Universal Studios has a new theme park coming. The Comcast-owned (CMCSA) – Get Comcast Corporation Class A Report company may not open until 2025 but it’s a potential gamechanger that could tip the balance between Universal Studios and Walt Disney’s (DIS) – Get Walt Disney Company Report Disney World.
Currently, Universal’s Florida theme parks consist of two parks — Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure along with one highly-themed water park, Volcano Bay. The company also has its City Walk shopping area, but it’s fair to say that Disney currently has the edge, a big edge, with its four theme parks, two water parks, and the Disney Spring Shopping area,
A family can easily see everything Universal Studios has to offer in three days, and that’s being generous/assuming the parks are crowded. Disney visitors, on the other hand, could easily spend a week visiting the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Typhoon Lagoon, and Blizzard Bay, not to mention all the shopping and dining options at Disney Springs.
Currently, that makes it an easy choice for families visiting Central Florida. You might visit Universal Studios for a day or two to see its highlights, but if you’re looking for the best value on a multi-day ticket, Disney World simply offers a lot more.
That’s an equation Universal hopes to change when it adds a third gate with Epic Universe. Disney sees what’s coming and it can’t answer directly by adding a fifth gate (although that may happen eventually) so it’s doing what it can to enhance its existing theme parks and the areas around them.
What’s Coming to Walt Disney World?
Disney has no near-term plans to build a fifth theme park at Disney World, even though it has the space to do so. Instead, it has focused on improving its existing parks.
That includes the upcoming Tron: Lightcycle Run roller-coaster at Magic Kingdom as well as a pretty major overhaul at Epcot. In addition to its recently added Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure in the France pavilion, Epcot has also added a crepe restaurant, another eatery in the Japan section of world showcase, a revised Club Cool (an area where you can get Coca-Cola sample), and a new entrance.
Going forward, Epcot expects to add a Moana-themed water attraction, and, perhaps its biggest addition Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, the park’s first roller coaster.
Hollywood Studios won’t be getting any new rides but it recently added an entire land, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which has remained a huge draw as it contains Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, arguably the best ride at any theme park (we hear you Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey fans).
Disney can’t add a fifth gate, but it can keep tweaking the properties it has and it’s also going to make big improvements to the BoardWalk area adjacent to Epcot, which includes a resort hotel and a number of dining options.
“Over the next few years, we’ll be bringing new enhancements and offerings to life along this beloved, turn-of-the-century promenade – from a charming new lobby design and nearby coffee bar to delectable dining options, refreshed guest rooms, and other special touches” the company posted on its Disney Parks Blog.
The changes include Cake Bake Shop by Gwendolyn Rogers, a new table-service restaurant and bakery opening in 2023. This new location will offer “both savory and dessert menus, along with afternoon tea service, in a whimsical atmosphere that complements the magic of the idyllic charm of Disney’s BoardWalk that guests know and love.”
Adding the cake shop will allow the current BoardWalk Bakery to become a sandwich shop. Changes will also be coming to the BoardWalk Inn, a hotel that’s an easy walk from Epcot.
“Through the doors of Disney’s BoardWalk Inn, light and airy touches will reinvigorate the lobby, lounge, and guest rooms, carrying the seaside breeze right inside. Just off the lobby, a new coffee bar with artisanal beverages and quick bites will be available to-go or in newly refreshed seating spaces inside or outdoors,” according to Disney.
Will Disney World Add a Fifth Gate?
Epic Universe will make Universal Studios a more viable competitor to Disney World. It will bring Universal Nintendo attractions to Florida and will almost certainly have a third land themed to Harry Potter (the Ministry of Magic has been rumored).
And while Disney can, and has, improved its existing four parks, the only true answer for Epic Universe would be the fifth gate. One Disney expert, “Married to the Mouse” author Rick Foglesong thinks it’s inevitable.
“Oh, absolutely. I think we will see a fifth theme park,” Foglesong told Orlando’s WFTV. “It’s important to remember when you look at this tourism market that some 80% of the people who come here have come here before. Therefore, it is important for Disney to innovate.”
Disney, he noted, has the space to expand because its founder, Walt Disney, wanted to avoid a mistake he made with Disneyland.
“Because the Disney company was able to get the land cheap, they bought a lot more land than they needed,” Foglesong said. “The story is that Roy, the brother, challenged Walt as to whether or not they needed this much land, and Walt said, ‘Look what happened out in Anaheim, where we became landlocked.’ So they ended up with all this land.”