal and Disney are Battling for Theme Park Supremacy

Universal Studios and Disney are locked in a battle for theme park supremacy. Sea World, which recently agreed to stop breeding killer whales in captivity, isn’t even on the same playing field in this war. What’s at stake? The title of Undisputed Theme Park Champion in the World.

Disney would argue that in some ways, it isn’t even a contest. The Mouse House has theme parks all over the world, with its latest park opening as part of Shanghai Disney Resort on June 16, 2016. Shanghai Disney looks to be its biggest park yet, with the largest Storybook Castle of any park, the only one with a Tron ride and the first to feature an entire pirate-themed land. Universal doesn’t have the global reach. At least, not yet.

One area where Universal is competing with Disney head on is in Disney World’s home base of Orlando. Universal first started gaining ground on Disney World when it won the rights to bring Harry Potter’s story to its Orlando and Anaheim parks. Harry Potter’s Hogwarts immediately saw a big return for Universal, but it was the theme park’s follow-up Potter expansion, the much-praised Diagon Alley, that really put pressure on Disney.

Universal Orlando’s rise precipitated a steep fall for Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which is now the least of its visited theme parks. Disney closed several attractions, others seemed antiquated,and the park was adrift, without consistent theming. That may have been part of Disney’s plan, however. In 2015 and 2016 Disney has announced aggressive plans to rebrand and expand Hollywood Studios, adding new themed lands based upon Star Wars and the animated Cars. The new Star Wars lands, which will also open at Disneyland in California, will have two new rides, plus plenty of content drawing upon the venerable movie hit.

This puts some additional pressure on Universal, but Universal has some tricks up its own sleeve as well. Although many wonder why Disney has not moved to add its other crown jewel, Marvel, to its theme parks, Universal’s parent company Comcast actually has the rights to many Marvel characters. Its Islands of Adventure theme park already has rides based on Spider-Men, The Fantastic Four, The Avengers and the X-Men. Universal is now refurbishing the Incredible Hulk roller coaster.

Universal Hollywood is upping the ante with a year-round attraction based on the TV series The Walking Dead. If the attraction proves popular enough, it may work its way east to Orlando. Universal also announced it is investing in one of its other properties, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. The Toothsome Chocolate Factory & Savory Feast Emporium will be a restaurant and attraction based on the Roald Dhal books, which were turned into two successful movies. While not all details are known, the factory is said to be Steampunk-themed, with Bacon Brittle, which consists of chocolate covered bacon, and a milkshake topped with red velvet cupcake. Gobstoppers and golden tickets will probably not be far behind.

Disney is not exactly cowering in the corner. The company is moving forward with plans to add the presence of James Cameron’s Avatar to the parks, with the new Pandora Land opening at Animal Kingdom. Big changes are already underway at Animal Kingdom, where the park is preparing for its first-ever after-dark visitors. Rivers of Light opens on Earth Day, April 22, and promises to be a spectacle of light, music and choreography. The Tree of Life will also be illuminated for the first time. Disney knows that Animal Kingdom is at best a half-day property, so this is the first step in a transformation that will culminate in Avatar’s Pandora, which opens in 2017. Visitors will be able to ride the Na’vi River from the film, or ride on a flying banshee.

Both Disney and Comcast are likely to continue their rapid expansion, particularly since both companies are heavily invested in creating franchise movies they can then expand to merchandising and theme park experiences.


  1. Not Elsa says:

    Still made they got rid of the Norway ride for a Frozen ride WTF

  2. donald duck says:

    Wow lots of big changes from both parks.

  3. Anonymous123 says:

    So that’s the reason they can’t have Marvel Characters. I always figured they would add Marvel Before Star Wars.

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